My contribution to the debate on High Speed Rail (West Midlands – Crewe) Bill

The case for HS2 before the pandemic hit was made on the basis of the need to expand capacity. I always argued that there was a quicker and cheaper solution for capacity, and that was to digitalise signalling, introduce more short sections of bypass track and improve engineering around the main stations. By those means, we could have got a 25% or so increase in capacity much more quickly at a fraction of the cost, leaving over money to improve local services and the use of the existing railway, and for other purposes.

Now that we have had the pandemic, as we move to the recovery phase, which we hope will be quite soon, we have to accept, as the right hon. Member for Warley

(John Spellar) and others have mentioned, that the nature of work and the use of the office will change. We may well find that the intense pressure during the Monday-to-Friday morning and evening peak, as a result of people tending to start work at 9 and tending to leave for home at 5 or half-past 5, will diminish. We may well find that people will want much more flexible use of their railway—that they will not travel every day, and will not necessarily be going at peak hours. One of the big problems that the railways face—capacity on journeys to main towns and cities at peak—will be changed or relieved by that.

We are due, from the Government and the industry representatives that advise them, their interim thoughts on what the shape of the railway and railway demand might look like in two or three years’ time, assuming that all has gone well with vaccination, and that there is a pretty good, robust recovery. We should not assume that it will be recovery to the same work and railway travel patterns that we had before.

I hope that we will make more intelligent use of the railway for freight, because there is still plenty of scope for that if we can get better at single-wagon marshalling, and can make better use of the railway for the relatively longer distances that freight often has to travel to get from ports to all parts of the United Kingdom. That would be a possible use of the capacity that we already have. I dare say that there will also be plenty of promotional schemes for leisure and tourist travel. The fact remains, however, that the use of the railway for work will change very dramatically. I do think this whole project needs appraising in the light of that, and that we are owed a proper plan with the latest forecasts, which must be very different from the forecasts that the Government were using when they first put this proposal to the country and to the House.


  1. Roy Grainger
    January 21, 2021

    Isn’t it obvious to everyone in government that a completely new business case for HS2 (and LHR new runway) needs to be prepared from scratch taking into account the new circumstances ? I would guess the case for continuing each of those projects would now be non-existent. I read a piece that pointed out that this is a key difference between the private and public sector. The example given was pharma companies who may spend tens of millions on developing a treatment and if it doesn’t look good in the clinical trails they just stop, write off the money, and move on. No-one has to resign, no-one is blamed. However politicians once they have started spending on something are very reluctant to ever stop – if something goes unexpectedly their first instinct is to pour even more money in to try to fix it. They think (maybe rightly) that if they just abandon the whole project they’ll be accused of wasting public money and they may have to resign.

  2. Robert McDonald
    January 21, 2021

    I do hope the government read tis and accept the logic. Our money would be far far better spent on other things, one being high speed internet for all areas of the UK.

  3. Lynn Atkinson
    January 21, 2021

    JR I have registered to get your posts by email, twice. I get nothing. That part of your new site is possibly not working at all unless others can confirm they are getting your posts. Also there is no unsubscribe button as far as I can see (which is why I am subscribed twice – I could not view my first subscription to ensure I had not made a mistake, or unsubscribe before subscribing again.
    In addition I’m amazed that you have stuck with Big Tech Twitter, Facebook and Google when there are very much better alternatives.
    I feel VERY strongly about this because the statesmanlike speech from President Trump yesterday was not reported by the MSM, broadcast by them and was quashed by Bug Tech. They are a disgrace and must be destroyed.

    1. Hope
      January 21, 2021

      +100. It is becoming truly shocking how MSM and big tech are directing control over people’s thoughts by deciding what they can or cannot hear, read and see. Good articles in Con Woman today about it, also how Democrat party, FBI, FOJ collusion to smear Trump and overturn 2016 election.

      Very refreshing was Kristi Noem Governor of South Dakato address showing what conservatism is in action in her state, no lockdown but protecting elderly and vulnerable, support small businesses, low state intereference, very low taxes- no inheritance tax, personal tax etc- family,. OMG real conservatives. Listen to her state to state address.

      Also an article exposing Bidens disgraceful conduct as Vice President and US embassy in Ukraine that needs investigating not buried by MSM and big tech. Let us hope Durhams report will be published far and wide with Biden impeached!

      1. Hope
        January 21, 2021

        Poland is showing the way to address big tech and MSM. JR what is your Fake govt doing about it?

        Biden speech already targeting white people with identity politics. It will divide not unite. His speeech was incoherent with stark contradictions. Suggest those poor white folk watch out if they disagree with the hard socialist left administration. We are watching democracy die with the fake election of Biden. The world watched EU coups in Greece and Italy. Never thought possible in the US, but here it is.

