Is HS2 the right investment for the UK?


        Mr Hammond said in his defence of HS2 that the only people who disagree with the business case are people living along the line of route who have reasons to dislike the project. My reading of some of the literature tells me that is not quite true. There  are numerous people who live nowhere near the proposed route who have doubts about the value of this project, including constituents of mine. There are many criticisms of the way the demand forecasts have been constructed, the valuation placed on the wide range of benefits claimed and the assupmtions about future shifts in travel patterns. There is also the danger that improved line speeds will generate additional long range commuter demand, which is not necessarily a good thing to subsidise.

         The cost of the infrastructure to get to Brimingham is estimated at £17 billion, with another £11 billion to get to Leeds and Manchester.  You could do a lot for that kind of money, and you could raise more of it from private sources if you built a profit making rather than a loss making business on the back of it.

          To me the railways in the Uk have two major tasks that could take priority over fast long distance travel for high fare paying passengers. The first is commuter traffic into and out of our major cities, so people can get to work and back in good time and reasonable comfort. We have not done enough to ensure reliability and pleasant journeys. The second is freight traffic to take more lorries off the roads.

          If we adapted the current rail network to more efficent operation for commuters, we could run more trains on existing track through improved signalling and lighter trains, increasing frequency and reducing overcrowding.

           If we spent some money on providing branch and spur lines into the main trading and industrial parks, and the railway spent more on single waggon marshalling, they could offer a serious freight alternative to many more businesses.

             These might be better priorities than this expensive and contentious new track.


  1. Michael
    December 23, 2010

    John, I think you are too delicate in your assessment of hs2.

    It should be obvious to all that the top priority is to create more capacity and build more resilience into the railways, and that vanity projects should be at the bottom of the list.

  2. Mick Anderson
    December 23, 2010

    Correct in every apect.

    Most supermarkets now have home delivery: they should be delivering a daily wagon to the nearest station, then using the delivery vans to shift stock from there to the shops when they are returning empty from their rounds.

    As for people needing to cut a few minutes from a journey from Birmingham to London, I suspect that there are relatively few people who do this regularly. The money would be better spent in their moving house to make the journeys unnecassary.

    From my post a couple of days ago – the money would be better spent on glass fibre to every house rather than HS2. It’s far more use than this crazy vanity project.

  3. norman
    December 23, 2010

    This article is out of touch and far removed from the reality of current progressive thinking.

    The answer is that we borrow more to pay for it. That seems the most sensible solution. We did borrow £25bn in November, so this project, spread over a few years, is sweetie money, chump change.

    The Coalition have managed to keep our borrowing rates low (which has the added bonus of allowing us to borrow low and lend to our neighbours at high rates, which is going to make us hundreds of millions in profits) so surely another £28 bn is neither here nor there?

    Carry on spending, and the devil take the hindmost!

    1. Electro-Kevin
      December 23, 2010

      Not saying don’t borrow or invest.

      Just arguing that it would be better to invest elsewhere. We need every bang for other people’s bucks we can get.

    2. Nick
      December 23, 2010

      Norman – you dont work in the banking sector do you ? – Its exactly this kind of warped logic that has put this country into such mess in the first place !

      If money is so plentifully available, perhaps we could have some for health, eductation, policeforce, fire service etc- or are these fundementals not high enough up in the pecking order……?

    3. Scooper
      December 23, 2010

      Progressive thinking. The new term for squandering tax payers’ money on politicians’ vanity projects. It’s a typical term used by lefties to frame an issue and to position a policy as the only forward thinking way ahead. Whenever I hear about a policy being Progressive I immediately know that we are going to be paying through the nose for something which I don’t agree with.

      HS2 is fundamentally an extension of the Europe wide high speed network and we should accept that the decision has already been taken in Brussels that it’s going to happen. As usual, it’s now left to the ‘regional’ government in Westminster to make it happen and to pay for it.

  4. lifelogic
    December 23, 2010

    £17 Billion taken away from the wealth creating sector (which could have been invested for perhaps one million new real jobs). Then spent on this nonsense HS2 project. Doubtless is will end up at about 3 times this figure in the end anyway.

    No green benefits – high speed trains are not green when you take into account staff, track, losses at power stations in transmission and the transport connections into account. Encourages more travel and the fewer stops make people travel further to make the connections. High speed travel at ground level is more energy consuming that flying as the air density is higher at low heights and the electricity will have to come from gas or coal until they build the nuclear plants.

    It does not even go the the city centre so will not even save much time. Also a terrorist target (both track and trains) unless they are going to start searching every one as they do at airports. The small time saving could be achieved for virtually nothing by simpler, quicker ticketing systems smaller queues at ticket booths and better reliability on train and bus connection services.

    Huge disruption to business and people while being build too. Take the 17 Billion and get someone efficient to lend it to sound UK businesses with suitable security because the banks are not and the jobs will follow.

    People get work done on trains now anyway so why bother saving a few minutes just get good wifi and phone signals on them.

    In short like most things from Cameron just Mad (though he did “almost” abolish the HIP packs I suppose).

    It is really, as usual just, a scheme to enrich people in the know and with good connections, consultants and the like.

    If as they claim trains so efficient (and virtually untaxed) why do they always cost so much more than going by the much over taxed car? And you cannot carry much, stop on route or go when and where you choose either?

    1. lola
      December 23, 2010

      And “ The cost of the infrastructure to get to Brimingham is estimated at £17 billion, with another £11 billion to get to Leeds and Manchester. You could do a lot for that kind of money, which, if they are going to take it from us by coercion might be better spent on fulfilling the primary duty of the ‘State’ which is to defend us. How many Harriers, how much infantry, how much other equipment could be bought for that.

