So now we know – too costly, and at least another 5 to 7 years to go before Birmingham is reached. Controversial from the beginning, and 10 years in the making – a bit like Crossrail – the cost has seemingly outweighed the benefits. It was begun in 2009, and yet now seems to be at an end, due to the ever increasing budget overspends. HS1 – the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) was also very much delayed, and the connection to the Chunnel was initially at an embarrassingly low speed, until the train emerged on the French side of the Channel. The UK it seems, is still waiting to catch up with the rest of Europe when it comes to high-speed, high-tech trains.
What surprises me, and perhaps many others, is that we have had the technology – be it, power control electronics, signalling systems, infrastructure technology – for over 30 years, and the last high-speed main line (excluding HS1) was completed in 1990.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, British Railways managed to electrify the West Coast Main Line (WCML) from London to Manchester and Liverpool, and then to Birmingham – completed by 1967. This was at a time when the technology and techniques were new, novel, untried and untested on a UK main line, and complete in just 8 years – 2 years LESS than it has taken work on the single route from London to Birmingham for HS2 to even begin construction. On top of that, the west coast route was electrified to Glasgow by 1974 – just 15 years after work began.
OK, maybe I am comparing apples and oranges in some areas, and the WCML was not an entirely new railway, but maybe that is offset by the fact that in the 1960s, the technology was brand new, and the railway was much more complex than it is today.
According to the latest report – before the latest delays were announced – the new high-speed railway would not reach Crewe (where no interchange station was planned) until 2031, and Manchester Piccadilly by 2035. That’s a full 26 years after HS2 Ltd was set up, and 22 years after the Act of Parliament gave it the go-ahead, and now if the 5-year delay is included, that means Crewe by 2036 and Manchester by 2040.
It seems it’s not just money that is affected by inflation, but major infrastructure project time lines – what took 15 years in the 1960s/70s, takes around 40 years in the 21st Century! Oh, yes, and there’s the cost spiral too from around £55 billion in 2015 to £88 billion in 204? – an increase of 60%.
Back in 2014 HS2 Ltd submitted its case for the new route as both an engine for growth and rebalancing Britain – the report was quite thorough, but with little by way of reference to the environment as a whole. Of course, it was not possible 5 years ago to see the growth in importance of climate change – although it was possible to estimate a significant growth in the UK population by 2040. Maybe HS2 Ltd was not aware of the connection between the two.
But one of the key principles mentioned in the document, and an aspect of the project that is not being addressed is transport integration. HS2 is about separation, and it is not a network of rail routes – it is just a number of new links between centres of population, with almost no attention paid to freight transport.
It goes on to suggest that the Crewe hub, with links to Liverpool, will be “transformative” for businesses. What it does not say is how, or even take account of current information systems technology where business travel is being rendered unnecessary.
Fascinating statement here, where it states that having the link to Manchester will make it easier to work in both London and Manchester, with a 60 minute reduction in journey time. In 2014, the authors of this report were clearly unaware of the ability of people to work on trains, whether by using the on-board WiFi, or any of the various sophisticated ‘telepresence’ systems, that allow people to be present in meetings from different locations.
The element of the rail infrastructure that demands much more attention is the East-West routes to link Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle – NOT a link from London to Birmingham. This diagram in the 2014 HS2 document shows the right place to start:
Still, all that seems to be behind us now, with the Government review likely to be underway soon, progress of this project has now followed the pattern of most UK train journeys in the 21st Century – delayed or cancelled.