    2. Nig l
      January 21, 2021

      Must have been the first statesmanlike action he took as opposed to the previous petulant child. The way he allowed his presidency to end, good riddance.

      1. Lynn Atkinson
        January 21, 2021

        You should watch his inauguration speech. The best. He has delivered too, several miracles including much peace in the Middle East, unbelievable really. But then his is an achiever which is more than you can say for most politicians.
        I see The White House has had to disallow comments, they are also deleting the ‘unlikes’ which exceed the likes by about 5 to 1 (I have screen shots – wish I could post them). Just like the vote count, same strategy, same stupidity, same proof. Anyway apparently 46 is Biden’s lucky number – attendees at his inauguration! 81 million votes and nobody listens to his inaugural speech, then he ditches Churchill and replaces the statuette with Cheves.
        Yes I can see you would be a fan! 🤖

    3. Lynn Atkinson
      January 21, 2021

      Update, I apologise, I have received 1 copy of your post quite late today. So the last subscription I submitted has worked.
      For those interested Duck Duck Go instead of Google
      Brave instead of Safari
      Telegram, Gab and Parler instead of WhatsApp Messenger Facebook FaceTime Twitter etc
      Big tec thinks they are authorised to control free speech, they are not. Don’t let them.

  4. oldtimer
    January 21, 2021

    These are good, relevant questions to ask of the HS2 project. Unfortunately it enjoys the status of now being a vanity project – of at least ten years standing as a Conservative party ambition? It also seems likely that overcapacity in city office space is and will remain matched by overcapacity in London’s commuter rail system. The government and rail operators should set out their contingent responses to reductions in demand of say 15% and 30%.

  5. Richard1
    January 21, 2021

    There was never a strong case for HS2. Officials and consultants were always back-solving into justifications. The big and sustained change in working practices surely now removes any last possible rationale for it. It is reported that Covid measures have increased the stock of debt by £350bn. Cutting HS2 would take that down to £250bn.

  6. Nig l
    January 21, 2021

    The government are taking us for mugs, indeed they may be mugs themselves, so devoid of reality that they often are. No one believes that this us anything other than a very expensive and no doubt wasteful political stunt.

    You should save your breath arguing on a business case basis.

  7. Fred H
    January 21, 2021

    I fear any rational inventive argument is falling on deaf ears. This Government, like those before, is hell-bent on stupidity.

  8. Peter
    January 21, 2021

    I suspect the answer will be:-

    ‘I’ve started so I will finish.’

    It might not be so plainly stated. It might be dressed up with other justifications.

  9. David Peddy
    January 21, 2021

    I have consistently argued against the construction of this thing

  10. turboterrier
    January 21, 2021

    Spot on the money Sir John
    The future of the railway I believe is freight and any alterations to the existing network to accommodate mile long freight trains for moving containers and goods overnight is essential. How many of your colleague’s are on the same track as you? With a reliable super fast broad band network and more flexible office arrangements the need for bums on seats in corporate offices is fast decreasing. The days of meetings are a thing of the past in so much it will not be too long before they are covered and attended by personnel with a very smart wrist watches from wherever the wearer happens to be.
    High streets could change to provide small hot desk units to accommodate those people who require local meeting , team brief and training areas . Managers come to their staff for those key moments and to ensure staff are supported. The way we do work and business has changed forever and companies and politicians have got to accept that big changes are required. The introduction of small hot desk units on the high street could be the catalyst towards real regeneration of town centre.
    Like the new format of the site

    1. Mockbeggar
      January 22, 2021

      I’m a bit late in adding my twopenn’orth But I remember that years ago British Rail conducted experiments with self-propelled driveless freight wagons at Micheldever near Winchester. The experiments were abandoned as being too complex and dangerous. However, that was years before we had the kind of computing power we have now. With adequate railheads and passing places we should be quite capable of resurrecting the idea so that goods can be moved overnight. That would less need for marshalling yards and a quicker service for all those ‘Just in Time’ deliveries.

  11. Qubus
    January 21, 2021

    Dear Sir John,
    Whilst I applaud your intiative to creat a new website, I wonder if the font could be a bit denser. It would make it easier to read.

    1. Dennis
      January 21, 2021

      And an edit option.

    2. John C.
      January 21, 2021

      I must say I find this website 100% better than it was. I was beginning to give up on the old one, partly because of the unpleasant contributors, and partly because it was simply unwieldy and awkward on a phone.

