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HS2 Folly

HS2 Folly

[Originally Posted on LinkedIn on 8 Oct 2023}

Sad times. ☹

Why have a High-Speed Line?

Many years ago, perhaps decades, I was privileged to see a glimpse into the future of railways in Britain. Just an A4 sheet, with a map of a High-Speed network overlaid on the then existing rail network. If memory serves, it had HS1 all the way to HS8, and only HS1, the CTRL was already built.

Years later we saw the commencement of HS2, albeit in a piecemeal fashion. It had ambitions, presumably supported by both the Government of the day and the Opposition, as it had all party support. Not only to construct a railway, but also to be a window to the world of excellence.

An exemplary project that not only utilised the latest technology and techniques, but was leading the way in sustainability, environmental issues, training and apprenticeships, and diversity. It also set out to be fair to its communities, such as paying a fair valuation plus 10%. Reading the news, the latter ideal may have been scuppered some time ago. All such aspirations come at a cost.

It is irrational to compare the cost per mile of the Chinese High-Speed network, which has added 25,000 km in the time it has taken us to complete zero miles. There are so many differences that the two are just not analogous.

If fact, it is questionable that Britain is suitable for any internal High-Speed lines. It is too small and is too densely populated, with the conurbations too close together to make worthwhile gains in speed. However, firstly, that argument starts to weaken with the use of new signalling technology and new trains. Also, if the new lines are integrated with the existing, there are not only journey time enhancements, but also, and most importantly, capacity and reliability enhancements. Very significant ones.

When the West Coast Route Modernisation was taking place on the live West Coast Mainline, it was clear to see how much a weekend closure had on services, people, and costs. Perhaps it is fair to say that those involved in that project would never want to do that again, in that fashion. It should also be noted that it was not cheap. How many years of live railway disruption were caused by the WCRM?

A relatively recent report drawn up to establish how many new paths could be sold in regard to the Southern, London end, of the WCML. The answer was zero. The WCML is so close to 100% capacity that squeezing any additional paths would potentially risk severely impacting the rest of the service.

Building an additional route, away from the existing infrastructure, will make significant improvements to both the new line and the existing line. It is the only way to improve the WCML service.

The existing line may consist of services travelling at between 100 – 125 mph, for the fast passenger trains, some travelling more slowly and stopping more frequently. Then there are the stopping services. Individually, the latter probably don’t cover the same distance as the fast passenger services, but collectively can do. Then add the freight services. There is such a huge range of speeds and stopping profiles that it is difficult to create a set of reliable integrated services. Take out the fast passenger service and it is easier to balance all the needs of the other remaining services making them more reliable and generating extra capacity. The additional capacity can be used for increasing the frequency of the local services, and enabling more freight trains.

All of the above can only happen when there is the alternative route.

Looking into the more distant future.

Electric vehicles.

Let’s start with the peak oil theory and the resultant petering out of availability. I think I have read that the current peak production prediction is 2040. (Aside; when was the Manchester leg due to be finished)

There is also a climate change imperative to move away from the use of fossil fuels. This has given rise to an increasing adoption of electric cars. There is an ongoing problem with the available range of the current cars. Speed of charging has improved but is still an issue. Taken at random, South Mimms Service Station has 540 car parking spaces. At the same place there are 4 electric car chargers with a maximum power of 150kw. For an all-electric car future with every parking space having a rapid charger this site alone will require in excess of a 20Mw supply. Multiply that by all the service areas on the motorways. It soon becomes inconceivable that National Grid has the infrastructure capacity to service that need. Nor is it likely that the country will be in a position to be able to generate sufficient electricity to service this need. Hence, without being anti-motorist, long car journeys will become more difficult in the medium future. Increased capacity on the rail network is therefore an imperative to enable net zero, or anything like it. A similar line of thought. It is more difficult to move goods with electric powered trucks. Accordingly, there will need to be a drive towards more goods to be transported by rail, followed by local distribution by electric vehicles.

Let’s also look at the end of new petrol and diesel cars, and start with the date of 2030. Allow say 15 years, on average, for the last petrol and diesel cars to go into a graceful retirement. Giving a tending toward 100% electric car population by 2045. Add another 5 years for the recent shift. Hence by 2050 Britain must have either an alternate long range transport network or have achieved a massive shift in car charging infrastructure and electricity generation and distribution. OR stop moving!

