Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Enough time has passed now

Posted in Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure, Media, Politics by Chairman Pip on 9 March 2013

While I may come down hard on the Daily Express for the often total bollocks it has a tendency to print sometimes, particularly from some of its columnists, I will say that, on some matters, Frederick Forsyth does write things that strike a chord with me, especially when he comments either on foreign affairs, intelligence matters or the armed forces, all of which in his two careers as a journalist and a thriller writer he has had experience of and researched extensively. However, when he writes about things he seems to know little of, it is fair that he tends to fall into the same trap of all the other columnists that try commenting on important national matters with their opinion and little else to fall back on. Obviously, the main headline from his column on the 8th February was enough to first attract my attention, and then, upon reading the piece, my ire.

On the fast track to a total disaster

Mr Forsyth has been vocal in his opposition to High Speed 2, putting forward many arguments as to why it should not be built, mainly regurgitating the same old stories that the “No2HS2” grouping tend to put forward as the significant reasons not to go ahead with it. This particular piece came out the week that the government announced its planned route for Phase 2, the “Y” branches to Leeds and Manchester. The last line of the opening paragraph is an indication of where Mr Forsyth’s interests lie:

But there are crucial questions still to answer about the southern line from Euston to Birmingham, planned to destroy great swathes of the beautiful Cotswolds.

Often there are pieces about Mr Forsyth’s country living, so it isn’t a stretch to think that he may well live along the route of Phase 1, which is why he is as aggressive in his writing as he is. According to the piece from the newspaper, the government are mounting a “wild propaganda campaign that no one seems to be questioning”, except him of course. The problem is, his questioning appears to be taking entirely the wrong course – he questions the government’s claim that HS2 will create 100,000 jobs, suggesting that at most it will create 2,000. But here he is looking at the workforce that will be involved in actually building the line itself. True, but there will then be the jobs created in the supplying of materials to build the line, and supplying the equipment that will build the line. There will be significantly more than the 2,000 he suggests in actually building HS2. Then he somewhat sarcastically mentions the government’s enterprise zones – these are areas the government has designated for greater investment through improved planning rules and infrastructure. Forsyth points out that the trains intended for HS2 won’t stop at any of them and “certainly won’t carry freight”. True and true, but freight will be carried on the existing network, and one of the major points for building the line is to provide capacity. By taking a large number of fast, intercity trains off the West Coast Main Line, then there will be more space for both the slower, interurban and commuter trains that carry the workers into the centres of London, Birmingham and Manchester, and there will be more space for the slow, heavy freight trains, a significant number of which use the WCML for some part of their journey. He then points out that on his train journey into Marylebone (35 minutes) all the “hard-nosed businessmen” are tapping away on their laptops/tablets/mobile devices, which evidently means that businessmen don’t need to travel anymore. So why do they still insist on doing that? Mr Forsyth points to the experience the Dutch have had with HSL Zuid, suggesting that everyone prefers using the existing rail network, which runs parallel for part of the route with trains “at half the price”. I’ve had a look at the Nederlandse Spoorwegen website and done a search for a return journey from Amsterdam to Rotterdam; using a regular NS Intercity service costs €28.00, while using the Fyra service costs €32.60. The additional cost is due to the supplement for using the high speed line, similar to the one Southeastern puts on its high speed services. Mr Forsyth also makes a comment that East Coast can “only fill a third of its seats” and is “losing fortunes”, things he suggests are “hard nosed facts”, before stating that he has simply “read this” somewhere, not stating where.

Mr Forsyth should come out and say that he doesn’t want High Speed 2 running through his garden, and that that is his primary objection, rather than try to clothe it in attempted arguments that make no sense whatsoever. The fact of the matter is that High Speed 2, as with all infrastructure projects, will not in itself be profitable. The idea is to improve the capacity of the railway network to enable it to move more people and more goods to get to the places that they need to be. More people than ever are using the railways, and more goods are being transported on them; the railways are bucking the trend of the financial situation we find ourselves in. Tinkering around the edges with longer trains and longer platforms on the existing network won’t solves the fundamental problem that it is full to bursting (although Mr Forsyth’s comment about East Coast suggests he’d like to junk that too). Perhaps Mr Forsyth might like to do a little reading before the next time he decides to write about this issue – I’d suggest that he looks at the testimonies of the people that live in and around High Speed 1. That too was going to be a disaster; a metal scar carving through the Garden of England, which would cause windows to smash and cows to fall over every time a train passed. Except none of that has happened. HS1 was built with its environment in mind. While not invisible, it blends in where it runs at grade, while its structures (perhaps most notably the Medway Viaduct) are the modern equivilents of Brunel’s engineering solutions on the Great Western. I have no doubt that the structures on HS2 will be even better, the 21st century equivilents of Box Tunnel. Mr Forsyth should be honest with us and admit that he is a NIMBY, and that his objections are based not on “facts” but on his own prejudices. And, if he was a journalist worth his salt, he would do some reading and have some discussions with the other side before committing pen to paper next time. Over to you Nigel Harris

“On the fast track to a total disaster”

Frederick Forsyth needs to fess up and admit his objections to HS2 are personal

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  1. […] about Mr Forsyth’s continuing opposition to HS2, and how he uses his column to push this, back in March. In that, I made it clear that in my opinion, because he lives in the Cotswolds (and the route will […]


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