The Truth About High Speed Rail Capacity

30 March 2011 – Hilary Wharf of HS2ActionAlliance said:

“The Taxpayers’ Alliance is right. The Government’s case for high speed rail just doesn’t stack up. Numerous towns and cities will see train services cut and cheaper alternatives to improve the network and deliver more capacity have not been properly considered. Instead the Government plan to spend £30bn on a project the country cannot afford, for the benefit of the rich. Average take-home pay has fallen by £1,000 since the downtown started. Every household in the country is set to lose a further £1,000 if these plans go ahead. We don’t need it and we cannot afford it. High speed rail must be stopped before it becomes the most expensive white elephant in British history.”

Notes for editors

1. The Government’s proposed new high speed rail line (HS2) is set to be a white elephant that will cost every family well over £1,000, but only benefit a fortunate affluent minority. The initial plan is to build a high speed rail link from Birmingham to London – costing £17.8 billion but only saving 30 minutes in journey time (against today’s timetable). The second phase, which will take high speed rail to Manchester and Leeds (the “Y”), will take the capital cost to over £30 billion.

2. To receive a copy of HS2Action Alliance’s full report on the Government’s plans please contact Richard Houghton richardwhoughton@gmail.com

3. An investigation of the Government’s new consultation document by HS2 Action Alliance exposes five myths about the Government’s case for a new high speed rail line (HS2:

MYTH ONE: HS2 is the best way to improve the rail network

  • More affordable alternatives to HS2 are not properly considered but it is clear that they can deliver better value.
  • The business case shows that a number of towns and cities – including major cities and towns like Coventry and Stoke-on-Trent – will see train services cut thanks to high speed rail. And there will be 8 years of disruption as Euston is rebuilt.
  • Even the first phase from London to Birmingham will not be delivered till 2026, whereas alternatives can deliver needed capacity much more quickly.

MYTH TWO: HS2 offers good value for money

  • The expected benefits have been cut by at least a third from the original business case.
  • That estimate is still based on a number of dubious assumptions. If they are corrected to be more realistic then the case that the new line’s benefits outweigh its costs collapses:

1. No account has been taken for people working while travelling – in other words, that it is not time wasted but time used productively

2. While the rate of projected demand growth has slowed, by basing the business case on what might happen over the next 35 years, and using out of date forecasting factors, the Government has still greatly overestimated demand for long distance train services (by some 47%).

3. The comparator used is one in which the rail network is maintained as it is without improvement for 30 years.

  • Re-doing the sums on a realistic basis shows the taxpayer gets back just 30 pence (or 50 pence including the wider economic impacts) for every £1 spent on phase 1. For the full “Y” network the figures increase, but only to 40p and 60p respectively.

MYTH THREE: HS2 will benefit ordinary people

  • Use of HS2 will be dominated by those earning high incomes.
  • The specific answers on the equality impact of HS2 in the consultation documents conceals the extent to which it is the affluent who will benefit.
  • No case is made for a regressive subsidy that benefits the rich and encourages travel, when there is an alternative approach, ie charging full costs.

MYTH FOUR: HS2 will help bridge the North-South divide

  • The new business case shows that 7 out of 10 jobs created by high speed rail will be in London, not the Midlands or North of England.
  • Most of the jobs claimed will not be genuinely new employment but moved from other areas within that region.
  • HS2 would benefit the service sector, where London dominates. Since 70% of HS2 passengers are leisure travellers and there is much greater growth in trips to London (than from London) it is London not the regions that will gain.

MYTH FIVE: HS2 is good for the environment

  • The new business case shows that just 6 in every 100 travellers on high speed rail would be people who have switched from flying to trains.
  • 87% of passengers will have switched from existing rail services or be making new journeys, meaning that more energy is used and therefore more emissions are produced.