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DfT lacks clear strategic rail plan, says report

Words: Laura Edgar

Parliament's Public Accounts Committee has accused the Department for Transport of lacking a “clear strategic approach to investment in the rail network" in a new report.

Lessons from major rail infrastructure programmes suggests that the DfT is taking a “piecemeal approach” to major rail infrastructure investment - in particularly in relation to the proposed High Speed 2 (HS2) and 3 (HS3) rail links. In particular, it asks why the DfT did not conduct an assessment to determine whether a route to improve connectivitiy in the north (HS3) was a higher priority than the north-south link (HS2); and it failed to consider how Scotland might benefit from HS2 or whether the line might extend to Scotland at some point.

Speaking to the committee, chair Margaret Hodge said: “Investment in major rail infrastructure programmes takes a long time and costs a lot of money. It is therefore hugely important to ask the right questions and make properly informed judgements on priorities.”

The report also discusses the £50 billion funding for HS2, stating concerns that the “generous contingency” could mask cost increases if appropriate controls are not put in place.  It also expresses scepticism on whether HS2 will deliver value for money to the taxpayer.

The report cites the example of HS1, saying that regeneration benefits to Ebbsfleet were not delivered as expected following this line's completion. Hodge said: “The government is only now putting in place an urban development corporation at Ebbsfleet to rectify this. We should not repeat these mistakes with HS2.” The report found that the DfT needed to lay out who is responsible for ensuring all benefits from the high speed rail links become a reality, and how the work involved will be co-ordinated. The DfT has said it is applying lessons from hS1 to HS2.

Nevertheless, the department should, the report recommends, set out a 30-year strategy that will inform decisions regarding investment priorities. The DfT has acknowledged that the delivery of projects could be sped up and savings made if construction techniques from overseas were used.

Further to this, the report also recommends that lessons learnt from past projects need to be applied in the future to “speed progress and improve value for money to all projects it sponsors, including HS2.”

Image courtesy of HS2