Select committee thinks there is a good case for HS2, but……

The transport select committee has signalled its support for the Government’s HS2 high-speed rail project – as long as it does not drain money from the rest of the rail network.  Mrs Ellman, chairperson of the committee added: “Investment in HS2 must not lead to reduced investment in the ‘classic’ rail network. We are concerned that the Government is developing separate strategies for rail and aviation, with HS2 separate from both. We call again for the publication of a comprehensive transport strategy.”

She continued: “HSR may be a catalyst for economic growth, helping to rebalance the economy and bridge the north-south divide, but the Government must do more to promote local and regional growth strategies to ensure we get maximum economic benefit from HSR.

The committee felt “HSR is affordable: HS2 will cost around £2 billion per annum over 17 years. Construction of an HSR network should start with the line between London and the West Midlands, as this is where capacity needs are greatest. But we are concerned that, under current plans, HSR lines won’t reach Manchester and Leeds for more than 20 years.”

“The Government should also look at options to build southwards from the north and link to other lines such as the Midland Main Line. We see no reason why the Scottish Government should not begin work on a Scottish high-speed line, to connect with the English network in due course.”

“Investment in HSR has potential to boost growth but may have a substantial negative impact on the countryside, communities and people along the route. This must be better reflected in the business case for HS2 and future phases of the project. We would encourage the Government to follow existing transport corridors wherever possible.”

AGAHST, the Action Group Against HS2, issued a press release arguing that the committee’s recommended revisions destroy the business plan case for the £30 billion project.  In particular:

Value of Productivity Gains
In its report, the TSC has called for a revised business plan with ‘a lower value attached to time savings’ (para 69). With faster journey time gains equating to 40 percent of the hoped for economic return delivered by HS2, any reduction in their value pushes project below the Government’s stated minimum acceptable Net Benefit Return of 1.5.

In addition, if the value of time saved is reduced the need for ultra-high speed rail – which cannot follow existing transport corridors – is removed and alternatives to HS2 become more attractive.  The TSC said that the slower routes were prematurely ruled out (para 68).

 Alternatives to HS2
The report also demands that the Government must explain in detail why HS2 is better than alternative solutions (para 107).  A full review of priorities for the rail network and detailed plans for alternatives to HS2 are detailed at www.betterthanhs2.org.

18 trains an hour
To meet the passenger demand projected by HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport HS2 will need to run 18 trains an hour on the new line.  The TSC report raises concerns on the technical feasibility of HS2, pointing out that “18 trains an hour on a high speed line has not been attempted elsewhere” (para 116).

Specialist consultants SYSTRA suggest that delivering this number of trains will require “significant technical and engineering developments”. While HS2 Ltd has stated it will be possible using technology that will be available in the middle of this decade, although have as yet failed to provide evidence of this.

Commenting on the report, Jerry Marshall, Chairman, AGAHST;

“Given the partisan composition of the TSC we welcome the significant number of issues that its report has raised around the fatal flaws in HS2’s business case.  Specifically, that viable alternatives to HS2 have not been investigated thoroughly; that the value of potential productivity gains delivered by HS2 have been greatly inflated and lastly the technical feasibility of being able to run 18 trains per hour is a risk.  This simply leaves the case for HS2 in tatters.”

Penny Gaines, Stop HS2, added;
“The Transport Select Committee has picked up on a number of significant problems with the current HS2 Ltd proposals.  The issues they highlight about the business case and the environmental case are serious enough to make the Government rethink the whole rationale for the existing ultra-high speed proposals.”

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