Saturday, 7 July 2012

High speed rail still isn't the solution to the North's economic problems


The other evening I was talking with Ray about public transport. A conversation at the end of which we agreed to disagree. However, Ray was absolutely right in his belief that public transport is really about linking close places better - what we might call "intensity" - rather than smoothing the connection between distant places. Far more people want to travel swiftly and easily to a place three miles away that to a place 300 miles away.

Yet the grand and important planning people focus almost entirely in INTER-city travel rather than on INTRA-city travel. Except of course when they speak of London where billions has been spent to maintain that city's best-in-class transport system. We are still committed to the nonsense of high speed rail (and let's be clear that opposition isn't just about a bunch of Buckinghamshire NIMBYs) even though the case is becoming ever flimsier:

The MPs also question the assumptions made about savings to business travellers using the line. They say it is not the case that the time spent on a train is unproductive because in fact many use the train as an extension to the office.

The report also highlights a failure in the planning for HS2 to consider the benefits and costs of alternatives such as investment in broadband and video conferencing.

There is a real need for investment in public transport - you only have to look at the local impact of extensions to tram systems in Manchester and Sheffield to appreciate its importance. However, we need to focus on local intensity, on linking places within a city-region to other places within that system. The aim should be to replicate the scale, scope and integration of London's system in, for example, the urban conglomeration stretching from Liverpool to Leeds.

Thirty odd billion wouldn't get us all the way to that ideal but it would be a whole lot more value than spending the same on a vanity project that - we now know - contains no noticeable economic benefits.  High speed rail will not make the North more successful whereas the proven technologies of buses, trams and local trains will have a positive impact and will provide real, tangible and short-term benefits for real people.


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