HS2 is over-budget and years behind schedule because ministers “underestimated the complexity” of the project, a damning official report states.

The National Audit Office said the Government did not “adequately manage risks to taxpayers’ money” and failed to “take into account” the sheer scale of the railway.

HS2, originally costed at £36 billion, is now forecast to cost £106 billion, but the NAO warned it is impossible to “estimate with certainty what the final cost could be”.

Junk the thing, seriously.

34 thoughts on “No shit”

  1. An original estimate was made. It is now three times the cost, with an actual cost, apparently impossible to determine.

    This is either incompetence, deliberate dishonesty or both. Unless there has been something like a sudden unforeseen occurrence of volcanic activity along the proposed route, there really are no other explanations.

    To proceed knowing this is nothing short of criminal. I’m trying to see a downside in cancelling. Apart from the likelihood of eye watering PFI type penalty clauses, I can’t think of any.

    Can anybody else?

  2. I’ve seen a notion forwarded that HS2 is “jobs for Tory voters”, as in lots of middle class jobs. Maybe there’s something in that given the reluctance to cancel. I also think there’s a residual “connecting the regions” momentum amongst our betters, glued as they are to EU thinking.

  3. If the railways and rolling stock only were already nationalised then the project could go ahead because it would be self-financing, or some bonds could be issued at no cost to the tax-payer.

  4. I doubt that Ministers were involved in the underestimating. Our Rolls Royce Civil Service has more than adequate competence in that department.

  5. Bloke in North Dorset


    Judging from the protests and comments of friends when we lived in Bucks it would have to be a lot of jobs to make up for the lost votes along the route.

  6. PJF,

    “I also think there’s a residual “connecting the regions” momentum amongst our betters, glued as they are to EU thinking.”

    I don’t even mind some north/south linking up, but rail isn’t what people use. 55% of rail is commuting. People getting on a train in Newbury and going to an office in Reading. OK, there’s the odd granny going on a train in Birmingham to see Mamma Mia in London, but that’s not most of the traffic.

    It’s going to do nothing for places like Barnsley. If you’ve got to change trains at Birmingham, you might as well drive.

  7. I saw a “timeline” for HS2 somewhere recently – perhaps in the Grauniad?

    Anyway, this timeline started in 2006 with George Osborne deciding to build that railway.

    Tell me; weren’t Labour in office until 2010?

    It seems that people who write about HS2 are capable of being preposterously incompetent too.

  8. Sir Simon Jerk in the Groan writes ‘… I gather that figure too is dubious, and a new figure, “with contingency”, is nearer £130bn.’

    I guess £200-250 bn. Which probably means that it would never be finished so the time to scrap it is now. Today. Before lunch.

  9. As BoM4 points out, there seems to be complete ignorance of how the railways are actually being used. There are commuter stations like Chelmsford with more passengers annually than Newcastle Central or Nottingham.

  10. Gamecock’s favorite son recently returned from Japan.

    I asked him about the high speed trains. He did ride one. I asked him how fast it went.

    “Not very.”


    “Four stops. Every time we got going good it stopped.”

    Slightly OT. He said that different trains were delayed up to half an hour. “Person on tracks.” So common that waze like app had a symbol for it. “You mean a body?” “Yes. Laying on the train tracks is a very common method of suicide.”

  11. @Gamecock. From my home (northern Japan) to central Tokyo takes about 6 hours by car, assuming it is off peak and there are no hold-ups/traffic jams. In addition to fuel, it costs about 10,000 Yen in expressway tolls. I’m doing all the work.

    I can do the same journey in 3 1/2 hours by shinkansen. That includes the first 100km on a single track branch line and numerous stops. I get a comfortable reclining seat, free wifi, active suspension, a very fit trolley dolly serving meals and drinks and taking orders for bento to be delivered to you at the next stop. I can sleep, read, wander about up and down the train for excercise, and the bogs are immaculately clean. The station is about 100 metres from my front door and when I get to central Tokyo I don’t have to find parking. A ticket costs 20,000 Yen.

    Tell me, how’s the high speed (or any) rail going in Yankland?

  12. Gamecock,

    Rail sucks. It’s fine, and about the most pleasant way to travel when it works, but it’s a disaster when it fails, and based on my experience over many years, no-one involved gives a shit. No-one seems to care about doing it better than last week. I’ve seen no reduction in points failures, engine failures, doors not shutting properly, drivers not turning up or any of that.

