The Coalition government wants to commit to spending £33 billion on building the HS2 high speed railway from London to Manchester and Leeds.
Given so much money is involved, and the timescales – more then two decades to build – it is vital that the justification for spending so much money is robust. Small errors in the starting assumptions make a huge difference to the final outcome of the project.
And even HS2 Ltd acknowledge the starting assumptions for HS2 are out of date, but they have not changed the way they calculated the economic benefits.
About 40% of the economic benefits of the London-Birmingham stretch of HS2 is based on an old idea that journey time is all wasted. But as anyone who has used a train in the last few years knows, this is no longer true.
The government owned HS2 Ltd accepted the changing habits of travellors in their economic case published in March this year, when they said “However, with laptop computers and, increasingly, wireless internet access available on modern trains, rail passengers are increasingly spending at least some of their time in productive activity.” (p51)
In spite of this acceptance, the so called economic case for building HS2 as currently proposed is still based on the idea that reducing a journey by a few minutes makes a big difference to a business travellor’s productivity.
Can the Coalition really justify commiting £33 billion on an outdated assumption?
PS Read research about the changing use of train time here.