Thoughts for Labour on HS2 following Party Conference


  • Costs have ballooned to £42 billion (excluding trains!) according to official DfT figures.
  • But HM Treasury insiders speak of costs approaching £80 billion.
  • HS2 supporters say increased costs include a huge contingency – but so did the original estimates.
  • HS2 costs are disingenuously reported in 2011 prices – ignoring the last two years of inflation.

What do Labour voters think?

  • HS2 is a vote loser.
  • Most Labour supporters (60%) oppose investment in HS2 according to a recent poll.
  • And grassroots Labour opposition is strongest in areas of traditional Labour support.


  • Professor Henry G. Overman of the London School of Economics (until June 2012 an adviser to HS2 Ltd’s panel on projected economic benefits) claims KPMG’s estimate of ‘£15bn annual’ regional benefits are hugely exaggerated due to a “major technical error”. Professor Overman resigned from the HS2 Ltd panel “because he had reached the conclusion that “on balance” the money allotted to the project would be better spent”
  •  Professor John Mackie of the Institute of Transport Studies, Leeds University, another adviser to HS2 Ltd, has said “For various reasons HS2 is rather unlikely to make much difference to the north south divide. A spatial analysis would probably show London to be the main benefitting region”
  • Professor Dan Graham of Imperial College London has also advised the government on both HS2 and Crossrail. He claims HS2’s projected economic benefits “seems to be on the optimistic side”
  • Professor John Tomaney of University College London’s Bartlett School of Planning undertook a cross-national review of high speed rail evidence & “What we found on the whole is that there’s very little evidence that building high speed rails does very much to remedy regional inequalities”
  • Professor Stephen Glaister CBE of Imperial College London’s Centre for Transport Studies likened KPMG’s recent claims of HS2 regional benefits to “comparing bananas with elephants” (white elephants?) and implied they were ‘economically illiterate’
  • Professor Roger Vickerman of University of Kent commenting on the much-hyped supposed economic benefits of HS1 in Kent, says “they are not visible to the naked eye”

…….and so on!


  • We are told the West Coast Mainline is full. Actually the evidence shows that it is not.

An independent study in 2011 revealed that Euston departures had just 56% loading at peak in the evening. But “Even more surprising were the loadings on the peak Manchester and Liverpool services, which were on average less than 45% full.”

As corroboration, figures forced out of the government during a Judicial Review revealed that in the peak three hours in the evening, trains heading north out of Euston were only just half full, with an average loading factor of 52.2%. It was also shown first class carriages were on average during those three peak hours only just over a third full, with a 35.2% loading factor!

As further corroboration, Network Rail’s 2012 Rail Utilisation Strategy (RUS report) showed that in the busiest hour during the morning peak (when fares are at their highest), long distance services in to Euston are at just 64% of capacity, with the figure dropping to 60% for the whole three hours of peak morning demand. (The only other services into London which are quieter are domestic HS1 services at St Pancras, which net just 44% and 41% occupancy!)

In contrast, several stations are classed as over capacity with routes to Paddington, Moorgate, Liverpool Street, London Bridge and Waterloo all coming in over 100% in the busiest hour. The evidence is conclusive.

So if there ARE rail capacity priorities, then Euston and the West Coast Mainline are not it!

Obviously some trains will be fuller than others. But this happens everywhere on buses, tubes, and roads too at peak time. Even so, at the most crowded peak times of day rail services into Euston are among the least crowded in London not the most (see the chart below).

Train station chart


So West Coast Mainline capacity isn’t a problem or a priority. Nor was it when influential high speed rail lobbyists Greengauge21 were established in 2006 – long before any Network Rail capacity studies. Nor was it a problem or priority when HS2 Ltd was set up 3 years later in 2009 (drawing largely on the work by the Greengauge21 lobbyists).


  • Alternatives put forward (for example such as RP2, RP3 and the 51M group of councils’ proposals) could provide sufficient capacity whilst also leaving £bns for more urgent priorities elsewhere.
  • DfT forecasts have been persistently wrong, most notoriously with HS1 (Channel Tunnel Rail Link). So high growth forecasts should be treated with extreme sceptism.
  • In fact there are already signs that rail growth is slowing. The official statistics from the ORR show that long distance growth has eased back to 3% – lower than in forecasting models! – and actually became negative towards the end of 2012/13.


  • Not true and an unhelpful resort to the infamous Thatcher-ism “TINA”. There is no excuse not to explore alternatives put forward such as RP2, RP2a or ideas from the 51M group of councils.
  • Work by Atkins last year (“High Speed Rail Strategic Alternatives Study: Update Following Consultation”) reported that these alternatives had lower costs, higher Benefit-to-Cost Ratios (BCR) and that “If any of these packages are to be progressed, further, more detailed work would be required to confirm that they are fit for purpose including a detailed timetabling, and subsequent train diagramming exercise. Such an exercise would ensure that the timings proposed can be achieved, and that there is the correct level of rolling stock to operate the timetable proposed.”
  • Any further work on HS2 needs to be stopped until this detailed work is done. Alternatives indicate that significant enhancements could be achieved for a little as £2.6bn whilst achieving time savings of 12 minutes to Birmingham.


  • £42bn, £50bn or £80bn – whatever it is ought to be spent more wisely on a range of more urgent priorities and better investments. That is the overwhelming conclusion of experts, academics and Labour supporters.
  • At this conference Ed Balls has already mentioned that the next Labour Government will inherit a £90bn deficit and that Labour supporters should not expect reversals to huge Tory cuts. Anything spent annually on HS2 is money that should be spent on better projects that benefit more people sooner.
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