One of the problems with HS2 is the huge cost, and whether spending £55 billion on one railway is the best use of such a huge sum of taxpayers’ money.
Over the years, people have come up with a lot of different ways of spending that money. These range from local railway schemes and other transport plans, to housebuilding and better digital infrastructure. But then we get told oh yes, the government have the money to do HS2 and invest in local infrastructure.
The thing is, there are problems with the other infrastructure, with spiralling prices and delays.
For example, take the plan to modernise and electrify the Great Western Railway to Bristol and South Wales.
In March, the Public Accounts Committee published a report looking into the delays and costs overruns of the program:
The programme has seen significant cost increases and is taking longer than expected, and in November 2015 Network Rail replanned the modernisation programme. Electrification of the railway line between Maidenhead and Cardiff is now expected to cost £2.8 billion, which is an increase of £1.2 billion against the estimated cost of the project in 2014. The Department also currently expects to incur costs of up to £330 million as a result of delays to electrification. Electrification of some sections of the route will be delayed by up to 36 months. Some parts of the electrification project, such as between Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads, have been deferred to the next rail investment period (2019–2024).
The report highlighted ways the Department for Transport failed to challenge Network Rail’s plans effectively despite the very significant sums of public money at risk. One example was the liability to pay £400,000 per day to lease new trains that could not be used until the overhead electrification was complete.
And in April, the Bristol Post reported that “the Government recently announced the work would stop at Thingley Junction – not far from Chippenham – and electrification would not yet reach Bath or Bristol.”
But the situation appears to be getting worse. The 2015 Conservative manifesto promised to electrify the Great Western Main Line: the 2017 Conservative manifesto doesn’t mention it.
In an interview with the Bristol Post this week, Philip Hammond repeatedly refused to confirm the electrification of the Great Western mainline to Bristol would ever happen on a visit to Bristol Temple Meads today.
The Bristol Post say:
“The money was there but the project went seriously over budget, so it has very sensibly been re-engineered to ensure that we get value for money all along the line, which will bring the passenger benefits of electrification to Bristol,” he said.
“This has been made possible by the evolution of hybrid trains which will bring those benefits without the costly infrastructure investment of fixtures on the rail network itself,” he added….
“But we’ve got to do it in a way that is cost effective, and that means engineering projects that deliver the maximum passenger benefits with the money that’s available.
“What matters to people is the outcome: reliable journey times, shorter journey times, greater frequency of service, better availability of wifi on the trains. How we do that, whether it’s by electrifying or not part of the lines using hybrid trains is of less interest to them.
“What they want is the service delivered and is what Network Rail is determined to deliver too,” he added.
But while we would agree the outcome for passengers is more important: the ease of getting to London rather than the specifics of whether it is a railway called “High Speed 2” or an existing line, there are ongoing costs with the part-electrified Great Western Railway. A recent BBC local news report said that the electrified trains are having to be dragged to the depot by a diesel engine.
So which is more important – building another electrified line from London northwards, in addition to the existing three, or modernisations to the one main line to the west of England and South Wales?