There has been an awful lot of heat and noise, but very little light, as various politicians and pundits and other gravy-train riders reacted with predictable confected fury to the Government’s decision to scrap the northern leg of the HS2 train. One of the many complaints is that, if Britain is to be a modern economy, then we should have loads of high-speed trains just like France and Germany. Unfortunately, those making this argument seem to have forgotten what little they may have learnt in their O Level geography.
Now let me explain why it is totally ludicrous to have high-speed trains in a tiny country like England.
France is a big country – about 640,000 km². Germany is quite a big country too – 357,592 km². The U.K. is a small country – about 242,000 km². England is an even smaller country – 130,000 km². So, France is five times the size of England and Germany is almost three times as large as England. Both France and Germany have extensive high-speed rail networks. It makes sense to have high-speed trains in a large country. It doesn’t make sense to have high-speed trains in a small country.
Now let’s go a bit deeper. The French train route from Paris to Lyon to Marseilles can probably be seen as comparable to the U.K. train route from London to Birmingham to Manchester in terms of how it connects major cities. But the differences in distances are huge. Paris to Lyon is 292 miles, whereas London to Birmingham is only 128 miles. And Lyon to Marseilles is 195 miles, whereas Birmingham to Manchester is a mere 86 miles.
Or if we take Germany, the route from Berlin to Frankfurt to Munich could also be compared to HS2’s London to Birmingham to Manchester. The distance from Berlin to Frankfurt is 341 miles – much more than London to Birmingham’s 128 miles. And the distance from Frankfurt to Munich is 244 miles – considerably more than Birmingham to Manchester’s measly 86 miles.
The much greater distances in France and Germany justify high-speed rail networks. But squandering over £100bn on cutting just a few minutes off the train time from London to Birmingham and then even fewer minutes off the train journey from Birmingham to Manchester is utterly ludicrous. And I won’t even mention the fact that HS2 might not even ever get to Euston station.
There never was and never will be any need for a high-speed train network in England. The distances are simply too short. On the now-cancelled Birmingham to Manchester leg, the train would hardly have enough time to get up to speed before it had to slow down. Why the political, bureaucratic and engineering geniuses who planned the whole thing couldn’t see this more-than-minor geographical problem defeats me.