It’s time for the big HS2 budget show!

HELLO, and welcome to another in our popular series of figure-juggling, in which we put those pesky integers and fractions to the test!

Our guest today is Mr Richard Houghton of HS2 Action Alliance. What do you do at the Alliance, Mr Houghton?

You’re a director? That’s great. Well, I see you’ve brought along some new figures. That’s great too.

So, let’s see what Mr Houghton can do with these figures. Continue reading

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. 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


THE IDEA of using the former Great Central Railway as an alternative to HS2 makes absolutely no sense.

For a start it would involve the same sort of ‘nimby’ objections as HS2.  A few years ago, the line was proposed for reopening as part of a new freight route.

But there were massive objections from people living near the line in places such as Rugby, Leicester and Nottingham.

The Great Central route had one advantage over the rest of Britain’s railways – it was built to a larger structure gauge than other routes, hence its possible attraction now to supermarkets and hauliers wanting to shift more goods from road to rail.

Otherwise, the GC route has considerable disadvantages for passenger services. Continue reading

Fare enough?

CAN YOU hear a whirring sound? Go on, listen a bit harder.

That’s it. Anyone can hear it if they try, because it’s the Government’s spinning wheel, rotating busily to make today’s announcement about a cap on rail fares sound as luscious and family-friendly as possible. Anyone would think there’s an election in 2015.   Continue reading

Lessons of ageing infrastructure from our American cousins

THERE ARE great similarities between America’s North East Corridor –connecting Washington DC, New York and Boston – and Britain’s West Coast Main Line. Both link a series of major cities. Both are struggling to cope with growing demand. Both have to handle express, regional and commuter passenger services plus a variety of freight trains. And both are reliant on ageing infrastructure.

With recent warnings from David Higgins – Network Rail’s chief executive, soon to take over as chairman of HS2 Ltd – that routes such as the WCML cannot continue to rely on Victorian infrastructure, rail operators and engineers in Britain might do well to take note of the enforced railroad chaos north of New York City that has been producing headlines in America since last week.

Continue reading

Towns and cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow will benefit right from the start of HS2

SOMETHING that greatly concerns me about many media reports is that HS2 is so often referred to as “a new high speed line from London to Birmingham by 2026, and to Manchester and Leeds by 2033.” The Economist is the latest I have seen reporting exactly this in its current edition.  The BBC’s web site also currently shows a map of phase one with HS2 going only to Birmingham.

But this is all very misleading, as many towns and cities along the West Coast Main Line north of Birmingham – including Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow – will benefit from stage one of HS2, enjoying journey time reductions from and to London of around 25/30 minutes on today’s schedules, with up to eight trains every hour going beyond Birmingham. Continue reading


IT has been a fond claim of politicians in both the earlier Labour government and more recently among Coalition Ministers that £9 billion was spent improving the West Coast Main Line after privatisation – the phrase ‘upgrade’ has often been used, even though the original investment programme was long ago ‘de-scoped’ to be a ‘route modernisation’ with many upgrade elements eliminated.  In fact, even some modernisation elements were deferred to keep the cost down.

The result of the £9 billion engineering works, extending over more than a decade, was only to bring the level of speeds and journey times on the West Coast route up to those enjoyed by the Great Western and East Coast main lines where speeds up to 125mph, and average journeys of over 100mph, first applied more than 30 years — and sometimes still do, despite extra stops and recovery time added to schedules since provatisation. Continue reading