Welcome To Zelo Street!

This is a blog of liberal stance and independent mind

Sunday 4 December 2011

Desperate Exhumation

There has been a delay in the ministerial decision over the HS2 project – from this month until January – while the numbers are crunched over the proposal to put yet more of the route in tunnel, most likely to appease rebellious Tory MPs with constituencies around the Chilterns. This has given the Telegraph another opportunity to indulge in yet more agenda driven hackery.

And once again, spraying any residual credibility up the wall is Political Editor Patrick Hennessy, whose name appears on a piece of knocking copy titled “£8.5 billion ‘black hole’ from HS2 high-speed rail link – report”. He tells of a study, commissioned by councils along the route of the first phase of the project, and quotes freely and selectively from it.

There’s one obvious problem with the analysis from Chris Castles and David Parish: it’s already five months old. Why it has taken so long for the Telegraph to pick up on it is not told, probably because this is another in a long line of increasingly desperate attempts to rubbish HS2. At least it does not suffer from the technical ineptitude of the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) effort, which I considered previously.

So what does the Castles and Parish report bring to the table? Well, that “£8.5 billion black hole” only happens if a whole series of “what ifs” line up together. There is the usual attempt to compare HS2 with initial projections for the Eurostar London to Paris and Brussels services. And there are yet more visits to the series of Atkins Rail Packages. So the report covers the same ground as all the others.

The Eurostar comparison is largely meaningless: the potential market for cross-Channel passenger traffic was unknown at the time, and the over-eager imposition of security controls (along with the needlessly long “check-in”) will not have helped. The market for travel from London to Birmingham and beyond, though, is very well known, with over 170 years of development to its credit.

Then we come once again to the Atkins Rail Packages. The advocacy for Rail Package 2 (RP2) and the flaws inherent therein I’ve considered previously. RP2 is not a practical proposition: as I’ve already pointed out, it would require heroic levels of operational reliability on what is still a mixed traffic railway. And it does not consider more capacity for freight traffic.

Moreover, the assumptions Castles and Parish use to diminish the business case for HS2 should set alarm bells ringing: these are to reduce demand forecasts by 29%, a revised “base case” with no overcrowding (not visited Euston much recently, then?), changes in the calculation of working time during journeys, and shortening the life of the new link to 40 years (inconceivable).

Making one of those line up will be challenging: all four you can forget. Next.

No comments: