The population is far more dense than in California. The distances involved are shorter. However, the basic issues are the same. Overpriced. Underused. None of the promised benefits realized. We shouldn't be surprised. This has been predicted for California's and this Nation's high-speed rail programs for years.
The UK has built HS1 and is proposing HS2, a second high-speed rail line and there is massive objection to it. Lessons are being learned from the current operational HS1, described vividly in this article.
Like in China, the Brits. are shutting down regular rail in order to oblige users on to the high-speed version, and at far greater ticket costs, of course.
It should also be pointed out that these trains in Great Britain serve commuters; cities are very close together. The California version will be several hundred miles between the two connected major cities, with several minor cities in between. These will not, according to the high-speed rail authority, be commuter trains. They are intended to be inter-city trains.
Referring to the existing British HSR already in operation, "For any supporter of high-speed rail, it should be a sobering experience." . . . . . "At a cost to taxpayers of around £2 billion, many rail passengers have seen their service transformed into the worst they have ever known."
High speed rail? Britain's first link hasn't worked as planned say critics
An area supposed to benefit from Britain's first high-speed rail link is failing to reap the predicted rewards - raising concerns over whether the second high speed link from London to Brimingham could also be a let-down.
An off-peak high-speed service between Kent and St Pancras resembles 'the Mary Celeste', with many carriages 90 per cent empty Photo: PAUL GROVER
By Andrew Gilligan 9:00PM BST 02 Apr 2011
For John Nicholson, a daily commuter from Herne Bay to London, the arrival on his doorstep of the high-speed rail revolution hasn't turned out quite how the politicians promised.
"I now have to get up at 5am to get to work by 8.30," he says. "My journey used to be 70 minutes each way, now it is 90-plus. It really does kill you."
Mr Nicholson's season ticket will go up 8 per cent this year – to just under £4,000 – to pay for the high-speed trains, even though he is not actually able to use them.
"I work in the City but I don't earn a City salary," he says. "We are struggling to raise three children, my wife is doing two jobs, and we are paying more for less. High-speed rail has been a total nightmare for us."
In all the arguments about the Government's proposed new £17 billion "High Speed Two" supertrain from London to Birmingham, everybody has forgotten that we already have a High Speed One: the domestic service along the dedicated, high-speed Eurostar tracks between St Pancras and Kent. Instead of speculating about the high-speed future, we can go and see it for ourselves. For any supporter of high-speed rail, it should be a sobering experience.
The Kent domestic service's launch, in 2009, heard precisely the sort of grand claims now being made for the London-Birmingham link. Its operator, Southeastern Trains, called it "one of the most significant milestones in the history of Britain's railways."
The then Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, said it would "transform the journeys of large numbers of rail passengers."
That, at least, is true. At a cost to taxpayers of around £2 billion, many rail passengers have seen their service transformed into the worst they have ever known.
"It's been a disaster for most people," says Roger Gale, the Tory MP for North Thanet. "Under high-speed rail, the journey from East Kent to central London now takes longer than in 1927, so we don't regard that as rapid progress."
It turns out that from around half the destinations they serve, the "high-speed" trains are little, if at all, faster than the previous ones. Even where they are faster, they cost about 20 per cent more - and take Kent commuters to places that most do not want to go.
"Most of my constituents want the West End and the City, which is where the old line takes you - but the high-speed train goes to St Pancras," says Mr Gale. "Once you've taken the Tube from St Pancras back to where you actually want to be, you've more than lost the time you've saved."
The second problem is that to drive passengers onto a high-speed service that most cannot afford and do not want to use, Southeastern has sabotaged the trains that they can afford and do want to use.
In the pre-HS1 dark ages, the journey time on the traditional line from Victoria to Faversham was 66 minutes, with six stops. This was actually two minutes faster than the "high-speed" service now.
So to make the high-speed trains look better, Southeastern has slowed down all the others, and cut their frequency.
The journey from Victoria to Faversham now takes 77 minutes, with ten stops, two of them at wayside halts surrounded by open fields. There used to be 14 rush-hour trains on the old line from London to Chatham. Now there are 11.
Rather as the Soviet Union used to declare dissidents "non-people," these trains have also been airbrushed from the record.
Visit the National Rail Enquiries website, ask for trains to many places in Kent, and you will be shown only the high-speed service from St Pancras.
At least the people of Faversham and Chatham have a high-speed alternative, albeit at premium fares to the wrong place. But in the county town, Maidstone, commuters have seen virtually all their trains to the City scrapped to make room for high-speed rail – which stops nowhere near them.
Fares for every passenger in Kent – even if they never step on a high-speed train – have risen for several years by three per cent above inflation, the highest in Britain, to pay for HS1. And performance on the Cinderella lines has decayed as resources are concentrated on high-speed.
At two "rail summits" organised by the county council, the people of Kent vented their fury at their new, improved service. "People's whole family life has been messed up," said another of the local MPs, Sir John Stanley.
"They are driving all over Kent to get away from the Maidstone line."
The council's director of transport, Paul Crick, told the meeting: "There is an overwhelming sense of frustration. There is frequent overcrowding. Non-users of HS1 find [their journeys] are now phenomenally slow."
Of course, not everyone has suffered. If you work near St Pancras and live in one of the towns best served by the high-speed line – above all, Ashford, where the whole journey to London is on it – you are thrilled.
Phil Waterhouse, who commutes from Ashford to Tottenham Court Road, said: "I wouldn't have worked in London if it wasn't for this." Madeleine Webb, travelling from Hackney to Canterbury, said: "It's fantastic – it's changed my life."
But on Thursday's 6.10pm from St Pancras to Ashford and Margate, The Sunday Telegraph counted more than 200 empty seats on a 700-seat train. Off-peak, we found, the service resembles the Marie Celeste, with its North Kent branch running about 90 per cent empty.
In sidings at Ashford, six brand new trains – costing taxpayers £8 million each – stand mothballed because loadings are so poor. Stand at Kent stations during the rush hour and you see traditional trains, wedged with passengers, followed by calm, beautiful and half-empty high-speed ones.
HS1 offers an ideal opportunity to test the economic claims made for HS2. If anywhere has been boosted, it must surely be Ashford – which, just 38 minutes from St Pancras, is in the same position as Birmingham would be.
Ashford council claimed last year that the train was "proving to be an economic boon" for the town, but when asked for figures justifying this statement, the council had to admit that "the true economic impact of HS1 is not yet known."
Some businesses have moved in. But since the line has been open, House of Commons library figures show, unemployment in Ashford has in fact fallen by less than the Kent, South-Eastern and British averages.
According to the Land Registry, house prices in Ashford have risen by less than the Kent and South Eastern average. On both counts, many Kent towns nowhere near the high-speed route have done better than Ashford.
Southeastern said that 7.2 million journeys had been made on HS1 in its first year – less than expected – but that 16% of passengers were new to rail, use of the service was growing, and user satisfaction was the highest in Britain.
Elsewhere in Kent, though, dissatisfaction is so high that Mr Nicholson's Alliance of Kent Commuters is actually campaigning to get rid of high-speed services from his area. What would he say to people facing the prospect of HS2? "Don't believe the hype," he said.