Realist, not conformist analysis of the latest financial, business and political news

The Environmental Damage Of HS2

From our Swindon Correspondent:

From the BBC
Green MP Caroline Lucas called it a “vanity project”. She says travel patterns have been revolutionised during Covid, and won’t return to previous levels. And she complained: “It’ll take decades for the project to have even a chance of becoming carbon neutral because of the emissions from building the line.
Tony May, Emeritus Transport Professor at Leeds University, said: “Even on optimistic predictions HS2 takes 65 years from its completion before its carbon saving (through low-carbon trains) has offset the carbon costs of construction.

“So up to 2050 (the critical deadline for achieving nearly zero emissions) HS2 is a carbon burden on the country. It doesn’t save carbon at all.” The company says it is working on smarter designs to reduce the carbon impact of the materials it uses.

I don’t generally think of the building of the railway as being that huge in energy. Running the trains, sure, but not the building. But I’ll take the professor’s word for it.
And it’s unusual for me to agree with Caroline Lucas, but she’s right and even the TOCs expect a dent. The other thing is that it doesn’t stop here. Travel, city offices, high rents, are a big expense. The rise in remote work over the past 20 years has partly been fuelled by the declining cost of laptops, networks, VPNs. Particularly compared to the rise of salaries and rail fares. People didn’t hand out laptops lightly in the 90s because they were a huge expense. But now? A laptop is about the same price as a monthly season ticket from Swindon.
Also, the tools that help run a remote team have improved. Zoom, email, but also project collaboration tools like Jira and wikis. All of that means you need less time face to face.
So, we’ve shifted to this, a bit, but when you look at the two alternatives, you see a very large incentive for software teams to keep making this better. The cost of premium office space, paying people to live in the South East, or taking a train journey to London are rather big. The Swindon to London train is about £140, not including the extra costs of taxis, coffees and shoe leather.That’s up against the costs of a web application that has to move data around. And as Timmy correctly observed, software is fairly small numbers of people producing tools for massive numbers of people. Someone in a startup figures out how to make everyone’s collaboration just a little better, something that costs a user £10/month and saves them one trip per month, that’s a tool with a 1400% return on investment for the user. And you don’t need (relatively) a lot of those users to pay for the software team.

With each incremental improvement, that 65 years is going to get pushed out, as less physical meetings happen. We might even reach the point before then that the whole service is operationally not viable.

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Boganboy
Boganboy
7 months ago

If the UK really takes this Green nonsense seriously, it’d be better off putting all the money it wastes on trains and windmills into nukes. Nice simple mid-twentieth century technology. No shortage of uranium. Unlimited supply of reliable power.

And for me, those foul fiendish foreigners can’t stop the nukes running, ‘cos it’s easy to keep ten or twenty years worth of fuel on hand. And if there was still a problem after 20 years, you could grind up the Grampians (or Cornwall), if it was too much of a bother just to extract the uranium from seawater.

Bloke on M4
Bloke on M4
7 months ago
Reply to  Boganboy

We’ll get there eventually. The false dreams of politicians, media and the public hit reality at some point.

David
David
7 months ago
Reply to  Bloke on M4

I am not so sure – I think this will not happen for years sadly.

Spike
Spike
7 months ago
Reply to  Bloke on M4

California and now Texas have hit reality (roving blackouts, people [s]living[/s] dying in their cars to keep warm). It would have been nice if reality had hit earlier. We manage a resource best when it has an OWNER.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
7 months ago

The justification for HS2 was initially all the time it would save for Very Important People. When it was pointed out that people have been working productively on trains for a couple of decades (well, duh), the justification rapidly switched to “the WCML will soon going be full up” (based on projections of consultants paid for by – checks notes – HS2 Ltd). Well, Covid and home working has blown that out of the water (Train Operating Companies are projecting that passenger numbers might take a decade to recover to 2019 levels). So why are we wasting £100++ billion (that’s… Read more »

TD
TD
7 months ago
Reply to  Quentin Vole

Politicians love trains. It doesn’t matter what country we’re talking about. I think it feeds into their idea of controlling the masses. All those people sitting quietly on a train, following a set route, and getting off at stations and not where they might feel like, and then walking to some dense downtown to work rather than some suburban business park. Their hearts just go all pitter patter.

Bloke on M4
Bloke on M4
7 months ago
Reply to  Quentin Vole

Why would they recover? Much of what stopped remote work growing was fear/CYA, not that it wasn’t possible. Forcing it on people made them realise in many cases, location didn’t matter than much. I know a whole load of companies who have changed policy, as well as businesses ending their leases in London.

This is not going to be the same again. You have people travelling a lot less, that doesn’t just empty the trains, it empties the roads. Once congestion is reduced, people will use cars like everywhere else. It could be apocalyptic for rail.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
7 months ago
Reply to  Bloke on M4

Quite right – I was typing too fast, it should have read: “recover to 60% of their 2019 levels*”. There’ll obviously still be some commuting post-Covid, but I, too, know companies that have downsized their London offices from several hundred desks to 50. Office real estate is going to take a real pounding – I wrote a paper for our investment committee (as an IT bod) 25 years ago pointing out that this would surely happen, I just had no clue as to when (which is why I’m not an investment bod). * and, yes, the TOCs are probably being… Read more »

MrVeryAngry
MrVeryAngry
7 months ago
Reply to  Quentin Vole

Ditto HS1?

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
7 months ago
Reply to  MrVeryAngry

Pretty much.

Leo Savantt
Leo Savantt
7 months ago

HS2 was an EU mandated project as part of the EU’s transport strategy. In the Netherlands their version of HS2 cost an alarming amount to build and ran at an enormous loss. Journey times were slightly faster, but with fewer trains the actual time saved in total travel time was basically none. It has been a disaster, no doubt HS2 in the UK will be equally unprofitable and unnecessary, costing in total possibly many hundr4ds of borrowed billions. It should of course be shelved.

johnd2008
johnd2008
7 months ago

In the 80s and 90s I frequently used the West Coast Main Line, London to Carlisle.It used to take about 3 hours.The thought of spending such obscene amounts of money in order to take about 20 minutes off the journey bewilders me.Incidentally I still had another 50 miles to get home after Carlisle so that was another hour and a half in a car.

Addolff
Addolff
7 months ago
Reply to  johnd2008

Johnd2008 “still had another 50 miles to get home after Carlisle so that was another hour and a half in a car”. So you worked right on top of Euston eh? Or perhaps not: Railways, taking you from somewhere you aren’t to somewhere you don’t want to go.

jgh
jgh
7 months ago
Reply to  Addolff

For some time I did work on the other side of Station Road from York Station, so that’s a reasonable possibility. It was still a 30min bus ride from home and a ten minute walk to the bus stop at the other end though. It was actually cheaper and faster to drive to the Park&Ride and bus into York city centre, again getting off at Station Road. The main downside was needing to be sufficiently concious to be able to drive.

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