Posted 4th February 2011 | 38 Comments

High Speed 2 is ‘£17bn white elephant’

A NEW report published today condemns the project to build a High Speed line between London, the West Midlands and the north of England as a ‘£17 billion white elephant’. The report comes from the Taxpayers Alliance, which opposes HS2 on cost grounds and has recruited a former BR senior manager to make its case.

Chris Stokes, who was deputy director at Network SouthEast and later worked as deputy franchising director in the 1990s, has rebutted the case made in favour of the line by the government and Greengauge21.

He maintains that the business case is based on unlikely levels of demand, and that the West Coast Main Line (pictured) could cope for many years to come with a combination of longer trains and better yield management, which spreads demand in peak times so that fewer trains are so crowded that passengers have to stand.

He also points out that another factor is the already high standard of conventional intercity services in Britain, which are better than conventional services in other countries were before their High Speed lines were built.

He says that the only distance in Britain which might justify High Speed trains is between London and the Scottish central belt, but that the demand on this corridor alone would not be enough to justify the investment.

Even between London and Birmingham, each minute saved would cost more than £500 million, he claims.

Mr Stokes said: “The business case for HS2 hasn’t been made and relies on a number of assumptions that are optimistic, in some cases to an incredible degree. And the Department for Transport have promised before that they wouldn’t justify major new capital investment on the basis of overly optimistic projections for demand, but they have done exactly that in this case. The need for new capacity can be better served with longer and more frequent trains on the existing quick InterCity service, which wouldn’t need anything like the same subsidy. HS2 should be cancelled.”

Reaction has yet to come in from most sources, including the DfT, but ATOC has already disagreed with Mr Stokes' conclusions.

A spokesman said: “High speed rail forms an important part of ensuring that the UK can meet the transport challenges the country will face in the future.

“Demand for rail travel is expected to double in the coming decades and intercity routes are beginning to fill up as more and more people choose to travel by train.  A new high speed line, alongside sustained investment in the existing network, is key if we are to meet the significant growth in passenger numbers that is expected in the years ahead.”

Reader Comments:

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

  • Miles Prower, London

    I am startled that HS2 will having trains running on it at a max. speed of 250mph

    Japan and China are currently developing rail networks with trains running at over 300mph

    Given construction of HS2 is not even due to start until 2017 (and I can see it being delayed until after the completion of Crossrail in 2018), why are building such a slow 'high-speed' railway.

    Travelling at 300+ mph rather than 250 would allow Heathrow to be taken in and journey times between London and Birmingham to be reduced...but the benefits will really grow as and when the line is extended further

  • Keith Goldthorpe, Worcester, UK

    My son-in-law commutes for several days of the week to London from Worcester and this service is dreadful. It needs upgrading as it is now much slower than several years ago. Perhaps the same applies to services to the South West and to South Wales. Another relative commutes to London from Lincolnshire. The service is good, quite quick, even though it cannot be classed as 'high speed'. Obviously, there is no need to upgrade this line. What does seem to be required in most areas is greater capacity at certain times and an overhaul/ refurbishment to the existing systems to reduce travel times to acceptable levels. A much cheaper and more widely appreciated strategy? Surely, this is where money should be spent and not on a single rapid transport system which seems to have so many drawbacks that it is not worth rational consideration. Please note : I don't live in the Chilterns!

  • Norm, Holy Face, England

    Whilst I am very pro rail, I can't help thinking that a joined up plan from the goverment & rail authorities could have joined onto the Chiltern upgrade to electrfy it and upgrade it to 125.

    That would have allowed some Birmingham trains to be taken away from Euston enabling extra paths to Glasgow.

    At the same time MML could be 4 tracked electrified and upgraded to 125, including the Erewash valley and Sheffield trains extended to Leeds, thereby freeing up paths at KX for Edingburg services which combined with an upgrade to the Leamside line could have reduced G & E times to KX & Eu to make rail an alternative to short haul air.

    As has been noted above what would help greatly would be if IC225 's and 390's were allowed to run at their design speed.

    Of couse it doesn't help not having one body running our railways.

  • Mark, Exeter

    I'm sure all the arguements against HS2 were probable made against the WCML when it was originally built, is anyone suggesting that was a bad idea? Railways are long term investments, it could last 500 years we have to look to the future not just 20 yrs ahead.

