Not so High Speed 2

Sunday 3rd February 2013

The other day the Government announced a provisional route for High Speed 2. Now they’ll consult, and announce the final route at some point in the future. The first phase – the section between London and Birmingham – is due to start construction in 2017, and due to be completed by 2026.

In May 1961, President Kennedy announced that he wanted America to do something radical, something that no-one had ever done before. He announced that by the end of the decade, America would put a man on the Moon. You probably know how that turned out.

Getting to the Moon required lots of research, and working at the cutting edge of technology. High speed rail isn’t new technology, it’s been around for decades. Yet we’re saying that it’ll take longer to build a couple of hundred miles of rail line than it took to figure out how to complete a round trip of almost a million miles, using new technology, in the sixties.

Final cost of the Apollo project: $25 billion in 1970, or about £80 billion in present money. Projected cost of HS2: £32 billion.

Does it really sound reasonable that the entire Moon landing programme should cost about 2.5 times more than a high-speed rail link? I think not.

It’s a good idea to build a high-speed rail link. In fact we probably should’ve done it before now, and we should probably be at the stage of having a high-speed network, as in other developed countries. But it baffles me that it’s going to take so long, and cost so much.

Posted at 4:59 pm | Posted In: Engineering Tagged:



Sunday 3rd February 2013, 5:57 pm

Once they’d decided to go to the moon, all they had to do was find a bit of desert to launch from. Contrast to HS2 where it’s effectively going through hundreds of back yards.I think getting through HS2 in a way that’s generally regarded as “democratic” will be a feat in itself!


Sunday 3rd February 2013, 11:19 pm

All they had to do was find a bit of desert to launch from. And then invent the vehicle they were going to launch. When Kennedy announced that America had decided to go to the Moon, they hadn’t even managed a manned orbit. In fact, by this point NASA hadn’t even managed to crash a probe into the Moon, let alone get people there, or figure out how to get them back. In contrast, we’ve been building railways for almost two centuries…

Fair point about the “political” side of HS2, in terms of planning. But they started work on it in 2009; should it take 4 years to announce a potential route? And even if it should, once they’ve decided on the route should it take another 4 years to get to the point of starting the build, and should it take almost 10 years to finish building the thing?

For comparison, in the time it’s taken us to get to announcing a possible HS2 route – length 119miles – China has built 6000 miles of high-speed rail. They’re planning to complete 10,000 miles by 2020. Now, I’m not saying we should copy the way China works, because they’ll almost certainly be doing things undemocratically – to say the least – and they’ll be working in a much less safe manner. But there’s probably a reasonable compromise to be found between the two approaches.

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