Further written evidence from Transport
Watch UK (HSR 73B)|
At the Transport Committee meeting of 12 July the
Committee pointed out that it had heard unalloyed support for
High Speed Rail from the Europeans and from businessmen in the
The support from Europe was voiced by those committed
to building and running the systems. Those people would have taken
care not to allow committee members to meet sceptics. As an illustration
of the dangers of believing what one hears from such sources I
note that, at a time when the SNCF was said to be running into
profit, the aptly named Professor Remy Prude'homme of Paris 12
found the subsidy was running at nearly 1% of GDP. Heaven knows
how many jobs were thereby sacrificed in that part of the French
economy that makes a genuine profit. Spain, with the longest network,
has over 20% unemployed. Perhaps that would be lower if the vast
expenditures on loss-making projects had remained in private hands.
In any event the anecdote calls to mind the remark
made by Stewart Joy, previously Chief Economist to British Railways.
He wrote in his book "The Train that Ran Away" that
there were those in the British Transport Commission and the railways
"who were cynically prepared to accept the rewards of high
office in exchange for the unpalatable task of tricking the Government
on a mammoth scale. Those men," Joy wrote, "were either
fools or knaves." There were no libel actions but Joy had
been forced out, too honest to work with railway men.
The support of business men and politicians in the
North will, I believe, crumble when they appreciate (a) the immensity
of the costs and (b) the risk that the supposed benefits have
been vastly overestimated. In that context please find attached
a (sample) letter that I have sent, along with the attached note,
to the local press, councillors and MPs in Birmingham, Liverpool,
Manchester, Glasgow, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, York, Newcastle
(Tyne and Wear) and Edinburgh; also to the Evening Standard in
London. I anticipate publication of the letter in most of those
places and will follow up with the same in the national media.
(The note supersedes the version previously sent to you).
As to the proceedings of the 12th, I was astonished
to find how little interest committee members seemed to have in
the numbers. For example, the fact that 90% of movement is by
road, mostly to destinations that are difficult or impossible
to serve by bus let alone the train, was batted aside as though
it did not matter.
The truth is rail carries 2% of passenger journeys
and only 7% of passenger miles yet it absorbs vast subsidies and
the imagination of the nation as though it were pivotal. The reason
for that is the sentimental memory of the Great Age of Steam coupled
with decades of shameless propaganda by the railway lobby.
It will not do.