It always was a terrible idea anyway

Theresa May’s deputy has warned that a proposed reduction in the number of trains running along High Speed 2 will “seriously undermine” the case for continuing with the project.

David Lidington has asked HS2 Ltd, the government-owned firm behind the scheme to set out the “current business case” for the £56 billion project, after The Sunday Telegraph revealed that the company had suggested it could cut the hourly number of trains by a fifth to prevent costs from spiraling out of control.

And the case for any infrastructure lies in the capacity utilisation…..

35 thoughts on “It always was a terrible idea anyway”

  1. If they says its gonna cost 56bn what are we actually looking at? 200bn?

    For a 200 mile train line….

    The Great Western Railway from Bristol to London cost 6.5m in 1841 which is about 660m in 2018 money.

  2. Why are they building so many stations outside of the cities? What an entirely British London-bubble bureaucratic idea to put “Birmingham Interchange” at a motorway junction rather than the existing airport. Or the Sheffield station at Meadowhell. Bugger all there. (To be fair, there’s bugger all in Sheffield city centre as well, but that’s another story).

  3. Cancel HS2 and punish all those involved in it. It is a means whereby London Bubble scum can commute from even further out and inflate house prices wherever it alights.

    Cancel and Punish.

  4. Cancel the bloody thing, Cancel the order for F-35s and sell the ruddy aircraft carriers too. Just get a grip on government expenditure, and start off by cancelling a couple of particularly flagrant examples of waste. Then turn attention to the hard bit – chipping away at recurrent expenditure – lubricated by the cash and fear released by those two headline cases. Just to show you’re serious, scrap the Foreign Aid budget.

  5. I think the whole concept of HS2 is fatally flawed. You need the trains to run in only one direction. From Brum to London. Who the hell would want to go the other way?

  6. Dear Mr Worstall

    Government doing what government does best, squandering taxpayers’ money on useless projects. More money for an even lower return? Win-win in government circles.

    DP

  7. Kill it. By the time it’s ready most commuter traffic will be dead.

    Season ticket sales fell 10% last year. The media and various people blamed high ticket prices, which is true, but normally people have to suck that up. They didn’t have a choice. But they do now and they’re working from home instead. It’s not everyone. It’s not even every day, but you get even a small number of people doing a day or two in the office and demands for capacity look a lot different.

    And once people stop doing it, you won’t get them back. They’ll lower fares accordingly and the greed pigs at the unions will have to take a pay cut, but at that point they’re competing with people being able to have a leisurely breakfast at home.

  8. Cancel the order for F-35s and sell the ruddy aircraft carriers too.

    If you want to be a large, independent island nation engaged in (and reliant on) international trade, destroying your force-projection capable navy isn’t a great start. The 56-billion-plus! of HS2 would go nicely toward a viable surface fleet.

    We’re not going to survive without an ability to fuck people up.

  9. Scrap the aircraft carriers, we haven’t got any aircraft to put on them anyway.

    scrap HS2 and put the £56bn into buying a load of Type 45S to protect trade. At approximately £1bn each, we could get 50 and use £6bn to run them for a few years. Hopefully with that quantity, we could get a discount as well.
    Then we’d have a half decent navy to protect trade, and wouldn’t have the countryside torn up for an unwanted project.

  10. @DJ,

    The HK section of the HK-Shenzhen-Guangzhou line was budgeted at HKD 35bn, ended up at HKD 85bn, that’s around £326m per km. It is all tunnelled so a small excuse for a massive cost.

    HS2 at £56bn for 225km is £250m per km, so by the time it’s actually built and over-run, probably similar to the final HK cost.

    People I know that cheer that the UK should have high speed rail like China go quiet when I tell them the cost of HS2 is a quarter of a million quid per metre of track laid.

  11. Rob,

    The rail workers take nearly all the money from rail tickets. They’re unionised, can stop the trains running, so take all the money. If they see a rail companies making 10% profit, they can demand another 5%. What’s the rail companies going to do but pay up?

    But if the total fares fall, they can’t demand more than what’s in the pot.

  12. “… destroying your force-projection capable navy isn’t a great start.” Force-projection? As when we attacked Serbia for no good reason, Iraq ditto, Libya ditto, Syria damned near ditto, and turned a punitive expedition in Afghanistan into a lunatic war of occupation? Balls to all that. Our principal enemies are on just the other side of the Channel – so we don’t need aircraft carriers, we are one.

    “a viable surface fleet”: apart from motor boats for stopping “refugees” invading us, and perhaps some minesweepers, there’s no such thing as a viable surface fleet. To a good approximation a warship is either a submarine or a sitting duck.

  13. HS2 is now entering the death spiral, familiar to anyone who has worked on, or even seen, megaprojects (public or private, makes little difference). First we bid low to get commitment from the top. Then we start to jack the price up a few % at a time. Eventually senior mgt lose their rag and say: “That’s it, you’re not getting any more money”. So then we start to descope – death by a thousand cuts in order to keep within budget. And the end result is something that costs a significant multiple of the first estimate and does a great deal less than was originally planned.

    Although work has started on clearance around Euston, I confidently predict that HS2 will have its London terminus at Old Oak Common (change here for Crossrail).

  14. PS Is there a scientific term for a project that everyone can see makes no financial or practical sense, but is impossible to cancel? Perhaps named for an archetypal example?

  15. “But if the total fares fall, they can’t demand more than what’s in the pot.”

    Oh yes there is, once the fares have run out its the taxpayers who are on the hook……………

  16. “Is there a scientific term for a project that everyone can see makes no financial or practical sense, but is impossible to cancel?”

    A Groundnut scheme?

  17. BiG

    Why are they building so many stations outside of the cities?