  • Claydon William, Norwich, Norfolk

    HS2 has been the victim already of 'project creep'; i.e; losing focus on why we're building it in the first place.

    If HS2 gets journey times from London to our Northern and large Scottish cities down to around/under 3 hours, then maybe just maybe in 2 decades time we can abolish domestic British jet aviation and drastically reduce our carbon emissions.

    This should remain the sole policy aim of HS2 IMO, and shut up all those selfish nimbies who can't see further than the end of their noses.

  • Peter Davidson, Alderley Edge, NW.England

    The Tax Payers Alliance is renowned for its implacable opposition to any publicly funded scheme bearing the potential to significantly improve the overall quality of public goods. They are ideologically wedded to a low tax, small (and permanently reducing) state sector. In a way they reflect the rabid, right of centre worldview displayed by the USA's Tea Party, summed up neatly by the old adage, Private Affluence/Public Squalor.

    Many ask why the route only goes up to Manchester/Leeds (if you include phase 2) rather than all the way to Scotland. There's a simple answer to this query; cost!!! It would be great if a fully comprehensive UK HSR network could be announced and constructed in double quick time to link most communities into a 21st century rail network but the sheer cost precludes this big bang approach - we simply can't afford to eat the elephant all at once so the logical strategy is to extend from what is already in-situ and link to the next biggest centres of population, ie. customers, which is Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, in order to maximise commercial returns on the large investment costs involved.

    Some implore renewed investment in the existing lines as an alternative to HS2. This conveniently avoids the fact that more than 95% of HS2's undoubtedly large budget is for future use, the best part of ten years from now, so this really has no direct bearing on current refurbishment/upgrade schemes affecting the existing network.

    In addition, critical analysis of alternative investment strategies - see Atkins report referred to in the article - demonstrate poorer returns and crucially involve massive disruption during implementation. In stark contrast HS2's use of a virgin route, avoids 99% of any disruption impact!

    Finally HSR is NOT an exclusively domestic (UK only) project - modal shift (from rail to air) on a significant scale will only occur once credible alternatives to existing short-haul intra-European airborne services are in place. The HS2/HS1 link is vital in this respect. HS2 doesn't really work if the primary goal is to link two UK cities only 160km distant but it will function effectively as a mechanism to persuade the large target audiences currently filling flights out of Birmingham, Manchester, East Midlands, Robin Hood (Doncaster) and Leeds/Bradford airports to a variety of mainland Europe destinations to switch from air to rail. This in large part also explains the desire for speed (which will actually be approx 320km/h, rather than the 400km/h widely reported). People will only switch from air to rail if overall journey times are reasonably comparable?

    In short HS2 is a the most effective 21st century solution to a growing capacity
    problem, universally acknowledged by all transport analysts. We should ignore the siren voices of a few self-interested (by proximity) protestors and do what is best for the many millions who will benefit from this long term investment

  • Malcolm Tunley, Derby, England

    The need for additional capacity between the major centres of business cannot be denied however, it cannot be provided by a so called high-speed railway as current UK approved point systems which are a vital component of a rail line are restricted to a maximum speed of 125 mph.

    A 140 mph point system design has been restricted to 125 mph in the UK as the high maintenance cost of providing the track quality capable of reliably operating at such speeds was not supported by Railtrack/Network Rail.

    Until such time as track quality (safety) can be provided the introduction of high-speed rail travel in the UK is not possible.

    Investment in slab rack systems similar to Dutch railways is the only feasible means of providing a high-speed line.

    Until such time the maximum speed that can be safely provided on UK track is 125 mph and that is fine if the number of stops between centres is reduced.

  • nick, welwyn

    it is interesting that most of the anti hs2 comments on here which state the many reasons why apparently we should not have hs2 are from people along the line of the route.

    if the main reason for objection is that people in the area believe that it will cause too much disruption and reduction of countryside that is fine. but to be honest and to misquote stophs2, the anti hs2 comments just dont add up !

    can we please agree to stop using the white elephant quote it really is very boring and adds nothing to the debate !

    every train that uses hs2 will save nearly 40 minutes between london and birmingham whilst at the same time providing much needed freight and passenger capacity on the existing lines.

    london to birmingham manchester leeds etc is the most sensible route as current lines cannot handle present and future demand and these are the main centres of population. scotland makes its own decisions now with the money that comes from central government.

    and the business case does not become invalid no matter how many times you say it. there is also no proof that evryone will work from home and that no-one will travel in the future. how are you going to control it and who is going to decide who is allowed to travel ???

