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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)

  • 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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