Over the weekend, a review by Network Rail of alternatives to the HS2 proposal has been made public. It looks into alternative rail proposals for increasing capacity which could be used instead of spending £33 billion on the HS2 proposal.
One of them, Rail Package 2 (RP2) was produced for HS2 Ltd as part of the process for developing HS2. Most business leaders would say that before spending £33 billion on a single project, one would need to look at credible alternatives to the proposal. This should be the best possible alternative they can develop.
However if Network Rail – who were involved in developing the HS2 proposal – now find RP2 is so easily criticised, this shows that HS2 Ltd have not used credible alternatives. Clearly the challenge panels, set up by HS2 Ltd “to provide independent expert scrutiny” and which included the Chairman of Network Rail, have failed in their role to adequately scrutinise the materials used in developing the HS2 proposal.
Further, given the nature of Network Rail’s criticisms of RP2, one has to question the accuracy of the other material used by HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport in the course of developing the HS2 proposal.
This includes the passenger demand forecasts. Nine out of ten rail projects – including HS1 – overestimate expected demand. This brings further into question any case made by the Government for the existing HS2 proposal.
Incremental packages of improvements spread risk and can bring more benefits to more people, more quickly and for less money then HS2. However the high risk HS2 proposal would provide no extra capacity at all until at least 2026.
HS2 Ltd say that building HS2 will involve 8 years rebuilding at Euston station, causing misery to commuters and other travellers arriving there. In addition, if the Department for Transport goes ahead with HS2, there will need to be alterations to the West Coast Main Line (WCML) so that HS2 can join it. This will cause disruption for passengers travelling along the Birmingham-Manchester stretch. Network Rail, the DfT and HS2 Ltd don’t seem to have taken any account of the disruption the HS2 proposal will cause on the WCML at the same time as arguing that improvements to the WCML are unfeasible.
If the HS2 proposal has been so badly scrutinised by the people who have been specifically tasked to do so, surely the only way of getting adequate scrutiny is by holding a public inquiry if the government still wants to continue the process.
Read the Network Rail report here: Network Rail Strategic Alternatives