      HS2 is an utter misallocation of very scarce financial capital. Cut taxes instaead.

    2. lifelogic
      December 24, 2010

      Only about 8% of UK freight goes by rail and that is with a large fuel tax bias and subsidy all rigged in favour of rail. It is only really cost effective for a few special situations just get the roads working properly first.

      Rail is usually a bad idea in a small country apart from a few intercity routes and some commuting – but not quite as daft Chris Hulme’s “renewable” agenda is (with current technology). That really insane. Spoiling the countryside and spending billions on the energy equivalents of the Clive Sinclair C5 electric bike.

  5. Robert K
    December 23, 2010

    If HS2 is economic then the private sector will fund it. If it is not economic then the capital should not be excised from economically successful parts of the economy to fund it.

  6. Colin D.
    December 23, 2010

    With apparent ease, the Government thinks they can conjure up the money to pay for this vanity project.
    The message the public gets is that Cameron is not REALLY committed to cutting back expenditure. So far we have only had fine words and posturing, we have no hard figures to show that we are on track to make ends meet.
    The most charitable approach to this project is for the Government to first PROVE the country’s finances are coming right and leave HS2 for another time.

  7. Alte Fritz
    December 23, 2010

    Agree entirely with your argument. Popular comment fails to mention numerous assumptions, indeed, they become assertions and then ‘fact’. But suppose the assumptions were more reliable; would that justify the project? Not in my book.

    The West Coast main line provides a decent service and journey times. Commuter routes I know around Manchester are mostly third world. How on earth can we talk of spending £28bn when rail becomes the last resort for the commuter?

    Our rail infrastrucutre tries to do too much. My suggestion would be to try to reuse abandonned lines, which remain substantially unbuilt on, to recover capacity wasted by Beeching . The cost of CPOs to repurchase bits of lines sold off would be relatively low.

    Finally, if anyone thinks that rail freight is dead, take a look at the Eddie Stobart website. It speaks volumes.

  8. lifelogic
    December 23, 2010

    JR you say “If we spent some money on providing branch and spur lines into the main trading and industrial parks, and the railway spent more on single wagon marshalling, they could offer a serious freight alternative to many more businesses.”

    I think the scope for this to be of much benefit is rather limited. In a country the size of the UK it is generally not worth all the transfers usually needed from truck to train to sorting and back again. After all a train is just a large truck or coach which is severely limited to only certain stops a tiny proportion of the “roads” and more susceptible to control by government and unions.

    Better to tarmac over (into roads) some more of the pointless branch lines I suspect.

    Still you seem to be right on pretty much everything else, if a bit understated – the only exceptions I believe are this and your being pro capital punishment?

  9. Electro-Kevin
    December 23, 2010

    I am a train driver. I think that you are bang on the money here, Mr Redwood.

    As well as improving existing infrastructure there should be a push to recreate regional monopolies rather than the myriad of operators running self-interested businesses blocking one behind t’ other over limited track.

    One of the things lost with BR was adaptability. The interchangeability of crews and their vast knowledge of different routes and traction – their ability to be redeployed in order to fill-in cancelled services or to be used to assist failed trains because couplers were compatible. A freight driver able to assist a failed intercity because they all did the same work and used the same locomotives. We now have crews with very limited operator-specific knowledge. Then there is the loss of BR Engineering which produced such enduring machines that many are still relied upon today when things go wrong.

    I’m not harking back to the ‘good old days’ or arguing the case for or against privatisation (the railways were invented by privateers, after all) merely that the privatisation model chosen was the wrong one IMHO.

    HS2 is a vanity project. A very frustrating decision indeed if there’s this sort of money around as it is not the optimum investment we need in order to bring Britain back up to scratch.

  10. Nick
    December 23, 2010

    What about that other vanity project, crossrail.

    20 quid a day per ticket? Just to pay the interest bill.

    You won’t get the users paying the price, so you are going to screw over other people.

    Same as HS2

    Why the attraction for one, and the scepticism for the other?

    A touch of the pork barrel isn’t it?

  11. alan jutson
    December 23, 2010

    Simple questions:

    Once it is built, if it ever gets built, who is going to run the service?

    Will it be put out to a franchise with a government subsidy, just like most of the other routes?

    Will standing room be the norm, or will everyone be guaranteed a seat.

    What will be the cost of a seat.

    More importantly, if it does not go direct to the Centre of Birmingham, is there any point.

    It took years and years for us to get our act together with the new Eurostar route, not sure if it was on, over, or under budget, but I think this still only runs high speed for some of the distance (to my uncertain knowledge).

    Is it worth it, when so many improvements could be made elswhere for the money.

    How many people are going to travel into London, to get a high speed train to just outside Birmingham, when you can use perhaps a slower route, which takes you to the city Centre (Birmingham) from many other locations including Reading.

  12. Rob Hay
    December 23, 2010

    I totally agree with all the criticisms of HS2 and they are so obvious that you have to wonder why government ministers are so keen on it. What is in it for them?

  13. Brian Tomkinson
    December 23, 2010

    I doubt if there is anywhere near a majority across the country in favour of this proposed colossal waste of money. The existing rail network needs improving and extra capacity added. Much could be done with a fraction of this expenditure. The benefit of saving a few minutes (in theory) for some people in travelling to London cannot justify this. The result will be more commuting to London – not to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Regardless of party, it seems to me that politicians in government cannot think of enough different ways of wasting taxpayers’ money. Regrettably the current coalition is no exception.