  • Sam Smith, Bristol, Great Britain

    According to an earlier story ATOC are claiming passenger figures are up to figures last seen in the 1920's. The network based on those figures must be pretty over loaded today when you take into account the number of closures that have taken place between the 1920's and today.

    Increasing rail capacity should be a wider church encompassing line reopenings and improvements (electrification on the GW to Swansea would be a good start) as well as HS2. HS2 should be part of wider group of investments in the rail network but even if HS2 isn't partnered with greater investment for rail, it doesn't make HS2 a white elephant.

  • H Harvey, Birmingham

    A new report!!! This is almost a repeat of his episodes already published in at least one rail periodical and now the suspect Taxpayers Alliance (WHO FUNDS THEM) have paid him a few bob.

    Taxpayers Alliance are noted as being populist pro road and only fools and disciples listen to what they have to say. Taxpayers Alliance would shut down all UK rail lines excepting those from which they benefit. showing that Mr Stokes(ex SRA is nothing short of prepared to many who would tell any story or sell their Granny for a £1.

    If you paid anyone a high enough fee most would say whatever they thought their paymasters wanted to hear.
    He simply feeds the enemies of rail if he believes his (sorry their) propoganda.
    In the business I was in there were who sold themselves as experts but were recognised as - 'ex' as in eggs that crack easily and 'spurt' as in drip to the many who knew them. You jnow the sort that borrow your watch to tell you the time.
    After this grouse I shall sit down and compose a response from this 'eggspurt' but probably just as accurate and factual as many consultants but unlike a consultants free.

  • David Wells, York, UK

    The sensible thing this government have done is linked HS2 to HS1 so its not about linking Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to London its about linking them to the Paris, Brussels and beyond. Whilst we do have good Inter City services the problem is that you always have to change in London. I actually think HS2 should have started at Gatwick as this would have taken traffic from the M25 and relieved pressure on First Capital Connect and Southern services into the capital and allowed a seamless journey north.

  • John Buckeridge, Woodford Halse, England

    Not just a £16bn white elephant, but a potential £32bn jumbo vanity project.

  • Sam Green, Bournemouth, UK

    What is astonishing in this report that there is no mention of rail freight and freight benefits to the north of England.I assume there is freight on HS1.As the two will be linked presumbly there will be freight on HS2.Both lines have the advantage of accomodating European gauge wagons which have the advantage over British wagons of carrying wider and larger loads from the continent.Surely bringing more economic benefits to the north than only passenegers!

  • Lucio Buffone, London

    Rent a quote 'Tax Payers Alliance' spouting rubbish again. A bunch of people unhappy with any subsidy of the railways, but suddenly quiet when the true cost of air pollution to the British taxpayer is ever brought up.

  • Gary, Manchester, UK

    I myself am somewhat " sat on the fence " on this......we already have 3 main lines running South to North from London, and I m somewhat of the opinion that removing the current physical bottlenecks ( such as Newark flat junction on the East Coast ) and implementing new signalling technology will free up capacity. Its also seems somewhat ironic that newer stock like Pendolinos can run at 140mph, but are limited ( rightly so for safety reasons just now ) by the ability of the Network to do so.

    On the other hand, a new straight line with grade separated junctions would deliver much improved journey times between for example, London and Manchester/Leeds. In effect it would become a commuter route, which judging by the overcrowding and very high density around the London area, may not be a bad thing.

  • George, Luton

    £17 billion could pay for building new lines that were closed (such as the East-West rail link between Oxford and Cambridge), better stations and new trains which are desperately needed.

    I agree with the quote in the article "the only distance in Britain which might justify High Speed trains is between London and the Scottish central belt, but that the demand on this corridor alone would not be enough to justify the investment."

    But £17 billion could make our network that much better, the money needs to be used more effectively and I think people need to sort their priorities out, whether making more journeys accessible, quicker and easier or travelling at high speeds leaving the rest of the network dilapidated. Trains in this country don't need to go above 150mph as the distances between stations would not allow any increase in journey times.

