BLOG: HS2 slow

MARK HADAWAY: It is with genuine interest that the planned advancement of HS2 recently fell under the spotlight with new light shed on the debacle by the latest National Audit Office (NAO) warning of further delays in completion.

I have followed the farcical ‘progress’ of this project for some time and, to me, it becomes ever increasingly apparent it has become somewhat of a ‘plough on regardless’ venture – a bit like England’s efforts at Euro 2016, it was never going to succeed.

And now the landscape has changed so dramatically with the UK voting to leave the EU – I think in such a time of uncertainty it would be far wiser to steady the ship, than continue to invest good, honest tax payers’ money into something which is likely to be redundant before it is even complete.

And that is what brings me on to the real crux of this blog – technology. The general consensus is that technology is evolving in dog years (seven years of development for every one year in real time) and I quote Google, ‘technological development will never be as slow as it is today’ so the question would arise, do I really need to ‘catch’ a train per se and even if I do, does saving a maximum of 75 minutes from London to Manchester really warrant a $50bn investment? I would argue not.

Currently, by 2025 it is now commonly accepted that fully autonomous vehicles will be available and in use on the UK’s roads. This date has been revised by a decade in only the past few years. Already Tesla has promised a fully autonomous vehicle to be available in 2018, whilst a number of vehicle manufacturers have also committed to similar technologies.

These vehicles will be able to provide a fully hands off/feet off door-to-door service by which the only input a ‘driver’ might need to engage with is setting a destination. This pre-dates the time line for completion of even phase 1 of HS2 (2026). By 2035 IHS forecasts there will be 21 million fully autonomous cars in circulation globally and growing at an expediential rate. By 2060, Thatcham accepts that the UK’s vehicle fleet will be ‘autonomous’.

Taking the ‘road transport’ idea one step further and Japanese engineers have publicly declared that flying cars – Skydrive – will be launched in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It is no secret that Google co-founder, Larry Page has invested millions of his own fortune into flying car company Zee.Aero, transport solutions already in frequent testing.

Other modalities of transport are clearly also advancing way in excess of the speeds the HS2 project currently is and, more so, will be capable of achieving once complete. Hyperloop One is arguably the most significant ‘mass transport’ solution to currently be under development and, following successful testing development of the project will now progress in a timeframe inexplicable to those ingrained in ‘traditional’ modalities of transport construction.

Hyperloop One executives hope that in five years’ time people will be able to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes (a distance of circa 380 miles). ‘Futuristic’ HS2 hopes, at least five years later, to achieve a circa 200 mile trip (London to Manchester) in 68 minutes.

So to put this into a ‘relevant’ context to the industry, I suppose the message is – once in a while just stop! Take time to look around and see what else is happening ‘out there’ and don’t bury your head in the sand – you might find where you are currently investing capital, energy and resource could end up being ‘unnecessary’ before its even been ‘valuable’.