As high speed rail is being dropped in California and France, it's time for Britain to take the hint

The government’s high-speed rail plans will never be implemented

24 August 2013

9:00 AM

24 August 2013

9:00 AM

In June last year I predicted in these pages that the government would allow High Speed 2 to die a quiet death. Although the government has since reaffirmed its commitment to the proposed railway line, I am sticking to my prediction. Indeed, if the line is ever built I will book a ticket on the first train out of Euston and consume my hat in the dining car.

How can I be so sure? Because the projected costs of the project are now so ridiculous that it cannot possibly go ahead. Even before George Osborne, in his spending review in June, added another £8 billion to the estimate cost of HS2, the project had a feeble and a deeply flawed benefit-to-cost ratio of 1.4:1. As a suppressed Department for Transport report, finally disclosed in a freedom of information report last summer, made clear, most of the supposed benefits of HS2 are based on the false assumption that businessmen do not use their time sitting on trains productively. But with the new costings even the flawed benefit-cost ratio falls to just above one: the level at which the cost to the public purse equals the forecast benefit to the economy. And that is assuming that you believe the new costings. Many do not. This week the Institute for Economic Affairs published an analysis which, including all the related projects required to make HS2 function, such as another Crossrail from Euston, brings the project to close to £80 billion. The record of HS1 (the Eurostar line through Kent) does not bode well: in 1985, when first proposed by British Rail, it was costed at £1 billion at current prices. It eventually cost £11 billion.

The National Audit Office, too, is deeply sceptical about the justification for HS2. It produced a scathing report in May attacking the ‘lack of clarity’ about the objectives of the project. The government immediately dismissed the report as ‘out of date’ (which it was only to the extent that George Osborne’s upwards-revised costings had not been published). For a government committed to eliminating the deficit — which preaches austerity on virtually every other area of government spending — it was an astonishing attitude.

Just why are high-speed railways allowed to break every rule in the fiscal book? In a report on transport investment policy for the then Labour government in 2006, Sir Rod Eddington caught it perfectly. ‘The risk is that transport policy can become the pursuit of icons,’ he wrote. ‘Almost invariably such projects — “grands projets” — develop real momentum, driven by strong lobbying. The momentum can make such projects difficult -— and unpopular — to stop, even when the benefit-cost equation does not stack up, or the environmental and landscape impacts are unacceptable.’

It is a conclusion at which other countries are gradually arriving, having themselves invested billions in high-speed rail. Last month the Hollande government cancelled a planned TGV line from Paris to Nice, declaring that the money would be better invested in existing railways, whose poor condition was soon afterwards highlighted by a crash caused by badly maintained rails in the Parisian suburbs. The Spanish high-speed rail system has failed to attract anything like the passenger numbers predicted.  The economic case for a proposed line from San Francisco to Los Angeles has been undermined as costs have grown and the planned sections of the line have been chopped, so that it is now unlikely to happen.

You only have to ask yourself: why has there never been an entirely privately funded high-speed rail project? Even by the standards of high-speed rail, HS2 is extravagant. French railways spent £22 million per mile on the high speed line from Paris to Strasbourg, which opened in 2007. The Frankfurt to Cologne line cost £60 million per mile and HS1 £80 million per mile. Yet at the latest costings of £42 billion, HS2 will work out at £121 million per mile. The extra cost is partly down to the higher population density of the English countryside, which requires more expense in compulsory purchase orders, but partly because it has been over-engineered. High-speed lines in France and most European countries run to an operating speed of 190 mph. HS2, by contrast, has been designed to 225mph, adding significant costs since the curves must be significantly less sharp.

While TGV trains into Paris run on existing railway lines, the plans for HS2 involve lengthy tunnelling beneath London and the rebuilding of Euston station.

It is as if the government has said to itself: ‘Look, we were late on to the high-speed rail bandwagon. Let’s make up for it by building a line that is even faster.’ It ignores the fact that British cities are packed more closely than those in France, German and Spain and therefore do not require such rapid trains to get their inter-city journey times to below the three hours or so at which rail becomes competitive with air travel.

That HS2 seems to have persisted is a symptom of how insular our politicians have become. HS2 will only ‘transform’ the geography of Britain if you live the lifestyle of a government minister or senior civil servant. If you are based in London and need to make occasional forays to our half-dozen largest cities, it genuinely will transform your working life. George Osborne, who is the government’s biggest cheerleader for the project, will be able to buzz backwards and forwards to his Cheshire constituency with ease. He won’t even suffer the wrath of constituents — thanks to a £600 million detour, the proposed line will bypass the affluent towns of Knutsford and Wilmslow.

But what does HS2 have to offer Doncaster, Stoke-on-Trent, Coventry and other towns that have good rail services now but will be bypassed by the new line? Never mind the nimbys of the Chilterns, who have had far too loud a voice in the HS2 debate; just watch the protests of dozens of towns and cities in the Midlands and the north when they learn they will lose rapid, direct services to London.

Anyone reading the above might come to the conclusion that I don’t like trains. Actually, the opposite is true. There is no finer way to travel. I feel childishly excited even at the sight of an inter-city train. But the figures, I am afraid, are compelling. I cannot understand why George Osborne and other senior figures in the coalition did not, when presented with the plans for HS2, say to the promoters: ‘That looks wonderful. Now go away and come back when you have worked out how to do it at a third of the price, whether by cutting the speed, doing without the tunnelling, having fewer fancy stations or whatever.’

Their failure to challenge the costs at the outset will ultimately doom the project. It will prove impossible, even in a nation of train-lovers.

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  • johnslattery

    Taiwan, a country somewhat smaller than Britain, built a north-south bullet train line it arguably did not need. According to wiki, it was privately funded and cost about 10 billion pounds–one eighth the somewhat longer HS2 estimate. The journey is 90 minutes from Taipei to Gaoxiong, and trains leave every 15 minutes or so. It had a slow start, but now, like every single East Asian bullet train line, it is a well-used, successful service that has quickly made itself indispensable.
    No bullet train line in Asia or Europe has failed.

