Sometimes it’s worth looking back at the reasons why a policy decision was made. For instance why did the Coalition government want a high speed rail programme in the first place?
The Coalition’s Programme for Government stated
“We will establish a high speed rail network as part of our programme of measures to fulfil our joint ambitions for creating a low carbon economy.”
By February this year, the basis on which HS2 was being pushed through was forgotten, when Philip Hammond wrote to MPs to tell them that this £33 billion project was “broadly carbon neutral”.
This should have been no surprise to anyone who read the original HS2 report, published in March 2010. It said on p180:
“Perhaps the most important point to note is that this is equivalent to a range of -0.3% to +0.3% of UK transport emissions. So HS2 would not be a major factor in managing carbon in the transport sector.”
Part of the reason why HS2 will have so little effect on carbon emissions is because few passengers will have swopped from using air travel (6%) or cars (7%). HS2 Ltd predict that about two thirds (65%) of the expected passengers will transfer from conventional rail – which needs less energy – and that just over a fifth (22%) of the passengers will be travelling on HS2 simply because someone has built a new railway.
But all of these figures depend HS2 Ltd being able to predict passenger numbers for the next 30 years – and see The Economics Exam HS2 question for why we are dubious about the basis for their long term predictions.
What if HS2 Ltd have got their figures wrong? (Nine out of 10 rail projects, including HS1, overestimate passenger demand.)
Then HS2 really will turn out to be a huge white elephant that caused a massive amount of environmental damage during construction, that does not return any environmental benefits during use.