Trains to Birmingham


             I recently went to Birmingham by train. I wanted to make a speech there first thing in the morning and get back for Parliament later. That meant staying in London the night before to be close to Euston. It was a good opportunity to see how much we need High Speed 2.

             I caught the 7.23 fast train from London to Birmingham, stopping at just Watford and Coventry. It was the train to get you to Brimingham for 9am, the crucial business train you might think. It left on time and arrived close to the scheduled time, despite a delay and slow movement at one point.I bought a standard class day return on the day of travel, as I had not had chance to buy an advance cheaper ticket. I had no complaints about the speed of the train or the time it took me to get from station to station. It was fast, considerably quicker than I would be allowed to travel on the M40.

              The carriage I was travelling in was 17% occupied. The next door one was around one fifth occupied. The first class carriages were much emptier than the poorly used Standard class.  There was little sign of all this need for extra capacity. Returning later the same morning, at half the price of the outbound fare, the carriages were still more than half empty.

               The approach to passengers was not very  businesslike. On the outbound journey it was not until after Watford that a crackly announcement told us there was a shop on the train where we could buy food and drinks. We were also told that the credit card machine was not working, so we could not buy anything unless we had sufficient cash.  It was not very inviting.

                There were regular announcements to tell you the name of the  next station. They also repeatedly told us we had to be unpaid guards, looking out for anything or anyone suspicious and reporting this to the police. It was difficult to see how I could do this, as there were no police travelling in uniform on the train. Fortunately I did not see anyone suspicious so I did not need to bother.It was an unusual approach to winning over customers.

               For almost £80 single to Birmingham I got no offer of a  newspaper, no drink, no information about onward travel, no seat belt, no moving map to show us where we had got to, no safety restraints on some people’s heavy luggage in overhead racks,  no hard copy maps in the seat pockets as you would on a plane. There was waste paper left in between the tray table and the back of the seat.  No-one tried to sell me any additional good or service, other than the announcement about the shop. On the return journey there were no ticket checks at either station I walked through nor on the train itself.

            Out of the train windows you could see large tracts of railway land that were not being well used, and numerous freight wagons and carriages left in sidings  and looking unused and in poor state. It did not give the impression of a well run set of  businesses with tight control over assets and money.

                First Group when it bid for the West Coast franchise said its load factor if it had started the franchise would have been just 35%. Even Network Rail, keen not to release capacity figures, did show in 2010 that overall load factors out of Euston were just 60%.

                I can see no reason why my random day to go to Brimingham was unrepresentative. Even if you allow for more use on other days and at other times, you have to conclude trains from Euston to Birmingham do not seem to be near full capacity or that busy. If I want to seea  crowded train I get on a commuter route at peaks, or try to get from Reading to London by train. The case for HS2 I thought rested on the need for more seats to Birmingham, to attract more Londoners to make the journey.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Steve Cox
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    HS2 is going to be a very expensive service which will mean that its use will anyway be restricted to the wealthy and those traveling on expenses. It never was meant for the ordinary working person. And those in power making decisions on this sort of project, and the industrialists who back it, are of course wealthy and/or traveling on expense accounts. It’s not hard to see why it’s going ahead, even though it will cost the Conservatives thousands of votes from those whose lives and properties are adversely disrupted by the construction.

    In the meantime Heathrow has reached capacity and Gatwick is within a few years of it, yet all the government can do is to announce another enquiry or consultation. It’s clear that both airports need another runaway (and why not build two at Heathrow while we’re at it), and yet Mr Cameron is completely paralysed over the matter.

    • lifelogic
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Trains are usually a waste of time in the UK other than a few commuter and intercity routes. The shortish UK distances and the connections at either end render then too expensive and usually slower and less efficient than a car. Just get a five runway Heathwick and some better roads. Why else do trains need so much subsidy.

      I see that I Camden two of my properties are to be blighted by HS2 for years perhaps running about 20 metres away if the daft scheme goes ahead. I am already expected to fill in time consuming forms (unpaid).

      Buying the absurdly complex tickets and working out the logistics of the interconnections usually takes longer than the actually journey.

      What drives the whole racket is the desire for more state sector parasitic jobs and an excuse to steal others property. And a few MPs and businessmen on expense accounts with a taxis at each end.

      • Credible
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        Lifelogic, you say “The shortish UK distances and the connections at either end render then too expensive and usually slower and less efficient than a car.”
        Must have been a while since you travelled on the M1 then, or indeed the M5, M6, M25, M3, M62, A1 ………

        • Stu
          Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

          Credible, Lifelong is actually making the most important point. There’s little doubt that getting from one railway station to another is quicker by train. However, given that the car takes you from your home or wherever to your intended destination, this means that even though there’s lower average speeds involved, most car journeys are quicker.

          I travel quite a lot and to many different parts of Britain, but here’s a typical example: I frequently do Aylesbury to Wigan both by car and by train. The car trip is usually around three hours door to door: A41,M40,M42,M6. By train I have an hour to London, an hour messing about with tubes or waiting, around two hours doing the (excellent) Euston to Wigan Virgin service, then 15 mins by taxi to my destination.

          I love the train; I can do a bit of work, I can have a glass of something on the way home, whatever. However, that never quite makes up for the fact that by taking the car, I could have an extra hour in bed, avoid London, carry more stuff and, on the return trip, get home an hour earlier and so spend more time with the family.

          HS2 won’t help people in my position – there are to be no stops before Birmingham and therefore will be no benefit for the people who will suffer the most from it.

          John’s observations, plus data released in the judicial review, demonstrate that there isn’t the great peak demand for London to Birmingham capacity. This could well be because of profiteering on peak fairs, but then previous transport ministers have stated that HS2 will be a rich man’s railway, so there’ll be no difference there.

          So yes, we should invest in railways, yes we should improve connectivity and create options that will help people stay off the roads, but we should also invest in making the road network more resilient, durable and effective.

          • Credible
            Posted January 22, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

            Stu, I can’t disagree with anything you say. I’m not a fan of HS2 either. I second you last paragraph.

        • lifelogic
          Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          Yes roads need to be far better. If you have an office above Euston and new Birmingham new train HS2 will be quite good for you but most people need connections and perhaps need to call on route or carry heavy items. So pointless in green terms and convenience terms for the majority.

          You could save more time just with a simpler ticketing system anyway.

    • Bob
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      Heathrow is the wrong location for airport expansion. Just like Kai Tak was in Hong Kong, so they took the sensible long term view and moved it out to Lantau.

      Perhaps they should put London’s airports under the jurisdiction of London’s mayor, someone with a bit of vision.

      • lifelogic
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

        Heathrow is the right locations as most of it is already there at Heathrow (5 runway Heathwick please) and it is where much of the population is too. Boris is daft on this issue and on HS trains and his silly Boris bike adverts too.

    • Nick
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      Quite. HS2 isn’t never going to pay. Neither is Crossrail. Massive subsidies there.

      So why’s John in favour of Crossrail?

