Posts Tagged ‘High Speed Rail’
It is often alleged that the weather is the main topic of conversation amongst Brits. It certainly seemed that way this morning when we codgers gathered to clean out the chickens. The rain is back big-time and my pals are less than happy about it, particularly since we are already weeks behind on our other allotments tasks of digging and sowing seeds in the greenhouses. We have never been so late, so we offered a thousand curses to whoever controls the taps up there.
We did of course take note of today’s new opinion poll from ICM. No fewer than 52% of all voters believe that Ukip is here to stay. 53% believe that Nigel Farage and company have the best policy on immigration. Even more worrying for our dear leader is the finding that 30% of Tory voters see mad Boris as their only hope of winning the next election. And right on cue this morning comes news that Sir Peter Tapsell has offered to stand down from his safe Lincolnshire seat to enable the London Mayor a place in the Commons. We begin to fear the worst for the Chipping Norton lad.
But neither the fate of Cameron or even the performance of our beloved Welsh team at the Millenium Stadium could keep us from our main passion, the fate of our railways. Even new evidence that Government inspectors are overruling every local authority decision to protect the greenbelt from developers didn’t deflect us, for we had long-realised that the new planning laws are in reality a licence to eliminate local controls.
HS2 is, in our view, the greatest threat to our railway network since Beeching, and we awaited news of the High Court challenge by the organisations attempting to make this point. In court, opponents argued that the Government has not performed a serious consultation, seriously evaluated the alternatives or looked fully at the environmental impact before deciding to proceed. In an amazing judgement Mr Justice Ouseley essentially agreed, but said it didn’t matter since the Government’s actions did not constitute a decision to proceed. Really?
On the steps of the court the rail minister, Simon Burns, proclaimed the decision as the “green light” for High Speed Rail. One of the opponents, Martin Tett of Buckinghamshire county council, described the proceedings as “completely bizaare” and added; ”For all who watched the Cabinet announcing the routes to Manchester and Leeds the claim, accepted by the judge, feels like some kind of parallel universe”.
Some of the campaigners who fought hardest to save the railways after Beeching are deeply worried that HS2 will undermine not just the finances, but the entire rationale of subsidised public transport. One such is John Whitelegg, professor of transport at Liverpool John Moores University, who led the successful campaign against the closure of the Settle-Carlisle line. “High-speed rail is a rich person’s folly”, he contends. Spending vast amounts of public money on something that simply will not be used by the bottom 50% of income bands is a reverse Robin Hood strategy, a socially regressive project to transfer cash from poor to rich”. The billions, he argues, would be far better spent on improvements to the humbler local services that people actually use.
We agree. Such local lines as survived Beeching are now experiencing an enormous growth in passenger numbers. But they are under-resourced, crowded and unreliable. Beehing, and the politicians who directed him, saw the railway’s decline as “inevitable”. But it wasn’t. In 1963 there were 938 million passenger journeys by train. Last year there were 1.46 million, even though the network has shrunk by a third.
But railways are expensive, not least because of the ludicrous organisation structure which allows huge sudsidies to private companies, which in turn pay huge salaries to top managers. It also allows the farce of the £28 billion debt run up by Network Rail , essentially a public corporation backed by the taxpayer. The result is high fares. And the balance sheet does not yet include the white elephant of HS2, which will add at least £34 billion to the public debt.
And here comes the big worry. In 1955, the Government published a railway “Modernisation Plan”. Vast sums were invested in the wrong schemes – huge freight marshalling yards when freight traffic was disappearing, first-generation diesels that kept breaking down. Aghast at the overall costs the Government brought in an “efficinecy expert” in the considerable form of Dr Beeching. The rest, as they say, is history.
It seems to us extremely likely that, having spent zillions on a service affordable only to a small elite, a Government of the future will feel obliged to send for a new Beeching who will conclude that lines need to be cut. And by then our roads will be totally congested.
Lord save us from madmen and politicians!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “A good sermon should be like a woman’s skirt: short enough to rouse interest, but long enough to cover the essentials!”….Ronald Knox
Kate’s baby lump is now visible! Since the Star has felt this worthy of a front page spot today, it seemed only right that a modest post such as this should follow suit. Should you be one of the half-dozen people who don’t finance the tabloids you may also like to know that Posh Spice is acting as an advisor to the Duchess. It must be quite comforting to our dear leader and his sidekick, Gorgeous George, to know that such mundane matters as the economy cannot compete with such startling news as royal bumps.