  14. Lizzy Williams
    December 23, 2010

    Another sensible man speaking common sense – please pass the message on!

    These trains are supposed to carry 1100 passengers on up to 30 trains an hour (1 every 2 minutes) for possibly 12 hours a day thats 396,000 people. They will be electric. HS1 is running pathetically in the snow with thousands stranded or with plans for the holiday ruined by cancelled trains or ardous journeys on delayed and slower services because of the snow. All Eggs in One Basket would be a wise way of describing HS2. Do we really want to risk having that amount of people not being able to travel in a crisis. Simply madness.

  15. John Moss
    December 23, 2010

    I agree with most of this, but would suggest that we could also add the occassional “railway by-pass” to take faster through trains around the tortuous, twisty bits which go in and out of city centres.

    Bypassing the Trent Valley/Coventry/Birmingham bottleneck would allow some trains to gain significant time on the trip to Manchester, for example. A similar approach in the East might by-pass the Durham/Newcastle section to speed trains to Edinburgh. The arrival at Durham is truly beautiful, but it takes ages!

  16. Geoff not Hoon
    December 23, 2010

    Mr. Redwood, Large parts of Britain now have no rail freight whatsoever. Every day each supermarket company sends in its 15metre articulated vehicle to service its stores in these area’s and on the way passes countless small stations occasionally used only for passenger traffic. In addition to these large vehicles countless numbers of courier company vehicles such as DHL, UPS, Fedex, Royal Mail, Home Delivery etc. carry out duplicated routes with again 50% empty return mileage.
    Once empty each of these vehicles trundle back to the RDC/depot to do it all again whilst the railway lines remain 50 to 75% under utilised. Soon we will apoint another Beeching and justify closing further lines when some of the £17B. would be better spent bringing the UK into the 20th century never mind the 21st for regional railways.

    1. a-tracy
      December 24, 2010

      Do you work in a transport operation? Empty running of each trunk vehicle isn’t what I remember happening when I worked in a hub and spoke operation.

  17. A.Sedgwick
    December 23, 2010

    As you point out money can be better spent on our railway system, to adapt the Osborne metaphor if you have a leaking roof you don’t buy a new kitchen.

    On a personal level, as I get older I would like to use the train more. I have a railcard that gives me a paltry 1/3 discount to travel occasionally off peak on near empty trains. If it is a journey with my wife we go by car, because it is cheaper. Good marketing?

  18. R. Goodacre
    December 23, 2010

    The consultants’ estimates for Eurostar traffic turned out to be wildly over-optimistic, so maybe we should use that experience as a benchmark: ie reduce the HS2 traffic forecast by about 40%, and then see how the sums add up.

  19. A.Sedgwick
    December 23, 2010

    I forgot to mention this railcard costs £26 per year.

  20. a-tracy
    December 23, 2010

    Who are the potential clients? Is the majority expected to be general public on shopping trips, they can’t be on theatre trips because the last trains are 2200 and the threatres don’t kick out until 2215. Or are these to get people away from regional airports and into Heathrow? Or are these for Birmingham business people to get into bigger markets? Are they to take away air travel passengers from the Midlands onto Eurostar because this Winter I can’t see many people making that choice you didn’t hear of people queueing outside in the cold for six hours at East Midlands Airport and then being sent home. Is the main client the Postal service?

    I am a big supporter, being a Northerner, of more regional spending and business projects in the North, I approved of Media City and want it to be successful for our creative talent in the North so that they don’t have to relocate to London. Too much art, cultural and business spending is centralised in London causing great disparity in prosperity and things that make life enjoyable and encourage people to live in nicer areas. However, I would like to know what the anticipated usage is going to be or will it end up like the M6 Toll road – very nice but too expensive for regular commuters.

  21. Eoin Clarke
    December 23, 2010

    If they had simply let the third runway at Heathrow go ahead then we would not have these problems. It would have paid for with private investment, thus saving the exchequer billions.

  22. Dual Citizen
    December 23, 2010

    Well I find myself hugely disappointed by this announcement, though for different reasons.

    One of the tests I apply is “would I use it”, or “could I see myself using it?” And as I used to live in the Reading area before moving to the US I’ll use that as a starting point. Could I see myself using high-speed rail for a business trip to Brussels or Paris, or to visit my brother for a weekend in Manchester?

    Sadly, the answer is “no”. But it could so easily have been “yes” if the government had shown a little forethought. If I could EASILY get to the high-speed railway station, or even a connecting station, I would use it. And if the government had gone ahead with the out-of-town/parkway station at the M4/M25 (otherwise known as the “Heathrow Hub”), then I could have driven there, and be parked in the economy car park within 30 minutes, and be on a train to Manchester within another 15, or to Europe in 40.

    But no, the west of London station is to be virtually in the city at Old Oak Common, so it can interchange with that even bigger vanity project called Crossrail. Nowhere to park there, so instead I’d have to use an expensive taxi or long bus ride (c. 30 mins) to Reading station, a 15 minute wait for a half hour train ride to Old Oak and probably a 15 minute wait there for the HST. Had I decided to drive, by the time the HST to Manchester was leaving the platform at Old Oak, I would be well along the M42 approaching Birmingham International. So, no thanks, I’ll take the car to see my brother and the plane to Paris.