      Ah yes, subsidies for his constituents – some of them – who get to use an expensive rail system at other people’s expense.

      • lifelogic
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

        It will end up costing perhaps about 5 times what is it worth and will this destroy jobs just as the renewable religion does. Why else do HS trains need so much subsidy – simple because they make no economic sense – why else?

    • Disaffected
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      No JR, the HS2 has its foundation in the EU making rail links between all major EU cities. Based on anyone’s economics, even the Oxbridge PPE waster course, £32 billion on one rail way journey to save 30 minutes on one journey makes no sense whatsoever.

      Unless it is to provide people with an alternative opportunity to see wind farms savaging our countryside or perhaps a reminder that the Lib Dems and DECC will never produce enough affordable energy to sustain business or the sprawling cities increasing the amount of homes required because of the coalition’s mass immigration policy? Fuel poverty will be the Lib Dem legacy, and Cameron will be remembered for going along with the minority crowd of fanatics. He thinks it is a good idea to be the greenest government ever- for goodness sake! How about the number one priority: the economy or the war on the economy or any other sensational language that he uses. No evidence of action to date to help the economy but much action in stark contrast to make matters worse. The clock is ticking.

      CCHQ might think the Turnip Taliban dislikes their central view, however it would pay CCHQ to stop alienating itself from its core voters and where most its voters live. I suppose this idea comes from the George Osborne strategy text book how to lose votes and destroy the Tory party?

      • Disaffected
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        We only have to look at the west cost railway fiasco to see how ministers are completely out of their depth and do not have a clue about their won department. How much did the fiasco cost the taxpayer? Any body held to account for the mess?? Are the politicians still blaming civil servants while they move onto their next post.

        And we have politicians asking for reports why eastern Europeans, Africans and Asians want to come her- let me help. It might be something to do with the welfare system, free housing and free public services. And the squeezed middle get squeezed more for every penny the government can take from us and give nothing back in return.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

        The EU’s plans for trains concern rail links between different countries, not different cities. Even if the EU did want rail links between the major cities the current rail network would be sufficient to meet this requirement.

        Despite all your complains about global warming you failed to provide any evidence to back up your claims.

        • Timaction
          Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

          We’ve done the evidence on the non climate change/global warming several times. I’m looking out at it as we speak. Its called winter and happens (with snow occasionally) every year. Let us pray!

          • lifelogic
            Posted January 21, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

            Indeed tell him to buy a thermometer or just look at the satellite readings. It is the global warming exaggerators who need evidence to justify the Billions they want to waste they have none that will stand up.

        • lifelogic
          Posted January 21, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

          For different countries planes are usually more efficient – as they do not need and expensive and vulnerable track building just two strips of runway. They are less vulnerable to unions too.

    • Roy Grainger
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      “It’s clear that both airports need another runaway (and why not build two at Heathrow while we’re at it)”

      Because there is physically not enough room at Heathrow to even build a single new full-length runway – all that is propsoed is a new 3rd reduced-length runway which could only handle smaller jets.

  2. James Reade
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Nothing like making conclusions based on one data point!

    It’s worth saying that the description of your journey sounds nothing like either my regular journey to Birmingham on Cross Country, where a 17% occupancy rate would be bliss in relation, nor my recent journey from Euston up to Glasgow using Virgin.

    And finally, I thought the case wasn’t to increase capacity but to increase speed?

    Reply: No, the aim is to increase capacity primarily. I am talking about the very trains that will have to compete with HS2 trains – of course cross country is different but not relevant to this argument.

    • lifelogic
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      At 17% occupation rate they areclearly far less efficient than cars and far more expensive.

      Do not forget that passengers impressions of occupancy rates is always wrong as they, by definition, tend to catch the full ones.

      Few see the empty ones. Indeed no passengers see the truly empty ones! Hundreds see the over crowded ones – basic sampling errors.

      • Robert Christopher
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

        You aren’t called lifelogic for nothing!

      • James Reade
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:53 am | Permalink

        There’s something wonderful in this post, lifelogic. You point out something important about basic sampling errors, yet you’re seizing upon, and drawing conclusions, based on a sample of one! That is the bigger sampling error.

    • Bob
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      @James Reade

      FWIW, Mr Redwood’s journey accurately describes my own experience recently.

      The existing infrastructure should be used more efficiently before considering investing in more, and £32bn would go a long way to achieve the required improvements throughout the UK not just to cut 15 mins of the journey time on one short stretch.

      • James Reade
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:52 am | Permalink

        I’m happy, if indeed John’s experience is representative, to go along with what you say – would be bonkers to do otherwise.

        I would, however, like to see the evidence presented by someone impartial on the debate, and John isn’t that person. He has a clearly stated opinion, and his description of his entire journey did nothing at all to dispel that and present anything even near to impartial.

        • Winston Smith
          Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

          Well, you are an academic with plenty of spare time on your hands to spend on blogs and forums, at taxpayers expense. Perhaps you can do some research on the subject.

          • James Reade
            Posted January 22, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

            That’s right, I just sit around all day on blogs.

            What I happen to do with the spare time I have in my evenings and weekends is really rather up to me, as I’m sure you’ll agree as a freedom-loving conservative, and hence if I do choose to use it commenting on blogs every now and again, why does that affect you?

    • James Reade
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:54 am | Permalink

      But you’re accepting my point about making such dramatic conclusions based on just one (prejudiced) observation?

      Reply: No, because that is not what I did. Read the article and you will find some official figures as well as my observation. Why was my random week day journey so exceptional as you imply? What is your counter evidence?

      • James Reade
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but you write about the 17% max occupancy on your train, then quote First at 35%, Network Rail saying 60%, and write “I can see no reason why my random day to go to Brimingham was unrepresentative.”

        So, it’s not exactly overly imaginative for me to suggest you’re drawing conclusions based on your own 17% single data point.

        The onus is not on me here to provide any counter evidence John, the onus is on you to admit the weakness of your evidence.

        Deflection is an art form and I do admire how good you are.

        Reply: On all the measures I have offered there ism no need for extra capacity. As you should appreciate, the higher figures relate to trains going to a wide range of destinations, not just Birmingham. If you have some reason to think we are short of capacity on London Birmingham then explain it to the rest of us.

        • James Reade
          Posted January 22, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

          John, once again I am simply challenging your conclusions based on your single observation.

          If it so happens that your observation is representative of reality, I’ll happily go along with it.

          But you provide nothing, absolutely nothing, to convince me of that. Obviously your fans are fully convinced, as they are everything you say. I’m however a slightly less easy to convince member of the audience.

          Hence, for now, I’ll be a sceptic. I don’t think you judge things impartially, if I’m honest, particularly when it comes to the public sector and pseudo-public sector.

          In this context there is absolutely no onus on me to provide anything – the onus is on you to substantiate what you’ve claimed in this post.

          It would be great if you could, because it would indeed be a great shame if money was wasted in the wrong areas of our rail network.

