There have been a variety of alternatives put forward to the HS2 project, some of them well meaning, but most of little credibility or utility. Meanwhile, even the deeply subversive Guardian is letting one of its regulars rubbish the project, but he doesn’t have any credible alternative either, although the maths could give him an entree to the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA).
High Speed Rail is out there somewhere ...
The TPA’s alternative was to use Atkins Rail Package 2 (RP2) as the basis for their argument that HS2 was unnecessary. Sadly, RP2 is not a practical proposition, and there is a difference between theoretical route capacity and what can practically be achieved. And the TPA ignored rail freight, as has Gareth David, in a Comment Is Free piece today.
David asserts that routing West Midlands services into London’s Paddington terminus is the answer, along with restoring two tracks from Old Oak Common to Ruislip and reinstating the through lines at locations such as High Wycombe and Beaconsfield. Sadly, the Chiltern Line is already running at or close to capacity for much of its length, as is the approach to Birmingham from Banbury.
So what of the Guardian pundit who is not keen on HS2? Step forward Nils Pratley, who has recently asserted “Back in 2010, it was envisaged that every £1 spent on the first stage of the line between London and Birmingham would yield £2.60 of benefits. Since then the figure has fallen to £1.40 – and that was using the old projected costs”. And there is his entree to the TPA.
The Benefit/Cost Ratio (BCR) of 2.6 is for the “Y” Network – the first phase, to Birmingham, never showed such a high number – and is then compared with a BCR for that first phase. In his most recent attempt, Pratley has at least conceded that something needs to be done about network capacity. But even he has missed the elephant in the room: no mention is made of rail freight.
So let me put Nils Pratley, Gareth David and the rest straight on the rail freight problem: here, the Rail Freight Forecasts To 2030 presentation, on behalf of the Rail Freight Group and Freight Transport Association (see it HERE [.pdf]) presents the numbers with graphical accompaniment. The first slide reproduced shows the amount of freight traffic on the network in 2007.
The second slide shows the estimated excess of demand for train paths in 2030 over supply, assuming the number of passenger train paths is as today. That mainly red line running from London to the North West is the West Coast Main Line (its continuation into Scotland, and the southern part of the East Coast Main Line, are also showing significant excess of demand over supply).
That, HS2 opponents, is what you are all ignoring. But it is not going away.
A credible alternative: The existing railway system.
Then spend the money improving broadband speeds across the country. Improved broadband speeds increases the ability to work from home.
More chance of working from home = less commuting. Less travelling, less pollution, less money wasted on another railway system.
Let's not pretend this is a left vs right issue. For one thing, I'm sure many people on the left would be happier with not ripping up hundreds of miles of countryside to build another version of something we already have.
The existing system is not a credible alternative. It was never built properly, the sections that have been rebuilt are already overloaded and in recent years some local stations have lost their services to make way for fast trains (Etruria and Polesworth spring to mind). The "alternative" to HS2 is to close all the local stations between Milton Keynes and Euston and between Nuneaton and Stafford to free up track capacity for long distance services. Who wants to sell that idea to the commuters?
Working from home is not a viable option for most people. How do workers in factories, construction sites, warehouses, shops, and hospitals (to name a but a few) work from home?
I agree it's not left v right. It's most of the country versus a few with vested interests, allied to those who resent all forms of national investment that they themselves don't want to use.
Actually, Gareth David misses something pretty obvious to anyone who's been following the debate. Running trains along the Chiltern line has already been considered, as part of Rail Package 3A. It's doable, but it's not cheap. The main problem is that you'd have to four-track the line all the way between South Ruslip and Handdenham, and through High Wycombe the only way this can be achieved is through a tunnel. I have tried constructing the service he suggests using just reinstated passing loops and stations, and I can categorically tell you it can't be done. Mr. David can produce a service plan if I'm wrong.
Total cost? About £8bn,if we can scrimp on the improvements on the West Coast Main Line. With upgrades on the WCML too (Rail package 3), it's around £11bn, more if it turns out Paddington has to be expanded. Still less than HS2, but only deliver a fraction of the benefits as a substantial portion of the price.
If he wants to argue the case for that, fair enough. But claiming it's only a tiny fraction of the cost is complete and utter garbage and as an ex-railway professional he should know better. That is the same snake-oil salesmanship that 51m use for their scheme.
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