Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Rail Freight Expert Writes to PM to Claim HS2 is 'Vanity Project'

Scrap It and Use the Cash to Reinvigorate Infrastructure
Shipping News Feature

UK – We have written previously illustrating the views of Lord Tony Berkeley on the future of Britain's rail infrastructure, a subject he knows a considerable amount about having headed up the Rail Freight Group (RFG) and as a board member of the European Rail Freight Association (ERFA). He was also Deputy Chair on the Oakervee HS2 enquiry, until summarily dismissed, along with the rest of the panel leaving only ex HS2 Chairman Douglas Oakervee to complete the report on the project alone.

Now Berkeley has written to the Prime Minister setting out the case for abandoning HS2 as Network Rail attempts to acquire the services of staff, costing to the tune of half a billion pounds, to complete ‘civils, electrification, signalling and track work across Britain. Berkeley says this demonstrates a shortage of skilled railway construction staff to complete existing or newly approved rail projects, and sits oddly beside the statement in Conclusion 62 of the Oakervee Report:

”Conclusion 62: There are no-shovel ready alternative investments in the existing network that are available.”

As Berkeley points out, how can Oakervee have been ignorant of this massive investment plan by Network Rail, even though Network Rail’s Chair was a member of the Oakervee Review Panel? He goes on to suggest that the Department for Transport (DfT) may have put pressure on Oakervee to make such a statement to support the continuation of this £106 billion ‘vanity project’, even though Network Rail was already short of resources to get rail improvements, and even though Berkeley and others had submitted alternative plans to ministers to enable Network Rail to make similar improvements more quickly and more cheaply than HS2.

Once again the crux of the letter is telling the government that the wiser course would be to should cancel HS2 and use the billions saved to reinvigorate an economy devastated by the cost of the Covid-19 outbreak. He says the likelihood is post-pandemic there will be reduced demand for intercity business travel for years to come as people have now appreciated the benefits of working remotely.

Berkeley appeals to those responsible to use the money saved to reboot the economy, whilst encouraging HS2 and contractors’ staff to join Network Rail’s need for construction workers to complete its many ‘shovel ready’ projects, including the urgent capacity works at Manchester Piccadilly.