Cheryl Gillan’s opposition to HS2 is off the rails

HS2 attack was incorrect

Alan Marshall responds to Cheryl Gillan’s criticism of HS2……

Cheryl Gillan MP supports an alternative HSR route, but has spoken out against HS2

Cheryl Gillan MP supports an alternative HSR route, but is firmly against HS2

Cheryl Gillan’s rant in the Sunday Telegraph is quite without justification — and factually incorrect.

She claims HS2 is a “Labour-initiated folly.”  But she should know better! The whole idea of developing a High Speed Rail route to the West Midlands, Manchester and Leeds started with . . . the CONSERVATIVES, promoted by Theresa Villiers when she was the Tories’ front-bench shadow transport secretary.

Nor did Ms Villiers propose to “rejuvenate our railways with high-speed links” — as Cheryl Gillan claimed in the Sunday Telegraph.

HS2 was Tory policy

What Theresa Villiers proposed was a completely new High Speed line leaving London, via Heathrow, to Birmingham and going on to Manchester and across the Pennines to Leeds. This became known as the “reverse S” network and remained Tory policy until the 2010 general election.

The Liberal Democrats also gave general support to development of High Speed Rail — but not in the very specific way promoted by the Conservatives.

Labour came late to supporting the concept of High Speed Rail, and then only when Lord Andrew Adonis (who understands railways) first because Transport Minister, and later Transport Secretary, and set up HS2 Ltd to examine options for a north-south HSR system.

In early 2010, this resulted in proposals for HS2 to be built in two stages — with a direct route from London to the West Midlands and, in stage two, to complete a Y network with extensions to Manchester and the North West and Leeds and the North East.

Y-network

The HS2 Ltd plan was at odds with the original ‘reverse S’ scheme proposed by Theresa Villiers, including not going via Heathrow.  But after the 2010 general election, and careful assessment of the alternatives, the coalition government — including Cheryl Gillan, who was then in the Cabinet as Welsh Secretary — adopted the principle of the Y network instead of the ‘reverse S.’ It was announced by Philip Hammond, who was then Transport Secretary with Ms Villiers as his deputy, at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham in October 2010.

After public consultation during 2011 Justine Greening, who had by then become Transport Secretary, confirmed the first stage of the route — which will form the basis of a hybrid bill to be introduced in Parliament later in 2013 — a year ago, including an added link across north London between HS2 and HS1, and a spur to Heathrow to be included in stage two.

Cheryl Gillan also claimed in the Sunday Telegraph that “Labour barely electrified a single additional mile of rail, and came up with the idea of HS2 to ‘fill the gap’.”

In part this is correct — during Tony Blair’s government only 9 miles of single track between Kidsgrove and Crewe were electrified.

Lord Adonis and HS2

But when Lord Adonis was Transport Secretary (and Gordon Brown was Prime Minister) approval was given to electrify key regional routes in the North West and on the Great Western Main Line from London to Newbury, Oxford, Bristol and Cardiff . . . since extended to Swansea after a campaign in South Wales supported by Cheryl Gillan when she was Welsh Secretary.

Ms Gillan claims HS2 will fail to connect with HS1 and its access to Europe.  But this is part of the scheme agreed by Justine Greening a year ago.

Ms Gillan also claims that “we already have a long-established railway system, along existing transport corridors: it would benefit greatly from more investment, rather than diverting money to the excessive expense of creating a whole new railway system.”

But she totally overlooks that huge levels of investment are being committed to improving and enhancing the existing network — over £37 billion, announced today in the rail industry’s Strategic Business Plan for 2014-19.

Huge capacity constraints

Network Rail says that investment includes making a start on constructing HS2 before 2019 “to relieve the huge capacity constraints on the West Coast Main Line.”

Euston throat, West Coast Main Line, credit: Network Rail

Euston throat – the West Coast Main Line is running out of capacity. credit: Network Rail

But most of the £37 billion planned spending will be on the existing network, giving the lie to the claim that going ahead with HS2 will divert investment away from the classic system.  Indeed, the total expenditure planned on the existing network in five years between 2014 and 2019 will be at least as much as is planned to be spent on constructing HS2 over 15 years!

Incidentally, Ms Gillan claims that “electrification of the London to Swansea line by 2017 will bring economic benefits at a fraction of the price of HS2.”  However, she is overlooking the huge cost of building and operating a new fleet of Intercity Express trains, new maintenance depots, and renewing all the signalling along the route — and the £900 million reconstruction of the station and track layout at Reading, the Great Western’s route’s major bottleneck and cause of congestion and unreliability today.

Current reports also suggest that the electrification project may now cost as much as £7 billion – seven times it is original estimate — and in Bath there is growing opposition to the erection of any overhead electrification equipment through the heritage area of that city!

If and when Great Western electrification is completed it will only allow journey times to be reduced back to those that originally applied when British Rail introduced the 125mph diesel High Speed Train service in 1976 — 37 years ago.  Since privatization in 1997, Great Western Main Line journey times have been extended considerably as additional station stops have been included to meet the widespread growing demand for rail travel.

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3 Responses to Cheryl Gillan’s opposition to HS2 is off the rails

  1. Pingback: HS2 Myths: Cheryl Gillan’s comments in the Telegraph « hs2northwest

  2. Alan Robinson says:

    Blimey! ‘after careful assessment of the alternatives’? The HS2 Y-shaped ‘Core network’ was based on chapter 6 of the 2009 HS2 report to the then Labour government, published by the DfT in March 2010 (ISBN: 978-1-84864-072-6).

    Chapter 6 looked at just three options for the route to Scotland: one west-side one and two east-side ones. All three went to a fork in Lanarkshire, where the line divides into Glasgow and Edinburgh arms, much as the West Coast Main Line does today at Carstairs. While this may make sense for a west-side route, for an east-side route to take such a long detour across the Southern Uplands to such a fork before doubling back to Edinburgh is madness beyond belief! Staggeringly incompetent is the kindest thing I can think of to say about it. I wonder what ‘Yes Minister’ would have made of it.

    The plain fact is, nobody, repeat nobody, has looked at all the options, and this HS2 project was launched in a strategic vacuum. At the time, every transport specialist seemed to think the route should go west of the Pennines, even though to this day nobody I know of has made any case at all for it. The option of going up the M1 has also been dismissed without proper consideration.

    By all means let’s have HS2, but not this flawed scheme.

    • Chris Neville-Smith says:

      Okay, well I’m someone who would benefit a lot from a north-south HS line going east of the Pennines instead of west, so the government changes their mind and wants to do that, I won’t argue too much. However, if it’s a choice between East Coast and West Coast, I have to put West Coast as the overwhelmingly better option for three reasons:

      1) The most pressing issue is train capacity on the southern end of the West Coast Main Line. The East Coast Main Line does not face a capacity crunch (yet).

      2) An east coast route would omit Britain’s second largest city. That’s not the be-and-and-end-all of picking where to put a HS-line, but in conjunction with 1 it’s an important issue.

      3) Edinburgh and Glasgow are both west of Carlisle. A route from London to Edinburgh via Carlisle is not too much of a detour. A route from London to Glasgow via Newcastle, on the other hand, is a huge detour.

      There’s always another option that HS2 ltd could have examined more, but no-one will ever examine all the options in detail because there’s an infinite number of options out there. The M1 route was considered. In my opinion, it should have been considered further, and there should have been less focus on London-Birmingham journey times and more focus on London-north journey times. And I can’t understand why the Conservatives in opposition were so keen on looking at the reverse S route.

      So yes, there are other option that could have had more attention. But staggering incompetence? Come on.

      (Oh, and if you’re looking for Yes Minister analogies, I suggest that HS2 is the infrastructure world’s answer to metadioxin,)

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