Disagree with Nick

I very much agree with Allister Heath’s comments on Friday [Clegg’s latest nonsense] about Nick Clegg's initiative regarding job applications. As you say, the key is improving education, and not coming up with idiotic proposals such as this.

I come from a pretty humble background, and had a solid, redbrick grammar school education, the like of which is sadly almost certainly not available to the vast majority of state-educated pupils these days. I think most clear-thinking people these days would agree that's the key to social mobility, and not further Blairite headline-grabbing initiatives that have obviously not been thought through at all.

James Little
managing director
The Screen Talent Agency

Absolutely spot on with your column on meritocracy. Terrible to give people a complex about their backgroun.

Completely agree with your meritocracy points. Clegg seems out of touch.
@paulowan (Paul Jennings)


Railing against HS2

As CEO of a large quoted property company, infrastructure, construction risk and value for money is part of my daily routine and I fully support your views on the new high-speed rail project (HS2). I commute on the West Coast line: the complaints from passengers on this line and I suspect most others isn’t about speed, it is about seat capacity and punctuality. This can be sorted by longer trains and platforms, with more sophisticated signalling to allow more trains on the lines. If you let me do this from Birmingham to London I could save the nation over £10bn in phase one alone.

The tragedy about HS2 is that it has been conceived and promoted by politicians with no business experience nor knowledge of value for money.

Richard Tice

Don’t forget HS2’s destruction of the countryside, and in particular the Chilterns’ area of outstandng natural beauty, which of itself is bad enough, but also results in wealth destruction – with house prices being reduced – and lower incomes for businesses along the route that rely on tourism and then become inaccessible.

Chris Smith

You aren’t wrong on HS2 – you might only add that all governments face the tempatations of grand projets which seem wonderful on the day of announcement but look worse and worse on every following day.

Andrew Haldenby

While a massive supporter of rail transport for business use (I often do over a 1,000 miles a week by train), I feel there are some considerable doubts over the proposed HS2 plans.

First, the existing rail “network” is exactly that – a grid that has alternative routings. HS2 is a single pipe. One train breakdown will block the pipe and all services in that direction. Grids are more resilient.

Second, existing rolling stock on East Coast and West Coast routes is designed and built for 140 mph operation. It cannot achieve this on existing lines due to capacity constraints. Meanwhile higher speeds pose their own problems. UK distances are not great, compared to, say, France. The ability to sustain maximum speeds for long periods, and achieve the full benefit, is very limited. Also technical complexity and power consumption rise almost exponentially for marginal speed increases above say 100 mph. The leap from existing 125 mph to 186mph (standard for the French TGV and Eurostar) is a very large technical one. The cost-benefit trade off is to maximise the average journey speed while minimising the maximum speed – to run existing stock at 140 mph over clearer lines (for example, by building up a dedicated freight network on existing secondary lines) would achieve a very large amount of the benefit at the same time as containing technology costs and power consumption.

Fast trains also take a long time to stop, and therefore need a large headway. The planned train frequency for HS2 on a double track line is planned to be the highest that has ever been achieved on a high-speed line anywhere in the world. It is possible that the planned frequency is not operationally achievable.

If we must build an HS2, we should really use existing transport corridors, as HS1, the Channel Tunnel rail link, does for most of its route.

I believe that the UK needs a network that more closely resembles a national Tube system (frequent, reliable, low-tech, dependable, affordable) than something more like an airline (check-in times, fixed seat and service allocations, expensive).

I believe it is the duty of the custodians of our national network (the Department for Transport and Network Rail) to deliver this and that HS2 is a massive diversion from their true task.

Peter Morley

I will look forward to the day that HS2 construction workers attempt to begin building the train lines through protected sites of special scientific interest and green belt land that taxpaying British citizens are banned from building on, as it will be the day that the British revolution begins. By backing this horrendous and idiotic piece of pan-European corporate cronyism that Labour began, the Conservatives will lose a great deal of support. If the Occupy movement can evolve into a global political party that captures the imagination of a new generation, then I think that politicians everywhere should worry about their jobs. The European Spring – has a nice ring to it.

Chris Jenkins