There’s a thing in journalism about effusive Press releases: the dizzier they get, the worse (or least the less impressive) the news they contain.
Skip the bit at the top about exciting times ahead for Company X as it meets the challenge of the #modernworld and look for the job losses, called “restructuring”, naturally, down near the bottom.
Thus it was with Cheshire East Council’s Press release on that huge waste of money, HS2.
“This is the news that we have been working towards over the last five years or more,” the release said, “and delivers the message that Cheshire East is truly open for business.”
Anything this effusive but at the same time fact-free – what does “open for business” even mean? – is often a sign of cracks being papered over, and worth looking into.
The amount of information on HS2 is overwhelming, and it’s easy to lose track of where it’s all up to, but having found the current consultation it would appear to be the case that:
- Congleton, Macclesfield and Stoke will be served by one HS2 train an hour, but passengers have to change at Rugeley, which is basically half way to London; and
- HS2 does not plan to build a hub at Crewe and hasn’t got the money to do so.
Just to repeat: there is no money for a Crewe HS2 hub.
As it stands at the moment, trains will presumably pass through or under Crewe without stopping. The nearest stop to Crewe is Stafford or somewhere north.
Cheshire East Council Press release’s “The huge economic benefits to be had from HS2 must be harnessed for our future generations … can seize the enormous opportunities that HS2 will deliver,” begins to sound like wishful thinking.
The consultation says that while the Government likes the idea of a Crewe hub — lines radiate from the town in six directions — and if there was a hub it would be in Crewe, at the moment there are no plans and no money.
To quote the Government consultation, a Crewe hub is “additional to the core HS2 scheme” and “beyond the HS2 budget”. No ifs or buts or qualifiers: just “beyond the budget”.
In the same way, I’d quite like a Porsche as a runaround, but currently it’s additional to my core scheme (that’s paying the mortgage) and beyond my budget. Put like that, it sounds unlikely.
The Government says it will look at how much money it has in 2017 and decide on Crewe then — with Brexit to get sorted and a protectionist President Trump, what can possibly go wrong?
It’s not all bad: there will be a rolling stock depot built north of Crewe, creating 400 jobs for the local economy, which is good. But it hardly seems to warrant the excitement of the Press release.
Clearly, I think HS2 is a waste of money: it seems to me that for the cost of HS2 you could sort out many of the NHS’s problems, and improve signalling/electrify the existing tracks for a similar service to what HS2 would offer.
I’m not sure about the alleged benefits of the journey time saved anyway. The only high-speed train I’ve been on was Seville-Madrid and there was an airport style check in at Seville.
This involved the usual rigmarole of belts off, bags emptied and so on. It took some minutes to get through and it was a quiet day.
How much of the time saved would be lost getting through security at a busy station?
Moreover, by the time HS2 is completed will people even be travelling to London for meetings?
Most businesspeople today have laptops, wifi, Skype, video conferencing, Google docs, and any number of software packages to enable teams to work together remotely — by 2030 the idea of forcing people to travel to meet might seem positively quaint, as business types sit at home wearing virtual reality goggles talking to holograms of all their colleagues, who are also at home with goggles plugged in.
It does make you wonder what it’s really for.
I raised this on Facebook and the lone HS2 supporter said the new line was “desperately needed” to free up capacity on the old railway, so that it could be used for more local services and freight. Another valid point was that to upgrade a line while it was in use caused a lot of delays – but really, is building a second, vastly expensive second line the only way forward?
Maybe the real reason for HS2 is a long-term plan to take traffic off the roads as fuel gets scarce and global temperatures rise? Or maybe it’s simply because the Europeans have gone one and we want one, too. Who knows.
In case you think the Crewe hub is a done deal, here’s the actual paragraph from the current consultation, just to ram home the point: “Proposals for a Crewe Hub are additional to the core HS2 scheme and are beyond the HS2 budget. The Government plans to take decisions on additional investment at Crewe in 2017 and will confirm whether any such measures should be included in the hybrid Bills for Phase 2a and Phase 2b.”
Someone has put that in there for a reason. Should we expect Cheshire East to be asked to pick up the massive tab if it wants an HS2 hub?