U.K. Lawmakers See Serious Shortcomings Over HS2 Case

The U.K. government must re-examine the economic case for the planned high-speed rail line from London to northern England, lawmakers said, adding to questions over the cost of the project.

Ministers should delay sending legislation on the line, known as HS2, through Parliament before concerns are assessed, the House of Commons Treasury Committee said in a report published in London today. The cross-party panel noted that the construction costs have increased by 17 percent to 42.6 billion pounds ($68.6 billion) even before building has started.

“There appear to be serious shortcomings in the current cost-benefit analysis for HS2,” the panel’s chairman, Andrew Tyrie from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party, said in an e-mailed statement. “A more convincing economic case for the project is needed. We need reassurance that it can deliver the benefits intended and that these benefits are greater than those of other transport schemes -– whether in the department’s project pipeline or not –- which may be foregone.”

Critics of the project have become increasingly vocal in recent months. The Institute of Directors, a business lobby group, said in August the plan is too expensive. The opposition Labour Party’s Treasury spokesman, Ed Balls, repeated a warning last month that the line would be scrapped under a future Labour government if costs run out of control.

Labour’s pro-HS2 transport spokeswoman, Maria Eagle, was moved to cover a different policy area by the party leader, Ed Miliband, in a revamp of his team of senior lawmakers yesterday. The party said it’s policy hadn’t changed.

Construction Schedule

The government intends to introduce legislation on HS2 by the end of 2013, with a plan for it to be passed by Parliament by 2015. Construction would then begin in 2017, with the first part of the line from London to Birmingham opening in 2026. After Birmingham the route will split, with tracks going to Manchester and Leeds. Those sections wouldn’t open until 2033.

Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin pledged continued support for HS2 at the Tories’ party conference in Manchester last week. McLoughlin said the line won’t divert investment from other transport projects and condemned “moaning” by London-based critics.

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