David Lidington, MP – HS2 comment, March 2019
Like many Wendover residents I recall how the business case published to support the HS2 project defined the economic benefits in significant part as down to the accumulation of units of time saved by travellers who would, because of swifter journey times, be able to spend more time in offices and meetings rather than travelling. This sticks in my mind in particular because I, as the constituency Member of Parliament, along with many local organisations and individuals in Wendover and other communities along the route questioned and challenged this model at the time. We questioned whether these days it really was the case that time spent travelling was time not at work. After all, many of us are used to working on tablets and smartphones during rail journeys.
The units of time being saved and therefore the overall business case themselves depended in large part on assumptions made about the speed of the trains. Self-evidently, the faster that a train went and the shorter the journey between cities, the more time would be saved and therefore, on the basis of HS2 Ltd’s business case model, the greater economic benefit would be.
I was therefore somewhat surprised to read that HS2 Ltd was apparently considering the option of running trains at slower speeds in order to save money. I have written to them to ask whether this report is true and, if so, what it does to their business model. Presumably if trains are to run less fast than originally planned, then the unproductive time saved would be less and logically the economic benefit of the project would also be less than that presented in the original business case model.
There is a further point that I think is worth probing HS2 on. The chief reason that I was given in the past against providing any intermediate station between London and Birmingham was that trains would have to slow down, stop and then accelerate again. The journey time would be longer than if the train ran without intermediate stops, the units of time saved therefore would be fewer and the economic benefits of the project less. So if the plan is indeed now to run the trains at slower speeds and also to have a less frequent HS2 service than predicted in the original plans then does this justify reopening the case for an intermediate station so that people living along the route of HS2 phase one would at least receive some transport benefits in return for the environmental harm that any families and communities stand to suffer?
I have written to HS2 about these points and I shall report back on what reply I receive.