The media has been busy reporting the planned HS2 project over the past two weeks. The first thing which did strike me was how the whole scheme wasn't leaked, so well done to them.

It is a huge project but I like many are baffled why it should take so long. If the benefits to "UK plc" are as good as our Minister's tell us (and I am not going to question that here) why don't we start building it a lot sooner? Not starting on construction until 2017 and not completing until 2033 is too long a time frame. That made me think, how do other countries  go about building new high speed railways?

The results aren't good when you compare everything from costs to timing when you look at how the French and Chinese build their railways. Not even that good when you look at what Brunel achieved in the 19th Century. My work and research has resulted in my first infographic which you will see attached at the bottom of this blog. As an aside I decided to produce an infographic as I think they are an excellent medium to convey information. My first attempt might not have the best graphics and layout but I hope you do find it informative.

When you start to look at and analyse data you invariably start asking more questions than you answer. HS2 was no different. The media tend to quote and focus on the headline figures, they don't get into the detail. The headline figure for HS2 is the cost, £33Bn. I suspect that if it is like any other Government procurement project it will be more. HS2 have published a lot of reports and amongst them there is one on the costs and benefits. The project is discussed broadly with the detail being provided for the London to Birmingham Phase of the project.

Some key figures;

  • HS2 Total Cost £33Bn
  • London to Birmingham Cost £16.3Bn
  • London to Birmingham Distance 224km
  • Total Cost £72.7m per km
Staggering numbers, £72.7m per km. But lets delve further.
For the London to Birmingham phase some further detail is provided;
  • Construction cost - £7.2Bn
  • Project "Risk" - £6.4Bn
  • Property Compensation - £0.965Bn
  • Environmental Costs - £0.25Bn
  • Other Costs - £1.5Bn

Construction Costs - these are about half of the overall project, equating to £32m per km. Still a lot of money. It is a huge cost when you learn that the French TGV cost is £16M/km and the China High Speed Rail £18m/km. How can we spend twice as much per kilometer of construction? Also within the construction cost there is a figure of £755m for the contractors costs in managing the contract.

Project Risk - have to say I simply don't understand this. The report says the risk is as per the standard Treasury Rules. I guess they have a history of things going wrong (NHS Computer System, Nimrod, Euro Fighter and many more) and they load the risk. Seems bizarre that the risk element is not much less than the construction cost.

Property Compensation - I hope the £965 million will be sufficient to compensate all those affected by HS2. Media reports suggest not. There are already scare stories about "blight" and I have sympathy for them. If your property lies outside the main corridor your options to sell are limited. What though are the options for you wish to sell, limited. On a per km basis the land compensation equates to £4.3m. HS2 have stated that overall the entire project their estimates as based on £1m/km for "rural", £1.5m/km for "rural plus" and £5m for "urban". For the urban compensation I think they is too much to consider to come to any conclusions. I imagine the compensation for the section in London for example will be much more than £5m/km. 

Other costs - This includes two figures. "Client Costs" of £435m and "Design Costs" of £600m. I don't understand the Client Costs, I assume the client is either HS2 or Central Government, either way it's a mystery. Design Costs are equally peculiar. I am a Chartered Surveyor and therefore a professional, the same as a Chartered Engineer but £600m does sound a lot! I am sure some of the design is complex but a lot of it is basic engineering, some built on relatively flat land and cuttings or embankments can hardly be described as complex to design. Lets look at it in two ways (1) £600m equates to £2.67m/km (2) Assume an engineer including all costs/pensions/ cars etc is £100,000 per annum, the Design Fee equates to 6,000 man years. Can that be right?

In conclusion the facts presented so far do indeed raise more questions than they answer. The key ones for me are why does it cost so much more to build than a French or Chinese High Speed line and why does it take so long? In the examples I have considered the French TGV build at an annual rate of over 80km per annum and the Beijing to Shanghai line at over 350km per annum. The amazing number is that the Chinese plan to build just over 2,000km of track in 20123/14.

We plan to build 33km per annum and yet Kingdom Isambard Brunel managed 31km per annum nearly 200 years ago. And he designed it himself.


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