Now given the green light - Jan 10 2012
MARCH 11th 2010
There is some confusion on the reasons for and merits of the high-speed rail line from London to the north. Here are the real bones of it.

The case has been made that the economic growth to which we are committed if we are to recover from recession and growing unemployment will in due course lead to a growth in rail traffic. The present rail network is insufficient to handle current needs. The work needed to maintain the current network is already an interference with its smooth and regular running. Not only is there is no way it can be improved to handle future needs, it is overloaded as it is and causing economic disadvantage. There is a sound case for new main lines to the Midlands, Northeast and Northwest, with trains that can initially continue to Glasgow and Edinburgh on existing lines.

The case has been made that we need to move more public and personal transport form road to rail to conserve energy and reduce carbon emissions. The new project will not contribute to carbon reduction, it will be basically carbon neutral and in the period when carbon reduction is urgent will generate considerable emissions. However, failure to carry it through would eventually make it far harder to reduce carbon emissions and put our road networks under a strain which would make their use and maintenance a greater carbon and energy liability and lead to serious congestion problems however efficient road vehicles become.

The case has been made that we have slipped behind the rest of the developed world in railway technology, high speed trains and the associated skills and familiarity of use, and need to catch up as a matter of urgency. That is a much less important argument even if true. While the new lines should be designed to take trains at 250mph, and the vehicles designed to reach this speed, it may well be that depending on the economic and climate situation they will actually be run at 150mph and greatly reduced power consumption and maintenance costs. The more important consideration is to have discrete express lines that free up the old network and compete overwhelmingly with air and road transport on inter-city journeys, providing a good on-board working environment and total reliability. If it turns out we can afford to run them faster, all well and good; the design will have made them cheaper to run and maintain at any speed than if they and the track had been constructed with a lower operational design limit.

The case has been made that the selected route is not the best and the extent of the project is inadequate. I am not of that opinion, I think they have got it exactly right; but there will be plenty of time to examine it.

There is an assumption that in any model of a growing world economy there will be more people travelling to more places more often. I do not share this assumption. But it is nonetheless absolutely necessary to complete this project as the status quo is completely unacceptable if the UK is to compete as a home for business, residence, adequate tourism facilities and a sustainable environment.

MARCH 12th 2010
The case has been made that the Chilterns is an area of natural beauty and the railway line will descrate it. It is true that during construction it will be a bit of an eye-sore and cause noise and traffic congestion in places, but the overland contruction in the Chiltern area will not last the whole period of construction of the line, it can be completed quickly. Once done, the line will not be intrusive. There is an illusion on maps that a twin-track rail line take up a lot of space. In truth, on a large wall-map of the UK, such a railway line and embankment would be thinner than a human hair. Bridges over and tunnels under it where there are existing roads, which are few in the area under discussion, can be beautifully and elegantly designed. The high speed train is quiet and passes quickly, as residents in Kent have already discovered on the Eurostar route.

The case has been made that development of the Internet will make high definition video-conferencing an economic alternative to travel for business and even some social needs, and that this will reduce the need for and national value of the projected line. However, the reverse is probably the case. Internet video conferencing will play a vital role in integrating the working lives of those outside London and in the cities of the Midlands, the North and Scotland, with very desirable results, taking the pressure off currently overloaded residential and office locations in the South. This will add to the need for the occasional high-speed travel between the cities served by the projected line as opposed to daily commuting which will indeed be beneficially reduced by the new technology.

The case has been made that the proposed line should serve arrivals at Heathrow. It will do - so that's taken care of. There is no economic case for making a high-speed terminal and line from Heathrow a priority, a normal line to join the new line will suffice to begin with.

The UK is too London-centric. Modern technology will enable us to spread the activity and the wealth at the globally competitive industrial and commercial levels. The Internet will play a vital part in this. Rail travel of a new sort, not the hopelessly inefficient daily commuting we now endure will play a vital part as well. None of this will cause a deterioration in other rail services. It wll facilitate their improvement. It is not a future with MORE travel, but one with DIFFERENT and more productive travel.

DECEMBER 20th 2010
The high speed route is to be modified in order to better meet the local environmental objections.
This will not satisfy the residents of e.g. Great Missenden and some other places but the objectors have little idea why this line necessary. If it is not built, there is no way the rest of the rail network covering the midlands and the north can be maintained and improved. It is not a 'vanity project' as Geoffrey Palmer defines it. This line has to be built, and there is no point in building to old, slow specifications or with lots of stations outsdie the main connurbations.
I have to say the assumption of celebrities that they are qualified systems analysts never ceases to amaze me, as is the assumption of students that they already know more than those with a lifetime's experience who have completed their education and added to it every year since.

FEBRUARY 28th 2011
Arguments for and against any new high-speed rail system have still not been cleared up in the public mind. The latest daft proposal was that instead of spending the billions on a new line, it should be used to cut fares on the existing network. Since the main need to have a new line is due to the overloading of the current network being such as to prevent its proper maintenance, let alone improvement in speed, number of trains or handling of more passengers that a reduction in fares would bring, this suggestion indicates there is a need to get speed up the consultation by ruling out suggestions from those who have clearly not read the basic premise behind the project.

