High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from ASLEF (HSR 112)

1.  The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) is the UK's largest train drivers' union representing approximately 18,000 members in train operating companies and freight companies as well as London Underground and light rail systems. The union has 130 years knowledge and experience of the railways.

2.  ASLEF welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this Transport Select Committee Inquiry into High Speed Rail. As the union representing the UK's only high speed train drivers' on Eurostar and HS1 we believe we are well placed to comment on this proposed infrastructure development.

3.  Investment in the UK's infrastructure, particularly rail, is crucial to reducing the deficit and boosting economic growth. A key objective of that investment in the railways must be to cultivate a modal shift from air to rail and from car to train along in tandem with the development of a high speed rail network in line with Coalition's Programme for Government commitment to make the transport sector greener, more sustainable and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. An increase in rail capacity is strongly linked to a decrease in car journeys undertaken with the result that there is less carbon emissions. Decisions must therefore be determined by what will best deliver these outcomes.

What are the main arguments either for or against HSR?

4.  ASLEF believes that the development of a high speed rail network is vital to the long term prosperity of the UK and notes that British rail network is already running at capacity. Over the past few years rail use has been at record highs with more distance being travelled by rail than any other era in peacetime. We are travelling 10 billion miles a year more than we did just a decade a go. Projections quoted by the McNulty review team suggest that the rail industry has the potential to double its traffic by 2030. In addition the UK is highly unlikely to build any more motorways in the near future so the construction of a high speed rail network is therefore the only viable solution to the capacity challenge.

5.  The growth on the main two north to south rail routes in the UK has also witnessed an extraordinarily upward trajectory. Between 2008-09 and 2009-10 the West Coast Mainline increased the number of passenger journey's carried by 15.8% and passenger kilometres by 18%.

6.  The East Coast Main line is one of the busiest routes on the rail network yet there is currently insufficient capacity on parts of the line to deal with the existing requirements of passenger and freight services notwithstanding future growth requirements.

7.  The Committee will know Network Rail's West Coast Route Utilisation Strategy published in December 2010 explained that "the Line is nearly full to capacity. The market for travel between London and Manchester is expected to grow at the fastest rate, with passenger demand expected to increase by as much as 61%." It also states that "this RUS therefore supports the development and implementation of a high speed network initially between London and the West Midlands, but also to Manchester and beyond. We believe that this is the best way to free up capacity on the West Coast Main Line and are delighted the Government is committed to the project."

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

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?

8.  This Government has sought to become the greenest Britain has seen. Therefore not only must this been seen in the context of improving inter-urban connectivity, but within the scope of carbon reduction through reduced car journeys and flights. The Government has a legal commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.Transport is the fastest growing polluter in the UK. However rail emits just 2% of these emissions whilst road is responsible for 19% of all emissions and 55% of transport emissions.

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?

9.  It is essential that any funds spent on a high speed network are ring fenced and should not detract from the ongoing funding of the remaining network. It is thus essential that the High Speed rail builds capacity along with other areas of the network rather than simply moving it.

What are the implications for domestic aviation?

10.  By linking to Heathrow airport, domestic connecting flights which use Heathrow as a main hub for international journeys will be substantially reduced. It is important to remember that travel by HSR produces one-quarter the emissions of an equivalent trip by air, taking into account the average loadings typically achieved on each mode.

Business case

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?

11.  High speed lines tend to promote more growth than conventional lines. Currently rail only enjoys a 15% market share in journeys between London and Scotland. The Eurostar demonstrates the popularity of high speed rail as an alternative to air travel with around an 80% share of London to Paris travellers.

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

12.  ASLEF believes that for environmental reasons and likely road congestion projections we must look at increasing demand and capacity on rail. Reducing demand in lieu of investment in capacity is simply not an option. HSR can deliver modal shift from carbon-intensive car and air travel by dramatically speeding up journey times for medium and long-distance journeys. In the future, the carbon savings of HSR will be as great if not better, given that it operates on electric traction and will therefore benefit from future de-carbonisation of the electricity supply. This is likely to be the case even if a switch is made to electric cars and if aviation becomes considerably more efficient.

