Tag: high-speed rail

On June 20, the Review of the Government’s case for a High Speed Rail programme was published. This was commissioned by the Transport Select Committee from the independent consultancy, Oxera.

The programme is initially for a high-speed rail link form London to Birmingham and then subsequently for two additonal routes from Birmingham to Manchester and from Birmingham to Leeds. The whole thing is known as the ‘HS2 Y programme’

Oxera’s brief was to ‘provide an independent review of the economic case for the programme and to provide a set of questions that the Committee could use to probe the evidence base put forward by witnesses during its inquiry.’ In considering the economic case, Oxera focused on the economic, social and environment impacts, both monetary and non-monetary.

The summary to the report states that:

Overall, the case for the High Speed Rail programme seems to depend on whether and when the capacity is needed, the selection of the best VfM [value-for-money] approach to delivering that capacity, the degree of uncertainty around the monetised benefits and costs of the preferred options, and judgements on the balance of evidence relating to non-monetised items, such as environment and regeneration impacts (which are likely to be substantive in their own right but not fully set out in the Government’s assessment).

On July 19, the Institute for Economic Affairs, the pro-free-market think-tank, published a highly critical disussion paper, challenging the case for HS2. The paper, High Speed 2: the next government project disaster? arges that:

There is a significant risk that High Speed 2 (HS2) will become the latest in a long series of government big-project disasters with higher-than-forecast costs and lower-than-forecast benefits. HS2 is not commercially viable and will require substantial and increasing levels of subsidy. Taxpayers will therefore bear a very high proportion of the financial risks, which are wholly under-represented in the Economic Case presented by the Department for Transport.

The publication of the report and the IEA discussion paper has fueled the debate between supporters and opponents of HS2, as the articles below demonstrate.

Update
In November 2011, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee came out in favour of the government’s HS2 plans. According to the committee’s chair, Louise Ellman:

A high speed rail network, beginning with a line between London and the West Midlands, would provide a step change in the capacity, quality, reliability and frequency of rail services between our major cities.

A high speed line offers potential economic and strategic benefits which a conventional line does not, including a dramatic improvement in connectivity between our major cities, Heathrow and other airports, and the rest of Europe.

However, she did raise some issues that would need addressing concerning the overall level of investment in the rail network and the encironmental impact of HS2.

Investment in HS2 must not lead to reduced investment in the ‘classic’ rail network. We are concerned that the Government is developing separate strategies for rail and aviation, with HS2 separate from both. We call again for the publication of a comprehensive transport strategy.

Investment in high speed rail has potential to boost growth but may have a substantial negative impact on the countryside, communities and people along the route. This must be better reflected in the business case for HS2 and future phases of the project. We would encourage the Government to follow existing transport corridors wherever possible.

Further update
In January 2012, the government approved HS2. The Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, said:

I have decided Britain should embark upon the most significant transport infrastructure project since the building of the motorways by supporting the development and delivery of a new national high speed rail network.

The ‘articles for further update’ below give reactions to the announcement.

Articles
Is the UK’s high speed rail project a waste of money? BBC News, Rory Cellan-Jones (21/7/11)
On a collision path The Economist blogs, Blighty (21/7/11)
High speed rail dismissed as ‘vanity project’ by right-wing think tank The Telegraph, David Millward (19/7/11)
HS2 high-speed rail plans ‘a recipe for disaster’ Guardian, Dan Milmo (19/7/11)
High speed rail report shows ‘uncertainty’ over benefits Rail.co, A. Samuel (21/7/11)
Our high speed rail future BBC News, Rory Cellan-Jones (21/7/11)
Anger as high-speed rail link to London branded ‘vanity project’ Yorkshire Post (20/7/11)

Articles for update
MPs support plans for a high speed rail network BBC News, Richard Lister (8/11/11)
High-speed rail project will boost economy, say MPs Guardian, Dan Milmo (8/11/11)
High speed rail report ‘raises questions’ say opponents BBC News (8/11/11)
MPs back controversial high-speed rail link Yahoo News, Sebastien Bozon (8/11/11)
HS2 project: ‘Wrong to castigate locals’ BBC Today Programme (8/11/11)

Articles for further update
HS2 go-ahead sees mixed reaction BBC News (10/1/12)
HS2 – What’s in it for you? Channel 4 News (10/1/12)
Ready to depart: But will the HS2 express be derailed before it arrives? Independent, Nigel Morris (11/1/12)
HS2 go-ahead sees mixed reaction BBC News (10/1/12)
HS2 go-ahead sees mixed reaction BBC News (10/1/12)

Reports and discussion paper
Review of the Government’s case for a High Speed Rail programme Oxera Publishing (20/6/11)
High Speed 2: the next government project disaster? IEA Discussion Paper No. 36 (19/7/11)
Good case for high speed rail to run to Birmingham and beyond, say MPs House of Commons Transport Select Committee News (8/11/11)
Transport Committee – Tenth Report: High Speed Rail House of Commons Transport Select Committee (8/11/11)

Questions

  1. Itemise (a) the monetary costs and benefits and (b) the non-monetary costs and benefits of HS2 that were identified by Oxera. Try to identify other costs and benefits that were not included by Oxera.
  2. Why are the costs and benefits subject to great uncertainty?
  3. How should this uncertainty be taken into account by decision-makers?
  4. Explain the process of discounting in cost–benefit analysis. How should the rate of discount be chosen?
  5. What are the main criticisms of the report made by the IEA discussion paper?
  6. Assess these criticisms.