Don’t railroad it through

This report from the UK think tank the Adam Smith Institute looks at rethinking the High Speed 2 (HS2) project.

A new paper by Adrian Quine, a rail expert, argues that the government should rethink the controversial HS2 project – and sets out a number of alternatives to save time, save money, and deliver an improved service for rail passengers: High Speed 2 (HS2) is substantially over budget, over time and will deliver limited benefits. Based on the latest cost estimates, it will return just 78 pence of value for every £1 of taxpayers’ money spent. Its motivation is political, not based on need, and it suffers from poor management and an excessively complex design. HS2 is unnecessarily fast for the relatively short distances it covers, will undermine access to intermediate stations and is likely to result in increased fares for travellers. Under HS2, a number of key northern cities destinations will lose direct trains to London, including Lancaster, Carlisle and Durham.

There is a need to expand capacity in rail lines. More capacity and speed improvements can be achieved in a smarter, quicker and less costly manner than is currently proposed by HS2. There are still sections of railway where 4 tracks are reduced to 3 or even 2 creating bottlenecks and severely limiting further growth. The mainlines do not directly serve cities such as Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds, requiring the use of slower regional connecting lines that halve speeds for the final 20-40 miles.

There are a number of substantially less costly alternatives to current HS2 plans that could increase capacity. These include: (1) upgrading existing routes with new signalling, doubling the number of tracks, reopening mothballed lines, and timetable redesigns; (2) building new sections of conventional high speed, including between the mainlines and Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, and upgrading northern sections of the mainlines; (3) maximising current infrastructure by targeting bottlenecks on conventional lines, including building flyovers at key junctions, upgrading the Chiltern route to Birmingham or reopening the southern section of the Great Central railway, raising line speeds to at least 125mph; (4) upgrading stations in London, Birmingham and Manchester; and (5) improving passenger experience. In order to deliver the rail infrastructure of the future, the Government could also look to private sector to fund projects that are specifically tailored to passenger needs and save the taxpayer billions in the process. Adrian is also the author of the ASI’s report “A Third Way for Britain’s Railways”.

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