Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Lies, Damned Lies and Porky Pies

Posted in Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure, Media by Chairman Pip on 4 October 2013

You’d think, in the week that saw the Daily Mail slated for the situation it finds itself in with Ed Miliband, that newspaper editors would want to be careful about what their journalists and commentators put in their publications. It seems though that some can write whatever the hell they like with no recourse. You’ll probably guess that I am yet again speaking about Frederick Forsyth. I am always now on the lookout on a Friday for anything he might have written in his column about High Speed 2, and today we had an absolute doozy:

The case against the ill-thought out HS2 high-speed rail link from London to the Midlands and the North continues to lose friends. The authorities have tried “environmental” justification, then “economic” and then “overcrowding” and each has been proved untrue.

Now even the cities of the Midlands and the North are losing enthusiasm. Why? People travelling to do business want to arrive in the city centre. if they want to change from inter-city to branch line they want to cross two platforms, not two miles. But the numpties behind HS2 are planning that these bullet trains stop well outside the cities they are supposed to serve….To make matters worse the local services will be cut back for economic reasons even though they will be as important as ever.

Come again? I’d love to know who has told him that the stations planned for HS2 will be miles from anywhere, unconnected to any other services, like some gare des betteraves. After all, last time I checked the plan was to build a new station on the old Curzon Street site in Birmingham (almost right next to the Bullring), a new station that will be directly connected to Leeds City, and brand new platforms as part of the refurbishments of Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston. Or perhaps he means the other stations:

Nope, it can’t be those he’s talking about, as they are all fairly well connected, even though they aren’t in city centres. So I’m not entirely sure what these unconnected stations that are two miles from the city centre actually are. Additionally, how does he know what the local services will actually be once HS2 opens, given that it’s a good decade and a bit in the future until even the first section opens? Presumably he has consulted his crystal ball to learn of this.

fortune-teller

It’s true that both the government and HS2 Ltd have been on the back foot in the media battles against the anti HS2 mob. I’ve been saying for ages that the main focus of the media campaign should have been capacity rather than speed – we need new rail capacity in this country, and any piecemeal enhancements done to the existing network to try and “create” new capacity will be both expensive and cause huge disruption (as the WCML enhancement proved). Now, fortunately, the government has seen the light and has brought the capacity issue to the fore. A new north-south intercity route will free up capacity on both the WCML and ECML so that more local and interurban passenger services can be run (which is your overcrowding justification Mr Forsyth), not to mention allowing more freight to be carried by rail, removing huge numbers of lorry journeys from the roads, as well as decreasing further the need for domestic flying (which is your environmental justification); added to this is the employment that will be generated, both in construction of the thing, and in the investment that such a project will bring in (and there’s your economic one). The disturbing thing is that there will be people that read such nonsense spouted by Mr Forsyth (and others come to that) and will think that because it’s in the newspaper it must be true. In a recent editorial, Nigel Harris made this point succinctly, pointing to the coverage the BBC gave to the IEA report that stated the project could cost as much as £80bn, and which included a number of spurious claims and (I hasten to say) fabrications (such as the HS2 spur to Liverpool that has never been proposed). While Mr Forsyth is a commentator, paid to write his opinions for publication, even commentators (never mind actual journalists) have a duty of care to their readers to ensure that what they’re writing is at least factually accurate. But then again, I’vealways thought that the anti mob would allow facts to get in the way of a good story.

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It’s time to speak on HS2

Posted in Customer service, Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 7 September 2013

I have maintained a silence recently as I have had the feeling that people are getting a little irritated by my ramblings. However, I have felt moved to speak my mind over what has come out over the last few weeks from the anti HS2 brigade as they continue their campaign to have the project stopped by any means necessary, which often will mean publicising half-truths and occasional (almost) fabrication which is picked up and run with by the media. A few weeks ago, the Institute of Economic Affairs published a report entitled The High Speed Gravy Train: Special Interests, Transport Policy and Government Spending, which somehow came to the conclusion that the cost of constructing High Speed 2, far from being the £42bn that the government have budgeted, could end up costing as much as £80bn. This was immediately jumped upon by the media, with the story being top of many news sites and programmes (indeed, I do recall that it was the top story on BBC News’ early evening bulletin on the day it was published). Upon inspection of this so-called “report”, it becomes clear that the conclusions reached by the author, Dr Richard Wellings, are so much horse hockey (or “guff and hogwash” as Ben Ruse, the spokesman for HS2 Ltd, described it). And the reason for this is that Dr Wellings has reached the figure of £80bn by including a massive tranche of projects that, while no doubt important in High Speed 2’s connectivity, are nothing to do with HS2 itself. Amongst the projects that Dr Wellings has included under the HS2 budget are:

