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Can you trust a government report on the alternatives to HS2?

28 October 2013

As Britain’s train lines suffer in the wake of St Jude, the political storm over high speed rail continues to rage. The government and Labour are playing footsie with each other. Labour’s somewhat left-field idea to re-open the Grand Central Railway — at an estimated cost of £6 billion, compared to £43 billion for HS2 — has been matched by a fear-mongering government statements about the implications of not building a high speed rail line. The coalition’s ‘updated business case’ claims that, if Britain did not pursue the high-speed solution, a ‘patch-and-mend job’ would be necessary, which would be almost as expensive and mean 14 years of weekend closures. It may be an effective argument, but quite a few people will be wondering if, given that the coalition has invested political capital into supporting HS2, the government can really be trusted to deliver a fair assessment of the alternatives. Labour, meanwhile, seem to be flirting with abandoning their support for the project, but don’t want to be accused of letting down the north.

All of which sets us up perfectly for the Spectator’s ‘Stop HS2 debate’ on Thursday. Making the case for HS2 will be Matthew Parris, Steve Norris of the Treasury HS2 Growth Task Force, and Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council. Speaking against them will be Nigel Farage, our Wiki-man columnist Rory Sutherland and Cheryl Gillan MP.

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HS2_trainNigel Farage, Matthew Parris, Rory Sutherland and Cheryl Gillan  will debate whether the government should ‘Stop HS2!‘ on 31 October 2013 in Westminster. Click here to book tickets.

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Show comments
  • John

    In a few years time the ECML will have the new Hitachi 140mph trains. Compared to HS2 times, HS2 will shave off London to Newcastle by only 16 minutes, yes 16 minutes. The London-Edinburgh times – HS2 shaves off only 45minutes, as the Hitachis do it in just over 4 hours.

    There are known glitches on the ECML and WCML. These can be ironed out quite cheaply and get local trains off these lines as well, to get more speed and run the Hitachi trains even faster. The WCML upgrade failed to provide in-cab signalling that would enable the existing Pendolino’s to reach 140mph from 125mph. That would shave 10% of the existing journey times, that is the 2 hours from Liverpool or Manchester to London would be dropped to approx’ 1hr 50mins. Ironing out glitches with drop that to around 1hr 40mins. HS2 time to Liverpool is 1hr 38 mins. With any future faster trains coming on-line reducing times yet again.

    These fast Pendos can be used in a Holyhead-Liverpool-Manchester-Hull line, that will link he Dublin-Hull corridor that will do more to promote economic growth than any HS2.

    Why are we looking at HS2? It defeats me and other sane mortals. Spend the £50bn on local and regional rail and updating decrepit stations.

  • Iain Hill

    Can we get a full report of the debate? A podcast? It is of great interest to Scotland.


    Even before steam engines, railways were concerned basically with freight.

    Wooden rails took Durham coal to the coast for shipping to London.

    Steel rails transported fish and coal and oil to the cities with early steam trains.

    Passengers followed as “deck cargo”.

    The early railway companies based their profits on the carrying of freight and today that also should be the reason for any “new” railway. Passengers come afterwards with subsidised fares.

    Freight fist then may come the passengers.

  • Malc

    HS2 should be given a decent burial instead of running a negative campaign against an invented alternative. If we are going to upgrade the railway system linking regions of the country could be the way, instead of perpetuating a London centric approach. We don’t travel great distances in this country so we don’t need to travel at 225mph

  • Radford_NG

    The Great Central line,through Rugby,Leicester,Nottingham,Sheffield to Leeds and Manchester is supported by Tesco,Sainsbury’s and M&S.[Source,the Daily Mail]

    • Alexsandr

      They have built the Victoria Shopping Centre and a tram line over the CG line through Nottingham. and the bit north of Leicester is now a steam railway.

      • Radford_NG

        The tunnels still exist under Nottingham and through the Victoria Centre;and the short section of tram line could be re-routed.

        • John

          The Great Central was line that run dead straight north to south from Sheffield. It was extended up to Leeds. The Manchester part is a branch onto existing track which was through the Woodhead Tunnel (built to carry coal), which was closed in 1981, and now carries power and telecoms cables – they can always be diverted.

          The Great Central is a great way to have a predominately freight line. Passengers could run on it in a limited form to fill the gaps. Then this this worry about capacity is disappear.

  • Linda Breeze

    I have proposals about HS2 and the government must listen. Here is the link.

  • Smithersjones2013


    Next question

  • FrankS

    Great Central Railway, not Grand.

  • Radford_NG

    Isambard Kingdom Brunel changed the entire Great Western Railway from broad gauge to standard gauge over one weekend.

    • Chris Robertson

      Most of the Great Western had already become mixed-gauge, and the few sections (mostly in Cornwall I believe) that remained broad-only had been prepared well in advance to make the work as swift and easy as possible. A big achievement, but not quite as grand as you make out.

  • Mark Stewart

    There are many priorities for this government…and this is not one of them. A proper defence force, elimination of the nonsense green taxes that are shoving up the oil and gas prices to give the UK public some benefit whilst retaining the profitability of those corporations. simultaneously making the case and allowing Fracking so as to diminish those costs even more…put money into the publics hands so that they can grow invest in the economy either through more consumption or into the stock/property market. As for HS2 forget it…get a HS around London linking the airports and expand either Gatwick or stanstead or both with links into the City including Cit airport. You want infrastructure that makes sense around areas where travellers require support. 50+ Billion on HS2 is nuts…focus on creating wealth amongst all tax payers and get rid of the 10billion + handouts to Pakistan etc charity starts at home. Focus on the key deliverables and reduce taxes…reduce VAT, take down the highest marginal rate and get more wealth creating measure…the government can only create wealth by reducing its nanny state footprint…Allow immigrants into the country who are going to add value, are easily assimilated…Why gypsies romanians etc when there are Australians not allowed in? Propose a free movement of labour act between New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US…Now there’s a scriptto drive growth!!!