  • eileen, Kenilworth, England

    Yes - we 'invented' railways .... and closed them. Yes - we 'invented' canals ... and let them rot. AND YES we left behind acres of devastated countryside in the process which has taken further millions to re-instate.

    We have a good rail network at present which could be improved to provide a service to match any perceived 'increased demand' ... without any disruption and at a very small cost to the tax payer.

    Please take your hands off one of the diminishing number of really good things our present generation can leave to our grandchildren and greatgrandchildren - an unpolluted green and pleasant countryside.

  • Alan, Fareham

    Of course we need to invest in railways, and plan for growth in demand, but we have a history of just dealing with crisis management, on both road and rail. In true tradition we will probably spend 10 years having costly enquiries before deciding we cannot afford the project as happened with a relatively minor tram system from here to Gosport/Portsmouth, on which £7m was spent on planning etc. The idea that non drivers subsidise roads is a bit wide of the mark, as motorists pay £2bn a month in fuel duty alone, without VAT and road tax, and only a tiny fraction of this is spent on roads. A mile of motorway could be argued to produce millions of pounds a year in taxation thus returning a healthy profit on the "investment". I am completely pro-rail and use it more than my car, but am annoyed that as a motorist I cannot even drive on roads I pay for (bus lanes) and am in that respect subsidising the likes of First and Stagecoach to run their profitable businesses. Sadly the old railway to Gosport that was to become a tram route,ope is now being made into a road - for buses only, and paid for by all the residents of Hampshire bus users or not. Now that is subsidy.

  • nick, welwyn gc

    on greengauge 21 they have already debunked chris stokes allegations concisely. and why the obsession with the max speed of hs2 when everyone knows that the main purpose of hs2 is to increase maximum capacity of the railway

  • Gordonoir, Seattle, USA

    I suspect that everyone who reads this site is supportive of railways and the rail industry in the UK. However, that support should not be unconditional. Realistically, the greatest improvements in speed & journey times leading to a larger market share for trains versus planes is on investment between Central Scotland and Crewe. There is a much greater travel time savings on a Glasgow-London trip if a new line in the north is built first than will be achieved between London and Birmingham with phase I of the HS2 line as proposed. The train also has a major market share between London and Birmingham, which is not the case between London and Glasgow, which is dominated by air travel. It would appear that a stronger case could be made to invert the proposed investment and start in the north first and then work south. Was that ever considered? It seems that rail supporters are so focused on any rail investment that their ability to see that replacing a rail link that is already pretty good with one that will be just fractionally better is not a wise investment. Let's not forget politicians' egos in this, either. Building HS2 might be sexy: electrification, platform lengthening and new rolling-stock for existing services might provide more value and provide improvements across the entire network but does not quite have the cache and bragging rights of a dedicated high speed line. By committing only to phase one of a high-speed network, the coalition government also risks reinforcing a SE England economic domination and the possibility of the UK having not a high speed network but merely two lines - Kent-London and London-Birmingham. Absent any timetable to create a true network, as in France, Spain, Germany or Japan, every rail supporter should be deeply troubled by this current proposal as lacking vision and, potentially, flawed in its business case.

  • Chris, Kenilworth

    The solution to HS2 is longer trains and much higher fares on the WCML - what a brilliant long term solution, why was that never considered? ...Oh, it was? And shown to be just as stupid as it sounds? Thought so.

  • David Garnett, Manchester

    Why does any one pay any attention to anythig put out by the Taxpayers Alliance?

  • Slip Digby, Manchester

    Firstly, in general terms take anything the Taxpayers Alliance churn out in terms of research with a pinch of salt. Their recent report on road tax contributions was half baked (including the network effect of high levels of motoring infrastructure as a benefit whilst effectively disregarding the significant and costed negative externalities such as noise pollution, community severance, etc), They are very much pushing a low-tax economically liberal agenda behind the facet of populist statements such as cutting waste and promoting efficiency in the public sector.

