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HS2 specification ‘unnecessarily high’, says Lord Berkeley

6 January 2020 | By Neil Gerrard

The specification of HS2 is “unnecessarily high” and reducing the scope of the project and integrating high-speed lines with Northern Powerhouse Rail and other local services could save billions from its ballooning £107bn price tag.

That’s the conclusion of Labour peer Lord Berkeley, who has published a dissenting report offering his views on what the future of the high-speed rail project should be.

Lord Berkeley’s report has been published after he stepped down from his role as deputy of former HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee’s independent review, commissioned by the government. A leaked copy of the report has indicated that Oakervee will conclude that HS2 should go ahead in full – an assessment that Lord Berkeley has publicly disagreed with.

Berkeley argued in his report that the specification for HS2 was needlessly high, with trains designed to run at 360-400kmh – higher than any other high-speed line in Europe or Japan - and with capacity for 18 trains an hour in each direction, whereas most high-speed lines run at 12-14 trains per hour. He also claimed that terminating the line at Old Oak Common, rather than at Euston would save another £8bn.

Meanwhile, a total of £50bn could be saved if ministers integrated the HS2 phase 2B lines into the Northern Powerhouse (NPH) and Midlands Connect (MC) areas, quadrupling track to the level it was before the Beeching era cuts in those areas, he said.

In his report, Lord Berkeley said: “There is a growing view amongst economists that far greater economic growth and increases in productivity would be achieved by public investment in rail, road and bus services that increase the ‘travel to work’ areas of our major cities in the Midlands and the North than by any new major north to south high speed intercity services. 

“The amount of funding required for these regional and local services in the NPH and MC areas is currently being appraised but may well be as high as £39bn – and this is needed to be spent, whatever options for HS2 are chosen.”

He added that his “best estimate” was that as it stands, the HS2 project has a benefit to cost ratio (BCR) of “less than one, possibly as low as 0.6 and therefore ranks as poor value for money when using the Treasury Green Book”.

A HS2 Ltd spokesman said: “There have been many individual views expressed about the HS2 project. However, we await the publication of the government’s official review.”

Comments

The suggested number of passengers travelling on HS2 travel based on the number of trains per hour is very unlikely to be achieved If that number of people need to travel in those numbers Then British business is very inefficient and not using modern communications The budget for HS2 would be better spent on improving the present network

Roger Ward FCIOB PQS(F), 6 January 2020

Could it be that Lord Berkely does not understand the chief benefit of HS2, as I did not until it was explained to me recently?

Lord B says economists increasingly agree that "far greater economic growth and increases in productivity would be achieved by public investment in rail, road and bus services that increase the ‘travel to work’ areas of our major cities in the Midlands and the North than by any new major north to south high speed intercity services.

But that is exactly what HS2 does. It takes the fast trains off the existing lines and frees them up for a huge increase in slow/stopping services, which are the 'travel to work' services that Lord B refers to.

Adam Dowling, 7 January 2020

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