Posted 20th August 2013 | 23 Comments

Think tank's HS2 report dismissed as 'wild guesses'

BIRMINGHAM Chamber of Commerce has dismissed a report claiming that HS2 could cost £80 billion as 'short sighted' and based on 'wild guesses'.

The claims were made by the free-market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, which condemned the High Speed plan for its lack of genuinely green credentials. The report's author, Dr Richard Wellings, also suggested that the costs would soar because of associated transport schemes which would be needed to provide links to HS2 stations in the provinces, such as a westward extension of the Nottingham tram system.

However, the IEA did not explain what would happen on the existing network in the absence of HS2 to take some of the load off the West Coast Main Line, which is already close to capacity. The Office of Rail Regulation has recently refused Virgin permission to run trains to Shrewsbury because it said the additional trains to and from Euston could damage the route's already fragile performance.

Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group, said: “The IEA is a London-based economic think tank that champions the ‘small state’ so it was never likely to support HS2. The IEA do not set out how they have done their sums to arrive at the [extra] £30 billion to give the £80 billion total. Their figures are not based on evidence. It's a wild guess, which they effectively concede".

He added: “Overall the report is in many areas flimsy and unsubstantiated and no account is given to the disastrous results of not building HS2. They ignore the broader impact of the gridlock on the West Coast Main Line that will result if we do nothing."

The Department for Transport has already dismissed the IEA's alleged findings, saying that without the new High Speed line, 'key rail routes connecting London, the Midlands and the North will be overwhelmed'.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    "I am aware of the M40, although I would largely say it's route takes it around the edge of the Chilterns,"

    Umm, you might want to look at a map of the Chilterns before you make that claim. It goes slap bang through the middle between junctions 4 and 6.

    "Furthermore, aesthetically speaking high speed rail lines are incredibly unpleasant, given the largest amount of catenary or substations etc."

    High-speed rail lines look exactly the same as electrified main lines, except they're a bit straighter. Does anyone complain the beautiful countryside in North Yorkshire was destroyed when the East Coast main Line was electrified?

    I'm afraid that highly subjective claim does seem suspiciously like anti-rail prejudice to me.

    "Even if the M40 and the A41 pass through the Chilterns, it would be a shame to add anymore development to what has already happened."

    And I might have believed the "enough is enough" argument seriously if it wasn't so selective. I have seen no attempt from the anti campaigns to distance themselves from all the people wants to build new motorways. Or any solidarity with tens of thousands of poor sods who stand to be affected by extra runways at Heathrow.

    Labour would be idiotic to try pledging to cancel HS2 as a vote-grabber. The vast majority of seats along the route are Tory strongholds, and there was no evidence from the 2013 local elections that it was a vote-winner. (There was a swing to UKIP, but that was no greater along the route than the rest of the country.) And it doesn't matter was excuse they were using - after calling for the government to speed up they'll get clobbered for flip-flopping and opportunism - something they've already suffered too much of.

    There does seem to be a suspiciously high correlation between people saying "party X would gain votes by doing Y" and wanting Y to happen themselves.

  • Miles Bassett, London

    Chris,

    I am aware of the M40, although I would largely say it's route takes it around the edge of the Chilterns, through already built up areas such as High Wycombe or Banbury. North of Aylesbury and the areas of Chesham and Amersham are largely unspoilt areas where HS2 will pass through. Furthermore, aesthetically speaking high speed rail lines are incredibly unpleasant, given the largest amount of catenary or substations etc.

    Even if the M40 and the A41 pass through the Chilterns, it would be a shame to add anymore development to what has already happened.

