Cheryl Gillan’s opposition to HS2 is off the rails

WRITING in The Sunday Telegraph, Cheryl Gillan — MP for Chesham and Amersham, who was sacked as Welsh Secretary in David Cameron’s last Cabinet reshuffle — claimed “HS2 is a cancer that will cost our country dear.”

But Ms Gillan’s rant was quite without justification — and factually incorrect.

She claimed HS2 is a “Labour initiated folly.”  But the whole idea of developing a High Speed Rail route to the West Midlands, Manchester and Leeds started not with Labour but with . . . the CONSERVATIVES, promoted by Theresa Vlilliers when she was the party’s front-bench shadow transport secretary.

Nor did Ms Villiers propose to “rejuvenate our railways with high-speed links” — as Cheryl Gillan claimed in The Sunday Telegraph.

What Theresa Villier proposed was a completely new High Speed line leaving London, via Heathrow — passing through the Chilterns — to Birmingham and going on to Manchester and across the Pennines to Leeds. This became known as the “reverse S” route and remained Tory policy until the 2010 general election.

The Liberal Democrats also gave general support to development of High Speed Rail — but not in the very specific way, including a detailed route proposal, as promoted by the Conservatives.

Labour came late to supporting the concept of High Speed Rail, and then only when Lord Andrew Adonis (who understands railways) first because Transport Minister, and later Transport Secretary, and set up HS2 Ltd to examine options for a north-south HSR system.

In early 2010, this resulted in proposals for HS2 to be built in two stages — with a direct route from London to the West Midlands, rejoining the West Coast Main Line near Lichfield, and then a second stage to complete a Y-shaped network with extensions to Manchester and the North West and Leeds and the North East.

HS2 Ltd’s plan was at odds with the original ‘reverse S’ scheme proposed by Theresa Villiers, including not going via Heathrow.  But after the 2010 general election, and careful assessment of the alternatives, the coalition government — including Cheryl Gillan, who was in the Cabinet as Welsh Secretary — agreed to adopt the principle of the Y network instead of the ‘reverse S.’

This was announced by Philip Hammond, who was then Transport Secretary with Ms Villiers as his deputy, at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham in October 2010.

After public consultation during 2011 Justine Greening, who had by then become Transport Secretary, confirmed the first stage of the route — which will form the basis of a hybrid bill to be introduced in Parliament later in 2013 — a year ago, including an added link between HS2 and HS1, and a spur to Heathrow to be included in stage two.

Cheryl Gillan also claimed in The Sunday Telegraph that “Labour barely electrified a single additional mile of rail, and came up with the idea of HS2 to ‘fill the gap’.”

In part this is correct — during Tony Blair’s government only 15km of single track between Kidsgrove and Crewe were electrified.

But when Lord Adonis was Transport Secretary (and Gordon Brown was Prime Minister) approval was given to electrify key regional routes in the North West and the Great Western Main Line from London to Newbury, Oxford, Bristol and Cardiff . . . since extended to Swansea and the Cardiff before she was sacked as Welsh Secretary.

Ms Gillan is so out of touch with reality that she even claimed in her newspaper article that HS2 will “fail to connect with HS1 and its access to Europe”.  But this is part of the scheme agreed by Justine Greening a year ago, with a link across north London between Old Oak Common and St Pancras.

Ms Gillan also claimed that “we already have a long-established railway system, along existing transport corridors: it would benefit greatly from more investment, rather than diverting money to the excessive expense of creating a whole new railway system.”

In this she overlooks that there used to be another established transport corridor through the Chilterns — the Great Central Railway, closed north of Aylesbury in 1966 by a Labour government carrying out the policies of Dr Richard Beeching, who had been appointed by a Conservative government.

Ms Gillan also totally overlooks the huge levels of investment that are being committed to improving and enhancing the existing rail network — over £37 billion, announced in the rail industry’s Strategic Business Plan for 2014-19, published on 8 January.

Network Rail even says that its investment plans include making a start before 2019 on constructing HS2 “to relieve the huge capacity constraints on the West Coast Main Line”.

But most of the £37 billion planned spending between 2014-19 will be on the existing network — giving the lie to the claim that going ahead with HS2 will divert investment away from the classic system.  Indeed, the total expenditure planned for the existing network between 2014 and 2019 — including maintenance, renewals and enhancements — will be at least as much as is planned to be spent on HS2 over 15 years, three times as long!

