Posted 14th May 2019 | 10 Comments

HS2 alternatives report is ‘fantasy and fiction’

THE TaxPayers’ Alliance has published its latest arguments against HS2, saying that there are 28 local and regional transport infrastructure projects that could be funded if the High Speed project was scrapped.

Former cabinet minister David Davis is launching the TPA report today, which says the latest evidence suggests the costs of HS2 could almost double to more than £100 billion, and that at least some of the money would be better spent on alternative schemes.

The report provides the results of a competition launched by the TPA in September last year, which invited suggestions on how up to £50 billion could be spent on other transport schemes. The judges of the competition included Lord (Tony) Berkeley and infrastructure costs specialist Michael Byng, who has repeatedly warned that the official estimates of the cost of HS2 are far too low.

The 28 schemes named in the report have combined costs of £45.1 billion, which is almost £11 billion less than the current budgets for all phases of HS2. However, nearly a quarter of the total would be spent on roads or cycleways rather than railways.

The proposals include modernisation of the rail network across the Pennines (Northern Powerhouse Rail: £18.1 billion), electrification of the rest of the Midland Main Line (£5 billion) and the Chiltern Main Line (£1 billion), the extension of Crossrail to Stansted Airport and Cambridge (£5 billion), a supertram network for Leeds (£1 billion), the Sussex section of Brighton Main Line 2 (BML2) (£500 million) and the rebuilding of the line between Exeter, Okehampton and Plymouth (£500 million).

There are also numerous reopenings which would restore rail services on lines such as York-Beverley, Ashington/Blyth & Tyne, Penrith-Keswick, Skipton-Colne, Stourbridge-Lichfield, March-Wisbech and Bodmin Parkway-Wadebridge.

A further proposal for Cornwall involves reopening a former china clay line connecting the existing Newquay branch with the main line just west of St Austell, while another Midlands scheme concerns the Whitacre Link, which would reconnect Whitacre Junction with Hampton-in-Arden to provide additional capacity between Coventry and Birmingham.

Station reopenings on current routes are suggested at Cullompton and Soham.

Some road schemes also find places on the list. They are the upgrading of the A5 as an expressway, dualling the A1 between Durham and Edinburgh, a new Lower Thames Crossing of 23km, including a tunnel, and 12,000km of cycle paths alongside motorways and trunk roads. The total cost of non-railway projects is put at just over £10 billion, or almost a quarter of the total budget for all 28 schemes on the TPA list.

TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive John O’Connell said: ‘We have long argued that HS2 is a waste of taxpayers' money and this report makes that fact even clearer. Instead of spending £56 billion on a vanity project, the government should heed this report. Given the number of excellent alternatives, it’s now time to scrap this white elephant.’

The calculations have been met with a vigorous response from the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders group, which has also questioned the basis of the TaxPayers’ Alliance itself.

A spokesman for the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders group said: ‘This appears to be the finest work of fantasy and fiction since JRR Tolkien last put down his pen.

‘Whilst the other infrastructure projects noted in the TPA report may indeed have merit, in most cases they are currently only at an early planning stage, so comparing costs is completely misleading. And 40 per cent of the TPA report’ s “saving” comes from getting the costs of Northern Powerhouse Rail completely wrong. They quote it at £18 billion, whereas Transport for the North say the project would cost £39 billion. This leaves a £21 billion black hole in their fantasy figures.

‘As cabinet minister Amber Rudd said last week, support for HS2 is a true test of whether people are serious about long-term investment in Britain. The project is already under way and employing thousands of people. We need to finish the job, and use HS2 to smash the north-south divide which has beset Britain for decades.

‘Finally, the TPA has long campaigned against HS2 without ever once revealing who funds them to do so. HSRIL campaigning is funded by its members, listed on our website. We challenge the TPA: who paid for this misleading and fantastical report?’

The Guardian reported on 20 November last year that the TPA think tank is ‘one of more than 475 right wing organisations around the world that are members of the Atlas Network. The Network trains and helps these organisations to promote free markets in 90 countries.’ The Alliance has reportedly received £223,000 from donors based in the USA over the past five years. It also has British supporters, and at least some of these are identified on the TPA website.

Reader Comments:

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

  • Steve T, Coventry

    HS2 may have multiple flaws (not least cost estimation) but this TPA report it is quite staggering in its incompetence. No quantified benefits for any scheme. Costs which don't make sense (e.g. saying you can make much of the A5 an Expressway for a third of the cost of the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon scheme, despite the A5 section being 3 times longer!) Schemes which just aren't possible ("Reopen Stourbridge to Lichfield" is impossible given that Midland Metro are extending from Wednesday to Brierley Hill along part of that route). Schemes that don't make sense unless HS2 is present (Whitacre Link would rely on the HS2 Birmingham Interchange station to have any sort of business case). And as for cycle paths along motorways - who would want to cycle these sorts of distances on a regular basis? I cannot believe anyone thought this report was a good idea...

