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HS2 must not be derailed

So HS2 is another step closer to fruition — 50,000 pages of detail closer no less. I have no trouble admitting I am delighted this project is moving along relatively swiftly, despite bumps in the road so far.

Like anyone with an interest, I have listened to and considered the arguments against HS2. I have concluded that most are too short-termist in their views, although not all are without merit.

We would all do well to remember that many of the great projects that have been delivered in the UK have been opposed and debated and yet ultimately delivered value way beyond what was predicted.

Even with the sophisticated benefit cost analytics and forecasting tools we have at our disposal, it’s extremely difficult to foresee the wider impact of a project of this scale. Michael Heseltine so aptly made this point in a recent speech, using the example of the Docklands regeneration to which he faced widespread opposition. Of course, Canary Wharf is now one of the world’s leading financial centres and the area also hosts an airport and a major exhibition centre.

There are so many factors to HS2 that need to be considered — such as the wider development opportunities and regional regeneration — that are far more long term and harder to define than the transport benefits that are most often touted.

Think of our Victorian railways, which are more than 150 years old. They still cost UK plc more than £5bn per annum, but there is no suggestion that we rip them up because the benefits cost ratio hasn’t stacked up as they deliver value over and beyond the cost.

However, to fully realise the benefits of HS2 the government needs to put funding plans in place now to secure local access for all. This would require a change in the way investment in regional infrastructure is allocated, from a piecemeal approach to one that allows local authorities to align investment decisions to the long-term social and economic needs of the region.

A recent Core Cities Report found that innovation is fostered through local government having more discretion over local public sector spending. Services can be streamlined and targeted more effectively to address local needs, while also reducing duplication and joining up services for the benefit of the public.

So we would like to see some explanation of how the ‘plans behind the plan’ for HS2 are going to be progressed and funded (see our Autumn Statement wishlist). Business investors need certainty when making long-term business investment decisions and this detail would certainly help.

At WSP we have regional offices, so HS2 would help us in the long term and our strategy would look to reflect on it. But I still fear that political footballing will delay and at worst derail what could be a real credit to the UK construction industry when delivered. The challenge is for the government, HS2 and the supply chain to use the best minds to make sure the best, most affordable solution is delivered. We most definitely have some of those great minds in our industry and this is a great opportunity to showcase them.

Readers' comments (15)

  • Lets see now, assuming HS2 goes ahead we will therefore be able to get to Birmingham international airport in an hour or so. Do we therefore need a further runway at Heathrow?? Why not extend Brimingham and spread the load over London??

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  • Victorian railways replaced the horse and cart and criss-crossed the entire length and breadth of the country, they changed the country in every way imaginable.

    We already have some of the fastest trains in Europe despite being a small island. This is one railway that stops in very few places.

    Aeroplanes replaced travel by trains and ships, yet hugely expensive Concorde linked very few places at enormous cost to the taxpayer. Common sense therefore suggests that HS2 has much more in common with Concorde than it has with the Victorian railways example, widely quoted as a reason for building it.

    While I fully understand engineers wanting to build this folly and would be staggered if big construction didn't give it wholehearted support, why has government not learnt from the costly failures of its predecessors?

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  • HS2 is a folly. It was conceived by a faliing Labour government as a distraction from the financial collapse. The route decimates the countryside and the proposed mitigations are completely unproven. No environmentalists or wildlife experts believe that the mitigation plans will actually work. The route is dictated by speed, but then we're told that it's about capacity rather than speed. So surely the route is wrong. By all means build a new railway, and knock down my house to do it if you like, but build a railway that the UK actually needs, not HS2.

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  • Mark Naysmith makes a comment on all the infrastructure projects that have been opposed and yet have proven worthwhile, apart from Canary Wharf he does not cite many...Concorde, Channel Tunnel, HS1, Millennium Dome..How many of these have made money way above their costs? I often hear that Higgins brought the Olympics in on time and on budget but there is no reference to the fact that the original budget was 2.4 billion which miraculously rose to 9.35 billion, easy to come in on budget if you move the goal posts. Also he goes on to say that there will be regeneration around the line, not through the Chilterns though only destruction of ancient woodlands, and rare habitat and 150, 000 homes affected, I hardly think the loss of 1000 year old woodlands is short termist. The government is now saying it does not need to be high speed but we have a capacity problem, so therefore QED it does not have to be in a straight line Hmmm! I still cannot fathom out how 18 trains an hour with a capacity of 1000 passengers per train is going to solve the overcrowding when it is not between London and Birmingham we have a problem, (Virgin takes an hour and twenty mins out of Euston and Chiltern line an hour and a half) but elsewhere in the country. Look at Cornwall. So if Mr. Naysmith as an engineer wants his projects I suggest he looks to the South West first. Yes we have the best minds don't waste them on HS2 use them to shore up our flood defenses, sort out the Victorian sewers, repair our ailing road structure, repairing our dilapidated schools that are in urgent need of repair, not on a White Elephant scheme that will ultimately be used by the elite.

