Posted 11th September 2013 | 11 Comments

Transport secretary targets 'misleading' HS2 critics

Patrick McLoughlin

Mr McLoughlin has been confronted by a growing clamour from critics over the summer break

TRANSPORT SECRETARY Patrick McLoughlin is hitting back at claims that HS2 will cost much more than the official figures suggest, and has accused some of the project's opponents as being 'deliberately misleading'.

In a hard-hitting speech on 11 September, he described HS2 as a 'heart bypass for the clogged arteries of our transport system that will lift the long-distance burden from our overcrowded main lines’.

He has also published new research by KPMG which sets out how HS2 could boost the economy by up to £15 billion per year.

Mr McLoughlin has been confronted by a growing clamour from critics over the summer break, with claims that the scheme -- officially costed at around £50 billion, including £7.5 billion for new trains -- could need as much as £80 billion or even more. The Commons Public Accounts Committee is also maintaining its opposition, having published a new and critical assessment a few days earlier.

The transport secretary said: "The benefits of faster journeys are easy to explain.  But speed is not the main reason for building the new railway. The main reason we need HS2 is as a heart bypass for the clogged arteries of our transport system.

"It will lift the long-distance burden from our overcrowded main lines so they can concentrate on what they are best at. More local trains. More freight trains. More services for towns and cities up and down Britain.

"Because the point about High Speed Two.is that you won’t have to travel on it to gain from the better transport system and economic growth it will support."

"The budget for HS2 is £42.6 billion. Not £70 billion. Not £80 billion. Not the scare stories from opponents.

"For the full network to Leeds and Manchester with links on to the East and West Coast main lines beyond to serve Scotland, Newcastle and the north-west. And that is an upper limit with contingency -- £14.4 billion in reserve which we are determined to bear down on. We are commissioning work by the world’s leading project managers at the Saïd Business School at Oxford University into the scope for reducing contingency. 

"The head of Network Rail said in July he expects the final cost of construction to be significantly less than £42.6 billion."

He also hit back at the scheme's opponents, saying: "Some criticism is ill-informed -- and some of it is deliberately misleading."

Mr McLoughlin has not only been faced with opposition from outside but also signs of doubt within Parliament, with several senior Labour figures backing away from the scheme in recent weeks.

However, Labour is still officially supporting the Government's determination to go ahead, although it is unhappy about the rate of progress. Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said: "Far too many people have to stand on their way to and from work, often in cramped conditions, despite paying thousands of pounds for their season ticket. The only credible way to free up space for more commuter services is if we shift the growth in long distance journeys on to a new high speed line. This will also enable us to make greater progress in shifting freight from road to rail, reducing congestion and the emissions that contribute to climate change.

“David Cameron has disastrously failed to provide the leadership necessary to build support and make progress on actually delivering the vital new north-south rail line. As a result of three years of dither and delay, there is no prospect of securing Parliamentary approval for the first phase of the scheme before the next election. The Government must now redouble their efforts to make the new north-south rail line a reality and ensure it remains on budget and on track.”

Opponents of the scheme appeared to remain unconvinced. Joe Rukin of StopHS2 commented: "It is really sad that the Government is still all aboard this express train to disaster.  It’s time for the Government to pull the emergency stop."

Richard Houghton of HS2 Action Alliance added: "It is always depressing when you hear Ministers make statements that they know to be untrue. A quick study of the DfT's own figures show that Euston is second least crowded London station for long distance travellers -- beaten only by HS1. The vastly cheaper alternatives more than meet the Government's own projected growth for the next 30 years -- and these take no account that passenger journeys actually dropped in Q1 of this year.”

"Betting £50 billion on a single train line being the solution to the economic woes of the country outside London really is irresponsible -- and doesn't cover up for the lack of a coherent economic strategy for the regions. It's time to accept the facts: HS2 is an unnecessary waste of money."

Meanwhile, the Government's High Speed development company HS2 Ltd is defended KPMG's conclusions. A spokesman said: "This report makes a hugely significant contribution to the progress of HS2. Increased rail capacity, with faster and more reliable connectivity, will contribute to the economy right across the UK. The North and Midlands are set to gain at least double the benefit for the south.. There is now clear evidence of the economic boost HS2 represents in terms of jobs, productivity and growth. HS2 is the right project at the right time.”

Reader Comments:

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

  • John Gilbert, Cradley, Herefordshire

    I see that Labour is back-pedalling on their former enthusiasm for HS2. Of course it seems totally reasonable to say we support HS2 providing that the costs don't rise beyond £x billion - nobody could quarrel with that - , but do I detect that in fact they are doing a bit of political vote-seeking here, and at the same time being quite happy to deprive the UK of necessary imaginative and visionary investment? It would not be the first time British political parties have done this - remember the Tories cancelling the Channel Tunnel in 1974 - only for it to be reinstated in the eighties at immensely greater expense? Ah ye politicians, always with an eye to the main chance. Trouble is, the electorate is led by the nose into believing this twaddle.

