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Lords: Northern Powerhouse Rail better value than HS2

16 May 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

A House of Lords report has concluded that improvements to the northern rail infrastructure under the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) programme would offer better value than HS2 and that the two should be combined.

In its report, Rethinking High Speed 2, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee said NPR would deliver greater benefits to northern cities and recommended that the second phase of HS2 – the northern section – be combined with NPR and treated as one programme to allow for investment to be prioritised “where it is most needed”.

The report also warned that the costs of HS2 appeared to be “out of control”, citing comments made earlier this year by former chairman of HS2 and Crossrail Sir Terry Morgan that “nobody knows” what the final cost of HS2 will be.

The committee added that it was concerned that if the London-Birmingham section costs overrun, the northern sections may not be built.

The report found that a new method of appraisal that took “more account of the transformative benefits of new infrastructure” that was less sensitive to small changes in journey time was required.

HS2 is being designed to operate at 360kmh, making it faster than any other train in the world, but the report re-emphasised that the committee’s 2015 recommendation that the government should assess the cost saving made by lowering the speed.

Another recommendation the committee made in 2015 was for a full assessment of the cost saving of terminating HS2 at Old Oak Common in west London, which will connect to central London by Crossrail, rather than Euston, which it warned would require expensive tunnelling. It has now concluded that the redevelopment of Euston should be removed from the scope of the first phase of the project and an assessment carried out as to whether Old Oak Common could operate as the terminus for the full line.

'Northern rail poor'

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, said: "Commuter services in the north of England are badly overcrowded and reliant on ageing trains. Rail connections between northern cities are poor. As the committee suggested in its 2015 report, rail infrastructure in the north should be the government’s priority for investment, rather than improving north-south links which are already good. The north is being short-changed by the government’s present plans, especially as construction on HS2 is starting in the south. Any overcrowding relief from HS2 will mainly benefit London commuters."

"The plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail should be integrated with the plans for the northern section of HS2, and funding for the project ringfenced. This will allow rail investment in the north to be prioritised where it is most needed."

"The costs of HS2 do not appear to be under control. It is surprising therefore that the government has not carried out a proper assessment of proposals to reduce the cost of HS2—such as lowering the speed of the railway or terminating in west London rather than Euston—which the Committee recommended in 2015. A new appraisal of the project is required."

"If costs overrun on the first phase of the project, there could be insufficient funding for the rest of the new railway. The northern sections of High Speed 2 must not be sacrificed to make up for overspending on the railway’s southern sections."

An HS2 spokesperson said: “We thank the Lords Economic Affairs Committee for its interest in Britain’s new high speed and will consider their recommendations as the project progresses.

“HS2 will generate around £92 billion in benefits to the UK economy, with local economic plans forecasting the creation of 500,000 jobs and nearly 90,000 new homes. Work is underway at over 250 locations and the scheme already supports more than 7,000 jobs directly and across our supply chain.

“As stated in the report, HS2 is fundamental to the delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail. It is also vital to the Midlands Rail Hub, and will transform rail journeys across the Midlands and North, giving passengers thousands of extra seats every day, and taking freight of the roads. As regional leaders across the Midlands and North have repeatedly said, it’s not a case of either or, it’s both.

“We are determined to deliver a railway that is value for money for the taxpayer, and a project that will reshape the economic geography of the country. We have strengthened our controls and are actively applying lessons learnt from recent infrastructure projects to ensure we have the most cost-effective approach.”

Comments

At last people are waking up to the fact that the HS2 is a costly outlay for just a few minutes saving in journey time. What is gained will be more than offsite in getting into the railway stations etc Another badly thought out project with total lack of good management

Roger Ward FCIOB PQS(F), 16 May 2019

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