10 FEBRUARY 2020


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Article from BTNews 10 FEBRUARY 2020

COMMENT: High Speed or Fast Speed?

But will government changes intervene?

With Brexit almost out of the way (fingers crossed), the next debate has to be HS2, with just one voter, the Prime Minister.  It could be an interesting week with a Cabinet reshuffle forecast.  Is the current Transport Minister ready for take-off, or is the flying enthusiast keeping a portfolio he clearly enjoys?  

There is little doubt Britain needs a new high-speed rail system connecting north and south. The upgraded Victorian lines that make up the present network just cannot sustain the traffic requirements of the 21st century.

But do we need the speeds and so-called time benefits of HS2?  There is a saving of 15min or so, depending on which side of the debate you talk to, on the journey from London to Manchester.  Why not a Fast Speed service using the HS2 rail path but built to less exacting standards with rolling stock likewise of a lower engineering requirement?  The cost would be half that of HS2, the system could be much quicker to introduce whilst producing essentially the same results.

The country already has a network of lines which are in the process of being improved. This government has made it clear it is watching – witness the removal of Northern Trains’ franchise last week and yesterday’s (Sunday) ultimatum to West Midlands Trains.

In what the official statement called “a stark warning to train operators across the country”, West Midlands Trains is required to spend an extra £20m on improving services for passengers after “badly breaching its performance targets”.

The additional funding is to be invested in delivering timetable improvements and recruiting new train drivers to tackle staff shortages. Passengers would also continue to be offered compensation for poor service with discounts on season tickets and off-peak fares, the statement added.

Much has been made of the “Boris Bounce” and there is every reason to suppose he and his ministers wish to continue to be seen as go-ahead, dynamic achievers. Some members of the government apparently disagree but in the present atmosphere, giving the go-ahead for HS2, controversial though it would be, might be just the ticket.  We do have an adrenaline-fuelled government flush with election and Brexit success.

The weekend’s coverage of the subject suggested a lot of pro-HS2 background briefing has been going on, with Sky News reporting helpfully yesterday that the prime minister was being urged by his former leadership rival Jeremy Hunt to "go full speed ahead" on the project. Hunt told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme he had long been "ashamed" of the country's rail network. For Britain to be a modern, 21st-century nation this needed to be "sorted out", he said.

Keeping up the pressure, HS2 Ltd took to Twitter to say: “Network Rail has said only HS2 can deliver desperately-needed extra rail capacity. The West Coast, East Coast and Midland mainlines are effectively full and upgrading them would not deliver the same extra seating or journey times as HS2.”

This was a follow-up to a full-on warning from Network Rail that “passengers face up to three decades of travel chaos if HS2 were scrapped”. The company said abandoning the plan would force rail bosses to launch costly upgrades on other lines to tackle overcrowding, causing “significant” disruption to weekend services across the country.

The decision was put back again last week because, according to the Daily Mail, ministers had been warned the full cost of the project could hit £150bn. The next House of Commons recess starts next Friday.

That could very well be HS2 Day, for or against.  Who will be the minister to deliver the judgement?

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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

Malcolm Ginsberg, London

BTN is in favour of a new rail line but at what cost? It has to be less with slower speed trains and the engineering requirements not so high. Common sense. The present plans seem to be out of control. Do we need to save 10 minutes to Manchester from London?

John Morris,

The cost would be half that of HS2, the system could be much quicker to introduce whilst producing essentially the same results.'. Who wrote this, and where is your evidence, please? This appears to be - at best - a misinformed editorial, and - at worst - yet another veiled attack by the NIMBY element.