    They could be trying to capture the (expected) increase in property values around stations. In this neck of the woods, that’s considered a clever way to fund transit infrastructure – the problem is that it’s tough to do in built-up areas. The other possibility is that it’s part of an implicit (or even explicit) urban redvelopment scheme?

  18. HS2 sounds too close to H2S.

    “Is there a scientific term for a project that everyone can see makes no financial or practical sense, but is impossible to cancel?”

    I don’t know, but California’s Bullet Train to Nowhere surely qualifies.

  19. @Chris Miller February 3, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    A Folly

    A Vanity Project

    A White Elephant

    In all cases it’s known to be of negative value and in all cases “sunk costs” are misused to justify continuing spending yet more.

    OK – a folly may never have been more than a large statue disguised as a building, but most were commenced as a practical building.

    KISS is what is too frequently missed by Gov’t and bureaucracies

  20. @Dongguan John February 3, 2019 at 9:49 am

    The Great Western Railway from Bristol to London cost 6.5m in 1841 which is about 660m in 2018 money.

    Inflation, then times 100 gives £66 Billion

    Ain’t progress, mechanization and technology wonderful

    It’s still same steel rails on ground, WTF is it 100 times more expensive?

  21. Bloke on M4

    The rail workers take nearly all the money from rail tickets. They’re unionised, can stop the trains running, so take all the money. If they see a rail companies making 10% profit, they can demand another 5%. What’s the rail companies going to do but pay up?

    But if the total fares fall, they can’t demand more than what’s in the pot.

    You obviously weren’t around in the ’60s and ’70s. Why do you think they’re so keen on nationalisation? As Jim says, its for easier access to the taxpayer’s teat.

    If a business hasn’t already been nationalised then keep striking and demanding every higher wages until its going bust, then demand its nationalised “to protect jobs”. Works every time with Labour and most of the time with wet Tories like Heath.

    I remember listening to an old school Labour grandee, I think it was Healey but of that generation, talking about nationalising the mines. They hadn’t wanted to but the NUM kept on at them until they did. Once they’d been nationalised they asked the NUM what now? I paraphrase but the answer was something like “not our problem, just pay us more”.

  22. @Jim

    Agreed – I’ve used the Groundnut Scheme comparison elsewhere. But although it failed disastrously, I’m not sure there were quite so many people as there are with HS2 predicting that failure before it even started.

  23. “Scrap the aircraft carriers, we haven’t got any aircraft to put on them anyway.”

    Nice story, shame its bollocks. I spent an interesting hour at a wedding reception on News Year’s Eve talking to one of the flight controllers talking about how they go about their jobs. He’s been on her since before commissioning and landed the first F35.

  24. “WTF is it 100 times more expensive?2

    Because of the ‘pointless jobs’ effect. We’ve had this discussion on here before – how many people are involved in ‘work’ that actually produces nothing, and/or actively prevents others from achieving stuff, either by adding time and/or extra cost? Give a resurrected Brunel todays construction equipment and he could have HS2 built in no time, certainly the actual permanent way bit of it, cuttings, embankments, bridges etc. Signalling and electrification might take a bit longer. The difference is the rules and regulation that would stop him doing any work.

  25. As the HS2 was demanded and initiated by Brussels, as part of a European wide vanity project ending up in the North of Scotland, now we are, allegedly, leaving the EUSSR, there is no reason to continue with it. If the government still wants to spend that £52 billion, use it as a base to invest in what we used to be good at. Engineering and manufacturing, as opposed to fitting together parts made in other countries, or science, or medicine, or (impartial) education. Invest in the security of the country through increase in military spending. Recruit more Police officers, ensuring they return to the Peelian principles rather than the continued use of the tenets of the Frankfurt School of Marxism.
    The problem is that so many politicians, of all parties, have vested interests, whether financial or ideological, which gives them a tunnel visioned outlook, so instead of doing something to benefit the country, the continuance of HS2, and the financial penalties, will stay on the EUSSR appeasing books.

  26. It’s true, Penseivat.

    Governments are formed amongst men for mutual protection. Governments are staffed with people. People are interested in many things, like keeping their jobs. Or they just get bored with protecting people.

    The governments of the West have allowed millions upon millions of foreigners into their countries. Their ‘reasons’ are fraud. Their reason for existence is to control who is in their countries.

    Build that wall, Mr. Trump!

  27. Every government project costs far more than they say it will.

    Every government tax change brings in far less than they say it will.

  28. BiG at #2: exactly! If I’m going to have to get a bus into Sheffield, then another bus from Sheffield to the Sheffield HS Interchange, then I’m going to get a train from Sheffield itself and bugger HS2.

    Motorways work by bypassing destinations and having spurs to the destination because the travel units leave the mainline to get to the destination, with a transport method where the travel units can’t leave the mainline the mainline has to go through the destinations, not bypass them.

  29. BiND,

    “You obviously weren’t around in the ’60s and ’70s. Why do you think they’re so keen on nationalisation? As Jim says, its for easier access to the taxpayer’s teat.”

    That makes sense. Gov owns it, shovels more subsidy which funds unions who pay some back to Labour.

    The thing is that if the government isn’t willing to do that (e.g. Conservatives), then what? Politicians can always put a thumb on the scale and add some subsidy. My point is that even without that, railway unions have management by the balls because it’s intrinisically monopolistic.

  30. I may be a bit thick but how does reducing the number of trains reduce the cost of building the railway?

    Land purchase, construction and commissioning costs will be the same won’t they? The only thing I can see them saving money on is the signalling system, but that must be a minor percentage of the total cost

    I never believed there was a valid business case in the first case, even based on their ridiculous predictions

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