    • AGB

      John. I suggest that you need to do a little more research. In 2009 the Taiwanese government had to take over the running of the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation as it was almost bankrupt, two years after it first started running.

      By the mid 1980s, Japan’s high speed rail network had accumulated debts of $280 billion which were transferred to the taxpayer. Some of the operators still receive ongoing subsidies. This was/is despite the high level of ridership in Japan.

      A professor at Beijing Jiaotong University, said he worries that the cost of the high speed rail project might have created a hidden debt bomb that threatens China’s banking system. “In China, we will have a debt crisis — a high-speed rail debt crisis” which he then compared unfavourably with the recent American sub prime mortgage crisis.

      If you want an example closer to home, try looking at the Netherlands. They set up a joint venture with the Belgians and the trains started running five years late. Within weeks the Belgians would not allow the trains to run in their country for reasons of safety. The Dutch are now seeking a refund of the cost of their trains from the Italian manufacturer.

      • johnjefkins

        Selective reporting there.

        The Dutch did have problems with their equivalent of the Javelin (by buying trains too cheap from a manufacturer with no experience), but that is not a problem with the line – which is used successfully by proper high speed Thalys trains (that CAN reach 300km/hr) running from Paris to Brussels and Amsterdam.

        The Dutch line will soon also be used by D Bahn and Eurostar too – with direct trains from London to Amsterdam.

        Japan’s equivalent of HS2 (Tokyo-Osaka) – ie a line between its top pair of cities has long since paid off its costs and now makes profits.
        So has Paris-Lyon – another example more similar to HS2.

        • HJ777

          Don’t confuse operating profits with a positive return on investment.

          • johnjefkins

            Those 2 lines are indeed supposed to have paid back their construction costs and also now make operating profits.

            Extra tax from the 100,000 jobs created by HS2 could raise £100 billion from say £10k income tax+vat on spending from each job over 100 years of HS2.

            HS1 is long leased out for 30yr leases – with each rental paying 40% of the construction cost. HS2 will have 3 times the market and could command 3 times the rental.

            Air passenger Duty from each short haul flight slot swopped for a long haul slot raises £500 million /yr on HS1 now – with Eurostar’s 10 million passengers enabling £100 extra tax per outbound passenger able to be raise from the long haul flight able to fly instead of a London-Paris flight from busy Heathrow.

            Capital gains tax on rasied property values near stations.

            Operator premiums on the basis of fare income.

            All these will help recover the cost within around 30 yrs to then make TAX profits for the rest of HS2’s 130 year life.

          • Two Bob

            Like a perpetual motion machine could create endless amounts of energy…

          • johnjefkins

            Have we paid for the M1 yet? I see no tolls.

          • HJ777

            I don’t know where you got that information from but I can assure you that it is not correct.

            If your HS2 numbers are correct, why doesn’t the government leave it to the private sector?

            Let’s assume that you’re right and that HS2 does create 100k jobs. That is what is seen (as Bastiat would have said). But what about what is unseen – the £70bn (or whatever the figure) that no longer be spent elsewhere because the government has spent it on HS2. How many jobs will that cost?

          • johnjefkins

            Because the private sector cannot earn tax income.
            Only the GOVERNMENT can !!!

            Its better publicly owned whilst privately run.
            (Just as we do with the rest of the railways).

          • HJ777

            That’s a nonsensical argument. The economics of the project do not change just because it is paid for by government. All this means is that normal commercial considerations can be ignored.

            You really haven’t made any case that HS2 is the best use of the money. And the idea that we need extra rail tracks regardless of cost is fallacious. If there is a commercial need, then the would be no problem gaining private finance

          • johnjefkins

            You are deliberately misunderstanding.

            Private companies cannot earn tax.
            Only governments can.

            Better Infrastructure creates a better economy – which only government can benefit from as only government earns tax.

            Yes – fare and track rental income helps too.
            But tax income (from various sources – tax from extra jobs created, property value gains and extra Air Passenger Duty) makes it MORE profitable for GOVERNMENT to retain the freehold.

            There IS also a commercial need.
            But would YOU want to put this through planning ?
            No private company would build it but plenty will be willing to run it or operate trains on it once it has been built by a government willing to take it through planning and construction.

          • HJ777

            You are completely misunderstanding but, sadly, it appears not to be deliberate.

            That doesn’t make it any less economically illiterate.

            The channel tunnel was privately built and financed, by the way.

          • johnjefkins

            yes – I know about the Channel Tunnel as I worked on it.
            Politiicans doubled its cost by changing the brief mid-construction (eg Maggie Thatcher adding back border controls with her Bruges speech).

            Better again with government responsible for the design and cost as they then get hammered for the blame if they did that again.

            HS1 for example is government owned but privately leased and operated.

          • rtj1211

            I think you’ll find that you are a narrow-minded financier and your debating protagonist is a railways expert.

            The person who doesn’t understand is you.

            Narrow accounting profits aren’t the best model for affordability here; overall taxation receipts from the economy are. Those taxes can come from multiple sources, whereas a private builder of HS2 could only get recompense from the railway.

            Still doesn’t settle the arguments about affordability, but the arguments favouring a build by Government over private interests is overwhelming.

          • rtj1211

            The reason is that a lot of that money wouldn’t accrue to the private operator of HS1. The APD is a tax raised on Heathrow – it goes to the Government, not to the operator of HS1. All the multiplier effects don’t go to the operator of HS1, but are potential for tax receipts for HMG.

            THAT’S the point: Government can increase revenues in ways which the narrow private interest can’t.

            I know that’s hard for dogmatists to understand, but it’s the truth.

            Doesn’t mean the project’s bomb proof, but you need to learn the difference between corporate revenues and taxation revenues/licensing income to government.