  3. Brian Taylor
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    Who in the great scheme of things,put forward High Speed2,would it be the minister,the civil servants or rail track?

    • Sean O'Hare
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      The decision to proceed with HS2 was almost certainly heavily influenced by the European Union’s TEN-T project.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

        The TEN-T projec is about making it possible to travel between EU countries by train, not travelling to certain cities slightly quicker. HS2 is an English idea, not an EU one.

      • oldtimer
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        After reading this document I am sure you are right.

        U5, above, says it covers trains. In fact it covers all modes of transport including roads, rivers and canals and maritime links. Curiously, in its recommendations on the need for “climate change resilience” it fails to mention snow and ice while mentioning other potential climate change risks.

        It is also thinking long ternm – 2030 and 050 are noted as key milestone dates.

  4. Mike Stallard
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    First of all, nobody seems to know how much control DG MOVE has. And the government is not telling.

    Its remit is to ensure the seamless integration of all modes of transport into a single competitive transport system capable of providing better services for citizens and companies at affordable cost while improving security and improving the rights of passengers. And to build the EU’s core trans-European infrastructure network as the backbone of a multimodal sustainable transport system capable of delivering fast, affordable and reliable transport solutions to serve Europe’s transcontinental corridors as well as the needs of its urban centres.
    Which is pretty inclusive…….

    Me, I can’t afford the train, unless someone else pays! And anyway there isn’t one here any more.

  5. colliemum
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this report – it made me cross, always a good thing to start the day with!

    Why is HS2 being pushed in spite of such numbers, which surely must be available to the bureaucrats? To think that this line is planned to go through the Chilterns, surely one of our achingly beautiful areas is total nonsense – unless there are ‘reasons’ of which we have not been told? And if so, why not?

    Why can the Whitehall bureaucracy not put the cards on the table? Are they regarding us, who pay their cushy salaries, as stupid children, who would run screaming around the place ‘if we only knew’?
    The weaselly excuse of ‘commercial confidentiality’ ought to be put to rest by now, because our commercial interests (taxes, property values) are also affected – and do we really believe that rival commercial interests don’t know everything already?

    And, John, why is it that you seem to be one of the lone MPs who asks such questions and brings such data? Are your colleagues unwilling, or frightened, or more interested in their own climb up the greasy pole than actually working for their constituents?

  6. Nina Andreeva
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Well thats privatisation for you! It works for things like telecoms but not trains. Seriously though the government needs to get together with our Dutch and German friends and tax the hell out of the East European truckers to unclog the motorways, autobahns etc. I had a lovely unintended hour long stop in Antwerp’s Kennedy Tunnel the other day waiting for some clapped out Polish lorry to be pulled out of the way. If Brussels does not like it they can swing on it, as its uncompetitive for the East Europeans to use their fuel price advantage and the number of times I have seen the German police pull them over (the British police never seem to be bothered) indicates there is a safety issue with what they are travelling on the road with

    • JimF
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      There should absolutely be a rule that trucks driving on the opposite side of the road viz LHD trucks in the UK and RHD on the Continent, need an awake passenger for safety reasons. Many accidents are caused by poor visibility on the “road” side.

  7. alan jutson
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    High speed trains are perhaps a fine idea if the points do not freeze.

    My Daughter stuck on a train on Friday for an hour after it was halted by such a problem on Friday.

    Route, Theale – Reading.

  8. Public Servant
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    On commuter routes train operators do not need to worry about being business like to passengers due to the monopoly status they enjoy coupled with lack of viable alternative transport. I live in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire and commute daily to Victoria. It is not a rare occurrence to have to stand for the whole journey. At a cost of £4640 per annum I calculate that the fare has risen by 5.5% compared with my last annual ticket which itself cost 6% more than the previous year. This is equivalent to a £50 per month increase in the space of 2 years during which time real pay has fallen. I am lucky enough to earn £54,000 per annum and the cost of just getting to my workplace is hurting me. I can only imagine how this would be magnified for those on more modest incomes. This must be one of the most expensive places in the world just to get to work.

    • Bazman
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      Two adults and two children traveling return to Liverpool Monday morning and returning on the same day is over £400. Is this supposed to be affordable? The government needs to decide whether trains are to be travel for the masses or just there to make a profits for privately owned state subsidised companies.

    • Credible
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      The executives of the train companies get million pound incomes, whilst the cost for people travelling to work just goes up and up and up.

  9. David Burch
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I had similar thoughts of comparing rail in this case to air. I occasional visit Edinburgh from London. Edinburgh is mooted to be the eventual destination and reason for HS2 (humm). The flight and the train cost similar depending on what deal / time of day etc you travel. If you go by train you have to overnight whih adds to the cost. I therefore travelled by plane. Left home at 6.15am and arrived at the office in Edinburgh at 11.00, worked untl after five there return journaty was quicked and could have left the office at 6.45pm to be home by 10.30pm. That is door to door. HS2 will never compete as getting to the central London Terminus is the issue (I allow one and a half hours) and should not be considered money well spent for that reason alone!

    On the plane you can get a meal (BA) or nothing (Easy Jet). You get reading material on both and at least in the air get treaed well and kept informed. The scales are also tilting significantly in favour of air in terms of price especially as you overnight for a train jorurney. Unless the journey time reduces significantly by train there will be no advantage especially if the rail operators insist on increase prices year on year.

    I have been on the train after the 7.23 to Birmingham which was full at least in standard class. Got to Birmingahm at about 9.30 for a 10.00am event. The earlier train is just too early from where I live and will remain so. You time your meetings to allow for travel where you can and that does reduce costs. The service was fast and efficient although if there is more than one going the balance tilts in favour of the car on the M40.

    In my view the above examples undermine the case for HS2, just speed up where you can with what you have and provide service and a seat on the train. The balance will tilt between train, plane and car although the state seams intent on controlling the taxing / pricing of all three modes without really knowing what it wants to achieve.

    Overall though service is what you want. A rail coffee is weak and insipid, where as at 35,000 feet it tastes much better and you can get a Costa on the M40!

    • Nick
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      And you get taxed.

      On the rail they get a subsidy.

      • Bazman
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Not helping ticket prices though is it? So where does this subsidy go? Into the pockets of the train companies. German ticket prices are able to compete with car driving.

    • Bob
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      @David Burch

      If an airline can provide cabin attendants who serve drinkable coffee and snacks to passengers in their seat and the pilots can communicate progress reports to the passengers, then why can’t a train operator do it?

      The journey to and from the stations is probably longer and more stressful that the the train ride for many. The government should also consider some investment in that respect. Euston is particularly akward traffic-wise, being right on the edge of the congestion charge zone, one false move and they they’ve got you. No wonder Mr Redwood decided to stay overnight in town.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

        Airlines are required to this by law if a flight lasts so many hours. Train operators are not because they have no way of knowing how long a person has been on a train.

        • Bob
          Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

          “…they have no way of knowing how long a person has been on a train.”

          And what’s that got to do with it?

