Coffee House

HS2: No blank cheque or empty threats?

17 March 2014

8:56 AM

17 March 2014

8:56 AM

Sir David Higgins wants the northern end of HS2 built quicker, as a means of selling the benefits of the ‘north-south’ line to those who remain sceptical about the new line. You can read his full report on High Speed 2 here, but it’s worth considering the position of one of the biggest groups of sceptics too. Labour has repeatedly said that there is no blank cheque for HS2, and Ed Balls frequently deploys the line as a way of showing that he really is very fiscally responsible these days.

Balls said yesterday on Marr that Labour would support the high speed rail bill at second reading but that if the costs rose above £50 billion, then he would have to think again. He said:

‘But at every stage in this project for the next few years – because it’s going to go into the next Parliament when the final decision is taken – I’m going to say there’s no blank cheque. The costs have got to come down, the assumptions have got to be robust.’

This is all very well and good, but it would be a bold Labour shadow chancellor – or indeed chancellor – who really pulled out of the HS2 project when Birmingham Council has put quite as much effort and planning as it has into a 25-year masterplan based on HS2 going ahead. Pulling support from the project would be to shaft Labour-run Birmingham, to put it mildly. Would Labour really do that? The question of whether Balls’ threat is credible is the same, in effect, as whether David Cameron is really scaring European leaders sufficiently when he says that support for the EU in Britain is ‘wafer-thin’, yet makes it clear he’d like to campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union.

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Show comments
  • anncalba

    I’ve lost track of the estimated cost of this vanity product. (and whatever it currently is, you can double it). What I am sure of is that there are far better ways of spending the billions involved than on a line to get people from London to Birmingham 20 minutes quicker. I don’t even understand how this money can be found, when so much else is being cut.

  • Tony_E

    Surely the point of HS2, from a business perspective, is to increase traffic. The old ‘slow’ line will not disappear – so therefore there is an opportunity to transfer more goods from road to rail.

    While there is a European element to all this (in that the line will link via London to the Eurostar service, and that the EU does have a plan for integrated transport continent wide) – what would be the point of building a new line to old specifications – i.e. not as a high speed line. It might be expensive now but what the real dost of not updating infrastructure to more world competitive levels.

    What does it say about us as an industrial nation that we have such ageing and inadequate road and rail links internally, and such a chronic divide in wealth between North and South? Surely the resources in the North, both Human and otherwise, must be utilised for the nation to thrive?

  • Lady Magdalene

    If HS2 were viable, the private sector would be funding it.
    It’s a vanity line – for Cameron and the EU.

  • asalord

    More Scottish tax-payers money going down an English drain.

    • Rockin Ron

      Actually, if you look at the GDP by nation breakdown, 85.36% comes from England. Scotland contributes less than 10%. Of course, it gets over £2000 per person more in public expenditure than the rest of the UK.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Look at it this way though. There’ll at least be an (uneconomical) train built with that money, whereas if you lot had spent it, all that would have been left would be a pile of Mars bar wrappers and a smoldering fryer.

  • James Strong

    No mention of Sir David Higgins’ job in connection with HS2?
    I think it’s relevant.
    Is this lazy writing, sloppy writing or evidence of bias?

    • telemachus

      Just the standard anti-Balls rhetoric of the whole Dacre inspired right wing media

  • swatnan

    People seem to forget that its a completely different World North of Birmingham.
    OK HS1 might benefit Brummies seeking jobs in London, but HS2 is a different kettle of fish. Nobody in their right miinds would think of commuting from York Leeds or Carlisle down to London. But many Business trips do start from London up North and back. So I say YES to speeding things up on HS1 and HS2. We’re really talking about Concorde on Railtrack here. Its revolutionary and worth investing in.

    • Alexsandr

      would it not be better to help the north by improving links between Birmingham/stoke/Manchester, and Liverpool/Manchester/leeds York, and Manchester/Sheffield?. And making the commuting services into those cities work. That will benefit the north, not some vanity project.

      And intercity growth on the WCML is flat, and peak usage of Virgin Trains is 60%. Long distance capacity is needed out of Waterloo and Paddington, according to government figures.

      • BarkingAtTreehuggers

        It is not ‘better’ to do that. It must also happen.

        Dear me – your infrastructure inspired by a centralist outlook is always at capacity/breaking point. Then you wonder why not having a *network* slows growth. Hilarious.

        • Alexsandr

          when there is not unlimitless money you do the things that have the most benefit. or perhaps produce the benefit quickest.
          HST bebefits will be years away. Norton bridge grade separation will be delivering capacity next year.

          • BarkingAtTreehuggers

            The Northern Hub Project is happening – Victoria Station/ Mc is now a building site.
            Thought someone had told you that.

            • Alexsandr

              its a miniscule project compared with what is required.
              hope the DfT find some trains for the newly electrified lines tho. Manc -L’pool may be late because of that.
              probably wont matter cos Manchester – wigan went right up to the wire because the wiring teams were late, with the overhead held up with string 1 week before go-live.

