Professor David Begg has attacked our report on the hidden costs of HS2 this morning. The point of that report is simple: the Government's plans for HS2 contain a series of unwelcome consequences like worse services for many towns and cities, higher fares and heavy congestion at Euston. They promise that all of these problems will be addressed, but don't acknowledge the costs that would entail. They are trying to have their cake and eat it too.
If they want to stick to all the promises they've made that aren't in the current plans, then they need to provide an estimate of how much that will cost taxpayers. In lieu of an official study and to inform taxpayers, we asked experienced rail executive Chris Stokes to produce the best estimate he could. He found it could be a massive £28.4 billion extra. You can read the details here.
Professor David Begg attacked our report on two key grounds.
First he argued that we are wrong to say building HS2 will necessitate the construction of Crossrail 2, adding billions to the overall cost. He says that is only based on the optimistic demand forecasts for high speed rail - which we have challenged - and a claim that the line is needed from Boris Johnson. It isn't. As we stated in the report the critical thing is not just that Euston will need to accommodate growing passenger volumes, but that "the majority of InterCity passengers who currently use Kings Cross and St. Pancras would also travel through Euston."
Kings Cross and St. Pancras are major stations accommodating lots of InterCity passengers from places like Yorkshire. The Government's HS2 plans would have huge numbers of those passengers going to the already overcrowded Euston instead. That would almost certainly, particularly once Phase 2 of HS2 is completed, necessitate the creation of a new underground connection for Euston. It would cost billions. That is why Boris Johnson has said the new line is necessary if HS2 goes ahead. Incremental improvements to the rail network would mean we could continue to make proper use of Kings Cross and St. Pancras and therefore don't involve the same costs.
Second he argued that we were wrong to argue that existing services would be cut because capacity would be freed up on other lines. The problem is that the Government has budgeted that they will save £5.4 billion by reducing existing services. If they instead try to maintain the service on those existing lines - which will be less economical without traffic to the major destinations served by HS2 - then at the very least that saving won't be possible.
Also, apparently we haven't offered an alternative, but Chris Stokes has set out a set of incremental improvements that would double capacity against the same baseline as HS2 at a much lower cost. You can read his alternative here.
Many of the estimates in our note are conservative rough estimates. We aren't going to pretend that it is an alternative for a proper, detailed costing of the pledges that politicians are making. The report isn't going to provide a definitive answer, we don't have the data or the resources to do that. But we have to produce the best estimate we can, on the basis of Chris Stokes' considerable knowledge and experience, so that taxpayers are aware of the incredible bill that politicians might be setting up for them, if the Government won't do their job and provide an honest estimate themselves.
Instead of throwing out simple-minded attacks, the Government and other proponents of HS2 need to do one of two things:
1. Accept the consequences of the plans they have set out. For example, that towns like Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent and York would get a worse service.
2. Set out a detailed costing for a project that matches the promises they have made.
Till they do that, the best estimate available of the cost to taxpayers is the one in our research.