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The committee added that it was instead based on "fragile numbers, out-of-date data and assumptions which do not reflect real life".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They said out-of-date assumptions for the high-speed line included not taking into account that people could work on trains using laptops and other mobile devices.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 597.

    The HS2 has major faults

    -To expensive
    -20 + years to complete
    -Very little benefit to the country
    -When completed the technology will be out of date.

    The money could be put to better use, on projects that would see a greater benefit to GB such as

    -Upgrading the UK's broadband
    -House building program
    -Training program to re-skill the unemployed, so they can get jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    We are still going to need HS2 - it's a shame we didn't press ahead with a project like this in the 60s instead of the short sighted savage cuts to the railway network.

    It's not just the current railway line that's nearly full to capacity, so are the roads and airports.

  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    If as the report suggests that we should be looking to the future it would seem counter-productive to build a system that will be old and out of date by the time the last nail is hammered in.

    Further, That the HS2 will not join up with the existing high speed railway that crosses the channel shows me how little planning for the future actually has taken place.

    Scrap the Idea think of another one

  • rate this

    Comment number 594.

    Its quite right, all that any improvements in journey times or comfort to and from London have ever done is extent the London commuter-belt. This is all that this will do. Rather than keep expanding the circumference that people can travel into London from, this money would be much better spent on attracting more business to Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds, in order to relieve pressure on London

  • rate this

    Comment number 593.

    A faster train really only benefits us if the distances are vast, like in Australia.

    However, due to the shorter distances in the UK, the time savings do not seem worth the cost.

    Who needs to save a few minutes on the train?

    Put the money into the NHS.

    Who needs a doctor and a nurse in W&E, when they suffer an accident?


  • rate this

    Comment number 592.

    A few people liked my monorail idea (see #66) - A high speed line ABOVE the existing rail lines/ or roads for that matter.

    The key here is extra capacity that takes up NO extra land.

    What's not to like?

    The Chinese have a working reliable system with an average speed of 267 mph out of Shanghai. Are we so backward we can't see the future - particularly when the maglev system was invented HERE!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 591.

    For public services, poor, disabled - sorry no money

    For a white elephant project - look here's 50 billion!

    It's crazy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 590.

    I'm more concerned about getting around in my local area than business people getting to London better.

    Like being able to drive around without getting my suspension smashed by our lousy roads.

    We can't even maintain our existing infrastructure properly without embarking on this misadventure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 589.


    "If Scotland votes No in 2014 when will the HS tarin reach Edinburgh or Aberdeen?"

    It was never intended to do so. It's an England only thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 588.

    If, as has recently been reported, it is not about speed can we please by told why so much of the countryside is going to be destroyed at great expense?

    By taking speed out of the equation can the existing infrastructure not, if necessary with upgrades up to the cost of HS2, deliver the same benefits?

    With regard to the "time is money" argument, just add good, free wifi throughout each train.

  • rate this

    Comment number 587.

    UK govt expenditure is £600 billion a year. Spread over 15 years HS2 is around £3.3b a year - a comparatively small figure and a quarter of our annual spend on international development. Extending trains and platforms adds insufficient capacity, slows the network down and further delays UK from having world class infrastructure. HS2 is a genuine solution to increase capacity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 586.

    HS2 will be a waste of my money, therefore I'm out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 585.

    Hodge seems to have become the Official Opposition. She opposes everything this government does and offers no support to any activity proposed in its manifesto. I didn't elect her to do this. Her work is entirely negative. The committee ought to reflect he composition of the Commons and have a Tory or Lib Dem chairman. Then it will no longer do Labour's work for it, work Egg Millipede flips flops!

  • rate this

    Comment number 584.

    If you carefully check the proposed route you will find that HS2 is linked to HS1 just to the north of St Pancras via the North London Line. There will be a major rail interchange at Old Oak Common to the west of Paddington where HS2 trains will connect with Heathrow Express trains for Heathrow and services in to London. They can then travel via the link line to all EU destinations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 583.

    HS2 has more benefits than saving 20 minutes on one train journey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 582.

    Yesterday, Sunday, I travelled on two trains in the West Country. One had 3 coaches; the other had 2. Both trains had been delayed by several minutes. Both were packed. Many - including a pregnant woman had to stand. Several cyclists could not board because of the crush. Would somebody please explain how spending £billions on HS2 would improve matters for those who don't travel intercity?

  • rate this

    Comment number 581.

    Typical UK. People moan we have poor roads and trafffic, complain about standing on trains, complain about everything. Then, when there is a plan to do anything about any of it, people moan about that too, and nothing every gets done. HS2 is about capacity, it should have been called West Coast Mainline 2. I'd rather pay for this than half the rubbish the government wates money on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 580.

    Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin did manage to get one useful comment in when interviwed this morning. When challenged on future ticket prices, he said "more capacity generally means lower prices" - ie lower than they would otherwise be. That's the point. If you claim the new line will be for toffs only, then if you don't build it, rail travel certainly will be be toffs only.

  • rate this

    Comment number 579.

    Q. If we exclude commentators from the South East, at or close to retirement age and potential affected home owners in lovely little cottages this thread would give positive support to the building of HS2 ?

    Please vote negatively to this comment as well as 503 and 548 to aid my research. Thank you

  • rate this

    Comment number 578.

    It's a lot of money to benefit relatively few people. It would be better spent re opening some of the lines closed by Beeching which are more viable given recent population increases


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