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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signalled he is ready to scrap a controversial high-speed rail scheme that has been dogged by huge budget blowouts in a shift that serves as a warning for planners considering a new network of fast trains in Australia.
Dubbed "the most exciting transport project in Europe", the government's so-called HS2 project would whisk 300,000 passengers a day between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Originally costed at £34 billion ($65 billion), the budget climbed to £88 billion earlier this year and may now take more than £100 billion to complete.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has cast doubt over the future of a major new high-speed rail project.CREDIT:GETTY
Campaigning in Labour-held marginal seats in the Midlands ahead of Thursday's general election, Johnson cast serious doubt over the project's future.
"The issue is we’re a new administration. If you come in and there’s a project north of £100 billion probably, you have to ask yourself, it’s only responsible to the taxpayer to ask whether it’s being sensibly spent and that funding is being prioritised right," Johnson said.
"Looking at the way these things go, it probably will come on at north of £100 billion but at the moment...it's £88 billion and that's a lot of money and there will be serious questions about whether that is... right."
An artist impression of the high-speed rail network at Euston.
The Prime Minister, who once famously said he would lie down in front of bulldozers to stop the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport, also said he would "have to find some way of honouring that promise".
Johnson's red flag on the HS2 network will be closely watched by Australian officials who are now examining possible fast rail links following decades of stalled progress and longstanding fears the multi-billion dollar cost of the network would render it economically unviable.
While the UK proposal is far bigger than what is being discussed for Australia, the doubts over its future highlight the soaring cost of planning and constructing major infrastructure in developed nations.
Scott Morrison's first budget as Prime Minister contained $40 million to examine five possible fast-rail corridors between Sydney and Wollongong, Sydney and Parkes, Melbourne and Albury, Melbourne and Traralgon and Brisbane to the Gold Coast.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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