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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.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]

Image c. Alvey and Towers 


Lynton Buxton   06/07/2012 at 14:11

How much quicker do you want to get from the North West to London than is currently enjoyed by those travelling down the WCML. Warrington BQ to London Eus in 2hrs? Still quicker by train than both car or plane (with check-in, etc). Surely improvement of the current facilities would be far better value for money!

Pedr   06/07/2012 at 14:54

I am sorry that you do not understand this is not so much a matter of speed as of capacity. The WCML is at capacity; it is not possible to increase the traffic between Bletchley and Rugby through Northampton with its wiggles nor through Kilsby Tunnel (completed 1838). You need two more lines, and preferably straighter. If you are building two more lines, it is only sensible to build them to Continental loading gauge so that we do not all have to walk from Euston to St Pancras and strain our backs lifting our luggage a metre onto those stupid Xray machines. We shall need through trains from Birmingham to Berlin, Manchester to Milan, Wolverhampton to Warsaw or wherever, and unless we have lines to Bern Gauge we cannot do it. So we need HS2....

Geoffrey Lee   06/07/2012 at 15:24

Who would want to travel by train from Birmingham to Berlin? If you extrapolate the current fare to Euston (x 8 ?) you could take half the street to Berlin by plane for less than a second class single.

Thom   06/07/2012 at 16:27

I think the MPs are asking the impossible: HS2 is too big, too complex and will have too many knock-on effects to be able to predict the exact figures to the extent they seem to want to. It's like being asked to be lied too: of course the figures are going to be based in estimates and assumptions. But once you start including all the effects of the capacity freeing-up, and look over the lifetime of the project, and the additional benefits that aren't easy to express in monetary terms...well, it's just guesswork, isn't it. It's an expensive project, but it will create jobs, increase rail capacity, a lot of the cost will be borne by the private sector, and the opponents who think the Government (if it cancels HS2) would plough the tens of billions of pounds they were going to spend on it on the classic network instead must be mad.

Johnm   07/07/2012 at 18:45

I cannot believe that we can contemplate spending such a vast sum of money for the benifit of such a small number of people and for what gain - saving a few minutes on a daily journey. If we need extra capavity why not have longer or a few more through trains. We have much more serious problems on the roads effectiing many thousand of people every single day. We have so many serious problems in the country on which politcians should concentrate their time

Thom   09/07/2012 at 12:57

John - making room for longer trains and more through services is exactly what increasing capacity involves. On the West Coast Main Line, for example, soon there just won't be any way to add in those extra services (longer trains are already happening, 11-car Pendolinos instead of 9-car for example). Increasing capacity to cope with demand is always going to be incredibly expensive. It's not just HS2's users who will benefit though - it's everyone who uses rail services in the areas it covers, as they will be the ones with more through services to choose from, less overcrowded trains, and so on, as the 'fast' services transfer to HS2 instead.

Kevins   11/07/2012 at 15:36

If you want facts and not bias, for example the incorrect statements about capacity, just google HS2 Action Alliance or Better than HS2 or 51m and you will see all the reasons why HS2 should be cancelled immediately, especially given the Amber-Red warning given by the Public Accounts Committee. Why would you spend £33,000,000,000 when £2,000,000,000 will bring more immediate benefits sooner and also meet capacity needs for at least the next 30-40 years?

Nick   14/07/2012 at 22:08

are you seriously suggesting that those organisations that you mentioned arent biased ! they are all organisations which only exist to stop hs2 at all and any cost as they dont want it near them ! and what you say isnt accurate about the smaller amount being enough to reduce congestion. and by the way it is much quicker to write billion then keep typing all the zeros. we know how much a billion is.

Chris M   15/07/2012 at 11:24

Kevins - are you aware that our main railway routes to the North date back to the early part of Queen Victoria's reign? It is ridiculous that such ancient infrastructure is going to have to cope with rapidly increasing passenger and freight flows for the next 14 years. The West Coast line has been expanded to the point that extra investment in it would be pointless - and cramming more trains on would mean slower speeds and less reliability. New routes are the only answer - they allow trains to be wider and longer, much faster and much, much more reliable. £32 billion spread over 16 years is easily affordable, we owe it to future generations to provide 21st century rail infrastructure that can support economic growth. By the time HS2 has been in use 50 years it will have paid for itself many times over.

James   19/07/2012 at 16:48

The arguments about capacity are the only good ones I've heard. All the other pro-HS2 arguments the government keeps spouting – such as all the money we're going to make through arriving at our destination 20 mins earlier equals a £zillion boost to the economy through productivity gains, etc. – make me more inclined to stop believing a word they say. If we could have a genuinely revolutionary new service I think I’d be for it, but bringing our train network up to the standards other countries achieved decades ago seems a bit of a wasted opportunity. If we’re going to go for it, let’s really go for it. 600+mph vacuum maglev trains, please!