  23. David Bowman
    December 23, 2010

    HS2 is total ‘over kill’ for this small country where we do not yet have a viable passenger and freight rail network let alone one operating at trans continental speeds. It is akin to using Concorde to fly between London and Birmingham, a ridiculous concept.
    In this small island what does the saving of 20 minutes equate to between London and Birmingham? Another coffee or a more lingering look around the station news stand? We so not need such an extreme non-stop high speed link that will not take one commuter vehicle off the road on a daily basis in the areas destroyed along it’s route.
    What we need is a reliable urban rail infrastructure across the country to rival the German S Bahn system.
    HS2 is a project of maximum spend with minimum benefit for the great majority of taxpayers forced to fund it.
    It is also a ‘given’ that such a project will exceed current projected costs by at the very least 100% , probably much more. Sheer economic madness.

  24. fake
    December 23, 2010

    I have to say I live near where it will be and I am loving this. Everyone I meet who objects to it, and I mean everyone, is clearly against it for nothing other than nimbyism, and I love watching them get wound up.

    *No green benefits*

    Don’t care. No one objects to new roads, in fact where I live people are crying out for them because of traffic, double standards.

    *Encourages more travel*

    Yes, this is clearly a bad thing. Convinient modes of transport have done nothing good for the last hundred years, we don’t need such claptrap.

    *It does not even go the the city centre so will not even save much time.*

    Sorry, it encourages more travel, yet it isnt conveniant? this is what I mean about the nimbys tying themselves up in illogical knots to justify their position.

    *Huge disruption to business and people while being build too.*


    Most people are complaining it will ruin the countryside, how many sheep will it be disturbing?

    *People get work done on trains now anyway so why bother saving a few minutes *

    We should bring back horse and carrage, think of all the work we could do!

    *If as they claim trains so efficient (and virtually untaxed) why do they always cost so much more than going by the much over taxed car?*

    Got figures for that that don’t just look at one aspect of owning and running a car, but include all costs, and doesnt assume the car is a cheap £100 morris minor.

    I shan’t hold my breath.

    1. drilldevil
      December 23, 2010

      Assume your name reflects your views! How much money are you prepared to put into this ridiculous project? You live near the proposed line, how much disruption are you happy to have over the years of construction, or are you planning to stay indoors? Regarding your disparaging comments regarding ” NIMBY”‘s if you are not prepared to look after your local environment then you can be sure no-one else will and I expect you will not mind if Heathrow’s 3rd runway will instead be built in your backyard as opposed to the apparent plan to build it in Birmingham and use HS2 to ferry people to London

    2. Electro-Kevin
      December 25, 2010

      Once the financial commitment has been made to own a car one must get one’s money’s worth.

      The higher the vehicle excise, the higher the insurance and the higher the depreciation the more one must opt to use it in order not to lose out. In fact higher vehicle excise is an incentive to make more use of the car – fuel duty on the other hand …

      Railways – outside of city centers – are nowhere near good enough to cover the demands of the modern set-up. It can be highly expensive when the connecting modes of transport are included in order to complete a journey.

      I get free rail travel and yet there are many long journeys where I use the car instead because the short connections which make it viable are so prohibitive in both time and money.

  25. Penny Gaines
    December 23, 2010

    When the Transport Select Committee was holding oral evidence sessions for their “Transport and the economy” inquiry, they asked witnesses was whether HS2 was a spending priority. Only the mayor of the London Borough of Newham thought it was a priority – and then only if it stopped at Stratford on HS1.

    We have a link to the oral evidence session from our website:

  26. Andy
    December 23, 2010

    I agree.

    If we must do something, I’m not sure why why are sticking with more of the same, just a little bit faster perhaps (except I heard this lines doesn’t even go to city centres, or take cars – what are you supposed to do when you get off?!)

    Where’s the inspiration?

    ” single waggon marshalling” .. I’ve not heard that before but guessing it means a system where there are lots of single units on the tracks that are all computer controlled to their destination to fit in between the other trains? – would these units tow a standard lorry trailer on the tracks?
    Now that’s something that could be a bit revolutionary, but is as likely to happen as airships.

  27. Neil Craig
    December 23, 2010

    We should be fully automating rail & (as John previously pointed out) using modern construction so that rolling stock weighs only as much as buses. This would greatly increase capacity while lowering costs.

    In going purely for speed we are making the same error as choosing to incent Concorde rather than the Jumbo.

  28. English Pensioner
    December 23, 2010

    Where are the customers who are going to use this new line in the quantities required to make it a paying proposition? Presumably fares will be higher than the normal fares for the route, and these are already too much for families.So its just for the rich! I’m surprised that it has Labour support, although presumably Unite thinks it’s a good idea!
    My wife and I went up to Scotland for a week a couple of months ago; the rail cost for two was more than cost of using our car, and of course we then had transport available on our arrival. Give me good reasons why we should have gone by rail; apart from cost, I suspect my way was probably more environmentally friendly.
    Railways are only any use from city centre to city centre, and most people simply don’t want the city centres.The old Great Western Railway recognised this back in the 1800’s which was why they built all their branch lines which in due course, Doctor Beeching scrapped. Once one gets into the car to drive to a station, one immediately thinks about making the whole journey in a car. And of course if Parliament in the 1800’s hadn’t voted against Brunel’s broad gauge (on “scientific advice” that people would be asphyxiated if the travelled at more than 60 mph) we would of course now have a far better system capable of supporting high speed trains.
    Since the invention of railways, government interference and dictats have been a total disaster and there is no reason to think they won’t continue to be so in the future.

  29. Bob
    December 23, 2010

    I often see railway rolling stock being transported on low-loaders on the M1. Why not just tarmac the railway tracks and take the pressure off of the motorways?

  30. Stuart Fairney
    December 23, 2010

    More statist nonsense from supposed right wingers but actually crypto social democrats.

    No change, no choice, no democracy unless we vote for change and that does not mean Labour, Liberal or Conservative any more as they are all crowded in the centre ground.

