Coffee House

The government could repeat its West Coast Mainline mistake with HS2

31 October 2012

31 October 2012

This Monday Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin faced the House of Commons to make a second statement on the fiasco surrounding the West Coast Mainline rail franchise.  Reporting on the initial findings of an inquiry into what went wrong, the Transport Secretary said the conclusions made ‘uncomfortable reading’ and showed, amongst other failings,  a lack of transparency in the process, inconsistencies in the treatment of bidders and technical flaws in the modelling.

While these revelations raise huge concerns about the internal working at the Department for Transport, I was glad to see the Transport Secretary approach his department’s shortcomings with openness and transparency; I commended his approach during the statement.  However, it is not sufficient to promote transparency on this bidding process alone. In the wake of such fundamental failures,  trust in the Department’s ability to deliver has been shaken.

This is why we need to see this re-examination extended beyond the WCML franchise and applied to the largest project ever proposed in peacetime, which is currently on the Secretary of State’s desk  – HS2.

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Following the dramatic revelations that the calculations and processes for WCML were flawed, I wrote immediately to the Transport Secretary, asking him ‘to urgently undertake a complete re-examination of the business case, a re-evaluation of the case for HS2 and the basis on which all decisions have been made by the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd’.  The errors in the WCML procurement process will undoubtedly have had an effect on the HS2 project’s business case, which is based partly on WCML passenger numbers and assumptions.

It is reasonable to assume that the Department is using the same figures for the WCML for both HS2 purposes and the franchise bidding process. If they are not, then that means there are two different sets of numbers being used by the Department for the same railway line. It is essential that these matters are clarified or people will have little confidence in the Department and its ability to effectively manage a project of HS2’s size.

There is already strong criticism from railway experts of the methodology and modelling used for the HS2 project.  However, the DfT have shown an unwillingness to engage with informed groups and members of the public on the project and have already often been left embarrassed as errors in their calculations and reasoning have been exposed.  Experts, both in my Chesham and Amersham constituency and beyond, have been pointing to significant technical flaws in passenger number assumptions, engineering calculations, environmental approaches, as well as the mistakes that have been made even in calculating volumes of spoil from tunnelling. The most simple collection and analysis of responses to last year’s public consultation involved not one but two ministerial apologies. It would appear the same company is carrying out the latest consultation on compensation despite the earlier errors.

This all comes at a time when the Davies Commission is looking into the future of aviation in the UK and where our hub airport should be located.  I have always stressed that the Government needs an integrated, joined-up transport plan. The decision to plough ahead with HS2 on this exact point to point route, before this Commission reports back on how we best integrate rail, aviation and other forms of transport, does little more than to undermine any hopes for a robust and long-lasting transport system for Britain.

I  cannot accept that we have either done enough work to prove the argument that spending at least £34 billion will achieve the aims of government,  to relieve pressure on the WCML, heal the North South divide, secure a low carbon future for rail travel or integrate our transport systems.

The Government will never be forgiven if we end up with the wrong railway in the wrong place at the wrong time and for such a high cost.


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  • Mark McIntyre

    NO2 HS2 – like the ‘WC’ – down the pan !

  • Petuniabean

    The Department of Transport seem unable to manage the rail franchises as it is. How can anyone be allowed to run a company when they do not employ the people required to operate it? I mean – the drivers of the trains. Only an idiot would allow driver redundancies to go ahead without seeing that there were trained drivers to continue to operate the trains. The rail system in England is an absolute disaster – totally unreliable and completely unable to fulfil its purpose. What a country and what a government. To think that they might contemplate building yet another dud railway system is incredible.

  • anyfool

    Every project recent governments attempt to carry out either end in fiasco or disaster, there is one common denominator the Civil Service, this is caused by attempts to give equal opportunities to all regardless of academic ability or even a straight forward ability to do and make things, things will continue on this course until you start demoting people who are not up to the task.

    Better still scrap 90% of the Civil Service and you will be able to see where the problem arises, this cannot happen until you do likewise with most regulation as a lot is doubling up on basic law and commonsense.

