Posted 21st June 2019 | 11 Comments

Commons report questions need for HS2

A NEW House of Commons report has cast doubt on the need for HS2, and says that many of its benefits, such as increasing capacity, could be achieved in other ways at lower cost.

The report is a Commons Library Briefing, written to inform MPs. These Briefings are not intended to present a particular point of view but to provide a factual summary.

The conclusion it reaches is that HS2 will only help parts of the network, and that ‘the additional capacity provided by HS2 on the West Coast Main Line appears to be over and above what is required to meet capacity pressures for several decades’.

It continues: ‘Some have questioned whether it makes sense for such a surplus of capacity to be delivered on one part of the network when other sections remain capacity constrained, particularly the lateral connections in the North of England as observed by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.

There is a great deal of ambiguity as to how much HS2 will cost. A large part of this confusion lies in the fact that few estimates of the costs have been published.

‘Several stakeholders have indicated that the final cost of HS2 may be much higher than currently projected. One of those most frequently cited on this is infrastructure consultant Michael Byng, who created the method used by Network Rail to cost its projects. He has estimated that the costs of HS2 are likely to be almost double the existing figure. The Government does not agree …’

Although the project has cross-party support, the paper also acknowledges differences of opinion within the Conservative Party, with some of the candidates to be the next Prime Minister having said they would scrap it if they came to power.

One of the two remaining candidates, Jeremy Hunt, is in favour of HS2. On 20 May this year, he tweeted: ‘HS2 is absolutely vital. Post Brexit we must be AMBITIOUS for our country and hungry for our economy. What signal would it send if we cancelled our highest profile infrastructure project and weakened our commitment to share prosperity around the country?’

His fellow-contender Boris Johnson is less certain, although he has apparently retreated from his earlier position that HS2 should be put on hold, and the money spent on better rail links across the north of England. He has now said that if he became Prime Minister he would commission an independent review of the scheme.

Meanwhile, other reviews are already underway. Transport secretary Chris Grayling wants the route of Phase 2 to be re-examined, with the possibility of regional ‘Northern Powerhouse’ trains also using it, while he has also asked HS2 chairman Allan Cook to analyse the costs of the whole scheme again, to see if all phases as planned can be built for £55.7 billion. On 6 June, Mr Grayling said decisions must be made ‘in the context of what is deliverable’.

Reader Comments:

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

  • Peter Smith, Chorley

    It frustrates me that the overwhelming vision for HS2 seems to be based on getting to or from London more quickly. Put simply, I want to get on a train in Preston that goes straight through to Paris, or one from Manchester that goes direct to Munich, without that ridiculous walk from Euston to St. Pancras - indeed why do I have to stop in London at all? Once we have direct services from provincial British cities to European cities then we'll see a reduction in polluting air travel that we should all be trying to achieve. HS2 is an opportunity for the rest of Britain to join the European high speed network, those who only think of London should remember that.

    It's time for major infrastructure projects to be decoupled from our politicians, and given to those with long term vision, a care for the enormous amounts of taxpayers' money involved, and a hatred for the wasteful bureaucracy that constantly drives up costs.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    A possible capacity enhancement through relaying the ex Great Central trackbed would only be done south from the Rugby / Nuneaton area to central London, and I was not proposing any "New Great Central" north from Rugby. This would effectively make the WCML a 6 track railway south from Nuneaton.

  • andrew Hardy, Wakefield

    [Message removed by moderator. Guidance Notes 1 and 4.]

  • Graham Nalty, Derby

    Our rail services need a massive upgrade, but HS2 is like buying a Rolls when your roof is leaking, your kitchen outdated, and your lounge urgently needs decorating - and you already have a good reliable motor in your garage. Firstly our second cities of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester need much better commuter rail services that serve all the major 'destinations' in these cities - football grounds, entertainment complexes, hospitals and Universities, large parks and shopping centres. Secondly we need much faster services between our large cities that are not on the same direct route to London with new lines east to west. Thirdly we need 360 degree connectivity to our major airports and fourthly we need to bring those towns not connected to rail (closed by Beeching), which have lower growth than those connected, back into the rail network.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    HS2 's justification is said to be a combination of capacity enhancement and time saviings on some intercity routes . It may be that combining these requirements leads to an HS2 that "falls between stools"and has unneccesarilyhigh costs. A "horses for courses " approach may be better.

    The only route that makes sense would be from the caipital to NE England and Scottish Central belt, where distances involved could see a passenger rail "sea change", with new day return opportunities and competitiveness with aviation.An enhanced ECML alignment, with some "new build 200mph high speed sections" ought to be substantially cheaper to build than the current project.

    Manchester and Birmingham are too close to London for a similar"sea change", rail having the lion's share of traffic already. If the southern part of WCML needs extra capacity, a cost - effective way could be to utilise the ex - Great Central trackbed , which would obviate having engineering work clashing with existing traffic. This could ( with suitable terminal facilities in London ) be used as a dedicated freight line, or as a passenger capacity relief. Also, the WCML south of Crewe might be upped from 125mph to 140 mph if a cab signalling system were to be installed.

  • Jez Milton, Manchester

    This country is a joke. I will laugh my bits off when HS2 is cancelled. We deserve everything we get. Especially commuters who stand every day between Coventry and Birmingham but don't support HS2.

  • Tom marshall, Rugeley

    When looked at objectively there is very little sense in HS2, and I think most people know this. The big problem now is that the process is being driven by hubris and vested interests, neither of which justify the enormous expense. It delivers a very limited benefit, except for jobs created in its construction, but we arrive back at the vested interest argument by focussing on this.

    It's clearly and unequivocally a bad scheme which is ill-conceived and thoroughly misguided, and in all honesty, the idea should never have left Adonis' sketchpad.

  • Andrew Gwilt, Benfleet Essex

    The construction of HS2 will still continue but it will be over budget just like what happened with Crossrail. As Crossrail isn’t still finished and is likely to be completed in Mid 2021 as the money keeps on adding up. Which is why HS2 will be completed in 2 or 3 phases over the next 5-8 years.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    The legislation is in place to build stage 1 so best simply get on and build it !

    The routes for stage 2 haven't even been agreed yet and then legislation will need to go through Parliament!

    The WCML simply doesn't have enough capacity to meet growing demands .

    The threat from Conservative leadership contest has now passed and given the years Boris Johnson spent as Mayor of London when Crossrail was being built then moving onto HS2 will allow him the publicity for when next election comes along .

  • Rita Stapleton, Uxbridge

    If HS2 needs to be constructed then it should start in the North. Construct the two ‘arms’ of the Y shape first, down to Birmingham then a connection to London if that proves to be needed. The north needs the work, it needs the connectivity and it needs contemporary railway routes to attract business and workers to areas where housing is cheaper to build because there is more space to build.
    London- centric policies emphasise the Westminster bubble mentality of too many Southern based politicians.

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    What's driving up the cost is the constant uncertainty over this, after a ship load of money has already been spent. Government constantly complains about the cost of rail projects (electrification, station & line re-openings, etc.) in the UK vs elsewhere. Governments in the UK themselves are largely responsible for that because they can't make a decision and stick with it.