Posted 30th October 2013 | 8 Comments

'Threat to HS2 is a threat to Midlands and North'

Patrick McLoughlin

Patrick McLoughlin: "We can’t build for the future by ripping the existing network to bits. It would just be a giant bodge up."

THE transport secretary has attempted to stem the rising tide of opposition to HS2 by setting out the Government's priorities in a keynote speech.

Patrick McLoughlin was addressing an HS2 conference in Manchester, having just revealed a revised business case for the line. This shows a slightly lower cost benefit ratio of 2.3 -- down from 2.5 -- by the mid 2030s, but he also pointed out that this could almost double by 2049 if allowance is made for continuing passenger growth.

The BCR change is being mainly attributed to the addition of a further £10 billion contingency allowance by the Treasury earlier this year, but also to the fact that the Department has withdrawn its earlier claim that faster journey times would be more productive partly because people do not work while travelling, a view which had been widely criticised as unrealistic.

Opponents are continuing to reject the Government's case for the line, urging alternative upgrades to the existing network instead. Labour, too, is continuing to show signs of wavering, and some reports suggest that the Opposition could be poised to withhold its support when a 'Paving Bill' intended to authorise further HS2 expenditure comes before MPs tomorrow (31 October).

Network Rail chief executive David Higgins will move to take charge of the Government's high speed rail development company HS2 Ltd early next year. He has gained a reputation for straight speaking and is expected to provide new backbone to the project. Speaking in his present role, he has warned repeatedly that the mainly Victorian rail network cannot cope with the expected growth, and that a 'make do and mend' approach will not be enough.

The transport secretary – who originates from Cannock in Staffordshire and is MP for Derbyshire Dales – told his audience in Manchester that: “Any threat to the new line is a threat to the Midlands and to the North.”

He added: “HS2 is a multi-year, multi-billion investment in the future of Britain. Did anyone say there would be a blank cheque for it? Of course not. We will see more than £2 paid back for every £1 invested – and with David Higgins in charge we will do better.”

Pointing out that rail passenger totals have doubled in the past 20 years, and that work is still to be done at Watford Junction next year on the West Coast Main Line, the transport secretary said: “Quick fix alternatives don’t work.” 

In the next five-year Control Period, which starts in April, Network Rail would spend £37 billion on the existing railway, he said, and for the next Parliament the Government had set a transport budget of £73 billion – “of which HS2 accounts for less than a third".

Speaking of alternative upgrading of the East Coast, Midland and West Coast Main Lines, Mr McLoughlin said it would mean route closures at weekends for 14 years, as well as new sections of bypass line at key points, which would cause their own disruption.

“This is not an alternative, it is an impossibility,” he declared. “We can’t build for the future by ripping the existing network to bits. It would just be a giant bodge up.”

The transport secretary also maintained that the frequently-cited benefit cost ratio calculations were 'not the most important thing' because they failed take account of many other factors. And he explained that the standard way of calculating BCR did not take account of any growth three years beyond completion of a project. “But if growth does continue, the BCR could be as high as 4.5,” he said.

Pointing out that £16 billion was already being invested in Crossrail and £6 billion in Thameslink, Mr McLoughlin added: “You don’t see London media correspondents criticising that.”

Earlier, HS2 technical director Professor Andrew McNaughton had said all cost estimates were based on 'a worst credible case' – but he expected that contractors in the supply chain, working with a programme spread over many years, would invest in innovation and skills so that costs would be reduced.

Douglas Oakervee, the outgoing chairman of HS2 Ltd, said the budget for phase one of the line from London to Lichfield, including a spur line to Birmingham city centre, was set at £17.6 billion, and he was 'not interested' in any of the £14.4 billion contingency that the Treasury had insisted should be added.

Text of speech in full
Statement to Parliament, 29 October

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Steve, Kuwait City

    Yeah right, missing out on HS2 is such a threat because clearly it has been planned since well before time, given the lack of suitable terminal space at Birmingham, given that the turnout from this location for the Y is still massively unclear, given that from Euston to North of London is still a capacity problem, given that, despite ANTI, PRO, Neutral, whatever, it is still by far and away the most expensive railway per mile in the world without good reason. David Cameron today accuses non-supporters of a 'lack of vision'...Why now? Why not ten, fifteen years ago? Oh that's right...making good money and able to get away with not maintaining track and killing people (Ladbroke Grove) or destroying BR in the same way (single lead junctions etc.) . Why trust them now? Yes...that's right....there is no good reason. They will only get richer and make travel more like flying acorss 200 miles. Don't let them do it!

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    "Travelling at 140mph as Pendolinos were designed to do, would reduce this to 53 minutes, only 5 minutes slower than HS2 at MUCH LESS cost."

    Which is correct if you don't count massacring the local services to make way for 140mph services as a cost. I do.

    "Diverting non-stop Birmingham-London passenger trains or North/South freight trains via a reinstated Great Central railway from Rugby would answer the capacity problem"

    Which I estimate would cost about £12bn when you factor in all the hidden extras, particularly how you get the trains between Aylesbury and London.

    "Another two coaches can be added to Pendolinos to increase capacity without having to alter platform lengths. "

    You men extending 9 coaches to 11? Already done that. 11 to 13? Requires an expensive and disruptive rebuilding of Euston.

    "Trains leaving Euston in the evening peak now are only 60% full on average so there is still 40% to fill before capacity is a problem with current train lengths."

    Or, more accurately, *Virgin* trains leaving in the evening peak average 60% full. London Midland services averaged 94% full the last time I checked, and that goes up to 162% on the 18:13.

