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The curious crossover of Brexit supporters who oppose Hs2 and Twitter trolls.

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The past few weeks have demonstrated a curious crossover between the dogmatists who still support Brexit (despite all the evidence of the utter shambles it was always going to turn into) and opposition to building Hs2. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking this is actually collusion. Today we’ve had Andrew Neil add his name to the list, claiming Hs2 money should be diverted to building high speed rail in the North. For the North this is all very touching. It’s also completely false. None of them could really give a damn about the North, it’s just the latest excuse to try and get Hs2 cancelled.

Liam Halligan trotted out the same excuse in Dispatches (which I analysed here). By pure co-incidence Neil is the Chairman of the Spectator, a magazine well know for printing anti Hs2 stories. Who had one in there recently? Yep, you’ve guessed it – Liam Halligan.

The crossover isn’t just through this little cabal of right-wing media types. It’s taken an interesting and rather darker turn. We’re suddenly seeing a lot of Twitter trolls which have been bashing out pro-Brexit propaganda now starting to tweet in opposition to Hs2. Who’s the guiding mind behind this I wonder? Meanwhile, other (long dormant) Twitter accounts have been resurrected to Tweet against Hs2. Here’s some examples.

brexit

pro brexit 2

stratfan

It’s clear that this is now a co-ordinated campaign. The truth is, the anti Hs2 campaign’s getting rather desperate. They’ve been campaigning to stop Hs2 for nearly a decade now and got absolutely nowhere. In that time most of the local Stophs2 groups have collapsed, meaning there’s little in the way of a ‘grassroots’ campaign anymore, just a few isolated people. Even the notionally ‘national’ groups like HS2aa have failed and gone to the wall as the cross-party support for HS2 has remained unbreakable. Now, all that’s left is the Tory right-wingers in the media and their curious contacts with the shady world of social media manipulation through the use of Twitter trolls to further their aims.

Trolls are desperately needed because StopHs2’s own tiny band of Twitter followers are pretty useless. There’s just over 6000 of them. The problem is most of them never retweet or like anything, so they’re as much use as a chocolate fireguard! Foolishly, StopHs2 keep ‘pinning’ tweets to the top of the page, which makes it easy to see how many retweets or likes they get. It’s never over 100 and often far less. I crunch their social media numbers every month. Here’s last month. There’s a very obvious flaw in their troll strategy. Trolls and bots can’t write to their MPs or vote in elections. Oh, you might influence one or two people, but as Hs2 has never been an electoral issue you’re on a hiding to nothing. Also, this is not a referendum. Besides, who would Chiltern or Northern Nimbys actually vote for other than their normal party. UKIP? They’re finished. Try as you might, you’re not going to frighten many MPs in to opposing Hs2 – if any -and it’s MPs who vote on building Hs2.

Here’s a graphic illustration of their problem – all the dead Twitter accounts of people like this who’ve moved away from the Hs2 route after being bought out/relocated of their own accord. Unlike bots, these people could vote but Ms Carter gave up in June 2015. There’s many, many more like her…

caro

I’ve a favour to ask…
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More Stophs2 straw-grasping and daft scaremongering.

A copy of a desperate letter being sent round Parish Councils dropped into my email inbox this morning. It’s been composed by some members of Greatworth parish council, which lies in the South Northamptonshire Constituency of prominent Brexit supporting MP and opposer of Hs2 (funny how those two things often go together), one Andrea Leadsom MP. It’s highly likely that Leadsom was the source of the spin about the Cabinet wanting to scrap Hs2 that was reported by Liam Halligan in his poor hatchet job broadcast by Dispatches. It’s also highly likely that this letter (riddled with factual inaccuracies and spin) was approved by her. The covering email from Helen Du Bois, the Clerk of the council, claims ” The  insidious  changes  that  are  being  made  to  the  original  blueprint   for  HS2  need  to  be  made  very  clear  to  Parliament.    The  plans  for   HS2,  presented  in  the  hybrid  Bill  for  this  massive  infrastructure   project,  that  were  put  before  Parliament  in  2013  and  2014,  no   longer  mirror  the  detail  in  the  plans  for  this  railway  today”. No, that didn’t make any sense to me either, until I began to read their letter. Her email ends ” A   prompt  reply  would  be  much  appreciated  as  there  is  an  urgent  need   to  get  this  message  across  before  it  really  is  too  late  to  halt  this   unaffordable  vanity  project”.

Here’s the actual letter.

“HS2 – THE SLOW TRAIN TO OLD OAK COMMON

FROM PARISH COUNCILS ACROSS SOUTH NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, WARWICKSHIRE, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, WEST MIDLANDS, STAFFORDSHIRE, OXFORDSHIRE and GREATER LONDON.
The all consuming Brexit babble is drowning out major concerns that the Government is failing to address. All over the country the concern that excites the most vociferous condemnation is the HS2 infrastructure project. Mr. Thurston, HS2’s Chief Executive, claims that there is a groundswell of support nationwide for this railway – we do not believe him.

When launched nine years ago, HS2 was heralded as the train that would carry 1,100 passengers every four minutes from London to Birmingham at speeds well in excess of 200mph. A straight line was drawn across England, obliterating anything in its path, in order to accommodate this “high speed” wonder. After nine years of planning and numerous changes of management at senior level, the Government needs to reassess the criteria on which the viability of this project should be judged.