  • Rae Slaon, Twyford

    Jerry Blackett is wrong. The IEA did account for their increases. They added in the bits the DfT/HS2Ltd missed off. eg DfT figures were 2009 figures, one of the additions from the IEA was inflation which when looking at the mid 2030s they may well still be conservative.
    The big problem with rail in the UK is, like the City and Westminster, it is London centric. There are already 2 lines London Birmingham, but try and get cross country or even LHR you have to go to London and out again or drive for hours to link up with another London centric line. HS2 will not resolve this.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    Looking at what Labour Party senior Politicians are saying, it would look as if the Labour Party is re-positioning itself to announce just before the General Election that it will scrap HS2 and spend the money elsewhere. HS2 is now firmly stuck to George Osbourne the Chancellor as 'his' project and its him who is going to lose a lot of face if he cancels it. Yet generally speaking most Conservatives are against the idea with many voting for it in Parliament only for party unity. So the Labour Party being against it would be a vote winner in Tory seats. However this leaves them with the problem that most Labour seats in the North and Midlands regard this project as bringing jobs to their areas. The Labour Party will (?) therefore announce that it is investing the saved money from HS2 in local rail projects, and is probably looking around for many to include on their list. The Labour Party has been accused of having few new ideas and scrapping HS2 and investing in local Rail networks up North may be something that addresses this issue and could well be a vote winner. If this is the case and Labour joins UKIP and the Greens in opposing HS2, rail enthusiasts must make sure that the money (possibly 25 billion at the most) is invested in railways and not just disappear after the election.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    My suggestion to build HS2 as single track and 3' guage was tongue-in-cheek. However I think that the Glacier Express (1000mm guage) is the best example in the world of a line which causes no environmental damage running through the most beautiful part of the Alps, - and is a real pleasure to always ride on. Everything about it from meals to punctuality is perfect. I am a great believer in this type of railway, not particulary fast but a real benefit to the local Community and a great revenue generator through its appeal to tourists. I used to be one of those who could travel about the UK First Class on expenses. I was always concerned to have enough time to get a good relaxed breakfast on the way out and another good meal on the way back, - which basically meant a 90 minute journey. I and my colleagues enjoyed, - repeat enjoyed, travelling by train. Which is something I don't hear from any passenger these days, even if they do have an expense account.

  • Steve, Kuwait City

    We don't need HS2. We need to make other cities more attractive and upgrade the road and rail networks all over the country with it. Simple as that. Otherwise, London will remain a first rate city with a second rate country attached to it, and people like me will get the hump and leave.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    "For God sake, they have lived in mostly unspoilt countryside for a generation, the Chilterns are one of Britains most iconic stretches of countryside and being so close to London its also precious!"

    The thing is, I'm far from convinced they actually believe that. The M40 and A41 both cut through the Chilterns with far greater land take and not a single mile in a tunnel, and I've not heard a single word of protest from the Bucks crowd. What's the difference?

    The only explanations I can think of is a) they're not bothered if it blights other people's properties instead of theirs, b) they're ideologically anti-rail, or c) it doesn't benefit them personally. I have no time for the first two. The last one is understandable, but no-one is going to buy the logic that the Chilterns suddenly stops being a priceless asset when you personally find the new road convenient.

    If the Bucks crowd don't want to be called Nimbys, they're going to have to come up with a good explanation for this discrepancy, because I'm struggling to think over any kinder explanations myself. There is an argument for the M1 option, and I would strongly advise the Bucks lot to pursue that option if they want to keep things the way they are (schemes don't got cancelled, only shelved, and they probably don't want a future government - backed by insane overcrowding on the WCML - to dust of the plans and build exactly the same line a few years later). But I'm afraid there is a Nimby case to answer, and accusing everyone else of having vested interests won't make it go away.

    "Maybe the only way HS2 will make a profit is to build it as single track with a few passing places, to 3' guage"

    I really hope that is a joke suggestion. Do I really have to explain why that's a terrible idea? [No.--Ed.]

  • David Faircloth, Derby

    On a point of detail, Chris Neville-Smith's claim that the Nottingham tram network is already being extended to Toton isn't quite correct; the Chilwell extension will take it most of the way, but not quite all. However, his general point is valid, I believe, because there is the suggestion in the report that such an extension is major, whereas in reality it is a case of pushing the tramway "just round the corner".

