die belebende Bedenkung

The importance of being evasive

with 3 comments

Reproduced below is an interesting account of the Greengauge 21 event ‘High Speed Two: the wider network, the wider benefits‘ held at Birmingham Think Tank on September 19, 2013. Speakers included Lord Deighton (HS2 Growth Task Force); Sir David Higgins (now chairman of HS2 Ltd); Paul Ormerod (Volterra), and Laura Webster (HS2 Ltd).


I attended this event with Bhanu Dhir from the Black Country Chamber of Commerce and attach a copy of the agenda showing the items for discussion and those presenting. Clearly it was intended to be a highly publicised “Showcase” event to help increase support for the project. There was no opportunity for any serious debate or questioning and it was managed in a way which discouraged anything seen as contentious. No new information beyond that which we already have was made available.

Reference was made to the supportive conclusions assumed from the KPMG Report “HS2 (Phase 2) Regional Economic Impacts”. I have read this report as well as I can. I believe that the Black Country has the right to hold the highest expectations for significant benefit from the HS2 Project in both direct local terms and indirectly from national advantages. Our support should be dependent upon clear expectations in both of these. I continue to be concerned at the poor standard of work done by HS2 and Greengauge 21 in producing reliable and verifiable information to absolutely support the business case.

Continually, they avoid direct questions or give answers of a quality which is very disappointing. Sir David Higgins, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, confirmed the view that as much as possible has been done to improve and increase the capacity of West Coast Main Line. He stated that continuing costs of maintaining it are so high that the money might as well be spent on building HS2. However, he failed to address the point that the proposed continuing high level of utilisation of West Coast Main Line for improved local services and freight utilisation means that there will always be high maintenance costs associated with it even if HS2 is built, so that argument does not appear to make much sense. I tried to ask a question on this but did not get any response.

A particular interest for UK manufacturing, of which the Black Country is an important element, is that the greatest possible proportion of the total manufacturing and building work associated with HS2 should be placed in the UK and the money not significantly spent overseas as we are currently seeing with Wind Energy. Therefore, the presentation by Steve Scrimshaw, the Managing Director of Siemens Rail Systems UK and North West Europe was very important. He spoke about the spread of jobs through the supply chain, the importance of manufacturing capability and skills development within the UK, particularly including the mention of apprenticeships.

This was a good presentation, with much said that we would agree with. Clearly Siemens stand to benefit massively if HS2 goes ahead. Even the publicity photographs prominent on the day showed all of the HS2 locomotives with Siemens logos. This is a German owned company but Mr Scrimshaw described the position of Siemens here going back to the 19th century and its strong commitment to the UK. When he finished, I congratulated him on an excellent presentation and asked him directly what proportion of Siemens’ contribution to HS2 would be manufactured in the UK? I was surprised that he tried to avoid the question and said shortly that “they were aware of it and thinking about it”. I was asked by the Chair if I was happy with the answer and I said no, not really. I asked Mr Scrimshaw the same question again and added would it be 50%, 75%? He did not want to answer and gave the same response as before, then left the stage. Personally, I was not happy with the response.

One of the best quality presentations was that given by Keith Brown MSP, Minister for Transport and Veterans in the Scottish Parliament. Understandably the Scottish Government strongly supports the development of High Speed Rail and clearly, it is on long distance journeys that benefits become most apparent. He said that development of High Speed Rail north of the border would be expensive and that Scotland would be prepared to contribute financially.

Geoff Inskip from Centro made a good presentation which described his organisations’ support for HS2. He emphasised the opinion that the most important characteristic of HS2 should be connectivity and that its success will be a function of that. I agree with this point and it emphasises that it can only contribute significantly to the economy if it is part of a fully integrated wider transport network which will include significantly up rated road and other local transport networks.

The final presentation and one of the most important because of the limited understanding of the way freight services will operate on West Coast Main Line was the last one on the “Wider Benefits: Integration and Freight”. I was not able to stay through this because of another appointment but Bhanu Dhir has briefed me. It does not appear that much new light was thrown on the subject beyond describing the benefits of increasing the amount of freight travelling by rail instead of by road. Clearly there are concerns about just how much capacity will be available because a number of questions were asked about whether any freight could be carried on the new HS2 line. Bhanu advises me that this question was not answered.


I think my experience of this event as well as those already reported to you confirms that we must sustain clearly stated high expectations and also significantly question those points which remain unclear or misleading.

