Sim Chris Grayling: What else could Britain's transport secretary build if he cancelled High Speed 2?

Imagine you are this man. No, don't click away, it's a good article, I promise! Image: Getty.

Good morning, Chris! Here are your briefings – there’s an important one in there about HS2 there, with a memorandum attached from Theresa and Philip.

What? No! Yes. It’s like the worst-ever iteration of Freaky Friday you could think of. You’ve woken up as Chris Grayling, longtime stalker of the shadows of darkness and erstwhile Transport Secretary.

Tentatively, you open the red ministerial box that the staffer (who weirdly seems to be in your bedroom) has brought you. The top paper lists different possible cost projections for High Speed 2, a seven-year-old’s notion of building a new train line (“Darling there’s already a train line there” / “Yes, mummy, but this one is faster!”).

Estimates from back in June 2013 revised the expected cost upwards, from £33bn to £43bn. The November 2015 Autumn Statement then put the estimate of how much it might cost at more than £55b.  But so-called “Treasury insiders”, as cited by the Sunday Times, are talking about the project with a £73bn price tag attached. (And so-called experts, of whom this country has had enough, have said the entire jolly could rack up £90bn bills by the time it’s all over. )

But what’s this? A note from Theresa May and Philip Hammond, saying the prime minister wants it cancelled, but the chancellor still wants to spend the money on transport infrastructure to show Britain means breakfast?

So. You’ve got somewhere between £33bn and £90bn to spend, and barely any time to work out how to do it and fire off a response to Philip and the team. Whip out your calculator…

The Varsity Rail Link – Cost: £530m

The train link between Oxford and Cambridge – two of the fastest-growing cities in the country with rocketing house prices and burgeoning job growth – has been on the cards for decades, almost ever since services chugged to a halt in 1967.

 

The technical name for the project is the “East-West Rail Link”, and the plan as a whole is to link Oxford with Cambridge via Bicester, Milton Keynes, and Bedford, with the possibility of spurs heading onto Ipswich and Norwich. While it’s hard to get hold of all that many decent estimations of the cost, the reckoning seems to be about £530m of your English pounds for the privilege of saving thousands of beleaguered science and tech types from enduring either the X5 bus between the two (don’t even), or the current three-hour journey on the train via Paddington and King’s Cross.

A good, dependable, “white-heat-of-technology” addition to the expenses claim.

Northern Hub Rail Links – Cost: £560m

Yes, George Osborne has been put on the naughty step, but in fairness to him the idea of actually, like, investing in infrastructure outside of London and the South East was one of his finer moments.

The Northern Hub project isn’t one of the sexiest in the books – it mostly involves electrifying lots of bits of line, sprucing up some seriously-in-need stations, putting in a couple of corners of track, and making things generally faster, better, and more efficient by very small and wonkish improvements. Like Hillary Clinton, but in rail project form.

The cost is estimated at around the £560m mark, but the benefits are thought to be pretty significant. Faster trains, more of them, and (allegedly) at least £4bn in economic rewards to be reaped. Plus, if Theresa fancies a flashback to the ancien régime, loads of opportunities to stand on building sites wearing hi-vis and a hard hat.

Boring but important. An exemplification of this government’s personal brand.

Total cost of all projects so far: £1.1bn

Crossrail 2 – Cost: £32bn

At the end of the day, being Transport Secretary is only fun if you can play Mini Metro but in real life and with actual trains and all that. If you enjoyed the Elizabeth Line, née Crossrail, just wait until you see the sequel! Spiralling from somewhere south-west-London-ish, like Epsom (my seat! Hurrah!) through transport-connection-starved places like Balham, Clapham Junction, Victoria, King’s Cross, St. Pancras, and Euston up towards Hackney, Enfield, and Southgate, it’s a big-bucks investment.

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

It may seem like London has far too many lines and way too much money poured into its infrastructure already, but when you think about the fact that the Elizabeth Line, née Crossrail, will be almost entirely choc-a-bloc within just a few years, it’s probably worth doing some future-proofing.