  • itdoesntaddup

    Cheryl is quite right. Frankly, it’s a scandal that taxpayer money continues to be wasted in any fashion at all on HS2. It’s transparent that the project is completely uneconomic. Instead, the Department should be thinking ahead to the future for rail routes in the light of the rapid developments in vehicle automation that are taking place. The train as we know it is rapidly becoming obsolete.

    • Edward Griffin

      The train is not becoming obsolete. You obviously don’t live in a city like London.

      • Seepage

        Absolutely. And that is where HS2 is to go?

      • itdoesntaddup

        You are obviously unaware of vehicle automation trends and their potential.

    • padav

      Seems as though you are making a determined effort to live up to your on-line moniker?
      What part of the rail passenger travelling figures is it that you can’t add up?

  • mopdenson

    It is interesting that Virgins legal challenge took, what the DFT described as a Robust and Sound franchise process, and showed it for what is was- Weak and Unreliable. £millions of taxpayers money has been squandered by the DFT, the public has a right to know if the DFT is incapable of judging what is right for the taxpayer.

    I am shocked and angered that the DFT are being allowed to continue overseeing a project on the scale of HS2. The taxpayer has already had to cough up £millions for HS2 before a single piece of track has been laid. If the DFT have got their assumptions and sums wrong for the HS2 business case we need to know now.

    The DFT are lining us up to make environmental, community, and financial sacrifices of a monumental scale.

    Patrick McLoughlin says ‘we can’t afford not to build HS2’ – I say ‘we can’t afford for the DFT to get HS2 wrong’.

    • padav

      @mopdenson: “I am shocked and angered that the DFT are being allowed to continue overseeing a project on the scale of HS2.”

      And I’m bewildered by your logic @mopdenson
      1. HS2 is a rail project – guess what, that means transport, so which government department should be responsible for rail projects – not the Department for Transport according to your peculiar brand of reasoning – I know, let’s transfer it to Works and Pensions, that makes sense?
      2. DfT are NOT (how many times does this need repeating) directly “overseeing” the HS2 project – that task lies with an arms length quango called, unsurprisingly, HS2 Ltd – you may have heard of them?

      • mopdenson

        HS2 Ltd Chief Executive is Alison Munro, who was a Director in the DFT

        • padav

          Yes, so this might explain why she got the job at HS2 Ltd – your point is?

  • vtiman

    the problem with the west coast franchise award had to do with the amount of deposit for want of a better word that the franchise winner would have to place with the dft. as firsts bid was higher and riskier due to the higher levels of increased demand they (not the dft note) anticipated apparently the deposit should have been much higher in the region of £600 million. the deposit is to protect aginst the franchise not meeting its promised payment to government or failure of the franchise .

    the anticipated demand was calculated by first and virgin in their bids. the anticipated demand for hs2 was NOT calculated by the dft either and was in fact LOWER then that used by the wcml bidders and is LOWER then the actual demand that has been experienced for the last few years on the railway as a whole.

    so until we have any evidence to the contrary there isnt anything in the wcml fiasco to indicate any problem with hs2. high speed trains are in general very popular in many countries including the 18 million who used hs1 last year and has the potential to reduce pollution by replacing many journbeys currently being made by car and short haul flights. hs2 is a necessary addition to infrastructure which we will need sooner rather then later.

  • In2minds

    Like most people who are against the HS2 I’m not against investing in rail
    transport in fact the more the merrier. However, the HS2 has a flawed
    business case bordering upon criminal deception and even the railway
    unions know this. It’s simply and EU vanity project and we should
    reject it on this basis alone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patriciataylorphotography Pat Taylor

    If the government persists with this project and, in the fullness of time, it proves to be the disaster it is destined to be the government can expect to be taken to the cleaners for negligence by the thousands of home owners up and down the line who will have had thousands knocked off the value of their properties for nothing more than the arrogant dogmatic approach of this government. Willful neglect on this scale is nothing less than criminal!!!

  • IRISHBOY

    Birmingham, like Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow. Belfast etc., was once built and run like a thriving independent city-state, ancient Athens being the model, by self-made men of vision and ability who cost the city nothing for and provided, mainly by public subscription, fabulous civic buildings to house schools, universities, libraries, concert and meeting halls, shops and markets, to the benefit of all.

