HS2 could be a 'nightmare' - Darling

Former chancellor Alistair Darling says the high-speed rail service will drain resources which could be spent on upgrading the UK's entire rail network.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 29 Oct 2013
HS2, the high-speed rail link between London and the north of England via the West Midlands, has been fiercely debated since it was first proposed in 2010. Earlier this year, the government finally gave it the go-ahead – but that hasn’t prevented critics from continuing to shake their fists at it every now and then.

Step forward, ex-chancellor Alistair Darling, who in an editorial in the Times this morning called the scheme a ‘nightmare’ for its rivals.

That’s an interesting point of view, considering Darling was one of the Labour MPs backing the project back in 2010 when the Labour government originally gave the project approval.

But costs are rising: the budget for the line has risen from £32bn to £42.6bn – and a report by the Financial Times this week suggested the Treasury had set aside an extra £31bn for ‘overspend’. So Darling has changed his mind.

His view is now that the extra cash will drain money from other lines.

‘My experience as transport secretary is that if you do not spend money on upgrading, improving the track, improving the trains, then the thing will simply, eventually start falling apart, as it did by the mid-1990s,’ he said in an interview with the BBC.

His argument is understandable: when there are so many lines in need of improvements, why is the government putting all its eggs in one basket?

But HS2 proponents say the new line will turn cities in the north of England into new business hubs. It will free up space on already-crowded lines, create room for freight, and generate £48.2bn in user benefits to businesses, as well as £15.4bn in wider economic benefits.

Darling, though, argues that it’s a fallacy to see time spent on trains as ‘wasted’ time during which people are unproductive. Because wifi is available, many people are as productive as they would be at the office.

‘I just think that the whole basis on which this calculation is made is questionable,’ he said.

For what it’s worth, MT firmly believes both sides might be overlooking the wider issue. Instead of ploughing billions into slightly updating what is essentially a Victorian invention, why not move forward? MT reckons the government has overlooked its responsibilities by not building the infrastructure for flying cars. Or, at the very least, Hyperloop

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