If Britain's High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) rail project is to achieve a groundswell of public support then the wider economic case for it needs to be made, a panel of transport experts concluded last night (reported politics.co.uk).
[...] On the day the government published details of the legislation needed to kick start the project, experts said the public needed to hear more about how it would free up capacity on the road and rail network.
The high speed rail (preparation) bill, which will provide parliamentary approval to fund the initial and future phases of the project, and the HS2 hybrid bill, which authorises the building of the first phase of the line, were announced in the Queen's Speech yesterday.
Speaking at an event to mark the introduction of the legislation, shadow transport secretary Lilian Greenwood said the bills were "very welcome" and confirmed Labour would continue to back the project, although they would have liked to see the hybrid bill cover the whole of the route.
But she warned that supporters of the project had to continue to make the case for it, including the wider economic and transport benefits, because they "can't just assume it will happen".
Paul Chapman, the former managing director of HS1, who has now been brought on by HS2 as director of PR strategy, said freight had an important role to play in making the wider case for the line.
While freight trains will not run on HS2, there will be more capacity for them to run on the existing rail network as a result of the project. This is seen as evidence of the "national benefit" of HS2 because it raises the benefits to ports such as Felixstowe and Southampton, which are struggling with rail capacity.
There were benefits to be enjoyed by the regional cities, not just London, because "connectivity allows things to flow both ways", he added.
Supply chain benefits are also being promoted by the project's supporters. It is "realistic" for HS2 to replicate what Crossrail has achieved with suppliers, spreading its economic reach "from Aberdeen to Falmouth", Chapman argued. [...]
Even though it is envisaged as a 'container-friendly' Continental gauge railway, provision for railfreight on HS2 is not part of the government's plan. Instead, HS2 lobbyists have generally attempted to argue that moving Inter City West Coast services onto HS2 would 'free up capacity' for more freight on existing tracks.
The problem is that HS2 would not have the capacity to take all long distance fast passenger trains. And if it did, the disconnectivity repercussions for places like Peterborough, Stoke-on-Trent, Coventry, and Stockport would be significant.
On the evidence available, HS2 released capacity benefits for North -- South railfreight are unlikely to be large, or good value for money. The last thing the West Coast Main Line needs, is more railfreight. Cargo traffic needs to make better use of lesser used routes, such as Felixstowe to Nuneaton, Settle and Carlisle, and the Midland Main Line.
How anyone could advocate spending £40 or £50 billion on new-build rail infrastructure that does not have freight-friendly gradients, or a 'future proof' ability to take double-stack container trains, is beyond comprehension.
The decline of British manufacturing industry has been particularly acute in the rail sector. For example, Spain has four manufacturers of passenger rail vehicles (Alstom, Vossloh, Talgo, and CAF), whereas Britain has only one limited-capability assembly plant (Bombardier Derby). So, like the Intercity Express Programme, Crossrail and Thameslink, HS2 is likely to be heavily reliant on foreign suppliers and contractors, with much of its "supply chain" beneficiaries being located overseas.