I have read the KPMG Report and this, alongside the Network Rail Report on “Better Connections” includes significant detail on anticipated improvements to local services. However, as became apparent from my previous meeting with the HS2 Taskforce, no significant investigation has yet been carried out into what the increased freight utilisation on West Coast Main Line will actually be. As the major case for HS2 currently being made is the lack of capacity on West Coast Main Line; there must be a clear understanding of what that capacity is. Therefore, how can there be a detailed analysis of improved local services without any understanding of how much capacity in terms of track length and time will be taken up by slow moving long freight trains? Jerry Blackett and I will shortly be meeting Geoff Inskip from Centro and representatives from HS2. I will raise this question during that meeting.

One critical point that requires clarification is the relationship between ticket prices and passenger numbers. I think it is disturbing that even the KPMG Report makes no reference to this and the subject was completely avoided at the Millennium Point event. To whatever degree in the future a fully developed High Speed Rail network can be self sustaining, there is no doubt that in the early years its very high fixed and operating costs can only be covered in two ways:

1. High ticket prices which will limit utilisation and certainly minimise commuting opportunities.

2. Considerable public subsidy of ticket prices which will reduce funding elsewhere.

This is a critical question and I believe that we should be expecting to see some evidence of constructive and properly evaluated strategies in this context. At present, I do not believe that we do. Another point from the KPMG Report that will need further consideration is that, in order to realise the potential forecast impacts on business location across Britain, there may be a need for complementary changes to create an environment in which business can develop. Although the predicted GDP impact is 15 billion pounds, this is described as optimum. There are two sensitivities which affect this:

1. The productivity calculations include Dft estimates of work done by businessmen while travelling on the train. If this is adjusted for the reduced time spent on the train, the GDP impact is reduced to 12 billion pounds.

2. There are assumptions about connectivity to labour. A scenario is described in which connectivity to labour, by either road or rail, is not a driver of business productivity. This assumption reduces the GDP impact to 8 billion pounds per year.

We need further clarification on these points and particularly it seems to me that if considerations of labour connectivity are crucial to calculation of impact on GDP, then some clarification about the position of ticket pricing is essential.

A final observation reflects my concern at the apparent lack of understanding and “joined-up thinking” at even the highest political levels. Recently George Osborne said that he is “passionate” about HS2 and thinks it will be a major factor in achieving a more even balance of the economy across the UK and help reduce the excessive concentration in the South East of England. This of course in itself makes a strong case for HS2. However, if that passion is true and represents laudable Government perspective, why are we not seeing a similar approach to a future airport strategy?.

It is already clear that the Davies Report will continue to focus on the South East and yet, it seems clear to me that a coordination of HS2 development with an airport strategy which distributes strategic hubs further North would be a very strong driver of economic development in parts of the UK other than the South East. I have described this thought to John Morris at Birmingham Airport.

Colin Leighfield

Written by beleben

January 29, 2014 at 10:13 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

3 Responses

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  1. A further factor affecting the effective use of the WCML seems to be that at present it is used by 3 different operators – Virgin, London Midland and the freight companies. I’m sure they work together to some extent but a question that should be asked is whether it would be used more efficiently if there was one operator, as on the highly successful Chilterns Line. In particular, having stood on a railway bridge outside Tring between 4 and 8pm on a Thursday evening it was noticeable that even at the height of the rush hour there were some remarkably long gaps between trains on the down line from London, even though the real pressure is on commuter services between London, Milton Keynes and Northampton, not long distance.

    Shirley Judges

    January 29, 2014 at 11:27 am

    • As you’ve observed, the argument that West Coast is ‘full’ south of Milton Keynes, doesn’t have a basis in reality.

      Excess fragmentation in the rail industry is a costly problem, but it’s interesting that Heathrow Express and First GW still manage to get 18 trains out of Paddington.


      January 29, 2014 at 3:29 pm

  2. I am sure Siemens is among the best in the world in (electrical) engineering.
    According to FAZ newspaper (21 Dec 2013) with an ageing ICE fleet, German rail is in urgent need of Siemens advanced Velaro D HS replacements:

    Already two years behind schedule, the delay with ever increasing cost, is not down solely to Siemens (software problems with highly complex braking systems) but also to finance and this in Europe’s wealthiest economy.

    I am sure that the Hitachi IEPs will not have any such issues but Transport Sec did have to add on extra rolling stock to keep them happy (viable) when they lost the big German rail contract to Bombardier De.


    January 29, 2014 at 12:58 pm

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