HS2: another embarrassing delay

“If you are a train enthusiast hoping to ride HS2 from Manchester to London, take good care of your health,” said The Times. You might just “make your first journey by the late 2040s. But don’t bet on it.”

SEE MORE HS2: work starts on controversial £100bn high-speed rail line SEE MORE Are HS2’s London tunnelling plans safe? SEE MORE Will HS2 be scrapped and what has it cost so far?

Last week, Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced that the second stage of HS2, from Birmingham to Crewe, will be delayed by two years at least, and may not be open until 2036. 

The stage beyond that, to Manchester, may not be open until the 2040s. Trains will also now not run all the way into central London until around 2040, as the Government still needs to make sure it has “an affordable and deliverable station design” at Euston: they’ll stop instead at Old Oak Common in west London. Harper blamed the soaring cost of labour and building materials, but the problems run much deeper than that. HS2, it’s increasingly clear, is “a national embarrassment”.

The cost

The reason it has become the “biggest and costliest white elephant in our history” is that the whole concept is “misconceived”, said Ross Clark in the Daily Mail

Britain is a densely populated country, where the costs of land and construction are exorbitant, and where the major cities are already mostly within a few hours’ train journey time of each other. 

It’s “ridiculous” to splash tens of billions shaving a few minutes off those times, when what we really need is minor improvements to inter-city lines, and better public transport in our cities. The obvious route forward, said Chris Blackhurst in The Independent, is to complete the London to Birmingham leg, since work is well under way, and to scrap the rest of it. Some of the tens of billions in savings could be spent on boosting cross-country routes in the north of England. 

  Modi’s operandi: what will Indian PM do with G20 presidency?

The larger problem

HS2 is proving a fiasco, agreed Robert Colvile in The Sunday Times. “But the really alarming thing is that there is so much more where that came from.” The Government is currently overseeing 235 major infrastructure projects with a predicted cost of £678bn. Of these, 170 are colour-coded amber: where “significant issues already exist”. A further 27 are coded red – “unachievable” – including the Oxford-Cambridge rail link. 

The chief causes are Britain’s snail-like planning system, Whitehall’s incompetence at managing large projects, and the Treasury’s unwillingness to invest beyond a five-year spending window. Address all that, and we may get moving. Meanwhile, even those projects that do get completed “will cost far too much and arrive far too late. Much like those long-delayed HS2 trains.”

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *