The Agenda

No to the North-South Railway

The Economist makes a devastating case against HS2, the new high-speed rail line championed by Britain’s Coalition government:

Britain should certainly spend more money on transport infrastructure. It just should not spend it on a folly like HS2. Cheaper, better solutions abound, albeit not of the kind that politicians might want to cut ribbons to open. Trains can be made longer. Signalling can be upgraded to enable trains to run faster and more frequently. New tracks could be laid at pinch points. Half-empty first-class carriages can be turned over to hoi polloi. Pricing could easily be made smarter: the current, crude distinction between peak and off-peak often produces a crush on the first cheap evening train. A sober report on infrastructure spending in 2006, just before Westminster caught high-speed fever, found that returns on such small, unexciting projects were almost always higher than on big ones.

This newspaper opposed HS2 two years ago, saying that £32 billion was too much to spend on one railway line. The case for it has not substantially improved. What has changed is the cost: that has risen to £42 billion, plus trains. Britain should scrap HS2 now, and get on with more sensible plans.

The Coalition might also consider investing in embedding wireless transponders and other sensors in Britain’s north-south roadways to help improve traffic performance, and to facilitate the adoption of autonomous vehicles that have the potential to greatly reduce traffic congestion

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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