28 Oct 2013

HS2, transport armageddon and playing chicken


The weather chaos on roads and rail today is as nothing, the government is warning, to the travel network armageddon that threatens if HS2 is not built.

The government’s selectively leaked an annexe of the (fifth) business case mounted in defence of HS2 and it prophesies a sort of rail plague and pestilence if people decide to upgrade existing rail rather than build a spanking new high speed line.

It wouldn’t be the occasional cancellation like today but regular and relentless lengthy delays.

Huge chunks of the network would fall into the hands of the enemy bus replacement service which would struggle to cope.


Drivers in unfamiliar areas would drive their buses off down the wrong roads.

The government’s regularly moaned that it’s been constrained in making the case for HS2 by some of the rules governing projected impact and cost benefit ratios.

So it’s inserted a sort of colour supplement of jazzier statistics into the process. Conventionally, the government feels it has to use what it considers are artificially depressed demand estimates.

Read more: HS2: What’s in it for you?

This time, fifth time round, it’s trying to make its case better and the document tomorrow is expected to show some “indicative numbers” based on higher demand estimates alongside the traditional/conventional/suppressed measures.

But one of the big numbers is the overall cost benefit ratio for the line to Manchester and the report will claim (thanks to @FaisalIslam for this) that, despite spiralling costs, this vital statistic is still managaing to come in at “2” (ie – every pound spent brings double the return). That number also happens to be the same as the BCR for Crossrail, so will fit the argument that if you backed one of these you should back the other.

Former Welsh secretary, MP Cheryl Gillan, said the talk of 14 years of cancellations and disruption on old lines was pure “scare tactics” by her former colleagues and suggested that a few deep in government shared her scepticism about HS2.

The government’s confident it’ll get its way and win the vote on Thursday for the paving bill.

Labour is not ready to make a deadly strike against the whole HS2 project and a lot of its MPs have been told they can take the week off.

The bigger problem for the project comes in spring 2014 when the hybrid bill comes before the Commons for second reading.

Read more: HS2 cost ‘will double to £80bn’

Labour could decide to strike out against the bill then in the hope of winning credibility for austerity and competent management.

But it’s not an agreed deal within the Labour front-bench. Lord Adonis, in charge of looking at infrastructure for Labour, is still passionately pro-HS2 and still in place.

And the new shadow transport secretary, Mary Creagh, has privately reassured some north of England MPs that she remains committed to HS2.

One who’s not taking this week off from Westminster and will be there for the paving bill debate on Thursday is former Manchester City Council leader, Labour MP Graham Stringer, a passionate supporter for HS2.

He said he hopes Ed Balls and Ed Miliband aren’t “playing games” but isn’t sure.

We are in the early stages of a political version of playing chicken with a slow moving project for a high speed train.

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2 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    We could easily solve this problem.

    Rid the country of subsidised London.

    Then we could share around the saved money.

    After all, poll after poll shows the place is roundly loathed and considered the worst place to live in the UK.

  2. David says:

    1 important aspect of HS2 is the price premium that you would have to pay, some estimates put a single journey ticket in excess of £200 so how many people (except MPs on subsidised tickets) will pay such a premium for a few minutes faster journey so little capacity will transfer to this line

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