Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Stop this Summer Madness - Time to see sense on HS2

Ok folks, the holidays are nearly over. It'll soon be time to get the kids back to school and get ourselves back to work, so it's time to stop all this summer madness and end the hysteria and lies about HS2. It is time to talk seriously about HS2, the planned new high speed rail route between London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, and to offer some facts, based on real information and real experience.

In reality, there are only two issues - how much will it cost and is the cost worth it? Well, how much it will cost is simple. There is a lot of experience around the world of building new railway routes and we have been building railways for almost 200 years, so there is a lot of experience and knowledge available and we can get realistic numbers.

Looking at past projects, one thing becomes obvious. The cost of new, double track railways built in the UK, works out at about £77million per kilometre. HS1 between London and the Channel Tunnel cost this much and, perhaps, counter intuitively, we can look back to see that this figure has remained remarkably constant since mid-victorian times, when calculated in today's money.

If we apply this to the 170kms between London and Birmingham, simple arithmetic gives us a cost of £13billion. Even if we apply the 66% "optimism factor" so beloved of the treasury, we still only get £22billion. Then, even if we add another 15% for contingency, we still only get £25billion. I'm trying hard to get up to the £33billion originally earmarked for the London to Birmingham section and I'm assuming that much of this extra cost is down to the additional tunnels forced on the project by various groups of "NIMBYs".

And the second issue - is it worth it? Of course it is. Mounting fuel prices, daily road delays and congestion, the high price of car insurance, particularly for young people, rising fuel taxes and the increasing numbers of students travelling to and from university are all forcing up levels of train travel across the country. Many trains are now permanently overcrowded, even outside rush hours. We need the additional capacity HS2 will offer and we really need it now. We have to stop this hysterical, fanciful, anti-HS2 nonsense, see the facts as they are and get on with building HS2 now.