The strategic route

The proposed route to the West Midlands has stations at Euston, Old Oak Common, Birmingham International and Birmingham Curzon Street. Are these the best possible locations? What criteria should be used to assess the case for more (or fewer) intermediate stations?

Which cities should be served by an eventual high speed network? Is the proposed Y configuration the right choice?

Is the Government correct to build the network in stages, moving from London northwards?

The Government proposes a link to HS1 as part of Phase 1 but a direct link to Heathrow only as part of Phase 2. Are those the right decisions?

13.  ASLEF believes that it makes no sense to have a high speed network in the United Kingdom that does not go to Edinburgh or Glasgow. These are two major cities in the UK and the benefit of high speed travel and the shortening of journey times would be enormous. This is especially true when you consider that rail only enjoys a 15% market share in journeys between London and Scotland whereas the Eurostar now has four fifths of London to Paris travelers. Paris-Lille, Osaka-Tokyo and Cologne-Frankfurt routes are all about 120 km long, which is quite similar to the first part of high-speed rail that is planned (ie the line to Birmingham).

14.  Research already carried out by ARUP and Volterra had shown that a "Y-shaped" network travelling from London to Birmingham, where it would split with one arm of the "Y" heading to Yorkshire, could provide between £1.5 billion and £3 billion of productivity benefits to the economy, in addition to transport benefits of around £29 billion.

ARUP's new research estimates that linking the Sheffield City Region the Leeds City Region, and the "Three Cities" of Derby, Nottingham and Leicester as part of a national high speed rail network would connect an area of 6.7 million people and 3 million jobs. Existing connections to the Tees Valley and Tyne and Wear City Regions would provide access to a further 2.2 million people and 0.9 million jobs.

This route to the East of the Pennines would provide an estimated £60 billion in standard transport benefits and a further £2.3 billion of productivity benefits. Its Benefit to Cost Ratio would be 5.61, compared with 2.58 for the route to Manchester.

A direct route to the Leeds City Region, via the East Midlands and Sheffield, would have greater economic benefits than the less direct route to Leeds via Manchester. It would have a higher Benefit to Cost Ratio of 2.46 compared to only 1.88 for the less direct route, deliver far greater productivity benefits—£2.3 billion compared to £0.4 billion—and result in far faster journey times to Leeds, York and the North East.

The scheme will create in the region of 40,000 jobs and generate economic benefits of around £43 billion.


What will be the overall impact of HSR on UK carbon emissions? How much modal shift from aviation and roads would be needed for HSR to reduce carbon?

Are environmental costs and benefits (including in relation to noise) correctly accounted for in the business case?

What would be the impact on freight services on the "classic" network?

How much disruption will be there to services on the "classic" network during construction, particularly during the rebuilding of Euston?

15.  Examples of the benefits of High Speed rail are clear when considering the Eurostar and the high speed line between Madrid and Barcelona.

Eurostar now has about an 80% share of London to Paris travellers. In Spain, since the opening of the new high speed service in 2008, 50% of passengers now use the train between Madrid and Barcelona.

The EU is currently exploring proposals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport by 60% over the next 40 years by replacing short haul flights with high speed rail.

According to the EU, Heathrow's congestion problems could be eased by cutting domestic and European flights, while demand for new runways could be suppressed by building new rail networks. The EU transport commissioner, Siim Kallas, has announced a series of green transport goals. He explains "If we are successful in creating new railways they can take over short-haul airline connections. It makes it easier for the runway issue."

A new high speed line could have a significantly positive effect for Rail Freight by relieving capacity on the East Coast and West Coast Mainlines for the use of freight services.


16.  ASLEF would again point out that the development of a high speed rail network is crucial to the economic and social future of Britain. It is vital we invest in our rail infrastructure to encourage more of a modal shift from unsustainable domestic aviation and our congested roads.

17.  High speed rail is the only viable solution to the capacity challenges we face on a rail network whose traffic is projected to double by 2030.

16 May 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011