Britain’s best white elephant, HS2, was constantly a dud railway. It has grazed for ten yrs on the Treasury garden, and has now has been explained to it can remain, a lot more dud than ever. It was symbolic this 7 days that Boris Johnson launched HS2 not in the north but in a huge patch of Birmingham mud. Future to him stood his chancellor, Sajid Javid. They presently looked like executioner and sufferer. Both equally appeared to know their “spine of the north” was as doomed as their relationship.
Very little about HS2 has ever produced perception. The route to Euston from Birmingham’s isolated Curzon Street, a mile from the rail hub of New Street, was picked out only mainly because Robert Stephenson chose it in 1838. As substantial pace, it is daft. Every single finish is so unwell-linked as to terminate any time saved aboard. In London the new line misses St Pancras by half a mile, as a result denying the position of prolonged-distance pace, which is to url the north with HS1 and the Channel. If HS2 patrons want to get to Europe by rail, they must wheel their suitcases down the Euston Road. Stephenson really should have believed more time term.
HS2 will carry no freight. Even to draw in travellers it must compete with the present, flawlessly adequate company to New Street. Euston is amongst London’s minimum congested stations. On the BBC this 7 days, interviews with Birmingham travellers confirmed trains 3-quarters empty.
Just about every the latest examine of the railway’s foreseeable future, notably the 2006 Eddington report, calls for precedence for commuting. Dependent on definition, trains provide a lot less than eight% of British isles journeys, and two-thirds of individuals are by south-jap commuters. Northern rail travellers are generally commuters, enduring some of the worst solutions on the overall community. HS2 will not enable them. Railways are wonderful but they are not critical contributors to economic regeneration.
As a result, defenders of HS2 have experienced to keep switching the argument. 1st it was about pace, then about capacity, now about “levelling up the north”. All this is pure spin, in help of staggering development contracts. Speed is now discounted as electrical power guzzling. Extra capacity will mainly advantage commuters from London’s northern dwelling counties. As for emissions, HS2 admits it is heading to be “carbon positive” for generations.
Most cruel is that this challenge has anything at all to do with the north. Johnson’s perception that it will have northern voters cheering him on is puzzling. Very last week’s YouGov poll confirmed a public in opposition to HS2 by 39% to 34%. The north and Midlands ended up overwhelmingly in opposition to the a single place strongly in favour was London, supporting HS2 by a significant forty two% to 23%.
Londoners are not fools. If this is a white elephant, it is their white elephant. Experiments by John Tomaney of College Faculty London and other individuals have demonstrated that substantial-pace trains normally advantage the even larger and richer finish of the line. Londoners use trains like no a single else. They want ever a lot more of them, and they tend to get what they want. The fact is that HS2 is an additional southern-oriented, London-magnetising challenge. It would make as much transportation perception as Johnson’s east London cable car. This Johnson partly recognises. Consequently his real choice this 7 days was to apparent off the table any notion of HS2 heading north of Birmingham. He has explained to its above-fed professionals to cease there. His laughable sop to the north was a good deal of bombast about electrical buses, cycle lanes and pre-Beeching rail lines. Convey to that to a Leeds commuter. The whole notion of “levelling up” the north is a patronising London cliche.
An sign of this was the transportation minister, Grant Shapps, saying last 7 days that any HS2 trains north of the Midlands will have to operate at the current Pendolino pace of 125mph. But considering that HS2 trains are non-tilting, they will have to go slower spherical bends. They would superior be termed Lower Speed two.
Johnson is dealing with the north as “here be dragons” territory. The superior information is that he at minimum turned above northern transportation to a consortium of nearby councils. Manchester and Leeds can duly decide railway priorities for themselves. I am confident that if there is any funds from “chancellor” Dominic Cummings, the north will want to expend it on city transit and commuting. But such funds can only be crumbs from the table of London to Birmingham. The north has been monumentally duped.
There was a tenuous case for bringing the British isles into the substantial-pace rail age, generally reliant on greater capacity from on-board signalling. As for HS2, it really should only have been viewed as a northern extension of HS1 from St Pancras, to url Europe with the north and Scotland. This will now never materialize, other than on foot down the Euston Road.
But HS2 was constantly about politics. This 7 days observed it defended totally in the language of populist chauvinism. To Johnson it confirmed “spine … faith in the north”. To Shapps, it was “believing in the foreseeable future of your country”, to other individuals “an skill to get up and do something”. To be a good country these times, you must shut your mind and indulge in a Trumpian orgy of public extravagance. Probity dissolves, vainness soars.
HS2 will sink into background, like its Victorian neighbour the Good Central into Marylebone. But the information of the new populist infrastructure has long gone out. If a handful of Birmingham businessmen can assert up to a hundred thousand million pounds of public funds, never can Johnson deny anybody a new medical center, university, treatment dwelling or certainly ridiculous scheme “because there is no money”. There is constantly funds. So assemble spherical. Make your challenge substantial-profile and London-oriented. Consider of a sum, double it, and request Johnson if he is a patriot or a mouse. You will get billions.
• Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist