HS2 or free wifi on every train – which would be better for the economy?

As some of you might have noticed yesterday I have moved over to using wordpress on ipad as I’m on the move at the moment. So I failed to publish my post yesterday until 5pm and I cannot guarantee that this will be fault-free – apologies in advance.

The independent National Audit Office has concluded that the benefits to the economy of HS2 are unclear, according to a report published yesterday. For the NAO DIrector Geraldine Barker to state that DfT “need to do more work” and that the NAO “couldn’t find the detail” to support the Government’s wild claims of economic benefit, speaks volumes in itself. This counts as scathing criticism of the economic case from inside Whitehall.

Naturally the Government has rejected the NAO’s scepticism, based on what evidence I do not know. Perhaps the NAO is now in the firing line to be deregulated.

Transport Secretary Patrick McGoughlin, writing on the ever interesting conservative home website, draws parallels between HS2, the M25, the channel tunnel rail link, the jubilee line extension and great feats of the Victorian era. I’m not sure whether he’s trying to appeal to the “inner engineer” in all of us, but the comparisons don’t stand any serious scrutiny.

While the economic case for HS2 is floundering, what about the environmental impact?
Could HS2 deliver the mother of all biodiversity offsetting projects? I think we should be told.

Anyway back to the economy. More people are using the trains, partly because fuel is now so expensive, and many of them are working on them, using laptops, mobiles, tablets, even pen and paper. So the time they are on the train they are working, contributing however many billions to GDP. I find it hard to believe that reducing the journey time from London to Birmingham by 20 minutes is really going to add anything at all to the economy.

I spend a lot of time on trains (living in the back of beyond) often working. Imagine how gratifying it is to find the train you’re working on has wifi, and there’s no need to struggle to get a signal via a mobile. Unfortunately this seems to be still very unusual and most trains in my experience do not have wifi.

Surely it would be better to spend a tiny fraction of the money that will be spent on HS2 fitting every train and station in the country with free wifi, then with a bit of the rest, increase the frequency of trains on the busiest lines.

The Victorians gave us a world beating rail network. Unfortunately motorway mogul Tory transport minister Ernest Marples used Dr Beeching’s report to justify destroying much of it. We don’t need new expensive and duplicating rail infrastructure, we need to upgrade the existing infrastructure to meet today’s needs.

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About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in biodiversity, biodiversity offsetting, environmental policy, regulatory reform, transport and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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