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11 Oct 2006 : Column 143WH—continued

Mr. Harris: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments. I would be absolutely delighted to accept any invitation from almost any Government in a foreign country to take a faraway flight to look at their
11 Oct 2006 : Column 144WH
transport systems. Of course it is important that Governments use the experience of best practice elsewhere in the world. I hope that that is exactly what this one will continue to do.

With either a new line or an existing line, the sums of money involved are substantial. As much of the money would come directly or indirectly from the taxpayer, the Government have a duty to ensure that the scheme would offer good value for money.

Whatever the nature of the upgrade, the speed of operation would need to be considered. In that respect, the case for a new line is not self-evident. As of now, rail emits less CO2 than either cars or planes. In carbon terms, conventional rail is more than twice as efficient as the car and more than three times more efficient than short-haul aviation. However, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, as speed increases, energy consumption—and hence carbon emissions per passenger mile—also increases. Air resistance quadruples with every doubling of speed, so trains, in common with cars or planes, need to burn progressively more fuel to reach and maintain higher speeds.

Furthermore, increasing speed has only a limited effect on journey time where runs between stations are relatively short, as they inevitably are in the UK. The need for the train to decelerate, stop and accelerate again limits the benefits of high top speed. However, it is load factors that might be crucial. Rail’s advantage is much greater at high levels of occupancy, while a low-use rail service is an energy-inefficient transport option, so we want to be running trains that are full across the route.

It is possible that reducing journey times between major urban centres could benefit the economy as a whole, by enabling workers to access a greater range of jobs—and employers a greater range of employees—and by enabling businesses to trade with a wider range of suppliers and markets. The question we must answer is how significant that will be, especially for a country with the geography such as the United Kingdom’s, where most of the major urban areas are already within two to three hours of each other.

These are complex questions that must be addressed from a genuinely multi-modal perspective. The case for, and nature of, such a project will depend on the balance of advantage between the wide range of factors that I have discussed. Robust evidence will be essential to inform what is certain to continue to be a vigorous and important debate. The Department for Transport and Sir Rod Eddington are working through the issues with an open mind. Our conclusions, drawing on Sir Rod’s report, will contribute to the long-term strategy for the railways to be published next summer.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Five o’clock.

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