Everyone knows that the budget is ballooning and out of control. In order to try and regain control we hear that the trains may now go slower – to save cost. The trains may be greatly reduced in number – to save cost. The line may never be built beyond Birmingham – because the cost will be too great. The latest ex-Chairman suggests that the development at Euston should be delayed and the trains should stop at Old Oak Common – to save cost. Local observation of the preliminary enabling work that has been done already shows a total disregard for cost control, and a complete lack of common sense.
There are claims that this whole project is already obsolete. It earned the nickname ”White Elephant” almost at its inception, and it still carries that description today. “White Elephant” projects make people nervous. Improving our existing railways nationwide is so obviously the better option and would be a far more popular plan.
Andrea Leadsom, our Member of Parliament, has put all these points about HS2 to Mr. Thurston and challenged him to review the business case and the value for taxpayers money. He trots out an all too familiar assurance that the project will be “on time and on budget” – a commitment also made by Mr. Grayling. Another major infrastructure project, currently under construction, that boasted to be “on time and on budget” is Crossrail. Now the Government admits that Crossrail will be late and over budget. By the time HS2 is up and running the IT phenomenon will see more and more people working from home – they do already. The whole world can already make instant contact, with eye contact, on screen. The cry for more and more capacity (a necessity strongly advocated by Teresa May) will fade away. Who will need to travel, on an expensive ticket, from Old Oak common to Birmingham, with no stops en route and no saving on time?

Mr. Grayling still labours under the illusion that Phase One of HS2 will cost £27.18bn. We all know that the cost is over £50bn and rising. He also says that HS2 will become the backbone of our national rail network. A backbone is no use to anyone if it only connects a third of the body. If this railway never goes beyond Birmingham, the improvement to connectivity between London, the Midlands, northern England and central Scotland will be greatly diminished.

Every week recently there have been more and more revelations which demonstrate the inadequacy of those in charge of delivering HS2. The source for the considerable amount of electricity needed to power the HS2 trains has long been questioned. The possible, unbelievable answer to this problem at this late stage is wind turbines and solar panels along the route. More land acquisition and much, much more cost, both financial and environmental. There was no mention in the EA of wind turbines powering the trains. Therefore when Parliament gave the go ahead for HS2, there was no knowledge of this huge environmental impact to wildlife and the countryside.

We, the undersigned, urge all those with power and influence to stop this bloated mammoth now, before any more money is wasted, and thus release billions of pounds for far more important, necessary and worthwhile projects”

I had to laugh at the line about ‘Brexit babble’. It shows these people really don’t DO irony, as Leadsom is one of the prime sources of such babble! As for the stuff about solar panels and wind farms along the route powering Hs2 – I’d love to know what these people have been smoking! Quite where they’ve got this idea from is a good question, but it does show how out of touch with reality they are. The very idea that HS2 could be powered from wind turbines and solar panels is (frankly) barking!

The letter reeks of desperation and it’s interesting to see which areas the letter claims to have support from as it (unintentionally) highlights the fact the opposition to Hs2 is very much centred on the route – and on Phase 1. Somehow, I can’t see such a load of nonsense from Parish councils (who’re very much at the bottom of the political food-chain) carrying much weight with the people who actually decide on these matters. MPs and Ministers. It’s also worth noting that whilst Leadsom may still be playing political games, as long as she’s a member of the Government she’s bound by collective Cabinet responsibility – and Hs2 is firmly Government policy…

May you live in interesting times…

The old Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” has never seemed more apposite than now. The countdown to the Brexit shambles is now less than 1000 hours with no sign of our politicians coming to their senses – unless you count the fact that seven Labour MPs ( Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey) have jumped ‘magic Grandad’ Jeremy Corbyn’s ship to set sail as independents.

The split has been a long time in the making and I’m certain they’re not the only Labour MPs who’re considering such drastic action. Under Corbyn and his cronies, Labour has lost all touch with ordinary voters. It’s become a party of hard-line dogmatists. Political theoreticians who’re happier living in another political age than actually dealing with the realities of this one. Who would have thought we’d see a party set up to represent the interests of ordinary working men and women helping facilitate Brexit, a scheme from the rich, for the rich that will only make Labour’s core supporters worse off financially and leave them with fewer rights and freedoms than our European neighbours?

A question now is, will any Tories do the same? There’s clearly huge unhappiness in some circles as Teresa May continues to pander to her Brexit fundamentalists and leads to the edge of the cliff without any idea of what to do – other than continue on the same crazy course. Will some Tory MPs decide that they don’t want to shoulder the blame for the Brexit shit-storm and cast off the  Tory whip? Time will tell as the political farce that is British politics in 2019 continues to unfold.

Meanwhile, the economic woes continue as companies abandon Brexit Britain. The latest bombshell looks like it’s going to come from Honda, who are going to close their car plant in Swindon, losing 3,500 jobs (plus who knows how many in the supply chain).

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47282603

The Japanese had repeatedly warned of the consequences of Brexit. Now it looks like those warnings are coming to fruition. The country has just signed a free trade agreement with the EU (which we’re now excluding ourselves from). This, coupled with Brexit means there’s no point in them staying in the UK. If I was a Nissan worker in Sunderland who’d voted Leave, I would be keeping very quiet about it right now as I don’t see Honda being the last Japanese company to shut up shop in the UK.

 

 

 

Weekend downtime (ish).

I’m enjoying a weekend at home for a change. Yesterday Dawn and I made the most of the good weather for a stroll along the local canal and up the Moorcock In at Norland Moor. To be honest, it felt more like a spring day rather than mid-February. At this rate the central heating’s going to get mothballed rather early this year!

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The canal basin at Sowerby Bridge is a popular place to eat, drink and watch the world go by…

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After a stroll along the canal we headed up the steep sides of the Calder Valley to Norland Moor on one of our well trodden paths up to the Moorcock Inn at Norland Moor.

