REACTION to plans to vastly improve connectivity across the North of England, and turn the region into an ‘economic powerhouse’ countering London and the South East, has been intriguingly diverse – ranging from strong support in some Northern areas, much criticism in other Northern districts, and London-centric commentators drawing attention to ancient feudal and cultural differences between Northern towns and cities and, even, the Wars of the Roses.

Support for the plans, involving rail, roads and waterways which would cost up to £15 billion over the next 15 years, has come mainly from the ‘city regions’ with ‘combined authorities’ – Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Sheffield – that worked together to produce the proposals . . . while criticism has come mostly from other parts of the North not within city regions and not having combined authorities, such as Hull and Middlesbrough. Continue reading


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

Cool welcome on Thameslink

THE new trains for Thameslink, unveiled in late January, are already running late, which we hope is not an indication of future performance on the route.

The procurement of Class 700 was lengthened, we are told, by its complexity – more than a dozen funding bodies are involved. But it was also perhaps unfortunate that the negotiations were at a critical stage when a financial crisis swept around the world, affecting Europe in particular. 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