It is increasingly vexing me that the vehement opposition to HS2 retains a focus on the cost of HS2 Phases 1 and 2 (still £42.6bn folks, including £14bn of contingency). With Crossrail 1 coming along nicely at £16bn and Crossrail 2 rising up the agenda in London (and probably a bit more expensive than Crossrail 1) there is little of the fury at major ongoing investment in London’s infrastructure requirements.
When you add to this the committed billions of spend on improving (keeping in a steady state) the existing national road and rail networks, you wonder how the opposition to HS2 expect the future to pan out. If we cannot spend on increasing capacity on our transport infrastructure, then demand has to stop growing now and start to shrink ie less journeys, significantly less per person given the growing population.
Aha say HS2 opponents – we have more wifi and communicatiosn technology, more videoconferencing and virtual presence at meetings. Well, hmmmmm, it hasn’t really happened so far has it? the technology exists and is being used, but travel demand continues to soar. Besides which, speaking for myself, I dn’t want to sit at home and have a virtual career with little human contact. Humans are social creatures. This is not realistic.
Right, so is travel demand increasing. well, yes, very much so. The railways are bursting at the seams and are already using fares to manage demand. This will be an increasingly used tool to try and spread out peak loadings on the rail network – although even now the difference in fare prices is vast and yet we still have immense peak time demand for travel.
I get a number of people criticising HS2 based on the Public Accounts Committee report and other similar reports such as the spurious Institute of Economic Affairs document. Well, there is plenty of more credible evidence on the huge economic benefits HS2 will bring. But this has turned into a war of attrition. In the end take it back to transport capacity, travel demand and the role of transport in the world, in our society, for our communities and for us as human beings.
We need more transport infrastructure capacity. It really is quite simple. We cannot continue to patch and mend, to use incremental upgrades. The West Coast Main Line will shut for 2 weeks at Watford next August. 2 weeks of complete closure. £9bn was spent in the last decade on upgrading the West Coast Main Line. But lots of work was not done. That alone smashes the opponents’ claims that we can develop existing routes at less cost. It is an utter fallacy to say that. The cost of a high speed line against a conventional rail line is within 10% but the benefits are far greater – it is bad sense and poor value to promote a conventional speed new line over a high speed one.
The rump of opponents left have to understand that the evidence is stacked against them. Either they accept that people should be free to travel, or they openly state their intention of reducing personal mobility and travel opportunities for all of us.