After a convivial time up at the Moorcock we walked back down into Sowerby Bridge for a last drink before heading home and a quiet night in in front of Netflix and the opportunity to watch the end of a series we’ve particularly enjoyed over the past few nights ‘Pine Gap’. To be honest, neither of us watch much terrestrial TV nowadays. Services like Netflix, which has some excellent original programmes has taken its place. Now I’m cancelling my package of (expensive) Virgin media channels that I never watch as many of them are utter rubbish anyway.

Today’s been more home based as we’ve been busy with chores – including necessary but unexciting food shopping. Well, that’s not *entirely* true as I always love mooching around our local Asian supermarkets, checking out the exotic spices and other ingredients. Like many people we’ve been doing our pre-brexitshambles shopping and stocking up on various imported foods that are both staples and also likely to increase in price due to the debacle heading our way. Are we scaremongering? Hardly, when you look at the utter shit-shower going on in Parliament! Besides, there’s nothing we’ve bought that we don’t use, so in the event of a miracle and common-sense prevails – what have we lost?

This evening we’re having another quiet but industrious night at home. I’m catching up on photo-editing whilst Dawn’s being a domestic goddess in the kitchen and cooking up a storm of curries for consumption later this week. Here’s one, lentils seasoned with garlic-infused oil. And there’s much more to come as a lamb curry is in the slow cooker…

dahl

Whilst Dawn’s been busy in the kitchen and me on washing up duty, I’ve been occupied with editing pictures. Here’s a couple from earlier in the week when I visited Holbeck rail depot in Leeds.

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British Railways built DMU 150126 being repainted by RTS at Holbeck, Leeds. Like many of its class, this one’s moved around a bit. Since privatisation its worked for Central Trains around Birmingham before being transferred to First Great Western where it worked in Bristol and the South-West. Now its being repainted for its new role with Northern Rail as one of the trains cascaded to help replace the ‘Pacer’ units.

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A Trans-Pennine Express train bound for Leeds rounds the reverse curves outside Morley station which is just out of the picture. The buildings you can see behind the train are part of the compound for the companies extending the stations platforms, ready for the new trains Northern Rail have on order.

Holbeck depot’s a fascinating place. It’s dropped off the radar for the past few years but If you want to know what’s happening there nowadays (which is a lot), you’ll be able to read about it in an article I’m writing for a forthcoming edition of RAIL magazine.

 

 

 

Rolling blog: Another day, another train, another job.

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07:45

It’s a beautiful (if slightly chilly) morning here in Yorkshire and an early start for Dawn and I.

I’m currently on a Trans-Pennine Express service from Huddersfield heading for Manchester as I’m on my way to meet a colleague from RAIL magazine in Birmingham for a job in the West Midlands. As usual, it’s standing room only on the train. I’m looking forward to TPE introducing their new five-car “Nova 3” trains later this year as I might actually be able to get a seat and get some work done!

Hopefully, Cross-Country’s Manchester-Birmingam service might be a little less rammed. We shall see…

08:12

For once, the weather’s the same on both sides of the Pennines, it’s just as sunny here in Manchester as Huddersfield. My train’s an airport service via Manchester Victoria and the Ordsall curve. It’s been interesting to observe how many passengers embark/disembark at Victoria – more than I expected, suggesting this is a very useful service.

08:33

Sometimes trains running late can work to your advantage! When I arrived at Piccadilly I managed to catch a Cross-country service heading to Bournemouth which left 6 mins late as it was delayed on its inbound working. It’s a 4-car Class 220, so it’s quite busy but I’d no problem finding a perch as the seat reservation system’s not working. No doubt this could cause some fun and games en-route…

09:17.

It looks like the 30 minutes I banked by getting an earlier train is about to be spent. Our Train Manager (who’s very good at keeping passengers informed) has just explained that we’re likely to be delayed by at least 20 mins as engineering work to repair a bad bridge bash didn’t take place last night. This means there’s reduced line capacity between Norton Bridge and Stafford.

Whilst I’ve been on travelling I’ve taken time to catch up on the news – which is a depressing and dispiriting experience nowadays as the Brexit shambles continues. The more I see of the political circus in Parliament and the spinelessness and unwillingness of most of our MPs to face the reality of the disaster that’s heading our way is horrendous. We’re living in extremely perilous times – yet our politicians are playing political games with no sense of urgency or signs of real leadership. We have a double whammy. We have the worst government in living memory and also the worst opposition. If someone had written this as the outline of a book, publishers would have rejected it as being too far-fetched – yet here we are…

09:35.

We’re currently stationary and in a queue of trains waiting to get through Norton Bridge due to the bridge bash, which has reduced the West Coast Main Line from four to two tracks.

10:02.

We’ve just started moving again and we’re finally approaching Norton Bridge (North of Stafford) to get onto the main line. We should have arrived in Birmingham 4 minutes ago! Now we’re stopped in the old platform at the closed Norton Bridge station as an intermodal has been put out in front of us, so I can see the delay getting worse…

Marc, the Train Manager and the rest of the crew aboard are doing sterling work keeping passengers informed (and placated). The frustrating thing about this whole situation (which is going to cost the railway a LOT of money) is it’s down to a careless lorry driver who (So I’m told via social media) did a ‘runner’s despite hitting the bridge so badly they left a huge crack in the bridge parapet which has had to be removed. Here’s the view as we passed.

10:27

We’re finally pulling out of Stafford over an hour late. I’ll miss my appointment with Paul Stephen from RAIL and have to catch him up.

11:13

After a dash across central Birmingham from New St to Snow Hill I’ve caught the 11:13 to Stourbridge. Snow Hill’s a funny place. I’ve never understood why Brummies made it into yet another cheerless, subterranean station. You’d have thought they’d have had enough with New St, but no. They buried the reopened station under a multi-storey car park!

