One third of the growth previously forecast by HS2 Ltd to occur on the West Coast Main Line between 2008 and 2043 has been achieved in the last three years. (p.16)The above quote is taken from the Updated appraisal of transport user benefits and wider economic benefits to support the planned High Speed rail line from London to Birmingham and then on to Manchester and Leeds (known as HS2). It clearly shows how inaccurate economic forecasts are. Even with the best economic minds at work, the Department of Transport got the forecast for HS2 passenger volumes so wrong in February 2011 that they have now come up with a new figure. Whether the revised forecast is any closer to reality, nobody knows. The worrying fact is that these forecasts are the basis for the Government's decision to commit £30 billion on what they deem a 'key and vital investment in Britain's future'.
Taking the economic appraisal at face value, here are a few assumptions which caught my eye:
- People are expected to make more longer (over 100 mile) trips in the future. Currently the average person makes 0.8 long trips per year and this is forecast to increase to 1.3 trips. This doesn't appear much but it means the number of long trips will increase by 92% in a period of time when the UK population will only grow by 19%;
- 81% of trips between Scotland and England will be undertaken by High Speed rail by 2037. Currently the figure is 54%; and
- Only a small percentage (8%) of trips on HS2 will be shifted from private car. The majority (65%) of trips will be diverted from existing rail routes. This suggests that if the aim of HS2 was to decrease car use, it will not make a significant impact.
|Justine Greening MP (right) and a train|
The journey time savings are forecast to be worth a saving of £24.5 billion. Yet for me there is not enough evidence in the appraisal to justify the economic value of cost savings. Business people can work on trains so what will a saving of 20 minutes do for the economy? In addition, the time savings will be strongly dependent on where the HS2 stations are located. There is no net benefit if stations are not easily accessible to other city locations by local transport. What is the point if you save one hour on the HS2 train to Manchester but then get stuck on a bus or tram whilst traveling through the city. For me, this is the key point. I support the opinion of Sir Simon Jenkins (see here) who argues that the money could have been better spent on providing trams or light rail for all the major cities in the UK. I support the principle of high speed rail, but in a country such as the UK it doesn't seem appropriate and instead we should focus on improving the public transport within cities which can generate much better economic, health, social and environmental benefits for a greater share of the population.