    Regarding "wild guesses", HS2 don't really help themselves. Taking Toton as an example, Derby City Council commissioned a report from Arup which concluded that most benefits could be gained for the East Midlands region by siting the station at Derby; I haven't got the figures to hand, but from memory Arup concluded that locating the station at Derby would be slightly better than at Nottingham, but in both cases the economic benefits would be greater than 400m and thousands of jobs would be created. A station at Toton, Arup concluded, would only generate a benefit of about 200m, and only a few hundred jobs would materialise.

    I believe HS2 are claiming that a station at Toton will generate benefits of 500m MORE than the next best performing option; so how can these two claims be reconciled?

    I would expect a conclusion reached by an organisation of Arup's pedigree to be a reasonably good "guess"; so how can HS2 Ltd conclude that the added benefit of having a station at Toton is greater than the total benefit calculated by Arup for one in either Derby or Nottingham?

    I think most of "us anoraks" accept the need for extra capacity; and we also accept that this requires massive intervention in the form of new (or re-opened) infrastructure - changing stopping patterns, running longer trains, etc, are only short term measures, and will not be able to cope long term if the current rate of growth in passenger numbers continues. If we're honest, none of us really know why this growth is happening; all we know for certain is that the proven link which existed between passenger numbers and the strength of the economy seems to have been broken.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    Most of the big Government expenditures are 'wild guesses' and generally speaking they have been gross under-estimates. For example HS1, Channel Tunnel, Millenium Dome, the Olympics, Concorde plus most military hardware from planes to guns. Maybe the only way HS2 will make a profit is to build it as single track with a few passing places, to 3' guage and to get the Swiss Glacier Express team to run it.

  • Miles Bassett, London

    I must admit the tone of some of the HS2 supporters is a little rude and inconsiderate. I am fed up of hearing those in the Chilterns branded as NIMBYS. For God sake, they have lived in mostly unspoilt countryside for a generation, the Chilterns are one of Britains most iconic stretches of countryside and being so close to London its also precious! HS2 supporters appear to forget the original route for the CTRL was for it to stretch straight through an AONB in Kent, although revised by Arup to follow the stretch of the M20, I believe HS2 should follow the M1.

    I think the fuss HS2 is creating is totally out of hand. When either side accuse eachother of being wealthy with "vested interests" or being EU supporters with "vested interest" its a bit unnecessary.

    I'm a railway enthusiast and an economist, still, I am a HS2 skeptic, and rather it would not go ahead or at least have the designs of the route thoroughly reviewed.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    "Firstly, those who support HS2 attack the report's authors rather that what the report actually says."

    Don't worry, they're attacking that too. There's so many unfounded assumptions in the report I don't know where to begin. I think my favourite one is the silly claim that a station at Toton means you'd have to extend the Nottingham tramway to Toton. But that is being built anyway.

    Richard Welling's record is relevant though. He openly states the entire north is subsidised and unproductive, as if the solution to north-south transport issues is to move everything back south. The Bucks. crowd make no attempt to distance themselves from this and openly endorse him, so I have no qualms telling everyone that StopHS2 is no friend of rail passengers or northerners.

    "Secondly, I note the pro-HS2 lobby similarly rubbished suggestions that the HS2 budget would rise from 34Bn not 6 months ago. The cost then rose by 10Bn.to 44Bn."

    But it didn't. All that happened was the the Treasury started using an upper estimate instead of a middle estimate. The middle estimate hasn't changed.

    "this builds suspicion among the general public that HS2 isn't needed and is simply a means for big business (mainly rail industry) to get their hands on billions of taxpayers money when most people are financially squeezed."

    I think you'll find that this perception is a fabrication entirely peddled by the antis, again and again and again ...

  • Jayne Peters, Halifax

    Whilst the IEA report is light on specific aspects it does highlight the issue that "knock on " costs are not included in the headline figures. So the current costs do not include the Manchester Airport Station - this is reliant on Manchester City Council stumping up funds, the link to Heathrow is also not included. Othere elements highlighted such as how to connect with the new station s in Leeds, Meadowhall and Toton are worthy of consideration in coming up with the wider bill.INteresting that the FT today said that the Treasury is using the figure of £73bn so would seem that the IEA isn't too far away

  • jbzoom, Guildford

    The first two phases are part of a thirty year project that will eventually become a 100 bn national Network, eliminating 80% of domestic air-travel and reducing London-Glasgow and Edinburgh times to three hours. 100bn represents 0.2% of Britain's national income over the period, or about six years housing benefit bill. The current scare stories over costs are being put out by the Chiltern, Treasury and Road Lobby antis, who know that once the contentious first phase is through parliament High Speed Rail will happen.

