High Speed 2

So High Speed 2, fast trains to Birmingham and all that jazz. Where to begin? Well your absolute first point should be here, the actual DoT document and not a news article done by a journalist who can’t even spell engineering.

First point, the scheme as proposed is probably not going to get killed anytime soon, there are no real costs at this stage and wont be for many, many years. Even assuming full bore design work goes ahead your talking a few million pounds, a few tens absolute tops, a lot of money to be sure but not exactly a large amount in government terms. I mean we spend £4 million a year on these chancers and no-one complains, so worst case sack them and hire some rail monkeys to do the work and we’ll still save tens of millions. Planning and even design is cheap, why kill it when it wont save any real money and allows you to kick any transport problems into the long grass (Don’t worry voters, HS2 will solve all transport concerns!). For some reason this also applies to the Labour party, despite the fact that if they’d started this when they got into office it would have been built by now. Yet they still think they’ll get credit for this. Depressingly they’re probably right.

Second point, there sure as hell wont be a tunnel or anything clever through the Chilterns. Not for the alleged £30 billion price tag. The plan in fact is to race along the existing A431, the only tunnels will be out of Central London and then one under the M25, everyone else gets surface track and will like it, save for the lucky buggers near the only hill on the route who will get the only non-London tunnel. To be fair to HS2 CrossRail (should) cost £16 billion for barely 15 miles of tunnel under London, so let us assume £1billion  a mile for modern twin track railway (and that’s non-high speed rail).  So over 130 miles to Birmingham that works out to roughly what we spend annually on the MoD and NHS combined. So no, tunnels are not an option.

Third that cost looks nasty and in fact is. High Speed1 came in at ~£5.5 billion (it depends where you draw the line between actual HS1 and all the previous schemes, ancillary works, etc.) So lets say worst £6 billion for 70 miles of track. The first London-Birmingham leg of HS2 will give you 128 miles of track for a mere £16 billion, so a mere 50% more expensive per mile and inflation ain’t that vicious. Now admittedly HS2 is a great deal more high speed than the HS1 was, 250mph rather than 186mph, and so the line has to be pretty much straight which never helps, however even the report itself admits that the estimated costs is significantly higher than any other comparable high speed rail scheme.

If I had to guess where this problem comes from I’d say shear weight of rail regulation, fear of planing laws and shear lack of resources to get any work done, which neatly leads to point four;

Four, the timeline is wonky. Very wonky. Notionally design should be done by 2011 and ‘consultation’ (i.e. this is what’s happening, sell now or we’ll compulsory purchase) should be done by 2012. As the plan is for a Hybrid bill which should avoid most of the planning problems (and an ‘Exceptional Hardship Scheme, i.e. bribes to shut people up) really construction could start 2014, maybe earlier if people pull their finger out. Instead construction isn’t slated till 2017, and even then that’s a vague ‘beginning in’ which implies real work not till 2018 in reality. If this seems odd, it should.

This gap is explained in the report quite baldly, the timing is based on when CrossRail ends and nothing else,  quite simply there is so little rail, civil and tunnel engineering skill left in this country we can’t do two big jobs at once, there just isn’t the manpower. Another triumph for Labour’s education policy there, if only art students had useful engineering skills. Or indeed any skills at all.

So in summary this scheme is expensive, will be late, will provoke massive opposition and will produce only the dubious benefit of making Birmingham easier to reach from London. However despite all that it will survive for at least the next few years as it’s cheap to design things, thus your final take away point is; everyone except engineers pitching for work should ignore HS2 till after the London Olympics, there will be no real decision till then.

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One Response to “High Speed 2”

  1. We’re wondering if there’s a need for such wholesale infrastructure changes when with that kind of money the government could deliver real internet connections to everyone in the country, and they could start tomorrow!

    http://miniflex.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/is-high-speed-rail-more-important-than-high-speed-internet/

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