Simon Hope   27/07/2012 at 11:04

Geoffrey - You may be unaware that HS2 fares are planned to be similar to current levels , taking into account typical annual rises , and the same is likely on the Continent - although fares have traditionally been lower there than in Britain. Last year I travelled from London to the Spanish - border ( north of Barcelona ) , about 900 miles : Eurostar to Paris, then Overnight in a couchette sleeping-berth All for £115 return.(booked through a Travel-Agent a month ahead) Berlin is about 800 miles from London. Is there any evidence that broadly similar fares will NOT be available in 2026, rather than the absurd prices you suggest , resulting in NOBODY ever again choosing RAIL as their preferred means of Long-distance means of Transport.

Keith   31/07/2012 at 12:10

If the 'for' and 'against' lobby take as long to talk about HS2 as was the case with the Channel Tunnel and HS1, it'll be quicker to walk and many of them will be long gone before it gets built. Short memoires.

Mark Antonio   10/08/2012 at 22:31

Is this part of the wider debate on Britain"s relation with the rest of Europe anything to do with Europe the British hate that goes to high speed rail it's a European thing. British exceptionality is always isolation from The rest of Europe you English do not want anything that makes it easier to take trips to mainland Europe but force to go through strict procedure for going anywhere in Europe?

Chriseaglen   20/08/2012 at 18:05

Reading the details of what HS2 will not do suggests it is on the wrong side of London and should have been to the East with Crossrail and other lines serving Heathrow. HS2 can be changed to be a longer distance multiple mode rail service with the objective also of road to rail shift. The suburban commuter requirements should be addressed separately from HS2 and not as a secondary outcome.

Johnk   22/08/2012 at 11:48

First Group having just got the franchise for the WCML are proposing to carry out improvements by increasing train lengths and reducing the number of First class carriages all this is part of suggested Rail Package 2 which together with removal of bottlenecks at a tenth of the cost of HS2 removes the need for HS2. Where are HS2 Ltd going to find the 14,000 passengers an hour in each direction between London and Birmingham. Professor David Begg Director of the Campaign for High Speed Rail is also a non executive director of First group so he has a financial interest in the success of First Group also in the success of HS2 although I believe the WCML proposals further undermine the case for HS2.

Nonsuchmike   15/10/2012 at 20:10

The debate is not so much about speed but about capacity, reliability, regularity and comfort. We desperately need extra capacity so that my other three factors can be improved. If somebody suggested building the extra twin tracks alongside the existing NW route and clearing all problems out in order to widen the trackbed, then I would be all for that, but it cannot be done without destroying vast miles of industry, housing and building new bridges/tunnels. In addition, the track would not be HS enough as the course is more convoluted than an MP's reply to a simple question about his/her expenses. My only gripe with HS2 is that it only portrays a double track, whereas for the next century we need a quadruple track, with double track (not single) connections to HS1 near St Pancras. yes, I agree we could certainly aim to put more of the course underground near major ciy dormitory towns like Ealing/Ruislip, but there is so much green provision with tunnels and green tunnels already I was ready to criticise this part, but was suitably impressed with their credentials. Meanwhile, why can't they widen the Welwyn Viaduct to four track and bore two more tunnels to improve the East Coast route? Far cheaper and less contraversial.

Amtfor   22/10/2012 at 19:26

Why not simply reopen the Great Central entirely, instead of using just a bit of it for HS2? Magnificently engineered north- south line, connection with the WCML at Rugby. Loading gauge up to continental standards: closure has got to have been Dr B's worst decision.

DW Down Under   25/03/2013 at 07:30

I agree with Amtfor that rehabilitation of the GCR, and use of the former MR easement north of Rugby would provide a lower cost, more quickly realisable relief route for through non-stop trains from the North. These would end up at Paddington or Waterloo (via WLL, paths permitting). Timing would be such that the neo-GCR would start running into Paddington as soon as Crossrail opens to through traffic from the west, rleeasing platforms. This would provide perhaps 40% of the capacity resolution needed by then. Traffic from Birmingham would be handled by increased use (and electrification of) the Chiltern Route and by means of an elecrified link from Coventry into the line to Oxford (per the N-S freight spine). These steps would take considerable pressure off the WCML, but would not ultimately overcome the need to build a dedicated route. What these steps could do is facilitate a more finely graticuled staged approach. It means some of the benefit sooner, without prejudice to the full benefit later. And yes, I agree that the time savings for Brum are fairly marginal - only really becomes a positive once you've got a 400km/h line half-way to Glasgow. I don't think we can overly criticise Beeching on the GCR route. It's only in the noughties that it became clear that the route is needed again. WCML upgrades (unfinished) are NEVER going to get ahead of the need now. But this was 50 years on - a long time to maintain an asset "just in case." See discussion at London Reconnections Then there are other issues to discuss, like the platform standard, TSIs and such like. A good lively discussion could arise!! I can't help but feel the scale of the proposed redevelopment at Euston is grossly overstated. The platform requirements used in modelling ludicrous (1 platform per 2 tph - with platform dwell times of 25 minutes - who are they kidding?). There is a Crossrail 3 concept floating about - I've developed it a bit at District Dave's, Then there is the concept of diverting the Central Milton Keynes local service to Watford Junction via Old Oak Common into Crosssrail, as one of its eastern arms - the other being Reading via Heathrow 1/3, Heathrow 5 and the western connection back onto the GW main line. Each of these elements serves to reduce the need for "Classic" platforms at Euston, in turn reducing the overall scale of redevelopment. Property developers should thusly stop licking their lips so profusely!!! My 3p DW down under