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  • The way it will supposedly increase capacity is by taking intercity trains off the existing mainlines thereby freeing up space for more commuter services.

    Read our interview with the HS2 technical director for more:

  • Governments never learn the lessons of history, if it contradicts their ideology.

    The expansion of competing railways in the 19th century only happened because there was no other mass transportation and canals couldn't handle freight distribution. Competition was detrimental to network development, not cost-effective, and profit trumped safety every time. Engineers could have made better brakes, better signalling systems and durable (think Tay Bridge) infrastructure, given the money.

    While UK governments abdicate their responsibilities as their ideology dictates, this country will continue to languish in the economic doldrums. HS2 is a dumb way to spend £40bn (that we can't afford to borrow). £40bn of tax receipts, spent on building innovative electricity infrastructure (manufactured in Britain), would deliver a handsome ROI and stable, sustainable economic prosperity.

    When (steam powered) electricity superseded gaslight, the world was a very different place from today. The disparate competing electricity companies would never have voluntarily joined together to build a national distribution network. It had to be done by (shock, horror) central planning. Now we have a mess of competing technologies and the incumbent industries are the worst options.

    Competition in innovative financial engineering nearly brought the world economy to its knees. Will governments regulate the deviants to stop the next fraudulent boom. No, of course not - their dumb ideology believes that any growth is a 'good' thing, even house price inflation!! And energy price inflation is their chosen method of 'directing' market forces!

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  • Liverpool really needs to be included as well this will free up chunks of the WCML north of Crewe for use by Liverpool2 and the PostPanamax port.

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  • In response to the editor's comment above about commuter services replacing intercity, this is one of many intrinsic flaws in the thinking. If the economic benefits are in fast rail connectivity between cities it must follow that there are at least equal economic disbenefits to the many towns and cities on the West and East Coast mainlines that will lose fast services. Arguably the disbenefit is greater in that whereas Manchester or Leeds can probably stand to lose one or two peak services, Stoke or Doncaster for example will feel it far more.
    I agree with much of Mr Naysmith says about more strategically planned investment but HS2 is divisive. We now have Liverpool launching a campaign to bring HS2 all the way to the city but its message presents *not* getting HS2 as a huge risk. This debunks the oft-made claim that HS2 will rebalance the economy. If HS2 "lifted all the boats" in the North, Liverpool wouldn't regard it coming to Manchester but not them as a threat. Very revealing and I don't think have worked out quite a gaff this is.
    The fact that we are now about to have re-launch No6 tells you all you need to know about whether there has ever been a single over-arching purpose to this plan and I'm sure readers of this magazine will know that projects without purpose are almost certain to drift on delivery and cost.

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  • The reason Liverpool has launched the HS2 bit is primarily to free up space on the west coast mainline for freight. It has very little to do with Manchester.
    The highspeed network is a work in progress, that it will not be finished in one go is a reflection of reality, it is also a reality that will affect any scheme.
    Those the oppose HS2 will grasp at any straw and will tell you so and so will benefit more than you, you should oppose it. This is very negative. That they will then go to so and so and say the befots will be the opposite way around is appaling. StopHS2 admitted in Liverpool that Manchester will benefiit, then went to Manchester and claimed it would not benefit. Unaware that the evening local news is common to both. Desperate and ill informed.

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  • No single scheme on this scale could ever please everyone, everywhere. It is disingenuous to claim that just because this scheme does not serve your locality directly it is therefore necessarily a bad idea.

    To use a very topical issue of the day to demonstrate this point; improving flood defences in X,Y or Z locations will make precious little difference to me (I reside in Alderley Edge) but I can readily perceive the merits of such communal (public) spending priorities.

    The beggar thy neighbour sentiments pervading many of the comments below the line here illustrate just how successful anti-HS2 campaigners (the vast majority of them concealing a hidden self interest agenda, ie. the planned pathway of HS2 comes near them!) have been in sewing seeds of discontent - simple divide and conquer in all its ugly brutality!

