In its latest version of Why HS2? the government bases its financial case largely 0n time savings, not on capacity improvements. The government published the Strategic Case for HS2 yesterday. It said that time savings accounted for £45.7bn of the estimated benefits, with solving 0vercrowding offering just £7.5bn of benefits. Total benefits came out at £71.2bn over 60 years.
I was surprised to see this major reliance on the time savings, in view of the words about capacity mattering much more than time. The time savings have been newly valued. The estimators have lowered the value of business people’s time spent on the railway, but increased the value of commuter time and leisure traveller time. They have then added in £13.3bn of wider economic benefits, to get to a more favourable cost/benefit ratio for the total project.
There has been plenty of media comment that an alternative smaller investment in the existing railway would mean many week-ends of disruption to train services given the working on the line. Yet the Report in its conclusion on p 135 says ” Some of the upgrade schemes (on the existing railway) are likely to be taken forward as part of Network Rail’s normal forward planning process to modernise the network”. In other words there will be some disruption to existing train services at week-ends even with HS2.
One of the strongest things to emerge from the Report is the huge scale of the railway investment proposed, relative to other transport investment and to the size of the economy. Over the period 2015 to 2021 the current plans assume an HS2 spend of £16.5 billion, with another £22.5bn spend on other railway investment. This compares with just £15.1bn on national road improvements, despite roads taking more than ten times as much of the traffic as railways.
The Report also reveals a reduction in the forecast revenue from HS2 services. The estimate is cut by £1.8bn, presumably reflecting evidence that there will be fewer passengers than originally planned. The new forecast is £31bn over 60 years. There is also the question of whether fare levels can be sustained as forecast when so much extra capacity comes on stream.
I could not find figures in the Report about current use of seats out of London in the morning and back into London in the evening. The Report seems to concentrate on journeys into London at the morning peak and out of London in the late afternoon peak. The table showing where there will be shortage and stress in the system illustrates that the main capacity problems lie in commuter journeys at peak into London from Watford and Milton Keynes, into Manchester from Stockport and into St Pancras from St Albans.