Ed Miliband and Maria Eagle should back high speed two

by Richard Kelly

A high-speed rail link between Birmingham and London will tear a scar across the natural beauty of rural England, cost billions, and is nothing more than a politician’s vanity project – or at least so comes the polite shout from home county village halls.

I watched BBC News 24 with gritted teeth as an anti high speed two action group campaigner explained his opposition. He described his satisfaction with the existing one and a half hour services; he delighted in the ease with which he reserves himself a seat. I’m sure he sits there smugly as the crowds of tired working people – who have dashed to make one of the final few trains of a Friday evening – stand rattling between rammed full luggage racks and packed out carriages.

Our man was outraged by the potential spending implications. This is the kind of wanton expenditure he expected from socialists – not the Tories whom his vote (I expect) helped squeeze into government. This gentleman, and gentleman he was, was not enticed by the new line’s 14 trains each hour and 49 minute journeys, (and potentially 73 and 80 minutes from London to Manchester and Leeds). Nor by 40, 000 jobs created in construction and maintenance. And he certainly had little interest in bridging the growing North-South divide. What good is a bridge if it tarnishes his upstairs view?

The reality is that high-speed rail hits plenty of the modern political targets; low-carbon, traffic reducing, and keeping Britain competitive internationally. The secretary of state for transport, Philip Hammond, described HS2 in the Independent on Sunday as:

… a project that promises to transform links between major cities, and deliver exactly the sort of long-term economic shot in the arm that Britain needs to truly compete effectively in the twenty first century. Indeed, I believe a national high-speed rail network from London to Birmingham – and onwards to Leeds and Manchester – can change the way Britain works as profoundly as the coming of the original railways in the nineteenth century”.

Though his comparison to the invention of railways might be a little strong, it is heartening to hear a Conservative minister pushing for investment in infrastructure with such conviction. But this is early days yet. On Monday, MrHammond begins a consultation process in Birmingham, moving onto Manchester, Leeds and the communities along the route. He will present the economic benefits of high speed two while taking on board people’s concerns.

Despite first proposing the idea, Labour is now biding its time, and is unwilling to make any cast-iron spending commitments for beyond 2015”. Who can blame them? Over the last year the Lib-Dems have displayed magnificently the dangers of expensive promises. Labour is also in the privileged position of waiting for the public reaction to this consultation process before taking a firm stance. Though it seems unlikely, there is a chance that opposition groups, well-funded and well-spoken, will snowball into significance.

Labour took a bold step in commissioning this project, and I hope that Ed Miliband and shadow transport secretary, Maria Eagle, will be just as bold in backing high speed two during the forthcoming policy review. It is exactly the kind of development that passengers have been hoping for: greater capacity, greater speed – people and their work moving with greater ease.

Richard Kelly is a student and a Labour activist

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6 Responses to “Ed Miliband and Maria Eagle should back high speed two”

  1. Dave Smedley says:

    I totally agree. If we do not do this the North South divide will only widen

  2. Strawbrick says:

    I am in favour of railway investment, but is this the way to go?

    The Business Case is based on full rains.

    14 trains an hour is the frequency when the whole “Y” is complete. If it take 30 mins from arrival, disembark , clean / re-stock and re-embark the 1400 passengers then Euston will need at least 7 additional platforms. At peak there will be 2 x 14 x 1100 = 308,000 passengers per hour entering and leaving the station on foot, by taxi, bus or tube. Where is the capacity to come from?. Euston Station will have to be totally re-built and enlarged – say five years of slower and diverted trains for the existing users.

    The first stage will deliver 4 trains an hour each way London / Birmingham. That’s 14 x 2 x 4 x 1,100 = 123,200 extra seats per day. Where is the demand for this?

    Currently Virgin receive a subsidy for running the traditional WCML. They will lose a considerable amount of revenue to HS2 – how much will the subsidy need to be to make up the revenue?

    When domestic HS1 trains started there was a general slowing down of the existing services to encourage passengers onto the new services. Also fares across the whole of the TOC, not just those parallel to HS1 domestic have been increased over and above the “norm” to pay for the investment. No doubt this will apply to all the services on the traditional WCML.

    Current time to Birmingham is 1 hr 24 minutes. Coventry takes 59 minutes. Coventry to Birmingham takes 25 minutes to travel just 19 miles = 45 mph (!). How much would it cost to raise the line speed to 100 mph on this section?

