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February 4th, 2013

The Government has announced phase 2 of its High Speed 2 project, connecting the major northern cities of Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield to the capital.

It also endeavours to link the route to existing networks so that journeys can continue to other cities and major towns. However, the route seems set to benefit few and drive up customers’ travel costs. As such, there is large and justified opposition to the plans. Many arguments draw from the criticisms of High Speed 1, which serves the South-East county of Kent. The announcement also comes in the wake of recent failures of the existing infrastructure in Wales, the South-west and the West Coast Mainline franchise bidding process. Hence, the argument of whether we should really be developing the new rail network is one is understandable.

It’s apparent that this is a ludicrous commitment from a Government forcing austerity on its nation and cuts on its vital services. It’s quite strange that there would be such a high-cost project when the Government is telling us to restrict our spending. This added cost of £50 billion over a relatively long time frame of at least 16 years just does not make sense and is an unjustifiable amount to the taxpayer’s bill. In the UK, we already have failing rail networks; a lack of electrification in Wales and on the East Coast mainline, failures of trains in adverse weather conditions in the Southern counties and a massive problem with existing trains regularly running delayed. Surely if we are to invest any money into the railways, it should be in upgrading and strengthening existing infrastructure rather than developing an entirely new costly project.

The construction of High Speed 1 and its opening in 2007 does not give any empirical evidence that justifies its extension. The route which serves parts of Kent is dismal and disappointing whilst it also disproportionately raised fares across the rest of the Southeastern network. After its launch, no matter where you travelled from, you were likely to be met with a hike in ticket prices and a reduction in service. The train also pulls into Saint Pancras International meaning customers then have to pay an extra £6 for a London travelcard in order to get to more central parts of the city. Customers have also noted that the journey times of the High Speed trains are only minutely less than those of “normal speed” trains, some pulling in to London only ten minutes later. Take into account the number of extra stations these older trains call at, this is not surprising. What’s to say that these criticisms won’t be made of High Speed 2 also?

The limits of the guaranteed high costs of the train and the few stops it will call out demonstrate that this network will only benefit few. Essentially those on high incomes, travelling for business or who have managed to buy a cheap advance ticket will be the only people to benefit from this deal. Whilst those living in parts of the country that it won’t visit will be paying the construction and maintenance costs without ever the likelihood of putting one foot on the service.

Furthermore, the given route for this network seems simply an extension, or perhaps a replacement, of the existing highly commended West Coast Mainline as the route is planned to run from its terminuses London Euston, Manchester Piccadilly and Liverpool Lime Street as well as new stations in other cities it serves, such as Birmingham (Curzon Street). For the London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street route, it seems set only to cut the time by the small amount of 15 minutes.

High Speed 2 seems on track to disappoint many of us as we realise that the service has not benefitted us, but only cost us money. Whilst the Government proceeds with this preposterous development through our taxes, existing networks will fail, we will continue to get frustrated and our service will not improve. Full speed ahead then, right?

Additionally published by Backbench.