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HS2 a wasteful ‘railway for the rich’ - report

HS2 will be a waste of billions of pounds to benefit only the “well-off few”, according to pressure group the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Although the group is well known for favouring road over rail, the critical report was written by Chris Stokes, who has worked extensively in the rail industry in franchising, electrification and regulation.

His report covers a number of areas, including the initial £17bn cost and uncertain economic case for the route, the lack of real environmental benefits and the relatively small amount of time shaved off journeys between London and Birmingham for the cost.

He also says it is not a public priority, with nearly 12 times as many people wanting expenditure on fixing pot-holes as delivering high-speed rail (70% of the population compared to just 8%).

The report is particularly dismissive of the longer-term expansion plans, including those to link HS2 with HS1, saying: “The Government is proposing to build a long, expensive tunnel in West London for two trains a day each way.”

Stokes writes: “The value of the net revenues once it has been built – fares (£15 billion) less operating costs (£7.6 billion) estimated over a 60 year project life – only cover 42% of the capital costs. And that assumes the revenue forecasts are realistic, but there is compelling evidence that they are overstated.”

He argues that some of the predicted economic benefits arise from freeing up capacity on the existing network, but he says any extra services generating economic benefits will require “further subsidy” which needs to be taken into account. Stokes added HS2 is a “trap for the taxpayer”.

He urged the DfT to learn from the mistakes of the past, after its overestimates of passenger numbers likely to use the Channel Tunnel rail link.

He argues that journey times are already too fast for high-speed to make an appreciable difference, saying: “Madrid to Barcelona took seven hours by rail before the high speed line was built, so almost everyone flew; now it takes less than three hours, and most people go by train. Distances in Britain are simply not long enough for high speed rail to deliver an equivalent step change, except for journeys between Southern England and Scotland, which make up a relatively small proportion of total long distance travel.”

Matthew Sinclair, director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Politicians should focus on making commuter journeys more convenient and affordable, not a flashy new train set that will be a huge white elephant.”

A spokesperson for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: “High speed rail forms an important part of ensuring that the UK can meet the transport challenges the country will face in the future.

“Demand for rail travel is expected to double in the coming decades and intercity routes are beginning to fill up as more and more people choose to travel by train. A new high speed line, alongside sustained investment in the existing network, is key if we are to meet the significant growth in passenger numbers that is expected in the years ahead.”

The DfT says high-speed rail is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape Britain's economic geography” and disputed Stokes’ claim that HS2 will be a ‘railway for the rich’, saying fares will follow the same structure as the existing network.

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Nonsuchmike   24/08/2013 at 12:05

Matthew Sinclair is right. We do need a whole gamut of existing/former existing line improvements/reintroductions before we spend squillions on HS2. Duelling and parallel track re-laying should be high priority, as should bidirectional chords and widening viaducts (Hurrah for London Bridge; yah boo for Digswell), lengthening platforms/trains etc. But we will need a HS train by the 2030s, so get real you horsey people in the Chilterns, Cotswolds, etc, and learn to live with this fact.

Jb   06/12/2013 at 14:06

We don't need HS2! Re-instatement of the ex MR and GC routes (closed to transfer traffic and exploit the electrified WCML) north would cost a fraction of the predicted cost of HS2 and would facilitate a network capacity increase which I believe to be more important than high speed.

Pedr Jarvis   23/11/2014 at 05:08

The obvious purposes of HS2 are being ignored by some folk. The main line out of London to the north-west was completed in 1838 and,despite tilting trains and increasing train lengths, is not adequate to carry the traffic offering. There are often ten trains in ten minutes at Bletchley; there is not time for trains to stop at Milton Keynes (now the biggest place in the South-East outside London!). Milton Keynes Council is in favour of HS2 for this reason, even though voices are raised saying it has nothing to do with MK as HS2 doesn't go near the place - the ignorance of some of these objectors is odd. It is tricky fitting in the container trains.The reinstatement of through trains to places such as Blackpool or Aberystwyth might be possible if HS2 were built. Another factor is Continental goods traffic. If Berne gauge stock could reach Birmingham, Manchester and the like, it should help our export trade to Europe. Cutting ourselves off from Europe would be cutting off our nose to spite our face. 7C8HQ .

Simhedges   02/10/2015 at 19:50

HS2 is primarily about capacity, not speed. However, to complain about " =the relatively small amount of time shaved off journeys between London and Birmingham for the cost." is to ignore that average journey times from London to Birmingham before HS2 (84 minutes) are 70% longer than they will be after it (49 minutes).

Jb   03/10/2015 at 12:45

Well, saving 34 minutes to get to Birmingham to my mind in no way justifies this enormous expense and disruption to thousands of lives and the countryside. Any time saved is relevant to whereabouts in Birmingham one is going - its a big place. We should seek to re-establish the lost main line routes north to increase capacity and several minor lines where great benefits would result to local populations. Access to the railway system should be for as many as possible not just a few at the extremities.

Anon   23/09/2016 at 11:13

Jb sums up my views perfectly. HS2 is an expensive inner city property rejuvenation project. Only 1 political party calls for this to be scrapped? answer: ukip. The current lot are handing out silly contracts in a hurry, they know that the people will vote ukip shortly.

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