  • phil gaskell, manchester

    we all know it will cost much much more than the gorvenment tells us and this money could be be much better used.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    Are trains the future ? Carriages guided by steel rails ? Is the future small guided personal transport or public transport for 100s of people at the same time who all want to travel between the same destinations ? Most large warehouses now use robots travelling around following and guided by wires inserted into the floor. Is the future over-ground with all its compensation costs or is it underground (including cut'n'cover )? Its probably electric supplied at cheap cost by solar panels. But is the future big cities or smaller Towns ? Is the future the South-East of England, and/or Scotland ? Will places like Newcastle look North rather than South ? The future is probably only a few years away. I predict there will be major changes to the UK in the next 4 years which will either confirm HS2 as essential or as totally antiquated. But I can't see the future otherwise I would buy shares in it. But planning for more than the next couple of years seems exceptional hazardous to me.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    "'Improved efficiency' on the West Coast Main Line means, inter alia, raising Fast Lines path utilisation to 16 per hour."

    I was going to write a detailed response to this until I realised that what you are proposing is essentially a re-hash of 51m's proposal. Yes, Paddington does have 17tph on the fast lines in the peak (10 first stop Reading, 3 Maidenhead, 4 Heathrow Express), but that's only a short stretch as far as Hayes and Harlington, where the HX trains turn off. Sharing 16 tph all the way to Leighton Buzzard is not nearly so easy for all sorts of logistical reasons. 51m attempted to timetable in an optimised alternative using these sixteen paths, and how many extra suburban services per hour did they get? One.

    Of course, if you think you can do something better than 51m, by all means show us what is is. But there is another problem. The WCML fasts already have 12 or 13 tph using the fast line in the peak (10 West Coast and 2/3 London Midland). Even if you somehow manage to convert these 3-4 supposedly spare paths into trains with no loss of service elsewhere, that gives you an increase of 21 trains in high peak hours to 24 or 25 trains. A maximum of 19%. So we might see the 18:13 go from 162% occupancy to 136% occupancy. (Or, if we omit the 4 VTs that stop at none of Wat/MK/Rug, it's an increase from 17 trains to 21 or 22, maximum increase of 29%, potential crowding reduction on busiest train to 125%. Still not enough.)

    We'll get about 2 extra tph next year when the new rolling stock comes in, then we'll have a better idea of crowding. But are you really going to solve immediate capacity needs with an extra 2 tph? Don't seem likely.

  • Bel Eben, GB

    "(Not sure about this. The journey time to Bletchley or stations north of there from St Pancras via Bedford would be unacceptably long, and you are also assuming that there are paths available for such trains south of Bedford. I don't think there are [or will be]. Also not clear what 'improved efficiency' means, either. 110mph LM trains are helping a little, but that's about the limit with Desiros.--Ed.)"

    Running on the Midland Main Line fast lines and a connection between Sundon and Ridgmont, the journey time from St Pancras to Bletchley would be pretty similar to the current service. There is little evidence of MML path saturation.

    'Improved efficiency' on the West Coast Main Line means, inter alia, raising Fast Lines path utilisation to 16 per hour. (Paddington is already at 17 per hour.)

  • jbzoom, Guildford

    The whole idea of HS2 is to reduce or cap the number of long-distance trains coming into Euston, St Pancras and Kings Cross, especially in rush hours and free up the space for commuters on London Midland, Thameslink, Overground, etc., etc.. Long-distance trains have to be less overcrowded than commuter trains because standing for three or four hours would be much worse than standing for 20 minutes. The argument about cost is being hyped by the "antis" - because none of their other arguments have got anywhere. Over the next 20 years our national income will be more than 50 trillion. If HS2 and the trains to run on it cost 50 billion that will be 0.1% of national income. The Victorians invested in railways at many many times that rate and our failure to invest in the recent past has caught up with us.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    Steve, to answer your new questions:

    "The HS2 scheme needs to be backed up with other schemes that will be primed to take full advantage of the supposed freeing up in capacity that it will supposedly generate"

    And that it indeed happening. There are many ways that freed capacity could be used to improve local or regional services, and discussions are underway for how this is best used. There's still a lot of possibilities up in the air, but the one which looks a near certainty is more West Coast services stopping at Watford, Milton Keynes and Rugby.

    "will freight be lured back onto the Main line?"

