The continued meltdown of the country’s transport network (even though, at the time of writing, the last snow in London fell more than two days ago) is the best reminder we could need that, instead of wasting our money on flashy high-speed rail vanity projects, we need to get the ordinary, everyday basic network in order.
The gods, I thought, were making a particular point when they decreed that Eurostar, which uses Britain’s only existing high-speed line, should suffer some of the worst disruption.
Philip Hammond, the transport secretary, is supposed to be announcing the precise route of the new high-speed line today – but has instead spent his time fending off questions about Britain’s “third world” transport systems, to quote his predecessor Lord Adonis.
I’ve a piece in this morning’s paper examining the case for the new line made by its promoters themselves. The small print of their own prospectus makes, bluntly, an even more persuasive case against the project than anything produced by any Home Counties protest group.
It says, among other things, that the £17 billion project
– could actually increase Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 26.6 million tonnes and that any possible reduction there is in CO2 will be “small… HS2 would not be a major factor in managing carbon in the transport sector.” (Chapter 1 p7, Chapter 4 p180)
– would only reduce road traffic by a tiny amount, for instance traffic on the southern section of the M1 would fall by just 2% over the next 23 years! (Chapter 4 p175)
– has a totally flaky business case, which depends on what even the prospectus admits is an increase in demand “of at least double today’s [historically high] levels.” (Chapter 4, p188.)
– will devastate existing services to many places off the route – for instance:
– Coventry will see its existing fast service from London slashed by two-thirds, from three trains an hour to one, and slowed down from 59 to 69 min (Technical Appendix 2, pp 17, 19 – scroll down the PDF past Appendix 1 to find Appendix 2).
– Stoke on Trent will see its existing fast service halved, from two trains an hour to one, and slowed down from 84 to 87 min (Technical Appendix 2, p16).
– Trains on the Great Western main line (GWML) from Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford, Reading and the like into Paddington will be slowed down so they can interchange with the high-speed route at a new station at Old Oak Common (chapter 4, p175).
– London Overground inner-suburban services from Watford into Euston could be “removed” to make room at the station for high-speed services (chapter 3, p64.)
Even for travellers to Birmingham, the high-speed line won’t use the existing New Street station in the heart of the city centre, but a new terminal at Fazeley Street, on the eastern edge of the centre. So much of the time you save on the way will be negated by the less convenient location of the station in Brum.
And if you need to change to an onward local service (the vast majority of which will continue to use New Street) your journey will again be slower than it is now, because you’ll have to transfer between stations in Birmingham city centre.
Too much of the coverage of high speed rail has focused on the impact, devastating as that will be, on the Chilterns and other places. But this line’s real and fatal weakness is that it does not stack up in environmental, economic or even transport terms.