Saturday, 26 March 2011

Scare Stories

I thought I should write a short extra post on the issue of rail from the transport summit. The first half of the summit was all about promoting HS2 with all the speakers giving a big push to it to try to ensure everyone would go away and actively support it.

As has already been reported in the press, Adrian Shooter of Chiltern trains told a story of how there was a collection at the end of a meeting in a village hall where they collected £100 000 in 10 minutes to fight the campaign opposing HS2. I don't know whether this is true or not. I do know that many of the opponents are very well educated and in a lot of cases well connected so this is a different kettle of fish to fighting residents groups over environmental matters.

The campaigners are being very careful to ensure that they focus on more than just the local issues, despite Phillip Hammond's continuing attempts to label them as NIMBYs. They are looking very carefully at the economic arguments, the process of the consultation, the alternatives to the HS2 proposal for improving our transport systems in this country and the environmental arguments.

Nobody really argues that we need to do something to improve our rail services in this country and that if we are to create a modal shift from road to rail, then we will need to spend money on new infrastructure. The argument is whether this is the right way of doing it, whether speed is the key or whether people just want a more comfortable and affordable option. The contradictions in the case for HS2 are huge, as it is sold as green, yet will create more long journeys and take people off more environmental forms of transport, gives a business case that relies on people not working on trains when all the evidence is to the contrary – business people do like to work while travelling. It is neither low cost nor low carbon and the consultation is not giving us a chance to examine other options for improving our transport systems.

Birmingham City Council is so determined to have another big vanity project that they're putting £50 000 in to promoting it at a time when cuts are being made to frontline services all over the city and jobs are being lost in bigger numbers than even HS2's wildest predictions for 15 years time. The fixation with supplying the airport with extra passengers via fast trains to pollute the skies even more can't be worth that, surely.

There is also a contradiction in the words of the council and the actions of London Midland at the moment. There is a stated desire to get more people using local rail services (and councillor Huxtable is very supportive of re-opening stations along several lines in Birmingham that we've been campaigning for) yet they are closing ticket offices at many of the local stations meaning there will be no facilities open there, making them a much less pleasant, safe and accessible place for passengers. My colleague asked councillor Huxtable about this and he did at least confirm that they were speaking to them about this and had been asked to attend a meeting next week.

Let's hope that stations in Birmingham will be maintained for people's comfort and safety on local services, that other local stations are re-opened and that the government doesn't commit huge amounts of money to the wrong type of infrastructure for the benefit of the few who will use it when investment is badly needed all over the country. Let's have a grown up debate over what type of transport system we need to cut the country's environmental impact, wean us off oil and ensure that everyone has access to affordable and reliable public transport when they need it.

1 comment:

Richard Houghton said...

The fact that the pro-HS2 lobby is resorting to propaganda and unsubstantiated tales is a clear indication of the weakness of their argument.

There is vulgar but descriptive phrase in the PR world - "You can't polish a turd". HS2 is a great case in point.

If it really delivered the benefits the DfT would like it to there would be no need to spin a yarn.