  31. Demetrius
    December 23, 2010

    On Sunday 7 November last I posted on “Pain On The Train”, as well as a passing comment on Tuesday 23 December, glad to see you are on the right side about this. In the 1960’s as a consequence of Beeching the government and BR closed the old Great Central Line from Marylebone to the north. It was the only length of track on the whole network built to the continental loading gauge and laid to allow eventual electrification. The HS2 is a seriously misconceived project in the present given all the other needs and possibilities. The figures we are being given are laughable if you study any real railway history.

  32. Acorn
    December 23, 2010

    These GC gauge trains (Eurostar type) are twin sets, 400 m long and can carry 1100 people at 225 – 250 mph. They reckon they can handle 14 – 18 trains an hour, on a ten platform station; that is around 20,000 passengers per hour. Question = Calculate the number of car parking spaces required at each station.

    EU fans will know that our trains now have to comply with EU Directive 2008/57/EC (The Interoperability Directive, written by the French). HS2 will be a fast route to several bottlenecks. Could we spend the money, if we have it, on getting HS1 – can handle French GC gauge trains – fixed before starting on HS2. Raising the design line speed from 187 mph to 225 mph, seems like very little bang for a lot of bucks. Particularly when you have to start slowing down the train, 8 miles before you get to the station.

    1. lifelogic
      December 24, 2010

      And what on earth makes them think 20,000 people and hour want to go to just outside Birmingham anyway?

      I suppose though, they will build an great attraction there such as a museum (rather cathedral) to “sustainability”, “climate change”, “progressiveness”, “equality”, “renewablility”, “happiness” and the “coalition” just to attract the masses. With a giant wind turbine (probably not revolving) but hopefully with Chris Huhne nailed to it, a laurel of broken solar cells glinting on his head. It will doubtless be freezing cold too.

      I shall not attend.

  33. wab
    December 23, 2010

    Unfortunately, Cameron and Osborne are a bit too much like Blair and Brown, wasting money on vanity projects like HS2.

    The one definite impact of HS2 is that more London commuters will move further and further from London. This will force increases in house prices in areas anywhere near the train stations and make it difficult for people who work locally to move away. This is already the case anywhere near London. Why is the government encouraging this?

    This train travel would not be so bad if train passengers actually paid for the cost of their travel. But for some reason, train commuters have come to expect that the rest of the country should subsidise their journey (i.e. their chosen lifestyle), and the media never questions this.

    Any service that needs a whacking great government subsidy is almost by definition not “sustainable”. Yet the media and politicians continually parrot this claim when it comes to trains. They look at just one narrow factor (the direct energy consumption for trains to get from A to B) and ignore the whole system (e.g. the indirect energy consumption represented by staff, etc.).

    HS2, even at the alleged price tag (which will almost certainly rise), represents over four years of science funding.

    1. lifelogic
      December 25, 2010

      Spot on trains are certainly not good for co2 emissions when staff, end connections, stations, track, and power generation and transmission are all counted. Why should they be? They are, after all, just large coaches or trucks but limited to a tiny percentage of the “roads” and are further limited to a few station stopping points.

      Also why waste time and mileage going by public transport from A to B to C to D to E to F (with all the attendant missed connection risks) when you can go directly A to F in the car/truck with your luggage/friend- picking up your shopping/children/girlfriend on the route back should you so choose.

      And do it more cheaply (and greenly) too, despite the silly tax and subsidy bias to rail.

  34. Vanessa
    December 23, 2010

    It seems like a complete “white elephant” to me. It does not go to any of our major airports which I would have thought the most sensible place to start. To locate in West London and then through some of the most beautiful parts of England is downright “evil”. Labour started this and made sure it went through tory heartland and the “tories” are keeping it. Well, I hope the tories are smashed at the next election for continuing to destroy this country and alienating so many of their loyal supporters. Did our EU government have anything to do with this stupid decision??

  35. Tim Almond
    December 23, 2010

    The economic benefits from improving travel speed is about “tipping points”. It is about someone taking a journey that they would not have done before because you have put the journey within a certain acceptable time.

    For instance, TGV services in France eliminated a lot of internal flights because the time was reduced to a point where it competed with flights (I think it’s just slightly longer, but also more reliable and cheaper). Likewise, if you can improve the speed of a service so that you can get the journey to be under an hour, then it can become a commuter town.

    The big problem with HS2 is that while it makes journeys faster, it doesn’t “tip” the journey time. It won’t be short enough to be a commuter journey, so at best it will serve leisure travellers, or people going to meetings. Whilst it will save around 30 minutes, it won’t make much difference about whether those things happen more.

    If you doubled the capacity of the Swindon to London line, it would cost less and have far more effect, environmentally and economically. It costs £50+ peak for me to go to Reading, which means that unless I use a season ticket, I drive, even though I prefer to go by rail. Raise the capacity of the rail, prices will go down and more people will use those trains.

    The only HS line that seems at all rational to me is London to Scotland, branching to Glasgow and Edinburgh. You could do a 400 mile journey in around 2 hours, which would be faster than a high speed service. It would create extra economic activity between the cities.

  36. Woodsy42
    December 23, 2010

    Living north of Birmingham it’s absolutely no use to me, but more importantly I can’t see how it will ever be any use to move freight or long distance passengers.
    Even if we could escape from the EU politically we will always need significant links and have plenty of trade with Europe. The problem for anyone living north of London is that London is in the way and sucks all the transport links into itself.
    If we try and drive, as does most freight, to Europe we have the appalling M25 and Thames crossing, if we try and use rail passengers and luggage get dumped one parte of London and have to manouvre via the tube to the other.
    We need a fast direct route, from the midlands and north into central Europe for goods and passengers that avoids London. That would be worth the investment, not saving 10 minutes on a route that already exists.

