We've been keeping our supporters abreast of the ongoing debate over the proposal for a new High Speed Rail line, which we pointed out was a Huge Spending Risk in our report on 4 February. To catch up on the debate so far see our last blog.
This week Greengauge21, the pressure group set up to lobby for the project to go ahead, released a new report claiming that HS2 will lead to an improvement in other other routes. Secretary of State for Transport Phillip Hammond claimed this showed a major benefit to the project. Those claims do not stand up to scrutiny though.
Bruce Weston from the HS2 Action Alliance has written the following response:
"Greengauge21 have issued a report ‘Capturing the benefits of HS2 on existing lines’, presenting a superficially attractive wish list of improved services everywhere on the existing network.
But this is not a statement of what will happen. The big missing feature is the money to pay for it. We could have more services now – if money were no object. The problem is that additional services – with the costs that go with them – are not affordable, nor in most cases value for money.
Greengauge21 is a pro-high speed rail pressure group, so they don’t discuss funding, or value for money. They will promise the earth, in terms of more and better passenger and freight services, just to make the case for HSR look better. But such promises will only be delivered if the taxpayer picks up the bill - fares already only cover half the cost of the railway, and planning for more subsidy looks even less sensible when it is realised that trains are predominantly used by the better off.
And when would we enjoy these additional services if they were provided? After HS2 is built – that is after 2026 for the first part of HS2, and about 2030 for the Y. This means in at least 20 years time! It is hard to believe that such plans will then look anything other than quaint. Even today, the world is already being transformed by digital communications, and domestic travel is already close to saturation.
Greengauge21 are deeply cynical. They know the country cannot afford the money to create and operate new loss making services. They know that the real effect of HS2 would be to reduce demand on the conventional network, which, in order to avoid spiralling subsidies, would then be cut, as they have been in other countries where high speed lines have been built."
Chris Stokes, author of the TPA report on High Speed Rail wrote the following in the report:
"In this respect, HS2 represents a trap for the taxpayer: every time a new high speed station is built, there will be demands for major investment, and ongoing subsidy, to deliver the promised regeneration or provide the transport links needed for passengers to access the new service. Euston is the most dramatic case: the Victoria Line is already full – how long before the Mayor explains to the Secretary of State that the additional passengers forecast for HS2 mean that Crossrail 2 has to be built, at a cost of another £10-15 billion. “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money"."
In response to the new Greengauge note, he has written:
"Greengauge21 have been quick off the mark with this. Their latest paper "Capturing the benefits of HS2 on existing lines" promises new and improved services in all directions, but is silent on the issue of the subsidies required to run them. So, for example, there is to be an additional train every hour from Wolverhampton to London via Walsall. It's not clear where the passengers will come from, as before this Greengauge21 would have told us that HS2 provided massive benefits for Walsall as everyone would be able to drive to the HS2 station at Birmingham Interchange, cutting their journey time in half; now apparently they want to go on trains on the existing route instead, although Greengauge21 have also already said they shouldn't have cheap fares to do this! And the paper even promises improved services from Harrow to Nuneaton - a true railway enthusiast's delight!
The wish list of services would require massive continued subsidies, and isn't realistic or affordable; the evidence in France and in Spain is that, as one would expect, existing parallel routes have their services cut when high speed lines are opened. But Greengauge21 are desperately trying to prevent people realising this so are promising jam tomorrow - or rather in twenty years time, when most of the existing commuters will have long since moved on or retired.
The right strategy is to make sensible and affordable incremental improvements in the next few years, with much earlier benefits at much less cost."