HS2 costs and benefits: a search for clear evidence

HS2

HS2 costs and benefits: a search for clear evidence

Joan Walley, former chair of the environmental audit select committee, and others react to a government review of the high-speed rail project




A construction site for the HS2 high-speed rail scheme in Euston, London.Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Philip Inman asserts that “HS2 has been 15 years in the making and is the best compromise option the transport ministry and its advisers could come up with for improving the UK’s transport system” (Business view, 22 August). HS2’s problem is that it is uncompromising: it was designed to run very fast, and therefore in an almost straight line, worsening its damage to the landscape, failing to reach the centres of many cities or Scotland, and badly connected with the rest of the railway network. More recent compromises to address those weaknesses, such as smaller loading gauge, shorter trains that can also run on existing routes, and trams and “people-movers” to take passengers from its stations to where they actually want to go, have worsened HS2’s already fragile economics.

Let us hope the review panel takes a broader view of how transport needs between city regions and within them can sustainably be met, recommends forgetting HS2 and starts work on smaller-scale, lower-risk alternatives that could improve more people’s journeys sooner and more efficiently.
James Mackay
Warwick o One of the reasons the costs of HS2 have ballooned is the amount of tunnelling proposed under the home counties. If HS2 were to be built as a normal civil engineering project – like, say, a motorway – more of the route would be above ground and the costs would fall dramatically.

The rule of thumb is that putting anything underground increases the cost by tenfold. This would benefit the north, whose economy needs a long-term stimulus. But it would anger the well-heeled folk who see themselves as getting nothing out of HS2.

So here’s an alternative: take over the London-Aylesbury route that feeds into an abandoned line that still points north (it used to run to Sheffield and Manchester) and use that as the HS2 route instead. It would mean no suburban trains into London, but then they could all drive instead on the new motorway that would doubtless have to be built as a result.
Alan Whitehouse
Thornton le Dale, North Yorkshire o In your coverage of the review of the HS2 high-speed rail scheme and the search for “clear evidence” (HS2 in doubt as key critic begins review of project, 22 August), I trust that you will follow up on the conclusions and recommendations of the 2014 environmental audit select committee report, HS2 and the Environment.

Not only should the government aim higher than simply striving for no net biodiversity loss, but it should also factor into the final appraisal the true costs of processes to address environmental risks and prevent or mitigate them. Our report also called on the government to establish detailed costings for monitoring and reporting, and for environmental protections over a 60-year period following the start of construction. In the absence of a formal strategic environmental assessment process for HS2, there is now an opportunity to place a value on environmental considerations too.
Joan Walley
Chair, environmental audit select committee, 2010-15

o Your report overlooks one of the greatest benefits of HS2. The old railways will be able to carry a lot more freight, enabling goods from the north to access southern ports more easily, and reducing the number of polluting lorries on the roads. This will in turn be a huge help towards climate targets.

A lot of the costs should be offset in this way.
Celia Boden
Tiverton, Devon o The kangaroo court set up to try to condemn HS2 will also condemn Britain to a future in the slow lane. It makes sense to plan for the zero-carbon future that must come.

We will simply not be able to afford the massive carbon emissions that come from short-haul flights. With a decarbonised electricity supply, high-speed rail in Britain could be as quick as flying, but with zero carbon emissions. While we argue about a measly 140 miles from London to Birmingham, France and Italy are going ahead with linking their extensive high-speed rail networks with a new tunnel through the Alps that will cut the Paris-Milan journey time from seven hours to three.

Now who’s thinking strategically?
Mick Shaw
Ulverston, Cumbria o Britain’s motorway network was not constructed by tinkering with the roundabouts and crossroads on A roads. Just like the motorways, HS2 is about capacity, not just speed, although speed contributes to capacity.

The southern end of the west coast mainline is so full that not enough trains can stop for commuters at stations like Milton Keyes, as they’d get in the way of the trains behind them. As for freight, I’m sure Stop HS2 campaigners would also like to get lorry loads off the roads and on to the tracks. Let’s create the space for them.
Rob Harris
Westbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire

o John Ruskin would have had it right on the utility of HS2. To paraphrase: “Every fool in London could be at Birmingham, saving half an hour, and every fool in Birmingham at London.” His hated railway line in Monsal Dale is now a footpath and cycleway.
Joe Oldaker
Nuneaton, Warwickshire o The decision to review HS2 is a welcome indication that the government is not afraid to kill off projects that have gone off the rails.

Its costs are escalating out of control such that it can never recover its investment. It does not address the need for much more rail capacity to relieve chronic congestion and take cars off the road, not to transport relatively few businesspeople rapidly at high prices. A review of the Hinkley Point C nuclear project – also with costs out of control and unable to meet the need for low-cost, low-carbon electricity – should be carried out.

The money already spent on these mega-projects is irrelevant to decision-making. The issues are whether the remaining cost can be recovered and whether the estimates of the remaining costs are reliable. The money spent cannot be recovered and, galling as this waste of public money would be, it has to be written off if carrying on would be throwing good money after bad.

The estimate for HS2 is GBP55.6bn compared to the original budget of GBP32bn with GBP7.4bn already spent.

The 2017 estimate for Hinkley was GBP20bn compared to the 2012 estimates of GBP12bn.

It is not clear how much EDF has spent to date but given that construction on the first reactor started in December 2018, it can only be a small fraction of the total cost, and an even smaller fraction of the GBP50bn that Hinkley will add to consumer bills over its lifetime.
Professor Steve Thomas
Emeritus professor of energy policy, University of Greenwich

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