High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

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 North.

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.

July 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011