More challenges for HS2

London Euston to Buckinghamshire section of phase one

Two parliamentary reports published within 24 hours of each other lay out some of the biggest issues facing the proposed high speed 2 rail project. First the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee questioned the cost effectiveness of the £50bn High Speed 2 as the solution to increasing North-South rail capacity and rebalancing the economy. And the following day the High Speed Rail Bill Select Committee for phase one of the scheme between London and Birmingham published its first report on the hybrid Bill’s progress and in doing so called for a number of changes to current proposals.

In its report entitled “The Economics of High Speed 2” the Lords Committee called on government to provide better evidence that the project was worthy of the £50bn investment figure, of which £31.5bn will come from the public purse. “HS2 will be one of the most expensive infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the UK but the Government have not yet made a convincing case for why it is necessary,” said Lord Hollick, chairman of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. “The Committee are supportive of investment in rail infrastructure, but are not convinced that HS2 as currently proposed is the best way to deliver that investment. The Government are basing the justification for HS2 on two factors – increased rail capacity and rebalancing the UK economy; we have not seen the evidence that it is the best way to deliver either.”

The report also pointed to a number of problems with the current analysis including a lack of transparency over existing passenger data, a lack of assessment of alternative ways to increase north south capacity and evidence from overseas that showed that capital cities were the main beneficiaries of high speed links. It said that the government’s refusal to provide current rail usage figures citing commercial sensitivity makes it difficult to assess future demand forecasts and the claims that there are long distance capacity constraints. “The investment of £50bn investment of public money demands nothing less than full transparency,” said Horlick.

Enabling legislation is currently scheduled to receive Royal Assent by the end of 2016. In its interim report the Bill Committee called for a number of changes such as replacing a planned viaduct in Staffordshire with a tunnel and  the need to improve the function of the newly introduced “Need to Sell” compensation scheme. It also called on HS2 Ltd to provide a guide to tunneling costs to help petitioners in assessing proposals.

The full story will appear soon at Infrastructure Intelligence

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