      • ian channing

        In Taiwan, China and Japan, ridership is very high and nobody in any of those countries would now want to give up the convenience these things bring. The financing is a long-term issue, which will be worked out over time–that was always the assumption. Even in China, where the whole idea of bullet trains did look iffy at first given income levels, trains in the main corridors are now running over 60% full all the time (train staff told me this spring), partly because of the rapid growth in personal wealth there.

        • Toby Esterházy

          In China and in Taiwan, the HSs are definitely built for vanity reasons and as a matter of national pride rather than because of natural (rather than artificial, through subsidised ticket fares) overcrowding in the railways, and ticket fares for their HSs are deliberately state-subsidised, and so heavily that the operations would never be able to recover the cost through ticketing revenue, so they are not good comparisons.

    • Toby Esterházy

      The Taiwanese HS is not a good example, because Taiwan is a lower-middle-income Country-of-sorts, and Taiwan does not really have this long-distance commuting and business travel culture like we have here in England.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Vietnam will have a Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh City high speed train in service while you Luddites in UK are still arguing the toss.

    • roger

      Because Vietnam has such a low population and structure density on the route compared with England.
      Just undo the Beeching cuts and improve all existing routes. Use the LDR type systems, automation and better rolling stock.

      • rtj1211

        Japan, the home of HSR, has a higher population density than the UK. Tokyo-Osaka?? They built it.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Demographics of Vietnam. Population, 87,840,000 (July 2011 est.)

        You were saying, Roger.

        • IrritableTeenager

          He was saying Vietnam had a smaller population DENSITY, not a smaller population.

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Population density, per square kilometre
            UK, 259
            Vietnam, 283
            And it`s “lower” population density.
            Kids today, what would you do with um?
            I travelled through Vietnam this spring on the Reunification Express. You guys need to get out more and stop talking as your belly guides you.
            However, there will be less problems with planning the route compared with Luddite UK.
            Jack, Japan Alps

          • Jackthesmilingblack


          • IrritableTeenager

            Actually, before you get too comfortable up there on your high horse, read back through the conversation and you will see I was saying Roger made the point Vietnam had a larger population density. I did not state that, so your battle of statistics is with Roger and not me.

          • Toby Esterházy

            Any statistics on population density in Vietnam are always misleading, because most of the population of Vietnam south Ha Tinh in North Vietnam of are crammed onto a narrow strip of coast all the way until the port and resort town of Vung Tau in South Vietnam, near Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. The terrain is just too rough and rugged to ever allow any HS to be built, except for ones going from Hanoi to Nanning (Nam Ninh) in South China and from Saigon to Cambodia.

      • Toby Esterházy

        The United Kingdom is not Switzerland and Liechtenstein, which are such small and mountainous Countries that it is desirable to restrict car use and car ownership. A lot of the old Northern, Welsh, Lowland-Scottish and Ulster-Irish rural lines would never, ever become profitable without heavy, permanent subsidies, I fear.

    • Toby Esterházy

      Poppycock! Any-one who has ever been to Vietnam would know that Vietnam is too poor to have an HS at least for the next 50 years.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        SE962582C, SE9, Karla, Karka`s man, Toby Esterházy…

        aka Mad Jonathan MacDonald.

        • Toby Esterházy

          The real Jonathan MacDonald was a computer engineer living in London. I live Oop North.

  • Paul Wash

    If HS2 is shelved, the UK government will need to find alternative capacity solutions to move ever greater numbers of people on its key north south axis. Aside from the daily saturation of the M1, within 10 years the West and East Coast mainlines will be full to capacity. Indeed today the Freight operating companies complain there are too few remaining paths to run more container freight trains during the day on the aforementioned routes. South of Rugby future traffic demand will require a new pair of tracks to be provided at enormous expense, indeed it would be cheaper to build an entirely new line….
    I fear if the UK shelves HS2 it will only fund token alternatives and UK plc will find itself in gridlock.

    • Two Bob

      encourage more people to travel by motorcycle, raise the speed limit to 85pmh, and reduce the need to travel in the first place by installing super high speed broadband.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Oh you’re a biker. You can safely be ignored then.

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          Give blood. Buy a motorbike.

    • Chris Tolmie

      There is no freight on Chiltern Railways and no traffic on that route at night – plenty of capacity in the South. What we do have have is a disjointed patchwork of sub-networks. Third rail to Brighton, Diesel to Cornwall, overhead to Scotland. Let’s make the current railways into a true network.

      • simhedges

        This is why inititiatives to do work on these issues is so import. Increased electrification to the West and North, conversion of 3rd rail to overhead line electrifications, trialling of trains that can be powered by battery to cover short gaps in electrified track, improved connections. Long may it continue – and it will complement HS2.

  • Karla’s Man

    The said Institute for Economic Affairs also treasonously believes that it is perfectly alright to flood this Country with Johnny foreigners (“This House Believes in a Liberal Immigration Policy”, c/o the English Speaking Union, London, 11 March 2009, 7.00pm; et al.).

    I can smell a rat. Many of the folk who live in Buckinghamshire do not in fact work in the said County of Buckingham, but in London as professionals. Once the HS2 is up and running, there would be a lot of Midlands and Northern professionals who are going to be after the the same jobs in London. A lot of the opposition to HS2 is in fact from this self-serving upper-middle-class “Buckinghamshire set”, like some Medieval livery guilds, trying to protect their own vested interests.

    The are never “rapid, direct services” from “Doncaster, Stoke-on-Trent, Coventry” et al. going to London. How can such towns miss something that they never had?

    I would not all too be surprised to learn if a lot working or writing for this very magazine in fact themselves have real property in Buckinghamshire.

    • HJ777

      Actually, the IEA doesn’t have a corporate view.

      It is free market in outlook but it’s not correct to say that the IEA itself believes in a particular policy – it doesn’t. Opinions coming from the IEA are individual opinions, not corporate ones.

