HS2 will serve the communities of tomorrow

24th January, 2012 2:25 pm

It’s sometimes good to reflect on any major policy announcement, particularly one that commits to £32 Bn of tax payers (our) hard earned money.

Going to work 2 weeks ago, I read every day about HS2: the pros and cons and knee jerk reactions (both for and against).

I’ve now heard nothing about it for 10 days, but having had time to think I would argue that HS2 is, a fantastic project, one that harks back to the height of British civilization while embracing the technology and aspiration of the country’s future.

It is also a project of which Labour can be proud. It was our party which conceived, designed, embraced and continued to push for HS2 even when evicted from government. David Cameron may be the man to rubber stamp it, but it was a Labour government which had the foresight and ambition to initiate this grand venture.

Many will argue that at times of austerity, £32 billion is a huge amount to spend to shave minutes off the journeys of commuters. However, it is exactly these times that call for a healthy dose of hope and ambition to go with the grinding realism of financial vigilance.

HS2 will not have an immediate impact and may not be operational for many years. This has been another source of sustained criticism but in fact offers a rare opportunity for long termism.

The proposals currently run from London to Birmingham, with an eventual Y shaped route to the north. While many along the route have taken issue with the potential side effects of new high speed trains, many more in my local area have much more practical concerns. They see the obvious benefits and are excited by the prospects of trade, mobility and technology on their doorstep. But all this means nothing if the route does not serve those which it passes.

Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Scotland have all featured heavily in the debate on HS2. This has meant the East Midlands has been forgotten as more fashionable locations occupy the attentions of decision makers. The residents of these picturesque lands have not taken the nimbyist approach favoured by many in the more southern Tory shires. But their concerns demand attention. A stop in the East Midlands will offer a real boost to areas that do not boast such a flagship city to catch the eye of national politicians but offers a huge amount to the economy.

The fact is that the East Midlands has a very tortuous and slow rail coneection to the south. The Midland line was built in Victorian times to shift millions of tons of coal and did that well for over 100 years. However, as a passenger carrying line, linking into continental systems it is too slow and of low capacity, simply put it is no longer fit for purpose. If we are to compete with cities such as Cologne, Barcelona, Lyon and Dresden then we must join the high speed club. Air travel is unsustainable and the M1 motorway suffers severe congestion with unreliable journey times.

The Labour led and controlled councils around Nottingham recognise this. Nottingham City Council fully endorse HS2 and Broxtowe Borough Council, in whose area a terminal may well be built, passed an early motion which:

“Welcomes the commitment of the government to move ahead with the building of the HS2 rail link. The Council calls on the government to ensure that Greater Nottingham is included within the scheme and commits itself to working with all interested parties to explore the possibilities for developing a new station for HS2 within Broxtowe.”

Labour has led the charge on HS2 since the very start. It has bravely continued its promotion of the issue in the face of hesitance by a sceptical public and short sighted government. The decision to go ahead was a victory for the party, albeit one that will not be recognised by the chattering classes of pundits and the media. Now is not the time to lay back and think of a job well done. There are those who would benefit massively from HS2 but who need someone to listen and to act. And that’s what Labour has always been good at.

If during the next 14 years until the HS2 line is built we can use this major public investment in rail infrastructure to kick start the wider debate on the environmental, economic and social benefits of the importance of affordable public transport and how it benefits everyone – we’ll all be the better for it.

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  • Anonymous

    yes like how can the ordinary  people afford a ticket one good thing the railway bridges can be used to live under.

  • You should recognize two things about HS2. One that the ‘Chattering Classes’ will be the only people able to afford to ride to the East Midlands by this route, if they would want to which I doubt. Secondly that any concept of ‘communities’ will be long dead after another decade of right wing politics and a tiny minority of wealthy people will give not a thought to yesterday’s cites of the East Midlands and will want to live their secure and individualist existences in the Chilterns unmolested by such French inspired technology as a railway. Both the HS2 and ‘Communities’ are ideas as dead as socialism.

  • Right. Because ONLY the rich will be able to sustain communities in the future. Everyone else is being hammered by your/Tory policies.

  • Jennie

    “While many along the route have taken issue with the potential side effects of new high speed trains, many more in my local area have much more practical concerns.”

    How patronising! Try talking to the worried residents of social housing in Camden who, if the crazy plan to bring the line all the way into Euston goes ahead, will be evicted from their homes to make way for the demolition ball with no guarantee of how/where/if they will be suitably re-housed. Whole communities will be torn up and children uprooted from schools and friends.

  • Anonymous

    So Richard, we have yet another Labour supporter (you) endorsing another of the current policies of the coalition and what for? to shave 30 minutes off a trip from London to Birmingham or vice versa. £32 billion for THAT! – as Liam Byrne said “there’s no money left”

    • John Ruddy

      Firstly, HS2 was a policy of the last Labour Government – if anything, the coalition has endorsed many of OUR policies – not the other way around.

      Secondly, £32 is for the whole ‘Y’ network, not just the London – Birmingham section (thats £17bn).

