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Friday 23 August 2013

HS2 – Monty Speaks

[Update at end of post]

As if there were a shortage of those wanting to express an opinion on the HS2 project, along has come noted transport expert Tim Montgomerie to add his ninepence worth to the debate. In a piece on ConHome, Monty says, more or less, that because a number of other pundits have said HS2 should not be built, then this is the right answer.
High speed rail in Spain. Almost four and a half years ago

Sadly, his first citation is the IEA report from earlier in the week which this blog has comprehensively demolished: Richard Wellings’ assertion that HS2 could end up costing £80 billion was only propped up by fraudulently adding £20 billion for Crossrail 2 – a trick already pulled by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance but with the price doubled – and including several more projects in the bill.

Monty also cites apparent disquiet reported in the FT by Treasury officials, who claimed the cost of HS2 “might reach” £73 billion. Ah, the wonders of taking today’s prices and compounding in a bit of inflation, without realising that the same inflation will make the benefits larger by around the same proportion. And neither citation acknowledges the contingency already built into cost estimates.

But Monty has a trick of his own: despite his being a good Conservative, he is happy to quote former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, who talks about upgrading the East Coast Main Line (not at present on the agenda), the line out of London’s Liverpool Street terminus towards Norwich (ditto, except for Crossrail, which is going ahead) and the Great Western Main Line (also going ahead).

So HS2 is not impacting on any of these routes. And, as Darling refers to road improvements, it isn’t impacting on the managed motorway upgrades to the M1 and M62, which are also going ahead. This might be because HS2 is not incurring its final price tag immediately, but over a number of years, with the spending in any one year not likely to exceed around £2 billion.
Am I an advocate for HS2, then? Put it this way: if there is a solution to the approaching capacity shortage that does not mean having to build a new line, then I would love to see it. And I mean a practical and cost-effective one, not pretending that Atkins RP2 is other than a theoretical exercise, and not suggesting that, if only we re-routed more trains into Paddington, all would be well (it wouldn’t).

The capacity crunch, as I’ve pointed out previously, is shown to good – or maybe that should be frightening – effect by the Rail Freight Group, in their graphic showing the predicted excess of demand over supply for freight paths by 2030. If the railway can’t accept that traffic, that means hundreds more lorry movements on our motorways. Every day of the week.

What Tim Montgomerie has not taken into account, which is why he hasn’t told you.

[UPDATE 24 August 1410 hours: Andrew Adonis, who was one of the early advocates of HS2, has written about the current spate of knocking copy - and bogus "reports" - in the Staggers. He points out, as I have, that none of those calling for cancellation has any alternative to the looming capacity crunch.

Excuses such as "we could have a new bus fleet in every city in the UK" are of little help in the discussion: if the problem is a shortage of capacity to move people and freight between the South-East (and its ports) and the North of England, it is manifestly not going to be solved by renewing city bus fleets.

Adonis also recalls a number of previously cancelled transport projects which at the time were deemed "wasteful", including the Channel Tunnel, built rather later and at rather greater cost, and the new London airport at Maplin Sands, which never got built, with a consequence that is all too clear]


SteveB said...

One of the new anti arguments is that HS2 will suck money out of projects on the existing network. This argument has also been used for some time now to campaign againts the Stuttgart 21 project in Germany. So not only do we have to import technology from Germany we are now importing their arguments!!

There is a big problem with the argument. It assumes two things. First, that if HS2 goes ahead then investment in the existing network will definately stop (with investment in motorways and airports presumably carrying on unaffected). Second, if HS2 is scrapped all the money will definately be spent on the existing railways. The first is something to keep an eye on, but I somehow doubt the second would ever happen!

railwayman said...

There are quite a few upgrades taking place on the East Coast Main Line at the moment- An additional track between Alexandra Palace & Finsbury Park; Hitchin grade separation (just opened); an additional flyover north of Doncaster for freight and an additional line just south of York. Perhaps Mr. Darling didn't notice these? Additionally, the projects specified for CP5 involve a substantial amount of investment in the existing network- hardly characteristic of HS2 absorbing all spending on the railways. Of course, we don't know what could happen in the future, but as your previous commentator says, there's no guarantee that if HS2 were cancelled, the money would go into the existing network.