They may also have other reasons to be thankful for being out of the spotlight. Our dear leader is desperately trying to fight off a threatened coup by converting himself into a world statesman, a blesser of camels and somewhat dodgy rulers. It may work, but it didn’t for his esteemed mentors,Thatcher and Blair. But he should perhaps draw comfort from the fact that new polls of attitudes within the Conservative Party show him infintely more popular than Gorgeous George Osborne, whose popularity amongst Tory MPs is now akin to that of a rattlesnake in a lucky dip.
And to add to his troubles, which up to now have centered around his cack-handled stewardship of the nation’s finances, Mr Osborne is now being accused of some distinctly dodgy dealing in regard to the announced route for the proposed high speed rail project.
The story was broken by Richard Winward, who inherited the tenancy of Millngton Hall Farm. His 190 acres of prime arable land and their distinctive red brick buildings occupy one of Cheshire’s most sought after positions in some of the county’s most sumptious countryside. Mr Winwrad and his neighbours had taken little notice of the HS2 furore since planners had from the outset made clear that the line had to go as “straight as a die” to enable speeds of 225mph to be achieved.
This meant that the line would have to travel through the famous “Golden Triangle” of Prestbury, Alderley Edge and Wilmslow – home to Premiership footballers such as Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand, who have been emulating their new wealthy neighbours in rebuildng the country mansions of the old-money county set. And the ‘Triangle” falls within the constituency of, er, George Osborne, our esteemed Chancellor.
When the plans were finally unveiled this week Mr Winward and his friends were gven a nasty shock. Someone has drawn in a six-mile detour, a “dog-leg”. The route will now go around Mr Osborne’s constituency rather than through it. Each mile of the new railway will cost around £93 million and the added detour will cost an extra £500million. An expensive decision, one that will create operational problems if and when the project ever reaches completion.
So who made this very odd decision? Within hours of the detailed route beng published the leader of Cheshire East council, Michael Jones, issued a statement praising Mr Osborne and fellow Tory Edward Timpson for having “fought hard to keep the line away from Knutsford and Tatton, which they have been successful in achieving”. The press-release was hastily retracted but Ed Miliband was quick on the draw. The Chancellor, he said, should spend “less time worrying about how to divert high-speed rail routes away from his constituency”.
Gorgeous George has denied influencing the change. But it is easy to imagine that the second most powerful member of the cabinet would have had little trouble getting his way.This coming just days after revelations about his continuing intimate contacts with the Murdochs reinforces the impression that the man heralded as the ultimate financial wizard is not only anything but, but is a wee bit dodgy into the bargain.
But at least we codgers had some good news today. Lord Smith, the chairnan of the Environment Agency, has announced that the country is being subjected to a “new kind of rain”. We are now getting “convective” rain, which sits in one place and just dumps itself in a deluge over a long period of time. Good news? Could be if we can persuade God, someone possibly even more powerful than George Osborne, to transfer the dumping process to the Golden Triangle.
The prayer mats are out!
THE INFAMOUS QUOTES SERIES WILL RESUME TOMORROW..SEE YOU THEN!
Miracles do happen! We arrived at the allotments this morning under blue skies and found that the overnight high winds had dried out the surface of the hen-runs. Even the chooks seemed to be walking with a happier gait. Whatever next, we have all the makings of a good-news day. But say it quietly for the weathermen are predicting a monsoon before it ends.
But in embattled Britain even the shortest break from the unrelenting tales of disaster is welcome. Unfortunately, today’s lead story failed to lift our spirits even further. To be fair to all those who believe that high-speed rail will herald an exciting new age, we have to admit that our lack of enthusiasm is in part down to the fact that none of us will be here when the first arrow-like missile shoots from London to Brum at the speed of light. And the cynics amongst us wonder what all those world-saving business wizards will do with the minutes shaved off their commuting times. And will laptops, skype and the rest not have advanced somewhat over the next twenty years, possibly to the point where they have no need to travel to carry on their dynamic deals?
Other aspects of the great Westminster train lanch also left us soemwhat puzzled. Great play was made yesterday of the reduction in travel time. But will not the next generation of locos have kicked in by 2032, making the difference much less? And what about the financial benefits? In the Commons transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, banged on about the £2 economic benefit forecast to result from every £1 spent. What? Every year? Every five minutes? To the end of time? Or what? Benefit to whom? How? It was all somewhat vague.
All we know for sure is that the capital and operating costs are estimated – and we all know what that means – at £59 bn at current costs with revenue at £33bn. This leaves £26bn to be funded by the taxpayer, a good deal of which must be found long before any revenue accrues. Presumably the £26bn must be found at the expense of something else.