  37. Derek Buxton
    December 23, 2010

    Thanks for that strange insight into economics…..of the madhouse! I had some small savings which are disappearing rapidly because they attract so little interest. We were threatened with cuts, instead we get new spending initiatives every day. Inflation is going up…and up… and up. But pensions aren’t and still we have our energy bills artificially increased for a myth. I really despair of this poor bunch of spoilt brats, more interested in haggling over their expenses than in looking after the Country’s and it’s People’s interests.

  38. Richard1
    December 23, 2010

    This issue illustrates a characteristic weakness in our political system – even sensible and thoughtful politicians like Mr Hammond feel obliged to support this scheme as it 1) creates jobs, 2) gives a nod to closing the ‘North-South divide’, and 3) ticks the global warming box. So nobody (on a front bench) dares to raise the obvious objections – thats its probably a huge waste of money & if there really was demand for it there would be private capital available (after all nobody was suggesting a 3rd runway at Heathrow would have needed the state to pay for it).

    It feels a bit like the Olympics – everyone has to cheer, although its almost certainly bad news

  39. Ruth
    December 23, 2010

    This project is an utter waste of money. The fastest trains between Birmingham, Manchester and London are already very quick, the introduction of the Pendolino a few years ago chopped a chunk of time off the journey from Manchester. The projected benefits are wishful thinking, and thinking about how many billions are to be spent on it makes me very, very angry.

    I bet that in order to accommodate these trains, a number of other long distance and commuter trains will be removed because of lack of station capacity, thus providing a poorer service to existing users. And who wants to go to the outskirts of Birmingham? The main advantage of New Street is that it is right in the city centre and you can walk to your destination or at least have a short taxi ride.

  40. Brian
    December 23, 2010

    Sorry to disagree with you John. HS2 is an investment for the future.With our ever increasing population the exisisting railway will be at full capacity and however much you fine tune it, disruption due to weather or strikes will result in chaos. The example of Heathrow is an example where the operation runs at 95+% capacity and is vulnerable to even minor disruptions.
    Happy Christmas and New Year.

  41. pipesmoker
    December 23, 2010

    I remember rattling down the Derby to St Pancras line and stopping at every station, Trent, Kettering and others back in the 1940’s so it’s long overdue. Just get on with it!

  42. BobE
    December 23, 2010

    There are no internal flights into Birmingham from London. So the only people who will use this are already travelling using the existing tracks. This will run empty except for commuting times. Its the daftest project since the useless Reading Windmill. We are led by half-wits.

  43. HJ
    December 23, 2010

    I share John’s view on HS2.

    However, I’d question whether investing more for commuter services is necessarily a good idea. Is it really economically efficient to subsidise people to travel so extensively to work? If they (or their companies) had to pay the full economic price, then perhaps the companies would move out of London (or other major cities) or pay their workers enough to live closer, or they’d encourage satellite offices or working from home. In other words, do we want to encourage more commuting by subsidising it?

    For the most part and most of the time, the train network really doesn’t need greater capacity – only at commuting times is it short of capacity. So any extra investment would only be useful for about four hours per day and then only on week days, but everybody – not just commuters – would be paying to add this capacity.

  44. Mark
    December 23, 2010

    I do not live anywhere near HS2, but I do use the London radial motorways. By public transport it would take over an hour to reach Old Oak Common, assuming no waiting time at the start of the journey. HS2 doesn’t end up where I want to be, so I’m faced with further inconvenient journeys the other end, aside from the fact that the car is usually fairly full with baggage items and passengers (including dogs) that are not easy to move through stations when I make these journeys. HS2 would slow my journey, besides costing far more.

    I believe the economics show a payback of around 60 years. That is, the project is uneconomic at interest rates that exceed 5/3rds% or 1.67%. The government is presently paying around 4% to borrow for over 10 years. The project is uneconomic. It will never achieve payback.

  45. HJ
    December 23, 2010

    One of the reasons, of course, that people commute so extensively is that it is prohibitively expensive to move closer to work if they change jobs. In large part this is because of stamp duty. It would perhaps be better to remove stamp duty to make moving house cheaper.

  46. tonyp17
    December 23, 2010

    Why is Philip Hammond following the ill conceived approach from the last Government? I am sure those who are not directly affected would pull the assumptions apart and Hammond should not be trying to justify his actions by referring to the silent majority.

    This project should have been scrapped within the first weeks of the Coalition. The distance is too short to really benefit anyone unlike France, for example, where trains cover vast distances.

    He should stop wasting his time trying to justify HS2 and get on with properly ensuring this country keeps moving during winter. At the rate he is going his tenure as Transport Secretary will be short lived. I had hoped for much better from him.

  47. Alan Wheatley
    December 23, 2010

    I am delighted to see this post.

    For those who would like to read more about the issues I heartily recommend the article by Chris Stokes, former Executive Director for the Strategic Rail Authority, who “puts forward a heretic’s view on domestic high speed rail” in the October edition of Modern Railways. I can not find a downloadable version of the article, but the magazine can be obtained from the back editions section of their web site, see .

    Stokes describes HS2 as a vanity project, and explains the commercial case in favour only works if all the assumptions upon which it is based turn out to be true, and he shows why this is optimism in the extreme. He considers the claimed benefits relating to growth, economic regeneration, environmental benefits, replacement of a “third world” railway and the need for more capacity.

    Could Philip Hammond make the case in favour as credible and persuasive?

