HS2, The Wrong Train

I was drawn to an article today about the Government’s HS2 project and how the entire project has been miss sold to the public. The article in the Telegraph sites Mark Reynolds, the MD of Mace a consultancy and construction business which are heavily involved in the project. He states that it should have been sold to the public as increasing capacity on the network not on speed.

Politicians and the media have made great play on the fact that this service will run at speed of 200 mph plus. And that we will be able to travel between Birmingham to London 30 minutes quicker than we currently can and that this service will revitalise the economy in the north of England.

I look at the argument for this service in two areas firstly the impact on passengers. In the existing HS1 service in Kent, passengers are able to travel into the capital a little bit faster than if they use a standard service. Fine but tickets are very much more expensive, meaning only wealthier traveller tend to use it. Passenger numbers are between one third or one quarter of the projected number when the project was conceived. I would be willing to bet that passenger numbers are being exaggerated in this project too. Yes there will be a few well heeled commuters who will pay the extra fee, but i think it will be a luxury service use by a few not really improving things for average commuters.

Secondly the economic benefits I feel are overstated for the North of England and are understated for London. London already completely dominates the UK economy and a faster train into the capital will enable greater numbers of people to live further distances outside of London and still work in the capital. This is the model that we have seen in France. How many people will look to live further out from Birmingham and do the same, I suspect many may less. I have also not heard of any business stating that they can’t do business with a firm in Birmingham or London because the rail service between them is not fast enough.

If we are interested in regenerating the economies of the north we need to invest in the existing infrastructure between the major urban areas to allow Manchester-Liverpool-Leeds collectively to compete with London. This HS2 project will only allow London to move further ahead than it already is. If we are going to spend a colossal amount of money on this project which we will surely do as all major project run massively over budget. I believe that we need to invest in the existing rail infrastructure in the so called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ making it a viable alternative to London and re balancing the economy in the process.