    There is a very cheap answer to the problem of packed trains on one night of the week. There is spare capacity on the line, and there is spare rolling stock available – why can Virgin not run more trains as BR used to do?

    As for the “40,000” jobs to be created – where are they, doing what and for how long? The IEP project originally promised 2,500 “new jobs”, now it is just 500 …

  3. Fed up Labour supporter says:

    Who cares what Ed Miliband thinks. I find his views on anything completely irrelevant. He just lacks legitimacy. This is the longest 5 months any labour supporter has ever experienced.

  4. Rene Lavanchy says:

    It’s quite right that high speed rail only makes economic sense if it carries a large number of people per hour on a high throughput of trains. More like a high speed Tube than a conventional train service. This means bigger stations.

    Which is why HS2 will not use Euston at all… a new terminus will be built at Old Oak Common, with an interhcnage for Crossrail, Underground and bus services. A link line will also be built to St Pancras. (The same measure will also encourage people on the outskirts to take the train rather than fly. Studies prove this.)

    High speed rail – proper high speed rail at speeds around 300 km/h or more, not using the existing lines – is proven to tempt people away from air travel. Connecting to three of the country’s most populous cities should attract enough people.

    P.S. IEP was scaled down by reducing the amount of rolling stock to be commissioned. You can’t do the same trick with HS2 – it either reaches Manchester and Leeds or it doesn’t.

  5. Strawbrick says:


    HS2 will be nothing like a high speed Tube. Some of the principle characteristics of any Tube train service are high frequency trains on a turn up and go basis for a standard, low cost, fare. 4 trains an hour to Birmingham may be high frequency, but HS2 will most certainly not be a turn up and go service and the fares almost certainly be more expensive the later you buy them.

    HS2 will indeed terminate at Euston, see the recently launched Consultation Paper: “HS2’s London Terminus would be a redeveloped Euston Station …”.

    I cannot find any information on the proposed links to the Underground at Old Oak, can you assist?

    Yes, IEP has been scaled down, from £7.5B for 1400 “coaches” to £4.5B for 183 “coaches” plus 350 “dual mode vehicles”. 60% of the money buys 38% of the items using 20% of the labour…

    For HS2, £17,000,000,000 (or is it £34,000,000,000) is said to generate 40,000 jobs, that is £425,000 per job!

  6. theProle says:

    Frankly, it would make more sense to round the money up in £5 notes, and use it to make a tower to the moon.

    I’m not normally a socialist, more your resident “righty” type, however I’m kind of surprised you haven’t seen to problem with the whole business from a socialist perspective. Building this sort of thing will be redistributive… from the poor to the rich.

    From the figures being bounce about today, the total cost of this project would be about £1000 per household. That money has to come from somewhere – either taxes, or borrowed against revenue.

    If high speed rail is to have a hope of competing for domestic airline flights, then prices will need to be competitive – and that folks, will probably mean subsidies. Even if it does make a profit doesn’t, the odds of the huge capital cost of building it being paid for from revenue within it’s lifetime are precisely nil out of nil. Just consider the cost of borrowing that £17Bn for starters. Lets get a cheap interest rate of 3%. Interest payments alone on that sum are £510 million a year.

    If every single train was filled to capacity, that would be a mere £11.34 from each ticket that was spent on the debt interest. In reality, the current trains see around 50% seat occupancy on average (yes, peak trains are severely overcrowded, but that is offset by very empty ones offpeak, and the fact that many passengers only travel part of the train’s route), and your looking at around £23 a ticket on that debt interest alone, never mind paying any of the debt down.

    So, who is going to use these trains? Logic says – by and large, well off business types. Those who are poor won’t be able to afford the ticket prices, and generally have no great need for rapid long distance travel anyway. When they do, who takes the train now, when long distance coach travel is half the price, as (all to often) is driving ones own car.

    So logic tells me that general taxation (of the rich and poor) will pay to subsides the rapid travel of the rich.

    Now, maybe this is a new sort of socialism, with which I’m unacquainted, but generally, I thought the idea was to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor… not the other way round.

    If Red-Ed want’s to back a policy which will be popular across the political spectrum (Tory core vote are largely nimbys through whose back garden they want to build the thing, Labour’s core vote shouldn’t be too keen on subsidising the rich), is morally right, and economically sensible, he should strongly condemn HS2 on the grounds above. If he does not, all I can assume is that he, like Ed Balls, really does believe in the ‘tree’ economic theory of money.

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