Tuesday, 28 January 2020

This would have sounded more plausible if they'd mentioned it five or ten years ago...

From Midlands Connect:

* Revealed for the first time, 73 stations on the existing rail network stand to benefit from improved passenger services as a direct result of the capacity released by HS2, including 54 stations with no direct HS2 services;
* Evidence submitted to the Oakervee HS2 Review by Midlands Connect;
* High speed line will take long-distance rail journeys off the existing network, providing capacity for new routes, as well as faster and more frequent local and inter-regional services;


And so on and so forth (they seem to be repeating the same basic argument over and over).

Quite clearly, HS2 was never about improving the London-Birmingham connection, which was absolutely fine. Trains every 20 or 30 minutes, sub-2 hour journey time and a reasonable ticket price (compared to some routes on English railways).

Somebody calculated that even at the original £20 - £30 billion estimate (ha!), it would be cheaper to demolish Birmigham and just rebuild it half an hour closer to London on the existing line.

Hooray for local public transport and local passenger trains, of course. If they had advanced this as their original reason for building HS2, people might have bought it, but to suddenly "reveal for the first time" at this late stage in the game seems a bit desperate.

This all reminds me of the reasons trotted out for introducing ID-cards, every few months they'd think up a new one to see if any of them stuck. None did, and the scheme was quietly shelved.

16 comments:

Blissex2 said...

A rather persuasive article argued years ago that the crucial feature of HS2 is that there are no stops between "Conventry Interchange" and London, because:

* Currently the commuter line between Birmingham and London is congested.
* A "market oriented" way to relieve such congestion would be to substantially increase the price of commuter season tickets.
* A big rise in season tickets would cause a significant fall in price of properties in commuter estates between Birmingham and London.
* That would turn them to vote against the Conservatives.
* HS2 instead would take on all the long-distance traffic from Birmingham upwards going to London, substantially relieving the congestion on commuter services, avoiding season ticket increases.

The other obvious reason for no stops from "Coventry Interchange" to London is to turn the areas around "Coventry Interchange" into London commuter belt, with less than 1 hour commute times to London, substantially boosting property prices there, plus making London commercial property even more valuable by expanding London's catchment area (like CrossRail did), thus creating lots of new Conservative voters and rewarding existing sponsors owning property in London.

HS2 has nothing to do with "the north", it is all about Home Counties and London property prices.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B: "HS2 has nothing to do with "the north", it is all about Home Counties and London property prices"

Well, yes, of course. And cozy directorships for ex-politicians. £100 BN of taxpayers' finest will buy them a few of those.

Curtis said...

Well, from an actual railway perspective for the past 20-30 years, HS2 has only ever really been about increasing capacity along the West Coast Main Line between London and Stafford, so it's rather disingenuous to claim they have come up with something new.

There is no space (as in the number of trains that can run per hour) to improve the service between London and the north of England without culling Birmingham local services, and the moment something minor goes wrong the rest of the day's trains are fucked.

House prices and directorships are a side or political benefit, as in, without these the politicians would never have agreed to even think about it, but there you go.

Mark Wadsworth said...

C, maybe it's just about London to Stafford. Whatever it is, it's not about improving local rail services in West Midlands.

Blissex2 said...

«has only ever really been about increasing capacity along the West Coast Main Line between London and Stafford,»

This is based on the rather arbitrary assumption that capacity on that line *needs* increasing, that is that commuter traffic to/from London and "Conventry Interchange" and intermediate "commuter belt" stations *needs* increasing.

That assumption may be less arbitrary if it is given for granted that all job s must be concentrated in London, and that they must be served by people buying newly developed (or existing) property at "Coventry Interchange" on HS2 and at intermediate stations on West Coast Mainline.

That is the increased traffic between Birmingham and London doesn't just "happen" mysteriously: it is driven by more jobs in London attracted by the availability of more workers living in residential property development in places where the Conservatives put more capacity to commute into London.

Dr Evil said...

I thought it was the Brussels to Birmingham high speed line.

Blissex2 said...

«And cozy directorships for ex-politicians. £100 BN of taxpayers' finest will buy them a few of those.»

That £100 billions will be entirely borrowed, and I doubt at governmental nugatory interest rates, those are reserved for the City. This project will probably be funded with something very similar to to PPI. Thinks of the billions of fees and dozens of billions of interest paid to spivs and rentiers.

«Whatever it is, it's not about improving local rail services in West Midlands.»

Indeed: the alternative to HS2 would be rather than nothing, a much smaller investment to improve transport and other facilities in the midlands and the north, creating a couple of new M25 areas up there, in places with much lower costs and much lower congestion than London the the M25 areas.

But a homey government will never do that: if transport links and other facilities were good in the midlands and the north quite a few businesses would move out of London and the Home Counties to enjoy the lower costs, and property rents and prices down south would stop ballooning and would probably crash, as they are in a ponzi phase, where many buyers buy only because they expect bigger property gains, and would unload as quickly as possible if there was a risk of losses.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Dr E, maybe it is, who knows?

