HS2 Action Alliance: Government Spending Review – why have they missed cutting HS2?

19 October 2010 – It is expected that the government will confirm in tomorrow’s Spending Review that it is planning to fund HS2, the high speed rail scheme. The capital cost of this project is forecast to be some £33billion.

HS2 Action Alliancefinds it inexplicable that a project with such a poor business case could possibly be thought better value for money than the benefits that we as a country are being forced to give up.

The HS2Action Alliance has analysed the case for HS2 and can prove:

1: HS2 is not a sound investment

Commercially HS2 will lose money. It will cost £25.5bn for the first phase of development, but only generate £15bn of extra fares.

The Net Benefit Ratio (NBR) – 2.7 – detailed in HS2’s business case depends on a number of unrealistic assumptions:

  • That all business time spent on trains currently is unproductive
  • That there will be a huge increase in demand for travel, some 267%, despite clear evidence of demand saturation
  • HS2 Ltd say that if demand falls short by just over 20% (still a 190% increase) then the NBR will not reach 1.5, an unacceptable ratio
  • The cost of damaging the environment and property blight on the route is excludedfrom these calculations

2: HS2 will not deliver major wider economic regional benefits or transform the North

DfT/HS2 Ltd say there are benefits (worth £3.6bn) but this is mainly from additional local transport using freed-up existing capacity not faster connectivity.

The redistributive effects will benefit London – not the regions. London is the UK’s dominant city. It is seven times bigger than the next biggest city, unlike other major West European capitals that are only twice as big.

DfT’s assumptions imply that trips to London will grow at three times the rate of those from London to the regions – taking money from the regions and spending it in London.

The current emphasis on additional transformational benefits to redress the North/South divide is neither based on theory nor empirical evidence. It is a smokescreen to hide the weaknesses in the business case and the absence of an environmental case.

3: A new railway is not needed to solve the rail capacity problem

We can generate 65% more capacity with just extra rolling stock on West Coast Main Line (WCML) and there is massive capacity potential on Chiltern Railways. 65% more capacity satisfies the requirement forecasts made by leading authorities. This capacity growth could be generated without disruption.

DfT’s own alternative to HS2 (Rail Package 2) de-bottlenecks WCML, delivering required

capacity by running more and longer trains (for a net cost of just £2billion) and gives a better (3.63) NBR than HS2 (2.7). Extra capacity can be developed incrementally against actual need – not relying on long-term forecasts.

Why this option was discarded merits serious investigation.

DfT’s explanation that it did not provide sufficient extra capacity – despite it meeting all the demand forecasts – suggests replacing the doubtful policy of ‘predict and provide’ with the economically squanderous one of ‘predict and over-provide’.

4: The UK does not need to catch up with Europe – it is still ahead

The UK – unlike Europe – has had a fast national railway system for a long time. As Sir Rod Eddington said in 2006, the UK has extensive fast inter-city services.

We also have routes capable of 200km/h (125mph) – with quicker rail journey times between the capital and the five largest cities than in other major West European countries:

  • Averaging 145 minutes in UK
    • 151 minutes in Spain
    • 184 minutes in Italy
    • 221minutes in France
    • 244 minutes in Germany

5: HS2 is not ‘green’ – it doesn’t fit as part of the low carbon economy

Even DfT say it will not reduce CO2 emissions, but it will be ‘broadly neutral’ (and HS2 Ltd’s

sums flatter HS2). Trains capable of 360km/h use more than twice the power of 200km/h trains. 84% of

journeys on HS2 will indisputably create more emissions – all the new journeys (27%) and

those switching from conventional rail (57%). A showcase transport investment such as HS2 should contribute to the UK’s target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050.

6: HS2 will not greatly reduce domestic air travel

To generate sufficient shift from air (8% of HS2 journeys) HS2 Ltd assume a 178%

increase in domestic air travel by 2033 and a third runway at Heathrow.

In reality demand for domestic air travel in the UK has been declining since before the recession, so opportunities for HS2 to displace air travel are reducing, not increasing. Were reductions in domestic services to arise they would be replaced by long haul services that are more polluting.


If you would like to talk to HS2 Action Alliance’s spokesperson Hilary Wharf please contact:

Richard Houghton

07803 178 037 or richardwhoughton@gmail.com

About HS2 Action Alliance

HS2 Action Alliance is a not for profit organisation working with over 50 local community groups, which is challenging the case for HS2 and working to getGovernment to take the right decisions.


  • Communicate the facts about HS2 clearly and accurately.
  • Provide a channel for local groups to share information and analysis, and pool resources to maximise effectiveness.
  • Question, evaluate and where appropriate challenge the economic & environmental case for HS2.
  • Identify and promote alternatives to HS2 that are in the national interest.
  • Seek to minimise the adverse impacts of HS2 on individuals, communities and the environment.
  • Work with local action and community groups, other interested organisations and businesses, to improve Government decision making on HS2