The government has failed to make a “convincing case” to justify the £50 billion cost of building the HS2 high-speed rail line, according to a House of Lords report.
Members of the Lords’ Economic Affairs Select Committee say they are not convinced by the government’s two main arguments for HS2, which are to increase capacity on the route from London’s Euston station and to “rebalance the economy” in the Midlands and northern England.
The committee argues in its report that there are “less expensive options to remedy these problems than HS2 but these have not been properly reviewed”.
HS2 is initially planned to operate between Euston and Birmingham from 2026, and then will be extended in a “Y-shaped” route to Manchester and Leeds by 2032 or 2033, although this second phase may be brought forward.
“The committee is supportive of investment in rail infrastructure, but are not convinced that HS2 as currently proposed is the best way to deliver that investment,” said committee chairman Lord Hollick.
“The government is basing the justification for HS2 on two factors – increased rail capacity and rebalancing the UK economy; we have not seen the evidence that it is the best way to deliver either.”
The report said that long-distance trains to and from Euston were 43 per cent full on average and only ran at 50-60 per cent capacity at peak travel times.
“Overcrowding on the West Coast mainline is largely a problem on commuter trains and on long-distance trains immediately after peak time on Friday evenings and at some weekends,” added Hollick.
“The government has not carried out a proper assessment of whether alternative ways of increasing capacity are more cost effective than HS2.”
The committee also disputed the government’s claim that HS2 would “rebalance” the UK economy with evidence from countries such as France suggesting that the capital city benefited most from new high-speed rail links.
Peers said it would be better to improve trans-Pennine rail links or build the northern sections of HS2 first, instead of starting the development from London.
“In terms of rebalancing, London is likely to be the main beneficiary from HS2. Investment in improving rail links in the north of England might deliver much greater economic benefit at a fraction of the cost of HS2,” said Hollick.
“We have set out a number of important questions on HS2 that the government must now provide detailed answers to. Parliament should not approve the enabling legislation that will allow HS2 work to begin until we have satisfactory answers to these key questions.”
The Department for Transport has responded by saying that HS2 remains a “vital part of the government's long-term economic plan” as demand for long-distance rail travel is set to continue growing rapidly.
“It is crucial we press ahead with delivering HS2 on time and budget and we remain on track to start construction in 2017,” said a DFT spokesman.
First published in Buying Business Travel