NAO says HS1 passenger forecast ‘hugely optimistic’

The National Audit Office today published a report looking into the “The completion and sale of High Speed 1”.

(You can download it from the NAO website here – http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/1012/high_speed_1.aspx.)

They point out a number of problems with HS1, including the passenger forecasts were massively overoptimistic. Compared to the original predictions, there are only a third of passengers expected. A revised forecast from the Department for Transport in 1998 greatly reduced the forecasts of passenger numbers, but even with this ‘improved’ prediction vastly overestimated the number of passengers by about 30%.

The report goes onto say that

“In such cases, departments should ensure that demand forecasts are subject to rigorous scrutiny and scepticism. Departments should assess the benefits under a range of different scenarios, perform a sensitivity analysis of key assumptions and a sense check to understand the reality of meeting forecast demand.”

It’s clear that this is not being done in the case of HS2.  The HS2 “challenge panels” were criticised by the Transport Select Report on high speed rail last year for being made up of too many people who were already publicly supportive of high speed rail.

In particular, with respect to HS1, the NAO say

“The Department and LCR have also attributed lower than expected demand to unforeseen developments such as competition from low-cost airlines.”

Stop HS2 and others have pointed out that digital technologies will massively affect the demand for HS2.  These will not be “unforeseen”: the Department for Transport is even promoting videoconferencing and similar  schemes with initiatives like Anyplace Working.

However when it comes to HS2, not only is the Department for Transport ignoring digital technology, but the Secretary of State for Transport openly mocks individuals who suggest videoconferencing will have an effect on demand for HS2.

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