Ludricous Costs of HS2 – HS2 or a Free Rolls-Royce?

The Government seems likely to “pause” the continuation of HS2 to Manchester. In other words after a face-saving period of time it will be scrapped. I have repeatedly warned about the cost of this project – originally estimated to be £56 billon but due to cost escalation more likely to now be £100 billion. That’s about £15,000 for every man, woman and child in the country.

Personally I am never likely to travel by train to Birmingham or Manchester (I have not in the last 70 years despite living in both London and Birmingham) so I object strongly to my taxes being spent on this project

Only relatively few people will regularly use the line so the cost per user is much higher. To put it another way, if instead of building HS2 we spent the money on providing a new Rolls-Royce car to everyone who asked, we could provide over 300,000 vehicles at nil cost to the customers. That’s more than enough to cover the likely regular users of the line.

The other problem with this project is the poor benefit/cost ratio which now seems likely to be negative. This is what I wrote in August 2018: “Back in 2013, the benefit/cost ratio of HS2 was calculated by the Government to be 2.3. What it is now, after a major escalation in costs, is not at all clear. But it seems that the only justification for continuing with it is the possible boost to the economy that might be needed if a “hard” Brexit is the outcome.

Surely this is another project that should be canned sooner rather than later, simply because there are better things to spend the money on – and that includes not just railway lines.

It is of course fortunate that we have some benefit/cost information on the above two projects [HS2 and Rotherhithe Bridge]. TfL (and the Mayor of London) now often fail to provide such information. Figuring out whether the ULEZ scheme is worth doing for example is not easy. But in reality it’s wildly negative – see

It is unfortunately a symptom of the modern trend to make major public policy decisions on irrational grounds. They just need to sound appealing to a few segments of the population (preferably those who might vote for the politicians backing the proposals), when economics should be the key decision basis”.

What I said then still holds true today.

Roger Lawson


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