Who said “A lie will be half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on”? If it wasn’t Joe Rukin of Stop HS2, it must be his motto, as launching porkies on the world is his speciality. But his addiction to dashing out scare stories from left field has now bitten him very firmly on his backside.
On Wednesday last week, Professor Andrew McNaughton gave evidence to the HS2 Select Committee about train service plans for HS2 itself and the classic railway after implementation of Phase 1 of HS2 in 2026. The committee, especially Sir Peter Bottomley, questioned him intelligently and perceptively, and all seemed very happy with his evidence, given orally but with supporting detail on a set of presentation slides. Here’s a link to them:
Well we can’t have that can we, said Joe, and promptly blogged the most stupid and deceitful piece of nonsense ever to emerge from his StopHS2 stable. The trouble is, he did so on the basis of high-level summaries given orally, forgetting that the committee were looking at the slides as well.
Hence when Prof McNaughton referred to “non-stop” trains, as opposed to local and commuter trains, Joe rushed into print with the fatuous suggestion that HS2 intended to withdraw stops at all stations except London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. Amongst the stations Joe listed as “losing” direct trains to London were Stockport, Wilmslow, Preston, Runcorn, Crewe and Stafford. But even if he couldn’t see what was on the committee’s screens, Joe could have troubled to look at the “Economic Case for HS2” document which has been in the public domain since October 2013. Because there as Figure 27 he would have seen the “HS2 Phase 1 train service for demand modelling” which clearly shows HS2 trains linking those stations to Euston just as Virgin trains do now, just faster.
And when the Select Committee published those presentation slides today, it turned out that is exactly what they had been seeing. Poor old Joe. He’s been to enough Select Committee hearings, notably to be slapped down for waffling, he knows how they take evidence, how could he have overlooked what might have been on the slides? Deliberately for the sake of a cheap scare story, that’s how.
But it gets worse for him. Joe went on to claim, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that all long-distance WCML services to Euston would be withdrawn. But as the slides clearly show, long-distance services will remain for those routes and stations not receiving an HS2 alternative. Chester and stations to North Wales? Present and correct. Stoke and Macclesfield? An hourly direct train to Milton Keynes and Euston. Coventry? A half-hourly service, both calling at Milton Keynes for commuters to that major employment location, and leaving Coventry’s post-HS2 service to London as frequent as, and faster than, Bristol Temple Meads has now.
But Joe’s scare falls flattest on its face when he claims that Wolverhampton and Sandwell & Dudley would lose their present hourly London trains. Because there in black and white (OK, in yellow) is the plan, not just an hourly train as now, but two limited-stop trains every hour to Euston. Yes, the service Joe claims will be lost is actually doubled.
With a respect for fact like this, Joe’s totally unsubstantiated claim that this means “£8.3 billion of cuts to classic services” might be considered suspect by the most innocent of readers. And they would be right. It is true that in the Economic Case analysis (table 9 on page 78) is a figure of £8.265 billion, labelled “classic line savings”. So what’s that all about? Well first, it refers to the full network in Phase 2, not Phase 1. Then, it’s a Present Value, that is, 60 year’s worth of annual sums all rolled into one. So the annual figure relevant to Phase 1 will be a lot – and I mean a lot – smaller. Which is why Joe doesn’t quote it.
But whatever it is, is Joe right to paint this as “cuts”? Got it in one, no he isn’t. Go back to the beginning, and remember that, apart from the new Curzon St services, the HS2 service for Phase 1 is basically the present Virgin pattern unplugged from the WCML at Handsacre and plugged into HS2 to Euston instead. So we have, for instance, an HS2 train every hour that runs from Liverpool, calls at Runcorn and Stafford, and then on to Euston on HS2. The cost in terms of fuel, maintenance, crew and fleet leasing should be charged to HS2, no-one would dispute. But that train replaces a Virgin service that calls at Runcorn and Stafford, then to Euston on the WCML. So of course the saving from replacing that train with the HS2 service should be deducted from the cost of running the HS2 train. Same stations, same destination, and faster. What has been “cut”? Nothing.
Well done, Joe. Nothing like putting your foot in your mouth and shooting yourself in it. The Select Committee know what they were shown by Prof McNaughton, they know how Joe twisted it, and they know his true colours. The real losers in this are the people Joe claims to represent.