HS2: Predicted benefits lowered in new government report


Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin: "I hope very much it comes below budget"

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The government's latest business case for the HS2 high-speed rail link has slightly lowered the amount of benefit it predicts relative to the cost.

The expected benefit-cost ratio (BRC) has fallen from £2.50 to £2.30 in benefits for every pound spent.

That fall is mainly due to a £10bn rise in the scheme's projected £42.6bn cost, which was added earlier this year.

The report is the latest update on questions such as who benefits and by how much.

It also has revised an earlier assumption that business people do not get much work done on trains, a view that was widely criticised at the time.

The new study has cut by one-third the value put on saving an hour's worth of time getting between meetings or workplaces on a quicker train, to reflect that productive work is also done while travelling.



When I spoke to the people who wrote this latest business case, they said things like, "We've listened" and "We haven't over-egged it".

For example, in the last four business cases, the government's been ridiculed for assuming people don't get much work done on trains. Plainly unrealistic in the world of mobile phones and laptops.

So to tackle that, they've now cut by a third the value of business time lost on a train (from £47.18 an hour to £31.96 an hour, if you're interested).

They were also heavily criticised for using a 12-year-old survey for some of their data. They've updated that.

But the reality is, the last four cases have failed to convince enough influential people, people like shadow chancellor Ed Balls for example, that HS2 is worth the money.

And no Ed Balls, no HS2.

BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott says the new report is an attempt to shift the focus away from a controversial assumption of people not working on trains, and towards the benefits of providing lots of extra capacity on the rail network.

One part of the report, which came out a day earlier, argued that the alternative to HS2 would mean 14 years of route closures and longer journeys.

A study, prepared by Network Rail and the management consultancy Atkins for the government, said that without the project, there would have to be 2,770 weekend closures on the East Coast, West Coast and Midland main lines for the same intended capacity of HS2.

This could lead to travel times between London and Leeds doubling.

'Play politics'

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said without the new line, the West Coast, East Coast and Midland Main Lines were likely to be overwhelmed.

He said it would also bring benefits for regional and commuter services, as well as increasing the amount of freight that could be carried by rail.

But he warned it needed broad political consensus or it would end in nothing: "You can't play politics with our prosperity. The new North-South line is a multi-billion, multi-year investment in the future of Britain."

Shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said: "We must address the capacity problems that mean thousands of commuters face cramped, miserable journeys into cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London. But there can be no blank cheque and ministers must get a grip on costs."

Map showing the route of phases 1 & 2 of the proposed HS2 rail service

Penny Gaines from the Stop HS2 organisation said: "The big flaw in the government's argument is that phase one of HS2 won't open to the travelling public until about 2027, meaning there would be no change for passengers until the middle of the next decade.

"But building HS2 would cause years of disruption at [London] Euston, and other places on the rail network as well as chaos along the route of HS2, with roads being diverted during the build and in some places permanently shut."

Graphic showing how HS2 will reduce journey times: London-Birmingham 32 minute saving; London-Nottingham 35 minute saving; London-Sheffield 46 minute saving; London-Leeds 49 minute saving; London-Manchester 60 minute saving.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1563.

    Torys tell us things are getting better.Most people cant afford basic things.Wages are down and now they want to spend billions on a white elefant. Big contracts mean big commission for someone.
    Train fares are now so expensive it is cheaper to rive if more than one in a car.This hs2 would lead to even higher fares."tell sid" sumsthe tories up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1562.

    HS2 will create more jobs in London with people commuting from the midlands/north. Isn't it better to have jobs close to where people live now rather than being stuck on a commute to London everyday ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1561.

    HS2 should have been completed 30 years ago. It is typical of UK dither and procrastinate until the subject of whatever topic is out of date.

    Use our brains?
    Airports are already available but are noisy.
    Use electricity to catapult launch (assist) aircraft more quietly.
    Travel on a first come first served basis - go when full(ish) internal flight.

    £40 billion saved to pay for Atomic Electricity

  • Comment number 1560.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1559.

