The arguments around the HS2 High Speed Rail project have flared up once more, fanned by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance, whose chief non-job holder Matthew Sinclair has pointed up a new report on the proposed new line by Oxera Consulting (available HERE [.pdf]). If only he had read it first.
What the Oxera study hardly mentions, although it is a key benefit from any provision of extra capacity within the rail network, is provision for freight traffic. One hates to bang on about this every time HS2 is discussed, but it has to be stated and restated that freight is a profitable traffic, it is a sector where there is competition between a number of providers, and it has the potential to remove a significant number of lorry movements from an already heavily used road network.
But the new report does compare HS2 with upgrades to not only the West Coast Main Line (WCML), but also the Midland Main Line (MML) and East Coast Main Line (ECML). Table 2.1 shows that upgrades to all three existing lines – and those proposed for the ECML include serious as well as disruptive works – yield a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of just 1.4, against 2.6 for the HS2 “Y Network”.
That table also shows a slightly less good BCR for Atkins Rail Package 2 (RP2) versus the first phase of HS2 (1.9 against 2.0). But as I’ve already shown, RP2 is not a serious proposition: the timetable is unworkable, there is no provision for extra capacity at peak times, and there would be a significant reduction in seats available to Northampton commuters. Plus freight provision would be squeezed.
Oxera consider the potential for cost and time overruns, both of which could impact the BCR of HS2 – or the upgrading of existing routes. But their analysis concedes that HS1, the line from the Channel Tunnel to London, was completed on time and slightly under budget. The upgrade to the WCML, concluded in 2008, overran and was significantly over budget. Moreover, the disruption faced by rail users was significant and long lasting. New build means less disruption.
And Oxera also demonstrate how initial BCR calculations can underestimate the benefits of new rail links: the Jubilee Line Extension (JLE) was estimated to have a BCR of 0.95, and thus was forecast to bring less benefits than its costs. However, despite a cost overrun of more than 50%, an assessment following opening of the JLE produced a BCR of 1.75. Moreover, London’s Docklands without the capacity of the JLE would be unthinkable.None of this is considered by the TPA, where Sinclair is as usual dealing in soundbites and easy characterisations. Here at Zelo Street there will be more substantial discussion: I’ll consider the TPA’s latest line of attack next.