THE Stop HS2 campaign is well practised in mischief making and spreading misleading assertions about the project.
The latest is a classic — in which they are alleging the Government is being ‘disingenuous’ by understating by some £8 billion the cost of the total ‘Y’ route planned because it does not include the cost of trains.
It started with a ‘debate’ in the columns of ‘Engineering & Technology Magazine’ published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, between Alison Munro, the chief executive of HS2 Ltd, and Penny Gaines, the chair of Stop HS2, who claimed: “The HS2 tracks are estimated to cost £33bn and a further £8bn for the trains.”
The following week an answer to a Parliamentary Question in the House of Commons gave £8.15bn as the estimated cost of the trains.
The Wolverhampton Express & Star then ran a report that “more than £8 billion will be added to the bill for HS2, as the cost of trains has not been included in widely publicised figures.” It quoted Joe Rukin, Stop HS2’s campaign manager, saying: “It’s been totally disingenuous that the Government have been quoting a £33bn cost for HS2, whilst neglecting to mention that trains are an extra. They have simply been trying to con the taxpayer from start to finish.”
And the Burton Mail, under the headline ‘Group slams HS2 rail costs’, also reported that Joe Rukin had “accused the Government of being ‘disingenuous’.” Mr Rukin, it reported, claimed the cost of phase two had jumped from £16.4bn to £18.2bn.
But the Department for Transport said it had been “totally clear and transparent about the costs of HS2.”
A spokesman said: “Capital costs for the construction of the vital project are in the order of £16.3 billion for phase one and £16.8 billion for phase two, not including the spur to Heathrow. If the spur is included, phase two would cost in the order of £18.2m.”
She said there was a separate cost for rolling stock.
Rolling stock is paid for by the passenger service operator
And, of course, there is a separate cost for rolling stock — because that will be the responsibility of the operator or operators that run the trains on the network. No one has decided yet whether HS2, in 10 or more years time, will be a franchise, a concession or an open access operation, or a mix of these.
When HS1 was built, its budget (which was not exceeded) did not include the cost of trains. The international trains that use it today are the responsibility of Eurostar, which pays for them out of the revenue it earns from passengers.
The same situation will apply when DB, German State Railways, begins running trains to London from cities such as Frankfurt, Cologne and Amsterdam. Like Eurostar, it (not HS1) has more trains on order from Siemens.
The domestic services on HS1 are provided by Southeastern, and its ‘Javelin’ trains, built by Hitachi, were financed by the train leasing company HSBC Rail (now Eversholt Rail Group). Southeastern pays the lease charges out of its passenger revenues.
When the West Coast route was going to be upgraded — later downgraded to a modernization project to save money — the Pendolino tilting trains were not included in the cost, either . . . because they were the responsibility of the service provider, Virgin Trains.
And when Virgin chose the Pendolinos for the job, their development and construction costs were not paid for by Virgin but by Angel Trains, another rolling stock leasing company owned by banks, which recoups its costs from Virgin through monthly leasing charges.
Track and trains are dealt with quite separately in the modern railway, partly under European law and more especially in Britain because of the way the railway businesses were split up and privatized 20 years ago.
It’s Stop HS2 that is being disingenuous
If anyone is being ‘disingenuous’ — which my dictionary defines as ‘not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does’ — it is people like Stop HS2’s Penny Gaines and Joe Rukin.
They continually carp and criticize the project but fail ever to acknowledge that the current estimated cost of £33 billion over the next 20 years is less per year on average than is being spent now on Crossrail and Thameslink in London — about which they make no complaint — and that it will be offset by massive income from passengers and the socio/economic benefits to the economy that will arise from regeneration and job creation.
That is why HS2 Ltd has now adopted the slogan ‘Engine For Growth’ to describe the project.
HS2 Ltd’s chairman Doug Oakervee estimates the benefit/cost ratio of the whole ‘Y’ network will be 2.6, or around £85 billion over 60 years return on an investment of £33 billion.
But Mr Oakervee believes that the 2.6 figure is a ‘very conservative’ one, based on his previous experience of developing the Crossrail scheme, and the realities of booming passenger traffic on HS1’s domestic services, even with premium fares — whereas the HS2 business case assumes fares would continue to be charged on the same basis as now.
There is another reason why Mr Oakervee may well be right that the current business case understates what will really happen.
After all, HS2 Ltd has developed its plans on the assumption that passenger numbers will grow only by about two per cent per annum — whereas the reality is that growth has already been far in excess of that, around five or six per cent per annum . . . and has been now for several years, even during the current economic downturn.
That probably means the forecast that the West Coast Main Line will run out of capacity in the mid 2020s is also totally wrong, and the crunch time is much more likely to be evident by the start of the next decade, just seven years away.
So much the better, then, if the time needed to build HS2 can be reduced. Last week’s announcement of revised plans to tunnel the route out of London beneath Ealing and Northolt means the construction time can be reduced by 15 months. And revised plans for Euston station can also reduce construction time
That is really good news, because HS2 is needed sooner rather than later.