Saturday, 5 March 2011

We need investment in local transport not another grand rail scheme

You will know that I am not especially keen on the proposals for a high speed train, initially to Birmingham and subsequently along two spurs to Manchester and Leeds respectively.  And – in anyone’s book – this is going to cost a great deal of money (I am using the cost figures from supporters of HS2):

HS2 phase one: London to Birmingham (The phase currently up for debate), construction start date 2015/16 completion 2026. Time frame from planning to completion 15 years. Total cost £15.8 to £17.4 Billion for construction plus £2.8 billion for rolling stock all 50+ units. That makes for a total cost of £18.6 to £20.2bn over 15 years.

Let’s call the cost for the link to Birmingham, £20billion – a nice round figure. Now, leaving aside the fact that our public finances simply don’t have that kind of money, is this the best use of such a large public investment?  It seems a little group call itself the North West Business Leadership Team think that it is:

“As members of the North West Business Leadership Team, we know that economic growth in the north of England is already being choked off by a lack of capacity in its increasingly busy transport links...”

It seems that the ability of besuited business leaders to get to that ever so vital meeting in London is compromising the economic development of the North? I guess that low skill levels, high taxes and the low levels of business start-ups have nothing to do with the underperformance of the North! And, let’s be clear here, the proposals for a new train set will not be completed until at least 2030 but in the meantime businesses in Manchester, Leeds and Bradford will have to struggle on with the clunky old train set we have at the moment! So not a contribution to solving the current economic problems - maybe the recession after next?

And remember folks that the North West Business Leadership Team was keen on another big white elephant – one that thankfully the North West’s voters nobbled – the Greater Manchester congestion charge!

Mike Blackburn, Chairman of the NWBLT’s Transport Group and the North West Regional Director of BT, said: "The government’s package of support amounts to £1,000 for every man, woman and child living in Greater Manchester today.

"Provided the promised infrastructure investment is in place before road pricing is introduced, we believe it is right that part of the cost of improvements should be borne by those who choose to travel by car at peak times."

So I guess these folk – sitting in their universities, banks and management consultancies – have form. Which brings me, dear reader, to the question – if you had £20billion to spend on public transport improvements, what would you spend it on? I’m pretty confident that addressing a multitude of backlogged road schemes (anyone for a tunnel under Saltaire?), local rail improvements, bus initiatives and motorway junction upgrades could be done for this sort of cash.

And these improvements would directly benefit millions of people – the ones for whom shaving a few minutes off the trip to London isn’t a real benefit at all. Journey’s to work, to local centres and to visit friends or family will be quicker, easier and more pleasant. Elderly people in Cullingworth might have a little more choice as the investment could support rural access and better bus networks. I think you get the gist – building a grand railway at huge cost brings little or no benefit to the vast mass of ordinary people. Investing in local transport systems benefits everyone not just the lucky few who have a need to go to London and the wherewithal to afford the high fares.

If the panjandrums of big business in Manchester want to have a grand new railway, here’s a suggestion – why don’t they pay for it themselves?



johnpopham said...

I agree with this Simon. HS2 is a nice-to-have if the country can afford it. We can't. For myself, I would prefer more comfortable, cleaner trains with more seats and facilities like free wifi, over faster trains.

I would also like more efforts to be made to connect people in locations off the main lines quickly and in comfort to nodes where they can connect with London services, and, perhaps, more "Parkway" type stations. For instance, I am thinking that a Parkway station close to junction 25 of the M62 could increase the usage of the Grand Central West Yorkshire to London services a great deal.

Frances Coppola said...

Being totally cynical, I would say that the real aim underlying this crackpot proposal is easing pressure on London airports by diverting traffic to Manchester. Roll on flights to "London Manchester airport".