Many experts claim that the end result will be a few high-speed journeys for those who can afford the higher fares, and a rail service for most almost as crappy as the one we endure today. Who knows? One thing is for sure, those politicians nailing their reputation to the concept won’t be in office when the project reaches its launch, probably in 2037.
Yesterday our dear leader made much of the fact that other countries have high-speed trains, but conveniently forgot to mention that they cover much bigger land masses. But fresh from his conquering of Aunty Merkel he was in no mood for cynicism.
Just as well for he also had to face questions about the Leveson Report. Had the super-rail excavation already started we might suspect that it had been buried, since it hasn’t we can only assume that it is somewhere in the long grass north of Watford. Certain it is that its lessons seem already buried. Last week George Osborne attended a party thrown by Rupert Murdoch in London. It is good to know that some friendships can withstand the harshest condemnation.
In fact there was some good news yesterday. Doctors announced that cancer will soon become a manageble disease rather than a death sentence thanks to a revolutionary treatment which will be available within three to five years time. All patients will soon have their tumour’s DNA, its genetic code, sequenced enabling doctors to ensure they give exactly the right drugs to keep the disease away.
There is every reason to believe that this will be the biggest step forward yet towards transforming many forms of cancer into chronic rather than fatal diseases. Prof Alan Ashworth, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, says that none of this is “science fiction”. “One would think that within five to ten years this will be absolutely routine practice for every cancer patient”, he added.
It is a pity that such startling news should have been overshadowed by what sounds to many a pricey irrelevance, a load of high-speed hogwash. But then politicians can claim no credit for findings resulting from research funded charitably. Those of us who realise only too well that cancer affects far more families that do even the fastest trains should be delighted.
Perhaps even at this moment our failing Chancellor is asking his friend Rupert why the really good news received so little coverage. Then again probably not. Tying up the support of the Sun and Times is the only priority on his list!
TODAY’S INFAMOUS QUOTES ARE ON HUMANITY: “When I looked up my family tree I found out I was the sap”….Rodney Dangerfield “Telling a teenager the facts of life is like giving a fish a bath”……Arnold Glasgow “The worst eternal triangle is teenager, parent and telephone”……Lavonne Mathison ”I get along well with my parents. I still talk to them once a week. Its the least I can do . I still live in their house!”…..David Corrado “There are two things we can all live without – haemorrhoids and neighbours”….Spike Milligan “A neighbour is someone who has just run out of something”…..Robert Benchley “Everyone wants to save the earth. No one wants to help Mum wash the dishes”…..P J O’Rourke “Adolescence is the stage between puberty and adultery”……Denis Norden “The main purpose of children’s parties is to remind you that there are children worse than your own”…..Katharine Whitehorn
Opinions amongst our allotment gang on English football fluctuate somewhat. Verdicts on the Premiership swing from beyond compare to couldn’t win a raffle, and views on ownership by foreign magnates are unsuitable for use in a family-style blog. Suddenly a unanimous voice has emerged, we are in a class of our own. Abramovich has brought pride to English hearts. I stayed well clear of all this guff, being a non-league fan I view the whole Premiership thing with scepticism, to me it is a classic example of money taking over sport, and to hell with feeder leagues when we can simply buy the best in the world whenever the mood takes us. Chelsea isn’t exactly an example of English players, my pals should save their judgement for the English team. They won’t have long to wait.
But I kept my thoughts to myself and when, after the hen-cleaning ritual, we gathered for our brew conversation shifted to the latest political opinion poll. Today’s version in the Independent makes worrying reading for our dear leader. Ten per cent of 2010′s Tory voters say they have decided to back Ukip, while 26 per cent of those who still support the Conservatives are “seriously considering” switching to support the Eurosceptic fringe party.
Clearly Europe is becoming a major issue for many. Forty-six per cent say they would vote for Britain to leave the EU, and a further 23 per cent are considering that possibility. Worse still for our dear leader his personal popularity is down seven points to minus 28, he has been overtaken by Ed Miliband for the first time. And Miliband/Ed Balls have now overtaken Cameron/Osborne for trust in handling the economy.
Overall Labour now has a nine-point lead, up two points on the last ComRes poll, to 41 per cent. Small wonder really given the growing implications of our dear leader’s involvement in the Murdoch scandal, and the clear evidence that the fierce austerity policy is taking the economy in the opposite direction to that achieved by Obama’s growth programme.
So Ed Miliband rules OK? As things are now he certainly does. But amazingly he is contemplating what would surely be political suicide. He is seriously considering meeting Tony Blair’s desire to return to front-line politics. “I think we should respect him” says young Ed in an interview published today in the Telegraph. “It is his decision as to what he wants to do and how he wants to play a role”. Asked whether he plans to give Mr Blair a job he said “of course”.