15:59.

Phew! Job done. I spent a very interesting few hours with Paul Stephen and the team running the unique Stourbridge shuttle service using Class 139 people movers.

Now I’m heading North on another packed 4-car Voyager bound for Manchester. Hopefully, this one will make it past the bridge bash without delay.

16:13

Hooray! All four WCML tracks are open and we’ve passed the bridge bash without delay.

17:07.

Another phew! I had a 6 minute connection at Manchester Piccadilly but my XC service crawled through South Manchester and arrived 5 late into platform 5. It was only the fact my train door was aligned with the stairs and the TPE service from platform 14 was a minute late that I managed to sprint across the footbridge and make my connection with 30 seconds to spare!

My journey was short, only as far as Manchester Victoria, where I had the luxury of yet another 5 minute connection but this time it was with our stress! I’m now on the 17:20 from Victoria to Leeds which is formed of a curious and creative coupling. A former Scotrail Class 158 (789 for those who care about these things) and a venerable Pacer, 142091! Masochist that I am, I chose the Pacer!

Rolling blog:Happy Valentine’s day!

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07:55

It’s a busy day for me today as I’m off to Leeds for a rail depot visit, but first came more important stuff – Valentine’s day morning with my wife and a lovely exchange of cards. Here’s the one I received. Happy Valentine’s day everyone!

Now we’re off to a less pleasant task – a bi-annual check-up at the dentists and a session with the hygienist. Not the most fun thing, but I’m rather attached to my teeth!

09:13

Oh, the joys of dentists waiting rooms. The only thing to read is the Daily Heil, sorry, Mail which I wouldn’t even wipe my backside with. Then I found this. Who knew being tongue-tied wasn’t just an expression?

10:28

The pair of us have had our 6 monthly check-ups with the Dentist finding nothing to worry about. We’ve also had our teeth cleaned with a whizzy new machine that uses warm water to blast away any scale. The old days of pointy scrapers are a thing of the past! As my X-ray were many years old the Dentist took some new ones. This tech’s changed too. There’s no more gripping a holder with a bit of film in it between your teeth. Now you stand in a machine that scans around your entire jaw to take a digital image that appears on a screen in the consulting room in minutes. They’re even going to email me a copy!

Before we left I had to fill in another form giving my current state of health. Everything was fine until it came to signing it and adding the date. Immediately I turned to Dawn and said “Babe, what’s today’s date”? I was rewarded with an incredulous stare and me thinking “D’oh!”

Now I’m on the loose and heading to Leeds on a TPE service from Huddersfield. It’s standing room only (as usual).

11:33

It’s not every day that you find a band playing Motorhead’s ‘Ace of spades’ at Leeds station – especially on a double bass, violin and accordion!

13:57

Well, that was an interesting and informative couple of hours. I was invited to visit RTS infrastructures Leeds Holbeck depot by an old friend who now works there, Lucy Prior MBE. I remember Holbeck from BR days, when it was a loco depot and home to a various shunting engines as well as mainline locomotives. The depot fell out of the limelight after that. Latterly, it’s been used as a stabling and servicing point for on-track plant (OTP) like dampers and stoneblowers, but – as I found out there’s much, much more happening now. Hopefully, I’ll be writing more about Holbeck soon. In the meantime, here’s a shot of ex GWR 150126 being repainted into the livery of its new operator: Northern Rail.

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15:07.

On my return to Huddersfield I stopped off to suss out a new photographic location at Morley. I’ve always thought the long sweeping curves here would would be good for photography- and so it proved on a bright sunny day like today. A stroll along a footpath led me to a new(ish) footbridge that has replaced a foot crossing. This gave an elevated view which was ideal.

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It was only as I left I discovered the sad secret behind the footbridge. What I’d not noticed on my way in was a shrine in a small fenced enclosure tucked away on the side of a nearby building. It’s to a young girl called Natasha Elliott.

In 2010, whilst using the foot crossing, 16 yr old Natasha’s dog ran away along the railway. Natasha managed to save the dog but in doing so was hit by a train and died of her injuries in hospital a few hours later. This tragic accident led to Network Rail closing the foot crossing, replacing it with the bridge I’d been stood on.

16:53.

Home time! I’m back in Huddersfield, picking up Asian food supplies to stockpile before March, when the excrement hits the Brexit fan…

Not much blogging today!

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I’ve had a busy day trying to catch up with picture editing and paperwork so there’s been no time for blogging today. That said, yesterday’s blog critiquing Monday’s poor attempt of a hatchet-job on Hs2 has received some very favourable comments on Twitter. It’s always nice to get feedback, especially when it’s from well respected magazine editors and fellow professional journalists such as the Railway Magazine’s Editor, Chris Milner and also RAIL’s Managing Editor Nigel Harris.

milner

nigel

You can read the Dispatches blog here.

All the railway and travel pictures I’ve taken since the weekend are now on my Zenfolio website. If you follow this link, it’ll take you to the ‘recent’ section, which shows you which galleries the pictures have been added to.

Tomorrow I’m off to visit a local rail depot, so expect a rolling blog documenting the days travels.

Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ on Hs2. A poor hatchet job, not an investigation

Like the other month’s ‘Panorama’ programme, last night’s ‘Dispatches’ programme written and presented by Liam Halligan was puffed for days by the remaining groups opposed to Hs2, who (once again) proclaimed that it would be the ‘smoking gun’ that would finally kill off HS2. As usual, the truth was very different.

