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Thursday 25 November 2010

Alliance Of No Action

Yesterday, there was an adjournment debate on the subject of HS2. Many Tory MPs weighed in, passing adverse comment on the project. The text underpinning much of their analysis, and supporting evidence, is a report by a group called the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA), a title meant to show that there is something positive going on under their auspices, when there is nothing of the sort.

HS2AA do not indicate any political preference on their website, but one indication of their leanings is that the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) is championing their cause. The TPA’s apparently unequivocal support did not, apparently, involve looking at the figures in the HS2AA report (see it HERE [.pdf]), or, if they did, they failed to notice the blatant misrepresentation.

So let me shine a little light on HS2AA and their analysis, specifically on Page 25, where they set out fastest travel times between London and the five next largest cities in the UK, with comparisons for Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Note that the list of largest UK cities includes Bradford (population under 300k) but excludes Edinburgh (population over 480k).

This blatant fiddling of the figures is achieved by taking the population of the Bradford Metropolitan District, which includes many satellite towns. It also makes the UK top of the class on journey times (Spain would otherwise occupy this place). Moreover, no account is taken of the distances involved: in all of the countries used as comparators, the average distance from the capital to the five next largest cities is further than in the UK.

In any case, two can play at that game: the Netherlands would come top by a long way if included, because it is a physically small country. That doesn’t mean it has a high speed rail network, which is the proposition HS2AA is trying to stand up for the UK. It is not included because HS2AA is cherry picking data to fit its findings.

Moreover, HS2AA takes no account of works in progress: their assertion that the UK is “top of the class”, even on their own highly selective figures, will cease to prove true the week before Christmas, when the Madrid to Valencia high speed line is inaugurated (figures for France and Germany will also change in the near future).

I make no comment on the rest of the HS2AA analysis, save to observe that if it is as shoddy as in Pages 25 and 26 of their report, there will be little problem in shooting a few non-trivially sized holes in it.


Hilary Wharf said...

'We are delighted that you have reached page 25 and 26. Robust data sources and analysis has been used throughout the document

There are many sources of population data. What is important is to have a uniform source and definition for all data (as far as possible). The usual definition for city populations (and that used by Eurostat, an official body for such data)) is that of the city admin boundary. That is what has been used here. The data can be found in the attached document. Bradford you will see is larger than Edinburgh. If you also look at the wikapedia entry for both you will see the same ranking.

The fact our cities are nearer together is precisely the point. Our country is smaller. Our main centres nearer. We have less need for an even faster network. Other countries cannot get between their main centres of population as quickly as we already can, and have been able to for many years.

The analysis deliberately compared us with the major West European countries that have been introducing HSR - Spain, Italy, Germany, and France - the countries where it is often presumed that they have a faster network. In fact as the analysis shows our intercity network created decades ago, has stood the test of time.

The future was not included. The data is not yet available. At some point other countries may indeed overtake us.

But surely we should ask more fundamental questions. Is it our countries priority to be top? We have only a finite amount of resources. How should they be spent? On education, on health, on social benefits, or on getting between our cities even more quickly?'

Hilary Wharf said...

Link to the Eurostat data mentioned in my intial comment - http://tinyurl.com/443umy

Tim Fenton said...

Thanks for stopping by, Hilary, and I'm not surprised that you are mounting a robust defence of the HS2AA document.

But there is no way that Bradford is anything like the size of Edinburgh: you're mixing city boundary with Metropolitan district.

But, as I've already said, you're making spurious comparisons: the distances in all the other countries you quote are far longer.

Without fiddling the figures - something to which I shall return when I subject the HS2AA report to a little more light roasting - you would have included Edinburgh and Spain would have come top. In any case, it will from the 18th of next month, as I noted.

Had you used the Netherlands, as I pointed out, that country would have come top, and no internal passenger train service there is timed at more than 140km/h.

Scarce resources are indeed important, but you haven't put forward a credible alternative. I note the reference to other studies, but the fact is that the West Coast Main Line has so little spare capacity that the only extra passenger train path on offer in future is one an hour, and off-peak only - and then only for trains that can do 125mph and tilt.