Concerned that public and political support for the project is slipping away, there’ll be a major effort to renew enthusiasm for it.In this new case, he says, there will be far less emphasis on speed "and far more emphasis on how HS2 is needed because the existing railway lines are full up".
This case fails on several levels. I've never seen trains nose to tail on the London-Birmingham line. As if! The claim that it's full up just looks wrong and feels wrong. Cue pictures of stretches of deserted track. Who's going to feel enthusiasm for that?
And even if the case itself was sound, where's the popular appeal? Are they really going to have a manifesto commitment to spend billions and billions of pounds just so that more trains can run between Birmingham and London?
This marks a recognition inside government that the savings on the journey time to Birmingham, which are less than half an hour, are too small to act as a public justification for the project.Never mind that the savings, based on a false prospectus, are fictitious. Never mind that The Treasury doubts the case for HS2 despite the enthusiasm of the Chancellor and the PM.
And there would then be no need for this to be a "high speed" rail line. They could change the route, change the engineering, and slash the cost.
And maybe change the name if the HS line is not to be High Speed.
Or not build a new line at all.
Or maybe they could invent cheap, high speed videoconferencing. Maybe they could call it Skype.
They could use it to have a chat with Matt Ridley, who noted recently that
Last year Atkins, the engineering and project management consultancy, produced a study on upgrading the existing rail infrastructure between London and Manchester. One option it looked at, a local authority-led scheme called 51M, would spend £2.6 billion on a list of dull-sounding projects — grade separation of Ledburn Junction, construction of a fourth line between Attleborough Junction and Brinklow Junction, Northampton line speed improvements, a Stafford by-pass — the cumulative effect of which would be an extra five trains an hour out of Euston, and a slightly shorter journey time to Birmingham and Manchester.The timing of this is odd too. It seems only the other day that George Osborne was stoutly supporting HS2 on the speed basis.
Now here’s the startling number. Atkins calculated that 51M would have a benefit-cost ration of more than 5, meaning that its modestly reduced congestion, journey times and delays would be worth five times as much to people as the cost of the project, whereas HS2 struggles to get above one, meaning that the benefits barely exceed the costs.
Forsyth suspects that HS2 will retain the support of all three front benches in this parliament. Well, policies supported by all three front benches can be wrong. Staying in the EU? Cutting atmospheric carbon dioxide at vast expense?
(You'd almost think that left an opening for a new serious political party, but let's not start all that again.)
And is it really supported on the Tory front bench? This looks more like a shuffling towards the exit, a prelude to running up the white flag, saying that we will take this away and examine better value ways of achieving our objective of running more trains.
Forsyth concludes with the stunning insight that "the longer it takes to actually start laying track, the less likely it is it will actually happen".
Well, yes. Good.