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Monday 9 September 2013

Does the fact that the goalposts keep changing suggest HS2 may be a flawed plan?

I wrote a blog post 18 months or so ago questioning just how useful the time saving afforded by HS2 is likely to be.

This was in response to the main argument at the time, that London and Birmingham will be brought some 20-25 minutes closer through HS2. Although I am in general a fan of 'big capital projects' I wasn't so convinced the logic stood up this time.

Its interesting that over the course of time, as the opposition to HS2 has become more vociferous, so the arguments have shifted away from time savings and onto other areas.

Firstly, the argument that it will have huge economic benefits to the regions was advanced. But as this piece from the BBC demonstrates, the experience from other countries is far from convincing on this score.

Now the argument has shifted again to the capacity argument - which was advanced very well on my earlier blogpost by the inestimable Duncan Stott.

Whether by design or not, HS2 will definitely add capacity and that's the key reason I support it. Its direct connections from London to Birmingham and later Manchester mean it will primarily relieve the WCML to provide a better service to Milton Keynes, Watford, Northampton, Crewe, Stafford etc.

I suspect this is its job by design. It is just being sold differently politically

Now I have more sympathy with this argument; if the HS2 development is designed to free up capacity on other lines and there will be a commensurate upgrade of services on commuter lines at the same time, then I can see a good argument there (although HS2 will not allow any increased capacity for freight trains - because it is not designed to carry them).

But I don't think that 'all connected' plan or case has been made yet; until it has its hard to see how the argument for HS2 can be made; certainly the report published today by the Public Accounts Committee doesn't think the commercial argument has been made (nor do they think HS2 will help the regions).

In my heart I want to support HS2; but my head just wont let me. Sure I want a railway service fit for the 21st century. But i need to see the plan that delivers that.

I don't think the HS2 plan on its own delivers yet.


Forgot to add in my favourite comment on the original post...



  1. "Although I am in general a fan of 'big capital projects'"

    This seems a remarkable statement. Not cost effective projects or technologically progressive ones but merely expensive ones.

    I suppose this is what big state authroritarian, illiberal parties come to if they also drop any interest in competence.

  2. well, actually, I think that's fair comment - although the fact I am questioning HS2 does suggest I do care about effectiveness etc. But I take your point. Maybe I will blog something along those lines