The critical issue is capacity – a response to TaxPayers’ Alliance view on HSR

By: Julie Mills 4 feb 2011

  Successive Transport Ministers have recognised that there is a problem of capacity on our national transport networks. The question is: what is the best way to address the problem, what answer offers best value for money and represents the most sustainable approach?

“High Speed Two has been compared with options that centre on incremental investment on existing railway lines and it is evident that HS2 represents the best value for money answer”, said Greengauge 21 Director Jim Steer. He was responding to claims by the TaxPayers’ Alliance that there is no robust economic case for the project.

The alternative rail options examined by the Department of Transport include ‘Rail Package 2’, an upgrade to the West Coast Main Line which the TaxPayers’ Alliance says ‘has a much better benefit cost ratio’. But  once the need to maintain reliability levels on what would become an extremely busy railway is taken into account, the benefit cost ratio is lower than HS2 delivers:

Rail alternatives to HS2

Package Description Seating capacity uplift Cost BCR
Rail Package 2 Additional 4 – 5 trains/hour on the West Coast Main Line   +54% £3.7bn 2.19
HS2 10-14 new high-capacity trains/hour +200% £15.8-£17.4bn 2.4


HS2 delivers economic benefits 2.4 times as high as its costs. Clearly the alternative of an existing route upgrade  is of a differing scale. But other rail investment packages have been examined which increase capacity beyond the levels of Rail Package 2 on the West Coast Main Line and they have ever diminishing benefit cost ratios.

This is important because the capacity shortfall being faced on the West Coast Main Line will clearly be greater than the uplift provided by Rail Package  2. As Network Rail says of HS2 in its recent WCML Route Utilisation Strategy:

“It would not be possible for the rail industry to resolve the future capacity gap on the south end of the West Coast Main Line effectively in any other way”.

This highlights a second area of contention: demand forecasts. The work by HS2 Ltd uses an estimate of underlying growth in rail demand of +3.4% per annum. This is close to recent estimates of future annual growth by Network Rail in the corridor and is generally lower than has been experienced in recent years:


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