Benefits of high speed link unclear, says committee
The Government has yet to make a convincing case for proceeding with HS2, according to a report from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.
The committee’s report questions a number of the proposed benefits of the project, saying ‘it is not at all clear that HS2 represents the best, most cost-effective solution to the problems it is intended to solve’.
On capacity, the report accepts that the West Coast main line ‘is nearing full capacity in terms of train paths’ but suggests that ‘future technological innovations’ could release further capacity. It says that overcrowding on long distance services on the WCML appears ‘largely to be a problem on Friday evenings and weekend services’ and that ‘government has not presented a convincing case that there is a long term overcrowding problem’.
The committee also queries the expected construction cost of the line, saying that the cost per mile is nine times higher than for high speed lines in France. It also advocates investigation of terminating at Old Oak Common rather than at Euston as a means of reducing costs, in addition to a reduction in the design speed.
The committee suggests that the estimated net cost to the taxpayer of £31.5 billion is at odds with the government’s objectives of making railways less dependent on public subsidy. It proposes that the government should ‘look for opportunities to reduce the burden on the taxpayer’, such as by charging higher fares so that those who benefit from HS2 contribute a greater share of the project’s costs.
In terms of the wider economic benefits, the committee says it has received evidence that London is likely to be the biggest beneficiary from HS2, with similar projects in other countries benefitting the largest cities the most. It adds that improving regional links between cities in the north should be considered before construction of HS2, as the benefits are likely to be greater and this would be a better means of encouraging growth in the north. There is also concern that other areas of the UK rail network could suffer from reduced investment and as a result of HS2 and that the benefits of the project to freight have not been detailed.