Add to that as the population shifts to electric cars so the use of petrol and diesel will decline. Hence, not only will the wholesale cost of fuel rise so will the additional cost at the filling station. The need for just filling stations will go down and there will consequently be fewer filling stations available. Back to the days of plotting journeys base on availability of fuel, or more recently, charging stations. Fuel prices at the pump will increase significantly and availability will decrease significantly.

Splash and dash will not be an option for EV so the shape of the filling stations will have to evolve. They will have to tempt you in with something to do while your EV charges. Perhaps a café, or some shopping. No longer sufficient to have a coffee machine in the corner of a convenience store attached to a filling station.

Batteries and Lithium

How can we create enough batteries for all of the required cars, and were does the Lithium come from? Will we go round the streets picking up all the discarded vapes and extract the Lithium from there? Or will we re-open the Cornish Tin Mines to start mining Lithium. Much more likely is that we will source batteries from China. We already import completed bus chassis with electric motors, and then do the coachbuilding to change it into a workable bus.

If that is the case, what is the future of the UK car manufacturing industry?

With no available alternative for long journeys, a lack of charging infrastructure, insufficient generation and distribution capacity, together with a critical material shortage. It already has a dire future.


The Prime Minister has effectively said to the world that, despite our pushing our key skills and ability to take on mega projects and bring them to fruition, and to flog same around the world, the fact is, according to his actions, he does not believe we can. If we can’t deliver in the home market, why would anyone want to employ our wares in their country.

Part of the idea of ‘going big and bold’, is that you can then sell that around the world, or at least to those that can afford it. Not completing, whether it is TSR2 or HS2, only states we are closed for business, do not buy from use. All the hidden earnings and benefits, which would have offset some of the cost, have just evaporated.

That effect is also compounded by our own sense of self-worth will have also taken a dive. The next big project we will now probably employ Americans, or some other support. Another outflowing of cash instead of homegrown.


When Canary Wharf tube station was built it was as a cavernous, empty, cathedral like building. Far in excess of the then current requirements. Now, it could do with some additional space at peak times. Thank goodness someone had the foresight to go big. Planning for the future.

Think of the A25 near Westerham. Narrow roads, old buildings, one lane each way. First port of call, a dual carriageway bypass around the village, joining up each side with the A25 again. No, much better to go straight with replacing the A25 with the M25. I know, the M25 has been a victim of its own success, and now frequently turns into a pseudo car park. It is in desperate need of capacity enhancement, perhaps in a Birmingham Northern Relief Road type of way. Or a WCML / HS2 type of way. An express tunnel for zero emissions cars and vans only. Between the A3 and the M40. If necessary, the connection to the M25 could be limited to direction of flow. Zero emissions would reduce the ventilation requirements. Cars and vans only would reduce the required diameter of the tunnel and hence TBM. Having the portals just before the brow of the approach road would ensure rain did not flood the tunnel. The only water ingress would be on the vehicles and tyres. Reduced pumping requirements. By the time it was built there would be a significant proportion of zero emissions cars and vans, thereby reducing congestion on the M25, making journey times faster and more reliable for the vehicles not able to use the express route. Everyone is a winner. Wait, is that pretty much the same concept as HS2.

Perhaps just safeguarding the route of Crossrail 2 so that sometime in the future, it can still be built.

The Forestry Commission was established in 1919 to expand Britain's forests and woodland, which had been severely depleted during the First World War. The Commission bought large amounts of agricultural land on behalf of the state, eventually becoming the largest manager of land in Britain. Planning for the future, which was very useful for WWII.

Not selling off for development an underused railway chord. Oh, shucks, an increase in traffic means we need that functionality back, but it is built on, and people are just moving in! That is going to be a very expensive problem.

Walking out of Waterloo High-Speed terminus the day CTRL relocated to St Pancras without any attempt at mothballing. Hardly even turning off the light switch as it were.

Planning for future needs is a very important requirement.


Creating strategies is a very important part of a government role. Having a clear understanding of the critical needs of a country and setting the direction for meeting those needs and requirements. Whether it is a supply chain, industry, transport, or defence, the strategy should be clear and consistent, as well as holistic. It should also include strategies for housing and feeding the population, together with safety, health, and security.

