Wednesday, 11 September 2013

HS2 - The minister flaps and flails

Apparently today is the day of the government's big fightback on the subject of HS2, the plan to spend £42 billion on a new high speed rail line that will knock half an hour off the journey time from London to Birmingham.

There is concern in Cornwall (and other parts of the country) about the diversion of huge amounts of funding to this one project and the exclusion of other parts of the country. It resembles the Olympics in this respect.

On its own, I think the concept of HS2 is a valid one. Our railway infrastructure is pretty creaky and modernising it is a good thing.

But spending so much money on the first part of the line with the full link to Scotland (and the start of real benefits for large parts of the UK) not likely for 30 years or so makes it a pretty long term commitment. Nothing wrong with that. But it does seem as though most of the rest of the UK will be missing out for generations.

Radio Cornwall had Transport Minister Simon Burns on this morning (apparently the senior bods were being reserved for the 'good news' areas). He flapped and flailed (and ultimately failed to convince) that there would be benefits from HS2 to Cornwall. His argument is that, once the full 'spine' was completed (in 30 years time) then spurs could be constructed to other parts of the UK. In other words, in 30 years time, Cornwall and the South West will be bidding with the rest of the UK to get the next stage. I won't hold my breath.

He also claimed that businesses won't be looking to relocate along the line of the upgraded line to the detriment of those areas not on the path. I bet that's not what his colleagues are saying to radio stations along the route.

The other good news for Cornwall, according to the minister, is the plan to electrify the Great Western line. Which would be great. Except that what the minister didn't say is that the plan is to electrify the section from Paddington to Cardiff - not the route to Devon and Cornwall. So our current diesel trains will remain, taking 5 hours or more to reach London whilst other areas (equally deserving) get the upgrade. You can imagine the scenario when the electrification is completed - to avoid high speed electric trains being stacked up behind our diesel chuggers, our service will be cut back further.

And all the while, the franchise for the Great Western service is held up further and we are kept in the dark about what rail services we can expect in the future.

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