Wednesday, February 5, 2020

HS2 Suffers Another Body Blow as Costs Picked Apart and Rail Infrastructure Alternatives Offered

Ex Deputy Chair of Government's Own Enquiry Writes to Ministers with Proposals
Shipping News Feature

UK – Those who clamour for the abolishment of the House of Lords may somehow miss the point considering the current row over HS2. The very independence of peers with no fixed political allegiances, and who carry with them the weight of experience spanning generations, are often nowhere near as reluctant as elected politicians to stick their heads above the parapet.

One such is Lord Tony Berkeley who last month lambasted the authorities over the fact that he thought the costs of HS2 were ‘out of control, parliament had been misled and High Speed rail would potentially not reach Leeds or Manchester for 20 years’. And this week he is back again with more carefully researched figures and opinions, all of which he has sent to the Transport Minister with copies to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.

No doubt stinging at his departure from the Oakervee Review, commissioned by the Government to evaluate the future of HS2 and where he was Deputy Chair, Berkeley, an undoubted expert on both track borne freight and passenger carriage, has made his view clear that there are better rail schemes to spend a couple of hundred billion pounds on, and he has provided evidence to back his claim.

The Oakervee Review panel was dismissed without a real explanation leaving Lord Oakervee to express the opinion of a committee of one to parliament, and that one being a former chairman of HS2, with Berkeley revealing the dismissal on Twitter and saying the report was unfinished and the selected panel had no influence on its conclusions.

In his letter to Grant Schapps Berkeley offers a sample of what could be achieved with the cash is HS2 is scrapped. This illustration leans heavily on a report from three authors who have many years of experience in the rail industry and do not have any current connections to any active rail companies or HS2. All the information has been forwarded to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.

The report, Connecting Britain by Rail By Robert Goundry, James Mackay and Jim Summers - A Prospectus for Change, sets out the case for a whole raft of changes for the medium term, and on a larger scale, in the longer term, recommending numerous specific projects to improve the railway infrastructure, its capacity and its reliability.

Berkeley says the costs of the scheme as set out in the prospectus are in line with the summary produced by Michael Byng at the end of January and the capital cost (as per the National Infrastructure Commission estimate) £44.36 billion, plus the capital cost of Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Connect programmes £59.09 billion making a total of £103.45 billion, a saving of £128.34 billion, which is the total cost of HS2, no longer required.

The ball is now firmly in the government’s court, we look forward to see if this pre-eminent flagship infrastructure project can go ahead given the objections raining down from all quarters, from environmentalists and land owners to some of the most respected names from the rail industry.