You have to hand it to the dubiously talented collection of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA): their ability to read from the “public bad, private good” script knows no bounds, even when it comes to building new rail lines, which those following the HS2 debate might have thought they would invariably oppose. Because the TPA has discovered a private sector rail proposal.
More guff from Tufton Street
This is the Windsor Link Railway (WLR), which describes itself as “An integrated transport plan for the region around Heathrow, solving a range of national and local transport and social issues”. The Windsor Link in question, the key proposal which underpins the whole raison d’être of the scheme, is the idea of linking both rail lines that currently run into Windsor and Eton.
The scheme has been enthusiastically supported by a number of local Tory MPs, including Adam Afriye, Zac Goldsmith and Michael “Oiky” Gove. So the TPA has joined the chorus of approval, telling “Private rail proposal could save taxpayers £1 billion”. And here, the way in which the TPA treats public schemes like HS2 diverges dramatically from its approval of WLR.
WLR has, as far as can be ascertained, not presented any kind of independently audited Benefit/Cost Analysis (BCA). This does not trouble the TPA, although the BCA presented in support of HS2 is routinely picked over and rubbished by them. HS2’s need for some of its route to be in tunnel is also picked out by the TPA, with the clear inference that this means there will be cost overruns.
But WLR’s central proposal – the link between the lines which at present run into Central Station (from Slough) and Riverside Station (from Staines) – depends on tunnelling. A cut and cover tunnel is WLR’s preferred solution, and this is a construction method that has not been used – apart from for stations, as on the Jubilee Line extension – since the 1800s.
Then, cut and cover was used for much of what is now London Underground’s “sub surface lines” – the Metropolitan, District and Circle – in central London. There was disruption on an enormous scale. Even with modern construction equipment and techniques, there would be significant disruption in Windsor and Eton were this link to go ahead. There would also be the potential for cost overruns.
And that is before one considers the proximity of Windsor Castle, the River Thames and the twin centres of Windsor and Eton. Whether the locals would be so supportive once the diggers move in is apparently not considered. None of this concerns the TPA: it is private, therefore it is good. The question of where WLR is going to raise the money is also, predictably, not allowed to enter.
Nor is the question of what happens if it runs out. So no change there, then.