Jfgb   05/04/2013 at 14:27

So HS2 is really about capacity? In that case re-introduction of Manchester-St Pancras services would help no end, either by replacing the missing link between Peak Forest and Matlock or immediately by re-introducing HST services via the Dore chord so much enjoyed in pre-Pendolino days. A few years ago Mancunians had the choice of three major routes to London (inc the GC). Is it any wonder the the single route remaining is reaching capacity?

Martin Young   16/06/2013 at 15:34

What a surprise! Is it not time that professional Railway Engineers are allowed to be involved in the design of new rail projects, instead of having ‘bean counters’ and politicians dabbling in affairs they have no detail understanding! I ask if you can search on the articles that have been published: The first was published in The Engineer (1976) warning of the decline in status of Engineers The second entitled: ‘Britain needs High Speed lines – not Victorian era railways was published in The Guardian (2010) and on line by Mark Bostock The third, written by me entitled: ‘Tunnel The Chilterns’ has been published in The Chiltern Society magazine. From the responses to my article, it is apparent that the HS2 promoters have placed their own agents in positions to manage local action groups, instead of allowing ‘independent Engineers’ to assist. In addition, the interpretation of the EU TSI Regulations concerning the permitted length of ‘twin-bore’ running tunnels has or is being deliberately misinterpreted to keep construction costs down instead of correctly addressing the environmental issues. I ask you all to look closely at the design of the new Gottard Base Tunnel! This land locked tunnel system is 57km in length, and incorporates two Service/Evacuation Caverns that have direct access road tunnels to the adjacent road network. Lessons learnt not only from HS1, but lessons learnt from sound engineering practices throughout Europe and the rest of the world should be incorporated into the new designs in the UK by experienced and ingenious rail engineers, not restricted by the dogma of ingenuous ‘bean counters’ and politicians! High Speed 2 has to happen, it is a vital asset for the future of our children, therefore overbearing fiscal dominance must not stand in the way! Martin Young MSc (Eng) IEng CMILT MIET

John   16/08/2013 at 16:53

I hope that HS2 will not become the UK rail industry's Concorde-style fiasco. While the UK built Concorde, a vanity project, the US built the Jumbo Jets with their economic justification and future. As published the economic case for HS2 seems very weak. What other rail or major transport projects could we build for these £tens of billions?

Richard Williams   23/08/2013 at 13:37

I always say it is a good job the Victorians build the tube in London for us because there is no way it would be built today with the short sightedness of most politicians. HS2 is not simply about 'today' - wake up UK!

Transtraxman   13/11/2013 at 21:51

Not all passengers travel just to London. there are many other travel patterns. HS2, as it is presently proposed, solves very little, if anything. On the WCML the travel time to Wigan (about halfway to Glasgow) is 1hr.55mins.(with one stop). From Wigan to Glasgow(with 4 stops) the fastest time is 2hrs.33mins. Obviously, the line speeds from Oxenholme to Glasgow leave a lot to be desired. If major rebuilding were undertaken on this northern section then the total running time from Euston to Glasgow could be brought down to under 4 hrs. If other upgrades were affected on the whole WCML then at higher running speeds (140mph with the present rolling stock) then the Euston - Glasgow route could be run at 3hrs. 30 mins. (a serious challenge to flying). Faster rolling stock could bring faster speeds. The same happens on the ECML with a substantially new line from Tursdale (Co. Durham) to Edinburgh being built. This solution might well be easier (and cheaper) in the long run. However, neither solution has been mentioned anywhere in any document that I have seen or know of. The capacity problem is principally between Rugby and Euston. This part of the WCML was not upgraded in this century´s first decade - it needs to be. The real solution is not the HS2 project (as it presently is) but major upgrades, not modernisations,but upgrades, of the four north-south routes. That means WCML, ECML, MML and the Chiltern line - this last was conveniently forgotten in the latest document from Atkins for the DfT ("HS2 Strategic Alternatives") 28 October 2013. Such is the London centred approach to planning that nobody mentions, even in passing, possibilities to whole problems. What a shame and the lost opportunities.