    Present day Athens is again the model for all these places which are impoverished by every conceivable measure, ironically at huge cost to the tax payer. If anyone is serious about HS2, then they need to get serious about Birmingham (and that’ll involve the hire of a fleet of bulldozers). The socialists have made it quite the ugliest city in the country and if the thousands of wannabe prostitutes who populate its streets most evenings of the week are an example of the aspirations our world-class education system has imbrued in what should be a potential workforce, then HS2 need only be a one-way single track rail.

  • John_Page

    Obviously we won’t be able to afford HS2.

    Doubtless Andrew Gilligan will keep exposing dodgy numbers in the “case”.

    • dalai guevara

      QE your way out of this one, and wait for the bonds to mature in a generation? It would not be your problem then…

  • Bill Brinsmead

    Nothing better to do so I watched all of Patrick McLoughlin’s statement and Q&A. Very matter of fact, answered all questions too. Impressive.

    He did imply criticism of Theresa Villiers as Transport Minister responsible for managing the WCML franchise bid process. Like a duff civil servant, she screws up, gets promoted and is moved on.

    • dorothy wilson

      But these problems in the Department of Transport’s handling of the costings of large scale projects are not new. I seem to remember a similar debacle over the electrification of the West Coast Main Line. When independent financial risk assessors looked at the figures they found massive mistakes had been made in costings the man days involved in the project.

  • Bruce, UK

    “The Government will never be forgiven if we end up with the wrong
    railway in the wrong place at the wrong time and for such a high cost.”

    Perhaps not, but history does show that an awful lot of people are fixated by a “donkey in a [insert colour(s) of choice here] rosette” attitude that excuses blame for their donkey while vilifying the other donkeys for doing what their donkey would have done given half a chance.

    Now, is it misfeasance or malfeasance?

    PS. With apologies to Equus Asinus Asinus.

    • salieri

      I was always taught that non-feasance meant doing nothing, malfeasance meant doing the wrong thing and misfeasance was doing the right thing but the wrong way.

      Which in turn, perhaps, prompts the question which is worst, building the right railway in the right place at the wrong time, or the right railway in the wrong place at the right time, or the wrong railway in the right place at the right time [insert all other possible permutations here]. I expect the Civil Servants have spent a lot of time debating that question before concluding that whatever the formulation it was a meaningless cliché. But then, there was a time when you couldn’t get into the Civil Service without brains.

  • terence patrick hewett

    If HS2 goes through the Tories may take a hit from which they might never recover.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    If I speculated that the WCML fiasco deserved at least a stern look to detect corruption disguised as cockup might I then proceed to wonder whether the main reason for HS2 is to create a trough of public money from which various participants could feed to their hearts’ content?

    If it makes commercial sense, let commercial interests pay for it. If as rumoured it is only going ahead because the EU says it must, why is that never mentioned as part of the debate?

    • Bruce, UK

      The EU must never be mentioned because the Spine Donor does not want people endlessly banging on about Europe.

    • dalai guevara

      How would SME – who are clearly in favour – pay for this now?

    • padav

      @Rhoda Klapp: If it makes commercial sense, let commercial interests pay for it.

      Would that be the same commercial interests that invested countless billions constructing a UK wide Motorway network during the 60s, 70s & 80s?
      The timescales involved in HS2 mean that private capital (that demands quick payback) will NOT invest directly in the construction programme – however, that private capital will be only too pleased to invest indirectly in just the same way as those investing in the purchase of a 30 year renewable lease of HS1 did? Your argument is a thinly veiled trojan horse tactic to undermine this long term investment in the UK’s rail network. It may have escaped your notice but HS2 is NOT about now – less than 3% of HS2’s budget is allocated to a period years down the line – there is NO magic pot of money availble NOW, that is unless you are aiming to cancel CrossRail but don’t tell Boris about your idea, it might not go down too well in London?

      Rhoda Klapp: “If as rumoured it is only going ahead because the EU says it must, why is that never mentioned as part of the debate?”

      Yep, never let something as inconvenient as facts get in the way of good old fashioned scaremongering?