What did we actually learn from the 30 minute programme? Nothing that we didn’t know already. Like Panorama it was a rehash of old news and stories spiced up with ‘revelations’ that weren’t, plus an awful lot of un-attributable briefings from anonymous sources where speculation was presented as fact.

In the first part of the programme Halligan spent a lot of time with weary Northern Rail commuters on short-formed or delayed trains who (understandably) were complaining about the service. The Pacer trains came in for particular criticism – but more of them later…

Early on, Halligan is filmed getting off a train at Liverpool Lime St. Was there any mention of the fact the station’s just had £340m spent on it as it’s been rebuilt, had platforms added and extended, extensive track alterations and been resignalled? Of course not.

Halligan goes on to say the cost of Hs2 ‘ballooned’ from £33bn in 2011 to £56bn in 2015. As usual, Halligan doesn’t give any context. He doesn’t explain that this increase was due to the cost of Hs2 being uplifted to reflect inflation and that the 2015 figure includes the cost of the trains (£7bn) which wasn’t included in the 2011 figure. The contingency figures were also adjusted. The spending review in 2015 set the long term funding envelope for Hs2 at £55.7bn (including contingency) So, the actual cost of building Hs2 hasn’t changed, but admitting that doesn’t fit the narrative. Halligan then went on to say that “some experts predict a massive £100bn bill” (note the plural). In fact, only one person, Michael Byng – who came up with the figure – is predicting £100bn, but that doesn’t fit the narrative either.

Halligan then does a piece to camera on the Hs2 Curzon St construction site where he says “Given the vast cost, does Hs2 even make sense. This is a complex question” – so he trots off to for an ‘exclusive’ interview with Prof Stephen Glaister, who’s been critical of Hs2 in the past. So, is the complex question answered? Of course not. Halligan asks “is it (Hs2) good value”? Glaister replies “nobody knows”. So, that’s cleared that up then! In a tightly edited video, Glaister then goes on to say “You really must put it in the context of an overall strategy about what you think the national problem is” – something Halligan utterly fails to do as the very reason for building Hs2 is never, ever mentioned in the programme. The fact Hs2 is designed to free up capacity on our existing Victorian network because its full is completely ignored – despite Halligan mentioning record passenger numbers earlier in the programme!

Halligan then goes on to claim that Hs2 “hasn’t been thought through” and that their ‘might’ be better ways of spending the money. This completely ignores the fact that a huge amount of research into the need for Hs2 has been done.  Proposals examined in great detail by both WS Atkins and Network Rail back in 2012/13 comprised a set of incremental capacity and connectivity improvements achieved by “upgrades to the conventional rail network that could: provide additional capacity and improved connectivity for the set of main centres that would directly benefit from HS2; and also provide benefit to those places from freed up capacity that would be created by HS2 on the conventional network”. The upgrades included “measures relating to commuter capacity on lines around the major conurbations on routes potentially affected by HS2 to ensure compatibility with the wider objectives of HS2 of increasing rail capacity for commuters”.

However, it was found that the schemes necessary would require 2,770 weekend closures, endless bus substitutions and increased journey times for more than 14 years, and achieve far fewer overall benefits.

Also attention to the impact of even further traffic on the WCML (London-Birmingham is now 180 years old!) was referred to by David Higgins in evidence to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee as long ago as 2012, when he described the WCML as “a busy, heavily-used railway, and we’re really pounding it. . . . What we really should be doing when we finish the first stage of High Speed 2 is take the old West Coast route out and spend a year fixing it up, and doing it properly. Because by then I reckon it will be really trashed.”

If Halligan was really trying to answer what he himself calls a “complex” question, you would think he would know about this research and mention why we’re actually building Hs2 in the first place. But doing that wouldn’t fit the narrative either.

Halligan then returns to Liverpool and talks (again) about Pacers, calling them the ‘workhorse’ of the Northern rail network that are “ex-bus chassis bolted onto train wheels – a joke”. It’s complete nonsense of course and the joke’s actually on Halligan as it shows a cavalier attitude to facts to try and project an image. Some Pacers do have bus components (the Class 142s used similar body panels used by Leyland National buses) but the trains were from an original design by British Rail and the Class 142s were built on brand new steel rail vehicle underframes at Workington in 1985-87. The sister units, the Class 144s used by Northern don’t use any bus components. They were built as pure rail vehicles by British Rail in Derby in 1986-87.

Halligan does mention the Pacers are being phased out but snidely remarks that it “hasn’t happened yet”, ignoring that fact it is happening and that by 2020 they will all have gone for scrap. He never mentions that one of their replacements is a £450m fleet of brand-new trains which are starting to be delivered to Northern now – because that wouldn’t fit the narrative either. Nor would talking about the Great North Rail Project a massive investment scheme that’s modernising and electrifying lines across the North. It never even gets a mention. Ironically, the day Dispatches was aired another (albeit very late) milestone was reached as the first electric trains ran between Manchester and Preston via Bolton. Here’s one of them.

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Halligan *could* have talked about this as these electrification schemes are allowing more modern diesel trains to be cascaded to help replace the Pacers he’s obsessed about. But no doubt that didn’t fit the narrative either! So much for answering “complex” questions…

Next up is a long (another two and a half minutes out of a 26 minute programme) piece of film showing Halligan & his crew travelling on another busy Pacer just to show people what a packed Pacer is like. At one point Halligan laments that some people can’t get on the train to get to work “because there’s just no room”. The irony that there would have been more if he hadn’t taken up space filming this pointless stuff and spent more time really trying to answer those ‘complex’ questions hasn’t occurred to him!