    However in this instance, the report by Chris Stokes raises some fairly significant and noticeable issues with the economic justifications and analysis being used by parties arguing for HS2. I for one am very surprised that the DfT still utilise what looks like the simplistic Cost savings model to quantify the value of journey time savings. The Hensher model (and derivatives thereof) has been around since the 1970's and does factor in the value of "useful" time spent travelling. The evidence for High speed rail enabling economic rebalancing of the North and Midlands is indeed fairly weak, especially considering the chronically weak nature of local transport that people will presumably have to utilise to get to/from their nearest HS2 station. Environmentally the evidence regarding modal shift from air and road is marginal, especially considering the much greater gains that could be made in this area by funding improvements to regional and sub regional alternatives to the private car. Indeed a growth in travel by high speed rail through induced demand and switching from slower (but greener) rail services could have a significant negative effect.

    But as always it is useful to remember that politics is just the art of the possible. Dangling a big shiny carrot in the middle distance is always going to entice people into supporting it as a "good thing" and an easy solution to myriad difficult problems that other approaches have previously failed to resolve. Unfortunately this does rather leave more considered and rational analysis outside in the cold.

  • Katharine Stephenson, Prestwood, United Kingdom

    The reality is that even if the first leg of this route is built, between London and Birmingham, the cosy political concensus on which this project is wholly dependent will have broken down. We already see signs of Labour beginning to question the economics of HS2. If it is ever built, then the most likely scenario will be that it will never reach beyond Birmingham and will be a stand alone vanity project. Even the rail engineers working out the route disagree with the preferred route chosen by the government. Just in case you think every other country but ours is in love with high speed rail, you might be interested to hear that in Stuttgart there have been massive demonstrations against the extension of high speed rail beyond the city precisely because the money to finish the line is not guaranteed. This is public money and we need to have proper democratic debate about how it is being used.

  • Epsom Salts, Epsom

    This line will do little to reduce Co2 from short haul airlines and nothing to increase speed and reduce congestion on commuter lines into London. It will save very little time to Birmingham and to be viable will need extending to Manchester/Leeds /Newcastle and Scotland. This will add even more to the £17bn price tag. The link to Heathrow makes some limited sense but since the airport is full and the runway has been cancelled [despite the operational problems this causes] airport capacity will still have to be provided elsewhere at locations NOT connected to the HST network [ eg regional airports and/or Gatwick/Stansted/Thames Gateway]. Some further thought is required in my view. Who will pay for the line - I suspect the public sector borrowing - as it may not be economically viable for decades.

  • Patrick, London, England

    No wonder progress takes so long in this country when you have people making silly comments like this! I bet there were similar reports when the original railways were built or when the motorways were constructed.
    We need a high speed rail network for many many reasons. It has proved successful in other countries, many of whom are either currently constructing or are planning more high speed lines. We invented the train and it is now time we joined in with the high speed rail revolution!

  • Sandy, Castle Douglas, Scotland

    A High Speed line to Birmingham only is a waste of time,there are already a choice of 2 rail routes and 3 different operators to Birmingham. Nobody flies between London and Birmingham so there is a small market to go for. Where Mr Stokes is right is to say that the only way HS2 will be viable is to be built in one go to Scotland. Thats where the air market is,with 3.5 million potential customer. But as usual English-elected Con /Dem parties will make the Scottish (and Welsh) taxpayer pay for a line WHOLLY within England,while pervading the biggest modern myth that Scotland is susidised,whreras the reverse is true. Their audacity is unbelievable. Scottish voters voted for SNP and Labour, neither of which are represented in the government. We are being robbed, David Cameron should have a swag bag

  • Jase, Kent

    "He also points out that another factor is the already high standard of conventional intercity services in Britain"

    I take it Mr Stokes is referring to a spacious, quiet, smooth, non rattling, non claustrophobic, luxurious Pendolino unit with its wide and deep comfy seats with plenty of elbow and knee/leg room, which is a joy to travel for long periods at a time?

    Better than those nasty Siemens ICE trains for sure!

  • Tony Pearce, Reading, UK

    I feel that HS2 will become a prime terrorist target. Most terrorism in the UK, including the IRA campaigns, has targeted public trnsport.

    The extra security needed will negate any savings in time and money.

    If this sort of money is available then spend it on pinch points in the current network.

    The internal airlines will also compete vigourously. I can't see the Rail network ever matching airline fares.

  • E. Goldsbrough, NEWPORT, United Kingdom

    "Yield management" = upping fares even more at busy times, pushing those who can't pay to off peaks. Plebs can continue to travel at knock down prices during the night. (See Adam Smith). Our country's malaise is caused by an unwillingness to do anything, except spend money on enquiries & "expert" witnesses!

