I was interested to read Steve Dawe’s piece “National Infrastructure: national benefits?” in the most recent Bylines Gazette.
I was disappointed to see the author repeat the IPA “unachievable” rating for HS2 without any context. The same authority once rated Crossrail (aka the Elizabeth Line), the Intercity Express train replacement programme and the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers as “unachievable”.   Yet all these projects were … achieved.
Steve questions why we don’t invest in railway electrification in addition to/instead of HS2 or reopen closed lines. I fully agree that railway electrification is desirable but the fundamental reason for building HS2 is to release capacity on existing lines. As I wrote in a series of articles for North West Bylines, the problems facing our rail network of high fares, overcrowding and delays all stem from lack of capacity to operate enough trains – and that’s before we get to the desirability of increasing rail freight. This same argument is why building HS2 in full will allow reopening disused lines – services from these reopened lines currently have nowhere to run on the main lines which are unable to accommodate more trains.
I additionally challenge the claim that HS2 construction is causing “considerable environmental damage” especially when later in the same piece Steve notes that “the deepest carbon cuts should fall on transport”. Well, how do you make an omelette without breaking eggs? I discussed many of the environmental claims about the “damage” caused by HS2 and found them overhyped and wanting  and the amount of ancient woodland impacted by construction has actually decreased from original estimates. .
Steve correctly observes that “as part of decarbonising railways and increasing alternatives to car movements, we need a fully electrified railway system” but this only part of the story. Electrification doesn’t significantly increase the number of trains that can run – that’s more dictated by the operating speed differences between the fastest and slowest services. To achieve modal switch from road to rail we need more rail capacity – and the best way to do this is by building HS2, relieving some of the largest bottlenecks on our current rail network and thus providing a comprehensive solution at both national AND local level.
Sadly the prevailing economic thinking across governments of all colours for the past 40 years or more has been to treat the national finances in the same way as a household’s and obsessing over the national debt, when this is unnecessary.  This political meddling and prevarication are what are holding us back as a country from realising the goals the author admirably sets out.
Bury, Greater Manchester
 Crossrail and HS2 “unachievable”: https://www.mylondon.news/news/zone-1-news/hs2-crossrail-both-branded-unachievable-18607808.amp
 One in five military projects rated “unachievable”: https://inews.co.uk/news/uk/defence-realm-one-five-military-equipment-projects-rated-doubt-unachievable-106162
Ed: Steve Dawe would like to state that: “My comments are informed by advice from Professor John Whitelegg, one of the leading specialists on transport in Europe”.