      • Rhoda Klapp

        And how will that payback be generated? Will the railway make money, or will it require subsidy like every other railway? Lots of people love trains. I don’t, but there we are. What I object to is people who like trains espousing duff schemes to get more trains that I have to pay for.

        Are you sure there is no EU impetus behind HS2? I notice you didn’t actually claim that. Why not?

        • padav

          Construction of HS1 was funded by the UK taxpayer (that’s UK as in all of us – yet the line benefits, almost exclusively, London and the South East) to the tune of approx £6bn – to date it has generated £2.1bn in hard cash for the sale of a 30 year renewable lease, plus a bare minimum of £10bn in measureable econcomic benefits. HS2 will prove a similar long term commercial success

          Currently Southeastern runs the Javelin based domestic service Eurostar runs it international service using HS1.

          I don’t know about the status of Southeastern but Eurostar has to operate in a commercial (unsubsidised) environment and pay its way in the normal fashion. Eurostar is investing £700million in a new fleet of ten Siemens Velaro e320 trainsets and refurbishment of its existing Alsthom built fleet. That new rolling stock will come on stream in approx 18 months allowing Eurostar to broaden its portofolio of destinations with direct service provision; Amsterdam, Köln, Frankfurt, Geneva, Lyon and Marseille have been mentioned. Deutsche Bahn have also announced their intention to run a service operating between London and Amsterdam, London and Frankfurt. Other service providers have expressed interest, including SNCF, NS HIi-Speed, SNCB and even Renfe. When these new services come on stream ordinary people will begin to question why it is possible for London and the South East to benefit from improved connectivity but not elsewhere.

          You’re correct in stating that railways, generally, require subsidy but High Speed services tend to be profitable, eventually – they need time (sometimes a decaded or so) to establish themselves – HIgh Speed TGV services in France are highly profitable and actually subsidise the rest of SNCF’s classic network service offering.

          There is huge commercial potential for an evolving pan-European high speed network, driving modal shift away from unsustainable short-haul air to an effective railborne alternative.

          Your laughable comment about the EU isn’t really worth bothering with. Let’s just say, come back and provide readers here with some hard evidence to back up your fatuous remark. Your wholly unfounded claim deserves nothing less than utter contempt.

          • Rhoda Klapp

            Either it makes commercial sense or it does not. If it does, why can it not be financed by commerce? The desirability of the train is all determined by stage lengths. At some point it is easier to fly from Manchester to Frankfurt. Earlier this year, on the other hand, I needed to travel to Frankfurt from Oxfordshire at short notice. The train simply did not compete on price and I flew. Last year I had to make the same trip with some equipment which could not be handcarried or trusted to baggage handlers. Again the passenger train did not work out, I had to drive, albeit on a train for the channel bit. I’ve noticed that in this country the train is rarely competitive for short notice fixed time journeys.

            http://ec.europa.eu/transport/themes/infrastructure/connecting/doc/revision/list-of-projects-cef.pdf includes HS2. It is a EU project.

            • padav

              @Rhoda Klapp
              It’s abundantly clear that you are ideologically opposed (the fact that you read the Spectator gives the game away?) to the notion of public intervention in the field of transport provision so it’s unlikely you are going to heed any facts I offer in the way of rebuttal but here goes.

              From an anecdotal perspective your personal example rather proves the point I’ve been making – you claim that the train didn’t compare favourably with your requirements but of course you
              are making that judgement today, against the backdrop of present day circumstances. I’d argue that with HS2 in-situ, some years down the line, any decision of this type would not be so clear cut and I’ll give you a real world example to demonstrate this potential transformation.

              Just a few weeks ago two colleagues from the company where I work travelled to mainland Europe – one for business purposes, the other for leisure. One of these individuals hates flying and will go out of their way to avoid it, if at all possible (rather like me really). This person travelled by train to London, thence to Paris, thence to Geneva, all journeys undertaken by train – they opted for train out of personal preference but I’ve no doubt most people in similar circumstances today would travel by plane. The other person was visiting Paris and they travelled by short haul air (MIA to CDG). When I subsequently asked this latter individual about their choice of transport mode, the answer I received was instructive – they hadn’t considered the possibility because there was no direct train service so it never really entered their thoughts. After talking to the other person referred to here and learning of their experience of travelling by rail, next time this person intends to travel by train.

