HS2 wail – back to the future

Johnson will probably have a problem with the HS2 review. He wants to be popular, thinks he has been ‘lent’ votes in the north, but lots of his Tory MPs think that HS2’s increasing costs are prohibitive, it cuts through their blissful Tory shires – or perhaps it is just a gravy train.

I confess I was broadly against. Especially it in its current conception. I can still find relatively little to reccomend it in its present format. Who was the bright spark, for example, that dictated that it didn’t join up with HS1. If we are to get people off planes then offering a direct train service from multiple locations to Continental Europe is relatively simple. Having to change in London and walk with suitcases whilst potentially simultaneously marshalling the children, from Euston to St Pancras – or have to get the Underground for the short hop, is completely crazy. I’m sure most people would rather get even a RyanAir plane direct!

So when Transport Minister, Grant Shapps says that he has announced a “£500m Beeching Reversal Fund to start re-opening rail lines axed under Harold Wilson’s government. (As ever – a partial truth – the real rot was started during the previous Conservative administration). Ultimately (note the emphasis) this saw 5,000 miles of rail & 2,363 stations closed. Our plan will help re-connect towns & villages to the rail network.”

This shows the situation:

£500m will get you where exactly?

Hardly anywhere – it is a highly deceptive possibility and represents an upgrade to probably one or two – or even maybe, perhaps, possibly, three existing ‘goods only’ lines – but decidedly very little further…

What needs to be realised is that the government funds things because they are useful, rather than profitable.

This is surely the whole rationale for public services from the Fire and Rescue service to the Police service – not to mention the NH Service!

Actually usefulness seems usually to effectively disappear as soon as services are ‘marketised’.

Thus of course we have the Highways England/Agency charging around to assist the Police in Emergency Traffic Control whilst the Government pushes to remove guards from trains, despite the social benefits of ensuring ‘control’ as well as disabled access to transport – and protecting passengers from accidents including, say, those travelling alone who could be vulnerable – and where rail track emergencies could arise. Vehicle control seems to be fine for governments – but, heaven forfend- not for the actual people who could be inside vehicles – or trains!

In a small country, as Britain is, we have to realise that a densely populated country as, especially, England is – indeed perhaps the most densely populated in Europe, we really do not need the Highest Speed Rail in the World. Shouldn’t we stop to pick up and set down in our crowded island?

I really think we definitely should, but with climate warming, what is especially important is that regular goods traffic should be part of an everyday schedule on our railway. The benefit of any HS2 would be to slot goods traffic onto a very overcrowded, largely passenger railway.

Electric lorries are currently impossible over any major distance so we really need the electric railway – not for speed, but for capacity.

And the deliciously old fashioned, ‘final mile’ electric lorries could actually make a comeback…