Tuesday, September 24, 2013

High Speed Link Two : HS2 Contra Arguements

High speed two is one of two grandoise Keynsian invesment projects which the last and current UK governments are committed to a certain extent.

That and Trident 2, could both prove to be the biggest waste of money the UK has ever made, lying behind Blue Streak, Trident 1 and the Darian project for that matter. Both are of purely political value- perceptions over actual utility these provide.

HS2 is proposed to solve the issue of conjestion and speed up journey times from London and also connect the north of England with the continent. On the latter, this although being an admirable proposition, in reality we are talking business travellers who will still find the plane quicker and quite possibly cheaper. The anticipated business seats on Eurostar have never reached any forecasted sorry "wishful thinking" levels and that connection is between the world's second largest financial centre and the worlds second most powerful beaurocracy.

The nature of doing business and where people who travel to London regularly live, does not reflect the northern central station approach- business travellers tend to live in the suburbs and desirably near the airport around Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool. These cities are trying to reduce car useage to the city centres, while also metropolitan public transport is being squeezed out of the low occupancy "red eye" commuting times into a marginalised service. The route can of course take airport transfer stations and park and ride stations into planning. These then affect timings, conjestion as we will discuss, and energy use.

In terms of energy use overall, HS2 is also a bit of an environmental failure: trains running at 300km/h use more energy per passenger than a 737 it is argued, and unlike the low cost budget boeing operators, off peak traffic will be run at well under capacity. You can argue that of course by 2030 it will be clean electricity, but so far the politico-economic stream is not going fast enough that way - domestic gas may start to become uneconomic by 2030 meaning a consumer market driven mass conversion to electricity.

But do we actually need to travel at 180mph and 140 mph average journey speeds from the north west of england to London?  HS2 is planned along the TGV solution - straighter new build lines, dedicated to the single use train types. However do we need this reduction in journey time, particularly on the Shorter Manchester and Birmingham to London stretches? Is there a true cost benefit?

We already have train and track which can hold 125mph average speeds over significant stretches of the west-coast-main-line and technology is in place for 140mph over some stretches. However that is given a less conjested WCML. The issue is that there is conjestion, especially at the southern end. More on that in a later blog.

Train times on HS2 could mean a sub one hour to Birmingham south and under two hours to Manchester. Is this not offering a Ferrari for motorway users, paid for by the state, when in fact a Vectra diesel is a more sensible solution totally acceptable to the punter ? Rail already outcompetes road to Manchester at least for business travelling at peak hours due to the unbelievable M6-M5 conjestion. Also rail actually outcompetes flight total travel timings, given you are not doing business at Heathrow itself, because of the connection time from the plane's pier to city centre transport hubs and the slower progress due to heavier security.

Another issue to take here is that these journey times pose a social dilema. HS2 is supposed to aid business travellers in pendling their wares in the SE of England and raising finance there. However their employees, the brightest types, can find that they can suddenly commute to far higher salaried jobs in London and the SE while still maintaining a family life in the North. Also those employees who find themselves working long hours on business trips south and working in addition on the train, may decide to snap the elastic and follow the well trodden path to riches in moving down south.

On the point of "business people travel behaviour" what does the north east offer the central and western business districts of London which become so attractive with HS2? Do we not have indpenedent, Northern traders operating purely on electronic connection to the stock exchange and other financial markets in London ?In my experience business people from the NW are travelling indeed to the SE but are visiting clients in the home counties, with connection and taxi times from proposed HS2 Terminii of well over an hour. The wise money has always been on an evening drive to a Hotel in the shires and a sporadic bombing raid on company HQs and SMEs in the SE in places like Slough, Swindon, Essex and Basingstoke.

Also intra-route: do you not create a generation of job hoppers who jump at the first opportunity on the new Leeds-Manchester-Birmingham route rather than building solid experience in their home cities? Do we not also link thousands more into a bigger environmental footprint than 20 mile commuting by car ?

So far no one has talked about that key element in any private provision, so lacking in the 1990s reail privatisation, and that is competition on the HS2 route. That is because there will not be any. There will be a main operator under license and passenger service requirement contract, and Eurostar. Therefore we will see pricing with strange elasticity: there will be a creaming policy for the volume who are steadily committed to the new route and this is a viscious circle because without competition, there is no incentive to gain volume beyond a certain point of this creaming.

No, HS2 is folly and the money could be far better used elsewhere as I will blogg shortly.

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