Written evidence from Dr Paul Thornton
The material I have submitted is directly pertinent
to the committee's current enquiry into the strategic case for
High Speed Rail. The documents particularly impinge upon the questions
as set out in the committee's announcement of the inquiry:Question
1, Question 2.1 and 2.2, Question 3.1, Question 4.3, and Question
I have to declare an interest. My home lies some
100 yards from the proposed line. It will however be enclosed
at the nearest point by a "cut and cover" tunnel such
that HS2 Ltd assures that the detriment to my quality of life
will be negligible. Mr Hammond cannot therefore claim that my
evidence is biased as nimbyism.
My only similar prior experience of submitting evidence
to a select committee related to concerns about the NHS national
computer database scheme. That evidence has been vindicated as
that scheme has been disastrous both in terms of cost and failed
implementation. I recognise substantial parallels. Not least,
Ministers have been persuaded to advocate a technological solution
which is more grandiose than anything similar delivered elsewhere,
and that is unsupported by technical experts other than those
who are likely to benefit from the lucrative contracts that will
follow. I hope the Transport Select Committee will be more assertive
in dealing with the naked emperors in this scenario.
However, the documentation I have submitted derives
not from my own opinion but was obtained through the terms of
the Freedom of Information Act.
The documentation I have submitted confirms two key
1. Guesstimated planning, and so costing,
for the routes north of Birmingham: The HS2 Ltd cost estimates
for the two branches of the railway to the north of Birmingham
are based upon route plans that are so vague and unconsidered
that HS2 Ltd claim not to be able to replicate them. Calculations
of both construction and running costs are wholly dependent on
clear knowledge of the route. As such, the engineering, economic
and business cases for the entire HS2 project must be regarded
as intrinsically inaccurate with massive potential for underestimate
2. The real rail priority for Yorkshire Local
Authorities: The local authorities to the north east, currently
claiming support for the HS2 proposals, have previously documented
alternative proposals as being far less costly while providing
much of the advantage now claimed for the HS2 proposals. Even
with the HS2 proposals in their sights, these same authorities
have continued to press particularly for the upgrading of the
Midland Main Line as a priority. The strength of their arguments
has even been acknowledged by the Chief Engineer at HS2 Ltd in
an unguarded personal comment made in an email revealed under
the Freedom of Information Act.
On the 4 October 2010 High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd submitted
a report to the Secretary of State for Transport that documented
their proposals for the high speed rail lines in a Y configuration
to the north of Birmingham, to Manchester, and to Leeds.
At para 4.14, Table one, it shows the route lengths
for the proposed corridor between Lichfield and the centre of
Manchester broken down apparently very precisely by the type of
terrain through which it passesRural flat, Rural Hilly,
Urban length & Tunnelled Length. Similarly at Para 4.32, Table
5, equivalent figures are provided for the route from Birmingham
to the East coast main line (ECML) via Leeds.
|SW Manchester||Central Manchester
|SW Manchester||WCML (Warrington)
|Birmingham (Coleshill)||Leeds Centre
The cost of the construction is very much determined by the overall
track length and the type of terrain through which it passes.
Small changes in overall length or shifts between type of terrain
would result in substantial changes to overall cost.
I submitted an enquiry to HS2 Ltd under the terms of the Freedom
of Information Act. The full exchange is accessible on line at
the link below.
I requested the route from which these distances have been measured.
In response, HS2 Ltd claimed that:
map was used in this process.
route corridors, based on straight lines (with some basic movement
to avoid significant and clearly identifiable landscape features)
for both the S and Y", were used.
are unable to reproduce the location of those "broad corridors".
Against that background, the cost estimates of the
HS2 proposals are wholly unreliable.
The claim that as much as two thirds of the route
from Birmingham to Leeds will be across land which is "flat"
implies that the responsible authors have never been north of
Leicester. High speed trains do not do curves or hills. Wherever
there are hills they require high cost infrastructure-cuttings,
embankments, bridges, viaducts and tunnels.
The notion that this route can be built with just
five miles of tunnels is implausible. A greater tunnel length
is proposed just to get HS2 through the Chilterns. HS2 Ltd claim
an overall route length from Coleshill to Leeds of 103 miles.
Constrained to that distance no route can go far enough east to
avoid the Pennines.
The chief engineer at HS2 Ltd has advised one of
my neighbours that track in a tunnel would cost approximately
ten times the cost of the same length of track in flat countryside.
The submitted documentation includes a further response
from Sir Brian Briscoe, Chairman of HS2 to my MP, Mr Jeremy Wright,
dated 11 April 2011. Sir Brian adds little new information and
continues to obfuscate. The letter confirms that Sir Brian is
completely unable to substantiate the claimed route mileage and
terrain type information. As a consequence the provided estimates
of cost for the routes north of Birmingham cannot be validated
or independently corroborated or scrutinised.
Sir Brian claims that "we undertook work that
was at a sufficient level of complexity for the required degree
of accuracy." The committee might wish to know what he regarded
as the required degree of accuracy? What margin for error does
he regard as acceptable in this "high level estimate"?
And can he substantiate that such a margin of error is realistic
under his methodology?
It would be entirely possible and appropriate for
HS2 Ltd to replicate the previous work using "online maps
and online distance measuring tools" and to publish that
information as I originally requested. I shall continue to pursue
this directly with HS2 Ltd under the provisions of the Freedom
of Information Act but I hope that the Transport Select Committee
will also pursue this line of enquiry.