              Now fast forward to a situtation where HS2, phases 1 & 2, are in-situ and general circumstances will be profoundly altered. There WILL be direct services between a range of UK provincial cities and near mainland European cities and those services will connect with hubs (principally Lille) enabling seamless transfer to a raft of high speed rail services. I contend that this very different future travel environment will dramatically alter the travel choices for future generations.

              Now to address your challenge “Either it makes commercial sense or it does not” In terms of Short-Haul Air vs. High Speed Rail – the answer is unequivocally YES but only when a level playing field is in place – for the UK provinces (outside London and the South East) that circumstance does not yet prevail and it won’t until HS2 is up and running.

              Look at any corridor across Europe where High Speed Rail has been enabled to compete directly with Short-Haul Air. Rail wins every single time! You might like to read up on the examples provided by Air Inter and Air Littoral, both dedicated to short haul air routes mostly within France and its immediate neigbours. The gradual introduction of TGV rail services during the 80s and 90s effectively placed short-haul air and HIgh Speed Rail in direct competition for consumer’s patronage – what happened next?

              Air Littoral and Air Inter are both no longer with us (in a commercial sense) and the same trend (of reducing consumer reliance on Short Haul Air) is repeated anywhere else where a level competitive playing field has been established – no more flights between Brussels and Paris – simply jump on a high speed train! Sevilla and Madrid, Barcelona and Madrid, London and Paris – the same story of rapid market share penetration by High Speed Rail at the expense of Short-Haul Air, but only AFTER the alternative is put in place, ie. construction of a High Speed Rail line

              That’s why train operating companies are investing billions in new High Speed rolling stock but for these trainsets to maximise their potential requires the construction of new High Speed Rail lines – once this network is in place (and it will take time), short haul air doesn’t stand a chance!

              Finally we come to the vexed topic of EU involvement. Apparently your compelling evidence for HS2 as an “EU project”, as you term it, is reference to the now legendary TEN-T project programme? Readers can discover more about these projects here;
              http://tentea.ec.europa.eu/en/ten-t_projects/

              According to the above website, the raison d’etre underpinning these transport infrastructure projects (they cover all modes of transport) is;
              “The Trans-European Transport Network Executive Agency’s mission is to support the European Commission and TEN-T
              project managers and promoters, by ensuring the technical and financial management of the projects and the successful implementation of the TEN-T Programme.”

              The site goes on to explain the rationale behind its work;
              “An effective Trans-European Transport Network benefits all European citizens by allowing more efficient and more environmentally friendly transport, while reinforcing economic and social cohesion across the continent at the same time.”

              In terms of rail, a major element of the TEN-T programme is to promote interoperability between cross-border rail services. Thanks to the Channel Tunnel, the UK’s rail network is now linked directly to its mainland counterpart, facilitating direct services operating on previously distinct networks.

              I can’t speak for you @Rhoda Klapp but I perceive strategies (agreed through intergovernmental mechanisms) aimed at enhancing technical harmonisation across previously distinct systems and associated structures, to improve safety and efficiency (presumably?) as both positive and constructive.

              However, if your ideology dictates that you view anything remotely attached to the European Union with outright negative suspicion and hostility, I can see how you might conclude that the TEN-T projects strategy as some kind of EU inspired master plan to take over the UK’s transport infrastructure?

              All I can say is you are entitled to hold that opinion – let’s just say I don’t share it?

            • padav

              @Rhoda Klapp
              It’s abundantly clear that you are ideologically opposed (the fact that you read the Spectator gives the game away?) to the notion of public intervention in the field of transport provision so it’s unlikely you are going to heed any facts I offer in the way of rebuttal but here goes.

              From an anecdotal perspective your personal example rather proves the point I’ve been making – you claim that the train didn’t compare favourably with your requirements but of course you
              are making that judgement today, against the backdrop of present day circumstances. I’d argue that with HS2 in-situ, some years down the line, any decision of this type would not be so clear cut and I’ll give you a real world example to demonstrate this potential transformation.

