Rethink HS2 as costs ‘appear to be out of control’, UK Lords tell government

The UK’s planned high-speed railway from London north to Birmingham and Manchester, HS2, requires a major rethink because its costs appear to be out of control and the Department for Transport’s (DfT) appraisal of the project has fundamental flaws, a committee of the House of Lords has said.

The Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee issued the call for a fundamental re-evaluation after HS2’s own former chairman, Sir Terry Morgan, told it that "nobody knows" what the final costs of the project will be.

DfT’s method of appraisal for large infrastructure projects is not fit for purpose, the Lords said, because although the main stated justification of HS2 is to increase capacity on the rail network, DfT is focussed on its speed. 

DfT wants to build the railway to accommodate trains at 400km/h, when 360km/h would reduce the cost while still being faster than any other railway in the world.

The committee said priority for investment in the rail network should be the north of England, and voiced concern that the project will run out of money before the northern sections are built.

The committee said plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail should be integrated with the plans for the northern section of HS2, and funding for the project ringfenced, which would allow rail investment in the north to be prioritised where it is most needed.

Committee chair Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, said: "The costs of HS2 do not appear to be under control. It is surprising therefore that the Government has not carried out a proper assessment of proposals to reduce the cost of HS2-such as lowering the speed of the railway or terminating in west London rather than Euston-which the Committee recommended in 2015. A new appraisal of the project is required.

Of rail in the north, he said: "Commuter services in the north of England are badly overcrowded and reliant on ageing trains. Rail connections between northern cities are poor. As the Committee suggested in its 2015 report, rail infrastructure in the north should be the Government’s priority for investment, rather than improving north-south links which are already good. The north is being short-changed by the Government’s present plans, especially as construction on HS2 is starting in the south. Any overcrowding relief from HS2 will mainly benefit London commuters."

Visualisation of HS2 by Arup, which conducted route engineering design and assessment (Arup)

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  1. Every single rail project I have worked on is poorly managed, over budget (massively) and over time. The Northern part of HS2 and HS3 should have been the priority. Decision makers need to get heads out of the London smog/pollution and look at the rest of the country.

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