    By contrast, my bus is near as damnit 100% reliable. Even in snow, they did what they could, unlike trains who just fucked off home leaving people stranded, when I’m absolutely certain they could have just run the local service at a slow speed, but I guess there’s some rule and once the drivers can point to it, they can fuck off home and still get paid.

    And cars are just incredibly reliable now. The worst thing in a car is being on the motorway and being stuck behind an accident. Otherwise, they aren’t subject to “points failure” (everyone just proceeds with caution at traffic lights), if you buy anything but an Alfa Romeo, you won’t get mechanical failure. Does the driver fail to turn up? Well, no.

    Their only advantage is that they have their own lane. You want to go into London, you’ll be in serious traffic in a car. Even then, I drive to the edge of the congestion and take the train rather than give any more money to these useless fuckers. I’ve stopped taking the train to Reading. I drive to Tilehurst station and take a short local train. Costs me a fiver, and if they fuck that up, I’ve got taxi and bus as a backup.

  13. The interesting thing to me about the Shinkansen was that the seats always face forward, even though the train does not turn round.

    Oh, and the cost of HS2 is completely explained by pile o’ money theory.

  14. Bloke in North Dorset


    “ Anyway, this timeline started in 2006 with George Osborne deciding to build that railway.

    Tell me; weren’t Labour in office until 2010?

    It seems that people who write about HS2 are capable of being preposterously incompetent too.”

    Or very prescient….

    On second thoughts, having consulted Occam’s Razor, you’re right.

  15. Old Chinese proverb: “As sure as night follows day, government pwoject costs bawoon out of hand”.

    dearieme is right, it will cost at least £200 billion if it ever gets built (and it will take decades). That’s about a quarter of a whole year’s government spending.

    Also, as Gamcock intimates, it will hardly ever go at full speed, and in general it won’t provide much of a speed advantage over existing services. It won’t go anywhere near as well as the Japanese version.

  16. @BiJ
    There’s plenty of rail commuting in the US, even LA has it (and a new light rail, too). But long distance rail is for tourists (and Amish) – it takes a couple of days to get LA-Chicago and not even the highest of high-speed trains can compete with air over that distance (unless you believe in hyperloop).

  17. “The station is about 100 metres from my front door”

    Anecdata. Unless everyone has a station close to home.

    “Tell me, how’s the high speed (or any) rail going in Yankland?”

    We have no need for it. We have our own personal transportation, and a massive air network. Charlotte to New York in an hour.

    We fixed slow travel last century. ‘High speed’ is relative.

    “I can do the same journey in 3 1/2 hours by shinkansen.”

    40 minutes by Boeing.

  18. “40 minutes by Boeing.”

    Oh you old wag. You’re just fishing for someone to say ‘But not 737 Max’.

  19. Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco and speaker of the California Assembly has a weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle. He once wrote this about a project experiencing massive overruns:

    “News that the Transbay Terminal is something like $300 million over budget should not come as a shock to anyone. We always knew the initial estimate was way under the real cost. Just like we never had a real cost for the Central Subway or the Bay Bridge or any other massive construction project. So, get off it.

    In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

  20. Waste of money. Spend it on upgrading other commuter lines, especially in the North. Much better value for money. 140 miles!!

  21. “You’re just fishing for someone to say ‘But not 737 Max’.”

    They will get you on the ground quicker.

  22. its Railway we’ve been building them for over a 100 years how the hell can the original estimate be so far out.
    Not as if we are talking something like the Othello tunnels (for a while one of the most expensive sections of railway in the world), it’s Birmingham to London

  23. Bloke on M4.

    None of your comments are a necessary part of trains. It is possible for them to run on time, if the will is there.

    We traveled on about 200 trains when we took a year off to travel Europe. Italy it was always late. Hungary often. The rest, basically never. Swiss trains are excellent – reliable and clean.

    The will needs to be there.

    Plane times need to include getting to the airports. Where I live the weather often holds them up for ages too. Fog generally (we had some yesterday, and it’s summer). I always take trains over planes for medium trips.

  24. From my downloaded file from 19/6/19
    “Estimates of station usage 17-18, entries and exits”
    Chelmsford – 1,671,580
    Newcastle – 1,419,122
    Nottingham – 2,072,462

    The top 10, all with 9m plus are:
    Birmingham New Street
    Gatwick Airport
    Highbury & Islington
    Liverpool Street
    London Bridge

    The two outliers there are Birmingham and Leeds – connect ’em up with something faster.

