It’s nothing short of a miracle

In my blog And when I wave my magic wand … (posted 13 Feb 2012) I commented upon some extracts from the conclusion of the Transport Secretary’s statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday 10th January 2012 (transcript). She went on to say of HS2:

“It will better connect communities and improve people’s opportunities, and, with its potential to attract people and freight on to trains and away from long-distance road journeys and short-haul flying, combined with the increasing decarbonisation of the grid, HS2 will be an important part of transport’s low-carbon future.”

As you can tell, by this time in her speech the Secretary of State had thrown all caution to the winds, but I bet that she had her fingers firmly crossed behind her back. Or perhaps she muttered under her breath “I hope”, because it is all supposition without much, if anything, in the way of evidence to back it up. She crammed a lot into one sentence, so let’s look at what she said a morsel at a time.

For the life of me I can’t see that HS2 “will better connect communities”, since it will demonstrably not serve most of the communities that it passes. The only communities that will conceivably benefit are those close to the miserably few stations that will be built.

Apparently, HS2 has “the potential to attract people and freight on to trains”. Let’s take freight first, which is simple, because the HS2 proposal that has been presented to us does not include any provision to carry freight. This means that, unless the proposal changes, HS2, in itself, has absolutely no possibility of affecting the “attractiveness” of rail freight. What we are told it will do is free up train paths on the existing network for use by freight trains. This means that the basic rail freight offering will be unchanged and that, consequently, we can expect that the “attractiveness” of rail freight will also be unchanged.

As for the attractiveness of HS2 to people, I venture that it will depend on the fare tariffs. One thing is certain; if HS2 is to pay its way fares will have to be “eye-wateringly expensive”, to use a term coined by the previous Transport Secretary. If fares are not this high, then increased subsidies will have to make up the revenue shortfall and the current Government is no fan of rail subsidies. One thing is for sure, the present Transport Secretary, and those that come after her, will hope that HS2 proves an attractive proposition for passengers, as the business plan relies on a staggering 24% of passengers on HS2 being “new trips”, i.e. passengers who would not have travelled in the absence of the HS2 option (see Table 2 on page 23 of Economic Case for HS2: Updated appraisal of transport user benefits and wider economic benefits).

The Transport Secretary thinks that HS2 will attract people away from making “long-distance road journeys”. That sounds like a good idea and the estimate given in the High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future consultation document (here, see paragraph 2.43 on page 50) is that nine million road trips could switch to high speed rail each year.

Whilst this figure doesn’t take account of any increase in road trips brought about by passengers travelling to the parkway station at Birmingham Interchange, it does sound impressive. However, it is admitted in paragraph 4.3.14 of Economic Case for HS2: The Y Network and London –West Midlands that the impact on traffic on motorways between London and the West Midlands will be a fall of about one percent, which is not so impressive.

How effective will HS2 be at attracting passengers from short-haul flying? For an answer to this question I feel that I can do no better than refer you to a blog by James Avery (here). In this blog James confesses that he has “for a long time held the view that High-Speed Rail is a logical replacement for short haul flights”. Despite this he concludes that “plans for HS2 will do nothing to replace wasteful short-haul flights”.

James Avery also concludes that the figure of six million passengers per year transferring to HS2, which was predicted in High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future, is “completely unrealistic”. The Government appears to have at least some sympathy with this sentiment, as the estimate has been reduced to 4.5 million in Economic Case for HS2: Updated appraisal of transport user benefits and wider economic benefits (in paragraph 3.2.3 on pages 21 and 23). I suspect that James Avery might still feel that this was a product of excessive optimism.

Finally, the Transport Secretary could not resist the temptation to claim that “HS2 will be an important part of transport’s low-carbon future”. I guess that, in full hyperbolic mode as she was at this time in her speech, she just couldn’t help herself. It seems that she had forgotten the advice of the Commons Transport Select Committee in its report High Speed Rail (here), which says in paragraph 77:

“Some supporters of HS2 have argued that it would have substantial carbon-reduction benefits. These claims do not stand up to scrutiny. At best, HS2 has the potential to make a small contribution to the Government’s carbon-reduction targets. Given the scale of the expenditure and the official assessment, HS2 should not be promoted as a carbon-reduction scheme.”

I think that promoting HS2 “as a carbon-reduction scheme” is precisely what she was doing.


One response to this post.

  1. Peter, and yet still they persist with ridiculous programme, despite all the evidence lined up against it. Politicians must live in such a bubble no wonder they need that tax free payment when they leave Parliament to help them adjust to real life!!!
    I think it is the what can only be described as lies, that are purpertrated by them, when they should know the truth, that I find most distressing


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