  12. agricola
    January 21, 2021

    Would the 17th century rail investor invest in HS2 based on potential profit, not in a blue moon. That was before the impact of Covid19, after it, no chance.
    Rail fares are still way above air fares for equivalent distances. I conclude that naive and ignorant government both political and administrative have been sold a “nice little earner” by the construction industry.

    Yes, railway use needs reappraising after Covid. Once done the spare capacity needs putting to profitable use with freight that unburdons our roads. Look at modern dock operation and computerised industrial wharehousing to realise how behind the game our railways are.
    Make sure the appraisal is a proper commercial one, free of politics and the civil service who were responsible for HS2 in the first place. Let it be their last hurrah in a series of disasterous financial decisions.

  13. Stred
    January 21, 2021

    Perhaps you could point out to our super Green prime minister that the energy consumption of a train increases with the square of its speed and that if the thing went slower, there would be no need for all the very expensive track reinforcement and tunnelling. It will have to slow down in the tunnels anyway and as the train is likely to be empty for most of the time, the cost of an aircraft ticket would be less unless the taxpayer pays. If they wanted capacity they could have opened the old central line for freight.

    1. forthurst
      January 21, 2021

      The kinetic energy of a train is proportional to the square of its velocity; however, a train in motion or at rest is subject to Newton’s first law of motion therefore only the force necessary to overcome wind resistance and track friction have to be applied to maintain its existing velocity, not the force originally applied to accelerate the train from rest.

  14. Lifelogic
    January 21, 2021

    You were right as usual.

    The HS2 project was a complete waste of money even before Covid. Post Covid it is even more insane and should be cancelled now. Hugely environmentally damaging too.

    Not quite as damaging and absurd as the Boris agenda today on twitter supporting Biden and the rejouning of the Paris Accord & May’s moronic net zero carbon lunacy. Boris used to be sound on this topic. Is the “Theatre Studies” Carrie to blame for this?

    But the governments do just love wasting other people’s money especially if some of their “Contacts” or MP’s “Consultancy” fee employers can get their hands on some of the huge contracts.

    1. Fedupsoutherner
      January 21, 2021

      Oh yes, love your last paragraph L/L. We all know many have noses in the troughs

    2. alan jutson
      January 21, 2021

      Interesting that you outline the Paris accord, since I see that the French owned and run Eurostar Rail Company is reported as being in very deep financial trouble, so much so that it is asking the UK taxpayer (Via the Government) for a bail out cash injection to keep it afloat (running underground) why on earth should the UK taxpayers bail out a Foreign Company, which for years has paid out dividends to its shareholders..

      Reports suggest the Government is considering helping out with a cash injection… WHY !

      1. a-tracy
        January 22, 2021

        Well if the government does help out with a cash injection to a French company with no return in shares then that is me out I refuse to support this government any longer.

      2. Lifelogic
        January 24, 2021

        Indeed they need to raise funds from shareholders with a rights issue or sell assets to others.

  15. acorn
    January 21, 2021

    Rail enthusiasts should have a read of “Rail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and the North: Final report”, from the Infrastructure Commission. Very comprehensive and very expensive.

  16. john biggart
    January 21, 2021

    Not sure future rail travel is practical in the future due to antisocial distancing and obligatory suffocation.

    But a question you might ask the Government; why are people who have no symptoms and test positive with a PCR test a ‘case’.

    Yesterday the WHO guidelines changed, presumably for reasons of good science. A well individual with no symptoms having a positive PCR test must have a second PCR test before the individual is a ‘case’. The WHO also say that the number of amplifications should be recorded.

    Interestingly, in China, only people with symptoms are tested, and with a second test for confirmation. They do not seem to use PCR on the healthy population, seems they understand the limitations of PCR far better than out Governments ‘scientific’ advisers.

    If our Government is not going to follow the latest WHO guidelines re-PCR testing they must surely explain the science that challenges the WHO.

    1. Lifelogic
      January 21, 2021

      Indeed. But the Government’s main aim now seems to be to label as many of the deaths as being caused by Covid caused when they are often nothing of the sort. Many are clearly caused by the NHS shutdowns (or reluctance to go to the Doctor/Hospital).

      Will we soon have a figures for people dying within say 90 days of taking the vaccine?

  17. MiC
    January 21, 2021

    “Had” the pandemic, John? With 1,800+ deaths a day, the worst figures yet?

    Sadly we are in the very throes of it.

    Everyone still needs to do ALL that they can – beyond the minimal rules – to minimise the number of cases, and will for some time yet.