      • Karla’s Man

        The available anecdotal evidence does not support it. It is a partisan organisation. It most certainly is not the Oxford Union.

        • HJ777

          You misunderstand what I was saying.

          The IEA does not pretend to be an impartial forum. It has a philosophy and it only invites people who share in its general philosophy as staff and contributors.

          However, it doesn’t exercise any general control over the views put forward by individual within it. Those views are those of the authors, not of the IEA. My personal opinion is that it has some people whose views are frankly a bit barmy amongst its ranks – and whose views are probably not shared by others within the IEA – but it has others who are very thoughtful and welcoming of discussion. Because it is generally free market in its approach, it tends to eschew central policy dictats.

          • Karla’s Man

            That is probably for the benefit of the Charity Commission and HMRC, because a registered charity in England cannot have a “political purpose”, like the Countryside Alliance (but not the charitable Countryside Alliance Foundation). All smoke and mirrors to me, quite frankly.

          • HJ777

            Not really.

            If you look at the link I posted, you will see that they foster a number of alternative free market views.

          • Karla’s Man

            The IEA is a front organisation for banking interests, and in fact its most important organ is its Shadow Monetary Affairs Committee. Why wouldn’t bankers want more immigrants flooding this Country? Two-fifths of the investment bankers in the City of London and the Canary Wharf are easily foreigners these days anyway.

          • HJ777

            It is nothing of the sort, and many of its staff take they Hayekian view – they are against the existence of central banks and were certainly against the bank bailout.

            Before spouting your prejudices and views that are totally uninformed by facts, why don’t you try reading up a little more?

            I shall not respond again unless you do. I have better things to do with my time than to point out that your assertions are unfounded.

        • HJ777

          Perhaps this might convince you that there are very differing views within the IEA:


          • Karla’s Man

            Both of the authors, Coyle (Left-of-Centre, and wife of Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC) and Becker (Libertarian/Neoconservative), are in favour of open immigration.

          • HJ777

            If you took the trouble to read the paper you’d see that that is not the case – they accept that there must be limits to immigration and the paper is a discussion about what is the best approach to limiting it.

          • rtj1211

            Brendan O’Neill is also in favour of slave labour aka 12 month unpaid internships. He’s a moron.

          • Toby Esterházy

            Twelve-month unpaid internship is hardly slavery or slave labour, even in London. You should had never been allowed to go to University if you could not afford to take an unpaid year off (and of course, a young woman under a certain age is never unemployable in London and most other larger English towns with a lot of public telephone boxes, if you get my drift).

  • Tolomei

    The TGV Paris-Nice is already in service and has never been cancelled… France is a not a good example since the TGV network is already very dense. Sometimes a TGV project is abandoned but mainly because another one has been favored. Actually the French TGV network works pretty well and is profitable. I really believe the HS2 can be a good thing for the British economy but I’m really surprise by the estimated cost! This is far more expensive than the French TGV…

    • HJ777

      The TGV makes a modest operating profit but it is nowhere near making a return on the investment made in it.

      By any normal accounting standards, it is, overall, hugely loss-making.

      If the private sector believed that it could make a return on its investment from HS2, then it would be willing to invest and the government wouldn’t have to pay for it.

      • rtj1211

        So what is your solution to the capacity problem then??

        Eight lane M6?? Eight lane M1??

        What is it??

      • johnjefkins

        Transport Infrastructure benefits the government more than any private operator as the private operator only gets the fare income.

        The government earned back 40% of the construction cost of HS1 from its first lease (to a Canadian Pension Fund) and will earn an even bigger fee each 30 yrs of its 150 yr life as it gets rented out again and again. HS2 will have 3 times the market to command much bigger rental fees.

        Government owners also get tax – like
        1) Extra tax from jobs created from the economic boost. (eg 100,000 jobs would pay income tax and VAT on purchases of £10k per year for say 100 years of HS2 = £100 BILLION extra tax.
        2) Capital gains tax on property value increases near stations.
        3) Extra Air Passenger Duty (£100 per outbound passenger) for each short haul flight freed up to take a more lucrative long haul slot. Eurostar earns the government £500 million /yr from its 5 million outbound passengers.
        4) Operators now pay premiums rather than receive subsidies for profitable franchises like Thameslink and the WCML.

        So the government makes more money by retaining the freehold whilst renting the line out.

    • AGB

      There were headlines in the Independent and Times at the end of June: “France shunts new TGV projects into a siding” and “Age of the fast train is over for France”. 10 new projects will be delayed by 17 years to allow investment in classic rail which has been neglected for a long time.

      Building high speed rail creates debt which can take a long time to clear. France’s debt in this respect was 38 billion euro in 2011. Japan and China to name just two countries have accumulated far higher debts through their high speed line building. As most high speed lines require ongoing subsidy, it means the cost of the debt has to be serviced for many years.

      The issue about Paris – Nice is the section close to the Mediterranean coast. While TGV services currently run to Nice, there were plans to build a new line east of Marseilles. This new section was shelved by the June 2013 announcement.

  • YesWeCanFlyDrones

    Politicians with their simple fierce brains believe that the more they spend on anything the better it will turn out.

    They think that by squandering £37 billion (so far) in Afghanistan there will be an improved military and civilian outcome, whereas anyone with more intelligence than a pidgeon knows that it has been a total disaster.

    Likewise when the new railway line to Birmingham tops out an a newly calculated £72 billion politicians will think they’ve done an absolutely brilliant job.

    The country is so massively in debt because politicians can’t grasp the concept that controlling spending is just as important as raising revenue; they just can’t stop themselves running riot with someone else’s credit card.

    • rtj1211

      Well, like most of the numpties you’ve bought the ‘£72bn’ number hook, line and sinker. The IEA projections have already been blown out of the water by industry experts, so I suggest you take a step back and ask why you believe a right wing think tank’s paid-for lobbying, rather than dispassionate evidence. You want to ask how much the road lobby pays them, how much London and the SE-based interests pay them and whether they get much money at all from the North of England.

