But here’s the catch – those numbers come from how the world was decades ago. Including the assumption that being on a train means being unable to do business, one can only sit there travelling to do business. No one who has actually been in a first class compartment in the past decade or two can possibly believe that this is how people work today. Mobile phones, then mobile internet (yes, trains do have it these days) have entirely changed that. Work is done on the move. In fact, scratch a regular traveller and you might well find an agreement that travel time is more productive these days.

Thus the major (and yes, really, it is *the* major) benefit in our cost benefit analysis of fast train sets does not exist.

That is, if we wire the country so that the internet is available anywhere and anywhen then we’ve entirely destroyed the economic case for fast train sets.

37 thoughts on “Elsewhere”

  1. “those numbers come from how the world was decades ago”

    Or they come from someone who wants to justify a new train set?

  2. Re HS2, going back to basics. The Uk’s a small country and we’re only looking at time savings of the order of minutes – which can easily be negated by problems in actually getting to the stations, or travel between stations, or perhaps by the “security theatre” that will inevitably be grafted onto this high-profile method of transport.

    Cost of time saved? London-Brum, at best 20 minutes, that’s twenty quid of “businessman time” saved, at the cost of what? Hundred quid on the ticket?

    It’s a total f*cking waste of money whichever way you look at it.

  3. I can get from my front door (the station is about 100 metres in front) to central Tokyo by shinkansen in 3 1/2 hours, That’s the Tsubasa, not the real shinkansen. FWIW the Tsubasa runs on a standard loading gauge. It doesn’t require a special track.

    Driving takes about 6 hours to get to Tokyo, then you have enter the den.

    By air (full price) its 30 minutes to the airport, security, wait, flight, (wait) and an hour from Narita to Tokyo. LoCo is 2-3 hours to get to the airport plus the waiting and the security.

    For an economist your sums are fucked.

  4. I do wonder, also, about the value of the people who apparently need rapid travel. Why? The people who generate wealth in an economy don’t tend to move to the information. The information moves to them. The people who seem to be fixated by face to face are the admin types, the bean counters & lawyers. I’m currently involved in some consultancy work on a project in the UK. I wouldn’t dream of flying up there. WTF for? All the info get shuttled back & forth through e-mail. Need to discuss something, there’s the phone. I’m not so insecure that I feel I must enhance my status by my physical presence.

  5. You’re eviscerated the case for high-speed trains per se; but the main argument I’ve read is that we need more capacity; and that the difference in cost between regular-speed and high-speed isn’t a significant part of the total cost.

  6. Indeed. When I’m on a long train journey I get tons more work done than in the office with all the distractions and we don’t even get internet access on the train.

    Reports etc get written and emails sit in the outbox until I get online. If anyone needs me urgently we still have phones.

  7. The only place I can work is in the office. If someone asked me to work on a train or a plane, I’d laugh at them. The same as if someone thought I might be able to work from home.

  8. Flew to Brisbane this morning and peer reviewed a design report on the way. So much easier without phone calls and emails constantly disrupting your train of thought.

  9. It will never happen for reasons of expense, but the change that I would like to see to British travel is for all motorways and railways to be put underground.

  10. “I do wonder, also, about the value of the people who apparently need rapid travel. Why? ”

    About half the work I do is psychology rather than handle-cranking, it’s the same for a lot of consultants, but will depend on your discipline. That really does work better face to face.

    The increased availabillity of “conferencing software”, all of which is totally shitty (there are some great parodies of online meetings on youtube), actually makes my job harder and more expensive to do.

  11. The Courageous State always fights the last war. What we had in 1914 would have been great for fighting the fuzzy wuzzies, the 1939 army would have thrashed the 1918 Germans, the post war army would have beaten the 1940s Germans, how it would have done against the Russians was a moot point. And it didn’t even realise the next wars were likely to be asymmetrical ones, even though they’d had the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars as pointers. Similarly the Courageous State closed loads of railway lines in the 60s and now thinks they should be re-opened:

    All hail the all knowing State!!!!

  12. City centre to city centre, and First Class off peak, yes, you can work – most of the time. Commute into London as part of the journey, and you’d be better off by car. Need to get to a local station (that serves commuters) by car? Then you have to get there at certain times. Need to work on anything confidential? Then not on the train. Need to take more than one person, car again. Need to carry anything reasonably heavy, car again.

    For me, the car works better most of the time. Others may report things differently.

  13. The point of HS2 is to allow people to get into London and back again in a day. Yes this can be done now but you will spend 3 to 4 (or more) hours on the train. If you cannot then you will need a hotel. A hotel in London. A basic room that is in working order costs 100 pounds these day minimum.

    With HS2 more of the country will be able to get down to London, do their business or tourism and get home without having to incur the cost of an overnight stay.

    If you want to make HS2 redundant then you will need to cut the costs of hotel in London. Or improve the quality of the cheap one.

  14. Re HS2. Why is it to be set up to take people in both directions?

    Surely it only needs to take people one way – those wanting to get the hell out of Brum? So no need for facilities to deal with people travelling in the opposite direction.

  15. Have done many thousand miles by train for face to face meetings. These days I’d use skype and email – the email part for documents.
    My brother is in Qatar working at the moment so the family skype him.
    Lots of things that 50 years ago needed face to face meetings can be done remotely and on the phone.

