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Patrick McLoughlin: we don’t need HS2 for speed

11 September 2013

Finally, an HS2 argument from the government that isn’t entirely based on speculative forecasts or political positioning. The transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has given a speech at the Institution of Civil Engineers this morning, taking on HS2’s growing number of critics.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a transport speech without some economic forecasts. The Department for Transport have released a new report from KPMG, suggesting the line will lead to a £15 billion annual boost to the economy. But the overall theme is about making the HS2 debate about capacity:

‘The reason we need HS2 isn’t for its speed…the benefits of faster journeys are easy to explain. But the main reason we need HS2 is as a heart bypass for the clogged arteries of our transport system..without the capacity provided by HS2 the main road and rail lines linking eight of our 10 largest cities will quite simply be overwhelmed.’

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McLoughlin has also taken a leaf from Andrew Adonis on why patching-and-mending the existing West Coast Mainline is not the solution Britain should be striving for:

‘We’ve already spent £9 billion on the last West Coast upgrade but that didn’t finish the job. The overhead wiring is getting on for 50 years old. The bridges and tunnels are Victorian monuments and I’ve been out with the track workers to see them. Pouring billions more in widening it and accelerating it would be like trying to run the M1 up the Old Kent Road.

For good measure, he’s also thrown in some ‘aspiration nation’ rhetoric (of the Boris variety) on why HS2 should be a symbol of modern Britain. Namedropping Brunel and Stephenson, McLoughlin recalls the spirit of these Victorian pioneers and how they relate to the new line:

‘And these lessons from history teach us something important. Big decisions about big infrastructure are always controversial. People have always argued about the unknowns that big infrastructure proposals must always involve.’

‘Much later on people questioned the M25. Or thought we didn’t need the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf whose cost-benefit ratio was even said to be negative. These doubters were wrong.

The transport secretary has wisely acknowledged in this speech the fight is far from over. The anti-HS2 brigade have taken the lead so far, not least because as The Independent has revealed, the head of HS2 Ltd Douglas Oakervee has been forced to take three months leave on health grounds.

But as Benedict Brogan reports in his morning memo, there is apparently no wavering at the heart of the coalition over HS2 and they are ‘determined to make this one stick’. Although George Osborne, David Cameron, Nick Clegg have all publicly supported the project in recent weeks the government still has a great deal to do to win over the doubters.

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Show comments
  • Mark McIntyre

    NO2 HS2 – go on a diet instead !

  • Toby Esterházy

    Bypass the line from Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire (where a lot of the City bankers, traders, stockbrokers, brokers, underwriters, solicitors and barristers from London live), and the opposition to HS2 would die away.

    The IEA is a lunatic right-wing organisation that also believes in uncontrolled immigration. Their mercantilist nonsense should all be consigned to the rubbish bin.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    The plan for a high-speed rail network is similar to the stalled change to metrication. Initiatives that would move Britain into the 21st century being sabotaged by recalcitrant Luddites. Looks like you can stand in the way of progress.

    • Toby Esterházy

      Metricification? You can shove your kilometres up your jacksie!

  • Mynydd

    “Department for Transport have released a new report from KPMG” to this should have been added “as paid for by the contractors who under take the construction” With regards to the £50bn, or what ever number you pull out of the air, cost can be paid for without any money whatsoever coming out of Mr Osborne’s piggy bank. Deduct £2 per week from each benefit claimant’s. and old age pensioner’s state hand-out. After the massive boost in their income by Mr Cameron/Osborne/Clegg, these will be the only people who will be able to afford the train fare. To make it fair there will be a 50% reduction for those living in: the west of England, Wales, the Highlands of Scotland, and Northern Ireland on account that they will have no direct any of the stations.

    Just a short historical note without namedropping. In Victorian times I. K. Brunel forecast that trains would eventually run at 200 mph and laid the line from London to the west country and Wales to cater for these speed. How about this for Victorian feats of construction, When this line, London to Bristol, was converted from wide gauge to standard gauge it took one weekend. If subsequent inter city lines had been build to Brunel’s spec 200 mph no problem.

