Fresh concerns published over HS2 business case

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Further doubts have been raised about the business case for Britain’s high-speed rail system on a day that HS2 published more details about how it plans to build the new network.

Today should have been a good news day for HS2. The organisation leading the multi-billion pound project was setting out more information about how it could dig extra tunnels to protect communities along the route and incorporate new technology and construction techniques to try and minimise the line’s environmental footprint.

The focus, however, has turned to a report by the National Audit Office’s (NAO) that, among other things, suggests there could be a funding shortfall of £3.3 billion.

The report raises doubts not just about how well the government has articulated the benefits of high-speed rail but about whether it actually has the data.

According to the NAO, too much time is spent talking journey times without showing how faster, more reliable trains will actually benefit economic growth.

“It’s too early in the High Speed 2 programme to conclude on the likelihood of its achieving value for money. Our concern at this point is the lack of clarity around the Department’s objectives.

The strategic case for the network should be better developed at this stage of the programme. It is intended to demonstrate the need for the line but so far presents limited evidence on forecast passenger demand and expected capacity shortages on existing lines. It is also unclear how High Speed 2 will transform regional economies by delivering jobs and growth.

The Department is trying against a challenging timetable to strengthen its evidence and analysis, which at present provide a weak foundation for securing and demonstrating success in the programme in future.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

It had been a positive week or so for the project until today. Several route updates have announced, satisfying communities around London and the Midlands. The inclusion of HS2 in the Queen’s State Opening of Parliament address also further supported a feeling that progress was beginning to be made.

Announcing the start of a consultation over the draft Environmental Statement and Phase I route amendments, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “HS2 is absolutely vital for this country, providing a huge economic boost which will generate a return on investment that will continue paying back for generations to come. But you cannot build a new railway line without causing some disruption.

“What we can and will do is ensure that disruption is kept to a minimum by using the very latest design and construction methods.”


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