      Thirdly, even when phase 1 is built, its not JUST 30 minutes off the London – Birmingham journey time – Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow will ALL be 30 minutes quicker, as trains from those cities will join HS2 in the midlands.

      • Anonymous

        £32 billion will probably prove to be a vast under-estimate. What is 30 minutes?

        I am sure even the great peace envoy/businessman/speaker/philanthropist/sholwbiz personality and faith foundation supremo won’t have on his lips as his last words “I wish I could have saved that thirty minutes on a rail trip to Glasgow”. Or Liverpool. Or Manchester.

        • John Ruddy

          Since the number of people wanting to travel by train between those places has increased massively – so much so that all the trains are to have 2 extra carriages added to themover the next 18 months – I bet many people would wish they could get to their destination quicker.

  • Dave Postles

    Eddie Stobart wants to run fast freight from Valencia into the UK.  British Gypsum has re-opened a derelict line near its East Leake works for its freight.  It makes more sense, IMHO, to improve the general rail infrastructure to facilitate fast-moving freight. 

    • John Ruddy

      Dave, the problem is that there is no more capacity for freight on the West Coast main Line. Part of this is due to the fact that freight trains travel slower than passenger trains (60mph or 75mph against 100mph or 125mph).

      The whole point of HS2 is increase that capacity. Take the fast express services off the WCML, leaving room for passenger trains serving towns and cities nnot currently served by the express pendolinos, and creating paths for freight traffic into the west midlands.

      Freight can use HS2 as well!

      • Steve Barber

        John – you hit the nail bang on the head. It’s all about capacity. Electrifying the Midland Main Line to London will marginally increase capacity but not enough if we are to get away from the congested trains we already have. The next generation of trains should be built to travel on both conventional lines (slower) and High speed lines. Just as the motorway nework evolved by bye-passing bottlenecks and places where there was insufficient capacity so should the 21st century rail network. The first major European bottleneck to be tackled is London to Birmingham.

        Also many HS2 rail journeys will not be just Birmingham or Leeds or Nottingham to London but to destinations on the continent too. We must think beyond our national boundaries if we are to be a world player.

  • Anonymous

    Gosh how many social houses  could you build for that little lot make much more work and help the  homeless,  and you may have a few bob to build a few affordable homes for the Middle class to help the bankers.

    But I suspect this would not help the banker s who need to move fast before we catch them with their bonus payments

  • happy.fish

    We do not need a HS line between London and Birmingham, the distance does not justify it. Even extending it to Manchester or Leeds is pretty pointless. We probably do need some new lines, but let’s face it the biggest issues with overcrowding are on commuter routes. HS2 will serve no benefit to those who live along the route since if it is going to function as a high speed line, it clearly will have very few stops, and you would not be able to run other local services upon it. Improve the quality, efficiency of services should be the priority across the country, rather than once more focussing on linking london to places it is already linked to. The line from the east midlands sounds like another route that could do with this. We really need to renationalise a service which is pretty much sustained by the public purse anway, allowing for real strategic planning is the way forward. The challenge to reinvent nationalised service without the failings of the past could offer the country alternatives to the tory ideology of the market knows best, this maybe true when I’m picking soap powder but it does not follow that is true for everything.

    • John Ruddy

      But commuters will beenfit by the extra capacity on HS2. You may recall the gentleman on Question Time the other night bemoaning the lack of stops at Watford Junction. The reason for that is lack of capacity – they had to be removed from the timetable to allow the trains from the north the paths.

      HS2 will free up space for more fast stopping trains serving places which havnt had a decent service in years, but have had to see fast Pendolinos whizz by.

      • Anonymous

        “But commuters will beenfit by the extra capacity on HS2”
        If they can afford the premium rate fares, that is.

        • Bill Lockhart

          Try reading John Ruddy’s post. Commuters on the existing lines would benefit from the capacity freed by HS2.

        • John Ruddy

          You obviously arnt reading what I have been saying. Commuters will benefit by the extra capacity created ont he existing network.

          Oh, and by the way, the business case for HS2 is actually based on fares being broadly the same as they are now. Those who oppose HS2 like to have their cake and eat it – on the one hand they say that the business case doesnt stand up because it doesnt create enough extra revenue, and ont he other hand they say the fares will be too high!

          • Anonymous

            Careful Mr Ruddy, you are so gung-ho for this unnecessary project we will begin to suspect you have some ulterior motive for that enthusiasm.

            We really shouldn’t be considering schemes at a time like this when we are in very poor straits.

            I repeat was is half an hour?. One episode of Eastenders, and I thin being on a slower ould be more entertaining than that.

          • John Ruddy

            I certainly have no ulterior motive, other than a lifetime spent campaigning for a better railway system. That, and a desire for facts and evidence to be used in discussion, rather than assertion.
            I take it you would also cancel CrossRail? That will cost us about the same on an annual basis as the construction of HS2? As soon as CrossRail is complete, the budget for that will then be used on HS2. The overall budget for DfT wont have changed. So if we cant afford HS2, we definitely cant afford CrossRail. I mean, we’ll be spending money on CrossRail now, not in 6 years time as we will be on HS2.