    • Smithersjones2013

      You don’t even know what they are called let alone what you are talking about! HS1 is the Channel Tunnel line and runs from St Pancras to Paris and Brussels. It serves London and Kent domestically. It barely goes within 100 miles of Birmingham so how you think people living in Birmingham might benefit from it I’ve no idea……

      PS As far as I am aware people have been commuting to London from the likes of Newcastle and York and points south ever since the 225’s were introduced in the 1990’s. Of course the saga of the 225’s is yet another tale of unfulfilled railway promises and potential given their full capabilities have not ever really been commercially exploited.

    • Tom Tom

      People DO commute from Leeds to London ! Otherwise this thread simply reflects the Southern obsession and rants on about London and stations in Europe’s TB capital. The fact is Northern airports serve Amsterdam and Brussels from Leeds and Chicago and NYC from Manchester……..London is a distant place seen in those terms and more a legacy than a vibrant actuality

      • swatnan

        Is that a daily commute, 5 days a week?

  • Mark McIntyre

    NO2 HS2 – not even on Blightys credit card !

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      Scouse, will you finally go and dig some more tunnels? Please!

      • Mark McIntyre

        My dear Treehuggers – the ‘planting’ has already been done !…
        The Williamson Tunnels – from the early Nineteenth Century – just like HS2 – they go nowhere !!

        • BarkingAtTreehuggers

          you would know all about it

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    Sir David Higgins fails the Rice-Davies test.

    • HookesLaw

      So do you.

      • Rhoda Klapp8

        Indeed. I am for concreting the railways except where they are used for the kind of bulk freight that they are good for. For everything else, pave them and allow trucks and buses only.

        But I don’t expect to personally make money on that plan or any other. Which is where I am distinct from Higgins.

        • Alexsandr

          well look at a 11 car train passing Watford gap. that’s maybe 700 people who could be in cars on the M1. Then another comes 5 minutes later. go to long buckby and watch the container trains go through. 30 containers -that’s 30 lorries, So 700 cars every 10 minutes and 30 more trucks an hour on the M1. If we closed the railways the roads would gridlock.

          • Rhoda Klapp8

            Did you not see we were going to re-use the tracks for trucks and buses? Possibly using technology to maintain speed and separation and maybe steering too.

            • Alexsandr

              yes they looked at closing Marylebone and making the line in from Wycombe into a dedicated bus road. pity standard coaches buses wont fit under rail bridges so you would have to replace all the bridges and tunnels. And do you want to travel by bus at 125 mph. and you would need 12 buses every 5 minutes doing 125 to replace the virgin train service. that’s a 125 mph bus every 25 seconds.
              consider a 10 coach train going into waterloo with a crush load including standees.

              • Rhoda Klapp8

                Standees? People who are stood upon? Oh, you mean people are allowed to stand in those things at 125mph. That just does not meet modern safety standards, except on a train.

                Why not give the 24hr totals of traffic rather than this silly idea of a full train every 5 minutes?

                • Alexsandr

                  cos people don’t travel 24/7. they travel to get to work at 9 and leave when work ends at 5. for 20 hours out of 24 the railways have plenty of capacity. its the rush hours when its at capacity. If you don’t believe me look at the prices of tickets at different times of the day.
                  and people can stand on trains safely because they are so much safer than other modes. Anyway, I see people stand on buses. and trams.

                • Rhoda Klapp8

                  One of the things that motivates me against trains (I tried to hide it, really) is the memory of commuting, standing while others who had paid a third of the price of my ticket sat.

                  You can break down the capacity by times if you like, you seem to be well-informed.

  • In2minds

    No blank cheque? Still no business case either. Birmingham Labour and the 25 yr plan, it was plans like these that ‘transformed’, UK cities in the 1960’s, we are still living with the mess!

    • HookesLaw

      Was there a ‘business case’ for the M6 or M25?
      Starting from both ends and working towards the middle makes sense, we might get two railways for the price of one if we are lucky.
      There will be quicker progress in the north and the benefits arrived at sooner.

      Meanwhile other rail projects proceed. A new North of Oxford to London rail link has just started construction – the first new rail link between two major British cities for 100 years. Did it have a business case? Only a raving moron would ask for one. Mind you its privately financed, part of what you get for your rail fares

      • Alexsandr

        or you could look up railwayman chris stokes. See his article in march Modern railways. He shows growth on west coast inter city has stalled, barely increasing last year. And he shows that Paddington and waterloo long distance services are far more overcrowded in the peaks than Euston or kings cross. and he says where his numbers come from.
        Listen to radio 2 in the rush hour and hear the mayhem on the M62 and M60. That is what is stalling growth in the north, because rail commuting into the northern cities has been under invested for years.

        anyway, Higgins must be bricking it because he can see his pet project being dumped. they cant get the bill through the commons and its an electoral liability for the tories so many back benchers are against.

      • Smithersjones2013

        Priceless. Your conversion to being a Labour zombie is all but complete. Preaching profligate public expenditure with no cost accountability is the ultimate in deranged socialist attitudes. After all whats the odd 50 billion between Government and taxpayer?

        What next? Praising Gordon Brown as your spiritual mentor and Ed Balls as your hero?

        Meanwhile all across major business ‘raving morons’ are calling for business cases to justify expenditure. No wonder our economy is in so much of a mess. Its big business wasting time minding the pennies and making a profit. How very dare they……!

        • Guest

          Labour oppose HS2? Stop making stuff up.