B: "the alternative to HS2 would be rather than nothing, a much smaller investment to improve transport and other facilities in the midlands and the north, creating a couple of new M25 areas up there, in places with much lower costs and much lower congestion than London the the M25 areas."

On a practical level, 100% agreed. But if better transport sparks agglomeration benefits, then rents will rise and cancel out the apparent gain.

Blissex2 said...

«But if better transport sparks agglomeration benefits, then rents will rise and cancel out the apparent gain.»

Ahhhhh but the percentage of rent matters a great deal indeed, and having one cluster with a massive rate of rent extraction is much worse for everybody who is not a rentier than 3-5 clusters with much lower rate of rent extraction

I make the same point to marxist political economists: that denouncing exploitation in principle may be fine, but the degree of exploitation matters a great deal: according to their theory every degree of confiscation by employers of the labour of workers is theft, but if matters a great deal whether it amounts to 5% or 50% of the their labour.

My impression is that in places like London currently a much greater part of the labour of proletarians is extracted as rent than exploited as profit by the capitalists: for many people rent extraction amounts to 50-70% of their labour, because they pay 30-50% of it as rent directly for their housing, and the rest for the rent embedded in the stuff they pay, e.g. the rent of premises for the shops they buy stuff from.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Bl, yes the percentage matters. And five Birmingham's would be an improvement on one London. That's how the Germans do it.

Lola said...

And there's also the 'what is not seen cost'....

The Stigler said...

The thing with other cities is that most of them just aren't like London.

London is a doughnut: lots of office jobs on the inside, lots of housing on the outside. Lots of people travel in by train because, what, are you insane? Drive into London?

Manchester and Birmingham aren't like that. Because they were industrial for longer, with car factories and so forth, they shifted away from trains. They have more activity on the outskirts. Housing, factories and business parks all mix together. They still have a centre, but it's not the same.

As a result, there also isn't the massive wage boost thing of working in these places. People keep going on about the trans-pennine line, but there aren't people commuting from Leeds to Manchester or the other way around in huge numbers. If you work in Leeds, you live near Leeds. Again, IT AIN'T LONDON. And for everyone else, they don't care if it's an hour or 30 minutes. Who is going to make that a deal breaker on a business meeting?

The Stigler said...

Blissex,

This is based on the rather arbitrary assumption that capacity on that line *needs* increasing, that is that commuter traffic to/from London and "Conventry Interchange" and intermediate "commuter belt" stations *needs* increasing.

That assumption may be less arbitrary if it is given for granted that all job s must be concentrated in London, and that they must be served by people buying newly developed (or existing) property at "Coventry Interchange" on HS2 and at intermediate stations on West Coast Mainline.


There's probably a whole post I could write about this, but the network of growing importance for office workers isn't the railway, it's the fibre optic cables.

Five pieces of data:-
1. According to a manager I know who is tracking wages of programmers in different locations, the gap between Manchester and London is shrinking. Companies don't care that much if their programmers are in the next room so much.
2. Season ticket sales are down for 3 years. More people are buying single tickets. That suggests people travelling less days, so the bulk purchase doesn't make sense.
3. Season ticket journeys are down for 3 years. Even those people who buy a season ticket are only doing just over 4 days on average.
4. Peak crowding is down. The number of people standing on trains arriving into London has fallen for 2 years.
5. This one is personal, but Google Maps seems to bear it out: the M4 from Reading to Maidenhead is slower at peak times, but not like the solid traffic of a decade ago.

Now, the falls are often quite small, but these projects assume that rail traffic growing. Actually, it is growing, but not at peak time. And more people using a train at 2pm is largely irrelevant as they're half empty.

This is even starting to become a differentiator for employees now. I'll give a client a nice discount if I can work 4 days at home. Or, I'll work with a client in Exeter because while that's 2 hours by train, if I only have to do it one day a week, I'd rather do that than an hour to London every day.

Bayard said...

"There is no space (as in the number of trains that can run per hour) to improve the service between London and the north of England without culling Birmingham local services, and the moment something minor goes wrong the rest of the day's trains are fucked."

There are closed railway lines like the Great Central Main line that could be reopened at a fraction of the cost of HS2, if capacity was the only problem.

TS, the government spending vast sums of money on an infrastructure project based on outdated assumptions? Who'd a thunk it?

Physiocrat said...

High speed trains do not reduce most people's journey times unless there are affordable and frequent walk-on service ie the open off-peak ticket is reasonably priced. If you have to book in advance, then time has to be allowed to get to the station to be sure of catching the train you have paid to travel on. This adds another 30 to 60 minutes to the door-to-door train journey. It is not an incentive to travel by train instead of by car.

Mark Wadsworth said...

TS, B, Ph, more good points.