Incidentally, Ms Gillan also claimed that “electrification of the London to Swansea line by 2017 will bring economic benefits at a fraction of the price of HS2.”  However, she overlooked the huge cost of building and operating a new fleet if Intercity Express trains, new maintenance depots, and renewing all the signalling along the route in accordance with the European Rail Traffic Management System — and the £900 million cost of reconstructing  the station and track layout at Reading, the Great Western route’s major bottleneck and cause of congestion and unreliability today.

Current reports also suggest that the electrification project may now cost much more than the original estimate of £1.1 billion (with some reports suggesting it could rise to as much as £7 billion) – and in Bath there is growing opposition to the erection of any overhead electrification equipment through the heritage area of that city!

If and when Great Western electrification is completed it will only allow journey times to be reduced back to those that originally applied when British Rail introduced its iconic 125mph diesel High Speed Trains in 1976 — 37 years ago.  Since privatisation in 1997, Great Western Main Line journey times have been extended considerably as additional station stops have been added to timetables to meet the continuing growth in demand for rail travel.

23 thoughts on “Cheryl Gillan’s opposition to HS2 is off the rails

  1. Can anyone tell me what there is in Birmingham that you would want to get there in 45 mins? what did Dr Johnson say ‘A man who is tired of life,hasnt been to Birmingham’?

    • The comment from Jak Jaye is typical of people who fail to understand the concept and reason for HS2. HS2 has never been about London to Birmingham, hence the link to the WCML at Lichfield. Anyone who makes the comment about why people would want to get to Birmingham quicker is misinformed and niaive

  2. This still doesn’t make it a good idea though. Business case isn’t there and there’s no proven need for it past a load of broadly empty rhetoric – unconvinced!

    Local commuter services need investment to boost the economy, not long range luxury journeys.

    • True, we don’t need HS2 right now. The point is, there’s no way it can be built before the middle of next decade. As no-one has a certified accurate crystal ball, it cannot be proved that we’ll need it then either, but if so we must start right now. Based on present trends our national economy will be hamstrung without extra transport capacity, and HS2 is the least worst way of getting it.

      By all means invest in commuting, the Northern Hub starts soon, reconnection Lewes-Uckfield is at least talked about, both long overdue. Neither will up freight capacity on the WCML, as HS2 will.

  3. There seems little point in arguing about whose idea it was first as there are more important issues at stake here.
    What Cheryl Gillan is trying to do here is represent the views of her constituents which is surely part of an MPs job
    Most of the predicted benefits of HS2 are simply predictions not facts that can be measured.
    The only measurable facts that spring to mind are:
    Journey times will be decreased
    Temporary jobs will be created during the construction period
    Even the cost is only an estimate
    The point that gets missed is the effect that the route will have on settlements on or near the proposed route
    Even if compensation is due (and very few people will be eligible), a cash payment is no substitute for losing your home, your environment or your community
    I would challenge any HS2 supporter to show the same enthusiasm for the scheme if it was their home or their environment that they had to sacrifice for it to be built.
    How about some support for these people?
    Surely we have the technology available to minimise this blight?

    • “I would challenge any HS2 supporter to show the same enthusiasm for the scheme if it was their home or their environment that they had to sacrifice for it to be built.”

      My prediction is that if and when they look and extending HS2 from Leeds to Newcastle, it will be built about a mile away from where I live (Gilesgate). And as far as I’m concerned, they are welcome to do so.

    • So what are you saying @Bob Kemp?

      Are you implying that because someone, somewhere is adversely impacted by an infrastructure project, the scheme should NOT proceed – if so, adopting that approach would have us still living in caves?

      The point about impacted communities / individuals has definitely NOT been missed – one could argue that more attention is focused on this aspect of infrastructure projects than ever before – somehow I don’t think the Victorian era pioneer railway builders had to contend with Environmental Impact Assessments?

      Please stop trying to propagate myths about improved communications technology rendering demand for travel non-existent – it’s NOT going to happen – we’ve had video conferencing and the like for more than a decade and during that period, demand for travel has increased exponentially – all of the (objective) evidence points to a looming capacity crunch for the rail network generally – that’s why record sums are now being ploughed into rail infrastructure investment – HS2 is just one element in that strategy.

      New lines are the only effective way to solve this issue on the WCML so it boils down to where you put those new lines – unfortunately that means some people somewhere are impacted – what is needed here is mitigation to reduce that impact and adequate compensation where mitigation does not provide a solution.