    For the umpteenth time, HS2 is not about now, it's not even about the next ten years either - HS2 is a long term project lying at the core of a strategy aimed at rejuvenating rail as a primary means of mass passenger transport.

    Proven long term trends in travel demand show that private car and domestic air is either flatlining or declining whilst surface rail journeys doubled during the last decade - in that wider context building new high capacity trackway makes eminent good sense to me!

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  • Apropos HS2, its route, reasons for and against....I do not wish to appear frivolous, but do recall a lecturer (speaking about the controversy as to whether a Channel Tunnel or Channel Bridge was the best option to link us and France in the early 60s)...suggesting that if the two camps could not decide which was best surely the answer was to build a Channel Dam! This particular lecturer, one of my favourites, told us that towards the end of his WWII army service, he had spent the last few weeks firing off thousands of so-called proximity anti-aircraft shells (they were too dangerous to move apparently) which then cost £6,000 each. Presumably for the price of yet another incorrect war, based on incorrect information improperly obtained? and next time conducted from the sea (now that we will have not one but two large floating aircraft carriers).. we could have several HS2 lines. Come to think of it, why not make the canal systems (also built by our sensible Victorian ancestors and their outstanding Engineers) large enough and suitable to carry the new ACCs and act as flood defenses as well!
    Simple? far too sensible for the conflict groupings who presently run everything?

    Mike B

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  • David Smart has echoed comments on HS2 that I have made before. Namely that new power stations are a much more urgent and pressing requirement for government infrastructure expenditure than HS2.
    Government spending on power stations for cheap base load generation benefits every household, every business and government at all levels reducing money spent energy as well as generating jobs across the UK. If anyone doubts this then they should look across the pond to the USA where reduced energy costs have led to the repatriation (“reshoring” as David Cameron says) of manufacturing jobs back to the USA and the re-industrialisation of the USA. In the UK that investment should be for Nuclear Power baseload generation and developing a water turbine industry to add tidal flow to the energy mix. Tidal flow turbines would add a dependable and predictable renewable source of energy available 85% of the day and not just 18% like land based wind turbines.
    Here EU policies agreed by Ed Miliband when he was a minister in the last Labour Government led to legislation requiring a reduction in CO2 emissions and driven through by the Lib Dems in government are contributing to massive hikes in energy prices for environmental reasons that is costing the UK jobs at the expense of the environment. Chemical production has high energy needs and costs with an associated environmental cost. The effect that rising energy costs for environmental reasons in the EU has on chemical prices is to force end users to import chemicals from overseas with the concomitant effect of increasing the environmental costs of the chemicals by adding on the environmental cost of transporting the chemicals to that of manufacturing them! I mention this because a UK company “reshoring” skilled manufacturing jobs back from China to Coventry is buying its chemicals from Brazil as chemicals made in the North East are too expensive because of green levies on energy bills. Obvious the environmental cost of shipping from Brazil to Coventry is higher than the North East to Coventry!!!!
    The main case against HS2 is that energy security benefits everyone and is more important to UK plc than HS2 – However, there are many other reasons to drop HS2.
    As the editor quite rightly replied to an earlier comment – it will increase capacity by taking intercity trains off the associated main line BUT that capacity could be doubled by using double decker trains like in France and Germany.
    Journey times won’t be reduced unless the trains are non-stop between Leeds or Manchester and London so the line won’t benefit individual towns on the route unless the trains stop at that town.
    Studies have shown that whilst towns on the route with stops will benefit, those not on the route or on the route without stops will suffer whilst funding the route.
    The routes won’t carry high speed goods trains – just high speed passenger trains – What will the train fares be – and are they competitively priced for ordinary people to use financing their own journeys?
    Finally the competitive cost of train tickets – Whenever I have to go anywhere on business I have to establish if the objective can be achieved by a phone call, a phone conference or a video conference and, if not compare costs and go by the cheapest route or make a good case for going by a more expensive route. I am currently planning a training course for 3 people to Nantes in France - It is quicker, cheaper and more convenient to drive to Nantes with overnight ferry sailings with an ensuite cabin each on Brittainy Ferries between Normandy and the south coast than take a train to London, the TransManche Link to Paris and the TGV to Nantes. Travelling by train would take all day Sunday to go and all day the following Saturday to return instead of an evening departure on Sunday for an 11pm sailing and a 6.30 am debarkation on Saturday and home by 10am Saturday.
    I do the same thing whenever I go to London or Birmingham for pleasure. Since moving to Lincoln in 1986 the most expensive route has always been the train and the cheapest the car. It is even cheaper for one person to get a return taxi to Heathrow Airport than go by train, yet alone a family!!!!! and even cheaper to get one way car hires each way. When I fly on business from Heathrow it is a one way car hire each way BUT when I fly long haul for pleasure it is the taxi so I don’t have to drive on the return leg. Lincoln or Newark to London is not just cheaper by car for one person, yet alone a car full, it is more convenient and quicker and I can travel when I want to. For instance I can see a show in central London and get home by tube and car 2.5 hours after boarding the tube train – much quicker than by train if a train was running !!!!!

