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HS2: no time to “go wobbly”?

Workers connect the French and English sides of the Channel Tunnel, in 1990

HS2 has always been a “dud”, says Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. It was “bizarrely” designed to link Birmingham’s Curzon Street station to “dead-end” London Euston, rather than St Pancras and the Eurotunnel. Costs are approaching £100bn, roughly triple the initial estimate, and the completion date is now “into the 2030s”. So reports that Rishi Sunak might scrap the project are welcome. HS2 will do “next to nothing for the north”, which is far more in need of investment in local railways and roads. If northern leaders were given the chance to redirect the £135m a week going on HS2 to something else, “I bet they would jump at it”.

Sorry, but if you think the money saved would go on local transport in the north, says Matthew d’Ancona in the Evening Standard, you’re deluded. The case for “doubling down” on HS2 is that national infrastructure is an organism that grows or atrophies. “Big schemes spawn smaller schemes.” New rail links bring new jobs, new investment, and lower carbon emissions. Besides, we’ve been here before: the Channel Tunnel and Crossrail were both scorned as white elephants, but ended up as triumphs. Sunak and his “accountant’s axe” of fiscal conservatism aren’t going to help build the “engine of growth” we need to meet the 21st century’s challenges. “As the Iron Lady herself might put it: this is no time to go wobbly.”

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦🚄 Despite its name, the “core aim” of HS2 was never speed, but capacity, says The Economist. Britain has less than half the length of railway track it had a century ago; as a result, freight, long-distance and commuter trains “have to share the same few lines”. Track use in Britain is around 60% higher than the EU average, and the resulting congestion accounts for an estimated 70% of all delays. If properly completed, HS2 would free up space for local services by moving inter-city travel on to a purpose-built line.