  • dalai guevara

    I quote Pierre Béarn, Couleurs d’usine, 1951.
    “Métro, boulot, bistro, mégots, dodo, zéro”

    We have some catching up to do.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …you mean, catch up with scruffy, marxist beatniks? You’ve long been there, lad.

      Maybe the beatniks should be trying to catch up with you.

  • Alexsandr

    ‘But the main reason we need HS2 is as a heart bypass for the clogged arteries of our transport system’
    so fix the clogged bit. Grade sEparation at hanslope, Colwich and Newark, fIx the Welwyn GAP.
    Freight doesn’t use the south end on the WCML much. It comes up from Southampton via Reading, or from Felixstowe via Peterborough. That’s why they improved these routes, and more is planned.

    • HookesLaw

      Work continues on the other lines. But even then they will not cope in the future.
      Your pretence is based on fantasy.
      “The West Coast Main Line is ready to fall over. By the mid-2020s, it will be at full capacity, and that is before taking account of the freight issues.”
      He added: “The London Gateway is proposing to have some 16 750-metre trains running on the West Coast each day when it is fully operational. There simply is not the capacity on the West Coast to take that and passenger transport.”

      Why do you want to keep Britain in the past? Why are you so miserable and blinkered and parsimonious?
      Just what have you got against Britain not simply being in the 21st century but planning for the 22nd?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Just what have you got against Britain not simply being in the 21st century but planning for the 22nd?


        In this impossibly absurd statement, you reveal you have zero understanding of public policy, and the process by which the public plans and secures public services involving large capital investment. You won’t understand why that’s so, because you’ve clearly never been involved in that process.

        But just to give you a hint how out of touch you are, your link is quoting as an authority this guy: “Chris Tunstall, the (Birmingham City) council’s interim director of sustainablity, transportation and environment”

        What, was the city’s interim dogcatcher unavailable that day?

        • Alexsandr

          The city councils are wetting themselves at the amount of investment they don’t have to pay for. people are always good at spending other peoples money.

          • Ed Griffin

            But for once we’ll have something to actually show for that spending, for many years to come.

    • realfish

      ‘Freight doesn’t use the south end on the WCML much’

      Really? That’s news to me. It uses the North London Line and the (to be electrified) Barking – Gospel Oak line to access the WCML. And it will increase when the massive London Gateway port opens* when up to 30 container trains per day (if paths can be found) will use the southern part of the WCML.

      *That’s if Unite the Union allows the country’s only deep sea port able to received the world’s largest ships (and Europe largest logistics facility) to open.

      • Alexsandr

        so what is all the freight going through Leamington Spa, Reading and Ely and Hinckley?

        • realfish

          There are many freight routes other than the WMCL. To or from Felixstowe and Southampton for e.g. (although some Southampton trains are routed along the southern WCML.
          The point is, is that the WMCL is approaching saturation. Freight operators are already eyeing up what they see as two dedicated freight lines on the WMCL once HS2 opens.

          Here, this may help.

          • Alexsandr

            then use excess capacity on the Chiltern and midland lines.

            You don’t build 100 miles of high speed lines for another 20 freight trains a day

  • crosscop

    “But the main reason we need HS2 is as a heart bypass for the clogged arteries of our transport system..without the capacity provided by HS2 the main road and rail lines linking eight of our 10 largest cities will quite simply be overwhelmed.”
    So, it’s actually down to the fact that our population has got out of hand, is it? Well, stop immigration and start to encourage repatriation, then. Starting with all members of the Religion of Perpetual Outrage.

    • Colonel Mustard

      It’s an interesting argument but I expect the usual suspects will have an answer to that. The basis for mass immigration was and is, as I understand it:-

      1. To rub the right’s nose in diversity;

      2. To provide the (cheap) labour to boost the economy and pay for our ageing, pension eating population; and

      3. Free movement of labour within the EU.

      The impact on infrastructure, resources and services seems to have escaped consideration in the first two and the disparity in income and benefits the last. The economic benefits of # 2 do not seem to have transpired whilst the supposedly enriching cultural benefits are debatable and unpredictable – the outlook probably not good in terms of forging ‘one nation’ in the decades ahead.

      # 1 appears to have succeeded though. I for one feel my nose has been well and truly rubbed in diversity, although not necessarily with the outcome the Labour party might have wished for.

