High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Henry Law (HSR 111)

1.  What are the main arguments either for or against HSR

2.  Journey times between cities will be reduced.

3.  Additional capacity will be created, including capacity released by transfer of services from existing routes.

4.  The case made by the proponents of the route rests primarily on the second argument. However, additional capacity could equally well be created by construction of a new route or routes, including one on a similar alignment to that selected for HS2. This could be substantially achieved by the reinstatement (as 125 mph railway) of routes and tracks removed in the 1960s rationalisations, including the Great Central main line, the Midland direct route to Manchester, and the Midland and other routes where quadruple track was reduced to double track.

5.  The costs of constructing, equipping and operating a high speed railway must be very substantially higher than those for a 125 mph railway. Energy consumption doubles for every 40% increase in speed. Higher speeds give rise to higher costs for other reasons. This will include the provision of a fleet of bespoke high speed trains for running on Britain's classic routes.

6.  To reinforce the above point: 250 mph is not optimal for rail transport in the UK. Costs are proportional to speed to the power of x, where x is greater than 2. Thus, the costs of travel at 140 mph are more than double those at 100 mph. These extra costs comprise amongst other elements, energy costs, initial costs of equipment specified for the higher speed of operation, wear and tear, and maintenance.

7.  Time savings, on the other hand, are less for each increment of speed increase. Thus a journey of 120 miles takes 2 hours at 60 mph, 90 minutes at 80 mph, 72 minutes at 100 mph and 60 minutes at 120 mph, giving successive time savings of 30 minutes, 18 minutes and 12 minutes respectively. For typical UK distances, speeds much higher than 100 mph achieve diminishing returns.

8.  The high costs of the service will mean that demand has to be finely tuned, using yield management techniques, resulting in complex fares structure which force people to make their travel plans far in advance and tie their journeys to particular times. This in turn adds to journey time since passengers must allow the best part of an hour for delays on the way to their point of departure. That completely negates most of the time savings achieved by high speed running. From this point of view, a conventional speed walk-on service will give shorter journey times than a high speed railway with an airline-style booking system!

9.  How does HSR fit with the Government's transport policy objectives

10.  HSR is designed to improve inter-urban connectivity. How does that objective compare in importance to other transport policy objectives and spending programmes, including those for the strategic road network?

11.  All journey start and finish with local journeys. The number of local journeys made is at least an order of magnitude greater than the number of inter-urban journeys. Investment must be balanced between the different needs. HS2 could be harmful to this balance by consuming too much of the available resources.

12.  Focusing on rail, what would be the implications of expenditure on HSR on funding for the "classic" network, for example in relation to investment to increase track and rolling stock capacity in and around major cities?

13.  Unless additional funding is set aside, the classic network could be starved of funds. Moreover, there is a risk that building of the line and rolling stock could consume an excessive share of the physical engineering resources and personnel available for rail construction in the UK.

14.  What are the implications for domestic aviation?

15.  In that most inter-urban journeys are not city-centre to city-centre, for trips starting and finishing within the catchment areas of airports, especially local ones, HS2 may not be as attractive as expected.

16.  Business case

17.  How robust are the assumptions and methodology—for example, on passenger forecasts, modal shifts, fare levels, scheme costs, economic assumptions (eg about the value of time) and the impact of lost revenue on the "classic" network?

18.  The best measure of the external economic value of infrastructure is aggregate change in land value attributable to the project. There is a need to refine the methodology so that this can be more accurately forecast.

19.  What would be the pros and cons of resolving capacity issues in other ways, for example by upgrading the West Coast Main Line or building a new conventional line?

20.  This was comprehensively explored in the report by W S Atkins. However, that report over-estimated the difficulties of running longer trains on the WCML, referring to the need for platform lengthening. This problem could be significantly alleviated by the development of an improved system of selective door opening. (SDO) to facilitate the stopping of long trains at stations with short platforms.

21.  As regards a new conventional line, the option that needs to be explored is the reinstatement of the Old Oak Common to Northolt route, the Great Central main line and cross-connections including Ashendon-Grendon Underwood, the Calvert spurs and the east-west route between at least Oxford and Bedford, reinstatement of four tracking of the Midland route from London to Trent Junction, and reinstatement of the Midland Peak Forest direct route to Manchester via Matlock and Buxton, all as 100 mph-125 mph railway.

22.  What would be the pros and cons of alternative means of managing demand for rail travel, for example by price?

23.  Complex yield management schemes are unpopular. High fares drive people onto alternative modes of transport.

24.  Economic rebalancing and equity

25.  What evidence is there that HSR will promote economic regeneration and help bridge the north-south economic divide?

26.  HS2 is as likely to promote long distance commuting and further centralisation to London as it is to promote regional economic regeneration. A strategy more certain to bridge the north-south economic divide would be to adjust the tax system so that it was related to ability to pay, where this is determined by geographical advantage and disadvantage—in effect creating "tax havens" where they are most needed and raising a greater share of public revenue from those areas most able to bear the burden. This would apply the same principle as the Domesday survey.

27.  To what extent should the shape of the network be influenced by the desirability of supporting local and regional regeneration?

28.  This question lies at the crux of the matter. There is a need for connectivity both at local and national scales.

29.  Which locations and socio-economic groups will benefit from HSR?

30.  The benefits of fixed infrastructure are ultimately capitalised into land values. The benefits go to whoever owns the land. This was demonstrated with the construction of the Jubilee Line Extension in London, which resulted in a land value uplift of three times the cost of building the line.

31.  How should the Government ensure that all major beneficiaries of HSR (including local authorities and business interests) make an appropriate financial contribution and bear risks appropriately?

32.  By a substantial replacement of existing taxes by a charge on the site rental value of land. This is the policy known as land value taxation (LVT). In the absence of this tax, the benefits will be creamed-off through higher rents and higher land prices, including prices of domestic property. Any other means of recovering the benefits will be arbitrary and unfair.

33.  Should the Government seek support from the EU's TEN-T programme?

34.  No. Conditions are likely to be imposed resulting in additional costs.

35.  Impact

36.  What will be the overall impact of HSR on UK carbon emissions?

37.  It is worth noting again that energy consumption doubles for every 40% increase in speed. In addition, the embodied energy of the structure and rolling stock must be taken into account.


39.  The fundamental question that must be asked is whether, given a pot of money sufficient to pay for HS2, and a decision to spend it on public transport infrastructure, whether HS2 is the best way to spend that pot, as against other options such as a 125 mph railway, urban light rail, or improvements to urban bus travel, and beyond this, on improvements in facilities for cyclists and pedestrians in cities.

16 May 2011

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011