A survey of IoD members found that just 27 per cent felt HS2 represented good value for money and 70 per cent said it would have no impact on their business’s productivity. There was little enthusiasm even in regions where the benefits would supposedly be strongest….In August 2011, a survey of IoD members found 54 per cent rated HS2 as important to their business. This has now fallen to 41 per cent, with the IoD saying this illustrated “how businesses see high-speed rail as a lower priority than it was two years ago’’.
In addition to this erosion of support for HS2, some close to the industry are questioning the staying power of high-speed rail projects in general. A recent piece for Railway Age warns that today’s cutting-edge rail projects may soon be obsolete as new technologies come of age:
Take note that Musk’s Hyperloop prototype was created on a 3-D printer, which also is being used by General Electric to “print” metal parts for a new jet engine, and by a Chinese firm to make large parts—titanium fuselage frames and high-strength steel landing gear—for its emerging commercial aircraft industry. “High transport cots for heavy goods make it sensible to produce these things close to customers,” says the Economist magazine, and 3-D printing is being used to manufacture, for example, toys, mobile-phone cases, automobile parts, steel hand tools and bicycle chains that may no longer require as much intermediate transportation of raw materials and intermediate stage manufacture and assembly.Indeed, the railroads’ business plan of converting tens of millions of truck loads to intermodal (trailers and containers atop flat cars) on routes of 500 miles or more could be in jeopardy if there are fewer truckloads because more products are turned out by 3-D printers at points of industrial and consumer sales.
If nothing else, hopefully the mounting discontent with train spending in the UK and California will discourage future political leaders from pursuing similarly wasteful and myopic projects—though we wouldn’t bet on it.[High-speed train courtesy of Shutterstock]