Genuine analysis of the London to Birmingham section
is wholly dependent on a proper cost benefit analysis of the entire
project to Leeds and to Manchester. Sir Brian is explicit that
more precise cost estimates will not be published until the end
of the year, long after the closure of the Government's consultation
in respect of the Birmingham to London section. Indeed, even then,
Sir Brian acknowledges that the estimates can only be vague"high
level"until the routes for the northern sections are
This is a classic example of the wrongly ordered
decision making that results in cost creep and gross overspending
in respect of public capital projects. The northern routes must
be determined and properly costed before there is a contractual
commitment to commencement of any part of the HS2 route.
As a Yorkshireman living in exile, I am clear that
if the economic benefit to the north of England came close to
the claims made by the Department of Transport, the authorities
in those areas would have been clamouring for just such a development
for several years. While those local transport officials have
jumped on to the HS2 bandwagon, even now the HS2 proposals are
not their priority.
"Leeds City Region"i and "Sheffield
City Region"ii are umbrella bodies for the numerous
local authorities within and around each of those cities. In August
2009 they published an overview report, "The case for High
Speed Rail",iii along with a detailed technical
report "High Speed Rail to the Leeds and Sheffield Regions".iv
This latter includes an analysis of the economic arguments but
particularly includes consideration of an upgrade to the existing
Midlands Main Line, which runs north from St Pancras, (Co-terminus
of HS1) Diagram attached. That route connects two important airports,
as well as the major East Midlands (Leicester, Derby, Nottingham)
and Yorkshire (Sheffield, Leeds) conurbations.
This line has not been upgraded as have the East
and West Coast main lines. Its journey times are correspondingly
now very slow. An upgrade to the Midlands Main Line could therefore
bring many of the benefits claimed for HS2.
Accordingly in December 2009, the East Midlands Development
Agency, Sheffield City region and South Yorkshire PTE co-authored
with ARUP a further report presenting the substantial case for
an upgrade to the Midland Main Line.v This report was
submitted to HS2.
A FOIA enquiry has revealed an unguarded response
from the Chief Engineer at HS2 to that report in an email dated
23 December 2009 sent to the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport
Executive as follows:
"Thank you. You will appreciate this has
arrived a little late to be considered within our report however
we will acknowledge that we have received it and will reflect
on it to Government in the New Year as part of the discussions
we will doubtless be having.
On a personal notethis is purely meI
think there has to be care not to undermine a very strong business
case for a proper high speed line by proposing an investment in
an intermediate solution which gives a proportion of the benefits
and potentially allows government to say 'they have got part of
what they wanted so the priorities now move elsewhere.' As I say,
this is purely my personal comment, not the view of HS2 Ltd which
will only properly review your submission in January".
His recognition that that upgrading the Midland Main
Line would provide an alternative to HS2 confirms that it merits
substantial further investigation.
His warning seems to have had a negligible effect.
The four northern bodies omitted to mention the potential of the
Midlands Main line when they wrote to the Secretary of State on
6 July 2010 urging that the east branch of the HS2 "Y"
route be given priority over the inverted S, although they did
reciprocate their claim by observing that the western side of
the country has already benefited substantially from the huge
investment in west coast main line.vi However,
at the same time, in a public document they observed;
Shouldn't we be focusing on improving existing
"It is unlikely the high speed rail network
will serve Yorkshire before at least 2025, so there will be a
need to deliver improvements to existing routes in the short to
medium term. In the shorter term, a £560 million package
of improvements is expected to be delivered by 2014 to address
capacity bottlenecks. These measures, along with a revised timetable,
could reduce journey times to London from Doncaster, Leeds, Wakefield
and York by 10-15 minutes via the East Coast Main Line (ECML).
Furthermore, a £70 million scheme could reduce journey times
between Sheffield and London by around eight minutes. Previous
analysis by Network Rail also demonstrated electrifying the Midland
Main Line (MML) would produce a very strong business case, with
lower operating costs and higher passenger revenues covering the
infrastructure costs over a period of 60 years."
And having apparently secured the Y route to Yorkshire
through Phillip Hammond's announcement at the beginning of October
2010, Midland Main Line improvements were immediately back on
their objectives as essential. The northern bodies again wrote
to the Secretary of State on the 11 October 2010 "While
welcoming the news for HSR to our area in the long term, some
existing rail routes are in need of improvements now. Existing
proposals to upgrade and electrify the Midland main Line, East
Coats Main Line, Transpennine and Leeds-Sheffield links can deliver
substantial benefits at modest costs. We would ask that you prioritorise
these shorter term investments to support the regions' economic
recovery and growth. We will let you have details highlighting
why these shorter term investments represent such good value for
The main claimed justification for HS2 is not the
effect on journey times between London and Birmingham but for
journey times and rail capacity for destinations to the North.
It is therefore bizarre that the High Speed rail proposal will
be considered by parliament in separate components rather than
as a coherent whole project.
The Transport Select Committee should insist that
the proposed hybrid bill does not proceed until the detail of
the entire intended route is clarified and so can be properly
and accurately costed. Only from that point can the committee
exercise its obligations to properly test whether the marginal
benefits claimed for the whole HS2 Ltd scheme, compared to existing
line upgrade opportunities, really merit the enormous additional
construction costs and then the massive subsidy costs into the
I hope these observations assist the committee. If
I can provide clarification on any of these points please do not
hesitate to contact me.
10 It is noteworthy that via the East coast main line,
Leeds already has excellent existing fast rail links to London
such that HS2 will reduce that journey time by just 20 minutes,
but this differential will be eroded further by further improvements
to the east coats main line in the interim. Back