At the end of the piece Halligan brings up Northern Powerhouse Rail, which he gives a cursory outline of. Then he goes to see Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham. So, are we finally going to see some of those ‘complex’ questions answered? Of course not. It’s a completely pointless and heavily edited interview. Firstly Halligan recounts his earlier journey, only this time emotively saying Pacers were built of out “scrap buses” (another load of tosh). Then asks why “this wouldn’t be allowed in Surrey”? So, no complex questions there then, this is starting to get cringeworthy. Then we come to the crunch – Halligan tries to put Burnham on the spot about Hs2 and asks the most stupid and pointless question so far. He says to Burnham. “If you had to choose between linking up Northern cities or yet another North-South link, what would you choose”?

There you have it, ‘complex’ questions reduced to asking a something as dumb as this. Because it’s a choice Burnham never has to make. It’s not in his power and way above his paygrade – and Halligan should know this. Hs2 is decided on by MPs sitting in Parliament through the Hybrid Bill process. It’s a national infrastructure project, not a regional transport initiative. Burham’s first answer? “we need BOTH”. But then he’s free to say ‘but’ knowing it doesn’t matter.  The whole interview was a waste of time and as Burnham showed on Twitter later, he was less than impressed.

Burnham

Now Halligan reveals that there’s been an ‘exclusive’ Dispatches poll that suggests that 63% of those in the North who were asked wanted Hs2 money spent on Northern Powerhouse Rail instead. The expression ‘No shit, Sherlock!’ springs to mind.

Northerners want money spent in the North isn’t exactly a revelation, is it? I’ll bet if you asked Southerners would they rather see NPR money spent on Crossrail 2 you’d get the same answer! So what does any of this actually prove – and how does any of this answer any ‘complex’ questions?

Next Halligan goes back to Newcastle to interview Prof John Tomaney, another person who’s well known for having been critical of Hs2. What revelations are we to be treated to this time? We get another of Halligan’s pintless pieces to camera in which we’re told that “getting from Middlesborough to Newcastle, just 30 miles, takes almost an hour and a half. That’s an average speed then, of around 23 miles an hour. Slower than a galloping horse.” Really? “almost” an hour and a half? Hmm, let’s see what National Rail Enquiries says. Oh! – an hourly service that takes 1hr 7mins with a change at Darlington. As for that “just” 30 miles, by rail it’s actually 51!

mbro

Halligan has got his facts wrong again either by accident due to shoddy research, or by design to fit his narrative.

Meanwhile, what’s Tomaney got to say? Will Hs2 help “tackle the North-South divide” muses Halligan? Tomaney answers a completely different question – “the idea that Hs2 would be the solution to the economic regeneration of the North is I think, a weak argument. Billions of pounds are being invested in making very short reductions in journey times to London”.

Hang on a minute! Let’s have a look at some sample journey times taken from official HS2 documents.

hs2 journey times,

Knocking an hour off the time between London and Manchester is a 47% decrease! Now, what about times between Northern cities and the Midlands as Hs2 is just as much about connecting those cities as London. From Birmingham to Manchester it’s 54% and from Birmingham to Leeds it’s a staggering 58% decrease. I’m afraid what we’re seeing here is some good old fashioned envy of the South and some Northerners obsession with London, to the exclusion of all else – including fact.

Next up after Tomaney is an interview with Alistair Darling, former Labour Transport Minister from May 2002 to May 2006 and Chancellor from June 2007 until May 2010. Darling repeats some of his longstanding criticisms of Hs2, talking about most people commuting, not “doing the long distance stuff”. This ignores that fact that Hs2 frees up capacity on existing lines for more commuter services, especially around Leeds and Manchester – as well as the corridor from Rugby via Milton Keynes to Euston.

Those of us who remember Darling’s tenure in Transport find his ‘concern’ for the lot of Northern commuters hypocritical, because it was under Darling that plans for tram networks in Leeds and Liverpool were cancelled as he refused to guarantee funding. Oddly, Halligan seems unaware of this. He also seems unaware that the only rail electrification that happened under Darling (either as Transport Minister or as Chancellor) was a paltry 8 miles, from Kidsgrove to Crewe! This was a fill in to create a diversionary route during the horrendously expensive West Coast Route Modernisation (WCRM), which ended up costing £10bn but should have been a lot more before it was descoped. The fact this line is now full is why we started planning Hs2!

After Darling, Halligan moves on to more emotive videos of Northern passengers and their daily commute. It manages to waste more time into the break and that’s all.

In Part 2 we get more facts and figures about cancellations and yet more videos of passengers travelling – I wonder how many minutes Halligan wasted in total this way? Halligan then goes on to claim that Hs2 will be spending £4bn a year for the next 10 years. Finally, we get to Halligan’s ‘bombshell’ as he confides to camera “But a Senior Cabinet source has told me, with costs spiralling, Ministers have allocated even more than that. £6bn for Hs2 for the next decade”! And the evidence for this is? None. Not a shred. Zip. Bugger all. Halligan expects you to believe that (un-named Ministers) have found an extra £20bn that doesn’t appear on any Government books – anywhere. Not the Dept for Transport, nor the Treasury. The National Audit Office are unawares, as are the Public Accounts Committee. Nobody knows about this apart from an anonymous source, Halligan and now – you!

We now get into the second part of the guff as Halligan informs us that, apparently (due to these cost overruns no-one offers any evidence for), Ministers are “reconsidering” Hs2 and “considering” stopping Hs2 in Birmingham. There’s no evidence offered for this speculative nonsense either, other than un-named ‘sources’.

Now we cut back to Andy Burnham, who addresses the rumours (pointing out that’s all they are), saying “that would be criminal, that would be a complete waste of money” He’s right, of course. Back in Newcastle, Tomany agrees – as does Glaister who points out that just going from London to Birmingham “makes no sense” and that “you have to do the whole scheme”.

