back to article Mobile tech destroys the case for the HS2 £multi-beellion train set

Finally people seem to be waking up to the dog's breakfast which is the economic case for the proposed High Speed Two London-Birmingham rail link. You know, this lovely train set that the politicians want to plonk down in the middle of England. I've never quite been sure why it is that politicians love such train sets: most of …

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Anonymous Coward

Bussiness...

Now then, now then.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwzc6EJKxzA

See, business chap is doin' spreadsheets, even in the 80's...

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Re: Bussiness...

Funny how 3hour checkins and security lines at airports don't get billed in the same way.

Heathrow: 70million passengers/year * 2 extra hours waiting * 50quid/hour = 7billion quid for extra "security"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bussiness.. No I'd rather.

I'd rather cut all the lines at Watford, put a fence up and keep all those jolly little southerners from moving to the better parts of this country.

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Re: Bussiness.. No I'd rather.

Added bonus, no people from those better parts of the country coming down south demanding free dry cleaning services to deal with the nasty grease stains clothes from the huge chips on their shoulders.

There you go, about as funny and clever as your post, i.e., not at all.

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Re: Bussiness...

Or all those stupid roundabouts councils blackmail developers to pay for......

or miles and miles of empty coned off motorway roadworks......

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Re: Bussiness.. No I'd rather.

I was not aware that they had internet North of Watford.

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Anonymous Coward

The business productivity case is only a minor plank in the proverbial bridge that is HS2's economic case. The main plank was the multiplier effect of the construction/operation spending - originally set at 2.4, but halved *over a year ago* to 1.2. If you're going to attack the HS2 project for ever-moving goalposts you should probably mention that little cock up.

However k>1.0 guarantees some return on the investment, anything after that is pure bonus.

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Yes, but not if there's some other project with a k>2 that doesn't get done because you've splurged all your cash on your train set. The object of the exercise should be (it isn't, of course) to maximise value, not to try to do everything (which can include almost anything) that generates a theoretical return on investment.

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There is an economic argument based on the potential multiplier, and the fact that HS2 is a good old-fashioned bit of Keynesian pump-priming.

That's not the real reason it's being promoted - that's about profits for the corps who'll be building it.

But it's not a bad reason, all the same.

However - there's still the problem that if you're going to spend £x bn (x being a much larger number than is currently being discussed, in practice) you'd likely get more of a multiplier by rolling out fast fiber to as much of the UK as possible, including the rural areas, and perhaps providing extra seed funding for useful (i.e. non-Bong-ish) startups and research.

Personally I'd love to see HS2 happen in some form. But if Department of Choo Choo are trying to make an economic argument, it's a lot of cash to spend and - unfortunately - it's not obvious there aren't better and more rewarding ways to spend it.

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"However - there's still the problem that if you're going to spend £x bn (x being a much larger number than is currently being discussed, in practice) you'd likely get more of a multiplier by rolling out fast fiber to as much of the UK as possible, including the rural areas, and perhaps providing extra seed funding for useful (i.e. non-Bong-ish) startups and research."

Realistically, no. Having fast broadband in rural areas is actually not worth it from an economic point of view. You will pay a lot of money, with £10bn being a decent order-of-magnitude estimate, and the economic benefit will be what, exactly? What actually will a lot of people in the countryside do with this superfast broadband that they weren't going to just move to a city and do? Note economic beenfit, not being able to watch Youtube better.

The only "benefit" appears to be that it will stop the depopulation of the countryside, but as we've seen time and time again tele-working for most jobs doesn't beat talking to someone face to face.

Personally I would probably do both HS2 and rural broadband, but not for the economic case. Almost every infrastructure project is dead money, and many companies that do so go bankrupt (Eurotunnel, the Canal and Railway Manias, the national cable buildout, etc.). But unlike the dotcom bubble, infrastructure bubbles actually build something useful to society.

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"There is an economic argument based on the potential multiplier, and the fact that HS2 is a good old-fashioned bit of Keynesian pump-priming."

Yes, assuming there are not better options for spending the money.

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Stop

"Yes, assuming there are not better options for spending the money."

Well, Keynes intended government infrastructure spending to make up for a temporary shortfall in private sector demand. Over the past fifteen years or so, the governments of the day have provided a stimulus of around £600bn through cumulative spending in excess of receipts, a number still increasing at the rate of over £100bn a year, so borrow-and-spend clearly hasn't stimulated growth.

