From Lord Adonis.
Sir, Despite your hesitant editorial “The high cost of high-speed rail” (February 28), the case for High Speed 2 remains very strong. Capacity constraints on the West Coast main line, already serious, become acute in the 2020s. If HS2 is not ultimately built through to Manchester and Leeds, all four existing main lines going north – not only the West Coast main line, but also the Chiltern line, the Midland main line and the East Coast main line – will need to be upgraded over coming decades, at a cumulative cost far greater than HS2.
No crystal ball is required. About £10bn has just been spent on a hugely disruptive 10-year upgrade of the West Coast line. Analysis for the Department for Transport shows that to upgrade existing lines to provide barely two-thirds of the extra capacity provided by the initial section of HS2 from London to Birmingham will cost more (£20bn against £17bn) than the high-speed alternative.
This is without pricing either the further disruption of the conventional line upgrades or the wider benefits of HS2, which include time savings and radically improved connectivity. For example, the proposed interchange with the new £16bn Crossrail east-west line in London will provide direct and rapid connections from HS2 to London’s West End, the City, Docklands and Heathrow.
As you say, the benefits of the high-speed line increase as it extends north of Birmingham. But since London to the West Midlands is by far the busiest section of the West Coast route, it is right to start there.
As for “tough choices” amid current spending cuts, a decision this year to proceed will not involve major capital expenditure until 2016 at the earliest. Remember, this is Britain.
House of Lords
Former Secretary of State for Transport