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Saturday 18 December 2010

High Speed Rail – Reality Versus Spin

While some debate, others act: today, the new high speed line from Madrid to Valencia was opened as a special train carrying invited guests reeled off the 391km in just 81 minutes. Full service begins tomorrow, with a fastest time of 95 minutes. And, along with this link, a spur to Albacete, part of the new line to Alicante, has also been opened, saving half an hour on the journey.

So has the Spanish press been as miserable about the event as some UK media outlets have been about the proposed HS2 link from London to Birmingham and beyond? Well, no they haven’t: Publico.es not only reported the event – with a photo of the party at Madrid’s Atocha terminus, which included King Juan Carlos – but also gave information on the new service, journey times and prices, and stressed the number of direct and indirect jobs created.

El Pais also noted that there have already been 90,000 seats sold for the new service. The photo showing Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia with PM Zapatero was taken while the train was travelling at around 300km/h.

Against this reality from Spain, what do we see in the UK? The HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) has put together a report filled with questionable figures – as I noted last month – and its cause has been taken up by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), for whom reports full of dodgy data are a way of life. HS2AA do not want the new link, and of course the TPA are opposed, as they oppose and systematically demonise all public works.

The HS2AA report spins the idea that a package of bottleneck removal on the existing rail network will work out cheaper than a new line, but the Route Utilisation Strategy for the West Coast Main Line (WCML) shows that this would not address capacity constraints for much of the journey. Nor does the HS2AA demonstrate how or where they would provide more much needed paths for freight operators.

But in Spain, capacity has been released for freight by the opening of the new line from Madrid to Valencia, as well as giving an alternative to driving or flying. No such dividend would come from the HS2AA spinners or their new best friends at the TPA.

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