A government white elephant—or an essential transport link for the North? Our contributors duke it outby Simon Jenkins, Andrew Adonis / November 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
High-Speed Two, the rail development that will connect London to Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and the East Midlands, was never a properly-planned railway. It was a political vanity project “sold” to David Cameron in 2010 as an alternative to a new runway at Heathrow, which he was then pledged to oppose. It swiftly attracted commercial lobbying and became a totem of the coalition government’s infrastructure machismo.
Higher speed is not regarded as a critical factor in rail travel and track congestion is far worse in other corridors into London, notably from the south and the west. While there is always a case for more rail investment, HS2 passed not a single test for priority, whether in the Department of Transport, the Treasury or the think tanks and Commons committees that investigated it.
Since there is no infinite stock of rail investment, HS2’s official total cost of £55.7bn, as set out in the 2015 spending review, can only impede Britain’s dire record of rail electrification, and worsen the poor state of north-country intercity links, both road and rail. In addition, as with such projects in France and elsewhere, better transport draws growth to the more attractive end of the line. HS2 is in effect a massive subsidy to London.
The final lunacy was to bring HS2 into London’s most inconvenient terminus, Euston, where it will actually displace capacity from existing Virgin northwest services. It will need massively expensive tunnelling under Primrose Hill and the demolition of hundreds of Camden houses. When they reach Euston, HS2 passengers cannot transfer to HS1 and Eurostar services, except by walking down Euston Road. It is unbelievable that a high-speed line to the north of Britain should not connect to high-speed services to the Channel Tunnel and the continent. Euston is not even on the new Crossrail line currently under construction. It is on neither the Central Line nor the Metropolitan Line.
The least-worst option now would be to terminate the line at the “Canary Wharf of the west” at Old Oak Common in the west of London, accessible to the M40 and with easy transfer onto Crossrail. Yet this has been rejected—so far—as insufficiently glamorous. This has to be the silliest grand project in British history.