These are included in spite of the fact that the People Mover connection at Birmingham Interchange is already included in the government’s published HS2 budget, the Manchester Airport Metrolink extension is already under construction, Meadowhall is already connected to the Supertram network, the capacity and electrification schemes in Yorkshire are under way and come under Network Rail, and a spur to Liverpool was never even considered as part of HS2. But, even more than the fact that a number of the rationales for his conclusion are bogus, is this:

It is also probable that some of the schemes will never be built for various reasons…

Which means that the banner conclusion is based on theories around things that may not actually come to pass. And yet still this was trumpeted by the media, while the rebuttal of it barely warranted a mention, being halfway down the English news section of the BBC News website.

Then of course you get such as happened yesterday when I opened the newspaper, and read the following headline in Frederick Forsyth‘s column:

Scrap the HS2 white elephant

I spoke 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 probably be fairly close to where he lives), he is somewhat biased in his view that the project should be abandoned. He goes further now in deciding that it will be a “white elephant”. I’ve found a good definition of white elephant:

…a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.

How it’s possible to declare something that has not been built as a white elephant is beyond me, as I would have thought it would take a number of years of use to determine whether said thing is not worth its cost. Mr Forsyth must be a soothsayer. Or else, he is particularly vicious when it comes to opposing HS2, denouncing anything released by the Government or HS2 Ltd as being the work of “official propogandists”. Never mind the propaganda put out by those opposed to the project. He warms to his theme by restating yet again the view that all the line is for is to get a few “wealthy businessmen” to Birmingham a few minutes faster and raising the suggestion both of longer trains and double deck coaches. Well, first of all, while HS2 is certainly about improving timings, making it faster to get between various major destinations (which is what everyone fixates on), the fact is that the first and major issue has always been about capacity on the existing network, which is fast running out. No amount of piecemeal capacity enhancement on the West Coast Main Line, which would be enormously disruptive and likely to cost as much, pro-rata, as just building a brand new line, is going to create the new capacity that is needed. Having the vast majority of fast trains on a separate line means that more trains for commuters can be put on the existing network, not to mention making room for more freight. Thankfully, the DfT have finally picked up on this as a the thing to push first and foremost. As for the suggestion of just making longer trains or taller trains, it’s clear that Mr Forsyth knows even less about the railways than I do, given that longer trains means again expensive and disruptive work to make the capacity for them (perhaps he should look at the work done on the Thameslink route to extend platforms), while there has only been one experiment at running double decker trains in the UK. European countries can run such trains because the loading gauge is significantly more generous than it is here. While again it is possible to increase the loading gauge, it is phenomenally disruptive, as evidenced in the case of the gauge enhancement around Southampton that ended in 2011.

In the most recent issue of Rail, Nigel Harris’s editorial is scathing about the industry and its lack of vigour in promoting HS2, and how the project needs a vocal champion, suggesting that Sir David Higgins, who was the Chief Executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority, and delivered London 2012 on time and on budget, would be an idea choice. It is certainly the case that somebody needs to be out  there, bigging up HS2 to the country (notwithstanding the excellent rebuttal of the IEA report Alison Munro gave on BBC Breakfast in the face of hostile questioning from the interviewer). I’ve said before that we need new capacity on the railway network, and that HS2 is the way to go about it. I’ve also said that it is wrong to simply look at the bottom line when it comes to infrastructure projects like this, because on their own, they won’t make money. You have to look at the bigger picture, of the benefits that the infrastructure will bring to all sorts of areas of the economy, in order to see why these things should be built. And they should be built.

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