  10. Old Albion
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    You have just demonstrated why people still prefer to drive, rather than use the railways.
    With (confusing and excessive) ticket prices right at the top of their reasons.

    • Bazman
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      Every time I go to London with five friends we buy a scrap car and dump it on London Bridge instead of getting the train. Makes sense.

  11. Leslie Singleton
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I remember Professor Sir Alan Walters demolishing any residual case for the last few branch railways by easily showing that it would be cheaper to give passengers their own chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce (“passengers” BTW is an out-of-date word for what are now called, including by you, “customers”), For £32 billion (which would in any event doubtless be over-run), instead of this destructive HS2 maybe we could provide people who want to go to Birmingham with a Rolls each or even their own private helicopter. It would be bad enough if we were flush with cash right now. And didn’t some actor chap, admittedly with an axe to grind because he lives en route, produce a clip demonstrating via a Freedom Of Information request or somesuch that, in accordance with what you say, and as is only to be expected, the usage figures the Government quoted were pure exaggeration?

  12. Adrian
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I’m not surprised by your experience going from Euston to Birmingham on the main commute train. The real problem would be it’s equivalent train from New St to Euston. HS2 will simply entrench the competitive dominance held by London over the regions, making it more practical for those with the ability to work in the capital. There has been too much ‘talent exodus’ from other areas of the UK already.

  13. Andyvan
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    HS2 = big payoffs for connected people i.e directors, facilitators, construction companies, politicians + massive bill for the taxpayer for the resulting white elephant.
    Classic scheme for insiders to make big profits from public funds.

  14. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    This is a very expensive vanity project and nothing more. So far of course the details you describe are just ignored and I fear that Cameron will allow nothing to stop his PR mission. When I see HS2 I am always reminded of Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) which is a colourless, toxic, highly flammable gas with a foul, pungent odour. H2S is a nuisance that can pose extreme safety hazards for personnel. More similarities than just the rearrangement of the letters and number.

    • Jon
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      Estimates range between £20 bn and £40 bn per annum that the South East subsidise the rest of the country because of large areas of economic inactivity. That on an annual basis is what I call a vanity project.

      HS2 is an idea to spread economic activity further north. I don’t mind if people disagree with the proven idea of spreading economic activity through faster and better communication from an economic hub, but come up with an alternative to it!

      We are subsidising the rest of the country like Germany is asked to subsidise the Mediterranean. Most people seem happy here to see £20 to £40 bn a year flow out of the South East in benefits to the rest. I want the North to be economically active. How do we achieve that? HS2 may not be the only idea but atleast come up with an alternative.

      Reply: the danger of a scheme like HS2 is it reinforces London rather than the other way round.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

        How exactly is a faster railway going to spread economic activity further north? If the railway is 20% faster does this mean the north will get 20% more economic activity?

        If you want economic growth in the north you have to encourage companies to go there, rather than London. A faster railway link to London won’t accomplish this.

        • Bob
          Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Permalink


          How do you encourage businesses to invest in such areas?

      • Electro-Kevin
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

        Jon – It was in the South East that it was decided that much of the rest of the country was to be economically inactive.

        Too right it should subsidise it.

        Reply: The South east wants the activity and wealth to spread around the country – people living in the south east do not want all the new building and devlopment near them but would like it to be spread around.

      • Stu
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

        The wealthy who work in London will be given faster access to commuter services, so can benefit from buying larger, cheaper houses, further away from the capital. In turn, this could drive up regional house prices, so making it more difficult for local people to move up the property ladder.

        That’s always been the effect of improved transport, both at a local and a national level. Don’t be fooled that this is about redistribution of work or wealth.

  15. oldtimer
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    My wife says she saw a report that HS2 was part of an EU grand plan to provide high speed rail links across its domain – just like its road network. Is this true?

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      It would certainly look like it viewed from space.

    • stred
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      The EU plans for rail and motorway links, but this seems to go wrong in practice. The Eurostar terminates at Kings Cross, so that through trains will not be possible. In Spain, the new high speed line from Barcelona terminates at Perpignan and the French are not building the 60 mile link to Montpellier and the north for at least 20 years.

    • Bob
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
    • Johnny Norfolk
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      I am sure it is true, but we are not told this of course.

  16. hilary
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Your experience bears out the facts released during the recent court case. WCML is not full, even the peak evening trains leaving Euston average just 52% full (in Standard), and First class just 35% . This of course before the trains have been lengthened to 11 cars. The capacity case has been shot to bits. And to those who are desparate enough to say “but it will be full by 2026” I would say just look at the rail capacity league tables. The Virgin trains in Network Rail SE RUS are at the bottom of the table. In terms of rail priorities the WCML long distance trains bask in empty seats while others are assigned to years of overcrowding and watching £33bn wasted over a grandiouse project thats not needed. And to those that say “But what about the overcrowding to Milton Keynes on WCML”, I would say they can’t and mustn’t wait to 2026! Instead overnight those empty Virgin seats could be used if ticketting permitted them to get on and get off at Milton Keynes too. And after this quick fix solution, sort out Ledburn junction – it costs £243m. not £33billion. A handy saving to the exchequer.

    • Stu
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

      This is where East-West could help. MK to Marylebone, for example. Unusually, that’s both a good transport idea, *and* something that the Govt. has chosen to pursue.

  17. a-tracy
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    More planning is required by rail bosses, with extra carriages for peak times, I.e. key auditions in South Wales all tickets sold out months in advance, no extra carriage put on.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      There are no extra carriages (I’m not talking about SW but generally)

  18. Nick F
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    You make a reasonable point- as far as you go. Of course, the issue is strategic, not tactical. The link to Birmingham is not just about getting to that blighted city; it’s about accessing beyond to the North, and thus openning up the country for a greater chance to share prosperity. Unfortunately, you have to start somewhere. This is just the first stage of a new travelling concept- which frankly many other countries have already embraced, and are as puzzled as me that the UK is so bad at infrastructure investment. Sadly we are shackled by NIMBYism and Southern complacency (ie it’s fine for us in the wealthy South, so what is the problem for those Northeners!).

  19. Electro-Kevin
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    By 9am the really crowded trains have all arrived at Euston. I shouldn’t think the flow to Birmingham gets busy until the evening rush.

    Generally your observations are correct. Too many announcements – mainly to protect the rail company from litigation. Card purchases on trains (science fiction until recently) are still subject to gremlins – as are satellite technologies for other systems on moving trains.

    More engineers and fewer lawyers please.
    No real case for HS2. Spend the money instead at strategic points on the wider transport network. The Olympic money (an event all but forgotten now) could have been directed into a UK space project. I jest only partly.

    Seat belts.

    Will this mean that standing in train carriages will be banned ? In which case will the Govt be setting minimum levels of carriage provision or setting maximum passenger loadings ?

    The cost benefit analysis for seatbelts has probably already been done and the justification for them mightn’t stack up. It would be far better to spend money on removing crossings from lines set above 70mph thus removing the risk of high speed derailments in the first place.

