House of Lords savages High Speed 2

March 25 2015  

Government has failed to make a convincing case that HS2 will increase rail capacity or help to rebalance the economy, a stinging report from the House of Lords’ Economic Affairs Select Committee says today.

The Committee asks that the next Government must provide suitable answers to 16 questions (see below) before Parliament approves legislation that will allow work on HS2 to begin.

On the issue of capacity the Committee says that overcrowding on the West Coast Mainline is largely a problem confined to Friday evenings and weekends. Less expensive options to remedy these problems have, it claims, not been properly reviewed.

The Committee also disputes the claim that HS2 will help to rebalance the economy, saying that London would most likely be the biggest beneficiary of the project. There is a strong case, it adds, for building the northern legs of HS2 first or improving trans-Pennine links to help improve the northern economy before starting on the southern leg of HS2.

Cost per mile of building HS2 will be up to nine time higher than high speed line in France, the Committee says. If the project does go ahead costs could be reduced, it claims, by building the network to accommodate 200MPH trains as in Europe, rather than 250MPH trains. It also calls for the line to terminate at Old Oak Common, rather than Euston.

“At £50Bn HS2 will be one of the most expensive infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the UK but the Government has not yet made a convincing case for why it is necessary,” says the House of Lords’ Economic Affairs Select Committee chairman Lord Hollick. “The Committee is supportive of investment in rail infrastructure but is not convinced that HS2 as currently proposed is the best way to deliver that investment.

“We have set out a number of important questions on HS2 that the Government must now provide detailed answers to. Parliament should not approve the enabling legislation that will allow HS2 work to begin until we have satisfactory answers to these key questions.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said that the case for HS2 is “crystal clear” and the project will have a “transformational effect supporting growth in the north”.

“We have been fulIy transparent about the project,” the spokesman said. “HS2 will deliver over £2 of benefits for every £1 invested and the economic benefit of the project was recognised by MPs of all parties who voted 452 to 41 in favour of HS2 at the second reading of the Hybrid Bill.

“Demand for long distance rail travel has doubled in the past 15 years and without HS2 key rail routes connecting London, the Midlands and the north will soon be overwhelmed, stifling growth in towns and cities across the country. It is crucial we press ahead with delivering HS2 on time and budget and we remain on track to start construction in 2017.”
 

HS2 questions the next Government must answer:

 

National transport plan

  • In the absence of a co-ordinated transport plan, how can the Government be sure that HS2 is the best way to achieve the project’s objectives?

The cost of HS2

  • What measures will be taken to limit the cost of constructing HS2?
  • Is the funding envelope of £50Bn for the cost of construction an absolute limit or will this increase with inflation?
  • How much cheaper would a new railway built for a lower maximum speed (for example, 320 kilometres per hour as in France) be?
  • How will the Government ensure that HS2 stations are appropriately linked in to local transport networks? How will this be funded?

Who will pay for HS2

  • Should passengers benefiting from faster journeys on HS2 pay premium fares to reduce the high level of taxpayer subsidy of the project?
  • How does the high level of taxpayer subsidy of HS2 fit with the Government’s commitment to reduce the level of subsidy of the UK rail network?

Demand and capacity

  • Will the Government either release the full data on overcrowding, down to the level of individual services, or ensure the data is reviewed independently, to provide the public with evidence there will be a growing problem on long-distance services?

Lack of consideration of alternative rail investment

  • Could incremental improvements to the existing rail network deliver the required capacity improvements?
  • Could the use of flexible pricing policies, such as those used by low-cost airlines, assist with managing overcrowding on the busiest trains?
  • Is HS2 the best way to address the problems which currently exist?

Effect on the UK economy

  • Given that evidence from abroad suggests that large cities benefit the most from improving connectivity, how will HS2 rebalance Britain’s economy?
  • Is High Speed 2 the best way to spend £50Bn to stimulate the UK economy?
  • Would local and regional infrastructure investment, as recommended by the Eddington Study of 2006, offer a more realistic proposition of a return on investment than HS2?

Prioritisation

  • Should improving regional rail links in the north be prioritised ahead of building HS2 Phase One?

Lack of evidence

  • What effect will the findings of the research commissioned on values of time have on the cost-benefit analysis of HS2?

(Photo: HS2)

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