  • Garry , London

    The biggest fantasy of all... is how much the Government and all the other parasites tell us HS2 will cost and how long it will take. The blind sheep need to open their eyes......

  • Andrew Gwilt, Benfleet Essex

    I still think that HS2 will continue despite there will be delays and could see HS2 being over budget.

  • king arthur, Buckley

    I'm not sure quoting Amber Rudd is the best strategy for winning support for a project.

  • Tom marshall, Rugeley

    Good to see that not all our politicians have swallowed the government's propaganda which makes all sorts of spurious claims about this railway. Let's hope that common sense will eventually prevail and this scheme will be shelved. I know that there have been lots of properties bought and hundreds of hectares of land acquired but all can be resold without massive cost to the taxpayer. Quite frankly HS2 is one of the worst examples of government profligacy I've ever witnessed.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    The fact David Davis is launching report tells you all you need to know given the success he has had with Brexit negotiations!

    As for cost of NPR being allocated £18 billion well NPR is basically an extension of HS2 and makes use of HS2 infrastructure so if you don't build HS2 then you simply spend money on NPR

    The real fallacy is the fact that HS2 funding is spread over many years through to the early 2030s and includes contingency funds that won't be freely available to spend elsewhere as being contingency they are not expected to be spent !

    As for thousands of miles of cycle lanes alongside motorways well I can't imagine cyclists wanting to cycle alongside polluting lorries and cars and so this is just a wheeze to get space for extra motorway lanes !

    I also fail to see the merits of opening long closed branch lines which closed through lack of use and which would need subsidies to keep going instead of a new main line national route with millions of passengers and capacity released on existing network for even more passengers and transfer of freight from roads to rail .

    It's also worth remembering the billions raised in property development around stations which HS2 will generate at sites like Euston, Old Oak Common and Curzon Street.

    While HS2 will also Regional Eurostars to be introduced using the larger gauge trains now used by Eurostar once a link to HS1 from HS2 is built .

  • Jez Milton, Manchester

    These schemes are not a replacement for HS2. Electrification doesn't increase capacity. The pitiful extra capacity provided by the 'Whitacre Link' would involve (flat?) junctions on two very busy (2-track) lines: Coventry-International and Water Orton-Nuneaton. A recipe for endless delays and no benefit in reality at all! Trains from London/Coventry to Brum diverting at Hamption-in-Arden would bypass Birmingham Airport!

    The TPAs real agenda is road improvement. If HS2 is scrapped, the list of rail projects actually delivered would be very short indeed. Most of the money would divert to highways where it would simply cause more pollution and congestion in cities.

    Right wing loons!

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    HS2 has flaws. It takes an alignment, due to its ultra high speed design, through expensive territory, with resultant high cost. Also, it concentrates on relatively shorter ( under 200 miles) journeys, where rail already is the dominant mode.

    A cheaper HS2 might be to target the East Coast alignment, with acceleration of services from the capital to Northeast England and Scottish Central Belt, giving new day return opportunities, and competitiveness with Aviation. This could be achieved with a total of around 200 miles of new - build 200mph cut - off stretches , costing £ 20 - 24 bn.

    The current capacity problem south of Rugby might gain relief from relaying the erstwhile Great Central main line to give an extra 2 tracks between Nuneaton and central London, for a cost of around £4bn., either as relief for intercity traffic, or as a dedicated freight route.

    Of course, it isn't feasible to go into greater detail in this length of email.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham

    Okay, so scrap a scheme that benefits the north and divert the money to another scheme that we're already getting which will rendered unworkable without the scheme they're scrapping.

    I think I've spotted the catch.

  • Dean Johnson, Bedford

    So I assume all these little schemes will not be subject to delay and overspend like every infrastructure project in this country? What makes their schemes so special?

    Also they haven't considered the funding model. UK PLC does 1 huge infrastructure project at a time - Channel tunnel, HS1, Olympics, Crossrail and now HS2.

    These are built using different funding models than traditional schemes delivered by Network Rail and focus on directly creating servicable assets, the operations of which are sold to companies like the Ottawa teachers pensions, like HS1.

    With the big ticket projects, they are creating serviceable, profitable, marketable assets from the huge investment, rather than small schemes whose benefits are less tangible

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