HS2 Questions

Examining the issues around the proposed High Speed 2 route

Does the Dutch experience back up Taxpayers Alliance ‘White Elephant’ Claim?

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Two significant pieces of news emerged shortly after the last blog debating the viability of HS2.

The first is a Reuters piece on 1 Feb. that one year after launching.

The Dutch high-speed train operator could face eventual bankruptcy unless steps are taken to boost its viability, after little more than a year of full services, infrastructure minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen said.

 A high-speed rail line linking Brussels to Amsterdam opened to great fanfare in December 2009 but the service has struggled to attract enough domestic passengers, travelling to and from the south of the Netherlands, to pay for its access charges.

 I spent some time living and working in the Netherlands and came away struck by our culturally similarities with the Dutch. We have a similar seafaring and trading history, similar values, a similar sense of humour.

In terms of High Speed Rail they don’t have the hazard of hills but they like us they have high population densities, relatively short distances between cities and, it seems, the same reluctance to pay a premium for faster transport.

Like so many in the Midlands, I object in principle to paying £5 to use the M6 Toll if I think the M6 is clear. And yesterday I saved nearly £100 by travelling from Coventry to London on the slower Chiltern Line rather than on the Virgin service. It’s not that I can’t afford it – and the London trip was on expenses – I just object to poor value for money as a matter of principle.

Perhaps it is this Dutch and British desire for value for money that brought about the second piece of news, that the Taxpayers Alliance consider the HS2 scheme a “huge spending risk”. Director Matthew Sinclair said: “Politicians should focus on making commuter journeys more convenient and affordable, not a flashy new train set that will be a huge white elephant.”

This is no a knee jerk reaction to the (first stage) £17bn price tag. The report was compiled by Chris Stokes, a former executive director of the Strategic Rail Authority. “The need for new capacity can be better served with longer and more frequent trains on the existing quick InterCity service, which wouldn’t need anything like the same subsidy. HS2 should be cancelled,” he said.

Even with a subsidy, will the British be willing to pay for a journey that by 2025 may only be 11 mins quicker than the journey time Richard Branson expects to deliver? The forthcoming Consultation must be a robust debate and not just going though the motions.

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Written by hs2questions

February 5, 2011 at 11:08 am

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