I very much doubt that Keyenes would advocate borrowing more money in this situation, and pi55ing it up the wall on unneeded transport links. Instead of seeking out daft ideas like HS2, the self proclaimed Keyenesians of today should ask themselves how the problem of too much borrowing will be solved by more borrowing.

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FAIL

Keynesian pump-priming

And it would be really useful to do that pump priming years, if not decades after the recession. Infrastructure projects always take so long that the case for them dragging a country out of recession is lost before they have even dug the first hole in the ground.

As for multiplier. Don't be so stupid. All the money spent on the project will go overseas. The trains won't be built here. The contractors that will do most of the work are international. All that will spent here is a relatively small amount on British labour.

HS2 hits the law of diminishing returns. When a train can cut the journey time from 3 days to 6 hours, then its very useful. When it saves 10 minutes off a 3 hour journey then its case it pretty much dead in the water.

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Unhappy

"Department of Choo Choo"

"But if Department of Choo Choo are trying to make an economic argument, it's a lot of cash to spend and - unfortunately "

I think you'll find that 70%+ of the Department is about building and maintaining roads.

Nothing else. Just roads.

In the UK every means of transport not involving private cars on public roads are a very small part of Departments business.

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IT Angle

And ticket pricing?

Wait... Does the cost-benefit analysis (depending on everybody on the train sitting not working not phoning not checking up on things) take into account that all these £50/hour people will have to pay say £50 extra per half hour faster that the train is?

Why would your model anyway assume that anyone who's not working on a train (where there's space to do so --- not in the usual cattle commuters), would be working otherwise? It's people on their time off, or it's the same people that's checking their facebook during 'work' otherwise, and so forth.

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" tele-working for most jobs doesn't beat talking to someone face to face"

chronistic-circular argument: face to face is perceived as 'better' because people prefer what they are used to: people will continue to get used to it because it is perceived as better. Anyway teleworking doesn't have to 'beat' face to face, it only has provide a better cost/benefit return.

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Alien

Other projects? Well, how about a "revolutionary" train set?

Those few BBC programmes I watch, or maybe it's the even fewer non-BBC ones, seem to come equipped with a constant repetition of a horror story abut a nice little girl and her intersection with a train. This is made to seem like such a poor idea (girls meeting trains at crossings, I mean, not the repetitive showing of the event which is seen as A Good Thing) that I thought of a solution: what if the trains moved at higher than girly-style head height? On a rail, or two rails, or three rails, I don't really care much about the trivial details, but overhead, out of reach of cars and buses and little girls?

Yes, one could see this as yet another lame try at replacing real train sets with skiffy-nerdy BuckRogers robot and spaceship nonsense like a "monorail" but that was never the intent. I was just thinking that hanging trains damage the countryside a lot less than grounded ones.

True, stations may need to be slightly re-designed and the front windows would need to be armoured against bird strikes but think of all the construction work that would generate.

Hanging trains, whether powered by gas, oil, electricity or magnetism would remove entirely the idea of "gauge" as a constraint and would allow for micro-trains, parcel and personal delivery pods, to use the rails between their larger, scheduled cousins.

It may even be possible to hook trucks and cars onto the rails for part of some journeys so we could remove a few roadways; certainly reduce the need for motorways.

Imagine a world where *no* little girls were ever killed by trains on crossings...

(Alien 'cos that's where the "realistic" business folks probably think ideas like this come from... and belong.)

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Re: Other projects? Well, how about a "revolutionary" train set?

Wuppertal and the Schwebebahn have done that. Other uses exist as well in the industrie (mining). Düsseldorf Airport and Dortmund University use similar systems. The main problem is the lower load/cargo weight per car compared to normal trains and maintenance of trains and rails.

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Re: Other projects? Well, how about a "revolutionary" train set?

The problem with monorails is that junctions ('points') are horrendously slow and complex. For this reason almost all monorails running today are either point-to-point (airport shuttles, such as Düsseldorf or Newark) or circular (tourist lines, such as Sydney or Seattle).

If you're anywhere near Wuppertal, I can highly recommend the Schwebebahn - it looks (and, to an extent, is) bonkers, but it delivers a local transport system over the top of the Wupper river (the town is in a narrow valley and there was nowhere else to put it). The line is point to point with a circular loop at each end that allows the cars to turn round.

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Re: Other projects? Well, how about a "revolutionary" train set?

The problem of overhead railways - regardless of the number of rails they use - is that they don't hide into the surrounding environment like ground lines do, and are constantly visible even when there's no traffic on it, and being impacted by the weather.

