Cost benefit rules need to be changed

Cost benefit analysis rules need to be changed to take account of wider economic benefits, Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport is reported to have said.

McLoughlin recently addressed the All Party South West Rail Group and was responding to a question raised by Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter – and also chairman of the group – about providing an alternative route to the exposed section of the Great Western main line at Dawlish (between Exeter and Newton Abbot) on the Devon coast.

The Minister said that the cost benefit analysis produced on the alternative routes needed to be changed as they did not fully take into account the wider economic benefits of providing an additional line. Some MPs and Peers on the rail group cited the case of the Borders Line (which is currently being re-opened between Edinburgh and Galashiels), arguing that it has a lower BCR than an alternative Dawlish avoiding line.

His comments have been welcomed by Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for Highway Management and Flood prevention: “We’d welcome the Minister’s views that the South West needs an inland rail route in addition to the coastal line through Dawlish. Those two elements together would serve to benefit the south west economy, and provide a more resilient connectivity that the region desperately needs.”

Storms swept away part of the line in February and services were disrupted for weeks. Network Rail subsequently examined several  different route options (LTT, 25 July) – ranging from new construction to re-opening disused lines – but all scored very low benefit cost ratios (BCR). The best BCR was 0.29; the least favourable was 0.08; the DfT regards anything less than one as very poor value-for-money, which casts doubt on the project’s affordability.

McLoughlin has promised to look into the issue and to respond to Bradshaw’s concerns.

659/Oct 14

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