5 Dec 2011

Why HS2 is such extraordinarily bad value for money

Supporters of HS2 have never addressed the point that the line costs about four or five times that of a conventional speed railway to build, the trains will cost twice that of conventional speed trains and the special trains for running on both HS2 and existing routes will cost half as much again.

Energy and other operating costs will be about double.

Put plainly: for the price of HS2 we could have about four times as much new railway. There are projects all over the country that are crying out to be done and which should take precedence. How about this for a little list for starters.
  • Reinstatement Oxford to Cambridge, Brighton to Guildford.
  • Electrification Basingstoke to Salisbury and Reading, London to Birmingham via Banbury, Bristol to Birmingham, Cardiff to Swansea, Oxford to Birmingham, Crewe to Holyhead, Hastings to Ashford, Hurst Green to Uckfield, Newcastle to Carlisle as diversionary route.
  • Complete doubling Oxford to Worcester, Swindon to Stroud, Salisbury to Exeter, Plymouth to Penzance, Tonbridge Wells to Hastings.
  • Brighton main line - completion of 4-tracking of Three Bridges to Wivelsfield.
  • Weaver Junction to Crewe - 4-tracking
The extra capacity that is the argument for HS2 could be provided, again at a fraction of the cost, by reinstating the Great Central line and the missing piece of the Midland line to Manchester via Buxton.

There would still be something left over and the benefits would start to appear long before 2026.


  1. If the line is built to Edinburgh/Glasgow it would destroy the market for internal uk flights, which is a good thing!

  2. Electrification of Basingstoke to Salisbury would provide little benefit, as most trains that run over this track would start before Salisbury. It would be better to do infill to allow trains from Reading to Gatwick where much of the track which the diesel trains run on is electrified already.
    Electrification of Basingstoke to Reading is mentioned in London and South East RUS, however it states that it would require other business cases (Option F6 of SWML capacity improvements) to justify it. However there is a desire from Hampshire County Council to provide an extra station at Chineham, which would require electric trains due to time constraints, however it also relies on the Reading improvements being completed.
    If both of these lengths were electrified it would allow the cascading of more 2/3 coach diesel trains to other parts of the network. They would also be good to be done at the same time so as to reduce the numbers of types of trains FGW have to store/maintain at Reading. Ideally the new trains would be longer than the existing stock, as there is often overcrowding on these lines.

  3. The HS2 thing is like the Jetsons completely unrealistic given future fuel costs.

    The whole system should be electrified the French, Belgians and Swiss can do it why can't we.

    I'd also 4 track Stratford to Chesunt. The Stansted Express the train to Cambridge, train to Hertford train to Chingford train plus several trains which have to be fitted around that lot all on two track most of them travelling at different speeds, all the while an old track bed complete with bridges sits next to it growing budlia.

    The one question arises though should reading to salisbury via basingstoke be electrified 750dc or 25000ac?

  4. JP, Reading to Basingstoke should use the same as Crossrail (partly as there have been suggestions that crossrail could extend to Basingstoke to reduce over crowding from Basingstoke to London and partley as that is what the rest of First Great Western Trains will be running on).

    As I said on my previous post, the electrification of Basingstoke to Salisbury (South West Trains) is unlikely to happen (as most trains between Salisbury and Basingstoke are trains which start before Salisbury and then follow the mainline into Waterloo Via Woking) until the whole route to Exeter was planned to be done. However on subject of the power for the line I would suggest that the best option would be to not use the 3rd rail system (although have bi-model trains, which would be able to use the existing 3rd rail network) so that the line speed from Basingstoke down to Salisbury (and hopefuly Exeter) could be increased beyond the maximum of limit of 100mph of 3rd rail systems (thus dramaticly reducing journey times).

    Also on your suggestion of four tracking to Cambridge (if the whole length was not viable for whatever reason) there maybe the option to 4 track parts of it and still recieve much of the benefit. As there are bits of four tracks between Basingstoke & Eastliegh which allow faster trains to pass slower trains, but without the cost of 4 tracking the tunnels.

  5. Waterloo to Exeter trains normally split at Salisbury, with only three cars going on to Exeter. So an updating of the system that was used betweeen Waterloo and Weymouth would work. The three vehicles at the country end would be trailers and run push-pull between Salisbury and Exeter. Salisbury to Waterloo would be operated by an EMU with extra power to push-pull the three trailers.

    There appears to be plenty of space at Salisbury for locomotive movements.

    I don't think there would be much scope for high speed running west of Salisbury as the route is scenic.

  6. Anonymous - if there is a case for a high speed line, surely the most benefit would be north of Manchester which is sparsely populated and there are few places worth stopping at? Perhaps it should be built southwards from Scotland?