Underwhelming passenger numbers on the UK’s first super-fast railway, High Speed 1, have left the taxpayer exposed to a potential debt risk, according to a report by public spending watchdog the National Audit Office.
Published today, the report The completion and sale of High Speed 1 said that while international passengers have grown in number since the line opened, they continue to fall far short of original forecasts, while the project costs exceed the value of journey time saving benefits.
Construction of the line cost £6.16bn — 18% higher than the target costs, it says, adding that the line was delivered 11 months late.
Actual passenger numbers between 2007 and 2011 were, on average, two thirds of the level forecast when the Department for Transport guaranteed the project debt in 1998, to enable the line to be built. “This left the taxpayer exposed to the risk of lower-than-expected passenger income, which had been expected to repay the project debt,” says the report.