    Create a railway which takes the trucks off the road. Goods travel faster and safer by train and with a mass movement to this you will have a much cheaper service too.

    People don't need to travel for a meeting. I went to Leeds to meet with the NHS so often needlessly. Get online and tax those who go up or down the country needlessly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1558.

    "1510. GravityBeckons

    The top rated comments say it all really.

    I do hope someone is listening..."

    You've mad the age old mistake of thinking the UK is a democracy, someone will be listening alright, but only so they can dream up ways of dismissing our opinions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1557.

    just curious , if the conservitive said we are doing a u turn on hs2 , how meny . would vote for them now . and not see them as triying to bribe the public to get them back in power .

  • rate this

    Comment number 1556.

    HS2 Should go ahead but the work should start in Leeds. I don't think it will get past Birmingham if the work starts in London the money will run out

  • rate this

    Comment number 1555.

    HS2 will do little more than reinforce London as the business centre of the U.K.. Better to spend GBP42bn., if we have that sum, on the development of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow, to create wealth generation opportunities out of London. Let the Capital's business move out to the provinces; just consider the social financial advantages to all concerned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1554.

    Remember when public opinion stopped UK involvement in Syria - and probably helped to avert WWIII?

    Many of us e-mailed our MPs - so let's do the same again and stop this folly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1553.

    New tactics, from the government, to take your eye off the ball.
    The Pros story seems to change on a daily basis now; I expect that Mr C has a think tank of consultants (well paid no doubt) working specifically on the matter.
    Anyone heard of longer trains and platform extensions?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1552.

    The rail network is already at full capacity and building HS2 won't make any difference to the overcrowding or take traffic off the roads. The overwhelming majority of journeys now, passenger and freight, are made by road. Even to take 5% of the traffic off the roads we would almost have to build a new network. Investment in rail is money down the drain, it's roads that matter like it or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1551.

    I live in Newcastle and it currently takes me around 3 hours to get from Newcastle to London on the east coast mainline - with HS2 it'll take me 1 hour 23 minutes to get from London - Leeds then another one and a half hours to Newcastle..... Major winner = London, minor winners = Mchester, Bham & Leeds, Major losers = everywhere else. Certainly not worth my share of £43bn...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1550.

    Why not to ask people what do they want. But we all want more money go to education, improving NHS, to help older people and so on. If it is so important project for business - let's business pay full price for it. Country can not afford it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1549.

    Funny watching all the Tory bashers ignoring the fact this was a Labour idea. That's the problem with this country, rather than get on with building infrastructure - which is always expensive and long term, we play petty party politics and NIMBYism.... and then moan about what other countries have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1548.

    Investment in national infrastructure is the message I am getting from the majority of contributors. Our rail does need more improving but not on a project like HS2. We do need to invest in protecting our power generation capacity soon or all the lights will most definitely go out. About time the politicians realised this and stopped treating the electorate as ignorant 'plebs'!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1547.

    Britains railways have their greatest problems because they were built without foresight of development around them & without inclusion of seperate freight rail. HS2 is also a line without a seperate freight rail

    A singular line with no secondary purpose is stupid & which a secondary purpose line could cheaply be included/added & contribute towards total cost & remove freight from roads

  • rate this

    Comment number 1546.

    Exaggeration is the main argument of opponents. The facts are that HS2 will halve journey times. Increase London commuter capacity and speed on existing lines. Open up more routes for freight by using European freight gauge. The budget is £28bn plus £14bn contingency.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1545.

    I take the benefits estimate with a huge pinch of salt. Benefits are always over-egged when ministers are to be placated. Crossrail does the same - it will, they say, cut journeys, bridge the unbridgeable and no doubt make the sun shine more. Journey time from Maidenhead to Canary Wharf by Crossrail will be 54 minutes, whereas today it is...er..56 minutes. Worth every penny of £14.8bn, clearly...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1544.

    Why is it that for such a small country with so much money and so many people that our government has to focus spending so much money on "small" projects which revolve around London while the rest of the country falls into ruin?

    The government and this country are fast becoming not-fit-for-purpose!


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