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The Alternative Queen's Speech 3: Rail Improvements Bill

TAQSThis is the third of fifteen draft Bills in an Alternative Queen's Speech that sets out what a legislative programme might have looked like if a majority Conservative government had been elected. Read more about the initiative here.

The £33bn High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project will supposedly bridge the north-south divide, improve capacity and create jobs. The reality could not be more different.

The price is astounding. HS2 will cost every family in Britain £1,000 – ten times the cost per mile of French high-speed railways. The business case has collapsed. Initially expected to generate £2.50 for every pound invested, now even optimistic projections expect the project to barely break even. The environmental impact of HS2 will be devastating. Unique countryside in the Chilterns (and in northern England when the line is extended) will be scarred, and HS2’s carbon footprint makes it anything but a “low carbon” option.

We welcome any practical proposal to boost northern England’s  economy. But HS2 is no such proposal. Most jobs created will be in London and high ticket costs will make HS2 a rich man’s toy.

The history of high-speed rail is not encouraging. HS1 in Kent is running at 30% capacity. Dutch high-speed rail, just two years old, is close to financial collapse and needed a £250m government bailout in January. The Institute of Economic Affairs said HS2 risks being “the latest in a long series of government big-project disasters.”

Instead of throwing billions at a high-speed vanity project, we should plan for long term investment in our existing railways to improve journey times, reduce overcrowding, de-bottleneck the system, and minimise fare rises. It might not sound as glamorous, but it will prove massively more effective.   At the same time we should put far more emphasis on creating a world beating, to-the-door superfast broadband network, which will both cut journeys and accelerate the economy in a far more cost-effective way.


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