          • Anonymous

            Sadly we can’t cancel it because it has already got well advanced.It is interesting in that Crossrail will extend out to Shenfield in Essex, and there is already a 10 minute weekday service between Liverpool Street and Shenfield, and seems an unnecessary duplication.

          • John Ruddy

            How close to the centre of London is Liverpool St? How close is Paddington? How much capacity in those stations would be freed up for longer distance travel?

            Projects such as CrossRail were done in Paris in the 70’s and 80’s and were very successful.

          • Anonymous

            Liverpool Street is in EC2 and is a ten minute ride on the Central Line from Oxford Circus. So much you can do with ten minutes of course….

      • happy.fish

        Agreed but this does not require the extra expense of high speed, just additional lines.

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    There’s also a good economic case for improving transport links to London from East Anglia (a bit further east than your region of East Midlands).  The whole of East Anglia is relatively poorly served with transport, but yet is closer to London.  The M1 is the main artery to the East Midlands and north, but to the east of the M1 there are no 3-lane motorways until the M2 in Kent.  The East Coast Main Line runs well, but to the east of that if you want to get from Norwich to London by train it is a 2 hour journey.  There are no 3-lane roads in Suffolk or Cambridgeshire, despite those counties being the main road bearers for containers from Felixstowe to anywhere north of London, and big jams are a daily occurrence.  The major rail/road interchange proposed for the A14/A1/East Coast Main Line is a stalled project, but projected for less than £1 billion.  7 “new towns” in East Anglia serve growing communities in a vibrant region, but no major transport links are planned.

    I am not convinced by the HS2.  £32 billion for half an hour of saved journey time to Birmingham. For £2 billion, a region the size of Birmingham in East Anglia could benefit from massive improvements to road and rail infrastructure, and also boost continental trade.  That would leave £30 billion to also be spent on the north west, Scotland, Yorkshire, Devon or anywhere else in our nation that also needs transport links.

  • Anonymous

    Richard, old thing, it really does not matter what I or you think about this because neither Labour nor anyone else in this country made the decision. It came straight from the EU.

    “Member States shall provide the Commission with abstracts of national plans and programmes which they are drawing up with a view to develop the trans-European transport network, in particular in relation to the core network. Once adopted, the Member States shall send the national plans and programmes to the Commission for information.”


    Core network corridor. 2. Warszawa – Berlin – Amsterdam/Rotterdam – Felixstowe – Midlands Amsterdam/Rotterdam – Felixstowe – Birmingham/Manchester – Liverpool

    Brussels, XXX COM(2011) 665/3

    • John Ruddy

      Mike, The trans European transort network isnt about high speed rail. Many of our current rail lines (electrified and non-electrified) are already part of that network.

      And in case you didnt notice, HS2 isnt in Core network corridor 2 – thats from Felixstowe (East Anglia) to Birmingham.

  • Rob

    Richard, I don’t want to be rude, but you are arguing for different things here. If the point of HS2 is to increase capaicty (and, incidentally, running faster trains) then going via Nottingham is not going to work. The best you can hope for is a Prkway stlye station.

    I’d also suggest that your support for HS2 is mistaken. I really do not see much of a “dose of hope” coming from spending a minimum of £17 billion to build a railway for the rich that might possibly open in 2026.

    If you want hope, and rational transport policy, spend an awful lot less electriying the Midland Main Line to Nottingham and Sheffield (as campaigners have been pushing for for years), doing the same for the Chiltern Line, lengthening trains, and cutting first class seats.

    The argument that the lines to Birmingham are full is nonsense.  To argue that saving 20 odd minutes on journeys to Birmingham and beyond is worth £17 billion is a terrible error of judgement. 

  • Pingback: Richard Robinson » Building a Better Britain (3) Why HS2 is good for us all()

  • chriseaglen

    Freight should not be on WCML as the wear and tear and slow speeds do not help with passenger paths.

    HS2 does not change the fact that WCML cannot accomodate piggy back and double stacked freight. 

    Labour did not produce a well thought through plan for future rail.  The indefensible as polarised MPs and others based on a fudged and incomplete notion.  The WCML upgrade experiences have lead to the HS2 WCMLK bypass gaining support without the difficult issues being addressed. 

    The different strategic objectives for rails future cannot not be met by HS2 and the project needs to be changed to enable more objectives to be achieved and with less impact on some areas where there is ease of placement but significant local damage and change. 

    The UK is demonstrating a deficit in planning for rail and this is being crowded out by a ding dong match between pundits with little detailed understanding of HS2.

    Better start again, realise it will be slow and expensive but at least solve some real problems:  getting a low cost seat for medium distance commuter journies.  Work out how the nation will maintain more aggresive wearing tracks when Network Rail cannot achieve decent ride quality on WCML currently at 120mph.  Provide Large Gauge Freight.

    Would not boast too much about this being a Labour master plan as it is as flawed as pasty tax and charity tax.  This may become another reversal of a Labour Policy by the coalition claiming Brown and colleagues got this one wrong alongside banking weak regulation.

    Time to change.


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