              Just a few weeks ago two colleagues from the company where I work
              travelled to mainland Europe – one for business purposes, the other for leisure. One of these individuals hates flying and will go out of their way to avoid it, if at all possible (rather like me really). This person travelled by train to London, thence to Paris, thence to Geneva, all journeys undertaken by train – they opted for train out of personal preference but I’ve no doubt most people in similar circumstances today would travel by plane. The other person was visiting Paris and they travelled by short haul air (MIA to CDG). When I subsequently asked this latter individual about their choice of transport mode, the answer I received was instructive – they hadn’t considered the possibility (of rail) because there was no direct train service so it never really entered their thoughts. After talking to the other person referred to here and learning of their experience of travelling by rail, next time this person intends to travel by train.

              Now fast forward to a situtation where HS2, phases 1 & 2, are
              in-situ and general circumstances will be profoundly altered. There WILL be direct services between a range of UK provincial cities and near mainland European cities and those services will connect with hubs (principally Lille) enabling seamless transfer to a raft of high speed rail services. I contend that this very different future travel
              environment will dramatically alter the travel choices for future
              generations.

              Now to address your challenge “Either it makes commercial sense or it does not” In terms of Short-Haul Air vs. High Speed Rail – the answer is unequivocally YES but only when a level playing field is in place – for the UK provinces (outside London and the South East) that circumstance does not yet prevail and it won’t until HS2 is up and running.

              Look at any corridor across Europe where High Speed Rail has been enabled to compete directly with Short-Haul Air. Rail wins every single time! You might like to read up on the examples provided by Air Inter and Air Littoral, both dedicated to short haul air routes mostly within France and its immediate neigbours. The gradual introduction of TGV rail services during the 80s and 90s effectively placed short-haul air and High Speed Rail in direct competition for consumer’s patronage – what happened next?

              Air Littoral and Air Inter are both no longer with us (in a
              commercial sense) and the same trend (of reducing consumer reliance on Short Haul Air) is repeated anywhere else where a level competitive playing field has been established – no more flights between Brussels and Paris – simply jump on a high speed train! Sevilla and Madrid, Barcelona and Madrid, London and Paris – the same story of rapid market share penetration by High Speed Rail at the expense of Short-Haul Air, but only AFTER the alternative is put in place, ie. construction of a High Speed Rail line

              That’s why train operating companies are investing billions in new
              High Speed rolling stock but for these trainsets to maximise their
              potential requires the construction of new High Speed Rail lines – once this network is in place (and it will take time), short haul air doesn’t stand a chance!

              Finally we come to the vexed topic of EU involvement. Apparently your compelling evidence for HS2 as an “EU project”, as you term it, is reference to the now legendary TEN-T project programme? Readers can discover more about these projects here;
              http://tentea.ec.europa.eu/en/

              According to the above website, the raison d’etre underpinning these transport infrastructure projects (they cover all modes of transport) is;
              “The Trans-European Transport Network Executive Agency’s mission is to support the European Commission and TEN-T project managers and promoters, by ensuring the technical and financial management of the projects and the successful implementation of the TEN-T Programme.”

              The site goes on to explain the rationale behind its work;
              “An effective Trans-European Transport Network benefits all European citizens by allowing more efficient and more environmentally friendly transport, while reinforcing economic and social cohesion across the continent at the same time.”

              In terms of rail, a major element of the TEN-T programme is to
              promote interoperability between cross-border rail services. Thanks to the Channel Tunnel, the UK’s rail network is now linked directly to its mainland counterpart, facilitating direct services operating on
              previously distinct networks.

              I can’t speak for you @Rhoda Klapp but I perceive strategies (agreed through member state intergovernmental mechanisms) aimed at enhancing technical harmonisation across previously distinct systems and associated structures, to improve safety and efficiency (presumably?) as both positive and constructive.

              However, if your ideology dictates that you view anything remotely
              attached to the European Union with outright negative suspicion and hostility, I can see how you might conclude that the TEN-T projects strategy as some kind of EU inspired master plan to take over the UK’s transport infrastructure?

              All I can say is you are entitled to hold that opinion – let’s just say I don’t share it?

  • Tony Johnson

    HS2 Is David Cameron’s equivalent of Gordon Brown’s Aircraft carriers x 2. They are spending us in to a long long decline!

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