    It would mean yet more announcements AND more hectoring from the train guard. Un-police-able in fact.

    Reply : I think if travelling on a train at speeds above 70mph you should have a seat. I also favour spending the money currently being spent on replacing existing bridges on building more bridges over and under railway lines to replace crossings. It is worrying that trains are allowed to speed across potentially dangerous junctions with roads.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure we’re in agreement on many things with regard to the railways, Mr Redwood.

      Thanks for your response.

  20. David Williams
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I agree that HS2 is not really necessary. However, it’s better than giving the money to Brussels to subsidise someone else’s high speed trains.

  21. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    To travel down from Manchester to London by train and return , whether there is an advance booking or not, is far more expensive than a tank of petrol, a nights stay in a motel and food and drink . How can any rail network justify this?
    P.S I have noticed that comments have been edited, therefore feel free to ask if there is any reason why my last comments on shopping were not published . Perhaps this is an oversight.

  22. Single Acts
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Yep, as a long suffering sometime London commuter, I might suggest that if there is extra money sloshing about (and there’s clearly not) areas of peak demand and highly congested routes might be the best place to increase supply?

  23. Bazman
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    The trains are turning into a transport system for the middle classes with the most expensive tickets, running costs and worse service in Europe, but what would you expect from a subsidised service that is supposed to make a profit? Square that one off fantasists. An unsubsidised railway would mean no railway and all the commuters on the roads, so don’t be silly.

    • Jon
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      Answer is to tackle the transport unions. Last year the threats of strike was well into double figures for the highest paid rail workers in Europe. We even paid to send them on tours of the Olympic site because they didn’t want to work over that period. Other people saw it as an opportunity to make money, the unions saw it as an apportunity to hold the working class to ransom.

      • Bazman
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        Laughable fantasy that if was even addressed would be replied by ‘Jon’. Not even wasting time on. Get some.

      • Credible
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        It is not the unions that are paying themselves very large salaries on the back of above inflation fare increases that (standing) commuters are increasingly unable to afford – it is the train company executives who are running monopolies. Same for fuel and water.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

        Forcing employee to work for less money won’t prevent the train companies increasing ticket price to makes bigger profits or stop managers giving themselves huge bonuses.

  24. forthurst
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    According to Wiki, “Developing a Trans-European high-speed rail network is a stated goal of the European Union”.

    The article commences, “High-speed rail is emerging in Europe as an increasingly popular and efficient means of transport.” Oh really?

    The map of European routes includes those into Asia Minor.

    • uanime5
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      You forgot this part.

      Developing a Trans-European high-speed rail network is a stated goal of the European Union, and most cross-border railway lines receive EU funding. As of 2012, several countries in western Europe—France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom—are connected to a cross-border high-speed railway network.

  25. Jon
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    To get the economy being vibrant in the North and making a better contribution is either by using the South East/London as a feeder with good transport links or for a city in the North to become an economic powerhouse in industries not catered for in the South.

    I’ve tended to favour the first as it works but it is on a generational timescale and a long lead in time from the investment. There can be successful cities without fast interconnecting rail (America) but how do you get something like a Silicone Valley in the North? HS2 would be an investment of around £35bn, As an alternative what would say a £10bn investment around the Manchester/Liverpool area deliver. Could it kickstart an economic powerhouse in the North to spread out. That would be an alternative argument if something like that could be presented.

    Milton Keynes benefited from the link to London which saw financial firms setting up there. The outward morning journey from London to MK is near empty but packed on the way in as it became viable to move further out buying cheaper properties. The growth in firms in MK meant people then could move further north and commute down to MK. I don’t see the low take up of capacity in the opposite direction as a good argument.

    There is certainly land that has not been utilised along the route, I would have thought this had been looked at iro HS2 though wouldn’t surprise me if they weren’t imaginative enough when they did look at it.

    Virgin Trains has a good customer service.

    London may start to get too expensive risking its growth unless there are strong city economies further North. How do we get that? HS2 is one way, is there another? Thats where the argument could be won.

    • Jon
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      For example, to negate an HS2 investment pick an area around Liverpool/Manchester. Somehow work round competition rules to give heavily subsidised business rates to create a new silicone valley (something related to the universities there). The potential growth would get the builders building commercial and residential developments, there are plenty of brownfield sites up there. It could become the biggest development site in Europe.

  26. Martin
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Re on board service – the railways are restricted by over the top unions. Trains still have “guards” who don’t sell coffee!

    Ticketing – is still mostly expensive paper based. At home I can print an aircraft ticket from my local airport to say Australia which covers the change of flight in Amsterdam.

    If you really want to see efficient transport try Ryanair – not everybody’s cup of tea (with strict rules) but I did a return from the UK to Germany for under £70 all in! The utilisation of capital assets is impressive.

  27. Pleb
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    HS2 will not go into Brum center so you will loose the time gained by trying to find a taxi.

  28. Graham Swift
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    With a complicated pricing structure , and most prices excessive in the extreme , trains will continue to be empty. Lower the prices by subsidising ; use the money wasted in overseas aid. At least our taxes would then benefit UK citizens.

    • Bob
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      But foreign aid only costs us £12 billion each year (up by 50% under Cameron’s government).

  29. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I think HS2 is part of what the EU wants us to do as part of its EU network, it fits in with their requirements not ours.
    It is just another vanity project and nothing more.
    It is not needed or wanted.

  30. Alte Fritz
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    This mirrors what I have seen for years on other West Coast routes. Does the Euston/Manchester route need a train every 20 minutes? There must be a lot of money to be made on running half empty trains. In contrast, of course, on many other routes passengers are packed in like sardines, and these are not even electrified.

    This was a botched privatisation and the construction industry has captured the case for HS2. Regional busybodies say it is needed for economic growth, but without a shred of evidence.

  31. Bert Young
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I don’t use any trains and would certainly not chose to do so in the future because of the inconvenience of parking and the overall costs involved . If there is a case for HS2 let the route be elsewhere other than through the Chilterns . Your trip to Birmingham sounded incredibly boring .

  32. David John Wilson
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    While there may be an argument that the Birmingham London trains are full in the opposite directions to which you travelled there are other routes that deserve much more attention and investment.

    For example the Penzance to London route where on almost any journey there will be passengers forced to stand for part of the journey. There are vague plans to electrify the service as far as Bristol which may relieve the Reading to London stretch. However the real need to look at the needs of the direct route to Exeter and beyond where sensible investment could improve journey times by at least 25%.

  33. Trevor C
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    The simple way to increase capacity on any rail line is to improve and automate the signalling systems and make use of all of the smart technologies for train control and guidance now available.

    Because of the design, weight, size, of trains, 19th century braking technologies most of the rail network requires a three minute gap between fast trains. An upgrade to signalling technologies and train design and braking system improvements would allow the elapsed time between trains to be shortened by a third – at least – with, at a stroke, the commensurate increase in capacity.

