When all else fails, HS2 advocates play the Europe card. Patrick McLoughlin did it recently when talking about the project in Stoke. He said: I can take you to other examples in Europe..” As bad timing would have it for the Secretary of State, quoting European examples in support of HS2 has become a lot more tricky.
In March a new study presented on the multi-billion euro investments made on Spain’s AVE high-speed rail system concluded that the costs were “neither beneficial to businesses nor society,” and did not compensate passenger savings in airline tickets or time spent on the road.
And in another hammer blow, a public inquiry in France has rejected plans for two new TGV lines in the south-west of the country, concluding that the new lines were too costly and would benefit only rich people and large cities.
In the Netherlands, a financially disastrous high-speed freight railway project from Rotterdam to the German border undertaken 30 years ago, became a textbook example of what happens when politicians lock themselves into decisions without exploring all the options and practicalities.
Well before the latest setbacks, Professor John Tomaney told the Transport Select Committee looking into HS2 in 2011, that evidence in Europe for high speed rail networks bringing economic regeneration and rebalancing regional inequalities was difficult to find.
An image of loading piles of taxpayers’ money onto bandwagon rolling out of town is inescapable.