      I agree with you about Afghanistan, but that was doing what the Americans told us to. No vanity there, just political cowardice.

  • johnjefkins

    Except its is NOT being dropped in California or France is it !

    France is currently building hundreds of miles of new line.
    Phase 2 of TGV Est is under construction to Strassbourg.
    New Lines are being built to Rennes and Bordueax.
    After that, they have confirmed the intention to continue to Toulouse.
    Then they will build Lyon-Turin.
    Other less profitable lines have not been cancelled but postponed towards 2030.
    France ALREADY HAS A NETWORK and they are balancing spending with more spent on existing lines too.

    California may be delaying but has NOT CANCELLED its new line.

    And around the world the amount of high speed line will be DOUBLED from around 15,000 km to over 30,000 km before we even get HS2 phase 1 open.

    An endless list of new routes (eg Singapore to KL, Turkey, India, China, Spain, Germany etc) are under construction or planned to start very soon.

    No slowing down there then !

    • roger

      You quote examples in countries with lots of spare land, we can’t even grow enough food or build enough apartments.

      • Two Bob

        Our cities are so much closer to each other. Every single country he mentioned is miles bigger than ours, by a significant margin.

        • johnjefkins

          Not true.
          London-Manchester and London-Leeds are perfect for High speed rail.

          And these trains will run on to Newcastle or Glasgow &
          Edinburgh too.

          Some will even run from Manchester or Leeds via Birmingham international to Paris or Frankfurt too.

          • Two Bob

            Have you ever been educated in geography? Of course our cities are closer together than the countries you mentioned above. Have you ever looked at a map? Well well well, we see your vested interest – a pan europe HSR.

            We dont need high speed rail. Our cities can be connected perfectly fine by trains going 125 mph, which can mean more stops in between as a bonus – providing a service to far more people.

            Less than 1% of the UK population will use HS2.

          • johnjefkins

            London-Leeds = 200 miles
            Cologne-Frankfurt = 150 miles

            Look at a map yourself please.

            And its about CAPACITY more than speed.
            We DO need these 2 extra tracks.
            To HALVE journey times we just need straighter tracks.

            And by moving long distance trains (that never stop at the towms in-between) onto their own dedicated line, we DO also create space for more slow trains on the old line too – to thus benefit THREE times as many people.

            The new line will TRIPLE capacity.

            Billions of people use our railways now.
            And anybody travelling north of London will benefit from the extra CAPACITY created by HS2 – whether they use it or they carry on using the WCML, Midland Mainline or ECML.

            HS2’s extra 2 tracks will free up all 3 of those lines.

          • rtj1211

            True, they can, but if you need to increase capacity and we do, why not build a fast one when it barely costs much more than a 125mph one??

            Why not make European holidays accessible through HSR for when flying becomes too expensive??

          • Iain Hill

            Everyone seems to forget the beneficial effect of greatly reducing domestic air travel

          • johnjefkins


        • rtj1211

          Paris Lyon, the most successful HSR in Europe, is the same distance as London-Manchester and London-Leeds.

          • Chris Lovett

            And SNCF made a 1.1 billion operating profit in 2007, TGCVs alone carried 10.5 million passengers in 2010…

        • simhedges

          So add Belgium and the Netherlands the the list.

      • johnjefkins

        Belgium has 3 lines and a pretty dense population.

        Imagine how much land a motorway would take to carry the same number of people.

        HS2 is 2 TRACK RAILWAY. – ie the width of a 2 lane country road with embankments either side.

        Would you instead put those 2 tracks alongside the existing line – because that would rip a big groove through every town those 3 lines (WCML, Midland Mainline and ECML to Leeds) go through, but these long distance trains would never stop at.

        • Two Bob

          But belgium is at the ‘heart of europe’. This is an EU driven vanity project.

          • johnjefkins

            Nothing to do with the EU.

            HS2 is OUR solution to OUR CAPACITY PROBLEM.

            Any inclusion in Ten T would be because WE PUT IT THERE.
            Ten T rules state that only a member state itself can include a new project within it.

          • rtj1211

            Well said. I can’t say how many times I”ve read this nonsensical EU tyranny nonsense where HS2 is concerned. I”m sure there’s some Gauleiter somewhere issuing ‘party lines’ for paid hacks/bloggers to bilge out all over the right wing press. They’ve been corrected dozens of times but still they print the same nonsense.

          • simhedges

            Nonsense. It’s happening to improve capacity on British railways in response to British problems. The EU may be in favour (why wouldn’t it be?), but its not being driven by the EU, it’s not their project, and it’s not their money.

      • rtj1211

        Try examples in Japan then.

  • Two Bob

    0.39% of the UK population travel between Birmingham and London by train. Even if they were all to switch over to HS2, which obviously they won’t, the cost per passenger would be £332,000. To be paid for by whom??

    • Iain Hill

      hooray! At last!

    • johnjefkins

      HS2 trains will run between London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Glasgow and Edinburgh (and probably also Stoke and Crewe) plus Nottingham/Derby, Sheffield, Leeds and on to York and Newcastle.

      Some trains will also run from Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham via HS1 to Paris and probably Amsterdam and Cologne and Frankfurt too.

      IT ADDS 2 EXTRA TRACKS to the routes of the WCML, Midland Mainline and ECML. Would you instead add those tracks alongside those lines – as these long distance trains never stop at all the towns those tracks go through.

      HS2 thus frees up the existing WCML, Midland Mainline and ECML to take many more local and freight trains too.

      That will benefit rather more of the population – paying enough fare income
      to recover the cost over the 130 years HS2 will run for.

      HS2 also benefits the north – by connecting Birmingham with Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, York and Newcastle with trains that will HALVE journey times between those cities.

