Alex Green, a retired railway operating executive who spent much of his 35 year career with British Rail on the West Coast main line, has responded to the article It’s not too late to scrap HS2 by Madeline Grant.
Well – what gloom and despondency from Madeline Grant in her critique of HS2! Thank goodness that Economic Advisers were unheard of in the pioneering reigns of Victoria and Edward or else we would never have invested in the industrial revolution and become the powerhouse of the modern world. And much of that wealth came thanks to the railways opening up new opportunities for others to exploit. They were never hugely profitable in their own right but became the means by which all other parts of the economy grew, creating enormous wealth for industrialists, property owners and entrepreneurs.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and despite Madeline’s gloomy description of useless British management, we are now once again emerging as a strong economy backed by highly successful civil and electrical engineering projects. The Olympics were a resounding success, as was HS1, whilst the Jubilee Underground line, London Bridge station and junctions were completely rebuilt and CrossRail tunnels completed on time and on budget.
There is absolutely no hint that HS2 will not also be built on time and to budget – except by those with a vested interest in it not being built or those who have little faith in British skills.
It is a project designed to maximise benefits to the British economy during construction by being built using 25,000 British workers, British steel and concrete, designers and engineers. After completion it will provide the key for many aspects of the British business world to capitalise on its provision of new opportunities.
Are 6 figure salaries so unusual when designing a project costing £40 billion? Surely we want the best talent and such experts are in global demand from Dubai to Hong Kong. I want the best talent – not the leftovers after the best have gone abroad to work.
What Britain does do badly is its wimpish decision making processes that consistently hold the country back. Because we have lost that political courage to get national infrastructure schemes through the inevitable debate sessions, major wealth enabling schemes such as Heathrow third runway, nationwide high speed internet, nuclear power stations and fracking have all taken far too long to have decisions made on them. It is the end users of such national infrastructure schemes who suffer from high costs, poor reliability and restricted access before they inevitably get built – some 30 years too late.
This has been the case for HS2, with the result that property development all along the West Coast Main Line from London Euston to Wolverhampton has been held back because the present railway is full, tired and below customers’ expectations. Built 180 years ago for slow moving freight and passenger services serving local communities, it now carries trains every 5 minutes at 125mph from 06.00 to gone 22.00 every day on the fast lines and a mass of slower trains on the slow lines, leaving insufficient time or space for recovery if things go wrong. Maintenance is difficult, time consuming and expensive on Europe’s busiest mixed traffic main line. No more local trains can be fitted into the timetable despite strong demand – particularly in the West Midlands from Coventry to Wolverhampton through Birmingham. The cause of this is the effect of trying to run many high speed trains intermixed with freight and stopping passenger services along an old 2-line railway from Rugby to Wolverhampton.
Why does an adviser on economic affairs think that they know better than all the transport experts who have designed the new line and stations? Comparing the new station site in Birmingham to its Victorian use of a coal depot is frankly ludicrous and shows little understanding of how cities change their usage over time. A perfect example of enterprising developers capitalising on new transport infrastructure was London’s Docklands which transformed time-expired Victorian docks into the leading financial centre of the world. Developers will soon have wonderful opportunities to maximise modern uses around all the new stations in the West Midlands – and beyond as the line is further extended to Manchester and Leeds.