I was driving home from a friend’s house on Monday evening and listening to a BBC “local” radio show being broadcast on BBC Radio Shropshire discussing, amongst other things, HS2. The presenter was clearly quite taken with the idea of high speed rail and even suggested to one listener that the jobs that will be created building HS2 must be a good thing because those people will be paying taxes.
I felt compelled at this point to call in to the show and give my thoughts on HS2 and the suggestion that the taxpayer paying 100% of someone’s wages is a good thing because you can take back 20% of it in taxes. To my surprise they called me back an hour later to get me on the show.
Here is Telford and indeed the rest of Shropshire we’ll get bugger all benefit from HS2. Getting from Birmingham to London or to one of the major northern cities isn’t too bad – it’s the journey from Telford to Birmingham that’s the problem with overcrowded, slow trains and the later legs of train journeys if you’re not actually stopping at one of the major locations. I had to go from Telford to Southend once on the train. I left early in the morning and it was dark when I arrived. Including the London Underground, it took five trains to get there. HS2 would shorten the tolerable section of the journey but do nothing to improve the rest of it.
Having said that, I did go to Leeds on the train last year and the journey back was awful – the train was late and overcrowded all the way to Birmingham for the return leg of the journey. So on the basis of that one train journey there’s scope for HS2 to improve a trip to Leeds but I’m pretty sure the train we took ended up with two lots of passengers because of a cancelled service.
The problem is, though, that no matter what benefits HS2 might deliver (either real or imagined) will be dwarfed by the £33bn cost and made largely irrelevant by the 20 year build time. The service will be run by a private company, it’ll probably be financed with a PFI scheme and it’ll almost certainly go over budget. The £33bn cost will need to recovered by subsidies and ticket sales so it’s not going to be cheap to use and even if you don’t use it, your taxes are going to be used to subsidise it anyway.
HS2 is going to be a hugely expensive white elephant.