HS2 and Scotland – should Yes campaigners oppose it?

Sometimes there are easy hits, stuff we all pretty much agree on as pointless or stupid articles, quotes or stories as part of the indyref journey.

HS2 has generally had ‘a kicking’ as it’s seen as hugely expensive,
only benefits between London and Birmingham in its initial phase and won’t reach Scotland until well into the 2030’s.

The cost figures are quoted at 50 to 80 Billion pounds.

Common Quotes

‘It doesn’t come near Scotland, it’s first and second phases are in England only. ‘

‘It does not benefit us in the slightest’

‘Education and Health should be priorities’

‘HS2 will negatively impact NE Scotland’

‘HS2 means scrapping rail links from Tayside and Fife with London’

Okay, I can’t pick of of that apart without being excessively lengthy, I’ll try to keep this readable.

1) – it’s unaffordable
On current or most recent Scottish Govt GERS figures for expenditures:-

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4.3% on transport
17.3% on health
11.3% on education
34.4% on social protection
2.5% on housing and communities

£65.2 Billion is the estimated total figure for 2012/13.
Capital expenditure was 8.6%, the rest as Current expenditure.

Transport including Roads, Air, Sea as well as public got 4.3% of that – by my guess approximately £2.8 Billion

I’m a layman and won’t pretend to be an expert in public finance, but education, health and social protection in combination take a healthy slice of the expenditure.

Would a share of the project cost of HS2 significantly dent the expenditure on other functions, probably not, at 10% of an estimated low £48 Billion you can do the arithmetic yourself, take that figure and stretch it from 2018 to 2034 and it’s in the hundreds of millions per financial year rather than actual Billions. (4.8 billion divided by 16 is 0.3 Billion per annum)

There’s no exactness in that and there can’t be as for any ‘mega project’ estimating costs now for something with an almost 20 year life time, could change as economic factors change. The point is that a Scottish contribution to HS2 won’t dramatically increase spending on transport and won’t have a big dent in Education or Health or Social Protection.

The other point is that building HS2 creates an asset with probably a long useful life (with maintenance) and that the expenditure is mainly capital.

A similar argument could be made for housing and communities seeing more expenditure too.

2) – it doesn’t come near Scotland

Sadly true. The first phase connect London northward to Birmingham with onward connections and the second phase connects to Leeds and Manchester in a Y shape.

Current Standard Journey time from Glasgow to London is 4hrs 30minutes, with phase one in play it goes down to 4 hours (which is marginally quicker, than the current fastest journey time) but phase 2 takes it to 3hrs 37minutes for the standard journey.

Overall phase 2 would take an hour off the Glasgow/London journey, getting closer to the tipping point of three hours where modal shift occurs between forms of transport and where it’s not worth passengers while to consider flying.

See below, flights between Glasgow and London Heathrow.

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At least 8 daily, with Gatwick being similar and without labouring the point on flights to London Stansted, London City and London Southend, it adds up to a fair few departing and of course, arriving slots.

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So good, so far, but obviously that’s just Glasgow Airport and there’s Prestwick and Edinburgh to also consider. The flight slots are valuable, they are limited and the airports at both ends would see sense in freeing slots up for flights to international destinations.

If modal shift between Aviation and High Speed Rail happens, then there’s an economic gain to be had in trade, business, holiday traffic.

Sir David Higgins has recently taken over leadership of the HS2 project and he presented a report in March to the UK Government suggesting that elements of the project could be sped up and that on the west prong of the Y he wanted Crewe to be the northern point rather than Manchester. He also reckoned that phase two should be delivered three years earlier.

Obviously a longer section of dedicated track to north west England reduces the journey time, but to crack the three hour target for Glasgow and Edinburgh to London, surely Scotland has to sort out its bit to the border?

This shows line speed on the west coast route from Carstairs southward.

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It’s not as fast as a layman might suppose and much of the line is a two track railway. A HSR railway adds speed and capacity and as a comparison the current Eurostar trains (class 373) using HS1 can do up to 186 mph, Virgin’s Pendolinos (class 390) can do a maximum of 125mph on the west coast main line.

As you can see, they certainly don’t get 125mph operation the length of the line.

Technically the Pendolinos can do 140mph, but that needed a further upgrade to the WCML that didn’t happen under the Brown/Blair regimes when the line was last upgraded.

But Edinburgh? The East Coast Main Line is scheduled to see new rolling stock under the Intercity Express Programme with Classes 800 and 801 that should enter service in 2018. Class 800 is hybrid to run on and off electrified tracks and class 801 is electric only.

The new trains are lighter, longer having more seats but gains in speed will be marginal. The connections to Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness are expected to remain as the hybrid specification is for running off the main electrified section from Edinburgh to London.

The current Scottish Government has specified to Transport Scotland and Network Rail an output where it wants to see a rolling programme of Electrification, it may well be that wires reach Dundee and Aberdeen around the timeframe that Phase 2 of HS2 is scheduled to complete and the option of HS2 and ECML operation opens up.

Certainly Glasgow and Edinburgh will see the main E&G Line electrified through the ongoing EGIP programme and even preparation works have been done in the Stirling area.

High Speed Rail between Edinburgh and Glasgow has been mentioned by the current Scottish Government but, journey times won’t b a great improvement on electrification and it may well be that an up-specified EGIP scheme provides the benefits of journey time reduction. more is to come from Government on that point.

The push for an Independent Scotland should be electrification of the main parts of the Scottish network, a second push could be to investigate the route and works required to bring a HSR route from Glasgow and Edinburgh to the English Border.

In the medium line, line speed could be improved to see West Coast Pendolinos working sections at 140mph, track sections being four tracked or straight lined as necessary in rural South Lanarkshire and Dumfries & Galloway or seeing if the use of tunnels or bridges and cuttings to take out the kinks on the line perhaps to benefit speed and available capacity.

Maybe now is the time to plan forward, with HS2 ltd on getting the bigger and wider benefits from Glasgow and Edinburgh and beyond getting ready to be connected onto the main first two English phases of HS2.

Scotland can derive infrastructure, transport improvements, construction and technical employment, business travel and leisure travel benefits from taking a positive view of High Speed Rail as a transport medium.

It’s an investment in the future rather than any sort of big waste of money and the opportunity is there with independence to say, can we connect Scotland up better?

I think so and I think the indyref campaigners should think on what can be achieved through independence, obviously co-operation with our southern neighbours is necessary but with transport and infrastructure spending in Scotland’s hand the opportunity is there to catch up with the rest of Europe.

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