    For train journeys now I put my phone on airplane mode and read a book on it – ignoring other people.
    I’m one of these people who cannot get serious work done on a train but can enjoy a book and music while travelling.

  16. @Interested re BiJ

    “Bloke in Japan – Tim seems to be talking about HS2 in the UK, not your local railway in Japan?”

    BiJ, we see that train is best for you. How much is it worth to take your journey down from 3.5 hours to 3.25 hours? I would argue less than £50B. That’s Tim’s point.

  17. Bit hard to work on the train when you are standing in the aisle. I tried, but the bloke refused to hold my laptop.

    Commuters are so rude.

  18. Double-decker trains, you know it makes sense.

    Expensive to retrofit bridges and tunnels, but far more bang for the buck than a white elephant from London to Birmingham.

  19. Network Rail is already taking a 3 pronged approach to improving capacity that makes HS2 even more redundant than it already is. 1: Longer platforms for longer trains. 2. In cab signaling to allow trains to run closer together, fitting more trains on existing lines. 3. Getting empty coal slots in the timetables used for other loads.

    I think better than HS2 would be to shut entire lines for a short while and get them upgraded in one splurge of activity rather than taking years and years in piecemeal fashion with persistent disruption.

  20. I once drafted a whole scientific paper on a train Darlington-Edinburgh, including having the idea itself, working through the maths, producing a couple of tables of results (the days of the programmable pocket calculator) and writing the text.

    As you might guess the paper was a Short Communication but they all count.

    I’ll admit that I cribbed half the opening sentence though. “It is a truth universally acknowledged …”. Bloody hard to verify your references on a train in those days.

  21. ‘The economic case for higher speed trains depends very heavily on those higher values for business travel. Both the values and the number of people.

    But here’s the catch – those numbers come from how the world was decades ago.’

    Here’s the catch – government doesn’t need an economic case. They can build whatever they damn please.

  22. The increased availabillity of “conferencing software”, all of which is totally shitty (there are some great parodies of online meetings on youtube), actually makes my job harder and more expensive to do.

    I’ve never used the laptop-based stuff, but the video-conference rooms we have at work are very good indeed. I’ll say this for my outfit, this is one thing they got right.

  23. BiJ, you’re comparing train travel to ‘plane and car.

    But we’ve already got a Manchester – Birmingham – London train. What Tim’s looking at is HS2, which is just a slightly faster version of an existing train line.

  24. “What we had in 1914 would have been great for fighting the fuzzy wuzzies”: as it happens it did very well against the Germans in 1914. Its only real weakness was how small it was.

  25. I knew a banker based in NY, who flew Concorde to London on a Sunday night, worked Monday Morning in London, Concorde to Washington, meeting on Monday afternoon in Washington, Concorde to Paris on Monday evening, Worked Tuesday morning in Paris, Concorde to New York and worked Tuesday after noon in New York, died at 50 of a heart attack.

  26. “The Courageous State always fights the last war.”

    Yes, as evidenced by the U.S. TSA. They strive to prevent the last attack.

  27. @Tim Newman,

    We have to use whatever the client foists on us. I think having six different things installed on the same machine is part of the problem.


    There is a Manchester-Brum-London train? There is a Brum-London train, and a Manchester-London train, but I thought the Manc-Brum was the decidedly crappy “cross-country” (down to 4 smelly cars with noisy engines underneath last time I used it).

    I hate the way it used to (probably worse now) announce all 78 stations from Penzance to Inverooerivenoideawherethefuckthatis, at each single damn station, i.e. every 10 minutes. For an “inter-city” train it does stop at some very small places.

  28. Bloke in Costa Rica

    A decent South Coast to East Coast link that didn’t go through bloody fucking bloody London would be worth far more. Portsmouth Harbour to Leeds should not be quite the undertaking that it is. And it shouldn’t cost four times as much and take eight times as long from Southampton to Edinburgh by train rather than flying

  29. There are hidden back routes through London that freight stuff uses. The key thing is not to stop there.

    Some of those weird cross-country routes are quite useful, even if they do stop at a whole lot of funny places on the way. That’s partly the point. My sister travels Paignton to Stockport to visit her daughter’s family and it’s zero changes but takes hours. She doesn’t mind as she can amuse herself in several ways on the journey.

    I gave up on working on the train – typing on a laptop writing software is a total pain. Sometimes I would read tech papers but more often it was the novel on the go at the time.

  30. @bicr,

    I’m quite a fan of the connections flibbee offers from Saarfampton, even if they have killed the one that was most useful to me.

  31. Bloke in North Dorset


    “Yes, as evidenced by the U.S. TSA. They strive to prevent the last attack.”

    Worse than that every airport has exactly the same security équipent, processes, procedures and protocols so if terrorists do find a hole they [email protected] attack every airport simultaneously. UK’s the same.

    Apparently diversity isn’t good when it comes to airport security.

  32. @BiND,

    The Ben Gurion experience is a little bit different. Well, more than a little bit. But yeah, everywhere else…

  33. “Southampton to Edinburgh”: surely that’s the sort of distance where you’d expect flying to be the better bet?

  34. @ Block in Germany

    Once at Ben Gurion in the early 2000s where there were massive queues. Airport staff walked along the queues asking for British & Irish passport holders. They got a bunch of us and led us off. Wondered whether we were going but we got to a door and we ushered through – straight into the departure lounge.

    Can’t imagine they’d do that now unless they ask for British passport holders without brown faces and long beards!

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