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  • The biggest problem with the HS2 debate is that it is dominated by vested interests. On one side the construction industry which will benefit from jobs and profits from the construction and on the other side people who simply don't want the railway near them. In between we have a government desperate for a prestigious infrastructure project regardless of need or value for money. We only have a capacity problem because we invent a massive increase in rail travel over the next 20 years. Does anybody seriously think that will happen? Will I travel more for business in the future or will I video conference? My productivity will certainly be better if I video conference. Ever more people are working from home rather than commuting and I can only see that trend continuing. Against this background we predict a massive increase in business rail travel in order to invent a need for HS2. Here are my predictions and I invite The Engineer to test them in the future:
    1. HS2 will never reach half of the capacity used in the justification (18 trains per hour)
    2. Within 5 years of the first train we will reduce the speed to save energy and reduce cost.
    Unfortunately, major projects are never tested to see if the predictions used to justify them prove to be true. Just try doing this for HS1 or the M6 toll .....

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  • Anon's reply to David Smart points to a holistic approach to his/her? personal travel needs/costs: sensible and cost-effective.

    As Engineers, surely what used to be called value Engineering, such as Anon suggests is the very basis of our thinking and actions. Are we alone in applying this? So many other elements of commerce (and non-commerce)!-simply spend as much as they can, knowing that someone/thing else will be paying!

    Well, I have news for us all: we all, shareholders of UK plc, pay for every inefficient, incorrect,improper activity perpetrated in our names by whoever.

    At the last count I saw, we each -including my 2 month old grandson already owe over £55,000 (in capital, let alone continuing interest charges) for past follies: an amount mostly accumulated over the last 50+ years when our leaders? forgot Shakespeare's dictat 'neither a lender nor a borrower be' and came to believe it was better to borrow than to earn our future.

    Is it the rest of the world, not Engineers, who are insane, or us?
    Mike B

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  • Is it the case that The Editor is unable to selectively edit comments?

    My last (attempted) post on the subject of the grossly unfair 'market' in ideas/IPR highlighted the incompetence of UK decision-making on engineering R&D:- -

    'The Engineer' censored it! (in full) I think that is unreasonable and unacceptable. Do other commenters agree with me? Would The Editor please explain?

    The central plank of my argument was - "this is almost entirely a question of brainless political ideology" - and the very same problem applies here. Is the European Commission going to apply competition (state aid) rules in the case of HS2? No? So why does it investigate the 'illegal' subsidies for nuclear?

    If the EU didn't labour under so many neoliberal delusions, laws would be in place to ensure the equal promotion of renewables across ALL member states.

    Carbon taxes are the simplest way, but smart legislation would also put in place additional support measures where they are most needed - e.g. to accelerate the Rdd&d of energy storage. (BGES, naturally)

    @ Mike B. - I don't have a problem with being a lender. Three banks variously pay me between 2 and 4% (tax free) for the privilege of having my money on deposit, but I have no say in how they 'invest' it. That's the problem.

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  • We do at times decide to edit or not to publish reader comments, as per our terms and conditions. Our aim is not to censor, however, but to keep debate on topic and accessible to all readers.

    We'll happily publish any views you wish to share, as long as they are relevant to the topic at hand, concisely written and not offensive or defamatory.

  • The headline... "The high-speed rail network could be a real credit to the UK construction industry when delivered, according to Mark Naysmith"... says it all.

    It's not for passenger convenience, speed or capacity after all. It's destined to become a real credit (& presumably, massive profit earner) to the construction industry.

    Like others, I believe this is a huge waste of public money building a rail line going nowhere and passing nowhere useful on the way.

    As Anon says. Power stations are what we need and need urgently. The UK must be self-sufficient in power before all else.

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