      Before you start, it’s entirely possible that where I live (Alderley Edge) will be in reasonably close proximity to phase 2. I don’t work in the rail industry and yes, I can readily perceive the massive benefits accruing to UK plc from HS2

      Time to move forward with this long overdue project

      • Of course I was not implying that an infrastructure project should not proceed simply because someone, somewhere is adversely affected’ but I was trying to highlight the severity of the impact of this scheme on various communities along the route.
        That is the point that has been missed.
        Take my local village (South Heath) as an example.
        Although a tunnel is proposed, it is of the ‘cut and fill’ type which means the demolition of everything in its path.
        Several people would lose their homes, both our local community buildings would be demolished (including our only pub!) and an area of ancient woodland would be felled.
        The majority of residents would not receive a single penny in compensation.
        I like to think we have moved on from Victorian times and that people should not have to make these sacrifices.
        Surely we now have the technology to mitigate these effects?
        Tunnelling is the obvious answer but the government turn a blind eye and claim they have addressed these issues.
        I was intrigued by the correspondent who wrote that he would be happy for a possible route to pass about a mile away from where he lived.
        Passing a mile away would indeed be cause for celebration here!

      • Peter Davidson said, ‘I don’t work in the rail industry and yes, I can readily perceive the massive benefits accruing to UK plc from HS2′

        Can you please confirm then that you have nothing to do with the Peter Davisdon Consultancy

        Peter Davidson which Consultancy provides innovative solutions to the complex transportation problems of the modern world. We cover transport planning, railways, research, multi-modal modelling, market research and software solutions. We are at the cutting-edge of transport technology and are one of the market leaders in understanding transport behaviour, using sophisticated research methods to produce realistic transport solutions, and applying state-of-the-art transport modelling techniques to ensure our solutions really work.

        A simple yes or no will do

    • So I suppose Kent has become a wilderness since HS1 was built ?

      HS2 should have a copy of “Britain’s New Railway” on its site which shows how HS1 was built and cows grazing unconcerned beside speeding Eurostar trains!

      Just because roads are dirty and noisy it is nor like that with trains!

  4. May I ask what your proposed solution is to the 160% load factors some of the London Midland journeys from Rugby, Milton Keynes and Watford? The biggest benefit on HS2, in my opinion, is not faster journeys but being able to stick more regional services on the WCML and make journeys bearable again.

    Most opposition groups, on the other hand, are backing 51m’s plan which actually involves a small cut of regional peak-time services.

  5. The trackbed of the established transport corridor through the Chilterns, the Great Central, with the exception of the Brackley Viaduct is still largely intact.

    if the GCR line between Aylesbury and the WCML at Rugby is to be reopened at some time in the future it is vital that the trackbed of the GCR mainline between Quainton Road or Calvert and Mixbury is protected from encroachment by HS2.

  6. It seems to me that the current HS2 proposal may be “the wrong answer to the right questions”. There are really two different aims – (a) to give extra capacity northward from London and (b) to give a very high speed ( 200+ mph) service to the more distant destinations. Perhaps these two aims ought to be addressed separately ?

    Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds are too close to London for 200+mph service to acheive very much – rail already has the “lions’ share” on these routes. On the other hand, extra capacity could be installed more cheaply on the West Coast by building a new bypass / cut – off line Tring – Nuneaton with a speed capability of 140 or 155 mph. South of Tring, enhancing the existing line to Euston would probably be more cost – effective than tunnelling under the Chilterns and carving a new line through northwest London.

    At the same time, a 200+mph line following a n East Coast alignment, through flatish, open country would be more direct and cheaper to build than the current HS2 proposal to give very high speed service to Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow, where the time savings would be far more useful’ A retired railway civil engineer tells me that building a 200+ mph line through the topography between Manchester and Scotland would be prohibitively expensive.

    • “Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds are too close to London for 200+mph service to acheive very much – rail already has the “lions’ share” on these routes.”

      1) Not true. Car travel has the lion’s share on all routes outside of London.

      2) Even if we’re considering rail travel v air travel, yes it’s true that rail dominates over air on those distances, but HS2 also reduces journey times between London and Edinburgh/Glasgow without needing to lay a single sleeper north of Manchester. And there, competition between rail and air most definitely matters.

      ” South of Tring, enhancing the existing line to Euston would probably be more cost – effective than tunnelling under the Chilterns and carving a new line through northwest London.”

      It’s been considered. It’s called Rail Package 2. And it’s not cost effective.

      By all means suggest a different proposal, but I’m getting quite tired of the argument that we should scrap HS2 because we’ll definitely definitely definitely definitely fix all the WCML capacity problems by enhancing the existing line but don’t press me for any details.

    • @David C Smith
      How would your plan connect Manchester and N.W.England to other High Speed Rail networks (HS1 and European mainland beyond) – answer; it wouldn’t – and your comment about rail having the lions share of intercity traffic is fanciful at best – have you ever driven on the M1/M6 or M40 during weekdays?