      And a new line IS also planned from Glasgow to Edinburgh that will connect with the route up from HS2.

      We do not need a new line all the way to Scotland to reduce journey times and increase capacity on that route.

    • rtj1211

      What’s quite amusing is that many in the North wanted to build the Northern links of HS2 first i.e. Newcastle- Leeds – Sheffield. Some felt it was political, feeling that extensions would never be built. Others said it would stimulate the Northern economy without making it more dependent on London.

      • Melvyn Windebank

        Ideally the whole HS2 would be built as a single project and it what Lord Adonis who knows far more about railways than Darling preferred !

        HS2 is not just for journeys to London but with northern legs a faster way to get from say Leeds to Manchester thus freeing up Moore capacity for local services on more lines up north !

    • simhedges

      £332,000 per passenger – assuming that the line lasts for only 1 year and that no-one switches to rail from car, and that capacity limits aren’t stopping more people travelling at present, and that people don’t use the line to travel to Derby, Glasgow, Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, etc. Let’s get phases 1 and 2 built, and get a commitment for a phase 3 onto Scotland.

      And you argue that we should be spending more on rail upgrades instead. How about “as well” – rubuilding Reading Station, rebuilding Birmingham New Street, Freight bottleneck reductions and overpasses to increase capacity, electrification of lines to Bristol, Swansea, the South Wales lines, Edinburgh to Glasgow, Sheffield to Southampton, dualling of lines through the Cotswolds, phased re-opening of the Varsity line, new rolling stick – what a shame that none of those things are happending because of HS2. Oh wait, they are happening AS WELL AS HS2. So let’s carry on with a twin track approach – upgrade the existing lines (at the same rate we are now) AND build new.

    • Melvyn Windebank

      Birmingham is a major interchange and so I take it your percentage also includes the millions who travel to Birmingham and the change onto Cross Country, Metro services , other Virgin services and London Midland and of course those who after using these services or beginning at New Street travel to London and then change onto other mainline national or international services ?

      Trains are not just A to B but involve many variables!

    • Daniel Maris

      “0.39% of the UK population travel between Birmingham and London by
      train. Even if they were all to switch over to HS2, which obviously they
      won’t, the cost per passenger would be £332,000. To be paid for by

      That’s a real clincher isn’t it! 🙂 That will stick in the mind!

      If we put the money into develop UK indigenous energy resources (green and fracking) , 100% of people could benefit from cheaper energy bills. 100% versus 0.39%.

      V. good post!

      I am beginning to see HSR as part of the whole London-centric, mass immigration, airport-finance economy, that has done so little to spread wealther and prosperity around our nation.

      • dialogueanalog

        The chap above your post has already disputed the quote that you used. It is not as easy to say A to B. I assume that figure would still be high but nowhere near the 332K that is being quoted here.

  • Tony Quintus

    The biggest mistake made over this whole affair is calling it “High Speed” the speed has nothing to do with it, any new track laid in a straight line would be high speed. We need to expand rail capacity (and encourage greater use of the rail during low traffic periods, ie overnight freight etc) be that by widening existing transport corridors or by creating new ones, it needs to be done.
    But then I’m one of that strange breed of (small “c”) conservatives who think the railways should be renationalised, along with the national grid transco, english water and all the telecoms infrastructure, with it all being run at enough profit to reinvest and keep them as the best in the world.
    I can dream can’t I

    • Two Bob

      Decentralising the country so less demand would be required for SE capacity is the answer, whether it is capacity for homes, hospitals, planes, trains or automobiles. But that means to stop putting London on such a high pedestal. We need conviction politicians who have the desire to do such a thing in order to get that done instead of wishy washy consensus politicians bowing to the perceived inevitable and being influenced at every turn by lobbyists.

      • Iain Hill

        That is the answer! Why will so few people accept it?

      • simhedges

        Devolution for England with a parliament in Manchester would shift the political centre out of overheating London, and result in a more balanced economy. HS2 can be part of that – making it easy for politicians, businessmen and lobbyists to travel quickly from London to Manchester.

        • Melvyn Windebank

          We had regional government in big cities like Manchester and Newcastle but Thatcher destroyed them !

          • simhedges

            Like most local government in the UK, those metropolitan councils had very little power indeed (pretty much the same as a county council), no ability to make law, and almost no tax raising powers.

    • Melvyn Windebank

      Just like HS1 was known as Chanel Tunnel Rail Link then HS2 should be referred to as West Coast Mainline 2 which is what it is with elements of MML2 AND ECML2 for good measure. Eventually ECML will need HS3!

  • Cynical_Man

    If people like you were in charge, Ross, we would have absolutely no publicly funded infrastructure (and therefore no infrastructure) at all.

    • Daniel Maris

      Nonsense, this is an issue of making choices between different types of capital infrastructure investment.

      Personally I would prefer to put [most of] the money into developing green energy infrastructure and delivering lower energy bills to people. Probably not a popular choice here. But there are lots of ways you could spend that money.

  • Remittance Man

    Whatever it costs, HS2 will not solve the biggest problem – congestion. All it will do is deliver too many cattle to their overcrowded destinations slightly faster. Those cattle will still need to cram themselves onto the local transport services at either end of the line. What is needed is a far more imaginative plan that will reduce the number of people travelling in the first place.
    Fortunately such an idea is not as pie in the sky as it may seem at first. High quality, high speed internet is feasible. For example, using fibre optics and the latest technology, Singapore has gigabyte per second speed internet connectivity. Imagine how many face to face meetings could be transfered to video conferencing with that sort of capability. Imagine how many people could work from home for at least part of the week.
    It would also reduce the load not just on the intercity rail links but those of London Transport, Birmingham city transport and all the other places destined to be “blessed” by HS2.
    As additional bonuses, a Gbps broadband system would benefit far more people than those of just six or seven cities and it wouldn’t require the driving of an intrusive rail line through people’s back gardens.

