Jonathan Pie is the fictional news reporter created by actor and comedian Tom Walker who “satirises the world of politics and the media” through rants to camera. Recently (23rd July 2019), he uploaded a video called “Pie on High Speed Rail”, which, as you may have guessed, looks at High Speed 2 (HS2). The position is clearly anti-HS2. Perhaps I should let this one slide, but the substantial following of Jonathan Pie, coupled with the links to “Scrap HS2” petition links requires a response. I know my Opinions Section seems to have become a pro-HS2 mouthpiece of late – I have got opinions on other things – but there's a lot to keep track of when it comes to HS2.
(“Christ, who reads this <expletive> [Rail Magazine and other railway media publications]? Dull, innit? Really boring. Really boring.” (Timestamp: 0:10)
Perhaps this is why the video contains multiple inaccuracies.)
“...why is Birmingham spending £500m on expanding its airport to deal with an expected 40% increase in passenger numbers when HS2 is up and running.”
“...he [Andy Burnham] wants to double Manchester Airport's capacity by 2040.”
“Turns out HS2 is the biggest <expletive> runway on the planet, it's just got a big massive train on it instead, taking you from one airport to the next airport.”
Simply, that is not what HS2 is. As covered previously, HS2 is about increasing commuter capacity around London, Birmingham, Manchester and other metropolitan areas by removing the fastest, most path hungry InterCity trains from the “classic” network.
But, given that HS2 does serve 2 airports, can the desired increase in capacity be attributed to HS2? Post-HS2 Birmingham “might indeed be a more interesting option” (Howard Davies, Airports Commission). Said commission said that “left the door open for a rethink once the impact of HS2 on travel patterns had become clearer”, IE: We don't know yet. (Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37611683 .)*
The same cannot be said for Manchester. The potential (again note the conditionality, something which was not alluded to at all during the video) impact of HS2 and HS3/Northern Powerhouse is far more inconsequential at that airport. IE: without those two High Speed rail projects, the airport will still need to expand in order to meet with demand. It is worth noting that numerous airports across the UK (the majority of which are not served by HS2) are expanding, or planning to expand.
In the links provided in the petition, there is one which deals with airport capacity figures. This document makes no mention of HS2^.
Previous evidence of railway upgrades shows that HS2 will make a significant dent in domestic UK air travel. The case study I have used is the upgrade to the WCML that was completed in 2008. The introduction of faster, clockface (IE: departing at the same minutes past each hour) services to Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham all but killed off the domestic air market to those locations from London. Past evidence shows that HS2 will make a significant dent in the domestic England – Scotland air market.
*This article was published in 2016, so facts may have changed. I could not find more recent articles, hence my use of this one.
^Methodology: Command+F (find) function for the following words/phrases:
“...these include slowing down the train and it terminating outside London...”
“So, if I'm in Central London, I have to get a normal train to outside London to get me to the HS2 train which isn't that fast anymore anyway? That's <expletive> useless.” (Timestamp: 2:52)
The cost-cutting proposal that is referred to is actually to terminate HS2 at Old Oak Common, a place which is objectively in London, whichever way one looks at it.
But, that doesn't undermine the argument. In fact, I agree with this part. As covered before, it is a very silly idea to terminate HS2 anywhere other than Central London: “Sadiq Kahn, current Mayor of London, proposed that the railway should terminate at Old Oak Common rather than London Euston. This is also an absurd idea, simply because that would mean a huge number of people would be transferring to alternative modes of transport to get from Old Oak Common to Central London. That will do nothing for capacity on trains in and out of Paddington to commuter towns in the Thames Valley, or the InterCity services to the West Country and Wales.”
Reducing the speed of the service will also have a minimal effect on the overall cost. I'm not so worried about this aspect, because, as I have had to repeat multiple times, HS2 is about capacity not speed.
“This isn't about creating more capacity, it's about creating more money for huge conglomerates with their noses in the trough lobbying people high up in the government... <rant continues for 94 minutes>” (Timestamp: 3:11)
HS2 is about creating capacity. I can't paste all 1,348 words I wrote in detail on why HS2 is about increasing capacity, but here is a summary:
The current InterCity services which run on the WCML take up the most capacity on the railway. Because they run faster than the other services, they require more paths in order to run at close to full speed. Thus, they significantly reduce the capacity available to run trains. If one removes those InterCity services from the “classic” network, there is significantly more capacity available to run more trains for commuter and regional express services. The InterCity trains are then put on a new railway (HS2) which means they can run faster than they currently do.
Although no evidence is provided, it is reasonable to assume that business has been lobbying for HS2. That doesn't make HS2 a bad thing.
“...unless of course you're famous, in which case you'll be handsomely paid off and silenced.”
