RAIL passenger franchising was invented in Great Britain, for British Rail’s break up and privatisation, as a means of taking forward passenger services in what two decades ago was thought to be a declining industry.

Since then, passenger services have been anything but in decline, with the network now carrying record numbers, and it is increasingly evident that ‘franchising’, as it was perceived in the 1990s, is incapable of coping with today’s growing and increasingly complex railway. Continue reading

Dancing on the head of a pin?

WHETHER the subject is HS2, new houses in the green belt, or wind turbines and solar panels in the countryside – to take just a few examples – it seems that the principal environmental concern of most Britons today is the VISUAL impact of new developments.

Recently details have been released summarising public responses to the Environmental Statement accompanying the Birmingham-West Midlands’ HS2 hybrid Bill – which will have its Second Reading in the House of Commons on 28 April – and it shows that respondents’ greatest desire is to bury HS2 in tunnels where it can’t be seen.  Continue reading


THE strongest hint yet that the controversial link through Camden to HS1 is to be dropped from the first phase of High Speed Two was given today as industry leaders warned that failing to build HS2 will leave a clogged Britain, unable to meet its full potential and lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of infrastructure development. Continue reading


CHANCELLOR of the Exchequer George Osborne’s surprise call, while visiting Hong Kong, for a full-scale rebuilding of Euston station – including a shopping centre, offices and apartments – is not only an about-turn on earlier plans but, more importantly, could well presage major changes to the current plans for High Speed 2.

HS2 Ltd’s new chairman, David Higgins, is due to report next month on how the project might be achieved both more quickly – and more cheaply.

Already, there are hints and rumours that the link across Camden Town between HS2 and HS1 may be dropped, while David Higgins – who gained his knighthood for services to regeneration – has been seen at Old Oak Common, in west London, where major development is planned around the site of a new station that will provide an interchange with the Great Western Main Line and with Crossrail.  Continue reading


EVER since gales and heavy seas destroyed a section of the sea wall and railway at Dawlish on 5 February, there has been a growing – and in my view, irrational – debate in South West England attempting to link future resilience of railway infrastructure in Devon and Cornwall with the HS2 project.

The controversy was started by the HS2 Action Alliance – which, despite its title, is strongly opposed to the new high speed line – calling on MPs “to lobby the Government for money to be spent on improving existing rail lines instead of on a £50 billion HS2 vanity project that has no benefit to the West Country”.

There is, of course, no relationship between what might be done now to repair and improve the railway’s resilience in Devon and Cornwall and construction over the next 20 years of a new high speed rail system serving substantial populations in the Midlands and North of England. Continue reading

Why should HS2AA criticise a college to develop engineering skills?

IT is truly astonishing the lengths that some HS2 opponents will go to find fault with the project — including, it now seems, criticising plans to train many more engineers . . . engineers whom we will need, anyway, in the future.

On 13 January – as Network Rail’s outgoing chief executive David Higgins began moving into his new role as chairman of HS2 Ltd – it was announced that Britain’s first Further Education College for over 20 year is to be established to train the next generation of world-class engineers to “benefit HS2 and other future infrastructure projects across the country.”

Note the reference to ‘other future infrastructure projects’ – over the course of the next Parliament, 2015-20, the Government’s National Infrastructure Plan anticipates investment of £100 billion, of which HS2 will represent only about ten per cent. Continue reading

HS2 – public opinion needs facts to be correctly reported

A RECENT Telegraph/ICM poll found that only three per cent of voters thought HS2 will be delivered on time and on budget – but this is hardly surprising, given the amount of misinformation about the project put about by so much of the news media.

For a start, HS2 is generally referred to in media reports as costing anything from £42 billion to £70, £80 or even, recently, £100 billion.

When the Hybrid Bill for phase 1 was published on 25 November, many reports referred to a cost of £50 billion — whereas the quoted price for the first phase given to parliament in June was just £21.4 billion. Continue reading

Is upgrading Victorian infrastructure better than building HS2?

HENRY Overman, professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics — who declares that he used to be an adviser to HS2 Ltd but is now a sceptic — has claimed HS2 is poor value for money compared with other transport plans, and may well be poor value for money compared with alternatives that ‘address exactly the same set of problems.’ (see

There are others, too, who have looked at the alternatives, put forward by W S Atkins in conjunction with Network Rail to the HS2 Strategic Business Plan, and taken a similar view — even though the alternatives are reckoned to require at least 14 years of major disruption at weekends affecting all three of the existing north-south main lines: the East Coast, Midland and West Coast routes.

But it has to be asked if such an alternative option is worth pursuing? — bearing in mind that the additional capacity to be provided would be much less than that offered by HS2, and after completion no further significant capacity could be provided without then building new infrastructure at great additional cost. Continue reading

If not HS2 – then what?

It is clear from the detailed work done by Network Rail and Atkins that the alternatives often promoted by opponents to HS2 would need as many as 2,770 weekend possessions spread over 14 years, creating upheaval and dislocation on all three north-south main lines for well over a decade. When the dust had settled, the upgrades would provide only around a third of the additional capacity offered by HS2.  Continue reading