HS2 future chief: Place less emphasis on businessmen working on trains

High Speed 2’s forthcoming strategic business case is expected to place less emphasis on whether businessmen work while travelling.
Debates about HS2 over the past few years have been punctuated by arguments about the value attached to the ability to work on trains. Opponents of HS2 argue that faster trains are not worth building because it reduces the time a businessman can work.
However, HS2 Limited’s next chairman, Sir David Higgins, told MPs of the Transport Select Committee on October 14 that he expected that element of the strategic business case to be reduced, as he answered a question from Graham Stringer, Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton.
Higgins said that 100,000 passengers stand on rail journeys into London everyday (leaving unsaid the implication that they are unable to work on their trains) as he argued that building HS2 was about creating capacity.
Higgins also argued that HS2’s benefit-to-cost ration (BCR) model was wrong to “shut off growth in 2035” which is just three years after Phase 2 opens (West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds, with connections onwards to the West and East Coast Main Lines). The current Network Rail chief executive said that HS2’s 2% annual growth figures were very conservative.
In addition, he noted that the Jubilee Line Extension failed its BCR test but was still built and that Crossrail and Thameslink were delayed by 20 years because they failed the value-for-money test.
He side-stepped a question from Milton Keynes South MP Iain Stewart who asked whether abolishing first class would solve the capacity problem. Higgins said that was a matter for train operators and the Department for Transport but he added that the improvement would be small while HS2 made a “monumental increase in capacity”.
Under questions from Committee Chairman Louise Ellman, Higgins said he could see no evidence that HS2 would starve the existing rail network of funds. He said funding for Control Period 5 (2014-2019) was almost agreed and that work on CP6’s deal (2019-2024) was just starting. (While the Office of Rail Regulation is arguing that NR needs less money than it thinks, CP5 total spending is still expected to reach £38 billion of which enhancements form £12bn.)
The NR chief, who also headed the Olympic Delivery Authority, told the committee that the public had yet to be told of the benefits of HS2. For West Coast Main Line (WCML) services, HS2 would mean more stopping services for Coventry, Rugby, Milton Keynes, Stafford and Liverpool.
He said the focus had been on the project’s speed but, for him, it was about capacity. He said the southern end of the WCML was full as shown by ORR’s recent rejection of Virgin’s application to run trains to Shrewsbury and Blackpool.
Answering Karen Lumley, MP for Redditch, he said you could not keep patching up the southern end of the WCML. She asked why he had taken the chairman’s job and he answered that HS2 was too important to allow it to become a political football.
HS2 plans to open a high-speed railway between London (Euston) and the West Midlands (Birmingham Curzon Street), with stations at Old Oak Common (for Heathrow, Crossrail and Great Western connections) and Birmingham Interchange (for the airport and nearby motorways). This should open in 2026 at a cost of £31.4bn.
Phase 2 is expected to open in 2032/33 at a cost of £21.2bn.

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Philip Haigh

Freelance railway writer, former deputy editor at RAIL magazine - news, views and analysis of today's railway.

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