    • johnjefkins

      The main REASON for High speed 2 is actually CAPACITY.
      No HS2 = no seats.
      It will TRIPLE CAPACITY on the 3 main routes of WCML, Midland Mainline and ECML to Leeds.
      And each communication improvement (phone, fax, internet) has WIDENED our scope of contacts and ended up with an INCREASED amount of travel.
      We already have Skype. Has travel decreased? No.
      South Korea has BOTH high speed rail and high speed broadband.
      We need both.

      • Remittance Man

        So it will deliver its cargo both at higher speed and in greater numbers. That kinda proves my point – Britain’s city infrastructure, particularly that of London are already overloaded.
        Skype does not even begin to meet what can be achieved and the software is let down by Britain’s relatively low grade internet infrastructure.
        Whatever you say, I still believe the answer lies in technology from the 21st century not the 19th.

        • johnjefkins

          Higb speed rail is from the 21st century.
          We do not say that roads are from the roman age.
          The latest high speed trains are from THIS century.

          But the main point is that existing main lines are running out of CAPACITY. No HS2 = no seats (at any sensible price) as demand outstrips supply.

          We need these 2 extra tracks.
          Making them fast ones, just means making them straighter and putting the latest (2020s decade) state of the art trains on them.

          That speed not only wins more passengers (eg from air) but adds more capacity – as the same trains can make extra or longer round trips each day.

          • Two Bob

            But if we become less SE orientated the demand will be reduced!

          • johnjefkins


            Which is why the extra CONNECTIVITY provided by HS2 between Birmingham, Nottingham/Derby, Sheffield/Rotherham Leeds/Bradford (and the connection to the mainline near York with trains continuing to Newcastle) is so important.

            HS2 connects more northern cities – and HALVES journey times between these cities too.

            It also means that Birmingham and Manchester airports can compete better with London.

            When it takes only half and hour to reach Birmingham International from Heathrow, that’s about as long as it takes to change terminals WITHIN Heathrow.

          • Daniel Maris

            You make the point: this is about creating airport links so we can continue with out Ponzi economy based on mass immigration and servicing various mafias around the world. To do that, you need to keep expanding your airport network.

          • johnjefkins

            Or wire up high speed rail to move short haul and domestic flights to rail and enable hub airports to operate as long haul by air connecting to short haul by RAIL.

            Frankfurt airport departure boards list TRAINS with planes as if they are one and the same thing.

          • rtj1211

            Look, it’s simply not going to happen that way. There’s no corruption that London politicians won’t embrace to stop that.

            New national stadium in Birmingham for £100m?? Kiboshed. Spent £757m building Wembley again, two years late, useless transport links, then moved football internationals to Friday nights so that folks from the North can’t come to watch. Great ‘national stadium’ concept that, isn’t it?

            Expanding airports: only interested in expanding in London.

            The only way change will happen is if the North cecedes and teams up with Scotland. Otherwise, they’re fucked.

          • simhedges

            Corruption is not the same as regional interest. London (and South East) politicians are indeed a major power bloc – but just because they vote for projects in their own area doesn’t make them corrupt.

          • mikewaller

            This really is absolute nonsense. Things get built in London because that is where world travelers want to come. The only chance for a UK Olympics was a London Olympics, as previous failures demonstrated. And far from wanting an expanded Heathrow, votes were garnered locally by promising to cancel the third runway. Sadly it looks as it the economic case for it remains overwhelming. As for all these brilliant ideas for re-invigorating other parts of the country, just where is the money going to come from to pay for it? South to North tax flows of course!

            What other parts of the country ought to face up to – I live in the Midlands – is that without the London money machine we would be heading towards third world status.

            The real problem with HS2 is that it inevitably goes through a number of Tory constituencies which have had to be bought off with promises of massively expensive tunneling etc. It is no surprise that they don’t like it as it has very little to offer them in return for its environmental impact. What seems to me so strange is that they garner support from some of the people who have the most to gain from a much improved link to Europe: those living in the North of the country. Nuts or what?

          • Chris Lovett

            One of the strengths of HSR is it replaces flying. There are now NO flights between Paris and Brusselles for instance. Air Inter pulled out when the Paris – Lyon TGV started up. In 1981, btw!

        • Two Bob

          Time to encourage more people to resettle up north by providing the groundwork for industry and commerce to take off there. Tonnes of empty homes, and plenty of wasteland to build new business parks on.

        • rtj1211

          Perhaps you should ask whether all the hoohah is sponsored by the Americans who can’t tolerate Siemens getting the contract to build it??

          The Americans know they’ve lost the technology battle for HSR, so want to control the next generation.

          The best way for them to advance that agenda is to trash the current one.

          Isn’t it?

      • Two Bob

        The main REASON for HS2 is to widen the commuter belt.

        • johnjefkins

          HS2 is for LONG distance trains.
          Commuters are in the minority on those trains.

          But it will also allow more commuter (and freight) trains on existing lines by taking the long distance trains off them.

    • Toby Esterházy

      HS2 should ideally be followed by a national voluntary repatriation scheme.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Adolph may have been a blackguard, but he sure had the right idea about raving lunatics.

        • Toby Esterházy

          You are better be voluntarily repatriated in the diplomatic bag than be deported, that’s for sure.

  • johnjefkins

    HSR is NOT being dropped in France or California (or anywhere much else either).

    France is completing its network (building almost 1,000 km of extra line RIGHT NOW) – but has just postponed a couple of lines to 2030.

    Look at this link about how China’s growth is underpinned by its HSR programme.
    Its “at the foundation of its growth strategy”


    • global city

      but the distances are huge and they are not in competition with other forms of transport, bar jets.

  • Iain Hill

    Even to save the UK?

    Re France, you must mean Marseilles to Nice, as the rest of the TGV line is already operating. I have traveled it.

    Why has there never been a totally privately funded line? Take a course in public economics.