    Finally, anyone wishing to travel to Birmingham from London in style and comfort should try the Chiltern Rail Silver Service. ( Even the CR ordinary mainline using the 168 diesels is very nice.

    Reply: I agree about the large gaps between trains limting capacity – lighter trains, better brakes and better signals are the cheap ways to increase capacity substantially where that is needed.

  34. Bernard Juby
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    What a way to run a railway!Nothing’s changed though. Many years ago they ran a “Theatre Special” from Birmingham to Euston in time for the theatre and a return at around 11.30p.M. It cost a tenner for the return trip.
    After about six months they stopped it. Why? Because it proved too popular! The pea brains could not put on extra carriages or even an extra train.

  35. Barbara
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Well done Mr R, I live 40 miles outside of Birmingham, and believe me the trains going to say, Malvern Kiddiminster, Worcester way are also half empty. Although another train company. Some trains are new, but most are shabby from the 1970s. Many are late, have no facilities on them, staff are not trained in customer service, in all a third rate service and rolling stock. The new trains are good but they are far and inbetween.
    I’ve always said H2 is a waste of money and the rolling stock of what we have, and stations, and staff should be upgraded nationally. This would supply jobs all over the country and not just one line. Believe me it need it with the unemployment rate we have.
    I hope you enjoyed your trip to the Midlands and hope you’ll come again. I’m sure you had a good welcome. Its nice to see you getting first hand knowledge of how the rail service as gone down the pan, not only from London, but the whole of the West Midlands.

  36. JimF
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    ” got no offer of a newspaper, no drink, no information about onward travel, no seat belt, no moving map to show us where we had got to, no safety restraints on some people’s heavy luggage in overhead racks, no hard copy maps in the seat pockets as you would on a plane. There was waste paper left in between the tray table and the back of the seat. No-one tried to sell me any additional good or service, other than the announcement about the shop. On the return journey there were no ticket checks at either station I walked through nor on the train itself.”
    If you want to be bombarded by paraphernalia go on a Ryanair flight. What you don’t pay for in the ticket you do pay for in unwanted announcements, people pushing past with trolleys trying to sell you tat etc.
    I’d rather be left alone thanks.

    Reply: I was not left alone – I was repeatedly told I had to look out for suspicious people and report them to the police.

  37. Craig D.
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Whilst I absolutely agree that there is no viable, legitimate business case for the HS2 whatever, due to the corruption and criminal negligence of Permanent Secretaries in Whitehall (and speaking as a resident of a once-pleasant market town called Solihull whose back gardens will soon be carved to pieces to make way for a chunk of the massive, impersonal, robotically-administered European-style mainline no one needs), I think I should make clear a simple point you appear to have overlooked.

    At first glance it appears reasonable to assume, as you have done, that your random journey was indeed representative of the usual state of the mainline – particularly at peak-time on a working morning. But this ignores the simple fact that the nearest complementary service at that time of the morning (ie. peak-time) from Birmingham to London would be in contrast, not merely full to capacity but in fact heaving at the seams. This is because the Midlands, once the proudest custodian of 200 years of highly-specialist home-grown inventing, industrial and manufacturing skills and expertise, now consists of hundreds of thousands of mobile Project Managers, Service Managers and business Administrators whose only hope of secure employment in the job-starved Midlands is in London, and whose working day therefore begins at 6:00 with an inefficient, tiring and criminally over-priced commute to Euston. By contrast, your early-morning journey from Euston to Birmingham was a very typical illustration of the general and long-established refusal of Londoners – especially working Londoners – to even consider a working life north of Watford. (People who don’t have a job, of course, no longer travel by train, and have not been financially able to do so for the past 25 years).

    Therefore by definition the minimum early-morning commuter services out of London which the operators are obliged by contract to provide are always going to be three-parts empty, compared to the corresponding services into London from the regions. So as another correspondent has already noted, if you have a real interest in understanding the current state of the rail networks across Britain I suggest you choose your journeys and timings more precisely – say, for a start, the nearest train service to 5:30pm on a working day OUT of London Euston, to points north of Milton Keynes. The last time I attempted it, in about 1988, I paid more than £65 (non-refundable for a job interview) to be rewarded with a position standing in the inter-carriage space of a frozen, filthy, heaving train (two and a half hours in those days) with a dozen other luckless and impecunious second-class travellers and their luggage, whilst a moronic guard wittered across the tannoy about sandwiches and hot drinks, but did not see fit to explain or apologise for the massively-full and very obviously illegally-unsafe condition of the carriages within his responsibility.

    But though it was always the same – notwithstanding the latest government initiatives and (London-centred) “think-tanks” to ostensibly resolve Britain’ s enormous and ongoing transport problems – I do not see the situation now as requiring the advent of HS2 any more than you (or a million other intelligent, wholly-ignored professionals) do, for the only “professionals” a Westminster government party ever listens to are the professionally-lying, economically-protected, lazy, corrupt and profoundly ignorant civil servants round the corner in Whitehall, whose comfortable careers-for-life and gold-plated pensions will never necessitate even a week’s travel beyond Watford – and certainly not on a train.

    So instead, any government of any colour which really gave a damn about life outside the capital would exercise the intelligence to SCRAP overnight all such insane, purposeless plans for HS2 and its ilk, and to use (a fraction of) the saved costs to carry out a fundamental independent structured analysis of the annual accounts since 1990 of the various nationwide train operators – and particularly the peak-route monopolies.

    For somehow, in between their filthy, unsafe rolling-stock, their lines of continually-absent and cancelled services, their failing ticket-collection and enforcement processes, and their corrupt premium-rate 0800 telephone enquiry numbers, broken ticket-machines, under-staffed booking offices and abysmally-uninformed views of whatever they actually imagine “customer service” to mean, their annual profits (and priority shareholder dividends) apparently continue to rise year-on-year, in the finest and most mysterious tradition of a cheating Pimlico Accountant, whilst service standards for millions of hard-pressed working, paying passengers continue to degrade year-on-year, far beyond what any other country in western Europe – with or without an HS2 line – would ever tolerate.

    Reply The point of HS2 is to get Londoners to the north, not to allow Northerners to commute more quickly into London for jobs there, so my journey was in the right direction for the argument of the pro HS2 case.I am well aware of the cremped and poor state of some commuting services into London, which is where I would place extra capacity, and have made proposals on how to do so.

    • Craig D.
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

      With regard to your point about Londoners travelling to / working permanently in the north, I refer you to the penultimate sentence of my second paragraph above, as already addressed.

  38. Michael Cawood
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    I do have to say that later in the day when I have used the service (Virgin Trains) from Chester to London Euston, the train is generally 90% full though it’s a 5 car Super Voyager rather than a Pendolino. Incidentally the Pendolino trains have recently been expanded from 9 car sets to 11 car sets. On Virgin Trains there is no at seat trolley service in Standard Class, there is only the shop. What I hark back to though is the old style Buffet Car where you could get a coffee or a beer and a snack and sit down and consume it in the Buffet Car rather than carry food & drink back to my seat though the shop attendant does at least put a lid on the coffee cup.