  18. hefner
    January 21, 2021

    Hancock tells us that the UK is vaccinating 200 people per minute. About 10 million people (in the first four categories) are still to have their first vaccine injection. So 50,000 minutes required. With a full day being 1,440 minutes, that means a bit more than 34 days vaccinating 24 hours a day. QED, Hancock is talking BS when the Government claims it will have vaccinated the first four categories by 15 February.

    1. Hope
      January 21, 2021


      but Hef, govt already saying vaccinations will not open lockdown. Valance on TV yesterday saying restrictions will continue next winter and vaccinations might have to be given once or more each year.

      The govt does not know if vaccine stops transmission, so why the talk of passports? There is no cogent argument for what the govt. is doing. Based on what Valance said yesterday there is no reason why schools are closed.

  19. Lifelogic
    January 21, 2021

    So Biden has already removed bust of Winston Churchill from oval Office to replace him with the dire failed socialist Cesar Chavez and rejoined the Paris Climate lunacy. This man will surely be a total disaster for the US, UK and the World.

    1. Mark B
      January 21, 2021

      The good news is, he probably won’t remember ever doing it.

    2. Hope
      January 21, 2021

      Worse listen to what he said about “war” on ‘white supremacy’ but be very careful to understand exactly what he actually means using their definition. He is promoting identity politics, not equality for All Americans whatever their skin co,our or religion.

      Today Antifa riot in three US cities, burning the flag etc. because of his election. Not widely shared in the MSM for some reason!

      74,000,000 are not going to accept Biden or what his socialism stands for. Quite right too.

    3. John C.
      January 21, 2021

      Indeed, an unpromising, but not unsurprising, start.

    4. Nig l
      January 21, 2021

      Excellent news on Paris Climate group and caring about any bust is frankly pathetic.

      1. Hope
        January 22, 2021

        Yep China loves the jobs flowing there!

    5. MiC
      January 22, 2021

      Cezar Chavez, not Hugo Chavez.

      Do learn something, please.

  20. SM
    January 21, 2021

    HS2 is/was in insane EU/Cameron era vanity project. I don’t know enough detail about its current state to know whether it is economically or legal viable to dump the whole thing, but as you suggest, John, the money should be spent on improving local rail services (thus possibly reducing vehicle traffic) and shifting freight as much as possible.

    1. Mockbeggar
      January 22, 2021

      We used to call continuing with a dud project ‘Throwing good money after bad’. We should stop now as Sir John strongly proposes.

  21. Mark
    January 21, 2021

    I read that Eurostar is on the verge of bankruptcy (again), running just two trains a day. Obviously international travel is much more restricted at the moment, but it is surely another straw in the wind. It was also reported that, due in large part to the growth of short-haul flights, 149 of the 365 cross-border rail links that once existed in Europe were non-operational in 2018, with rail now accounting for only 8% of all passenger travel in EU member states. So this isn’t about lockdowns. People fly when they need to travel rapidly.

    1. Hope
      January 21, 2021

      Shareholders made millions from Eurostar now they should bail it out, not taxpayers like the French are advocating. We had that with banks. Private shareholders allowed to make money taxpayer paid when it did not!

    2. a-tracy
      January 22, 2021

      France locked down against the UK only medics and British hauliers everyone else was barred from 23rd December not lifted as expected on 6th January so the French bought it on themselves the mainly French sharesholders can bail it out themselves. No one rushed to the British governments aid when the RBS was bailed out by British taxpayers after they bought a failed Dutch bank (didn’t we take on all the loses John?).

  22. BJC
    January 21, 2021

    I think you’ll find that the problem generated by the government’s diktat for the population to work from home is going to be far more fundamental than the level of demand for trains at rush-hour! In doing so, many people have reviewed their circumstances and decided they no longer need or want to be within striking distance of their place of work and have moved from the crush and expense of the cities to operating online from a “home” that can be anywhere. It might be good to understand how this is going to impact our public services as a whole, because in theory it will spread the population far more broadly, anyway.

  23. London Nick
    January 21, 2021

    HS2 is, after Hinkley C, the government’s most stupid and expensive policy mistake. (I am ignoring Covid19 here as this is less a policy than a series of panicked and chaotic responses).

    The solution to the need (if such exists) for extra rail capacity is two-fold:

    1. Better track usage. Fit a GPS transmitter to the front and rear of every train so you know precisely where these are, and then use computer controlled trains operating at the same speeds and keeping the same distance apart, meaning you could safely operate trains just a couple of hundred yards apart if need be.

    2. Use double-decker trains. The oft-quoted problem of low bridges can be easily resolved by lowering the track under these. Less than a mile of track would need lowering for each low bridge, and this could be done much more quickly and cheaply than building a whole new railway.

