Last week’s poll: reducing the cost of HS2

How might the enormous projected cost of HS2 be reduced while still retaining the maximum stated benefits of the project?

In last week’s poll, we asked readers what they thought would be the most effective method to reduce the cost of HS2 – currently projected at some £88 billion – while still retaining the most important advantages of the project.

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Further reading

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With a resounding 45 per cent of the vote, scrapping the entire project was by far and away the most popular option. A quarter of respondents felt that the best option was to only build the Northern Powerhouse part of the line, providing a much-needed boost to a part of the country’s rail infrastructure that many feel has been neglected.

Just 8 per cent backed the idea of a cheaper London terminus at Old Oak Common, a policy that is perhaps the most likely outcome once the dust settles on the HS2 review. This was closely followed (7%) by reducing the overall speed of the service in an effort to curb costs. An unusually high number of readers (15%) chose the ‘none of the above’ option, perhaps reflecting the complexity of the issue and the mess the project has found itself in.

“HS2 has managed to spend £7billion without putting down a single new rail,” wrote John Hartley. “Scrap it now. I note the latest Pendolino tilting trains, can do 155mph. Given the small size of the UK, 155mph is fast enough.”

Graham Heasman commented: “Each step of this project has had costs underestimated and benefits overestimated. We are now being told by the boss of HS2 that likely costs will be north of £80 billion (initial estimates were £36 billion) but with a projected completion date of 2040 (pushed back from 2033) the benefit-cost ratio is diminishing with each announcement.”

Elsewhere, Trevor noted that another overrunning project could help offset some of the costs of this one.

“Given the £18 billion Crossrail project is nearing completion, Londoners will have excellent connectivity to Old Oak Common,”  he wrote. “Dropping Euston would appear to be a no-brainer.”

While there was undoubtedly an appetite amongst a majority of readers to scrap or restrict the scope of the project, some warned against cost-cutting measures that could return to haunt the development.

“Be careful what you wish for,” said Rog Laker. “Crossrail has suffered from earlier cost-cutting (and other problems) only to return to something resembling the original figure. Scrapping the mis-named HS2 (can we just call it North-South Rail?) won’t solve the problem of the strategic capacity deficit on the rail network. If it’s currently unaffordable then it’s not the speed of the line but of its delivery which needs reducing, with eg more phasing as saved the CTRL over 20 years ago. In the end it’ll cost whatever it needs to cost, which discounted over its centuries-long life will be seen in perspective.”