'Poor value' HS2 high-speed rail gets go-ahead

The controversial HS2 high-speed railway that will link London to Birmingham got the official go-ahead today, despite some transport experts suggesting it is a low value service and calling for road network improvements instead.

The line will cost an estimated £32bn and won't be completed fully until 2032, when it will run through London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
Not only has it gathered opposition from residents in the towns it will cut through and reduce the property values of (over 100,000 have signed an online petition against it), but with environmental groups, too. They include the Woodland Trust, claiming that a number of ancient forest sites will be destroyed.

The Government says the HS2 will create £47bn of tangible economic benefits, including new jobs, with Transport Seretary Justine Greening calling it "the most significant transport infrastructure project since the building of the motorways."

But a good few would rather see the money funnelled into the old motorway network than into a posh train service - even one that will get passengers from London to Birmingham in a super-quick 49 minutes.

The RAC Foundation claims that the HS2 will return around £1.60 per £1 spent on it (a slightly more optimistic estimated return ratio than the Government's own, based on the figures above), while a significant number of shelved road projects would have returned substantially more - £11 per £1 spent in the case of the cancelled A21 road project in Tonbridge.

Talking to Autoblog recently, the RAC's Philip Gomm suggested that "political factors" often determine where transport investment money goes, more so than sound financial reasoning.

Professor Stephen Glaister of the RAC calls it a "vanity project," asking "what other scheme would get the green light on such poor numbers?"

"Large chunks of the existing road and rail networks are literally at breaking point. You only need look at the chaos caused by the closure of the crumbling A4 flyover in Hammersmith* to see the grim reality we face on many routes," he added.

Justine Greening claims that in building the HS2, "the government is signalling its commitment to providing 21st Century infrastructure and connections, laying the groundwork for long-term, sustainable economic growth."

By 2032 we'll have a better idea...

*Busy roads outside London also exist, we're led to believe.
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