Jb   06/04/2014 at 23:27

That HS2 is a 'vanity project' just about sums it up! Surely, conventional development of the present five (inc. the GC) routes north from London would provide ample extra capacity to the Midlands, Manchester and the Yorkshire conurbations at a fraction of the cost and disturbance while maintaining maximum interchange possibilities with the classic system for both goods and passenger trains. Much traffic between Rugby and Euston could be transferred back to its original routes thus relieving this stretch. Personally, I don't want the trains to go any faster as one would not enjoy the experience of passing the countryside at close quarters. In an aeroplane one can enjoy views of the ground at a distance which enables it to pass more slowly.

MJL   30/05/2014 at 19:52

Extra train paths are needed be they at HS1 speeds or not. Personally, given the distances involved, I feel that 250kph would be quite fast enough. Any higher and we encourage commuters to live even further away from London. These would be people who are needed in the regions using their skills to build their local economies. Euston is too congested, Marylebone is too small. Paddington is too far out and yet nearly half of geographical Britain is directed at them. Bring express trains from the Western half of Britain into new underground mainline stations, Heathrow, Paddington, St Pancras, Liverpool Street and maybe others. Leave the capacity created at the old stations for commuter growth. From Bristol and Avon, South Wales, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire etc change at Didcot for Reading, Oxford and South East Coast trains. Miss the Reading stop for the above Inter-city trains. Add express trains from Didcot or Oxford calling at a Pangbourne Parkway Station (for a M4 connection into Reading etc) Reading and Heathrow (for flights or Crossrail). Divert some Intercity trains from the North West of Britain via Old Oak or Didcot into the new underground Stations. Use the tunnelling machines to good effect whilst we still have them and the skilled teams to use them. When they have finished HS2 they could extend through the Thames Valley clay deposits out to Didcot or even further. Or perhaps they could build a lower speed HS2 via Didcot from the North West.

Roland Gilmore   12/03/2015 at 01:32

Thom says "a lot of the cost will be borne by the private sector". This is, of course, a nonsense. The cost will be borne by passengers, tax payers and the environment. Private finance comes at a heavy cost. Whereas the UK government could borrow money at 1% or less, private finance costs considerably more and is like a mortgage with the actual cost (excluding inflation) three or four times more than a misleading, headline capital cost.

Georgew   18/03/2015 at 18:56

Jb, many of today's essential infrastructure projects were vanity projects in their time. "Who needs an expensive railway when my horse works just as well?" Even though many like you believe it to be a 'vanity project,' it is nonetheless a necessary project to ease congestion and to pull British rail transport out from the Victorian age.

Ampox   20/03/2015 at 13:33

Please remember the WHOLE journey. A few minutes saved on a high speed line are easily lost by poor connections or parkway stations in the middle of nowhere. And a European gauge freight connection (GC) is surely a good investment.

Ampox   20/03/2015 at 13:33

Please remember the WHOLE journey. A few minutes saved on a high speed line are easily lost by poor connections or parkway stations in the middle of nowhere. And a European gauge freight connection (GC) is surely a good investment.

Geordie   09/08/2015 at 11:01

So speed, is now NOT the main driver of the HS2 project, it's "capacity". Talk about moving the goalposts! However, "capacity" is only an issue SOUTH of Birmingham. Therefore, just build phase one, and forget about the nonsense of the Manchester and Leeds vanity stretches. While we are at it, there will be no need for a line the maximum top speed of which exceeds 200mph if "capacity" not speed is the main issue here. Billions could be saved with these modifications.

Mackem   01/09/2015 at 20:36

Even though you may be a Geordie, the above is by far the most sensible message on HS2 I have read so far.

Micks   09/09/2015 at 14:58

This is just not cost effective, why would anyone want to swap trains at Birmingham & Toton to go on HS2? waiting for another train the time savings would be used up - this money would be better off spent reopening the line from Derby to Manchester through the peaks - further money leftover for the Dawlish bypass & other route improvements.

Gb   18/09/2015 at 23:36

Reopen Derby to Manchester through the peaks - absolutely! Diverting one of the services per hour to this route would relieve the WCML south of Crewe and provide direct connections between Manchester to Derby, Leicester and other places. Re-establishing Marylebone - Manchester via Woodhead, at least for freight initially, would help provide the increased capacity needed. Far better to spend our precious resources on targetted improvements to the existing system, replacing several routes lost in the late 1960s than splashing it around on an unjustified and unwanted HS2 which will blight the environment for thousands who will never be able to use it. Our railways should be accessible to as many people as possible and this could mean reopening some branch lines. Many people will have their own pet preferences - the 12 mile section from Skipton to Colne for instance which, in addition to serving the local area would provide another very much needed trans-Pennine route to relieve overcrowding in this area.

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