  • Dave, Durham

    HS2 is too little and too late. It took nearly 20 years of dithering, ifs buts and maybes before we linked London to the chunnel, something the French pulled their finger out 30 years previously and had high speed railways ready for the tunnels opening. We spend so much money on feasibility studies, surveys, value for money studies, opposition lawsuits, nimby pimbying etc, perhaps if we pulled our fingers out and actually get on with the job we might actually get something done. We are already 20 years behind schedule, lets not waste any more time with spurious negatives.

    objectors please note, Kings Cross has seen a huge increase in investment significantly improving the area. Stratford and the Olympic venues and several medway towns have seen vast increases in investment and journey opportunities. The cause? HS1! Look what HS2 can potentially do for Birmingham, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Carlisle.....

    and you want to oppose that?

  • Peter Davidson, Alderley Edge, NW.England

    @Peter Deeley, Upper Boddington:"There are several alternatives to HS2 that would create much the same effect from a capacity point of view that have NOT been fully looked at for a fraction of the cost of HS2"

    Really and they are?

    I don't suppose that would be the same Upper Boddington approx 1200m from the approved Route3 pathway of HS2 phase 1, or is that just another wild guess?

  • Bob Heath, Nottingham

    HS2 should be built ASAP before the network reaches saturation point. It should be joined to HS1 at a convenient place and should run as a spine up the middle of the country. Places like Birmingham should be on loops off the main spine not the proposed dead end. Also while the infrastructure is being built, junctions should be laid in readiness for future expansion as and when the country can afford it. I would also suggest that expensive tunnelling should be kept to a minimum and cheaper sound barriers installed instead to lessen the cost. Where the proposed route takes HS2 under East Midlands Airport there should be a station and the airport developed and expanded to cope with extra air traffic. This would be possibly be much cheaper than expanding Heathrow,

  • Graham, Basingstoke

    Half of the extra cost in the report is building Crossrail 2, which may be needed anyway in the not too distance future even without HS2 being built. Why not go the whole hog and add in all rail projects between now and 2030 into the cost of HS2?!?!

    On the London to Scotland being run (just) faster than by HS2, that would only be possible if the track was upgraded to allow 140mph running with tilting trains. It would also mean that less trains would be able to run as there would be a need for bigger gaps between the fast trains and the 100mph or less trains. The latter problem would only be fixed once HS2 has taken a lot of the existing IC trains off the lines, with 140mph running unlikely to happen to any great extent, with or without HS2.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    "Do you mean the "Wild Guesses", associated with HS2 with unsubstantiated claims and virtually ever INDEPENDANT organization in the UK as well as the NAO and ALL the Select Committees saying that HS2 is an idiotic idea with wild, unsubstantiated and exaggerated claims?"

    I think you'll find the Transport Select Committee is very much in favour, the Public Account Committee is sceptical, and the rest don't really have an opinion. But even with the PAC, nothing they say backs up the ridiculous figures plucked out of the air to make this £80bn.

    "There are several alternatives to HS2 that would create much the same effect from a capacity point of view that have NOT been fully looked at for a fraction of the cost."

    Really? So far, the only scheme that has been proposed in any detail is the 51m idea, which is a fraction of the cost but doesn't work. It beggars beleif that a scheme that CUTS the suburban services, where the crowding is the worst, is considered a solution by anybody.

    There are other ideas that might work (reinstate GCR, new line to Milton Keynes, four-tracking Chiltern line), but they are not the cheap prices you think they are. And no-one in the anti camp has even bothered putting together any kind of costed proposal. The government has already considered numerous alternatives, and it's not their job to consider an infinite number schemes. If you want these to be considered, you had better get a move on and present it during the Hybrid Bill. Otherwise, you have no-one to blame but yourselves if it's not considered.