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When they're in the office doin' stuff they get paid according to the value of their output.

Is that why the amount they get paid looks like so much bullshit to the rest of us?

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Anonymous Coward

It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!

Currently, the problem with North to South train travel, is not it's speed, it't the cost.

There is not mass migration back and forth between the regions due to the £100-£200 price tag for a simple return journey to arrive during office hours.

In Italy, I travelled on their High Speed train virtually the length of the entire country for about £25.

We don't need more speed - we need more capacity at an affordable cost.

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Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!

It's the time that stops me, not the cost.

I could, in theory, work in London for several hundred quid/day more than I do in my home city. But the 4 hr round trip makes it completely impractical, it would remain impractical no matter how little the tickets cost.

As it happens the tickets would work out at almost as much as the increase in rate, but that's not the primary or most important barrier.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!

We're always told that rail capacity on the existing network is at maximum.

Well OK, HS2 provides more capacity.

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Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!

The current cost and capacity issues on our network are entirely due to clever. clever economists 'rationalising' the spend on rail for the last 50 years ( i.e. spend fuck all - having put a major road builder in charge of the network rationalisation in the 50's leaving us a seriously fucked up network to begin with)

other countries in europe have taken the view that they need to have a rail network, so fuck the cost and build a good un (it's a bizarre non-thatcherite idea, but there are benefits that cannot be easily expressed in a ledger! the very idea!!). So in classic british style we have a rail system that is both utterly shite to use, and heinously expensive at the same time. Which (if you are in the road building business) it a pretty neat trick!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!

"We don't need more speed - we need more capacity at an affordable cost."

That's partly what HS2 is intended to solve. The existing railway is at maximum capacity and the annual increase in passenger numbers is itself increasing. Economics would tell us that is why pricing is high, demand substantially outstrips supply. Without action prices will continue to rise because of that ongoing increase in demand.

To some extent cost is cost is cost. Building this thing will cost whatever it costs - how it's priced is another matter. In some countries prices are subsidised more by the taxpayer, in some countries less. The UK has an unusual model in that taxpayer subsidy of train companies is taken as private profit and the user ends up still paying a fairly high price. The German and French companies that are big players in UK rail use the subsidy they receive from the British government to subsidise lower fares in their home markets.

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Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!

>I could, in theory, work in London for several hundred quid/day more than I do in my home city.

But once everybody from your home city can work in London - that rate drops.

It will however increase the price of houses in your city when Birmingham becomes a London commuter suburb

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Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!

"The existing railway is at maximum capacity"

No it isn't. Just because the train companies keep saying that, it doesn't mean it's true.

I travel regularly on the West cost mainline to London - at £250 return, it's no surprise that the peak-time trains are barely 1/2 full.

Occasionally I'm lucky enough to get an Advance 1st ticket. The First Class carriages are deserted!

On the other hand, if I travel on an off-peak train, it's packed (a "bargain" at £72 return) . Go figure.

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Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!

Honest question: What European countries have a good railroad network?

France has the TGV but if you are rural - tough luck

Germany has the Bundesbahn - tough luck

The Netherlands have bicycles

...

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Happy

Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!

" But the 4 hr round trip "

Is that your current round trip by train?

Because the idea of this is to shave about 1/2 an hour (depending on how far out you are from London) on long journeys. That's 1/2 each way.

How does that work for you?

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Go

Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!

Switzerland:

Reliable.

Punctual.

Fully integrated with buses, boats and local railways.

Not too expensive.

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Switzerland

But not exactly high-speed.

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Re: Switzerland

High enough speed... and astonishingly clean.

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Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!@ mmeier

Czech Republic has a brilliant rail service, cheap, efficient (trains will be held to ensure a connection is not lost), goes all over the place, integrated with trams and buses. Definitely a good option to the car.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!

I could, in theory, work in London for several hundred quid/day more than I do in my home city. But the 4 hr round trip makes it completely impractical, it would remain impractical no matter how little the tickets cost.

My round trip to London is nearer 5 hours by train but I bought a huge motorbike to do the journey on instead. Job jobbed. I am far form the only who comes >100 miles by road either. Anything over 1000cc bimbling about London in the rush hours that's not obviously a courier has come a long way. Free parking everywhere and avoiding the tube are big pluses.

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Unhappy

Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!

" But the 4 hr round trip "

Just to be clear I have held a job with a 3 hour commute for years, but I don't think I could stomach a 4 hour round trip.

