HS2 speculation suggests need for Plan B

While I am sceptical of the rumours published in the fiercely anti-HS2 Spectator about plans to abandon the scheme, it is very important that the rail industry is prepared for such an eventuality. My scepticism is based on the fact that such a U-turn would require a complete recasting of the Coalition’s transport policy and would be on a far greater scale than other U-turns because plans for HS2 have been well in train for several years. Certainly the Libdems will fight tooth and nail to ensure that the scheme is retained – indeed given that the Tories have repeatedly ridden roughshod over them on so many other policies, it would be a real potential deal breaker

However, any hint towards abandonment must be met by well-prepared plans by the industry to ensure that there are cogent plans to deal with the lack of capacity in the rail industry.  The real danger is that the government would suddenly decide that if the money is not to be spent on railways, it should be spent on airports and – heaven forfend – motorways. The expansion of Heathrow or other London airports has, however, nothing to do with the kind of transport demand which HS2 is supposed to meet. While motorway widening is possible, the expansion of the roads programme would be unpopular and expensive, and will not improve the connectivity between major cities which the railways can offer. The rail industry, therefore, must be prepared with a Plan B to show other ways in which the capacity problems can be resolved – and these mean more than just focussing on the West Coast main line.



  • RichardH

    Not specifically a reply to you, just a related observation.

    BA announced today it’ll start flying Heathrow to Leeds/Bradford. Naturally the Leeds chamber of commerce expressed its delight at this.
    Leeds to Kings Cross takes 2hrs 15. And you can work the entire time. I’d be amazed if you could go city centre to city centre by plane any faster, let alone more productively. 
    As Atkins say, it only makes sense if the southern final destination is somewhere near Heathrow.  

  • RichardH

    If roads had a cost-benefit analysis done on them I imagine 90% of lanes, especially ones in the north, would cease to be maintained and left to return to nature. As Beeching did to rural railways.

  • I’m ambivalent on the issue. Building HS2 ‘sounds’ exciting and long-distance travel by TGV in France is enjoyable but I have every sympathy with those suffering property blight from current proposals, and given today’s news that HS1 has left taxpayers with a £4.8bn debt – see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18733308 –  the business case is far from proven. Three years ago, ATOC suggested re-opening 14 branch lines at a cost of about £500m – the only news story I could quickly find is at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1193107/500m-rail-network-expansion-needed-cope-soaring-passenger-demand.html – and I suspect that the cost/benefit ratio on these schemes would be rather better than that for HS2.

  • Vtiman

    we were aware of this report back in march. whilst it did say that there COULD be a £4.8 billion debt it also said that the wider economic benefits of hs1 would likely be greater then the cost. HS1 can also be leased again in 30 years time for another £2 billion. a 2009 report concluded benefits could be as high as £20 billion. 
     hs1 passenger numbers are up to 18 million and this will increase over the coming years with further eurostar and deutsch bahn services planned. freight has started to use hs1 also. even if there were a debt of £4.8 billion we could not now do without hs1. if we didnt have it the existing lines and runways and roads would be even more crowded. congestion pollution and accident cost would be higher. for example over 9 million people use hs1 to go to france and back to the uk . So we could have even high costs elesewhere and would ultimately have haD to build more runways and road lanes.

    the likely numbers of passengers on hs2 was calculated less optimistically then was the case with hs1 the methodology was changed. the current yearly passenger number increases are more then double the rate nationally then the prdicted numbers used. hs2 like all government projects includes a huge extra amount for optimism bias or cost inflation as we might know it. in a recession these are less likely and the interest rates are incedibly favourable for such large projects. Times of boom are the worst times for such projects as interest rates are higher and demand for construction pushes inflation up.  

  • Vtiman

    california senate and assembly have approved hsr there. some democrats opposed it. they said they needed a plan B also. they said they supported hsr but not the plan. sounds familiar christian ? if you support hsr then you should support a plan for hsr it is as simple as that. in californias case the federal government would have withdrawn 3.3 million dollars of funding. nobody who really supported high speed rail would risk that. yet in this country we have supposed rail and high speed rail supportes risking £32 billion pounds of rail investment with no guaranteee that it wpould be spend on rail or even transport if hs2 does not go ahead. time for the real rail industry supporters to stand up and be noticed like the rail and air lobbies are doing. New london estuary airport anyone – extra runway at heathrow (goodbye sipson). or we could have more ,motorways. chhose now !