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Monday 7 February 2011

TPA – High Speed Flap

Our old friends at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) are today working themselves up into a terrible flap over the rebuttals to their “report” on proposals for a high speed rail network from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, known as High Speed 2 (HS2).

The report by former BR man Chris Stokes was, in fact, a reworking of his article from last October’s Modern Railways magazine, with some added material intended to counter assertions from pro-HS2 group Greengauge 21. The publicly available copy of the original article is hosted by the so-called HS2 Action Alliance.

Since the TPA article appeared last week, I’ve posted two observations on it (HERE and HERE), but more importantly, Greengauge 21 have replied once more, and the Department for Transport (DfT) have found adversely on the TPA’s suggestions.

This last has clearly distressed the TPA, because it suggests that the DfT has made up its mind and the TPA is therefore being ignored. And the TPA doesn’t like being ignored. But they themselves are ignoring key factors in their desire to rubbish HS2.

Firstly, there is still no mention of freight from the TPA. If the package of improvements that they are championing is implemented, the capacity of the West Coast Main Line (WCML) to accommodate even the existing freight paths would be lost – but there is a demand for more of those paths. Freight is profitable, and an area where competition between providers works – one might have thought that the TPA would be all in favour of this, yet they appear blind to it.

Secondly, the use of demand forecasts for rail traffic between London, Paris and Brussels to suggest that HS2 is overestimating demand for a new line is a non sequitur. The demand forecasts for HS2 are based on historic data and do not assume particularly high growth rates, especially given increased demand for rail travel over the past ten years.

Thirdly, HS2 is an incremental project: the first phase, from London to Birmingham, will be followed by later phases with lines on to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, the latter two destinations allowing some relief of both the Midland Main Line (MML) and East Coast Main Line (ECML), and yet more capacity for the freight traffic that the TPA doesn’t want to discuss. But the TPA is focusing only on London to Birmingham.

Moreover, as I noted previously, having a former BR manager on board does not make the TPA uniquely authoritative – it merely means that one former BR manager does not agree with the proposal for HS2.

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