    Almost certainly yes. There is currently more demand for rail freight than there is capacity to carry it.

    "Will fares go down as demand for trains on the older lines drops away?"

    Maybe, but the point of the exercise is for better services on the old lines rather than the fares.

    "Will investment be kept up to, and possibly even raised further, to maintain growth?"

    Depends on what future governments decide to do, but current practice is to make improvements as and passenger figures show they are needed, so i don't see why not.

    "What about the maintenance of the new line?"

    That is factored into the business case. The cost is construction cost plus rolling stock cost plus operating cost (including maintenance) minus fare revenue. It is expected that fare revenue will cover rolling stock cost plus coperating cost, as it does on East Coast services.

    "Will new stations be built along existing lines where capacity and timing constraints currently precludes them?"

    Possibly. A park and ride station north of Milton Keynes is being mooted.

    And to answer Beleben's old questions:

    "the best thing to do would be to cancel HS2 and put the money into other schemes, including improving the East and South London lines."

    And East and South London services are indeed being improved, through Crossrail and Thameslink programme. They also stand to improve services to the north and east, along with GWML electrification, IEP and MML electrification. If that's not enough, by all means propose more improvements, but the point is that plenty if improvements are going on ON TOP OF HS2. It's not a case or either/or.

    "Improved efficiency on the LM route out of London would take care of any immediate capacity need."

    Okay, so given that the most overcrowded service has a 162% load factor, we're looking at a 62% increase in capacity, plus whatever extra you need for growth. How do you propose to do this? (And yes, I will be asking you for service patterns if I don't believe it's possible.)

  • Bel Eben, GB

    If Maria Eagle wants the reduce the number of people having to stand on their train to and from work, the best thing to do would be to cancel HS2 and put the money into other schemes, including improving the East and South London lines. There are vastly more standing passengers on those, than on the commuter tracks into Euston.

    Improved efficiency on the LM route out of London would take care of any immediate capacity need. In the longer run, there is the option of running commuter trains to Bletchley via a Midland Main Line/Varsity Line connection.

    (Not sure about this. The journey time to Bletchley or stations north of there from St Pancras via Bedford would be unacceptably long, and you are also assuming that there are paths available for such trains south of Bedford. I don't think there are [or will be]. Also not clear what 'improved efficiency' means, either. 110mph LM trains are helping a little, but that's about the limit with Desiros.--Ed.)

  • Steve, Kuwait City

    The HS2 scheme needs to be backed up with other schemes that will be primed to take full advantage of the supposed freeing up in capacity that it will supposedly generate: will freight be lured back onto the Main line? Will fares go down as demand for trains on the older lines drops away? Will investment be kept up to, and possibly even raised further, to maintain growth? What about the maintenance of the new line? Will new stations be built along existing lines where capacity and timing constraints currently precludes them?

    I would expect at least a mere mention of these matters in the future planning for growth, rather than just the defensive soundbite of generating 15billion per year from 2037. How many more people are we going to fit in this country anyway? How much more expensive do they plan to make car travel? Without this all being comprehensively addressed, the scheme is nothing to us as a country.

    Despite an avid fan of railways and especially high-speed ones, I am still not convinced this is anything more than what it is...waste and corruption on a massive scale.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    I see Antis get more desparate with claims that "Euston is 2nd least crowded London station for long distance travellers - beaten only by HS1" . Since when was HS1 a London station?

    The above statement also EXCLUDES London Midland and Overground services that have to jostle for space at Euston ! Services Antis always deny exist !

    As for HS2 being 1 line well no doubt if plans were for new High Speed lines from Euston and Kings Cross they would then complain at why High Speed needs more than one line !

    At long last Maria Eagle made her position clearer on news interviews saying how Labour would support HS2 legislation when it comes to parliament. And as to those who question whether it will get passed before an election?
    Well that doesn't matter as it would simply roll over into next parliament !

    Patrick McGlocklin gives the impression of the right man at the right time a venerable "HS2 Fat Controller!".

    What next adding cost of Moon landings to HS2 after discovery that IT trains use was developed for NASA ?!



  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    Richard Houhgton: "A quick study of the DfT's own figures show that Euston is second least crowded London station for long distance travellers."

    Passengers in Excess of Capacity (PIXC) on Virgin Trains is 0.7% in the morning peak and 1.3% in the afternoon peak.

    PIXC on East Coast services out of King's cross is 0.0% in the morning peak and 0.0% in the afternoon peak.

    (Oh, and PIXC on Southeastern HS services is 1.8% and 0.0% respectively - very slightly lower, but only just.)

    So, even ignoring the far worse problems on the commuter services, HS2AA's claims aren't just misleading - it is outright false.