Bored with the North, Halligan goes to Oxford to get consultants Oxera to crunch some numbers to prove what everyone already knows. Only building Phase 1 of Hs2 makes no economic sense (cue another few minutes wasted). Halligan also asks if spending the Hs2 money would generate a bigger BCR if it was spent in the North. The answer’s yes – but yet again, this completely ignores why we’re building Hs2 in the first place.

Finally, with just 5 minutes of the programme left to go after all the fillers and time-wasting, Halligan interviews Mark Thurston, the Chief Executive of Hs2. Of course, Halligan can’t resist introducing both him and details of his salary (£650,000pa). The actual interview isn’t much better. Halligan talks about all the wild guesses for the ‘actual’ costs of Hs2 as he asks a series of “what if” questions. Thurston plays it with a straight (factual) bat. “What I am very clear on and Hs2 is very clear on is the budget for this scheme is £56bn” Halligan tries again by quoting the former hs2 Chair who’s said “nobody knows the finals costs” – which is true but Halligan twists this to mean costs can only increase – ignoring the fact the recent contracts for the stations at Euston and Old Oak Common both came in under estimates – but that wouldn’t fit the narrative. Thurston reiterates – Hs2 has to be built for £56bn and a lot of people are involved to make that happen. It was another interview that was a waste of time and Halligan didn’t get what he wanted, so we’re back more spin about ‘spiralling costs’ (with no evidence offered), then another piece to camera where Halligan claims “A Cabinet source has told me the Government’s actively considering scrapping the whole of Hs2”.

Hang on a minute! This same Cabinet ‘source’ also (supposedly) said that they’ve stashed an extra £20bn down the back of the sofa out of the way of the auditors to make sure Hs2 CAN be built! Make your mind up…

We now move on to yet another poll. Apparently on 20% of voters want Hs2 built. Now ignoring the fact that asking anyone in a poll should the Government spend money on anything (bar the sacred NHS) is almost certainly going to get a negative, what’s the point of this? This is a Parliamentary democracy, not the X-Factor. MPs, not polls decide on Hs2.

Now we go back to Darling who says “don’t get me wrong, I want to see money spent on Britain’s rail network” These are hollow words. Did I mention that one of the reasons we still have the Pacers that Halligan hates is because when the Northern Rail franchise was let in 2004 it was done on the basis of Zero growth and no investment in new trains. Who was Transport Minister at the time? Darling. Funny that Halligan doesn’t seem to know that, or wouldn’t that fit the narrative either?

Finally, we end up with Glaister and Tomaney delivering their opinions, neither of which are convincing. Tomaney talks of Hs2 being ‘steamrollered’ through, ignoring the fact it was debated for years before Parliament voted to build it.

The last few minutes are wasted by filling them out with a Manchester poet reciting ‘his thoughts’ on (yes, you’ve guessed it) Pacer trains. Only it isn’t on a Pacer, it’s a newly refurbished Class 150, part of Northern’s commitment to have all it’s existing trains improved!

Now, what hasn’t Halligan told you? An awful lot…

If you thought this was the work of an unbiased journalist, you’d be sadly mistaken. Halligan has form for long opposition to Hs2, as this tweet found by Henri Murison  shows.

murison

There’s something else too. Halligan (who writes for the Telegraph) is also an ardent Brexit supporter, which hardly squares with his supposed ‘concern’ for the North. Like many Brexit supporters he has a background that involves sovereign wealth funds and (according to his Wikipedia entry) links to Russia. Apparently, he also carries an Irish passport, which means the Freedom of Movement he’s helped deny to everyone else he’ll be keeping for himself.

I mention all this because there’s an uncanny crossover between those supporting Brexit  also opposing Hs2. He also has links to the Social Media Foundation, a ‘think tank’ based in Tufton St, London. By a complete fluke I’m sure, Tufton St is also home to another building that holds two other fans of Hs2, the Taxpayers Alliance and the Institute of Economic Affairs. Halligan’s a columnist for hardline Brexiteer Tim Montgomerie’s  UnHerd media platform which was launched last year (see link). ‘Monty’ is yet another opponent of Hs2, as is another of the organisations Monty’s involved in, ConHome, which tries to influence Tory policy. You know, on things like Hs2! Of course, I’m sure all this is a complete co-incidence and that Halligan’s Dispatches piece wasn’t really just a poor attempt at stitching up Hs2 and changing Government policy…

 

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Rolling blog: Good intentions…

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I had planned to be working from home today, then two things happened. The sun shone and (after many trials and tribulations) electric trains did finally start running to Bolton in normal service – so how could I resist?

I’ll do a separate blog on the story of Bolton electrification as I have many archive shots of the work underway. This rolling blog will simply describe today’s foray. Right now I’m on the slightly late-running 11:22 from Sowerby Bridge to Manchester Victoria which is being worked by a Class 153/156 combo. As it’s post Peak it’s actually quite a quiet train, for now anyway…

Today’s going to be a busy one. Right now there’s a major conference underway which is discussing the future of transport in the North, including Northern Powerhouse Rail and Hs2. There’s no doubt that the vast majority of Northern politicians. businesses and business groups are determined to push for expansion and investment in transport for the North, but at the same time a small bunch of Londoncentric Tory right-wingers are launching their latest attempt to influence Government policy by attempting another hatchet job on Hs2, a project they hate as it doesn’t fit in with their political world view. Tonight Channel 4 will screen a Dispatches programme fronted by one of the band of right-wingers. It has the entirely neutral title of “Hs2, the great train robbery?” I’ll be blogging about it in detail after it’s been aired and I’ve had a chance to see it, so watch this space…

12:08.