  39. Dick Sawdon Smith
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Can I ask please that you send this diary entrant to David Cameron as well as the train operating company and the body that awards franchises ro rail companies.


  40. William Long
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    HS2 is typical of the projects beloved by politicians such as Wind farms, the EU, Global Warming, etc etc etc that enable them to look as if they are doing something big without the need to address really difficult questions like ‘Why does the NHS not work?’, the Education system(though there are now good signs that this could be an exception), the Banking system and of course the deficit, caused as it is in significant part by schemes such as HS2, or if you are as old as I am, the Ground Nut Scheme of the immediate post war years.
    It is a tragedy that the Conservatives have now clearly demonstrated themselves to be no different to the other parties in this respect.

  41. boffin
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood, may I ask what was your total journey time that morning, from base to final destination? I surmise that about 4 hours might be typical for passengers on that route, and that the proposal that tens of billions be spent on HS2 just to reduce that overall time by some 10 – 15 % has no basis in sanity.

    I fear that the proposed HS2 is the most wanton folly, a vanity project at the taxpayers’ expense for which exists no credible evidence of economic benefit. (Moreover, such minimal demand as might exist for a premium HS2 service might be extinguished overnight in the event of – Heaven forfend! – a ghastly TGV crash).

    Had you elected to take the slightly slower Chilterns service then – in less time than it takes to reach the nether Heathrow terminals on the Tube – you would have been sailing past the boundary of the former major NATO airbase at what was RAF Upper Heyford, which sits just south of the confluence of the Paddington and Marylebone lines to Birmingham and adjacent to the junction of the M40 with the trunk A43.

    Sanity suggests that, instead of HS2:

    1) The taxpayers’ huge, presently wasted, investment in the world class 8300′ runway and associated infrastructure at Heyford be realised by development of a major airport there, in an area of very low population density with excellent existing transport infrastructure, with upgrade of the Chiltern line to ‘fast’ and an end to the nonsense of ‘third Heathrow runway’ and “Boris’ Island” proposals. (The topography would enable the future construction of a second runway at Heyford permitting a key hub-and-spoke for Europe).

    2) The gross anomaly of Continental-gauge railway rolling stock being too big for the UK rail network be resolved by a gauge upgrade from the Channel Tunnel to, at least, northwest England: relatively minimal cost, perhaps ?50 bridgework reconstructions (extend to Holyhead and claim European Infrastructure funding whilst we are still able?).

    Reply: I would nto have taken the train if I had been travelling from my home, as that would as you suggest have taken around 4 hours to do the door to door journey. By car it would have been 2 hours. Staying in Central London and returning to Westminster meant the journey time was under 2 hours – I was going to Birmingham Internaitonal and was speaking very close to the station.

  42. Chris Sheldrake
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    As I live on the South coast near Ringwood I never use the train to get to Birmingham or anywhere else in the Midlands because I would have to travel to London first which adds time and cost. Instead I have to use the A34.

    Rather than build an enormously expensive new railway line that we don’t need, everyone South and South West of London desperately needs some upgrades to the road network :

    Southampton to Birmingham
    Southampton to Exeter
    Southampton to Bristol

    All these roads need upgrading to full motorway status, particularly the latter two which still mainly consist of two lane A roads with occasional stretches of dual carriageway.

    The cost would be a fraction of that being wasted on HS2 leaving billions available to upgrade roads in other parts of the country. Trouble is, the Lib Dems will never agree to it.

    Oh, and by the way, it’s good to see Heathrow spent so much on extra snow clearing equipment but it would not have taken a genius to predict that an airport operating at 98% capacity on a good days is going to suffer massive delays whatever amount of snow clearing equipment they have available.

    We need a decision to go ahead with Boris Island now, not after the next election.

    Another case of Cameron not having the guts to take a decision in the face of LibDem objections. A braver dog would have cut off it’s wagging tail.

    Cameron should bring back the boundary changes bill to the Commons ASAP and, as was always standard practice, tell all ministers, including Clegg to support government policy in the lobby or resign. That should ensure it either gets through or ends the coalition now.

    • uanime5
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      The problem with Boris island is that it won’t fix the problems caused by heavy snowfall because planes still won’t be able to take off in bad weather and unless Boris island is going to run below 98% capacity it will also suffer massive delays when there is heavy snow.

      Even if Cameron follows you plan on the boundary changes bill it will still fail because Lib Dem MPs are free to ignore Lib Dem ministers and can vote against this bill. The Conservatives don’t have enough votes to pass something opposed by the majority of Lib Dems and Labour.

      • Bob
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        ” it won’t fix the problems caused by heavy snowfall…”

        Have you never heard of underfloor heating?

        • Bazman
          Posted January 21, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

          Is underfloor heating cheap to run Bob?

        • Bazman
          Posted January 22, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          I’ll take your lack of reply as: Yes it is. For us landlords who do not have to foot the electricity bills it is very cheap for us to install and maintain. Like most electric heating we find it gives flexibility for the tenant and not inconvenience him with maintenance and breakdowns keeping rental costs down. Or something like that. Huh? Bob and lifelogic?

  43. Credible
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Did you really walk up and down the carriages with your calculator counting the numbers of people and seats to arrive at 17%. That must have been quite a funny sight!

    You haven’t mentioned the huge salaries that the train company executives are receiving. It seems the train occupancy is sufficient to make big profits. Either that or the fares are far higher than they need to be, or the staff are very poorly paid, or the taxpayers subsidy is too high, or not enough is being spent on safety, maintanance and infrastructure or it is simply a gravy train for the connected rich, or all of those.

    Reply Indeed. I just wandered through 2 carriages counting the number of people – there were not many to count.

    • Credible
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      It seems not

  44. Bob
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  45. Wilko
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Car drivers travel from London to Birmingham with empty seats. Many travellers need to do the journey but don’t want to drive, or overpay for trains. A DrivePass hub sited at each end of the motorway could provide a valuable solution, easily.

    Each DrivePass hub would be a refreshment lounge & parking point, including a bus stop. Drivers seeking a paying Passenger would sit in blue Drive seats, marked in price bands. Passengers seeking a Driver would sit in yellow Pass seats, also price banded.

    Drivers, if they wish, could park in allocated DrivePass bays displaying a blue Drive card & price, ready to accept a paying passenger at their car.

    Both drivers & passengers would be able to assess whom they accept & at what price. Both could gain, and other benefits also result.

    Govt could set up such a scheme quickly & efficiently.

  46. Alan Radford
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    “It did not give the impression of a well run set of businesses with tight control over assets and money.”

    It isn’t. It’s public money remember – it’s for chucking around casually and filling your trousers. Just like the ‘government’ does.

  47. iain gill
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    morning rush hour trains from cov and brum TO london are full not the other direction

  48. uanime5
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    What we need is not HS2 but better quality trains.