AUGUST 4th 2011
I have spent tme this evening listening to the Select Committee on Transport. Professor David Begg and others beng questoned by MPs made sense. The MPs questioning them did not. One moronic Tory (Stephen Baker?) was reduced to pseudo arguments such as "I treat with great scepticism any idea such 'the true economy'" - in response to David Begg's caution that a narrow cost-benefit analysis would not reveal the national benefit, the long term benefit, or the strategic importance or vision. He then asked why such arguments were peculiar to transport. Rather like asking why the blood-circulation system was not more critcal in its fluidity than the skeleton. Iain Stewart was only slightly less dim. The fact is without the HS2 project, the rest of the rail network will just choke to death in 20 years, or if not it will be because the economy has choked to death. That in no way contradicts my feeling that in general there will be less travel per person in the future than now.

JANUARY 7th 2012
While sanity is prevailing and the HST is likely to be approved politically, there is still a pretence that the arguments for it 'do not make sense' and that a time of austerity it is inappropriate. A careful reading of the thinking behind these objections reveals that a 'time of austerity' such as we are entering now is precisely the moment to start this work and continue it. A time of 'boom' would be (a) too late and (b) have unfortunate inflationary results. As usual we just have to face the fact that simplistic,  conventional thinking in a new, sophisticated and connected world is what caused the destabilising errors that led to our present crises all over the globe. What 'makes sense' to those trying to steer by looking only in the rear-view window will not match the judgment of those looking ahead as well as in other directions. The future will always be a mystery to the former. [President Obama is about to make the same mistake with his defence review as he talks about a return to the concept of war between nations and 'our enemies. Who the hell does he think these are? Iran and China? Iran is a mess terrorised by its own Revolutionary Guards that the Mullahs have to keep in with. China is America's key financial ally and will be needed as a military one on the world's ocean trade routes. Wake up lad. The wars of this millennium will not be between nations unless they go rogue from within. As for poor Pakistan, it is so religiously confused that only the passage of time can deal with the inverted morality that approves of murder in the name of protecting the name of a great moral leader and philosopher.

But I digress. Back to the railway.
Opponents say the planned route crosses an area of outstanding natural beauty and it will damage the environment. It also passes through Conservative heartlands and some Tory MPs have strongly objected to the proposal.

Er...yes...that is to say no. Once completed, the line will have absolutely no ill effect on the area of outstanding natural beauty. It will allow millions to see it as they pass through and appreciate it's quality. This appreciation is what alone can assure the votes in coming decades to preserve such areas all over the land. They will pass through in relatively quiet, brief unpolluting order, unseen by the local inhabitants. Those very few who are seriously directly affected can be compensated. The line will occupy a footprint so small as to be invisible if printed to scale on a wall-map. During its building there will be temporary environmental damage. I was looking recently at the environmental damage done to Germany in WWII in removing the regime that resulted from the previous financial and monetary idiocy of politicians in America, the UK, France and elsewhere not to mention Germany itself. I recommend a study of the photographs. Put aside a few days. If we run our economy right we can avoid such environmental damage from ever happening again.

JANUARY 9th 2012
"Stop HS2" Campaign director Joe Rukin says: the route is "the wrong priority". "A white elephant of monstrous proportions... you could deliver more benefits to more people more quickly by investing in the current rail structure" That is where Rukin makes his big mistake. Not because he is wrong but because he is right. That is what we have been doing, and we could continue with the results he advocates at an ever diminishing return until we reached not just a dead end but a trully appalling crisis. It is time to stop that approach immediately apart from a steady improvement in maintenance methods and materials on existing lines and move surely on the HS2 project. As soon as the line is open even to Birmingham real benefits can start to come progressively and continually to users of all lines and to the nation as a whole, including all those who are trying to stop it.

The other huge misunderstanding is that the money allocated for HS2 will NOT therefore be invested in carbon-friendly improvements in other transport. It will. The money spent will be largely spent in the UK economy, where the proper laws and incentives will be adjusting all purchases and activities toward the more environmentally sound in every aspect. Better cars and buses. Better houses and insulation. We already have a huge programme of current infrastructure improvement, none of which will be diminished by HS2 which is a long term project.

No, I am sorry, the disagreement on the economic arguments are due to the fact that simple accountancy rules can only be applied in simple, closed systems. Our modern economy is complex but not beyond our understanding in how to approach the means to move it toward some modestly anticipatable goals. There will be those for whom the changes and inconveniences will not be helpful. In the worst cases there will be compensation, in others help to mitigate. But for the very great majority it will be win-win.

Nevertheless I would be the first to agree that none of this whole mode of development is necessary, if we were to re-educate the entire population and alter our way of life. I just think that would be too difficult right now. Later, perhaps?