A quick hop across platforms at Victoria has enabled me to catch the 12:08 to Blackburn which worked by ex-GWR units. I’m in another 153, which allows a direct comparison of interior. The first shot is Northern’s 153363, the second is ex-GWR 153380.

13:33.

Whilst in Bolton I had time for a wander and noticed this statue to one of Bolton’s more famous residents.

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15:46.

With the sun sinking I’m making my way back from Horwich Parkway, which was my last port of call. Today’s been another cat and mouse contest with the sun but I’ve managed to get a few reasonable shots. Here’s 319361 working a Buckshaw Parkway – Manchester Victoria service at Bolton.

DG318763crop

A number of different diesel diagrams went over to electric on this first day. 319s worked a Manchester Victoria – Buckshaw Parkway service and also Manchester Airport – Blackpool North and Airport-Preston. A pair of 156s shared the Buckshaw Parkway services, so the introduction of electric services is obviously phased. No doubt more will go over to 319s soon. Here’s another shot from Bolton.

DG318773. 319368. Bolton. 11.2.19crop

If you want to see a few more shots I’ve added them to this gallery on my Zenfolio website.

16:47.

I’m currently bouncing my way back to Yorkshire by Pacer (The 16:37 Victoria-Leeds. Today’s electric launch must be the beginning of the end for these units now. They were already living on borrowed time – half the fleet should have gone by May 2019 yet all remain in service at the moment. Soon, sights like this will be a thing of the past.

To add to the fun of the journey, this car has a wheelflat, so there’s ‘thud, thud, thud’ to complement the usual Pacer noises!

 

 

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Rolling blog: Chester caper (part 2)

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08:00

The weather forecast has proved to be as accurate as Brexiters promises this morning. I woke up to rain, not sunshine, so the day’s starting later than I’d planned. It’s hardly great weather for photography so I’m taking time to edit a couple of pictures before venturing out. Let’s see how the day goes…

The hotel where I’m staying is only a couple of hundred metres from the station and the view from my room shows up some Victorian history. Old tram tracks that led into the depot, which has been redeveloped.

09:39.

I’ve opted to take my leave of Chester and begin the trek back to Yorkshire as the weather’s looking decidedly mixed. Mind you, it’s good if you like taking shots in puddles!

Chester’s overall roof was pruned in BR days, leaving bits here and there. One such bit covers the bay platforms 5-6. Problem is, you have to cross this gap – which can get rather wet!

I’m aboard the same Class 175 that brought me here yesterday. It’s been serviced at the Alstom depot at Chester overnight and this is it’s first trip of the day. Other units are stabled in the yard ready for Monday morning.

Behind them are new homes built on the site of the former goods sheds which were demolished in the 1990s. Building homes on old railway land right next to busy stations like this always provoke a wry smile when I think of the Nimbys who complain about the fact they’ll have to live a few hundred metres from Hs2 when it’s built!

10:22

I’ve stopped off at Warrington Bank Quay in the hope of getting one or two shots. This place is normally a busy freight centre but as It’s Sunday the yard is quiet. Looking at the clouds heading my way it looks like I’m in a race against time…

11:06

The law of Sod is working well today. Just as my next train arrived the sun showed its face! I’m now on another Few 175 heading back to Manchester. There’s thin gruel today as Northern Rail are operating a reduced timetable in the North-West, so my best option now is to get back to the urban sprawl of the city and see if some picture opportunities present themselves. It’s not just services that are thin on the ground today, the sort of characters I observed yesterday are too. So far, today’s passengers have all been boringly normal!

I’ve changed trains again at Oxford Rd to give myself time to appreciate just how much the city’s skyline is changing. There’s a massive amount of new construction going on around here with tower cranes springing up left, right and centre. It’s a far cry from the desperate days of the 70s-80s when the city was in decline. Now it’s a vibrant place with a lot to recommend it.

12:16.

I’m heading East again, this time on Trans-Pennine Express’s Huddersfield shuttle. The skies are thwarting me once more – as you can see from the shot taken from the train.

12:49

Time for a pit-stop at one of the rail networks oldest and most famous station bars: Stalybridge.

The station has historical interest too. This plaque’s mounted on the outside wall of the bar.

The bar at Stalybridge is one of several on the Colne Valley line that have become famous as the ‘rail ale trail, which was a marketing idea set up many years ago as a way of encouraging real ale fans to use the train to get between some excellent local taverns between Leeds and Manchester. It became a victim of its own success when it was featured on TV by James Mayl and Oz Clarke. Suddenly, it was a ‘must do’ that had nothing to do with real ale. It attracted larger swilling stag and hen parties and life became pretty unpleasant for train crews, bar staff and the residents of the villages involved due to the drunken behaviour of some of the participants. (I’ll add a pic later). There were incidents of people falling into or walking along the tracks. It was a miracle no-one was killed. It got so bad that some of the pubs refused to sell lager at a weekend and wouldn’t serve anyone in fancy dress. Things have quietened down nowadays, but on summer Saturdays many locals still give pubs in Marsden and other villages on the route a miss.

15:30

I’m back in Huddersfield now and on my final train of the day, Northern’s 15:34 to Leeds via Halifax. It’s not exactly busy today…

On the way I stopped off in Slaithwaite (or Slawit to some, the arguments over pronunciation are endless and very Yorkshire). It’s the penultimate stop before Huddersfield and features on the rail ale trail as it has two very good pubs, the Commercial and the Shoulder of Mutton. Nowadays it’s very much an up and coming little place as it has cafe’s, bakeries and gin palaces. It’s also quite a pretty little place on the Huddersfiel narrow canal.