    "It is your members passenger figures that are driving HS2 and they are NOT proved,"

    Well, passenger growth has been round about 6% per year lately, so the 2.5% growth per year used in the business case seems a reasonable assumption. But that doesn't matter. We don't need to speculate, the overcrowding exists now on the suburban services, and it is starting to affect the Virgin services in spite of the train lengthening.

    To put it in a nutshell, 51m's way of dealing with a problem is to tell people it doesn't exist, and their way of dealing with a solution that doesn't solve the problem is to tell people it does.

    "By the way, did you notice that Virgin can do Glasgow/Edinburgh to London three minutes faster than HS2 will be able to do on existing lines and with existing rail stock."

    Maybe, if you run non-stop trains and axe all the stopping services to make way for the fast ones (as we've already started doing on the southern WCML). Can you guess why someone from Durham might not be mighty thrilled with that idea?

  • Fred Gibson, Birmingha,

    I haven't read the report in detail so can't comment in detail, I've yet to make up my mind on HS2 but am a strong supporter of rail. Two things strike me:

    Firstly, those who support HS2 attack the report's authors rather that what the report actually says.

    Secondly, I note the pro-HS2 lobby similarly rubbished suggestions that the HS2 budget would rise from 34Bn not 6 months ago. The cost then rose by 10Bn.to 44Bn. Again the same tactic of attacking those suggesting the cost would rise, or arguing that thsi was "normal" rather than engaging in serious debate, was seen.

    Genuine debate is good and necessary, but I fear the pro-HS2 lobby is increasing being seen as as intemperate and this builds suspicion among the general public that HS2 isn't needed and is simply a means for big business (mainly rail industry) to get their hands on billions of taxpayers money when most people are financially squeezed.

    Rail fares are rocketing and the rail industry needs to keep the public on side rather than engage in strident rubbishing the opinions of anyone who isn't a HS2 cheer-leader as "right-wing", "NIMBY," or other childish assertions and insults.

  • Peter Deeley, Upper Boddington

    By the way, did you notice that Virgin can do Glasgow/Edinburgh to London three minutes faster than HS2 will be able to do on existing lines and with existing rail stock.
    Why bother with HS2????

  • Peter Deeley, Upper Boddington

    Do you mean the "Wild Guesses", associated with HS2 with unsubstantiated claims and virtually ever INDEPENDANT organization in the UK as well as the NAO and ALL the Select Committees saying that HS2 is an idiotic idea with wild, unsubstantiated and exaggerated claims?
    There are several alternatives to HS2 that would create much the same effect from a capacity point of view that have NOT been fully looked at for a fraction of the cost of HS2 and more than enough left over for full Electrification of all other routes, plus trams in all the major cities and a cross Pennine track as well as a N-S-E-W Freight line.
    Think what is good for the country not what is good for your members.
    It is your members passenger figures that are driving HS2 and they are NOT proved, but "Wild Guesses" unless you can prove otherwise???

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    These reports get much publicity and yet no detail is released as to who they are and for whom the report was published !

    One good thing is that groups opposed to HS2 have constantly maintained that HS2 is not funded or unaffordable and yet the report suggests money should be spent in a different way thus blowing open their own argument!

    As for claiming HS2 will lead to extra spending elsewhere and this should be added to cost of HS2 well that goes to show the benefit of HS2 in generating extra investment in local economies something groups like these obviously oppose !

  • Peter Davidson, Alderley Edge, NW.England

    I wouldn't even give the IEA report the kudos associated with "wild guess"

    In fact, it's an outright fabrication, designed solely to pour petrol on the fire, inflame established opposition to HS2 and poison public opinion. The IEA, along with other laissez-faire, free market groups (Adam Smith Insitute, Tax Payers Alliance) revel in stories of this nature, trying to distort debate and mislead the public via a toxic cocktail of selective editing, half truths and downright porkies!

    It's sad to see reports of this kind given valuable media space because they are blatant propaganda and disinformation, nothing less and nothing more!