Changing strategy at will, in a whim does not amount to a good government. Of course, there will be time that it is necessary to change a strategy, but that has to be done with care and the rationale clearly explained and communicated.

Failure to have and maintain appropriate and relevant strategies is a failure of government.

What is the strategy decision on the rail industry and on the construction industry? I remember a time when 3 major rail electrification projects were announces at a time when there was zero industry capability. Two of the schemes had to be scraped whist industry trained itself on the remaining one. What will happen when that scheme is completed? Will those skills, and that national capability wither again?

There are so many examples of the UK being good, even excellent, at something, or even the best in the world, only to now have no capability. Employing the French and the Chinese to provide the next generation nuclear power.


There was a vision with HS2. Albeit separated into separate stages. There are a lot of reasons for staging a project. However, the worst connived of those is to allow the cancellation of some of those stages.

I know that one of the early changes was to add a link between HS2 and HS1, to the North of Euston, to facilitate an easy connection between the Midlands and the North through to the Continent. That has since been dropped.

The leg towards Leeds was dropped. That might have eased some capacity issues on the East Coast Main Line. Virgin Train was at one time exploring the construction of a High-Speed Line adjacent to, or in the vicinity of the East Coast Main Line but that did not get traction.

The Birmingham to Crewe section already has Royal Assent I believe. So presumably, it will require another act of Parliament to take the associated Transport Works Act off the statute.

Next to face the chop is the link from Old Oak Common, to Euston. Perhaps we can believe it is only suspended at the moment. Now there is talk of resurrecting it if there is sufficient private finance. Talk of a masterplan for Euston area. As if there was not already! Having Euston constructed by developers is just adding another layer of interface to an already complex railway infrastructure. Is it even imaginable that the current plans did not include provision for air space development. Would such development not have provided significant income, in a similar way to the area around King’s Cross.

It has taken years to design an attractive Euston Station, fit for our time. However, I suspect that the envisioned Class A building will be downgraded to a Class C, and redesigned again. A change from a thoroughbred horse to a camel. A chance for the least liked London Terminus to have a facelift and compete on the world stage, lost. Not only will there be a change in the standard of space, design, and finishes, I suspect as part of the cost saving it will be designed for a reduced capacity. After all, if you are not getting trains from North of Birmingham there will not be as many trains, and therefore less platform faces are required. Back to the foresight, or lack of. If you build a small station now, well several years from now as there is so much to do to bring in private finance and redesign everything and get a masterplan through the various planning stages. The locals are going to be absolutely ecstatic about just as all the building works are complete, after about a decade of dirt and disruption, when somebody else realises that the new Euston is too small, and needs enlarging again. Way to go!

Will there need to be a new Transport Work Act for a different procurement of a different product? They normally take at least a year to go through, and only in November if memory serves. Not enough time to create a new submission for this November, so even being optimistic, it in itself will be at least a year of delay.

All very well having meetings with potential investors, but what are the risks to them. Could the Supreme Court order the law to be complied with, whatever the executive position was. A Transport Works Act is a law and all the provisions of that law have to be complied with. I imagine, I am not a lawyer, and nor have I read the provisions of that particular TWA.

What are the costs going to be for all the indecisions, suspension, delay, and rework. They will be huge. Possibly nearing the savings potentially made.

The latest, the cancellation of the Manchester leg.

What are the capacity issues North of Birmingham? If they are similar to the Southern section, or are anticipated so to be, will there be any gain by building the Old Oak Common to Birmingham section. If that only releases congestion on one section but another section is similarly congested, there is no net gain, so what is the point?

There is evidently no strategy at play here as the government has apparently not even discussed it with Network Rail.

Does anybody know what the impact of the cancellation is likely to been. Even the ORR? Or was it all concocted in the Treasury, with perhaps some input from the Department for Transport?

Perhaps it will come out in the Public Enquiry.

Point of Curson Street Station?