      HS2 achieves both outcomes and reduced travel times, via higher speeds, has proved both effective and attractive to travel consumers elsewhere in Europe – Frankfurt to Köln for example

      Endless speculation about allegedly better ideas is now redundant navel gazing – it’s not going to happen – overall High Speed Rail strategy in the UK is already well advanced and by the time the Hybrid Bill receives royal assent in early 2015, plans will be largely fixed.

      Much more practical and productive to concentrate efforts on the overall cost of these long overdue projects – why does a new 302km line between Tours and Bordeaux, built to the exact same technical specifications as HS2, cost less than £7bn at today’s rate of exchange, compared with the headline £32bn cost of 590km for HS2 – the overall cost of HS2 (the entire Y) should be closer to £20bn, not well north of £30bn – this is where we (the British public) should be focusing our attention!

      • The main reason that TGVs come in cheaper is France is much bigger and land costs are far lower. Also billions are not wasted putting lines into unneeded tunnels to placate local NIMBYS!

  7. Yes Chris, cars do account for substantial flows, but use of cars rather than trains is probably more to do with convenience than with centre-to-centre time.

    Relying on the existing line north of Manchester and HS2 south thereof wouldn’t be likely to give a sub-3 hour London-Glasgow /Edinburgh time. The evidence suggests that rail only becomes the dominant (public) transport mode when centre-to-centre journeys are less than 3 hours.

    • Very very ropey assumptions.

      The reality is that some people will travel by car no matter what. Likewise for trains, planes and coaches. Everyone else will consider two or modes of transport, and each be influenced by their own priorities. A person who is not willing to sacrifice the convenience of a car to save one hour off a journey to Manchester might be more willing if they can save two. A person who find the time saved flying from London to Scotland worth to hassle of getting to and from airports at both ends might not consider it worth it if the train is now an hour quicker (and therefore the same saved by flying an hour less) might no longer consider the flight worth it. Or they might still stick with what they did before. People are different. We don’t know.

      That’s before we consider the effect of future petrol prices, which could be anything. There’s far too many variables to make accurate predictions of shifts between passenger transport, but to argue that no car driver will ever give up their convenience no matter how much quicker and cheaper the train is, and that air passengers will never switch to rail unless the reduction in journey times goes from over 3 hours to under 3 hours (but not 4h30 to 3h30 or 2h45 to 1h45) is a wildly sweeping statement.

  8. Well I don’t buy the point about Reading – it needed remodelling regardless of any other new development. HS2 is being started now, because it makes money for those in power; this was my view when I last commented and I stand by that. Why would the government of today want to do anything different to the government of yesterday? They still can’t make the railways pay, even now that they have manipulated things into a position where they dont even have to discuss or disclose franchise deals meant to preserve and develop our public service ‘confidential’. And what about new rolling stock? It’s again another matter of under-investment and Operating Companies like First getting away with compromising quality of their principle diesel rolling stock (and an exploitive HST refurbishment is exactly what I’m pointing to) to satisfy crowding over just 2 percent of their diesel mainline route mileage?

    As for Bath, and indeed the entire ex-SR that lies nearby, I say this: don;t completely scrap all the third rail stuff, as some people have recently suggested – sure, go ahead with replacing it on the old NSE network but cascade, people! Put the third rail onto the Waterloo-Exeter-Bristol-Bath-Westbury routes and make use of old assets where they can be useful.

  9. No, of course individual travellers will make different choices , re train vs car vs air . My comments refer to average behaviour taken over many thousands.

    If a graph is drawn of percentage share of intercity travel by train (on average) against time taken, the graph tends to fall slowly up to a time of appx 2 1/2 hours , amd then falls much more rapidly up to about 3 1/4 hours, after which it levels off at a lower amount.

    Just to illustrate, I beleive currently London – Manchester and Leeds rail have at least 80 % of the ( public)transport market, whereas Glasgow has round 20 % or so by rail, An interesting case here is Newcastle, where time is in the “steep” part of the graph and the rail share is around 50 %.

  10. Further to my email of a few minutes previously, I should also say it would seem that, with the exeption of Birmingham – Paris / Brussels, even HS2 speeds would probably not be competitive between our northern cities and centres on the Continent.

  11. 3rd Rail network is not just old but wastes large amounts of energy through power losses. It also does not allow decent speeds above 100 mph like the 25kv network allows. Oh don’t forget then major problems snow and ice bring to this type of electrification !

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