  • AnotherDaveB

    If they don’t need HS2 for high speed, then it doesn’t have to be engineered for high speed. They can change the engineering specs, change the route, and reduce the cost.

    • HookesLaw

      And be totally short sighted.

    • Ed Griffin

      Making it high speed doesn’t cost a lot more than making it slow speed, but the journey time improvements make it more attractive to potential passengers (attracting 4.5 million air travellers and 9 million car drivers to switch to the train). So basically making it high speed has very high marginal benefits.

      • AnotherDaveB

        Yes it does:

        “Even by the standards of high-speed rail, HS2 is extravagant. French railways spent £22 million per mile on the high speed line from Paris to Strasbourg, which opened in 2007. The Frankfurt to Cologne line cost £60 million per mile and HS1 £80 million per mile. Yet at the latest costings of £42 billion, HS2 will work out at £121 million per mile. The extra cost is partly down to the higher population density of the English countryside, which requires more expense in compulsory purchase orders, but partly because it has been over-engineered. High-speed lines in France and most European countries run to an operating speed of 190 mph. HS2, by contrast, has been designed to 225mph, adding significant costs since the curves must be significantly less sharp.”

        And the increase in passengers is a number plucked from the air.

        • Ed Griffin

          You know they already considered building a new conventional railway, but found the high speed option to be the better choice. You’re not offering anything remarkable with your suggestion.

          Your characterisation of HS2 as extravagant based on its speed over and above our European counterparts is laughable. Why should I apologise for them designing it to modern better standards. I congratulate them on the improvement – squeezing 18 tph out of the signalling system. At least having waited 50 years after the French for our high speed network we’ll have a better system.

  • MichtyMe

    Yes the HS2 would be a nice thing to have…. but the question is, would the billions produce a better economic result and general benefit if invested, perhaps, on other transport infrastructure?

    • Tom M

      That I think is the point they all miss, something like the Severn Barrage and other green adventures. Some people think that money is unlimited. We are not a rich nation anymore and I suggest the sooner we start getting the things we need to survive sorted out with the limited means we have the better.

    • Ed Griffin

      What kind of other transport infrastructure? Perhaps you mean spend it on lots of short-term lower risk projects? But didn’t you read the point in the article? If we are always averse to big infrastructure projects and just “patch and mend” then we’d have missed out on the M25 and Jubilee line extension.

  • itdoesntaddup

    The biggest problem the government face is that the public understand that a cost of £50bn is poor value for money: by 55 to 29 they oppose it.

    Attempts to massage the benefits numbers lack credibility, when the existing benefits estimates are shown to be grossly overstated.

    The capacity argument is in any case poorly made, as it depends on speculative forecasts and presumed measures to tilt the playing field with taxes and subsidies, and further speed restrictions on motorways (which is the impact of managed motorway status planned for the M1/M6), while it ignores the potential to increase road capacity through elements of vehicle automation, and fails to consider additional air capacity. It also ignores the falling rail freight demand as we close coal fired power stations.

  • Jez

    I take it your all giving the Syria Crisis a wide berth because you got so catastrophically wrong. Again.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Yes, catastrophically wrong. Again.

      It’s amazing how the Londonistan bubble works. One of their miserable, ill-conceived ideas, firmly rejected by all sensible, is trashed, yet the next is pushed immediately into the pipeline, to be forced onto the sensible.

      • Jez

        I’m laughing my little socks off this end………… on the back of your comment, that lunatic Daniel Korski sprang to mind- i googled him and…….

        He’s only a special adviser to f*ckin Cameron!!!

        We’re all doooooomed a’telya !!! :-)))

        What is happening man!

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Well, it’s a bit of the darkness before the dawn, I suspect. Sensible push is being made around the globe, if you notice. In Oz, Norway, Italy, even in recent local elections in the UK, as well as that Syria vote shortly ago. There are green shoots, very young and tender shoots, but they are there. Of course, the Establishment would like to spray them with defoliant, but that’s always the way.

          Korski, huh? Like a moth to the flame. That guy is like the death of wisdom. He sucks common sense out of the atmosphere like a parasite and we asphyxiate on stupidity.

          • Jez

            You didn’t copy and paste that last paragraph from Korki’s Wiki page did you?



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