Chris Fletcher, Marketing & Campaigns Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, looks at the latest report on HS2.
Another week and another report surrounded by media hype knocking HS2, calling into question the need for it and prompting calls for the money to be invested elsewhere on other transport schemes that will “deliver more benefit”.
All sounds familiar and in the current febrile political and economic climate an ever increasing number of people it seems are making more noise about stopping the scheme.
In this day and age of immediate snap analysis and expert opinion coming at you from all sides it would be simple to agree with all this and, as we normally do in this country, accept second best, sigh as we never do anything properly, look enviously overseas and continue to bemoan the state of the country.
That would be the easy option.
It would be easy to say “scrap the scheme” if you are a long suffering commuter in the north of England looking anxiously at the next timetable change, suffering the indignity of another short form two carriage train trying to break the laws of physics by carrying the equivalent of a four carriage service. And don’t even mention the Pacers! Get these trains sorted first you’d say, use the money on this not some new fancy service we don’t need.
Even on the West Coast Mainline when you’ve got a seat on a service that runs from Manchester to London in just over 2 hours and from Wigan to London in under that time you would wonder why it should be faster who needs those extra 20 minutes oh and I’ve got a seat so who says there’s no capacity?
Again easy to agree with.
So why do we need HS2?
In 2008 – 11 years ago the West Coast upgrade was finally completed after 10 years (yes 10 years) at a cost of £9bn (£11.2 bn in today’s money) to deliver a target of 13 – 14 trains per hour. It allowed 3 trains an hour from Manchester and a slew of other improvements.
It is currently running at 15 – 16 trains per hour caused in the main by increased commuter services. By 2026 it is estimated that the WCML will be up to 50 million passengers per year and at present 40% of all national rail freight uses part of the WCML. Put simply it’s creaking at the seams. As someone who uses this service frequently delays are now common place as slower trains hold up the intercity traffic. So yes there may well be capacity on some trains and you may have a seat but on current growth forecasts with increasing environmental demands to de-carbonise freight traffic ie put more goods on rails, the only seat you may get soon is the one on the platform waiting for the next train that can be fitted into an already over-crowded schedule.
Rail investment accounts for less than 1% of all government spending. Since HS2 funding started in 2011/12 it has grown steadily to c.£2bn pa with no corresponding reduction in other rail spend that currently averages about £4bn per year. It is a myth that HS2 is sucking the rail system dry of funding.
The next 3 years will see over 7000 new or refurbished rail carriages hit the network.
I commute daily on Northern from Wigan to Manchester and back. I know what it’s like on a Pacer and stood up crowded in like sardines. Last minute cancellations, short form trains, doors not working, water features on the inside of carriages, anyone who uses the rail network in the north will know all about these. I’ve also stood and watched in a morning as the brand new rolling stock thunders through Wigan North Western on test - that’s investment – yes its delayed but it is coming. I’ve seen the works being done to extend platforms for longer trains. HS2 isn’t stopping that. I’m no apologist or mouthpiece for Northern or TPE or any train company but things are happening not just quick enough!
For years we’ve missed out in the north but we are at last getting a share of the pot and not at the expense of other parts of the country. The above is a start, we need and should demand more. HS2 is a crucial part as is Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) the brand new proposed east west high speed rail link – not an upgrade – a brand new track – think Crossrail North. For NPR to work properly integration with HS2 is vital and vice versa. It will unlock and transform local economies like nothing else has ever done. Yes there is a cost to all this but it isn’t and never will be about one or the other it has to be both. This is bigger picture stuff – a national transport network that will drive growth for decades to come.
And growth has already started, right now over 90 North West companies are working on HS2 employing people now – not waiting for the economic benefits in a decade!
Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce isn’t driven by politics and short term opinions. We need to look at things in the longer term because we know the economy, and all our futures are a long term game and that can sometimes mean hard choices. And alongside this we will continue to press and support those local transport needs too. Whether it’s street to street or city to city even country to country the ability to move people, data and freight around easily is the absolute foundation of a successful 21st century economy.
We believe that HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) have to be a big part of that future and not just for the north but the UK in its entirety.