If I was in your shoes

In my blog People like us (posted 16 Sep 2012) I referred to an article in the Observer published on Sunday 2nd September 2012), which includes quotes from an interview with Alison Munro, Chief Executive of HS2 Ltd. One of these quotes is:

“I can certainly understand why people are concerned. I think if I was in their position I would be as well. People’s fear of what it will be like is worse than the reality.”

At best, Ms Munro is crying crocodile tears, she isn’t genuinely concerned at all; her task is to build HS2 for the cheapest price she can and the poor devils in the way can go hang.

However, those of you who, like me, are even more cynical by nature, may see this as a sophisticated slant on the old Nimby slur. The subtext of what she is saying is that of course those who will be inflicted with HS2 are concerned, but that these are unfounded concerns and she doesn’t need to take them seriously. I find her assurance that the reality will be better than we all expect particularly disingenuous; how on earth can she know how it is going to be? Where is the equivalent built example that she can take us to and demonstrate that she is right in her assertion? It certainly isn’t HS1; that is a totally different kettle of fish, in terms of speed, frequency of service and the immediate environment.

Ms Munro is foolhardy enough to drag the public relations disaster of the roadshow sound booths into her interview; she should let that sleeping dog lie, I venture. She complains “many people didn’t believe them” despite, she insists, them being verified by independent experts. Well Ms Munro, the reason why many people instinctively did not believe them is that they were right not to. Independent experts, or not, the assumption made about the degree of noise mitigation that will be achieved using 3 metre high barriers (typically 17 dB) is totally unrealistic and requires, at the very least, completely ignoring the noise contribution that the pantograph will make – an effect that is well contested from countries that have experience of high-speed railway design.

I am dismayed at the cavalier attitude that HS2 Ltd appears to be taking towards noise impacts. I have seen no evidence that any attempt has been made to understand the mechanisms and have, so far, been totally stonewalled in my requests to HS2 Ltd to set up a technical forum to discuss these matters with interested representatives of the affected communities.

Ms Munro is also quoted by the Observer as saying:

“What we also need to remember is that there are a lot of potential beneficiaries and sometimes you tend to lose sight of the people who actually want this.”

Well I have no argument there. Many people stand to make a lot of money out of HS2 and the snouts are well and truly plunged deeply into the trough. Apart from those unfortunates blighted by the route, the only people who really stand to lose financially, as far as I can see, are taxpayers.

Finally, let’s return to the Munro quote with which I started my blog People like us (posted 16 Sep 2012):

“I don’t think they will be won over. I think the best we can hope for with people like them is for them to appreciate we’ve done as much as we can.”

Have you, Ms Munro, and your employees really “done as much as [you] can”?

If you have, why did your mitigation improvements concentrate on a small number of high profile locations, such as those within the constituencies of members of the Cabinet (or at least they were members at the time), whilst at the same time making things worse in low priority locations such as my own county of Warwickshire – something that I moaned about in my blog The ups and downs of route engineering (posted 9 Feb 2012)?

If you have done as much as you can, why have many communities along the line submitted their own proposals to reduce the impacts of the HS2 route design, based upon their own local knowledge, and why are these communities finding it such a struggle to get these proposals a fair hearing?

7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on September 28, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Sounds as will be produced by HS2 cannot be represented by a decibel value to represent the physical emission and cannot be assessed on people from a dB value. Living within earshot of a runway provides examples daily of the difference between motorway and repetitive noise profiles. Outdoors and indoors impact very differently, along with context noises. One presentation at a community forum left people trying to decode and remember the logs and maths. Noises are a problem for the 400kph close to people frequent experiences of the future. Time for a slow down in some sections alongside Aylesbury.


    • Posted by Peter Delow on September 29, 2012 at 8:17 am

      I went along to my local community forum armed with a list of questions on the noise presentation. First on my list was:
      “What we, that is those who are at risk from HS2 noise, are relying on you, the experts, to do is to assess, in as meaningful a way as is possible, the level of annoyance that noise from HS2 will cause us. So I would appreciate the benefit of your opinion on three associated matters:
      “Do you agree that some sources of transport noise cause, level for level, more annoyance than others and where do you think that HS2 noise fits into this hierarchy?
      “Do you agree that the annoyance caused by noise is, subjectively, higher during the evening and night periods?
      “In what way does the proposed method of using equivalent sound levels to assess annoyance take account of these effects?”
      The subsequent discussion went on for some time – I didn’t consider that I was getting any answers – before the Chairman brought things to a close. I didn’t therefore have the opportunity to ask any more of my questions, but HS2 Ltd did agree that I could submit them in writing.
      I also requested, and was granted, the right to make my own presentation on noise at the next meeting of our forum.


  2. Posted by hs2isright on September 29, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    I have a question for you are HS2 Ltd using a different way of measuring noise levels or are they using the standard way of measuring.


    • Posted by Peter Delow on September 29, 2012 at 2:22 pm

      I assume that by “the standard way of measuring” you are referring to the use of the equivalent continuous sound level parameter. I also think that I know your modus operandi well enough by now to suspect that you are trying to pose a rhetorical question rather than genuinely seeking information.
      I accept that the use of this metric is widespread and can live with the word “standard” if you insist on using it. I also accept that the equivalent continuous sound level has a part to play in the determination of the annoyance levels that HS2 noise will cause.
      My complaint is that HS2 Ltd appears to be locked into a methodology that is more than twenty years out of date, that it takes no account of the significance of the design speed for HS2 being above 300kph and that it predates (and ignores)some important recommendations by the WHO and the EU.
      My view, which I know you will not be prepared to accept, is that HS2 Ltd needs to make some changes to “the standard way of measuring” in order to design efficient noise mitigation and provide affected communities with as accurate a picture as possible of the noise nuisance that HS2 will cause.


      • Posted by hs2isright on September 29, 2012 at 3:48 pm

        No I am asking you a simple question is this the method used by network rail or the highways department? Or are you asking HS2 Ltd to use a method which is not normally used?

      • I genuinely welcome contributions to the debate on HS2 from both the pros and the antis, and also those in between. However, I do not want this site to serve as a vehicle for pro-HS2 propaganda, rather than genuine contributions to an intelligent debate from the pro-HS2 camp, which I welcome.
        Accordingly, after much heart searching – because I’m most emphatically not in favour of curtailing free speech – I have blocked the latest comment from “hs2isright”. This blocked comment is the third that “hs2isright” has submitted on the topic of noise methodology. All three of them make the same point, that HS2 Ltd is using a “tried and tested” methodology. I feel that I have responded to this point adequately and, personally, have nothing more to say. The third comment adds nothing to the other two, in factual terms, and just looks to be “grandstanding” to me. Also the tone of the third comment is tending to the abusive. I will be happy to post future comments from “hs2isright” providing that they do genuinely have something to say that contributes to the debate about issues that I raise in my blogs.

      • Posted by Peter Delow on September 30, 2012 at 8:16 am

        The methodology that HS2 Ltd is proposing to use has been inherited from HS1.
        My point is that administrations worldwide are reviewing and developing the methodologies that they employ to assess noise nuisance and are making changes which, in many cases, appear to be motivated by concern for the health of their citizens. In the UK the protection of citizens does not appear to be a consideration and we risk being stuck in a noise backwater, entrenched in the attitudes and methodologies of the 1990s.
        I am not asking HS2 Ltd to employ “a method which is not normally used”; what I do expect is for HS2 Ltd to join 21st century thinking on noise and modify its approach accordingly.
        Do you deny that progress comes about through change? Perhaps you still believe that the earth is flat!

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