More reactions to our “High Speed Rail – Huge Spending Risk” report still can’t justify HS2 project

February 07, 2011 9:14 AM

Following the release of our detailed report on Friday 4th, “High Speed Rail a Huge Spending Risk” ,which pointed out the fundamental flaws in the proposed plans for a multi billion pound train line, a number of organisation have reacted to justify the project: the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), Greengauge 21 and the Department for Transport (DfT).  We posted an initial response to ATOC and Greengauge 21 last week.

Chris Stokes, author of the research note on High Speed Rail who has years of top level experience in the rail industry and as a rail consultant, has provided a further response to an argument made by ATOC, Greengauge 21 and the DfT.  They all argued that the new line is needed to resolve a problem with a lack of capacity:

"Interesting that ATOC, DfT and Greengauge21 have all majored on capacity in their responses. Greengauge21 imply the forecast growth is modest, as West Coast Main Line volumes grew faster in the last ten years, but conveniently forget to mention that the £9 billion upgrade was completed in this period, and the route was transformed from a poorly performing 1960's railway to give a greatly accelerated and higher frequency service. For example, Manchester - London used to take 2 hours 40 minutes with one train an hour; it now takes 2 hours 8 minutes with a train every twenty minutes. This step change in service quality has transformed the balance between rail and air, and rail now has more than 80 per cent of the market - so the main mode shift has already taken place.
Being long in the tooth, I remember a similar step change in the mid sixties when the route was first electrified, journey times were slashed and frequencies improved. But after three/four years of rapid growth, rail volumes flattened out for many years. Is it really realistic to assume that we will see continued compound growth on the route year on year? It's not happening on other high speed railways elsewhere in the world, where markets have become saturated.
Given the scale of capital expenditure proposed, and the central importance of the volume forecasts to the case, how about an independent review of this issue, rather than relying on a point forecast by HS2 Ltd which is getting on for double everyone else's forecasts?"

In an article in the Independent titled "Report calls for £17bn rail link to be scrapped", the DfT disagreed with the findings in the report. Bruce Weston from the HS2 Action Alliance responded to their comments:

“According to the Independent, a DfT spokesman has rebuffed TPA's claims, saying:
'This will not be 'a railway for the rich'. We have modelled on the basis that the line will have the same fares structure as the existing railway.'
The point is that if HS2 has the same customer base as the existing railway it will be a railway for the rich. The government's own survey data (NTS) shows nearly half of long distance rail journeys are made by people from the top 20 per cent of households by income. Obviously if HS2 proves in reality to be a premium fares railway (as most people expect) it will be even more so. Why does the government think that the largely affluent group who use trains for long distance travel merit a subsidy which everyone must pay for, despite the cuts being suffered?

No one is suggesting that nothing is done. The point is that there are cheaper, better value and more quickly implementable alternatives - developed by DfT - that involve improving existing infrastructure. They are what need to be done - not a grandiose and massively loss making project that will do nothing to address capacity issues until 2026 at the earliest.

The spokesman also said:

'Intercity rail travel has risen sharply in recent years. Already some of our key rail arteries are close to capacity, so doing nothing is simply not an option.'
According to the spokesman, it is all justified by the
'massive economic benefits.'
But the problem is that these benefits don't exist. The economic case rests on false assumptions like business travellers don't work on trains, and demand projections that repeat the errors of HS1. And no foundation has yet been offered for the claims that it will 'reshape Britain's economic geography'. It should be remembered that HS2 Ltd reviewed the evidence, taking top academic advice, and published their views on this in March 2010. Not only did HS2 Ltd make no such claims, but identified Old Oak Common (in London) as the best regeneration opportunity!"

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