MPs warn taxpayers could be left with huge bill for HS2 high-speed rail link

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Taxpayers could be left with a huge bill for the planned high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham unless lessons are learnt from costly mistakes over the Channel Tunnel link, MPs warned today.

They said wildly optimistic forecasts of passenger numbers on the HS1 London to Folkestone route had already saddled the public with debts of £4.8bn – and that these could eventually exceed £10bn. The Commons public accounts committee said the “unrealistic estimates” for HS1, which opened in 2003, must not be repeated when the economic case is made for the proposed HS2 line.

International passenger numbers on Eurostar services are only one-third of the original forecast, the MPs said, and questions remain over the scheme’s economic benefits.

The committee’s chairman, Margaret Hodge, said: “While HS1 provides an efficient service, contributing … to British transport infrastructure, there were costly mistakes in the history of the project. These must not be repeated with HS2.”

The Government has repeatedly stressed its commitment to HS2, which will initially connect London and the Midlands before being extended to the North-west and Yorkshire.

But Tory MPs have said it cannot be justified economically and will ruin some of the South-east’s most beautiful countryside.