And if I’m still around by then, I might even get to name it. If Elizabeth gets her own line, why can’t I? “The Chris Grayling Line” – I can just see it now. Or if the future king wants his own, you could get punny and call it The Caro-line. Because niche linguistic banter is the best kind of banter.

Expensive, but chaos-averting. Plus, makes my trips into Soho much easier

Total cost of all projects so far: £33.1bn

At this point, we’ve done great things, and only spent around the £33bn mark – the lowest estimate of the cost of HS2, from back in the innocent days pre-2013. There’s more.

Extending the Bakerloo Line – Cost: £3bn,

The Bakerloo Line extension is a tale as old as time, and it’s really only down to a managerial oversight that it wasn’t included in the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale collection.

Taking the Bakerloo line further south from its current terminus at Elephant and Castle was first on the cards as part of the London Electric Metropolitan District and Central London Railway Companies (Works) Act, which passed in 1931 but was strangely not acted upon. Congestion on the Metropolitan line diverted attention to extending the line north from Baker Street to Finchley Road (on track now appropriated by the Jubilee Line), and then a big old thing called the Second World War happened and everyone forgot about it.

The mantle was taken up again in earnest by various politicians – including local Camberwell & Peckham MP Harriet Harman – around the turn of the century. Ken Livingstone, the then mayor of London, boldly declared in 2006 that Camberwell would have a tube station within 20 years – he’s got 10 years to not be wrong, and very little power to do anything about it, so we’ll see.

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

A consultation is up and running on extending the Bakerloo line via either Camberwell and Peckham or various stops along the Monopoly-stigmatised Old Kent Road, with a view to ending up somewhere in Bromley, Beckenham, or Hayes, currently serviced by miserable Southern and Southeastern services.  

A chance to shift London’s centre of gravity, even if everyone already hates the Bakerloo line anyway. Why not?

Total cost of all projects so far: £36.1bn

The “New Tube for London” – Cost: £16.4bn

With one of the sexiest transport launch videos in history (if you’re into that sort of thing), the “New Tube for London” programme promises faster and more regular walk-through trains with air conditioning and fancy screens for the three innermost circles of hell – also known as the Piccadilly, Bakerloo, and Central lines. The Waterloo & City line is getting some too, but nobody really cares.

Image: TfL.

The investment in rolling stock is set to be one of the biggest in the history of the London Underground, matched only by the huge roll-out of the S7/8 class trains on the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Circle, and District lines from 2010.

So much cool shiny new stuff doesn’t come cheap, though, and at £16.4bn it’s certainly a pretty penny for the privilege of being able to back slowly but entirely away when you realise you’ve got on the same tube carriage as an ex.

Worth it? Totally.

Total cost of all projects so far: £50.7bn

Fund a 7-day Night Tube for 5 years – Cost: £350m

We don’t yet know exactly how much the night tube in its entirety costs to run, mostly (obviously) because the whole night network won’t be up and running until December. But we do have some figures from before the launch which implied a running cost of £1.5m a month to stump up night tube services two nights a week, Friday and Saturday.

So if you extrapolate those figures, and multiply them by three and a half, you can roughly guess that to run the night tube seven nights a week would cost  around the £5.35m a month mark to run. Put that into an annual context and you get £63m a year. Give it a bit of leeway and bump that up to £70m a year. Times that figure by five and you get £350m, everyone’s favourite political number.

“We don’t really send the EU £350m a week. Let’s fund the night tube for five years instead.”

I’ll buy it.

Total cost of all projects so far: £51.1bn

That takes us to roughly the financial ball-park of the official £55bn estimate. But if “insiders” and “experts” are throwing around other figures, why not keep going?


Bridge Over Troubled Water – Cost: £22bn

Back when Margaret of the House Thatcher sat on the Iron Throne, a plan for a bridge over the English Channel did the rounds. Details emerged when files were released from the National Archives in 2007.