It's a case of what you are willing to accept, what are the start and end times and how common is (usually unpaid) overtime.

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Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!@ mmeier

I spend half my time working in the Czech Republic.

And it really ain't what I would call fast, that train system. Precisely because it does go everywhere. And stops everywhere.

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Re: It will only work to move people around the UK if the tickets are cheap!@ mmeier

The "old" german system worked on three levels. A "once every 15-30minutes" local level that worked as a reliable feeder to the next major station. Either local trains, rapid transit (SBahn) or tram lines. Then a larger level net that connected the bigger hubs on a hourly level with less stops and finally the IC(E) net. Again hourly but with few stations served. The trains and lines where well maintained and resonably on time. The whole plan was integrated so even with a local train late (typically less than 5min) you still could catch the InterCity (IC) if you jogged instead of walked through the station. This was costly since maintenance was done "after x hours/kilometers OR if there is a failure(1)" not "when there is a capital damage"

In the (very) late 1990s / early 2000s that died. The local trains where "run to destruction" and in the wet/cold season trains not reaching the target (even resonably new ones) became a "expect once per week". ICE engine troubles became massive and similar stuff happened on the cargo level. And then they cut the net to pieces with local trains being sold to "local service providers" and the intermediat system being gutted as "not cost efficient"

Used trains between 1987 and 1997 on a daily base. Only during a MASSIV snow "storm" (by german standards) did the trains get delayed / did not run. And even then for only a few hours. Tried the same in the early 2000s. Was ordered to take a car after I had to call the customer three times in four weeks due to "train failed" (2)

(1) And the definition of failure was "the conductor says the train feels wrong"

(2) The type of failed where they even give you official writ that it did! Burning engine, failed brakes and once a failed coupling...

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There may not be an economic case at the national level, but at the European level there's certainly a political dimension to HS2. It links the major UK cities into the european rail network. The whole project is built to a continental loading gauge and will be running continental freight as well as passenger services. This is because it's all part of the ongoing process of transport integration across the EU.

In that light there might be a better economic argument to be made than "it'll get us to London a bit faster". Better-integrated transportation links within the EU can be argued to have a very positive potential economic impact, though of course the primary drive of everything the EU does is "ever closer union"... perhaps that's why our politicians are so leery about giving credit where it's due.

And of course transportation policy is an EU exclusive competence anyway. HS2 would likely go ahead no matter what.

You may think this is a good thing, you may think this is a bad thing. What annoys me is that our alleged betters in Westminster feel the need to lie to us about the source of it all. They take credit for things they haven't done- oh wait, they're politicians, that's all they ever do anyway...

tl;dr an economic case can be made if you realise that HS2 has an EU dimension; it's the EU wot done it anyway. Why won't talk about either of these things?

Incidentally, it's worth noting that travelling first-class off-peak with Virgin is only £15 more expensive than standard class and you get free food and booze for that, plus access to the first-class lounge in Euston and all the free hot chocolate you can consume while you wait for your train to finally turn up after all the delays. No mortgage required.

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....and will be running continental freight as well as passenger services.

Now that is important. Pick a European motorway and drive along it, what's missing? Yup, lane 1 and 20% of lane 2 are not solidly packed with trucks.

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Meh

I'm afraid that isn't necessarily always the case. I live in Germany and frequently travel to the Netherlands, Belgium and France. More and more motorways are being upgraded to 3 lanes because two lane motorways simply can't cope with the sheer number of lorries.

Road rage caused by one lorry overtaking (or to be more honest, inching it's way past) another is a rising problem.

Meh because I don't really care. But obviously I care enough to post. Hmm. Maybe I should get my coat....

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"There may not be an economic case at the national level, but at the European level there's certainly a political dimension to HS2. It links the major UK cities into the european rail network. The whole project is built to a continental loading gauge and will be running continental freight as well as passenger services. This is because it's all part of the ongoing process of transport integration across the EU."

True, but as I understand it, HS2 terminates at Euston, and HS1 at St Pancras. Unless they're building a stretch to connect the two that freight trains can cut through, then presumably there will need to be an intermodal hub to lift European cargo from HS1, load it onto trucks or conventional trains and then transfer back to HS2.

And by the time you've done that you might as well just truck it or use the conventional rail network...

I would also suggest that Tim's a bit presumptuous in suggesting the work time lost in transport is nil.

