Astonishing ignorance

REPORTS about HS2 are coming along with increasingly tight headways just at the moment.

If nothing else, they give anyone bored with the imminent festivities something different to read on Boxing Day, and today we have another one.

This is from the Commons Transport Committee, which is broadly confirming its support for the scheme, subject to one or two qualifications.

The suggestions from the Committee include the possibility of starting work in the north and building towards the south, which is apparently going to be considered.

As so often when these reports are published, various third parties have been making their own comments, including Labour’s shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh, who said: “Labour supports HS2 because we must address the capacity problems that mean thousands of commuters face cramped, miserable journeys into Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London. However, three years of Government delays and mismanagement … [etc.]”.

The reference to commuters is the one which matters, because it has caused the mighty focus of opinion which is the HS2 Action Alliance (known to its friends as the rather more jaunty HS2AA) to roar defiance.

Somebody called Richard Houghton, speaking for HS2AA, offered these thoughts in response to the Labour Party statement:

“This shows astonishing ignorance about what HS2 is all about. HS2 is a high speed railway between London and Manchester; it will do nothing whatsoever to relieve commuting problems into these cities for the millions of commuters who live within only a few miles of one of these places and who travel in every day.

“The Labour Party should be supporting local people in their everyday commutes, not a Tory transport project that is not wanted by the British people. Why is the Labour Party propping up the Tory-led Coalition and this disastrously expensive and out-of-control project, against the wishes of the people?”

Well, Mr Houghton, there may be some astonishing ignorance being displayed here but not, perhaps, by the Labour Party.

HS2 will absorb most (not all) intercity traffic between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Yorkshire, leaving a lot of spare capacity on the West Coast Main Line (in particular).

What can we do with this capacity? Well, we can run more trains of a non-intercity type, including commuter trains as well as freight.

That’s the deal. More commuter trains. Fewer cramped, miserable journeys. Easy, really.

And if this explanation has done anything to combat astonishing ignorance, then so much the better.

Happy Christmas, one and all.

4 thoughts on “Astonishing ignorance

  1. I must respectfully disagree with your article, because “ignorance” means that the person making the statement didn’t know the facts.

    In the case of freeing up train paths for local lines, this point has been made repeatedly. There is no way Richard Houghton could be unaware of that argument. If he would like to explain why HS2 will fail to free up more train paths for local services, that’s fine. Instead he is deliberately repeated the same argument as if the plans for more local services don’t exist.

    That is not ignorance.

  2. No, I think Labour are the (deliberately) ignorant ones. At a most basic level, any evaluation of Hs2 benefits needs a systemic approach, which examines the flow of cash and benefits between all parties/networks concerned. For instance….

    Independent analysis predicts that the cost to each UK family will be £3,000. It is hard to truly understand how commuters would reap net rewards, with this cost lumped on top of their existing costs. Certainly the HS2 case has not spelled this out honestly and clearly for these people with the net pros and cons.

    Movever, In Labour’s argument, there is a cited benefit of improved commuter services on existing lines: but if you want to make that case, fine, but then you need to also add the costs of maintaining and improving these services…. These lines see a reduction in the higher yield ‘inter city’ peak time traffic by removing the passengers (on to HS2). This would reduce the service’s revenues substantially and lead to either lower service quality, higher fares or necessitate a greater required subsidy to keep the line operating (paid for by the commuting tax payer). Either way, the commuter is already paying up to 3 times the costs as in other European countries (TUC, Jan 2014). This suggests schemes more beneficial to commuters would reduce transport costs and increase peak capacity (e.g. urban light rail), but simpler solutions could well lie outside the rail network alone (considering many trains go around at 10%-20% loads outside of peaks) such as reducing our reliance on the rigid 9-5 timetabled day.

    The Labour notion that HS2 would absorb “all or nearly all” traffic is baseless too: People pay different levels of premium for speed, as shown very well by the co-existence of Virgin, London Midland, Chiltern and coach services between London and Birmingham. (I wouldn’t be too quick to assume the quickest Virgin services dominated the share by the way!) The cross-elasticities demonstrate HS2 would far from dominate unless so heavily subsidised that the HS2 has not honestly costed the tax payers’ burden.

    So in sum, having been involved in various business cases, you could drive a truck through the HS2 business case – it is so gloriously contrived, baseless and biased through its myopia. The more I see these feeble and concocted arguments (time benefits that neglect the new connectional times that have been introduced at interchanges; working time benefits that neglect how travel time is used etc;), the more I merely come to see HS2 as one big gravy train: Labour are masters of grand plans of virtue that line their own pockets after all. No difference here. And the Tories want to reignite the construction/ manufacturing sector.

    Here is what the Telegraph reported:
    Government calculations used to justify the £50 billion HS2 scheme were “essentially made up” a former member of Whitehall’s high speed rail advisory panel has told MPs.

    Henry Overman, professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics said he had quit the panel after he felt its role had changed from providing independent advice to promoting the project.

    “I felt it was not something I wanted to be involved with,” Prof Overman told the Treasury Select Committee.

    Academic opponents of the 351-mile line lined up to dispute Government estimates that the scheme would be worth £15 billion a year to the economy with Richard Wellings of the Institute of Economic Affairs saying it would cost every family £3,000.

    Prof Overman was withering in his assessment of the project and the way it had been handled by the Government and the work done by KPMG, the consultants brought in by the Department for Transport, to assess HS2’s economic benefit.

    “They applied this procedure which is essentially made up” he said.

    • “Independent analysis predicts that the cost to each UK family will be £3,000″

      I was going to rebut this post in detail, then I realised that what you meant by “independent analysis” was Richard Wellings (who has the most blatant anti-rail agenda you can imagine). Then I died laughing.

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