May the farce be with you
Prime minister Theresa May wanted to cancel the HS2 project, but was told it was ‘too late’ to do so, claimed Lord Framlingham in a House of Lords debate on 31 January.
[House of Lords, HS2 LWM Bill, 2017-01-31]
[Lord Framlingham:] I have followed this issue [HS2] carefully since it arrived in this House. I spoke against it at Second Reading, during the Queen’s Speech debate and in Committee. During all those stages I heard nothing but criticism of the project from every corner of the House, but noble Lords were still, for some reason, reluctant to speak against it in principle. So we arrive at the situation we face today — all the scheme’s credibility has long since gone, yet it is still bowling along with a momentum all of its own. It has been compared to Alice in Wonderland or the emperor’s new clothes. One journalist described it as the “zombie railway” that refuses to die. How has it got so far?
[…] I have it on good authority that the Prime Minister, when she assumed office, wanted to abandon the scheme but was told that she could not because it was too late. It is never too late. There is an old adage about throwing good money after bad and although it may well be necessary to write off considerable moneys already spent, these sums have to be compared with the billions of pounds that would be spent in the future, not to mention the 10 years it is going to take to build, the massive disruption to Euston station and the surrounding area in London and, of course, the devastating effect it will have on our countryside.
In the debate, the Baron of Camden Town took the opportunity to repeat his stock wibble about ‘open heart surgery’, ‘upgrading the West Coast main line cost £10 billion’, and so forth.
[Andrew Adonis:] Upgrading a pre-Victorian railway is a very difficult task. It has been described to me as like performing open-heart surgery on a moving patient. It is also very expensive and complex. The completion of the last upgrade of the west coast main line, which produced only a fraction of the additional capacity that HS2 will produce, cost, in pre-2010 prices, £10 billion — in post-2010 prices that figure would be significantly higher. Of that £10 billion, £1 billion alone was for paying the railway company not to operate services at all in compensation for the disruption. For HS2, with the scale of the work that would be required, the proportionate figure would be larger still.
If an alternative scenario to HS2 were to be carried out — upgrading the existing railway — the estimate that was made for me by officials in 2010, and which has been done again since, is that you would have to spend half as much as on HS2 for a quarter of the capacity, and of course the sum is a moving target because of construction costs and inflation.
I should add that the alternative scheme involved the complete rebuilding of Euston station, which will need to be done anyway. The great monstrosity that is Euston station was built for half its current capacity in the 1960s. I am glad to say, for those with a sense of history, that the Euston arch will come back when the station is rebuilt. The scheme also required hugely difficult and expensive work that would involve weeks on end of closures to realign tracks and signalling, extend platforms at all the main stations going north from Euston and so on. Those of your Lordships who used the west coast main line when the last work was being conducted will know that the disruption was chronic for the best part of a decade. We would be looking at something significantly worse than that if we were to seek to modernise the west coast main line on the scale required for the additional capacity.
It is not just the west coast main line that would be affected. In order to provide that 25% extra capacity, the Chiltern line would need to be substantially four-tracked throughout.
On intercity West Coast, it would be possible to increase Standard class capacity by a lot more than “25%”, without doing any ‘disruptive infrastructure work’ at all (e.g. by replacing each 9-car and 11-car Pendolino with a 10-car Class 800 variant).
On Chiltern, the “quick ‘n easy” no-disruption capacity uplift would also be a great deal more than 25%, if short loco-hauled trains and suchlike were replaced by full-length multiple units.
Judging from photographs, the Euston “arch” (propylaeum) was one of the least attractive parts of the old station. And when asked about claims like ‘the 1960s Euston was built for half its current capacity’, HS2 Ltd stated they held no information. If anyone can give a reference to an official 1960s British Railways statement about the design capacity of the station, the Beleben blog would be interested to see it.
In spite of Lord Framlingham’s efforts, the HS2 LWM Bill passed its Third Reading in the Lords. So HS2 continues to run on empty.