  48. Bazman
    December 23, 2010

    Just spend the billions helicopters, limousines and subsidising high end houses and restaurants especially in London This will attract foreign aerospace and other industries here and lure businessmen with cheap transport and good lifestyles bringing wealth to the country. The price of the tickets will be on par with a helicopter journey anyway. Feudalism and serfdom may be an unconsidered alternative.

  49. Steve Baker MP
    December 23, 2010

    Great stuff John. It has been pointed out to me that the line does not affect my constituency but I am opposed to HS2 nevertheless: I want to see profit-making infrastructure – infrastructure which creates value.


  50. John D.
    December 23, 2010

    The Japanese have had High Speed Rail for years, and it seems to work pretty good for them.
    South Korea has also been forking out money on High Speed Rail, and they’re doing pretty nicely.
    China have taken such a liking to High Speed Rail that they’ve decided to build one linking Beijing & London + Singapore.
    Even the USA has trains that’ll crack 150mph now.

    So it’s probably better to invest now (inspite of the Financial train crash Labour left behind for us to once again clear up), than get left any further behind….. though it’s not the only improvements needed (e.g. speeding up the time it takes to get from the East to West coasts of the UK, and not just concentrating on North to South).

  51. Chris Woolley
    December 23, 2010

    I do not live on the route, but in Woodley, 25 yards from your constituency boundary, unfortunately, but I also agree that the HS2 is not a sound investment at this time. Maybe in a few years. Extending the branch lines closed after the last socialists ran out of our money would be better. As for commuting, I gave that up because I am not cattle.
    Studies have also shown that it is just as likely that business would be sucked down to the London end of the line than fostered at the other end, which would only add to the overcrowding here. Basic locational geography.

  52. David Burch
    December 23, 2010

    Maybe the backers of HS2 should read the history of the Great Central Railway which had similar aims in the late 19th Century. That dream ended in 1966. My objection is that the existing rail routes could be upgraded or reopened in the case of the Great Central.

    As a potential passenger for HS2 I do sometime travle to Birmingham on business. I can get from my house in SE London to the M5/M42/M6 ring in about 2 hours. Regardless of the high speed line I would still take over an hour to reach the London terminus. When I do go by train (to Newcastle say) the train is used as an office – catching up on e-mails etc again speed is not the main issue and that same old problem of my house not being next door to the terminus.

    The bit that made me really laugh was that HS2 was seen as a link to Scotland. Any rail enthusiast will tell you the shortcomings of the WCML north of Preston. Maybe HS3 is planned however that will ruin the Fells and come at the price of a small bank bailout!

    Please tell them to stop this waste of money now.

  53. JimF
    December 23, 2010

    Clearly none of you has taken into account the European Dream of interlinking major European cities by trans-European high speed rail networks. Do you not understand the benefits this will bring to the children and grandchildren of present citizens of Europe? Birmingham to the Baltics for Winterval, Birmingham to Berlin for European Workers’ Day on May 1.
    What’s not to like?

  54. J. Collins
    December 23, 2010

    John Redwood writes a sound and sensible article on HS2

  55. Bazman
    December 23, 2010

    Is HS2 the right investment for the UK?
    It is serious investment for the UK as long as it is extended to the top of Scotland with branch and spur lines taken as seriously. All paid for and subsidised by the taxpayer.
    Does electricity benefit the UK? Errr! Let me think?

  56. Guido Fawkes
    December 23, 2010

    I’m with the late Alfred Sherman on this, tarmac the intercity routes for speed limit free toll roads. That will pay.

    1. Bazman
      December 23, 2010

      Just retarded.

    2. A.Sedgwick
      December 24, 2010

      for coach/bus use only.

  57. edgeplate
    December 23, 2010

    We get rid of one government which liked to waste our money hand over fist on all sorts of useless projects of no benefit whatsoever, and replace them with another which despite the fact that the country is in debt, pleases to waste our money on useless projects of no benefit whatsoever.

    In this case they can’t do simple things such as ensue the country isn’t paralysed by a few inches of snow, but can spend billions on a rail link which has very doubtful advantages.

    Nothing of substance has changed.

  58. Martin
    December 23, 2010

    One of the justifications for supporting HS2 (including by some of Conservatives) was to replace Domestic Air Traffic to Heathrow. As I have mentioned to many HS2 won’t serve Belfast, Aberdeen, Edinburgh etc within the next 20 years – even Newcastle will be lucky to get HS2. (Who blocked the Heathrow Third runway? – Hmm the Tories were right – BAA can’t even keep the existing two free of snow!)

    Rail travellers from much of Scotland and Newcastle to London will not benefit from HS2 as Birmingham is a major detour. A better solution for these markets would be to upgrade East Coast Mainline to 140MPH (220KPH) or even faster running and put in a parallel freight line along with bottleneck removals.

    The original HS2 route to Glasgow via Preston doesn’t look very clever economically and it has to tackle some tough country. Also Glasgow isn’t clever for connections. ECML to Edinburgh looks a better bet. Free marketeers should note that extra services to on ECML are always being turned down due to capacity issues.

