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HS2 will be ‘heart bypass’ for clogged railway

New research suggests HS2 could boost the economy by £15bn a year, as the Government promises a ‘fightback’ against recent criticisms of the massive project.

Produced by KPMG, the new report addresses concerns around the new line’s cost, with the most recent of these being a report by the Public Accounts Committee who argued its benefits were based on “fragile numbers”.

In a speech to the Institute of Civil Engineers in London, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin pledged to deliver the project within its £42.6bn budget.

The main reason for building HS2 was not speed he said, but capacity – to give “a heart bypass for the clogged arteries of our transport system”.

The investment in HS2 did not detract from spending on other areas of transport, he added, with £70bn of capital investment planned for the next parliament. Just £16bn of this is earmarked for HS2.

McLoughlin said: “The point about High Speed 2 is that you won’t have to travel on it to gain from the better transport system and economic growth it will support.

“People who may never use the new line will still gain from more services for towns and cities up and down Britain. More room for local trains. More space for direct services to London from places that can’t get them today. More space for freight trains – to free up our motorways.

“It will make Liverpool stronger, Manchester stronger, Leeds stronger, Britain stronger. A £15bn annual boost to the economy, with the north and midlands gaining at least double the benefit of the south.”

He added: “Controversy needn’t be a sign you are getting things wrong. Often it is a sign that you are doing something that really matters.”

And Geoff Inskip, chief executive of regional transport authority Centro, said: “We’ll be better connected than ever before – benefitting from fast, direct links with major UK and European cities and boosted by capacity released on our existing lines to run more freight and local services.”

But Institute of Directors’ chief economist, Graeme Leach, said: “This report tells us nothing about whether HS2 is the best way to spend £50bn on the rail network as its method for calculating benefits has not been applied to other potential rail projects. You can’t shift the goalposts for one scheme without making a fair comparison with alternatives. In our view, HS2 remains poor value for money.”

Professor Phil Blythe, chair of the IET Transport Policy Panel, said: “We are supportive in principle of high speed rail, but we believe that much more detail is needed to fully understand the costs and benefits.

“The economics of a new high-speed line cannot be considered in isolation. We need to understand the assumptions regarding future growth in passenger numbers, and hence, future capacity needs, if we are to consider transferring passengers from the most profitable services on existing routes to the high speed line, the economics of the other lines will be degraded. In order to properly understand the benefits it is necessary to see what plans exist for other rail routes and their financial implications.

“These unanswered questions call into question whether the current HS2 proposal is the vehicle to deliver what is needed.” 

John Smith, managing director of GB Railfreight, said there needed to be more attention to the impact HS2 would have on freight: “By freeing up rail freight capacity on the West Coast Main Line, HS2 has the potential to radically transform the volume of goods moved around the country, resulting in a much-needed increase in UK productivity, an energetic growth in our exports market and relief for our congested road system.”  

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Image c. HS2 Ltd


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