  49. Chrissy
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    I understand that the House of Commons is sinking and needs substantial repairs. Would it not be an appropriate time to relocate the seat of government outside London, to an area requiring regeneration?

  50. Trimperley
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Had you taken HS2 to Bimingham it would have deposited you a long march from the International Convention Centre in Broad Street. So time gained on the train journey would have been lost getting to the venue on foot or by car.

    I do the Birmingham to Euston and return regularly. Following the banking crash there was a noticeable drop in the number of people travelling and the abolition of the development agencies coincided with another drop in numbers.

    Birmingham to Coventry and return gets very crowded with university students travelling at peak times. If there is a big event at the NEC New Street to Birmingham International is like sardines. From Coventry to Euston the numbers drop dramtically, normally 6 to 10 in the carriage. Euston to New Street at evening rush hour is always crowded. I have only once seen the trolley taken round standard class and that seemed to be linked to a very keen train manager.

    I can remember going to Euston in the 1970s and the journey was faster then than it is now even after all the work done on the line. When the Bullring in Birmingham was redeveloped an opportunity to widen New Street Station and put in more tracks was missed.

    My fear about HS2 is that it will suck resources from the West Coast mainline and lead to a worse service. The HS2 route will not help those in the western reaches of the West Midlands because getting to the HS2 station on the east side of Birmingham will not be easy. Sometimes I spend as much time driving in Birmingham to get to my final destination as I have spent driving 20 miles or so to Birmingham’s outer ring road. Walking from Euston to St Pancras station takes 10 minutes with a suitcase. New Street to the HS2 station is going to take double or triple that.

  51. davidb
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    Ah, you really have to see the investment at Glasgow Argyle Street and Central Station Low Levels. We installed ticket barriers a little while back. Now every passenger has to have a ticket to enter or leave the platforms. However the barriers slow the flow of disembarking passengers, and not infrequently ( in my own experience ) dont permit passage even if your ticket is valid. Now we have at least one – and usually more than one – ticket inspector permanently deployed to sell tickets and to override the malfunctioning barriers. I can see the point of trying to ensure every passenger has a valid ticket, but I fail to see why we bothered to instal – one assumes it wasnt free – a series of electomechanical gates only to now have permanent staff checking the tickets.

    I understand staff from the railways get reduced price or free travel on other railway networks. Did nobody notice the ticket punching systems used in the Netherlands for example? Tickets have to be punched or the passenger is fined on the spot. There are many delivery methods for tickets indeed which don’t require a conductor to physically issue them. I wonder if the best use of money and staff would be the implementation of more efficient ticketing, and rigorous onboard inspection to ensure that passengers had valid tickets.

    So the railway plans to waste gazillions on potential white elephants down your way? Doesn’t surprise me in the least. Cynicism or realism? We’re British. They are interchangable terms.

    • Iain Gill
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      actually there are profitable train services that are quite happy to sell tickets on the train, and therefore dont need barriers, grand central being one.

      i also think lots of unmanned stations would be better off with an old style station master rather than the masses of money spent on cctv etc, i dont think the modern style of low manning is really as cost effective as management fashions think when you count in the cost of vandalism etc that in my view just wouldnt happen if a station master was on site with pride in the place.

  52. David Farmer
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    So long as you don’t mind being one of the (500+) people to have their homes bulldozed as a result….for questionable compensation. Might suggest if you want to go to London, allow half an hour extra for it. 😉

  53. Derek Emery
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    There’s written evidence to Parliament on High Speed Rail by Ian Waddell (HSR 85) at

    This compares HS2 with the economic effects from the earlier French TGV.
    There is no good case to be seen for HS2 beyond that for the companies benefit directly from the work involved and are presumably the lobbyists for HS2. The biggest advantage has to be for London as it is the only large cross road station in the UK network.

    HS2 is a purely political project and therefore makes little real sense for benfits to the UK economy. All these systems will require additional government money from now to eternity to keep them going as they are all inherent loss-leaders.Why not just burn the money instead? It would probably have just a positive effect on the UK economy.

  54. peter davies
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I regularly go further than that ecompassing Chester, Crewe etc passing Birmingham down to London. The trains to get filled during peak hours for the West Coast route at some points, particularly as you get around Watford.

    If you travel outside the standard commute hours they are seldom full.

    The best approach given the austeer times we live in would be to improve what is there. I see little need for HS2

    • Iain Gill
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      the best approach would be to give incentives to companies to stagger their working days so that fewer people need to travel at peak

  55. Neil Craig
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    An automated rail system using carriages made by bus comanies (thus light enough to stop fairly quickly, greatly increasing the number you can have on a line) is technically not only possible but easy.

    That would greatly increase capacity, cut running costs, allow 24/7 transport and, by having carriages leaving every few miinutes, cut travel times significantly.

  56. Terry
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    That’s the way to do it. Go and see it for yourself.

    So why don’t these Cabinet Ministers take time out and see it for themselves before they commit us to umpteen Billion Pounds of white elephants on the unwanted HS2 system?
    Or is their time too valuable compared with the mere £32 Billions this venture is going to cost us stupid tax payers?

  57. larry Levin
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    How about a maglev train, 350mph Birmingham in 20 minutes, if we want to invest for the future lets buy technology of the future.

  58. Roy Grainger
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    The usual largely UK-centric debate. It would be interesting to know the economics of the railways in France and Germany – the service in the latter always strikes me as being vastly superior to our own in terms of cost, convenience, punctuality, service and cleanliness – I would assume it must be massively subsidised but I don’t know for sure. If we are going to indulge in vast infractstructure projects it would be better to choose only those that would qualify for EU funding (like all those empty roads and airports in Southern Europe).

    Reply: A recent independent study has shown our railways have a much higher cost base than comparable continental ones.

  59. Atlas
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    John, had circumstances permitted you (and I appreciate yours may not have for that particular trip), you could have travelled to Birmingham on Chiltern Railways for £6 one way, with £6 for the other way.

    When I went, the train was not full at all.

    So, I like you, do not see the rationale for spending such a huge sum of money when I reckon there is still significant spare capacity.

  60. Derek Emery
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    The tens of billions to be spent on High Speed Rail (HSR) can only benefit a minute percentage of people in the regions and these will be mainly the richest who can afford or executives whose companies can afford the high price of HSR.
    The majority of people in the regions never use rail travel in any form. However everybody has a lot to gain from having a working energy policy which includes working out ways to fund nuclear which has long build times but low operating costs. Cheap energy would help everybody – public and companies alike – and help retain more work to the UK.

  61. Robert Taggart
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    NO2 HS2 – and this from a northerner who would benefit from a faster journey !
    ‘Welcome’ to the West Coast Main Line – ‘Virgin on the ridiculous’ !!

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

  • John’s Books

  • Email Alerts

    You can sign up to receive John's blog posts by e-mail by entering your e-mail address in the box below.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    The e-mail service is powered by Google's FeedBurner service. Your information is not shared.

  • Map of Visitors

    Locations of visitors to this page