HS2: does it matter that it’s an unknowable phenomenon?

“Who’s right and who’s wrong?” asked the orange tanned young woman of her six and a half foot track suited skin head boy friend as they were waiting for the bus.

Were they talking about the vague ties of family kith and kin? Or recent events in the HS2 saga? Or the vagueries of post modern knowledge? Were they wrestling with contemporary epistemological challenges about how we know what we know and who knows what they’re talking about? Who indeed is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’?

I tried broaching the subject with them both as we muscled our way past the mums with prams, lads with bikes and senior citizens sporting shiny new roller blades.

Travelling by bus has changed beyond all recognition I mused, they’ve turned into freight transportation for lesser forms of transport, hijacked by the mass transport equivalent of the cuckoo.

No longer is it possible just to get on a bus and meet other people. They now have their own internal highway control processes: bikes go there, prams go there, wheelchairs have to put up with whatever the driver determines and the mere passenger scrabbles around for whatever’s left. The bus driver does at least know he is no longer driving a bus but a Scalectrix track on wheels.

Doris and Gyorgi I later learnt were indeed struggling with the state of knowledge, not least the reliability or otherwise of bus time tables. Like Doris pointed out, “they’re shite those timetables”.

It’s the challenge of the modern day traveller – how do you know what you can rely on when it comes to going from A to B? George Stephenson didn’t have that problem back in 1830 when he invented the first intercity railway: he knew nothing, and he knew it. He had a plan of sorts but even then the first train was three months late leaving the platform -a phenomenon which has clearly taken root in the DNA of the British rail network ever since.

And what about HS2? What can anyone truly know about what that is or will be? The budget falls apart daily; the unintended consequences multiply like rabbits in a field looking at a stationery Virgin Pendolino and the route hops from one village to another depending on which village feudal baron shouts the loudest and is able to cajole their villagers into brandishing enough pitchforks in the general direction of Richard Branson.

The sad fact about HS2 is that for all our speculation, we know nothing whatsoever about it: its budget, its route, it’s timetable or the colour of its livery. It would be better for all concerned if they acknowledged their complete ignorance, threw up their hands and admitted it’s a terrifically ludicrous project and damn the expense and the disruption and the egos and the politics and the legacy.

At least if they employed Doris and Gyorgi to run the project, they would have someone who knew what they don’t know and have the orange sun tan, track suit and torn up bus timetables to prove it.

Who should be the public champion for HS2?

The difficulty with the Not-So-H-HS2 campaign is that has still to find its champion – someone who can wave the flag, force the big boys to cough up bucket loads of cash and enchant the good burghers of Great Missenden that property blight is good for them and their grandchildren.

Some have suggested that they need the equivalent of Seb Coe. This is difficult for the Not-So-H-HS2 campaign because Seb lead the Olympic campaign dance over a mercifully brief 7 years from the announcement in Singapore to the closing ceremony in Stratford when Russell Brand cavorted amongst the drug free athletes in a drug fuelled frenzy with his acolytes and assorted celebs.

Not so the Not-So-H-HS2 campaign who have the unenviable task of keeping that party going for a mere 30 years. There’s not a figurehead on earth who has that kind of staying power, not even Richard Branson, despite his recent foray into immortality technologies.

No, what Not-So-H-HS2 Ltd need is a mythical figure who can keep the troops rallied and on permanent message well after this, the next and probably the next 6 governments. Someone who will live on well after all of us have been laid up in the sidings.

So – here’s your chance to contribute to the urban myth that Not-So-H-HS2 is turning into. Answers welcome below!

HS2 has nothing in common with the projects of Balnibarbi.

Swift’s Gullivers Travels tells of the Academy of Projectors established by the Balnibarbians: inhabitants of the land of Balnibarbi.

Balnibarbi’s Academy of Projectors was all about developing projects which were aimed to improve society.

They included a man who spent eight years extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, another whose project plan was to reconstitute human excrement back to its original food components and another who had designed a new method for building houses, by starting at the roof, and working downwards to the foundations.

Clearly ingenious people, the future grandchildren of the Bainibarbians are not related to those who have brought forth the master project to end all projects, the not so H of the HS2 rail project.

HS2 would not be a suitable subject for Swiftian satire, rooted as it is in rigorous thinking, exemplary planning and water tight financial projections.

Banging on about HS2: how can we help them prevent a PR disaster?

The HS2 team held a PR event in Liverpool recently where assembled movers, shakers and hangers on were invited to hear the latest news on the HS2 developments. About 50 of us gathered expectantly to hear what it’s really all about Alfie, and to get it straight from the horses mouth.

To say it was a non event would be kind to non events. There were a couple of short introductory speeches – the first of which apologised for the name of the project – HS2 – and made it clear that there would be nothing particularly HS about HS2 as it was much more about moving freight off the roads, on to the rails and down the current West Coast line. The need for the new line was as much about providing capacity for passengers to travel at speeds greater than 15mph – the average speed they would be travelling if they were stuck behind a mile long freight train carrying glass from St Helens to the city of London.

The second contributor marvelled at the current 15 apprentices who are currently were working on the designs of the line. He pointed out, this project could last their life time and it would be more than likely that they would be grandparents by the time the line was operational.

That fact sobered many of us in the room as it became clear that we were being asked to endorse a project which would outlive us, and perhaps even our children. The project will be alive and kicking when many of us in the room will be consigned to our graves, ashes urns or deep at the bottom of the sea – or even under the rails at Rainford for the enthusiasts amongst us.

The final contribution to the non-event was a glossy promotional video which showed a lighting fast cartoon train whizzing through an empty countryside in all its shiny happy people mode. The absence of people in the video emphasised one of the core problems to the HS2 marketing campaign. It doesn’t have any people in it who will be alive when the line supposedly opens. It’s emphasising its audiences mortality with a ya boo sucks approach – this project is more important than you here and now, and more important too than your children and grandchildren in the there and then.

What’s it all about Alfie is freight, freight and yet more freight trundling through the countryside at the dead of night, rattling by the graveyards of the movers, shakers and hangers on who are currently being asked to cough up in TB type spasmodic fits for its ever spiralling costs.

One way to prevent a PR disaster would be for the team to be honest about the purpose of HS2 and acknowledge that not many of us are going to be around to see the first train leave the new Manchester station which will be built just outside Skelmersdale some time in 2033.

Banging on about HS2 – a really meaty subject to bang on about

High Speed 2 – HS2 as it’s popularly known as in the UK (albeit not with a huge degree of popularity) – is proposed by the the UK government as being one of the most significant infrastructure projects to be produced in the UK since… Well, I don’t know, since ever.

As such, it is a perfect subject to bang on about given it will touch every raw nerve ending in English civic life: trains and the railways, urban regeneration, the North:South divide, town vs country, the nature of our national identity and every other political agenda item imaginable.

One of the exquisite features of this debate is that it will run and run well beyond the life time of any one political party’s tenuous hold on power – more than likely for the next 30 years. I may well be dead by the time we see its official opening. All the more reason to devote part of this blog to a subject which will transcend party politics, local and national allegiances and personal preferences for sitting in an aisle seat, a window seat, a quiet zone, facing the direction of travel or where you’ve come from.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, unborn children of the next generation, I give you my next blog subject: Banging on about HS2. Future posts are likely to be late, diverted via Crewe or cancelled. And certainly not likely to be completed before 2043. Your news and views are very welcome! The journey (dread cliche) starts here…

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