Posted 14th September 2021 | 5 Comments

HS2 minister defends high speed line

HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson has assured MPs that HS2 'is going full steam ahead', although he made no comment about the future of the eastern leg, which some reports claim is being on the verge of being abandoned. Mr Stephenson was speaking at the end of a debate in Westminster Hall last night, which was prompted by a public petition calling for the complete project to be scrapped, and which was signed by more than 155,000 people.

Mr Stephenson continued: 'I know that HS2 is a project that inspires strong feelings on all sides, as all major infrastructure projects do. All right hon. and hon. Members present know that the Government carefully considered the merits of proceeding with HS2, which has almost certainly been subject to more parliamentary scrutiny than any other infrastructure project. Our firm conclusion was that HS2 should go ahead, and it is now progressing, as I have outlined. In setting out the decision to proceed, we made a clear commitment to draw a line under past problems. This is a once-in-a-generation major infrastructure project that will shape this country for well over 100 years.'

Earlier in the debate, a number of members had repeated their opposition to HS2. The Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford Yvette Cooper said: 'I am one of those who are deeply sceptical about the value for money of this project. I can think of considerable other ways to invest that money that would have a much stronger economic benefit. On the impact of the covid pandemic, has the Minister considered the long-term impact of the growing use of Zoom, electronic communications and so on? Surely any sensible Government would look at the impact of that on business travel [and] commuter travel.'

However, others disagreed. The Conservative member for High Peak Robert Largan said: ' HS2 is probably the most poorly explained and poorly understood policy in our national discourse. Over the past decade, a series of myths have been perpetuated about it, by a combination of muddled thinking and the efforts of well-funded self-interest groups. I therefore welcome this opportunity to address some of those myths head-on.

'HS2 has never been simply about shaving 30 minutes off journey times down to London. It has always been about tackling the capacity challenge on the country’s most important strategic railway, the west coast main line. If we were to cancel HS2 and do nothing, within a few years this most vital artery of our entire national railway network would quite simply grind to a halt, causing huge damage to our economy, especially in the north and midlands. I have seen many people claim that the internet and remote working will take care of this problem all by itself, ignoring the fact that—excluding the period of the pandemic—rail passenger figures have gone up in every single year since the internet was invented. They also ignore the issue of rail freight. I am all for harnessing technology, but with the best will in the world we cannot deliver millions of tonnes of goods via Zoom. We are already seeing the consequences of being overly reliant on road haulage, with the problems being caused by the shortage of continental HGV drivers. A failure to invest in our rail freight capacity would only make this situation worse.

'Let us give the anti-HS2 lobby the benefit of the doubt, taking their absolute worst-case scenarios on both costings and completion date at face value. Doing that, we would be looking at spending just over £5 billion a year; to provide some context, that is about half of what we spend on overseas aid. It is a lot of money, but investing around 0.25 per cent of our GDP every year for a limited period to fix the most important railway network in our country is hardly disproportionate.' There was no vote at the end of the debate.

Reader Comments:

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

  • Michael, Reading

    Railway maps are Not Geographical. The lines printed on paper display the A to B stations with intermediate stations.
    HS2 should be shown on maps (non geographical...) to be directly parallel to the WCML from Euston to Birmingham. It would be a straight line with one singular station at Old Oak Common. The bubble would not show any interchange with the other WCML paths.
    People, daft English Gammons and Spooners would then see Euston to Birmingham (et al)... the left line having one bubble OOC station, the middle of three lines would have the major calling stations, and the right line of the three would have the 'milk run' - list of every station along the route.
    It would then be VISUALLY CLEAR to everyone of how HS2 is just a simple basic adding two additional railway tracks (one up and one down).
    This is also Extremely short sighted because by the time HS2 actually opens - capacity will be beyond maximum paths.
    HS2 envisioned in the 1990s, designed in for passenger traffic of the 1980s, with the limited scope, vision, expandability of the 1970s.
    HS2 should have been built with Quad (Four) tracks. If they actually believe only two would be needed, only lay two tracks. The space, tunnels, viaducts, etc... should have the ability to add an extra two tracks over a weekend.
    China totally replaced the quad track, and made the duo to quad track from Beijing to Harbin (a distance greater than London to Scotland)... in ELEVEN HOURS. The massively scaled back WCML up-date of new track, OHLE, signalling etc... took over a Dozen YEARS.
    The entire HS2 route should be on viaducts. The cost to purchase/lease the one by one metre square base of each pillar is FAR LESS costly than having to pay the NIMBYs the grease their palms money padded into the budget to make such occur. Compulsory Purchase! LOL
    The entire footprint of HS2 or any new build railway does NOT have to be purchased. Just the small patchwork pillar bases. Crops can still be planted, harvested. Animals can still graze the lands. The Ancient (makes me laugh that word) as Ancient woodland, trees - should have trees etc greater than at least 1000 years. The only vintage trees are a few 300, 400 year old Oak trees! Every square mm of land in England as we see it today has been created to look the way it looks.

  • andrew ganley, surrey

    The Government should be spending money on more Hospitals, tackling the chronic housing shortage, doing more to tackle rising crime instead of this vanity project that will destroy natural habitats on a nationwide scale oh and when finished will get no further than Birmingham!

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Yes, we need to invest for future needs, but :-

    Is combining additional capacity with very high speed (VHS) on the same line always the best policy ?

    Does it make sense to create VHS infrastructue on routes which are too short for a significant benefit ? On shorter conventional lines, the journey time is often still competitive with aviation and can offer day- return journeys, resulting in market domination by rail already.

    Would it be more sense if VHS lines and capacity relief be sometimes separately applied in dedicated ways rather than building compromise lines ? The original Tokyo - Osaka and Paris - Lyons VHS lines happened to be justified on both speed and capacity grounds, but such coincidences are not automatic.

  • Melvyn , Canvey Island Essex

    The MP for High Peak complains about mis-information then goes onto quote mis- information instead of saying that HS2 will save an hour on London to Manchester journeys when fully built thus almost cutting journey time in half !

    This debate arose from a petition that just got over 150,000 signatures not exactly many out of 70 million population!

    We even had calls to have a new vote one from a Brexiteer who would soon complain if someone demanded a new vote on EU membership….

    Anyway construction continues with the first tunnel now about a mile long .

    As for the eastern leg well when that was proposed their was no Northern Powerhouse Rail project and therefore where the east to west line will go will depend on work to combine both projects

  • David Stephen Briggs, White - British

    Mr Stephenson hasn't even personally studied HS2's own business plan. Had he done so (and understood it) he would know what is contained in that plan. For example, a thing called 'released capacity', HS2's name for cuts to existing rail services to help pay for it, and that the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) doesn't include the two primary cost elements, these being the Capital Finance Costs (the cot of borrowing the money) and the compensation costs to those losing land and/or property to it. He should also know that HS2 still has no revenue projections that can be realistically substantiated, and, of course, nobody still knows what the enormous cost of construction will eventually be. Not very impressive. He should get his excuse ducks in a row sooner rather than later for when Phase 2 is, at last, thankfully scrapped.

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