HS2 high-speed rail benefits dwindle as costs soar - MPs


Stop HS2 campaigner Joe Rukin: "There's no business case... and there's no money to pay for it"

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The estimated benefits of the planned HS2 high-speed rail link are dwindling as costs rise, a group of MPs has said.

The Public Accounts Committee said the Department for Transport was failing to present a "convincing strategic case".

The committee added that it was instead based on "fragile numbers, out-of-date data and assumptions which do not reflect real life".

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin insisted the case for HS2 was "absolutely clear".

Existing routes

The committee said there was no evidence the line would help the growth of regional cities and would instead draw even more business to London.

A target of getting the required legislation in place by 2015 was unrealistic, the MPs added.

The committee also wanted to know how quickly the department would fill gaps in commercial and major project expertise among its personnel.

They said out-of-date assumptions for the high-speed line included not taking into account that people could work on trains using laptops and other mobile devices.

Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge said: "The pattern so far has been for costs to spiral - from more than £16bn to £21bn plus for phase one - and the estimated benefits to dwindle."

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the committee needed to be convinced of the economic case and given a better understanding of how the costs would be kept under control and how the government was to make sure the project was delivered on time.

"Everyone wants better transport infrastructure and we all welcome investment in our railways," she said.

"But the question my committee wants to ask is - if you have £50bn to spend on the railways, should you be spending it here?"

She said the money would be better spent easing congestion on existing routes by introducing longer trains and building longer platforms.

Mr McLoughlin rejected the PAC's findings and said without HS2 key rail routes would be "overwhelmed" by rising passenger numbers.

Shadow transport secretary, Maria Eagle, said critics of HS2 plans did not have a viable "alternative"

"The project will free up vital space on our railways for passengers and freight, generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and deliver better connections between our towns and cities," he said.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the department was continuing to work on the figures, and billions of pounds were already being spent on improving existing routes.

"The truth is we can't not do anything," he said.

"If we are going to be able to compete globally, we need to be able to attract businesses to our cities. To attract businesses to our cities, there need to be good connections and that is vitally important for the future of this country long term."

He pointed to a 2011 report from the Transport Committee, which found there was a "good case" for the project "principally because of the substantial improvements in capacity and connectivity that it would provide".

'Plough ahead'

The government will publish its own report this week arguing that HS2 will generate billions of pounds for the economy.

BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott said the committee's conclusions were the latest in a long line of criticisms of the project.

Official estimates of the cost were increased by £10bn to £42.6bn earlier this year and there is opposition to HS2 in many communities along the proposed route.

The Treasury's top civil servant, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, has said there is "no blank cheque" for HS2 and the National Audit Office has warned the economic benefits of the project are unclear.

The high-speed line would run between London and Birmingham from 2026 before being extended to Manchester and Leeds from 2033.

Hilary Wharf, director of campaign group HS2 Action Alliance, said: "We have no doubt that the government will continue to plough ahead with HS2 despite PAC's devastating criticism - that there is no convincing strategic case and out-of-date information and wrong assumptions were used which do not reflect real life.

"How much longer do they think the tax payer will listen to their protestations that this £50bn white elephant is vital to the future of the UK's economy?"

Graphic showing the route for the new high-speed rail network

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  • rate this

    Comment number 997.

    981. mike in kent
    Ashford to kent on HS1: £5736, without HS1 £4780
    Yes it is 20% more but for that money you get in London in 35min (against 1:20/1:30 on a normal train).
    If it is too expensive for you, you can use the same slow train as before at the same price as before. You are not forced to buy the HS1 ticket. You have a choice!

  • rate this

    Comment number 996.

    £50bn (at least!) on a train line that joe public will inevitably be priced out of?

    Would be better spent on our ancient telecoms network providing decent broadband Internet connectivity to rural areas!

    Just don't give the contract to BT...oh wait...

  • rate this

    Comment number 995.

    987. MartinH

    I am against the HS2 too, but your insulting and stereotyping approach does not help the argument.

    Up until now the main comments here have been almost uniformly anti-HS2. Perhaps the other point of view gets an airing as travelling people arrive home, always assuming the BBC don't close the discussion by 6.00 as usual.

    Please.state the case against HS2 and people might listen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 994.

