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HS2 alternative offers proportionately better returns, report says

Redeveloping existing rail networks and expanding their capacity would deliver a proportionately better return on investment than creating a new high-speed rail line, according to a Government-commissioned report.17 Jan 2012

Last week the Government announced plans to press ahead with the first phase of a new high speed rail network (HS2) in the UK. The plans will see construction of a new line between London and Birmingham by 2026 with the possibility of extending the line to Manchester and Leeds, as well as building in a new spur to Heathrow Airport, which is yet to be consulted on. However, a separate report into alternatives to HS2 has indicated that implementing the proposed '51M' alternative plans instead would see a better return on investment.

The report (48-page / 5MB PDF), by engineering firm Atkins, calculated that the 51M plans would deliver more than six times in economic benefits what would be needed in investment to implement the plans. The Government has said that HS2 will deliver benefits worth approximately double what is invested in the project.

The 51M alternative was proposed by a number of local authorities in areas where HS2 construction is proposed. The alternative proposals combine a number of suggestions, including redeveloping and updating existing networks, reallocating trains to peak times and expanding the capacity of certain services operating on the West Coast Main Line. The cost of delivering the 51M alternative is estimated at £2.6 billion in capital investment. It is estimated that HS2 will require £32.7 billion in capital investment to take the new line as far as Manchester and Leeds.

The Atkins report estimates that 51M would deliver small savings in journey times. HS2 would cut journey times between London and Birmingham to 45 minutes, help create 40,000 new jobs and satisfy a growing need for rail travel, the Government has argued. However, green campaigners have expressed concern about the environmental impact of the new line.

HS2 would deliver £6.2bn more in economic benefits than an equivalent line running at conventional speed, the Government said.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening said the HS2 scheme would provide the UK with additional capacity, connections and speed which would help create "jobs, growth and prosperity for the entire country". She said building the new line would have knock-on benefits for passengers who rely on the existing network.

"HS2 will link some of our greatest cities – and high speed trains will connect with our existing railway lines to provide seamless journeys to destinations far beyond it. By attracting passengers off existing rail lines, roads and domestic air services, its benefits will be felt far beyond the network. No amount of tinkering with our Victorian rail infrastructure will deliver this leap in capacity," she said.