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What people don’t know about HS2

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Feb/Mar 2014

Arnab Dutt, managing director of British manufacturer Texane and a public member of Network Rail, argues against the all-too-common belief that investing in both HS2 and the existing infrastructure are not mutually compatible.

As a public member of Network Rail, a group of around 40 people who oversee the organisation’s secondary governance scrutinising the effectiveness of the Board, it’s fair to say that I’m more up to speed on the rail  investment programme than the average traveller. But if you ask anyone on a train today what they think of the HS2 project, you should expect to hear some very ill-informed opinions.

A recent report from the Institute of Directors concluded that HS2 is not the infrastructure Britain needs. This ‘Big Picture’ report took opinion from a minute proportion of members, just 1,200 Directors from a possible 34,500, claiming the costs exceeded the benefits.
A larger, more informed sample would have been more reliable.

How is it that people have been whipped into opposition for investment in what should be a flagship rail project while on the other hand, they complain vociferously that the existing network is falling into rack and ruin?

The notion that Britain’s whole rail network is starved of investment is hard-wired into the nation’s psyche, but like many of the arguments against HS2, actually it is far from the truth. Network Rail is actually investing £38bn in infrastructure over a shorter period than the government is planning to spend on the HS2 project – but too few people know this.

I attended a conference this month and was shocked how many informed and intelligent people believed that investing in HS2 and Network Rail infrastructure were not mutually compatible. They erroneously believed that the funding for HS2 would take place instead of upgrading the national rail network.


What the public has failed to understand is that HS2 is a huge project that will create work for hundreds of British companies, employment for thousands, stimulating innovation, design, manufacturing, engineering apprenticeships and an upsurge in the service industries that support the supply chain.

The anti-HS2 lobby say that the regions will suffer, everyone will go to London. Rail lines go both ways, with property prices increasing and the cost of setting up businesses in London and the southeast rising exponentially, HS2 will make having an office in Manchester or Birmingham a better option. It is more than cutting journey times. It’s about creating the rail capacity that the country needs as our economy grows. It is about thinking 50 years ahead.

Canary Wharf attracted similar cynicism at its inception. It was a huge white elephant at the time, which has now helped London become the financial services capital of the world. It’s the same with the Docklands Light Railway and the Jubilee Line Extension.  The M25 was passionately lobbied against and in the end where would we be without it – today we know it should have been wider.

Thameslink and Crossrail are fundamental major rail infrastructure projects that are only just helping us cope in the southeast with growing passenger numbers. The anti-HS2 lobby seem to have been deafeningly silent about them.

The vast majority of MPs have voted for HS2 and it is going to happen. There needs to be a concerted effort to get the facts out to the public. The KPMG report on HS2 stated it will increase regional connectivity. The UK must have joined-up transport infrastructure that efficiently interconnects all modes, including road and air.

The anti-HS2 propaganda was not challenged early enough. Today the government and the UK rail industry are forcefully making a very compelling case for HS2 but more needs to be done. All of us need to be out there advocating and dispelling the myths about HS2.

The simple fact is, if we don’t invest in HS2, our network grinds to a halt in 2030. There will simply not be enough capacity for the huge growth in passengers and rail freight. Passenger growth numbers are double what were predicted 10 years ago.

Presently we are operating a Victorian legacy railway network with 21st-century demands placed upon it. Without thinking 50 years ahead and taking action, our transport infrastructure becomes a slow motion national train disaster.

We want to encourage more freight to disappear off our congested roads and switch to the greener alternative of rail. We need to believe in progress and a legacy that future generations can be proud of. We need to understand and plan for huge demographic change and population increase.

The anti-HS2 campaign worries falsely about Manchester or Birmingham competing with London. They should be more concerned
about Britain competing with Germany and China. That is what HS2 is really about and that is the message that we need the public to understand.

(Image: c. HS2 Ltd Colne Valley Viadut)


Linnie Evans   15/03/2014 at 14:31

What Mr/Ms Arnubb fails to recognise is that in 50 years time people will be travelling less by rail or road because of technology. We already have the capacity to do live holographic web streamed conferencing where the 3D image and voice of a remote person / people can be made present in the same room as another with no need for travel. Who knows what else will emerge in the next few, let alone the next 50 years? And the job creation arguments don't stack up for longer term job creation - once HS2 is built a massive number of those construction jobs will go. There's rarely a mention of all the jobs that will be LOST because of HS2. The arguments for HS2 are many and yet nine of them stack up sufficiently well to justify the massive massive expenditure. We need long term investment in so many other things. HS2 is not the answer to our problems - it just adds to them.

Dave   15/03/2014 at 15:35

Every few years someone predicts the rise of video conferencing as an alternate to meeting in person. In thirty years of watching this prediction come round again and again, I've yet to see it come to pass. If anything, we now travel more than ever. The "Skpe" generation have only just woken up to VC, but it's nothing new - it's been around for decades. If VC is the answer to our travel woes, why are the trains all full and getting fuller...? Why aren't we all telecommuting..? Do you still visit your mum on a Sunday or do you just phone her...? Did you date your spouse over the Internet, or do it person..? VC is not going to see off the desire for people to communicate face to face.

Ian Bartlett   20/03/2014 at 17:50

The idea that technology will reduce travel is far fetched. What actually happens with tech and comms developments is they less to greater efficiency and ultimately economic growth. The result of this growth is more travel.

Nonsuchmike   28/03/2014 at 13:07

Well, Mr Dutt has hit a lot of nails on the head with his Apology for improved national/local rail infrastructure AND the need for HS2 - a point some HS2 supporters fail to grasp, and which most anti HS2 campaigners fail to comprehend. My only point of disagreement is when he talks of thinking 50 years ahead. If the planners were really doing that then HS2 would not just be double track, but quadruple track up the east and west coast spines of the country and into Scotland, Wales, Merseyside and the West Country. If he meant as a preparation for extension in up to 50 years time, then he may be nearer the reality of what UK needs. In short, probably the best argument I have heard for continuing existing expansion as well as HS2 implementation from any person, governmental or otherwise.

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