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Lessons from HS1 have come too late to inform HS2 – MPs

The two-year delay in publishing an evaluation of HS1 meant that important information that could have been used to inform HS2, its passenger forecasts and value for money was not available, the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has found.

According to the Committee, the Department for Transport (DfT) said it would publish its evaluation of HS1, the high-speed link between London and the Channel Tunnel, in summer 2013.

But this was not carried out until October of last year and, even then, the DfT refused to accept that its own evaluation proved the scheme had been poor value for money, PAC said.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Committee, called it “deeply concerning” that work towards HS2 “should have progressed without full and detailed consideration of HS1”.

“The government’s evaluation of HS1, produced at the urging of this Committee, could and arguably should have been a key piece of evidence in scrutinising plans for HS2,” she said.

“Instead it arrived two years late, since when the government has claimed benefits arising from HS1 that cannot be measured by its own methodology. It is simply not good enough.

“HS2 would require huge public investment and taxpayers are rightly concerned that their money should be spent wisely. This case will do nothing to reassure them.”

The October evaluation of HS1 indicated that the costs of HS1 were significantly higher than the quantified benefits, although the DfT said this was an initial evaluation of the scheme completed eight years after the line opened, and that while the assessment looked 60 years ahead, the asset could still be operating in 100 to 150 years’ time.

It did acknowledge, however, that the level of passenger demand has been substantially below what was forecast in the 1990s.

According to PAC, the DfT “did not consider that there was a similar over-optimism with its passenger forecasts” for HS2.

The report said: “In fact, it believed that there was a risk that its projections for HS2 were on the ‘cautious side’. It noted that much more data was available for it to assess demand of domestic services like HS2 rather than the international rail service on HS1 which the department described as being a ‘wholly new form of travel’ at the time.

“It explained that its central projection for HS2 was that long-run growth in demand for long-distance rail travel would be 2.2% a year compared to annual growth over the past 20 years of just under 5% a year.”

But the Committee expressed concern that the DfT’s methodology is inadequate for some transport projects but that it continues using it to assess schemes like HS2.

“We pointed out that for HS2 the benefit-cost ratio, which shows positive value for money, is taken very seriously and seen as very important when the project is scrutinised,” the report said.

In a statement sent to RTM, a DfT spokesperson said: “The case for HS2 is absolutely clear. The economic benefit has been recognised by MPs of all parties who voted strongly in favour of HS2 at the second reading of the hybrid Bill, and the Transport Select Committee has been clear the scheme is the only practical way to significantly increase rail capacity. It will improve connectivity, free up space on our crowded rail network, promote regeneration, boost skills and generate thousands of jobs.”

The spokesperson added that HS1 "is a different scheme" to HS2, with the former created to establish a link between London and the Channel Tunnel without passing through major centres of population, whereas HS2 was designed as a response to "an excess of demand on the West Coast Main Line, and will link eight out of 10 of the UK's majort cities".


Peter Clark   22/01/2016 at 12:31

It does not surprise me that passenger demand on HS1 has been lower than expected. Granted, it gets you to London in 56 minutes from Canterbury West to St. Pancras (fine if you are continuing from there Kings Cross) but if you are going south you lose all the time saved in crossing London. It takes me up to an hour to reach Camberwell SE5 where I work from St. Pancras and I only use HS1 when engineering work disrupts the Chatham main line to Victoria. Incidentally, in 1962 the journey time between Canterbury West and Charing Cross was only 80 minutes. Now it is nearly two hours! Southeastern services to Victoria are also slower than 50 years ago. Progress? Steam trains were just as quick.

Lesf   25/01/2016 at 22:12

I'm afraid this is symptomatic of the effect of HS2. Benefits for the few against the overall damage to the network are not justified. Given the cost of HS2 and the environmental destruction there is no case for it. Fortunately there is a better way.

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