Apparently TB has already devoted time to advising the party on strategy, clearly his zest for money-making tours is beginning to wane. But am I alone in seeing such a comeback as suicidal for the new Labour leader? One of the greatest criticisms of Cameron is that he is a new version of Blair, and they do have much in common. The Murdoch affair has only just begun to do its damage to the various players, and both Cameron and Blair will emerge with shattered reputations. Both have been less than honest with the people, Iraq springs to mind as does the NHS. Both are brilliant presenters, both have come to be seen as posh versions of dodgy second-hand car salesmen.
Up to this point Miliband has impressed many of his original foes. He looks like someone who would stay well clear of the Murdochs of this world, he looks like someone who cares.
But talk of bringing back Cameron’s mentor casts a shadow. Can his judgement really be that suspect?
HIGH SPEED RAIL HITS THE BUFFERS!
Word is that having seen an analysis of supposed benefits, the Treasury is developing cold feet in regard to the £33 billion or so needed to achieve a short reduction in train journey times by 2023.
Meantime directors of the Quango HS2 Limited are being accused of holding shares in one of the contractors awarded contracts. And other critics have asked how it is that contracts have been awarded, and millions spent, given no treasury sign-off.
Sounds like a well-oiled plan for a cock-up to dwarf even the last government’s NHS IT blow-out!
The law of average suggests that sooner or later the Met Office will produce an accurate forecast. But no luck so far. Today we arrived at the allotments expecting torrential rain and the possibility of a typhoon, we actually enjoyed several hours of sunshine. The forecast for tomorrow is sun, so we are braced for the arrival of the typhoon and the disappearance of the hens in the direction of Manchester airport. The truth is that forecasting the movement of the jet stream over these islands is a near impossibility, which leaves us wondering why we are deluged on TV and the internet with endless updates. But then it has to be admitted that the things we codgers cannot understand would fill a book of Cyril Smith proportions.
In the category of our bewilderment would be two stories that emerged today. The first came from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which has warned that Britain is grossly underestimating life expectancy. The result will be a pensions time bomb that could cost £750 billion cost in pensions for people who the present statistics suggest will be long dead. An example of the maths involved is the current actuary assumption that anyone reaching their 65th birthday will survive until their 82.2 year, the IMF project the average survival as 89.2. Good news for us codgers, very bad news for the treasury!
The IMF insist that its calculations are validly calculated. The government has the choice of burying its head in the sand, or of facing up right now to the need to increase retirement age to 70, plus increased contributions. It is hardly the development that a government already well behind in public esteem will wish to pursue. But with the economy failing to respond to treatment, what alternative has it?
How about cutting major financial commitments that make no sense and are extremely unpopular with the electorate, and I am not referring to silly little savings that make no contribution of any note yet cause enormous hardship to many. I am referring to projects such as high-speed rail. It is already forecast to cost £35 billion, and we all know what happens to initial cost estimates. And today the forecast economic benefits have been downgraded for the fourth time. The latest projection suggests the scheme will barely, if ever, so much as break even.
Martin Tett, who leads the group of councils challenging the high-speed network, was quick to comment. “This proves fundamentally that we were right all along. Ours is not a nimby objection but an economic argument for the entire country..this is a catastrophically poor return at a time of austerity and this project needs to be reconsidered urgently by the government”, he said.
So we now know that after the expenditure of what will probably be the best part of £4o billion, the new service will run at a loss. For a fraction of the cost the existing rail network could be upgraded and that might well lead to an economic contribution. That would facililiate speeds of up to 125mph and the idea that doubling the speed would give businessmen more time to create miracles is ludicrous. As indeed is the idea that by 2024 tycoons will need to constantly travel to communicate.
There are of course many other examples of bizaare projects alongside rising contributions to the national debt. But this single pairing is enough to show that any faith in the idea that the politicians know what they are doing is somewhat misplaced.
Of course there could be a national appeal for codgers to die early to fund high-speed rail!
THE JOYS OF UNPREDICTABLITY!
It is said that only two things in life are certain; death and taxes. Last night’s Premiership results remind us that all else is entirely unpredictable.
After the weekend results the sports writers quickly penned their tributes to Alex Ferguson whilst setting about Mancini. The race was over, nothing could change things now. And then Rooney and co went along the road to Wigan Pier for the mere formality of ticking another easy fixture off the list.
Few of us could have predicted what happened next. Little Wigan outplayed the champions whilst Man City romped home. It would take a brave man to predict what happens from here on.
All of which goes to prove that forward planning is the ultimate myth!