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HS2 and the wizard of Oz

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David Higgins, the Australian superhero ‘infrastructure wizard’ who delivered the 2012 Olympics on time and on budget, is now tasked with ‘rescuing HS2’, according to the Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan.

In two fawning articles dated 2 February 2014, Mr Brogan claimed

  • the best engineering brains in the country have run out of clever ways to squeeze extra carriages on to the rail routes, in particular the West Coast main line
  • HS2 is needed to ease crowding on routes in and out of the capital; other solutions for creating additional space have been exhausted.

[‘It’s now or never. The meter is always ticking‘ says Sir David Higgins, by Benedict Brogan, Telegraph, 02 Feb 2014]

[…] Capacity, or the lack of it, is the new argument advanced by the Government for building a high speed network to the north of England.

[…] In a few years, Sir David predicts, there will be queues on platforms in places like Milton Keynes, as passengers wait their turn to board packed trains. He compares it with his rush-hour experience of the London Underground, when he usually has to wait for the third or fourth train before he can get on.

[‘HS2: British rail network cannot survive without it, says high-speed project’s boss‘, By Benedict Brogan, and Nick Collins, 02 Feb 2014]

“There are no new train paths. We’d love to put more trains on the west coast. It performs at 85 per cent. […] HS2 offers 18 train paths an hour each way.”

Asked how much worse he feared the problem could get, he added: “You won’t get on trains. It will be like the Piccadilly Line at peak hour. Usually I stand for three trains before I can get on. You’ll be doing that at Milton Keynes. You’ll be forming queues to get on trains.”

Mr Higgins may be superhero enough to buy his own standard ticket, and stand all the way into London from ‘beyond Reading’ (just like all the other superheroes). But his brilliant brain doesn’t seem to have registered why people have to stand on trains from Reading; namely, because a third of the current capacity is wasted by running short-distance Heathrow Express trains on the Fast Lines.

That’s something the government could quickly sort out, if it wanted to; but even so, Paddington is much more despatch-efficient than Euston. So far as West Coast is concerned, the government, London Midland, and Network Rail have all accepted that paths could be increased. Mr Brogan doesn’t seem to have done much research: the 2012 Olympics were brought in on time, but certainly not on budget.

At Network Rail, there was little evidence of Mr Higgins being a wizard, visionary, or innovator. In June 2013, the Daily Mail reported that Network Rail had missed all its punctuality targets, but its five top bosses still got bonuses worth £350,000. The company’s debt exceeds £30,000,000,000, and its oversight and transparency mechanisms remain inadequate.

The bizarre PR-driven mix of scaremongering (‘people will not be able to get on trains’), and false hopes (‘HS2 will end the property price spiral in London and the South East’) purveyed by Mr Higgins suggests the project is in deep trouble.


Written by beleben

February 3, 2014 at 10:58 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

2 Responses

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  1. If “there will be queues on platforms in places like Milton Keynes, as passengers wait their turn to board packed trains” it will show how the London economic honey-pot always grows in size to take up and (in time) exceed the peak hour capacity of its radial transport arteries. Always has done. Always will, given the chance.

    So, if Sir David builds an entirely new radial artery, bringing central Birmingham within an hour’s commute of the honeypot, London will grow again. London house prices will rise. Next, we will be told that, to meet the London housing appetite we must, simply must, build some Milton Keynes size cities over the Home Counties wheat-fields and new transport arteries to serve them, in case there will be queues of passenger waiting to board the packed trains there.


    February 4, 2014 at 9:59 am

  2. […] it bears the name of “wizard superhero” David Higgins, a large part of the HS2 Plus report consists of previously-heard stock […]

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