What is the point of continuing with the Curson Street Station. Just down tools and abandon the sites. If nothing is going to travel onward from Birmingham, one could question the need and the scale of Curson Street Station. The government requires that £9bn of cost savings are found within the Old Oak Common to Birmingham section of HS2. Surely shortening it would help. HS2 could join the West Coast Mainline a little south of Birmingham Airport and then travel to all other destinations on the existing rail network. A new location would have to be found for the Birmingham depot of course. Some tunnels are already being built and some of the viaducts have already been constructed, but that seams to be the flavour of the month. Just do things without stating the consequences, or perhaps not even knowing or caring


How can a government, of whichever colour, be trusted if it changes its mind on such important investments. Industries as well as individuals make decisions based on the statements governments and the Opposition make. Do we invest in that area? Do we take our manufacturing to another country? Where do I trust my money? How well will my pension fund preform.

There are lots of other trust things at international, country, region, industry, and individual level.

However, once trust is lost, as it clearly must now be, how can anyone belief anything.

Next time there is a project which may result in the possibility of beneficial, perhaps a ideally placed distribution centre, that will not proceed in tandem, but in sequence. No trust, so will wait until the project is complete, up and running, before even starting the planning application. There will therefore be years between completion of a project and the commencement of beneficial growth, or return on investment.

That is not a good position to be in for a government. Will the government be perceived as week and shaky? Will it impact the pound, and the country’s credit rating? Money gets more expensive, therefore more cuts. More instability. Less trust.

Smoke and mirrors.

So the supposed saved money will all be used for other projects. Well, that is the money saved from the Manchester leg. Not from the Birmingham leg not Euston Station. So part of the money saved will be used for other projects. I can believe that for the moment. However, the Prime Minister did not say what was going to happen to the money already allocated or available to those alternative projects. Those projects must be reasonably advanced to be able to be completed so quickly.

So is it a case of diverting some of the saved HS2 money to release funding already lined up for the other projects, which have already changed, within one day. Or is it really new money?

Is the government being straight with the electorate?

My guess is that it all about the Treasury finding some cash down the back of the sofa so that there can be some tax cuts before the next election, which they hope will keep them in power.

I hope my guess is incorrect.

Perhaps the passenger numbers forecast has really plummeted since covid and the disruptive rail strikes. To such and extent that all the capacity requirements, including additional freight and maintenance time and capacity, can be achieved on the existing infrastructure, albeit somewhat slower. If this is the case, it should have been explained in the first instance to help maintain a degree of credibility.

If it is more people working from home, that is driving the reduced passenger numbers forecast, we need to think about the strategy. Do we want to become a low mobility nation? Look to the past. When were the surges in growth? Were they linked to the turnpikes, canals, railways, motorways, a mobile society, or a static one?

If it is considered a Value Management type issue, then it should be remembered that it is a reduction of cost whilst maintaining the same functionality. And form is included in the functionality equation. A supercar provides a similar transport function to a budget car, but without the form and style. Don’t go into a supercar showroom if you can’t afford it. Don’t order a supercar, and then cancel and change to a budget car halve way through manufacturing and think that you will have the same product, but at the same cost as the original budget car. That is not how it works.

However, whichever way it is it is hard to interpret these actions as being “Long-term decisions for a brighter future”. If only that were the case. It feels to me like “Short term decisions to stay in power.”

If so, very sad.

Thank you if you have stayed the course and read it all.


Replies to Comments


Hi Robert. I agree that there should be a fluid connection to HS1 as was envisaged by Andrew McNaughton. I also agree that High-Speed rail should have replaced domestic air travel in Britain apart from Northern Ireland. I have not seen information on the paths available North of Manchester to Glasgow, currently 3hr 20min according to timetable. I think the idea was to use the current infrastructure to extend the range of the High-Speed trains, even if not travelling at those speeds. However, current timetable for London Manchester is only a fraction over 2 hrs. So not even halve way to Glasgow.

Hi Alan, HS2 to HS1 direct connection to facilitate Manchester to Paris or Madrid or Brussels. To reduce short haul air travel, to improve connectivity, to make travel greener, to have an alternative to flying when aviation fuel becomes very expensive when the rest of the oil industry starts to implode on itself. Admittedly, there are lots of reasons why it would make more sense to build a dedicated DLR type service joining Euston, St Pancras, and King's Cross, to make them act as a single hub. Connectivity again.


Further Reading

LinkedIn Post -- My Personal Thoughts on HS2

 Spain’s high-speed trains aren’t just efficient, they have transformed people’s lives (

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