The bridge was ditched because it was thought unfeasible and too expensive, but the plans sketched out at the time estimated cost at £3bn. Hash that through a dubiously-reliable inflation calculator and you get a cost of around £11bn. Double it, because, you know, life is expensive, and you’re on £22bn. Add that to everything else and you’re almost bang on £73bn, the figure those insiders at the Treasury say HS2 is likely to end up costing.

Then we’d have a mainland connection to Europe (sorry Northern Ireland), the glorious world of Schengen could extend direct from John O’Groats to Gibraltar via the great and the good of our European family. Because Brexit means bridge, and we are going to make a dog’s breakfast of it.

Happy Autumn Statement, Philip!

Total cost of all projects so far: £51.1bn

P.S Alternatively wait a few years for Hyperloop technology to get cheaper and then build one of those from London to Birmingham like the one they’re getting in Dubai. Sunglasses emoji.

Yours, The Rt. Hon. Chris Grayling MP.

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This fun map allows you to see what a nuclear detonation would do to any city on Earth

A 1971 nuclear test at Mururoa atoll. Image: Getty.

In 1984, the BBC broadcast Threads, a documentary-style drama in which a young Sheffield couple rush to get married because of an unplanned pregnancy, but never quite get round to it because half way through the film the Soviets drop a nuclear bomb on Sheffield. Jimmy, we assume, is killed in the blast (he just disappears, never to be seen again); Ruth survives, but dies of old age 10 years later, while still in her early 30s, leaving her daughter to find for herself in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

It’s horrifying. It’s so horrifying I’ve never seen the whole thing, even though it’s an incredibly good film which is freely available online, because I once watched the 10 minutes from the middle of the film which show the bomb actually going off and it genuinely gave me nightmares for a month.

In my mind, I suppose, I’d always imagined that being nuked would be a reasonably clean way to go – a bright light, a rushing noise and then whatever happened next wasn’t your problem. Threads taught me that maybe I had a rose-tinted view of nuclear holocaust.

Anyway. In the event you’d like to check what a nuke would do to the real Sheffield, the helpful NukeMap website has the answer.

It shows that dropping a bomb of the same size as the one the US used on Hiroshima in 1945 – a relatively diddly 15kt – would probably kill around 76,500 people:

Those within the central yellow and red circles would be likely to die instantly, due to fireball or air pressure. In the green circle, the radiation would kill at least half the population over a period of hours, days or weeks. In the grey, the thing most likely to kill you would be the collapse of your house, thanks to the air blast, while those in the outer, orange circle would most likely to get away with third degree burns.

Other than that, it’d be quite a nice day.

“Little boy”, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, was tiny, by the standards of the bombs out there in the world today, of course – but don’t worry, because NukeMap lets you try bigger bombs on for size, too.

The largest bomb in the US arsenal at present is the B-83 which, weighing in at 1.2Mt, is about 80 times the size of Little Boy. Detonate that, and the map has to zoom out, quite a lot.

That’s an estimated 303,000 dead, around a quarter of the population of South Yorkshire. Another 400,000 are injured.

The biggest bomb of all in this fictional arsenal is the USSRS’s 100Mt Tsar Bomba, which was designed but never tested. (The smaller 50MT variety was tested in 1951.) Here’s what that would do:

Around 1.5m dead; 4.7m injured. Bloody hell.

We don’t have to stick to Sheffield, of course. Here’s what the same bomb would do to London:

(Near universal fatalities in zones 1 & 2. Widespread death as far as St Albans and Sevenoaks. Third degree burns in Brighton and Milton Keynes. Over 5.9m dead; another 6m injured.)

Everyone in this orange circle is definitely dead.

Or New York:

(More than 8m dead; another 6.7m injured. Fatalities effectively universal in Lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and Hoboken.)

Or, since it’s the biggest city in the world, Tokyo:

(Nearly 14m dead. Another 14.5m injured. By way of comparison, the estimated death toll of the Hiroshima bombing was somewhere between 90,000 and 146,000.)

I’m going to stop there. But if you’re feeling morbid, you can drop a bomb of any size on any area of earth, just to see what happens.


And whatever you do though: do not watch Threads. Just trust me on this.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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