    "Introduction of IEP at 140mph would reduce this to 90 minutes with a 30% increase in seats per train."

    Intercity 225s are already capable of running at 140mph. They don't, because it's impossible to timetable it in without cutting local stops and local services. That won't change just because you replace the Intercity rolling stock.

  • Deltic08, Upnorth

    The whole HS2 plan is a dogs dinner. Apart from Euston, non of the stations offer interchange and connectivity with the rest of the rail system. What good is that if a bus/tram/taxi is required to connect two sites in Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds** before you can finish your journey. The route is miles away from Sheffield, Derby and Nottingham city centres.Time saved on HS2 is lost here.
    Time saved to Birmingham is only a few minutes. Non stop trains from New Street to Euston can complete the journey in the hour. Travelling at 140mph as Pendolinos were designed to do, would reduce this to 53 minutes, only 5 minutes slower than HS2 at MUCH LESS cost.
    Diverting non-stop Birmingham-London passenger trains or North/South freight trains via a reinstated Great Central railway from Rugby would answer the capacity problem. That would remove 3 trains an hour from the West Coast route south of Rugby. Another two coaches can be added to Pendolinos to increase capacity without having to alter platform lengths. Trains leaving Euston in the evening peak now are only 60% full on average so there is still 40% to fill before capacity is a problem with current train lengths.
    In 1989 it was possible to travel from York to Kings Cross non stop in 100 minutes. To-day this has eased to 110 minutes but with improvements such as Hitchin and North Doncaster flyovers and reduction in daytime freight by diverting via Lincoln and the proposed reinstated Northallerton-Harrogate-Wetherby-Church Fenton line to Doncaster times could be restored to 100 minutes again. Introduction of IEP at 140mph would reduce this to 90 minutes with a 30% increase in seats per train. HS2 to York will be exactly the same, 90 minutes. All that is required is a new line constructed for 140mph running between Darlington and Newcastle, a Morpeth bypass and selected places between Berwick and Dunbar and that would give a London Newcastle time of 2 hours and London Edinburgh of just over 3 hours and much sooner and much less than 50 billion and that would allow slower freight and passenger trains to use the old routes increasing capacity.

    (**Not so. Leeds South Bank HS2 station (itself quite central) may be connected to the present station by a moving walkway, under present plans. Manchester HS2 will be alongside Piccadilly station, and Birmingham HS2 will be effectively next door to Moor Street and about 5mins walk to New Street -- no longer than many interchanges on London Underground now. Sheffield HS2 at Meadowhall would need a tram to the city centre, but the present main station in Sheffield is some distance from the real centre too. Many connections could be made at Meadowhall itself -- by heavy rail to Doncaster, for example, and it is also close to the M1. Old Oak Common will provide direct interchange with Crossrail, while Birmingham Interchange will be close to the present Birmingham International and also Birmingham Airport. A people mover system is proposed here, along the lines of those already used to link terminals at airports like London Gatwick and Stansted.--Editor)

  • Lutz, London

    There is a lot of criticism of the BCR model, but this is essential in determining the optimum allocation of limited resources; it came out of the post-war years when we were essentially broke, and it will become critical again as the next wave of the financial crisis breaks.

    As it stands, I do not think that there is adequate justification for the project; I also think the funds would be better spent on commuter projects such as Crossrail2, the Manchester Hub, and other such projects.

    The issue of demand out growing capacity on the InterCity services could probably be addressed by withdrawal of the likes of Student Travel cards on these services.

    (Pricing people off trains to contain demand? How very British Rail!--Editor.)

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    Well the reading of the HS2 bill was passed with support of 10 to 1 in its favour with those against simply trotting out the same arguments none of which answer questions about rail capacity .

    But the craziest thing was that amendments were placed by antis that limited costs of preparation for HS 2 at £50 BILLION that's right simply to draw up plans for railway without building a single centimetre !

    The project gained full party support from Labour and even SNP MP was supportive of HS2 with talk of an announcement re Scotland due tomorrow (1/11) so will have to see what this amounts to!

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    jak the lad, it's quite simple. Other countries dealt with increasing rail traffic by building more lines, high speed and otherwise, to accommodate them. The UK deals with it by piling more and more trains on to the same lines, and relying on increasingly complicated signalling to squeeze in every last available train path.

    And, somewhat unsurprisingly, the UK - having gone the cheapest on rail infrastructure - also has the least reliable network. But, hey, that's just a co-incidence, if StopHS2 are to be believed.

  • jak the lad, sutton

    Instead of the fixation of HS2 you should be doing something about the daily
    disaster that is NetWork Rail and the huge gravy train that is their sub-contracting,just go on to the National Rail Site and check out the daily catalogue of signal failures,and the useless performance of the TOC s who throw the towel in at every opportunity not to do what they are paind vast sums of money to do,run trains!

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    Surely this argument of whether people work or don't work on a train is a diversion and nonsense as the only thing that counts is they are ON A TRAIN! And with rail passenger numbers almost double those of 30 years ago it shows that rail use is growing and ways to cope with this growth are needed !

    Of course upgrades , reinstatement of tracks removed and new flyovers or tunnels will help but just like roads got motorways then rail deserves its own new lines and just like the original lines led to higher speeds the same applies for new lines built to 21st Century standards .

    While some people seem to think re-opening old lines like the Great Central Railway will do, the fact is these lines often have the same constraints as the existing network and in reality don't even still exist in many places!

    David Higgins should look at whether HS2 should be built as a single project as Lord Adonis has advocated even if legislation is split over two parliaments.