Are High Speed Railways for the North or for London?

28 January 2013

5:50 PM

28 January 2013

5:50 PM

I used to think High Speed Rail was an excellent idea. Now I’m not so sure. I suspect the economic case for the proposals is weaker than its proponents allow. More importantly, I’m not at all sure the government’s plans for fast trains linking London and Birmingham are the right or most useful possible idea for high-speed rail. Knocking ten minutes off the London to Birmingham route seems like relatively little gain that comes at quite a price.

Eventually, of course, the plan is to extend high-speed rail to Lancashire and, perhaps, Yorkshire too. Sometime, one would guess, towards the middle of this century. You can’t accuse modern Britain of rushing large-scale infrastructure projects.

It is good that the government is paying some attention to northern England. About time too. We may detect Neil O’Brien’s influence here, I suspect.


But viewed from the far north – that is, North Britain, let alone northern England – the plans for high-speed rail seem, like so much else in this country, designed to suit London more than they are planned to assist the north. It is presumed, after all, that all roads – and all railways – lead to London.

This is not necessarily awful. It makes some sense. But I wonder if it is a plan that best serves the north. Now, sure, the north needs good links to London and the south. But making it easier to commute (weekly or even, god help you, daily) from Leeds to London is hardly the only or even the most useful thing to consider.

So I ask this question: would an east-west high speed line actually be better for northern England than a north-south line?

I don’t know the answer to that and I don’t know if the idea has ever even been considered (perhaps it’s an obvious non-starter!). Nevertheless, would high speed railways running on a Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-Hull route be better for the north than connecting it to London more quickly? In other words, is the north its own place or is it to be considered a branch-line off the south-east?

Anyway, just a thought.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • davidshort10

    When trains go faster to and from London, they suck in more commuters to London. Salaries in London are so much higher than in the north that the cost of a season ticket together with cheaper housing, and safer schools and streets, warrants the commute. In the 70s, the govt was encouraging large firms to relocate to places such as Peterborough and Milton Keynes. The trains from Peterborough and Milton Keynes are now full of commuters heading into London. People even commute from York.

  • Robert Taggart

    NO2 HS2 – who ever it be for – and this from a northern anorak !

  • Daniel Maris

    I have followed a similar path. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with the concept of High Speed Rail, particularly as an alternative to air travel on a continental scale. However, we are a pretty small country. And we are a country that doesn’t subsidise rail travel much.

    We have a lot of serious economic and social problems that HSR won’t help and might make worse.

    My fear is that the HSR proposals are firstly being tied into airport development proposals (note: the first line goes to Birmingham Airport, not the city of Birmingham).

    Our big airports are really just mass immigration magnets – they create so many anti-social jobs that in turn attract low skilled immigrants. As our population increases due to mass immigration so the need for airports grows rapidly (even more than would be the case if the population control had nothing to do with immigration).

    HSR seems to me part of conventional “Big Economics” designed to serve Big Business, mass immigration and all the other bigisms that don’t really add to the wealth and happiness of most of our citizens.

  • Oldham Fibromyalgia Sufferers

    use this on the dedt…..use it for the NHS use it to house the people there going to make homeless use it to create bussiness…..towards make college courses certifs match the cerfit needed for the jobs. ect ect ect

  • In2minds

    The stupid government think they are going for ‘growth’ but are just adding to the debt. The Hs2 will be as big a folly as the era of the tower blocks

  • Troika21

    HS2 is definitely for London’s benefit.

    By reducing the travel time and connecting cities directly to London, even more people, money and resources are going to be sucked out of the rest of the country to feed the capital.

    The whole thing is a pointless waste of money.

    • Oldham Fibromyalgia Sufferers

      everything is only ever for London thats why the dome failed they just never like to admit it

  • LB

    Very simple solution.

    1. No subsidy.

    That means HS2 passengers pay for HS2. Pensions, running costs and debts.

    Other ticket payers aren’t forced to pay higher prices.

    Non rail users aren’t taxed to pay for something they don’t use.

    2. All MPs voting for it, put their pensions on the line.

  • Brigantian

    People in Leeds (say) might just want to go direct to Paris or Berlin and do business without involving anyone in London: have you thought of that?
    People in London are always telling everyone in the North how wonderful the Ey-You is, but they are strangely awkward when people from the North want to go there.

    • DK

      And that will be possible. via the link to HS1. But it’s no surprise you that it’s hard to go from Leeds to Paris without going anywhere near London at all….

      • Brigantian

        No one in Leeds goes to Paris via London now. Planes fly direct and ferries depart from Hull and Harwich. I suggest you buy a map.

    • Peter Treadwell

      We need better trains _through_ London. So that you can go from, say. Kent to Bristol or Glasgow to Lille without hauling your suitcase thrrough the tube. Sadly, Thameslink is a paltry effort at this and the future east-west line is a joke: it will take local trains only.

      • Brigantian

        You have used an important word: THROUGH. A link line to permit the movement of rolling stock is not something intended to carry high speed trains anywhere. As for Crossrail: it is hardly a joke for the country to be bankrupted to build a high speed line beneath the most congested city on the planet just so that Merchant Bankers can travel to an airport a few minutes faster, when the airport they are travelling to is already congested and will be obsolete by the time the first train runs.

  • DK

    Sorry, I don’t think criticism is legitimate.

    1) The lines actually go to birmingham. If an alien looked at the y-shaped map he’d reckon Birmingham was our capital city

    2) Simple geography means we need to move more stuff North-South than East-West. If our country was more of a square than a rectangle, like Spain things would be different.

    3) There are already plans to improve rail links just like you describe, Northern Hub,
    Liverpool- Manchester electrification etc… The distances and convential capacity mean a new Northern East-West High Speed line simply isn’t needed

  • brossen99

    “Its all part of the Corporate-Nazi arch plan to turn the UK into a stock market parasite Noah’s Ark haven from an increasingly turbulent Europe / US riven by civil unrest. They also plan to turn the UK into an eco / historical theme park for wealthy jet set tourists who can perhaps be sold a tax dodge holiday home in the countryside !”