This is a reference to people who have property which is on the route of HS2. This is where my slight caveat lies. I am on of Network Rail's “neighbours” (IE: my house backs onto the railway) and do experience some disruption (late night engineering works etc.), I'm not too fussed because I know why Network Rail are doing the things that they do. However, I could not guarantee that if my house was to be demolished in order to expand the railway I would be happy about it, even though it would be of significant benefit to the majority of people. That is the slight caveat to my pro-HS2 stance: people criticising HS2 because it demolishes their house.
“All I require [from a train] is a seat...” (Timestamp: 7:43)
The irony being that HS2 will provide a huge amount of additional capacity meaning that more people will be able to get a seat.
“You want to create a Northern Powerhouse? Invest in the rail network in the north...” (Timestamp: 4:04)
For a start, there is investment in the railways in the North. A significant timetable re-cast is in progress. Over 100 brand new trains are being delivered to Northern Rail, with additional rolling stock coming in from elsewhere. TransPennine Express is getting 45 new trains and over 50 new carriages (bear in mind that their fleet is 61 at the moment, so that is a significant percentage of their rolling stock being replaced).
Secondly, HS2 does benefit the North. Both parts 1 and 2 deal with this myth at various points. Links have been provided previously.
Finally, the Northern Powerhouse is not an alternative to HS2. HS2 mainly focuses on increasing north-south connectivity (that includes linking more northern cities in the North (Leeds) to more southern (Stoke-on-Trent), whilst the Northern Powerhouse/High Speed 3 (HS3) focuses on East-West connectivity (Leeds to Manchester to Liverpool as an example).
As is stated in the video (Timestamp: 4:26) a number of environmental organisations are members of the “Right Lines Charter” which is designed to keep HS2 to its environmental promises. For example, more of HS2 is now in tunnels than it was designed. The Right Lines Charter describes itself as “looking at strategic issues beyond being pro or anti HS2”. This is the sort of thing that I very much like. Instead of blindly assigning themselves to one side of the other, there is objective and balanced analysis of the situation.
This has always been my favourite part of anti-HS2 literature. As I have previously explored, alternatives to HS2 are poorly costed, do not have the effect that HS2 will have, or misunderstand what HS2 is about (IE: the idea focuses on providing more fast trains to Birmingham not more commuter services around London, Birmingham, Manchester etc.)
Here is what Mr Pie has to say on the matter: “For £100 billion, you could increase capacity and modernise the entire existing British rail network from top to bottom. From Inverness to the Channel Tunnel. A rail network that is the envy of the world, that encourages people out of their cars and down from the skies...” (Timestamp: 8:10)
This is simply utter rubbish. I wish some evidence had been provided so that I could look at how this would happen. I will even leave aside that the North Highland Lines have been left out of any investment. If one really was to have the money to “modernise the entire existing British rail network”, that would include the Dornoch Rail Crossing. (Read more here.)
Happily, there are some proposals from the New Economics Foundation report (20th March 2019) which is referred to in the petition link:
1: Re-opening the Woodhead Route
This will not solve any problems that HS2 solves. It would have to be done as well as HS2, not instead of it.
Additional work would also have to be done to allow trains to actually run on the Woodhead route. The line from Penistone to Barnsley would have to be doubled throughout, the line from Meadowhall to Sheffield would have to be quadrupled, Manchester Piccadilly would have to be expanded and it would be a nightmare trying to find paths between Guide Bridge and Manchester Piccadilly that also don't clash with the stopping services to Hadfield and Glossop.
2: Bradford Crossrail
This would be a tunnel linking Forster Square and Interchange stations. Again, it is not solving any capacity problems solved by HS2, so it is another project that would have to be done with HS2, not instead of it.
3a: Improving the WCML
This would be done through the following: “Selective quadrupling (the WCML is quadrupled as far as Crewe, the Southern section is quadrupled and already at capacity, the Coventry to Birmingham section is too and has no room for additional tracks, ditto with the Stoke to Manchester section); more grade separation at major junctions (while this would create additional capacity, it would be nothing like the capacity that is required. At best, 1-2 paths an hour would be found); additional platform capacity (essentially making stations bigger), modern signalling (the much-hyped ‘digital signalling’) , electrification (in the case of the MML) (electrification not being a capacity “silver bullet” by any means).”
There are numerous other proposals about how to enhance the WCML, all detailed in appendix 1. By the time one does all of these, one will have spent so much money, one might as well have built HS2 and got more out of the money.
In fact, a number of proposals by this report are either already happening, or planned to happen (re-instate an additional 2 tracks out of Kings Cross, quadruple the tracks and grade separate the junctions around Peterborough, remove 10 level crossings on the southern section of the ECML) etc. I would go into much more detail, but this article is approaching 2000 words and the report I am now commenting on is not directly referred to at any point in the video.
Rail Ticket Prices
Absolutely nothing to do with HS2.
Essentially, this video, although clearly a comedy one, fails to provide evidence for the reasons for being anti-HS2. A chunk of the video is not relevant, most is inaccurate, and some laughably so (though not in the way that the writers and actors wished, I imagine).