Wednesday, 21st August 2013
UK: The High-speed Gravy Train
Source: Institute of Economic Affairs (UK)
The decision to build High Speed 2 is not justified by an analysis of the costs and benefits of the scheme. Even the government’s own figures suggest that HS2 represents poor value for money compared with alternative investments in transport infrastructure.
Ministers appear to have disregarded the economic evidence and have chosen to proceed with the project for political reasons. An analysis of the incentives facing transport policymakers provides plausible explanations for their tendency to favour a low-return, high-risk project over high-return, low-risk alternatives.
A group of powerful special interests appears to have had a disproportionate influence on the government’s decision to build HS2. The high-speed-rail lobby includes engineering firms likely to receive contracts to build the infrastructure and trains for HS2, as well as senior officials of the local authorities and transport bureaucracies that expect to benefit from the new line.
An effective lobbying campaign in favour of HS2 was initiated and funded by concentrated interests expecting to make economic gains from the project. This effort appears to have been effective at marshalling support for the scheme among policymakers.
‘Vote buying’ incentives were also important in building political support for a high-speed line. The policy was initially adopted partly as a response to local opposition to Heathrow expansion.
The main losers from HS2 - the taxpayers in every part of the UK who will be forced to fund it - are highly dispersed, and therefore have weak incentives to actively oppose it. By contrast, members of communities along the route, where losses are concentrated, have had very strong incentives to campaign. This pattern of activity has enabled the debate to be misleadingly framed in the media in terms of local objections versus national economic benefits.
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By Adrian Janes
Having begun his career in academic libraries, Adrian Janes has subsequently worked extensively in public libraries, chiefly in enquiry work as an Information Services librarian. In this role he has had particular responsibility for information from both the UK Government and the European Union. He wrote a detailed report on sources for the latter which was published by FreePint in 2007, and has contributed articles to FreePint and ResourceShelf. He is involved in training in information literacy and the use of online reference resources.
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