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Rolling stock – an unjust division

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HS2 Ltd chairman David Higgins believes the problems Network Rail has had with electrification are “utterly different” from what HS2 has to face, the Guardian reported.

[HS2 chief hits out at ‘unjust’ division of rail assets between north and south, Gwyn Topham, The Guardian, 16 July 2015]

“What we’re essentially building is a new highway. You know exactly what’s [there] and you’ve got 24-hour access. Upgrading these existing assets is nightmarishly difficult.

Mr Higgins also claimed that cascading rolling stock to Northern England was unfair.

[…DH:] “I look at [railway] expenditure per head, the pass-me-down process – the offcuts from rolling stock always end up in the north. Two hours from Birmingham to Leeds on a chugger, old crappy trains on poor railway lines. We would not accept that from London to Swindon, and we don’t: we insist on a huge amount of money going into commuter services.”

HS2 will attempt to address this divide, with a first leg that runs from London to Birmingham, then a second phase linking to Manchester and Leeds. […]

Three decades of major infrastructure projects lie ahead: “HS2, Crossrail 2, HS3, the substantial investment in ground support and transport for a third runway at Heathrow, the highways programme, the National Grid, nuclear power stations.” It sounds a tall order, but Higgins insisted: “It’s going to happen. It’s not a question of will we, won’t we.”

What about the money? “These are assets – not a cost to the nation.”

Mr Higgins’ claims are largely bunkum. Cascading of rolling stock (a well-established practice) may take place for a variety of reasons. It is not unknown for old trains to be moved to new locations in the south of England. However, railways in the South East tend to carry more passengers, so in many cases it makes sense to assign a higher priority to rolling stock renewal there.

The age disparity in rolling stock between northern and southern England tends to affect regional, rather than long-distance, travel. Currently, between London and Swindon, and Birmingham and Leeds, many of the fast trains are 1970s / 1980s (diesel) HSTs.

New-build high speed rail tends to be a competitor for resources against the existing railway. In France, over-investment in the TGV has been a major factor in the decline of the classic system. In Britain, the Electric Spine, Midland, South Wales Valleys and Transpennine North electrification schemes have all been “paused” to protect HS2.


17 July

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