DfT’s HS2 plans have not learnt from HS1 mistakes, say MPs
The Government must revisit the business case for HS2 and ensure it learns lessons from the first high speed rail link fromLondonto the Channel Tunnel, a House of Commons report urges.
The Public Accounts Committee warns that overoptimistic travel assumptions, underestimates of the economic value of time spent on a train and insufficient evaluation frameworks for the project could lead to taxpayer debt.
Additionally, the benefits and costs of alternatives to HS2 have not been considered by the DfT, the committee said, including more local train routes and broadband videoconferencing.
The business case for HS2 has been repeatedly criticised by opponents, who suggest alternative infrastructure investment – especially a further WCML upgrade – could provide greater value for money while still increasing capacity. Total taxpayer support for HS2 is expected to cost £10.2bn, the MPs assert.
“Over-optimistic and unrealised forecasts for passenger demand on HS1 left the taxpayer saddled with £4.8 billion of debt,” the report reads, warning that the department “does not have sufficient understanding of the economic impact and regeneration benefits of transport infrastructure, compared with alternatives, so is not able to make fully informed investment decisions”.
Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee will state today that the mistakes of HS1 must not be repeated, calling it “nonsense” that the department has not adequately considered the wider economic impact and regeneration benefits of transport infrastructure such as HS1 to inform future investment decisions.
“This isn’t the first time that over-optimistic planning and insufficiently robust testing of planning assumptions has got the department into trouble,” she said. “The department must revisit its assumptions on HS2 and develop a full understanding of the benefits and costs of high-speed travel compared to the alternatives.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Our passenger forecast modelling has improved significantly since the original work for HS1 over 20 years ago, with better understanding of what drives passenger demand, better computer modelling and more computer power to do it.
“Network Rail predicts the West Coast Main Line will be full by the mid-2020s and HS2 presents the most effective solution to this looming capacity crunch facing our rail network. This is in addition to the jobs, regional regeneration and improved connectivity the project will deliver.”
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