Today has seen the historic decision by Secretary of State Justine Greening to proceed with the development of HS2. The documents supporting the announcement set out clearly why the preferred route is better than other alignments and why building HS2 is better than the alternatives (upgrades to existing rail routes). The updated economic case also enumerates the substantial economic benefits that HS2 is expected to deliver, in terms of reducing crowding, reducing journey times and hence increasing economic efficiency.
But we think the Government is still being too cautious.
Greengauge 21 last year gave evidence to the Transport Select Committee highlighting the fact that there are significant benefits from HS2 that have not yet been taken into account. This still seems to be the case and here are three examples:
- While the cost of the new tunnelled link between HS2 and HS1 is included, there are still no services assumed to run over it serving Stratford (where the International station awaits services), Kent and onwards to Paris/Brussels/Frankfurt/Amsterdam – cities that can have direct high speed connections to the cities of the Midlands and the North with HS2.
- While Network Rail and Passenger Focus will shortly release their work on how services can be improved on the West Coast Main Line using the capacity liberated by HS2, these benefits, which are a central part of the high-speed rationale in Greengauge 21’s thinking, are not factored in.
- The opportunity to speed up services between London and Edinburgh (as well as Glasgow) when the first stage of HS2 is opened in 2026 are still being ignored.
And there is scope to reduce project costs further at this stage by smart planning – for instance by adopting the Network Rail scheme to take existing commuter services out of Euston and connect them into Crossrail instead. This would save costs and reduce disruption – and even bring forward the project completion date. Overall, we don’t believe we have yet seen the best business case for HS2.
But that is the challenge ahead!