    1. Lifelogic
      January 21, 2021

      Exactly – except perhaps their most expensive mistakes are May’s zero net carbon lunacy, virtual state monopoly health care with the NHS and education with state schools, this lockdown, the absurd size of the largely unproductive state sector, the vast number of student loans for largely worthless degrees only then perhaps HS2 and Hinkley C.

  24. Iain Gill
    January 21, 2021

    I know a mainline train from London to Glasgow only had 4 passengers on it for the entire journey a few days ago.

    It would have been cheaper to put them in taxi’s than run the train.

    1. Lifelogic
      January 21, 2021

      Indeed and they try to claim trains are green. Probably used about 2000 times the energy of a taxi too with all the carrages, track, stations, staffing ………

    2. jon livesey
      January 21, 2021

      That’s not really an argument at all. To travel by rail at the moment, due to Covid, you need a “legally permitted” reason.

      Today isn’t even remotely a good guide to rail travel after Covid ceases to be a national emergency.

    3. a-tracy
      January 22, 2021

      Or change some of the passenger units for freight units. Could the Royal Mail not be persuaded back to moving mail on these trains with a bailout rate offered.

  25. Mactheknife
    January 21, 2021

    John, you cannot just look at HS2 and rail use in isolation. Successive governments have waged nothing short of a war on motorists particularly those who commute into our towns and cities. Also local councils have adopted a similar approach. This has resulted in increasing usage of the railways even though the cost of rail travel has been rising faster than service levels. As for rail freight its a major source of rail delays to normal passenger services. Road freight has increased dramatically in recent years due mainly to ‘next day delivery’ on internet purchases.
    The question I think you are driving at is will work patterns affect rail use. No doubt some companies will remains with home working but there are others I’m aware of (anecdotally) that are saying enough is enough and when the latest lock down is finished they are going back to office working.
    I think we need to look at transport as a whole with some ‘joined-up’ thinking. We need fast intercity travel (HS2), we need local rail services, look at possibly restricting lorry travel times during peek periods and we need to stop the war on drivers.

  26. Lindsay McDougall
    January 21, 2021

    We need a clear assessment of who will use the new rail line and what the fares will be. Will it be standard fares or first class only? Knowing what the target market will be is basic.

  27. Mark B
    January 21, 2021

    Sir John

    I am afraid we will all have to accept that this project has a life of its own. It is a grandiose project which owes its existence more to vanity and ego than to need and common sense. Much coin has already been spent and too much political capital.

    In short – You are wasting your time!

  28. David Brown
    January 21, 2021

    I’m a strong supporter of public transport, both rail and bus. I’m not a big supporter of HS2 however we are stuck with it.
    I do support moving freight off the roads and on to rail using the new technological advances for loading and unloading. There is a need for lorries however if we can reduce capacity on the motorway network this will help ease congestion and road repairs.

    1. Mockbeggar
      January 22, 2021

      The damage to a road surface by traffic is far greater for a fully laden truck than a saloon car. The downward pressure is axle weight times the speed to the power of 4. This means that the damage is approximately 100,000 times that of a car with both travelling at 60 mph. That is quite apart from the fact that nervous drivers avoid the inside lane for fear of either getting trapped while other vehicles pass in the middle lane or simply of the sheer size of HGVs before and behind them.

  29. Everhopeful
    January 21, 2021

    Are some MPs seers?
    Tarot cards maybe?
    How do they KNOW things will change?
    Surely the idea, after illness, is to get back to normal?
    Not to busily plan and create a “New Normal”.

  30. Jiminyjim
    January 21, 2021

    I’m very sorry, Sir John, to have to complain about your new site. It’s difficult to read and people who respond to someone’s post are shown as if they’re replying to yours.
    Th flowers are lovely, but legibility is surely more important than aesthetics?

  31. jon livesey
    January 21, 2021

    I am afraid that this is short-sighted stuff. Every railway in the UK, right back to early Victorian days, was overkill for the needs of the time. Every railway partly overlapped with other railways. Every railway cost more than it should have. A large number of railway companies went bust and investors lost their money.

    And yet we still depend heavily on the Victorian railway network. Without it, the country’s economy would be far poorer and transport costs would be higher. Come to think of it, India, Pakistan and even the US still depend on railways that were originally built by Victorian UK investors.

    Are we really saying we will build new ports and increase manufacturing capacity, including just in time supplies, but we don’t need a railway because the *exact* business case isn’t there right now?

  32. anon
    January 21, 2021

    Its an EU project, scrap it, wont be vfm.
    Spend the money on Ports,Roads & Airports . The future is electric propulsion A to B direct. Facilitate supply chains to reliable trade partners in the ROW..

Comments are closed.