HSR – an unravelling case?20 Dec 2010

High speed rail - time to halt this runaway train

High speed rail will suck money from both road and public transport schemes only to create a service which will be predominantly the preserve of the rich.
Ministers’ focus on HSR also means they are ignoring alternative projects which will deliver more universal benefits, sooner and at much lower cost.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said:
“The government knows there are cheaper alternatives to high speed rail which offer better rates of return for each pound spent, but ministers are simply not talking about them. Policy makers increasingly seem to be saying, ‘The answer is high speed rail, now what is the question?'”
“There is much talk of high speed rail ironing out the north-south divide, yet trains are mainly used by the better off and do little to reduce social exclusion. What’s more, these relatively wealthy passengers are subsidised by the taxpayer.”
“Even though HSR won’t be open until at least 2026 the spending has already started with £750 million set aside for the project over the next four years.
“The case being made by ministers for HSR shifts almost daily. First it was vaunted as a green project, but unfortunately its green credentials didn’t stack up. Then it was about economics but official research showed there were actually better ways to spend billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on transport projects. Now ministers are trying to hang the scheme on the ephemeral hook of uniting the nation. But where is the evidence that high speed rail – which is already sucking money from road, bus and conventional rail projects – will achieve this?”
Professor Glaister’s comments coincide with the RAC Foundation’s publication of an independent review of the case for High Speed Rail by Professor John Preston of the University of Southampton.
The review says that while there appears to be a case for HSR from London to Birmingham and beyond, work submitted to the government shows that “.mid-scale improvements to existing road and rail infrastructure could give better returns than HS2.”
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Notes to Editors:
The RAC Foundation is a charity which explores the economic, mobility, safety and environmental issues relating to roads and responsible road users. Independent and authoritative research, carried out for the public benefit, is central to the Foundation’s activities.
The Case for High Speed Rail – An Update, is available on request and will be online at www.racfoundation.org from the day of publication.
The report is authored by Professor John Preston of the Transportation Research Group, School of Civil Engineering and the Environment, University of Southampton.
In March 2010 a report by HS2 – the company set up by the Labour Government to consider the case for new high speed rail services between London and Scotland – was published by ministers. Alongside it a separate study by Atkins was also made public. This study looked at alternatives to High Speed Rail including the do-nothing option and spending on road and conventional rail projects.