Salvo 298 on HS2

The Northern Weekly Salvo

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No. 298 November 16th 2021                        

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; definitely Northern.

General gossips

This is a slimmed-down Salvo, which you may welcome. I’ve been shilly-shallying about doing one before the publication of the ‘Integrated Rail Plan’ this Thursday setting out the future of rail investment in the UK, following on from the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail which is really more about how the railways will be run. Arguably they were published back to front but so it goes. I’ll do an extended and illustrated Salvo 299 next week. Promise.

HS2: North is better beawt (or Salvo’s Solutions No. 1)

Or, better without it. It looks like the Whole Industry Strategic Plan, which we are assured will be published on Thursday, will announce the scrapping of the ‘eastern leg’ of HS2, the bit from Birmingham –to Leeds. Cue wails of anguish from Labour MPs and some Tories about the North once again being ‘betrayed’ by this hypocritical government whose talk of ‘levelling up’ is so much nonsense. Oh yeah? As readers may have intuited, I’m no fan of Boris Johnson or the Tories but it has to be said: HS2 would have done nowt for th’North, or ‘nothing for the North’. It was an ill-conceived project that should never have been given such credibility in the first place. My impression, supported by opinion polls, is that it was never popular amongst us simple-minded Northern folk who would much prefer a bus shelter outside the Ainsworth Arms to avoid getting soaked waiting for the 526 bus.

Yes, I’m being daft but it has surprised me that so many people who should know better were taken in by the pro-HS2 hype. It was anything but ‘green’ and would have hurt the North’s economy. Nervous Tory MPs, particularly in so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats, supported it (probably against their instincts) because they wanted to show that investment was going into the North of England. Labour wanted it because they like big public sector-led projects. Yet HS2 would have done the North few favours, sucking investment out of the North and into London and the South-East. It would have drained money out of transport budgets stopping much needed projects, with a far better return, not getting the go ahead.

And if you asked those simple-minded Northern folk what they wanted instead of HS2 the answers were generally pretty sensible: investment in local and regional rail projects, better east-west rail links, improved bus services. Let’s hope we see some of that in Thursday’s announcement: projects that can be delivered within a five to eight year time frame, not in two decades – electrification and upgrade of all three Trans-Pennine routes, rail re-openings , sorting out the Castlefield Corridor to allow more trains to run. And Bradford should not be forgotten: right decision to scrap Northern Powerhouse Rail but a Bradford CrossRail could be delivered at a fraction of the cost, much more quickly with the added bonus of demolishing some of the hideous new shopping centre that’s just been erected.

Salvo’s Solutions No. 2: Community Rail

After nearly thirty years I’ve decided it was time to do a new version of New Futures for Rural Rail, reviewing the success of ‘Community Rail’ and making a few suggestions about where it can go in the future. Look out for a feature in RAIL magazine in a couple of weeks and a longer piece in its sister publication Rail Review about the same time. I’m writing a much longer paper (‘Building on success: future directions for Community Rail’) which will be on my website after publication of the RAIL feature. The summary, still at draft stage, says:

This paper argues that the current restructuring within the railway industry presents a unique opportunity for Community Rail (CR) to up its game and become more ambitious, building on its strengths and becoming more entrepreneurial. It needs to shout its achievements much more loudly, or risk losing vital external support.

Maintaining and developing a close partnership with its existing partners in the industry, particularly the train operating companies, is crucial. Train companies and Network Rail should work with the Community Rail Network and CRPs to build a stronger awareness amongst all railway staff about the value and importance of Community Rail. ’Community Rail’ should become a professional career with appropriate accreditation, in partnership with the further and higher education sector.

Building an equally strong relationship with the new Great British Railways (GBR) is of equal importance. I argue for a GBR Community Unit with a dedicated director at headquarters level and community engagement mangers within the regional divisions, working closely with the TOCs and CRPs who should be incentivised to develop ambitious projects, assisted by a ‘Community Rail Enterprise Challenge’ funded by GBR.

These projects could range from developing integrated bus links, promoting walking and cycling schemes including bike hire, to station and on-train catering and other station activities which bring passenger and wider benefits. Making greater use of railway land e.g. for cultivating edible produce, is a further opportunity.

Community Rail should be resourced to take on issues around mental health, hate crime, anti-social behaviour and loneliness, each of which impact on the railways in different ways.

Local government, including the ‘Combined Authorities’, have a crucial part to play. Community Rail can help address wider policy areas beyond a narrow ‘transport’ focus.

New community rail partnerships should be encouraged through a ‘Community Rail Partnership Growth Fund’ which helps CRPs get off the ground and develop, rather than using existing resources which would have the effect of ‘spreading the jam more thinly’ and penalising existing CRPs.

If you would like the draft of the full paper emailing to you, let me know. It will be posted on my website in a couple of weeks.

Christmas is coming so buy my books (please)

My new biography of Lancashire writer, railway lover, cyclist and philosopher Allen Clarke (aka ‘Teddy Ashton’) is now available. Salvo subscribers can get Lancashire’s Romantic Radical for £15 instead of normal price of £18.99. I’ve some copies of my Moorlands, Memories and Reflections for £15 (reduced from £21) as well as my novel set in Horwich Loco Works (The Works) for £5. More esoteric but interesting is With Walt Whitman in Bolton: spirituality, sex and socialism in a Northern Mill Town. Also £5,not that much sex in it to be honest but it has compensations. See Prices are plus £3 post and packing (free if local to Bolton)

OK I’ll leave it at that for now but look out for a more normal illustrated Salvo299 next week

By Paul Salveson

Paul was born in Bolton in 1952, one day before the Harrow and Wealdstone rail disaster. He has had a varied career, mostly to do with railways, mixed in with adult education, journalism, politics and community development. After a 25 year exile he is back home in Bolton. He is a visiting professor at the Universities of Bolton and Huddersfield and chairs South East Lancs Community Rail Partnership

4 replies on “Salvo 298 on HS2”

I’ve always wondered why HS2 was meant to uniquely benefit the North. As the trains run in both directions it’s just as likely to shift scarce resources from the North as well as to the North perhaps even more if the South has better infra-structure and social capital. And as the case for HS2 shifts (more competitive with domestic flights, connectivity, freeing up the existing network) scepticism is more justified still.

HS2 project is nothing more than a Johnson vanity project the transport economics of the project do not stack up the environmental payback is not there the money would be better put into good links in the north. Not convinced that the DfT is capable of delivering anything worth while.

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