  59. F.S.M
    December 23, 2010

    John I agree with most of your comments. Is it correct that road fuel is taxed at £4.00 a gallon and is part of the £6 to £1 financal benefit to the exchequer? On top of the cost of motoring to get to work , the roaduser has to pay 50% of the cost of every rail ticket purchased for others to get from A to B.
    HS1 cost nearly £6 billion to build and has only achieved 35% of the predicted passenger volume. HS1 is now leased to a Canadian company for £2.1billion or £7o million a year for two years. Is the notional loss a £180 million a year in interest plus any further subsidy that might be paid to the franchisee in order to keep fares affordable? I believe the attraction for the Canadian company was the government guarantee to fund HS1 until 2040.
    Inspite of the HS1 disaster, and the unfairness to the national taxpayer (the majority of whom never use the train at peak times) Mr Hammond is proposing to do it all over again. He is basing the business case for HS2 on an increase of 267% in passenger demand by 2083.
    All this when a lady who daily travels to work by train from Bolton to Manchester said that the last time she was able to ghet a seat was Christmas 2009 and other passengers commented that if cattle were transported in this manner it would be illegal.
    Can anyone seriously justify the HS2 project when our national rail transport is such a chaotic shambles of mismanagement.

  60. Timothy Hart
    December 23, 2010

    You are right to question the Government’s direction on High speed Rail as it seems to change its justification for the HS2 project. Initially it promoted the HS2 project on a solid “business case”, when the inaccuracies and its financial unsustainability were exposed the project was then promoted on environmental grounds as a “green” project, again the fundamentals were exposed as inaccurate and now the Government is promoting the project on the basis of the “transformational benefits” it will bring to the north of England, which are based principally on belief – and not evidence. How can we believe what we are told? It may be a good project for the construction industry, but it’s not worth carving a scar through some of our most beautiful countryside, including through the Chiltern area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and destroying it for current and future generations.

    This project affects the whole country because of its cost, especially in the current economic circumstances. It will be paid for by taxpayers and many other projects all over the country will not be funded because all the available funding will have been sucked into HS2.

    Please raise your questions loudly at Westminster

  61. F.S.M
    December 23, 2010

    Correction 2083 should read 2033.

  62. grahams
    December 24, 2010

    Further to your argument, might it be better to upgrade other routes with more economic need/potential for less money? A good London to Birmingham train now takes 1 hr 22 mins for about 106 miles . The virtually identical distance from London to Norwich takes 1hr 48 mins. Cardiff to Wrexham, the main North-South link in Wales, is 2 hrs 41 mins and London to needy Lowestoft, the old East Coast line, 2 hrs 43 mins for the same distance, according to National Rail. London to the leading port of Felixstowe is 1hr 54 mins for 70 miles. Is speeding up the fast London- Birmingham-Manchester- Leeds services again really first priority?

  63. Dacriz
    December 24, 2010

    Our existing motorway network evolved to go where people want to go.
    How about we forget more conventional rail… An expensive 19thC solution!

    I propose a network of monorails suspended over the existing motorways with protected stanchions down the central reservation. No new land required. Expansion easy!

  64. Peter Davidson
    December 24, 2010

    I suppose I’m going to get slated here, given the general tenor of the remarks above

    Some amazingly muddle headed thinking going on here

    • It’s going to overrun on time and budget – well the reality is that HS1, the only credible benchmark project, came in on time and on budget
    • Who will it serve, there’s no market for it – try telling that to RyanAir, EasyJet, whose planes are full of millions of travellers jetting off to mainland European destinations – HS2 will begin to provide a real effective alternative to the ubiquitous short-haul airborne links we’re all apparently wedded to – try looking at other places where such links are in place and you’ll find that every single time, the railway wins and takes massive market share – in other words customers vote with their cash!
    • Spend the money on reversing the infamous Beeching era cuts and/or various upgrades to the existing network – the latter strategy has already been tried and failed miserably; anyone remember the WCML refurbishment costing approx £10bn, taking ten years to complete and an absolute nightmare for the travelling public, bringing back all of those lovely branch lines back into service; perhaps but what about the best part of a million new NIMBYS you’ll create when they suddenly realise a newly revamped railway is coming through their back yard!
    • Use the money to cut taxes – I won’t even bother with that one – too contemptible to justify a rebuttal
    • Just build the 3rd runway at Heathrow – that’ll sort out the capacity problem – laughable – just what are you going to power your own private plane (to avoid all of those pesky crowds in the departure lounge) with in a post-peak oil environment 50 years from now – don’t tell me; you have your own Palm Oil plantation?

    Eventually the penny might begin to drop about the real justification for HS2

    • HS2 IS NOT a domestic transport project
    • HS2 IS NOT about shaving a few minutes off the journey time between Birmingham and London for expense fuelled business types
    • HS2 IS the first piece in a much larger transport jigsaw puzzle aimed at providing a sustainable pan-European network of mass passenger transport links
    • HS2 WILL begin to roll out the proven benefits of High Speed Rail to a much larger proportion of the UK population (who it should be remembered funded the construction of HS1/St.Pancras in the first place)

    1. adam
      December 27, 2010

      “• Use the money to cut taxes – I won’t even bother with that one – too contemptible to justify a rebuttal”

      A visitor from Brussels

  65. Ech0
    December 24, 2010

    The Railways are our greatest source of national shame. Hell, even the Italians have managed to get their trains working properly!

  66. buckkspiccy
    December 26, 2010

    Well said John, but I would have been more vociferous! This is most ego-based project that could have been invented! That it was originally thought up by the LAbour party says it all! I have written to Baroness Warsi as well.
    This is Dr. Beeching gone mad!

  67. adam
    December 27, 2010

    You could use £15 billion to make the UK government a world leader in solar technology research, set up a leading facility and attract thew worlds best scientists, push ahead with cheap high efficiency solar cells and sell them around the world to irrigate the planets deserts
    Short to medium term solar is the future, until Fusion comes along in 100 years

  68. Peter Davidson
    December 27, 2010

    ooohhhh @adam – you’re just so (un)funny

    By the way, which suburb of Brussels do you live in?

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