LETTER: Case for high-speed rail link is flawed

I WOULD challenge the support for High Speed Rail 2 by Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson you reported last week (“Backing a bid for high speed”, page 20).

The Institute of Economic Affairs has issued a critical report on the proposed HSR2 project, which highlights that:

There is a significant risk HSR2 will become the latest in a long series of Government big-project disasters with higher-than-forecast costs and lower-than-forecast benefits.

HSR2 is not commercially viable and will require substantial and increasing levels of subsidy. Taxpayers will therefore bear a very high proportion of the financial risks, which are wholly under-represented in the economic case presented by the Department for Transport.

The level of financial risk of HSR2 is huge, far more than for the Channel Tunnel rail link. The estimated cost of £34 billion to construct HSR2 is equivalent to £1,000 per UK income tax payer.

Most taxpayers, particularly in the North, will derive hardly any benefit from the scheme.

The Government’s economic case for HSR2 depends on estimates of demand growth that are very high compared with a range of previous forecasts for long-distance rail travel. The long timescale adds to the uncertainty surrounding future passenger numbers.

The economic case for HSR2 assumes time on board an ordinary Inter-City train is wasted for business travellers. In fact many business people are able to undertake productive work during part of their journeys. The economic benefits of HSR2 are therefore substantially exaggerated.

The construction of the line will involve the appropriation of large numbers of properties on the route. Several areas are likely to be affected by planning blight. Significant environmental and social costs are not included in the assessment of the economic case. 

HSR2 is likely to create demand for additional high-cost, taxpayer-funded transport capacity.

Claims that HSR2 will bridge the north-south divide and bring regeneration should be treated with scepticism as the evidence is largely speculative. Alleged benefits must be set against the wider economic losses from the additional taxation required to fund HSR2.

The £34 billion involved could far better be spent on improving the existing rail network and providing connections to main line services, such as the reopening of the Colne–Skipton railway to Leeds and the reopening of the Todmorden Curve to Manchester. I believe the country cannot afford both HSR2 and improvements to other parts of the rail network. The French have neglected their regional rail network in favour of TGV high speed trains and suffered economically as a result.

In other words, the case for HSR2 is economically flawed and would be huge waste of money – a massive white elephant.

DAVID PENNEY

Noyna Street, Colne