    If this was Dragon's Den, the project would be laughed off the show

    "It's £50 billion, we're looking to make some journeys between London, Birmingham, Manchester Airport and Sheffield Shopping centre quicker in 20 years time. We may need more than £50 billion if it hits problems"

    The unfortunate thing is the government are still "In", and have made an offer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 993.

    Rather odd the new trains for East Coast Line are 140 mph, so bye bye HS2

  • rate this

    Comment number 992.

    Hang on, who will be using this expensive service that will be the equivalent to what Concorde was? The politico's of course who want it so badly. The likes of you and I will still be using the under invested inter city service, because we have to pay our own expenses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 991.

    so why not the Severn Barrage? and get some energy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 990.

    With little or no improvements the rail ticket prices are up by huge margins. With this kind of investment and expected rise in prices there won't be passengers to use HS2.

  • rate this

    Comment number 989.

    "The problem with living near where you work"

    If you choose to commute, to live in a bigger house, you must accept that you are forcing house prices up beyond the affordability of locals, so forcing them to commute too, and so on and so on, which isn't sustainable in the longer term.

    Sustainability ultimately depends localised living and working arrangements.

  • rate this

    Comment number 988.

    The reason that people are annoyed by it is that the govt's cost has doubled. Which is a common thing with various projects - they cost more than originally quoted. Remember the Dome? It cost the govt almost £1.5bn and it was budgeted at half that.

    The govt need to sack their accountants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 987.

    Seems the pro lobby are out in force, now, spouting the propaganda. I bet they're all working either for the government or vested interests. Government stooges each and everyone of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 986.

    Can't we start making washing machines and cars and tellys instead?

  • rate this

    Comment number 985.

    ~238 ahhh but we're the SW we don't matter its only somewhere for the PM to come on his holidays. Plymouth a Northern City on the South Coast (but without the government hand outs)

  • rate this

    Comment number 984.

    all these billions just to save 20 minutes,or even an hour.this is an island,does speed matter that much.much better spent updating what we have for the railways,and trying to sort out the poverty we now have in this country.just maybe even cut our taxes.and who is going to afford to travel on it,time its built it will be far overpriced,as it dear enough now to travel by rail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 983.

    .Everyone living in Scotland, Wales and NI must be aware that HS2 stops at the Midlands and will only benefit those in England ( but ALL are expected to pay for this southern luxury with their Income Tax ).
    Hopefully Scotland will have already voted for Independence and will not need to pay for any of it. ...............England, you are welcome to pay for HS2..........Scotland wont.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 982.

    What's the REAL reason for this trainline? It's blatantly obvious the government can't come up with any convincing reasons to go ahead with this project yet they decide to do so anyway. Why?
    We all know the budget will be exceeded.
    We all know HS2 is unnecessary, unethical, unwanted and unjust, paid for by the entire country to service an elite few.

  • rate this

    Comment number 981.

    You just need to look at HS1 it has cut off a whole community from working in London. The cost of season ticket on HS1 is a staggering £6400.00 and will rise in January 2014. This cost has put the majority of East Kent not being able to afford to work in London as would be a third of the cost of average salary after tax. Be warned HS1 been a disaster for East Kent dont make the same error twice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 980.

    960. We certainly need more runways in the north-west and not to remove passengers from rail onto subsidised air services (they don't pay duty on their fuel because the Americans object!). We don't need to expand Heathrow but more direct international services from regional airports. Likewise with railways, we need more connectivity with one another, not with London:Merge TPE with CrossCountry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 979.

    agreed #957 It takes 2h from Plymouth to Penzance that's 80miles. 1h Plymouth to Exeter 60miles. No plans to electrify the line and no plans to replace the 40 year old HST's SPEND THE £50BN on the WHOLE country not just on one line that will just suck money out of the Midlands and in to London. NO motorway to Plymouth and now no airport

  • rate this

    Comment number 978.

    966. Aligee
    50billions is more like £833/head... HYS should ask people for their GCSE grads before they start spreading rubbish all over a thread...
    Anyway, spread over 2 decades (phase 2 completed in 2032/33) that is around£40/head/year. and that does not take into account population increase...
    40 quids/year, what is the fuss about ?


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