NCE held its European High Speed Rail Summit in Barcelona last week − an event that highlighted the clear absurdities of the UK approach to the delivery of major public infrastructure compared to the rest of Europe.
Delegates heard back to back case studies on two examples of European high speed ambition which, frankly, left our European neighbours in the room with an air of bafflement, hilarity and outrage.
The first project was the new French Sud Europe Atlantique (SEA) TGV route between Tours and Bordeaux, the 50 year DBFO concession for which was recently let to a Vinci-backed consortium. As part of France’s ongoing high speed rail network development programme, this 300km line plus 40km of connections is expected to be complete in 2016 at a cost of around €7.6bn (£8bn).
Contrast this with the UK’s controversial High Speed Two (HS2) plans which were case-studied directly after.
Our two phase project plans an initial 180km leg to Birmingham from London to be completed by 2026 at a cost of £18bn.
The second “Y-shaped” section links Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, adding another 380km by 2033 for £14bn.
“It is an issue that the whole industry must embrace with as it strives to deliver the duel goal of value for public money and infrastructure for growth”
Hence the reaction in the Barcelona conference room. If you are looking for an example of high cost UK infrastructure and slow delivery pace, look no further.
Of course one cannot directly compare the largely greenfield French SEA route with the highly tunnelled HS2. And clearly there is a major cost involved in creating major new city centre terminals. But four times the cost? And 10 years behind? Surely some mistake, asked the delegates.
They are absolutely right. It is a serious point that must be tackled if the UK is to deliver its infrastructure ambitions − high speed rail or not. And it is, of course, the reason that the Treasury is sponsoring Infrastructure UK (IUK) to investigate the problem and recommend solutions. It is an issue that the whole industry must embrace with as it strives to deliver the duel goal of value for public money and infrastructure for growth.
Understanding how to engage and input to this work will form a major part of the forthcoming Infrastructure Show content and keynote presentations as many of the key IUK team members gather to discuss progress.
It is a vital part of the project’s interaction with industry and, as you will see in our show preview this week, just one of a huge number of free presentations and panel sessions designed to help the industry raise its game.
Clearly there are a multitude of reasons why the cost of infrastructure varies so wildly around Europe. And while the UK must maintain the ambition to design and construct the best, the future has to affordable. Right now I fear it is not.
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor