High Speed 2

Christian Wolmar has written a short history of High Speed Rail 2 for the London Review of Books. “What is the point of HS2?”, he asks. The transport commentator is an opponent of the project, which passed through another legislative tunnel on Monday evening. Nevertheless, his essay is a sober account of why HS2 is going ahead, despite the protean arguments of its supporters. For anyone beguiled by the voodoo economics of both sides of the debate, it is an essential read.

Wolmar contests that the shifting claims made for HS2 reflect its haphazard origins. None of the major rail reviews of the Labour government recommended a north-south line, Wolmar says. He argues that the creation in 2009 of High Speed Two, the government-sponsored company in charge of the project, was partly a political response to Conservative support for the idea and partly a response to environmental concerns about expanding Heathrow. Under the stewardship of Andrew Adonis, Labour’s fervent reformer, it soon became a central part of its economic response to the crisis. The coalition government adopted it as an emblem of the Conservative party’s modernisation and, incongruously, a way of both “rebalancing” the geography of the economy and winning a “global race”. Read more >>

In his speech to the CBI conference, David Cameron will today say that critics of High Speed Rail 2 are resigned to leaving Britain in “the slow lane” and that they “are betraying everyone north of Watford”. Leaving to one side the lack of lanes on railways, the prime minister is trying to make two arguments about the controversial scheme. The first is that this is the type of bold projects that bold countries embark upon. The second is that the new fast railway line would help bridge (sorry) the “North-South divide”.  Read more >>

In 1987, Michael Heseltine observed that “the Treasury never sleeps”. He might have added that it therefore never dreams. Read more >>