True, people can get work done (depending what their work is), especially if it's local, or at least tolerant of a patchy connection (i.e. not working on a VM). As others have posted, mobile reception on a 100mph train can be patchy, and whilst First Class types might have some space, most people on the trains don't get a decent table space, or even a seat. Trying to use a laptop with a screen bigger than 10" on the tray tables is an ergonomic nightmare, with the angle of the seat backs usually rendering the screen half-shut.

I would also suggest that during a weekend city break I will spend more money if I get there by 10am than if the train takes till 2pm. I don't contribute much to the retail economy sat on a train... of course that relies on the tickets being adequately priced that I choose to take HS2 and not conventional rail (unlikely)

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"True, but as I understand it, HS2 terminates at Euston, and HS1 at St Pancras. Unless they're building a stretch to connect the two that freight trains can cut through, then presumably there will need to be an intermodal hub to lift European cargo from HS1, load it onto trucks or conventional trains and then transfer back to HS2."

As I understand it from information that's most likely out of date, HS1 and HS2 will be linked by a stretch that passes north of London, but...

...

... that link will, in typically British fashion, NOT be HS-capable. Yes, trains running on the HS1-HS2 link will be limited to non-HS speeds. They will be able to pass between the two lines, but slowly. (It still, however, allows the possibility of extending the record for the longest non-stop passenger train journey - currently held by a Eurostar that ran from London to Marseille as a promotion for the Davinci Code film.)

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Germany is a good example - how NOT to do it.

We have a GREAT river/channel network that actually connects most major industrial cities(1) and many large companies had harbours of their own

We had a good to great railroad network that connected the rest and had side spurs by the dozend

Then some genius level poliTicks threw it all away in three steps

1) Support cars and trucks over trains, dropping many smaller raillines and fright service

2) Listen to the screaming treehuggers and stop important channel/river projects or delay them

3) Try to make the Bundesbahn "fit for the stock exchange" by cutting costs left and right running the trains "till failiure" instead of "regular preventive maintenance"

As a result german trains are "never early, rarely on time and mostly late" IF they run at all, fright cars are worn out and loud raising more protests against new rail lines, channel / river fright is almost none and the big companies fill the roads with "Just in time" delivery trucks making "more autobahnen" a must. Going from one large (100.000+ people) to another even larger merely 30km away can two an hour by train with one stopover. It used to take 45min in the late 1930s with no stopover...

(1) And we are not talking narrowboats here, not even "Canal du Midi"

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Unhappy

HS1/HS2 link not HS capable

"Yes, trains running on the HS1-HS2 link will be limited to non-HS speeds. They will be able to pass between the two lines, but slowly."

Annoying but it stops the whole unload/move/load for freight between the lines.

Avoiding that process saves major time and costs for a freight operation.

Which is quite important if you're planning to do something like IDK "Re-balance the economy" toward manufacturing and selling stuff to foreigners.

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Re: HS1/HS2 link not HS capable

It's more likely that they'd want a direct freight link from the continent to Liverpool. At the moment it' cheaper to take freight across the north sea to Hull, drive it along the M62 and re-load it at Liverpool for transport across the atlantic than it is to sail around the country, but it would be cheaper still to load it on a train somewhere and freight it up to Manchester for transshipment via a local train or trucks to Liverpool.

Just consider it from the strategic perspective of the EU as a whole and the economic reasoning becomes blindingly clear.

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"I would also suggest that during a weekend city break I will spend more money if I get there by 10am than if the train takes till 2pm"

But, you only get a choice of taking a quick weekend city break in Birmingham. If you live in London. Near Euston.

Me: "I've had a lovely idea. I thought we should go away for a nice weekend away"

Mrs: "Birmingham, again? Yippee"

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@toof4st

" But, you only get a choice of taking a quick weekend city break in Birmingham. If you live in London. Near Euston. "

Which leads to the big problem -- the HS2 will only take people from Birmingham to London. Most people travelling the other way will be on their return leg. The HS2 is going to increase the drain of money from "elsewhere" to London.

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Re: HS1/HS2 link not HS capable

Ah, getting close!

But there was a private scheme (Central Railways Ltd) to provide such a link specifically enhancing freight capacity and removing it from the passenger railway. I seem to remember it being roundly condemned by all, especially the government, and it sank without trace. Now what is being proposed is a higher cost, more intrusive scheme that will not address the real transport needs. Just as good as any other Government sponsored scheme then!

I would venture to suggest that the EU bit is to insist that any new railways built in Britain are to their TGV standards, and therefore incompatible with the vast majority of the British railway system. Nothing new here either!

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