  • paul browne, London

    the biggest white elephant is trying to maintain 170 year old infrastructure. rebuilding wcml cost £11 bn for no speed increase.!!!!

  • AE, Cambridge

    "Each one minute saving to Birmingham would cost £500 million"

    Surely, *every* train that travels to Birmingham and beyond would save the minutes. Reports like this and comments by protestors only ever quote time savings to Birmingham to minimise the total benefits of the line. It is not just a line to Birmingham, it's a line to Birmingham and beyond even if the high speed section is never extended.

    The other problem is that the costs of the project are nearly always quoted with optimism bias built-in but this is rarely stated. The general public meanwhile looks at the gigantic cost and then adds their own optimism bias on top to create a hugely colossal cost.

  • Beckster, Warwickshire, UK

    For a fraction of the cost of HS2 this Gov could invest in the existing lines, upgrade the signals, put on longer trains, stop front loading trains with empty 1st class carriages that nobody needs or can afford - even MP\'s now travel standard class!! Make train travel more affordable, make stations safer and pleasant places to be, provide better parking for cars and cycles, train staff to be polite, helpful and professional. Do all that NOW and train travellers will all be a happy bunch of communters :)

    But most importantly DO NOT waste 34bn on a train that has no business case, no environmental case and is something which will devastate the countryside blighting homes, businesses, communities and the land forever......stop building on the land - they are not making it anymore! High speed broadband for all is the only \'high speed\' project this Gov should focus on. Haven\'t you heard - meetings without movement are the future!

    We don\'t build new motorways anymore. Instead we have \'managed motorways\' where you can use the Hard Shoulder at peak times of day, using the existing asset more smartly to ease congestion and improve journey times. Funny that using the existing asset was economically and environmentally right for roads?

  • Daniel, London, UK

    "better yield management"

    what he means by this is higher prices in the peak time, mainly to dissuade people from travelling at congested times.

    What he fails to understand is that if people are already faced with the possibility of having to stand all the way to Birmingham and still choose to get the same train, that they're unlikely to change their habits for the want of a higher ticket price.

    Sounds a bit like "kerrr-ching!!!" for the rail operators' coffers rather than representing the regular passenger who wants a better service for less.

  • David, Reading

    If we look at this through rail tinted glasses (where hugh returns are required from revenue alone & high BCR are required), then HS2, Crossrail and many other rail schemes does not stand as viable, but from UK plc's point of view they ARE essential.

    If we look at railways through road tinted glasses, we would re-open many closed railways, upgrade our network and buy many more trains.

    If we looked at our road network through rail tinted glasses, we would privatise the network and make drivers pay tolls to use it, book slots at peak times to drive, close all country lanes, abandon Scotland & Wales road networks, fence off all roads, impose a national 20 mph speed limit, make drivers take tests & medicals annually and make cars much stronger etc.

    The rail lobby should speak up more in regard to a balance of rail compared with roads & tax free flying!

    HS2 should include the re-opening of the Waverley / Woodhead / Peak / Great Central Routes to allow existing routes to be upgraded where new construction is too expensive. They just straighten out old main lines in mainland Europe for high speed, as could we.

  • Craig Ward, BLACKBURN, UK

    The biggest worry will be the possibility of the escalating cost of HS2 construction sucking in investment funds which need to be used in the rest of the network where there is still much to be done in electrification and re-opening strategic routes which in turn would generate crucial regional regeneration.
    HS2 will not achieve its full potential without through trains from the Midlands and North to the rest of Europe.

  • Rob, West Yorkshire

    Why can't people just let some obviously good news for the UK's railways just be? We need new lines, we need new trains, we need investment-anyone who travels on our overcrowded, unreliable network can see that.

    So, come on everyone. Let's get behind HS2 and more besides and send doom merchants like this packing.

  • Chris Reynell, Longstock, Hampshire.

    An interesting debating subject.
    On cost alone would any of the motorways have been built? Do any make a profit? Why weren't they privatised? Taxpayers, vehicle drivers or not, still subsidise (sorry - "invest in") the roads.
    I can see the case that the High Speed 2 could replace quality intercity services along parallel conventional lines, however given the British Way we now build new railways it could be many years away. In the meantime........?
    We "invented" railways - so let's be the No 1 nation again.