    • The voice

      Free movement of people between countries of similar education, culture, race and wealth makes perfect sense.

  • asalord

    HS2 will be irrelevant to people in Scotland yet Scottish taxpayers will have no choice but to contribute to the cost.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Oh, they have a choice, but soon they’ll vote not to have one .

    • perdix

      If public money is spent on infrastructure programmes in England, Scotland gets more money from the Treasury as part of the Barnet Formula.

      • Alexsandr

        have you seen what the scots have spent on their railway. Bathgate-airdrie, Alloa, whifflet and paisley canal electrification, and the Galashiels reopening.

    • Duncan

      HS2 is not irrelevant to people in Scotland – it will cut journey times to London significantly.

  • Russell

    So Ed Balls is not prepared to write a blank cheque!
    I didn’t know Ed Balls was a billionaire or that Labour had won a general election and that he was Chancellor!
    Who in their right mind would let Balls have a chequebook on the Taxpayers already overdrawn account (as a result of the last time the Labour party were the government)?.

    • dalai guevara

      What’s that loon Balls got to do with it? He’s not in charge.
      Make a case or don’t make a case based on reason, not politics.
      The rest is politics.

      • Russell

        Give him a ring and tell him….He thinks he is in charge!….He is the one who said HE is not going to write a blank cheque. I have pointed out to you that he is not in charge.

        He does not have enough of his own money (£50billion) and he is not in government or a chancellor with his greasy hands on the taxpayers bank account, and I for one hope he never does have.

        • dalai guevara

          You’re not the only one, Russell.
          Now tell me (us), why play politics with this?
          Either you understand that you are willfully engaging in a senseless game, or you do not understand it and wish to be seen in the same boat as the others – just as bad.

          • Russell

            labour and their supporters do nothing but play politics. That is exactly what Milibrain and his cohorts are doing with HS2, that is what they are doing with the energy freeze con trick (as he cannot do it even if by a miracle he gets to win an election). Miliband and labour have no substance whatsoever.
            My view on HS2 is that the UK should have a modern railway system, and the current Victorian lines and old trains/signalling and tracks are not going to last another 50 years, so get on with it right now.
            If Miliband and Labour had placed an order for a nuclear power station 10 years ago, they could have had a price fixed on the then cost of energy (which was a lot less than todays cost) guaranteeing really cheap energy for consumers.
            Same with HS2, the longer it is delayed the more it will cost.

            • dalai guevara

              1- Yes, politicians play politics. That surprises me not.
              2- Yes, politicians love all talk and no action. That surprises me not.
              3- Yes, politicians love blaming others when it’s obvious that one of the reasons for saying that is to get more time to do 1 and 2.

        • John

          It is highly likely Balls will be in charge after the next election. But Cameron has said if Balls say no it is scrapped. So Balls is the key man.

          • Russell

            More likely to be facing a charge!

  • Fergus Pickering

    I think HS2 is a jolly good idea. So do lots of people who know about railway lines.

    • John

      But the trains spotter know sweet nothing of economics.

    • Alexsandr

      Read this months Modern Railways letters.
      Then check out Chris Stokes and his views.

      • Chris Robertson

        …then consider that Chris Stokes is just about the only half-respected voice to actually come out against HS2. Does he know something that the rest of the railway industry and and the majority of commentators don’t? Methinks not.

        • Alexsandr

          HS2 will generate some nice high paying jobs for railwaymen and women. So the rail industry will be for it.
          And as the government are the paymasters of the rail industry, making public comments against government policy probably is not a career enhancing move.

          • Chris Robertson

            The so-called ‘alternatives’ would be just as good if not better for many in the rail industry, while the rail industry is not afraid of criticising government policy – they just do so privately off-the-record. That isn’t happening, and train companies like Virgin and Chiltern have been quite open in their support for HS2 as the only long term solution.

            • Alexsandr

              Virgin have done sums and are saying a train on HS2 with no tilt, then going on the classinc railway to complete their journey to Scotland will be slower than a tilting pendolino.
              They are also pushing for an increase of the speed their Pendolinos are allowed to go at from 125 to 135mph.
              Remember the class 91 and mk 4’s on the east coast are 140 capable too.

              I think the classic railway will be out to compete with HS2

  • HookesLaw

    Wot Mr Grey? Not enough comments from the nutjobs today? Wheel out HS2 then.

    Very post ironic of you to attack the government over trust yet gloss over Balls’ claim for some stick and paste alternative.

    The fact that Balls has plucked the idea and the costs out of his backside is lost on you. Very balanced as we would now accept from the Spectator.

  • In2minds

    High Speed lies!

  • Russell

    “Can you trust a government……”

    Could have stopped right there……NO.

  • starfish

    First it was economic benefit
    Second it was speed
    Third it was capacity
    Now it is impact of not doing it
    It would appear there is no coherent business case

    I am in Cornwall this week where HS2 headlines are ‘cornwall starved of £120 million investment if HS2 goes ahead’. Still I am sure the libcondems can afford to lose seats to UKIP

  • Robert Taggart

    NO2 HS2 – whatever any report says !
    Signed, Northern Anorak !

    • dalai guevara

      A lab chap would make sense of that, in fact he would point out that HS2 is ‘unreal’ as it is not stable.

      NO2 H4S G4S A4E makes sense however.

  • dalai guevara

    Let’s call for an evaluation of evaluated evaluations out there.
    You know it makes sense, something to do…

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