  25. Chap interviewed on C4 News when asked “What about the £7bn already spent?”

    “It’s like a gambling addict putting more money into machine thinking he’ll win something back. We should stop this train-wreck”

    A good sunk cost analogy

    This chap (not C4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKbPQpPJwxE

    Adrian Quine from The Adam Smith Institute

    Virgin Rail Boss: HS2 has become a vanity project (2013)


    BTW: “High Speed Rail” has been corrupted by UK media & politicians. When they promote the latest, greatest new the train speed is KPH and no quicker than the InterCity HS 125 (MPH), which could and did exceed 140mph to recover from delays.

  26. “its Railway we’ve been building them for over a 100 years how the hell can the original estimate be so far out.”

    Even more. Almost 200.

    “I have just returned to Liverpool, having been at Newcastle, visited the railroads in its vicinity and examined the operation of the locomotives with the closest attention. I have been completely convinced of their utility and superiority to horsepower…”
    – Horatio Allen, designer and builder of the Charleston-Hamburg Railroad, 1828

    My parents lived on the Charleston-Hamburg line for 25 years. I played golf by it a few months ago (Aiken Golf Club).

    The line ran 136 miles, starting operation in 1833. We are approaching 200 years of train operations. 19th century tech. Speeding it up doesn’t make it 21st century tech. But like many things, there can be some excellent niche applications. I imagine Osaka-Japan would be an excellent application of high speed trains.

    You may not be aware of the catastrophic effect of the US railroads: vast investment had been made in canals. They became useless almost overnight.

  27. @Pcar

    HST sets only ever officially ran at 125mph. They cranked one up to 148 down Stoke Bank whilst doing bogie development for the mk4 coaches, which remains a world record for diesel traction.

    The speed limiting problem wasn’t the vehicles – it was the need for in cab signaling. It was felt that 125mph was as fast as one could reasonably rely on a man looking out of the window at coloured light signals, and even achieving 125 running required considerable modification to the signaling gear.
    Probably in the days before everything was logged, the odd HST set found its way to 130mph or so making up time, but I very much doubt many service trains got anywhere near 140mph.

    As for HS2, I imagine that much of the cost will relate to massive unnecessary complexity in things like signalling. You only have to look at the continuing crossrail farce (with crossrail, the civils haven’t messed up much, and most of its physically built, however between the signaling engineers and the train manufacturers, its gone massively over budget, and still no one really knows when (or if) it will ever open) to see where HS2 will end up.

  28. @Gamecock ““The station is about 100 metres from my front door”

    Anecdata. Unless everyone has a station close to home.”

    As the stations are located in centres of population it makes them remarkably convenient for the majority of the population.

    “We have no need for it. We have our own personal transportation, and a massive air network. Charlotte to New York in an hour.”

    From your front door to central New York? Remarkable! I can fly from Yamagata to Tokyo in about an hour. But I have to drive to the airport, 30 mins, spend an hour checking in and whatever it takes to disembark, collect my luggage and take the local train from Haneda to Tokyo. No thank you. It’s faster, cheaper and more convenient (get on, get off) by train.

    The shinkansen leaving any major city have to share the network with local traffic (at suburban train speed) and make numerous stops at suburban stations located conveniently close to where the customers live, before entering the dedicated system.

    “We fixed slow travel last century. ‘High speed’ is relative.”

    My shinkansen runs at 275 km/h (170 mph). I don’t consider that slow.

    @Rhoda Klapp. When the shinkansen reach their destinations, an army of cleaners sweeps through (Ha!). The seats are mounted on swivels so as they clean, they swivel the the seats to face the direction of travel.

  29. On reliability. JR East are currently showing delays only on the Hokuriku Shinkansen. The reason given is “Typhoon”. I wonder how that’s effecting air travel?

  30. “I wonder how that’s effecting air travel?”

    flightaware.com shows normal traffic.

    Japan has perfected 19th century technology. Whoopeee.

    “My shinkansen runs at 275 km/h (170 mph). I don’t consider that slow.”

    Look up. Passenger jets cruise at 480 mph.

    My car will do more than 170.

    If you wish to argue that passenger train travel is superior to airplane passenger travel, have fun. The joke is on you.

  31. @theProle

    Good post, thanks

    “officially ran at 125mph”

    Back in 80s that was a guideline

    1987 East Linton: track parallel to road. GPz900R speedo (+/- 10%) showing 150mph, HST125 going faster. To say I was annoyed would be an understatement.

    @Bloke in Japan

    Typhoon won’t have affected airlines as they fly above weather

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