Reply to HS2 Action Alliance and TaxPayers’ Alliance

7 February, 2011

In reply to the counter from the HS2 Action Alliance on our press release, we agree with  the point that it is important to compare like with like. Of course DfT haven’t made this task easy for anyone by comparing a lower cost incremental improvement to an existing (very busy) railway line against a more expensive and much more beneficial new line.

But they have at least tried to ensure that the low cost way to add capacity does not have the unwanted side-effect of damaging service reliability on what is, after all, the nation’s single most important railway line. That’s why it’s essential to quote the figures from the ‘RP2a’ test that the HS2 Action Alliance would rather we ignore. To pretend that there is a better performing alternative and ignore the damage it would do to the economy by degrading passenger service reliability (as the unmodified RP2 test did), not to mention jeopardising the existing key freight flows on the West Coast Main Line, would be seriously unwise. And hardly comparing like with like since HS2 has no such adverse consequence on train service reliability.

In fact, to get the same kind of performance reliability that HS2 will deliver out of the West Coast Main Line – and at the same time increase its capacity – would entail a very much more expensive scheme than RP2/RP2a. Now that would be like for like.

But we don’t need to go there: RP2a does not have as good a business case as HS2 as it stands. This is our main point of contention with the research note from the TaxPayers’ Alliance. ‘Serious flaws’ have not been found in the HS2 business case as the HS2 Action Alliance would wish. out.

The HS2 Action Alliance’s second point is on demand, but again they rely on lower demand growth figures from earlier Network Rail studies, ignoring the new estimates to which we have drawn attention, which are very close to (not ‘substantially below’) the forecasts that HS2 Ltd have used. And there is no comment either on the fact that these projections are all lower than recent trend growth.

No, the reality is that DfT has tried hard and genuinely to consider whether it would be sufficient to continue to subject  the West Coast Main Line to further decades of disruption – the costs of which to users and the wider economy it almost certainly has under-estimated.

Indeed, one of the other consequences of an approach like Rail Package Two is that the future franchises on the line would immediately lose value, and turn a cash return to the Exchequer into a sharply increased subsidy. TaxPayers’ Alliance supporters should surely be told!