    • Fergus Pickering

      So have I. The French train is glorious. Vive la France!

  • Lana Bulatov

    @Ross Clark –
    “The economic case for a proposed line from San Francisco to Los Angeles has
    been undermined as costs have grown and the planned sections of the line have
    been chopped, so that it is now unlikely to happen.”

    What? You are kidding , right ? — Estimates on the price for California’s high-speed
    rail project have FALLEN to $68.4 billion – a $30 billion decline – even as the
    first full section of track to be finished has been expanded.
    It is NOT being
    dropped !
    There are already multiple stations
    under construction.

  • Ricki Strong

    £80 billion for what, half and hour off a journey? Just goes to show the sheer and utter stupidity of our politicians, who when running a country with vast amounts of debt think spending £80 billion on a fucking choo choo line is the best thing to do. Ahhhhhhh!!!!

  • simhedges

    1, The cancellation of the building of the French line to Nice is the equivalent of the UK deciding not to proceed with a high speed line to Torquay or Skegness. The French already have most of their major cities linked by high speed rail.
    2. The LA to SF line is proceeding.

    3. HS2 is designed to run at 225mph – because that’s the speed at which most HS lines are being built these days. And cutting the speed to 190mph would save very little.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Britisher pals, you need to realise that H2 is not entirely about economics and cost performance. The world is rapidly dividing into countries with H2 and those without H2. Namely, H2 is part of being, or aspiring to be an advanced capitalist country.
    Which means the Luddites a conspiring to ensure that Britain becomes and remains an “also ran”.
    Jack, Japan Alps

  • Melvyn Windebank

    HS2 offers the ability for better services to cities like Coventry that have seen their rail service cut over the years because WCML lacks capacity to serve more and more stations enroute !

    In fact after being in the Anti HS2 camp Coventry has now realised they can benefit from HS2 like regaining more direct services to London once HS2 has created spare paths on WCML !

  • Melvyn Windebank

    I suppose without HS2 we will have to travel by Elephant !

  • John Bradley

    France after building 100s of miles of track, doesn’t need to build any more. They aren’t digging the stuff up. So the entire basis of this article is flawed. We should spend more and put the Classic Compatible as the first vehicle and give it all the money as APT2. http://peterirate.blogspot.com/2013/08/apt-2.html

  • Fergus Pickering

    Seems a bummer of an article, poorly researched by a lightweight who doesn’t know what he is talking about.

  • dalai guevara

    I can do you a C/B ratio in Excel in two hours, add half a day for Projects, to show anything you want it to show, incl excl contingency, incl excl VAT. Just tell me, what do you WANT it to be?

    In the meantime, the First World all across the globe has third to seventh generation HSR. How did they do it?

    PS: Japan has the geometry of the Britain exactly, so please don’t give us this ‘north/south connections don’t work’ nonsense

    • Daniel Maris

      Japan has a very poor record of economic growth since they adopted HSR and its citizens don’t enjoy a good quality standard of life.

      • dalai guevara

        entirely unrelated
        the facts are the diagram works
        nb. standard of life? Japan has the highest life expectancy on the planet.

  • simmo70


    Power Corrupts Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely .The
    Coalition has failed running the Country on a Business Model.They have shown us
    how not to do things their way.Similar to failed Bankers MP’s want a pay rise
    whilst Poverty and the use of Food Banks increase.Like Old Colonialists they
    treat us as slaves and when they fail we become their whipping boy.Like Welfare
    Reform Osborne & Smiths immature smear campaign has totally failed.The monetary
    cost as well as human lives proves this.When Ministers resort to using Lies
    & Deceit to try to convince us we are a Nation of Scrounges & wasters
    when in fact it is them is more than shameful.Your non accountability proves
    you are a Sham.Smiths use of inaccurate statistics is a cover to try to prove
    his Policy has worked .But the use of rhetoric proves otherwise.You shower are
    out of Control to our detriment.No wonder Blair repealed the Treason Act.


  • global city

    HS2 would suck the last life out of Liverpool, which is ironic as the city started the whole worldwide ‘train thing’! Then, the era of big government is what started the rot.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Let`s bury “Toby`s” (Jonathan MacDonald`s) insane assertions that I`m Japanese not British once an for all, shall we, Spectator? Press Club, Tokyo. Say when. Send a rep from the Telegraph if you don`t have a resident correspondent. Would make a good lead in to an article on obsessed cyber stalkers, and mental health in cyber space. How any negative comment about UK triggers a “You`re not British” response in ultranationalist, xenophobic racist bigots. More common than you might suppose, albeit usually in a milder form.
    “Jack comes in from the cold” Provisional headline.
    “I had a long conversation with “Jackthesmilingblack” yesterday, saw his birth certificate and passport, and I can say without fear of contradiction that he`s a Caucasian Brit. And anyone that says different is mistaken to point of insanity…”
    I`ll even write the article for you.
    Then you could interview Mad Jock MacDonald. That should be fun.
    Jack, Japan Alps

    • Toby Esterházy

      The term “Caucasian Brit” is definitely a bit of an oxymoron.

  • hdb

    Fine except that Brasil is currently undertaking a massive program of high speed rail. Even Bulgaria has recently announced the intention to have 650km of high speed rail within the next decade. All very well having that UN Security Council seat but it doesn’t mean much when people are still chugging around at 1930s speeds. When the east Europeans have higher rail speeds than us we will finally be exposed as the second rate nation we have long been.

  • Stephen Lawrence

    Er, all the Victorian main lines to London were “high speed rail lines” (of their day) and all were built with private money and, depending on your point of view, all made a profit (until the outbreak of war smashed them to pieces…).

  • crsheppy

    It would make far more sense and cost a great deal less to re use the former Great Central railway route, some of which is still a railway and all of which was I believe built to a continental loading gauge.

  • Mark McIntyre

    NO2 HS2 – RIP – Ridiculous Infrastructure Project !