The case for HS2



The case for HS2

Great engineers went out from here and changed Britain. They built railways, roads, airports, ports and motorways-the scaffolding of our modern economy!

Today their names are famous-Telford, Brunel and Stephenson. These pioneers faced intense criticism and many defeats. The first legislation to build a new railway line from London to Birmingham was defeated on the grounds that the canals and turnpike roads, that existed in the early nineteenth century, were surely good enough for a growing economy!

george-stephenson                      George Stephenson – one of the architects of our modern day transport infrastructure.  

The line was eventually built and we still rely on it today, it forms part of the West Coast Main Line!

HS2, phases one and two, will be the first new railway north of London since the Victorian age!

This is not the case for London and the South East of England which has a number of infrastructure projects completed, ongoing or planned. These major projects include:

-    Crossrail- now ongoing at a cost of £16 billion.

-    HS1 which now links the Channel Tunnel to London St Pancras-also at a cost of£16 billion.

-    Class 395 Javelin trains which formed part of the Olympic Games transport infrastructure costing £250 million for 29 six car units which reach a top speed of 140 MPH.

-    Thameslink infrastructure – scheduled to cost £6.6 billion with a further £1.6 billion for the new 1140 coaches.

-    Crossrail 2 The government has allocated £2 million to research and plan for Crossrail 2 which will run from the south west to north east London. If the cost is similar  Crossrail 1 this will add another £16 billion to London rail infrastructure investment.

Overall the list adds up to around £58 billion compared to the full budget for HS2 which is £49 billion.

Compare this investment to what is planned in this region. The next few years will see the completion of the North West Triangle Electrification Scheme (2016) and then the continuation of the Northern Hub (See Atlantic Gateway Article on this website). The Northern Hub will enhance Manchester to Leeds and East Coast connectivity.

In a recent speech to the Institute of Civil Engineers, the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin highlighted the record investment for our railways.

£37 billion by Network Rail between 2014 and 2019.

  1. Crossrail and Thameslink in London
  2. An 850 mile national programme of electrification
  3. New trains on the East Coast Main Line and Great Western main lines and a new factory in the North East to produce them.

Here in the North West, if we are lucky,  we will be receiving some 25 year old hand me down refurbished class 319’s.   Most commuters who use our local railway network will be well aware of the class 142 British Rail Buses built by BREL (British Leyland Rail). These were commonly known as PACERS in the 1980s. These along with class 156 Sprinters, which were also produced between 1987-89, gives the Northern Rail franchise 25 year old technology- but obviously a cut above the old PACERS!

This is the current rolling stock used on our local network. I am sure most commuters would appreciate some newer stock and more seats available. When our local services are up and running, the rolling stock between Manchester to Liverpool – St Helens – Wigan is planned to be refurbished class 319’s which at least be an improvement on what we are used to.

So now we come to HS2 phase 2.

First of all I can appreciate someone whose property is going to be destroyed or blighted in the path of HS2 and unfortunately this is likely to happen to some residents. Compensation or hardship schemes will be available for those meeting the governments qualifying criteria.

But if we do not build new railways our own West Coast Main Line will be full to capacity by 2025 (Network Rail Statement). You may have read in the national media about Virgin Rail applying for new paths for services from London to Shrewsbury and Blackpool. These were rejected by Network Rail due to lack of capacity mainly between Rugby and London together with lack of infrastructure in various towns on the route in this area.

The wiring between London and Rugby is over 50 years old!

repair west coast mainline             Maintenance on the west coast mainline – how much longer can we continue to patch it up?

When the West Coast Main Line was recently upgraded 10 years ago it was curtailed at a cost of £9 billion due to budget constraints. We are paying for that decision now, in additional maintenance, desperately trying to keep the old line operational. Without new capacity there will be no latitude for space to refurbish the line so the problems will get steadily worse as the line ages and demand for the line exponentially increases. The line is the busiest railway in the UK carrying both slow and fast commuter and freight trains. Coming on stream next year is the new Thames Gateway intermodal port which will have trains for the North West and East Coast destinations. This will create yet further demand on the line.

For most people who have never lived near a railway line one can understand people being concerned as to what the future holds. I have been brought up in a mining village within sight of a line 400 yards in front of the house where you could hear the shunters moving the wagons at the local colliery.

When I bought a house in Standish it was only 300 yards from the West Coast Main Line. Then I moved to Newton Le Willows and our house was only 400 yards from the same line. Believe me you do get used to it. The area between has horses, sheep, cattle and lovely green fields.

When they suggested building HS1 between London and the Channel Tunnel all kinds of alarms were raised. Sheep, cattle and horses would be frightened to death and house prices would plummet. Now the line is operational everything still lives and the house prices are unaffected!

After perusing the anti HS2 websites most of the objectors seem to have forgotten that the West Coast Main Line is the busiest freight line in the country. 45% of all freight in Britain uses this line and when the new Thames Gateway port comes on stream in 2014 this will add to demand on this creaking line further.

There are other alternatives espoused on 51M website (see anti HS2 article below) re-passenger traffic. These are wildly optimistic and as most users are aware the reliability of forecasts is woeful. Also any increase in train volumes, as from 2014, will shatter existing performance figures. These are well documented on the latest websites.

The alternatives to HS2 are unfortunately short of the mark. The much vaunted alternative to HS2, the 51M Optimised alternative, is a very good example. I have read this website in detail and I believe that the arguments are fundamentally flawed. The question of freight carrying capacity in particular is flawed but a number of other issues are flawed also. There are also concerns over the commuter performance of longer class 390 Pendolino (12 cars) as highlighted by the Network Rail Chief Executive David Higgins who has spoken out against this proposal. If you want to know the full story without any hidden agenda then refer to the specialist technical rail websites. Failing that have a read of the specialist Rail magazines.


There has been some concern over biased and inaccurate reporting of HS2.   For example recently Nigel Harris managing director of rail magazine recently wrote to Chris Patten of the BBC over inaccuracies.

Namely that

There was a sensational media story that the costs of HS2 has climbed to £80b in fact what had been done was to include every major transport project currently on the route of HS2 and added it to HS2 pretending they are part of the cost, they are not.

The institute of directors (IOD) survey was reported by the BBC as the voice of directors condemning HS2.  Whereas in actual fact this was a survey of just 1300 members a mere 3% of the total membership.

Then there was the reporting into the recent KPMG report that certain areas of the UK would lose out with HS2 in terms of the benefits.    This was laughable of course Aberdeen would not benefit any more than Manchester would benefit from London’s Crossrail.

Get the technical facts not the propaganda!  We have to build HS2- there is simply no viable alternative to HS2 nor is there a “do nothing” option.