High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from SEStran (HSR 139)

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

1.1  The main arguments for HSR are; Economy, Rail Capacity and Journey times and the Environment.

1.2  Economy and re-distribution of wealth—The positive link between economic growth and transport connectivity has been long established. Experience in other countries has shown that HSR stimulates economic growth outwith the Capital City such as for Lille in France and will therefore re-balance the national economy and reduce the current north-south divide.

1.3  Rail capacity—The West Coast RUS concluded that the southern end of this line would soon run out of capacity to cater for expected growth and the only effective way to deal with this scenario would be to build an additional line. The East Coast and the Midland Main Line would also in due course experience a similar situation. The construction of HS2 would then release capacity on existing main lines, in particular the West Coast, which will cater for additional local rail services and freight.

1.4  Reduced End-to-End Journey time—This is a more important benefit for North of England and in particular Scotland where rail still has a relatively low share of the inter-city travel market and where only HSR can facilitate a step change in modal share from air to rail and safeguard long-term connectivity.

1.5  Environment—Increased capacity and reduced journey times will stimulate transfer from car and air to rail. Rail is the only mode with the realistic potential to transport large volumes of passengers over long distances between city centres in a sustainable manner, in particular with an increasing proportion of the primary energy being renewable.

2.  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?

2.1  The objectives of HSR go well beyond improving inter-urban connectivity through improved capacity and reduced journey time. Other objectives that will be met through HSR would be to enhance and redistribute wealth and to make transport more sustainable.

2.2  Some of these objectives could be met by investing in other transport modes but when compared with roads, rail is in particular more environmentally sustainable (air quality, energy use, land use) and is best suited for travel between and to access city-centres.

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?

2.3  There are already significant "high-cost" rail projects under construction, in particular London Cross Rail (approx £15 billion over around seven years) and Thameslink (approx £5.5 billion over around eight years) and it does not appear than these schemes have affected funding for the general "classic" network.

2.4  These two schemes will be very close to completion by the time construction would start on the proposed HSR between London and Birmingham in around 2016. At an approx cost of £17 billion over 10 years, the peak expenditure on the London-Birmingham HSR should be no higher than for Crossrail alone, never mind the combined peak expenditure of the two London projects.

2.5  There is already commitment to invest in a significant number of classic rail projects, such as Great Western Main Line electrification, Intercity Express Train Replacement Programme (IEP) and significant further enhancements to the East and West Coast Main Lines (eg Hitchins and Stafford flyovers).

What are the implications for domestic aviation?

2.6  In 2009, approximately 8.8 million out of the 13.2 million domestic UK Mainland air passenger journeys were between the main cities that it is anticipated will eventually be directly served by a UK HSR Network (London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, East Midlands, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow). With significantly faster rail journeys, there should be a major shift from air to a much more sustainable rail travel mode.

2.7  However, out of the 8.8 million air journeys, as many as 6.7 million either start or finishes in Edinburgh or Glasgow so in order to make a significant modal change, it is imperative that in the longer term, the construction of a high speed rail network also includes new lines across the Border.

2.8  The 2009 rail market share of the Edinburgh/Glasgow to London rail/air market was around 20% with rail journey times of typically 4 hours 30 minutes. For the Newcastle to London rail/air market, rail held around 60%, with a rail journey time of around 3 hours and for Manchester-London journeys, rail held around 76% of the rail/air market with a typical rail journey time of around 2 hours 10 minutes. For the Leeds to London air/rail market, rail held more than 95% of the market, with a typical rail journey time of 2 hours 15 minutes.

2.9  A 30 minute reduction in journey time (which should be achieved with high speed rail between London and West Midlands), could therefore see a shift from air to rail of nearly 1.5 million of today's long-distance passenger journeys. This should increase to more than 3 million with the extension of the network to Leeds and Manchester when it must be assumed that domestic flights between Manchester/Leeds/ Newcastle and London will end. It is acknowledged however that modal split is also affected by other factors such as frequency and fares and ease of airport access.

2.10  In addition, there would also be significant growth in the total long-distance travel market so the overall transfer from rail to air with the introduction of a high speed rail network will be considerably higher.

2.11  3.8 million out of the 8.8 million air journeys quoted above are to or from London Heathrow so there should be significant scope to release valuable take-off and landing slots to other routes. Some of these Heathrow slots should go to domestic air routes that do not directly benefit from High Speed Rail, such as Aberdeen and Inverness, so that these cities do not "fall behind" in respect of London connectivity.

3.  Business case

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?

3.1  A number of fairly in-depth studies have been undertaken into a UK High Speed rail Network in addition to the HS2 study, in particular the following three major studies:

1.  Atkins study (on behalf of SRA), later updated for the Government in 2008.

2.  Network Rail "New Lines" study (2009).

3.  Greengauge21 "Fast Forward" study (2009).

3.2  The studies looked at different HSR solutions and had different objectives behind their proposals. However, there were common strands such as a north-south network linking in the major cities between London and as far as Edinburgh and Glasgow. They all showed positive cases for a HSR network with benefit/cost ratios in the region of 2-3.5 and costs and passenger forecasts comparable with those found in the HS2 study.

3.3  A recent argument is that assumptions on time spent on trains is "un-productive" has overestimated the benefits of HSR. A recent study by Greengauge21 (where time spent on train would be regarded as "working-time") did however show that the opposite was the case (although only marginally so). Passengers transferred from car and air would gain more productive time than in the original estimate and this would outweigh the "over-estimate" (in the original study) of working time gained by passengers transferred from classic train services. It could also be argued that HSR will create a better working environment than current rail services and also that there will be a limit as to how long it is reasonably practical to work on a train.

3.4  The study by HS2 surprisingly did not include Edinburgh-London services in its modelling and business case for the London-Birmingham/Lichfield High Speed Line although the Edinburgh-London market is around 30% greater than the Glasgow-London market. Edinburgh-London Services via the West Coast and HS2 would be around 30 minutes faster than existing services (as for Glasgow services) so by including Edinburgh-London services should make the business case even stronger.

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?

3.5  Upgrading the West Coast Main Line could only be limited in scope in respect of capacity and the Network Rail RUS concluded that the only longer-term capacity solution would be to construct a new line between London and West Midlands.

3.6  The most recent upgrading of the West Coast Main Line also saw significant added costs in terms of disruption to services and reduced capacity during construction. Adding these costs to the actual upgrading cost of around £9 billion (the most recent cost estimate) for a scheme that will give less incremental capacity than a new line, it is almost certain that such an upgrade will not be better value than a new line.

3.7  A new conventional line (restricted to 125 mph) would largely resolve the capacity issue but would not enhance journey-times and would therefore be much more limited in benefits to North of England and Scotland where journey times become increasingly more important. Without the journey-time savings, there will not be such a significant shift to rail from the less environmentally sustainable modes of car and air. Greengauge21 has also shown that the cost of a conventional line is only marginally cheaper than a High Speed line.

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

3.8  Managing demand by higher fares or by not providing more capacity would push passengers back onto less sustainable modes such as car or air, or journeys would not be undertaken in the first place which would be damaging in overall socio-economic terms.

3.9  There must also be doubts if price alone could realistically manage to reduce demand sufficiently to avoid investing in additional capacity. Regulated fares are already the highest in Europe and increasing these fares much further in real terms could make rail travel only affordable by the more well-off in society.

What lessons should the Government learn from other major transport projects to ensure that any new high speed lines are built on time and to budget?

3.10  Construction of new rail lines (as opposed to rail upgrades) in this country has a reasonably good track record in terms of time and budget, eg HS1 and the recent Airdrie-Bathgate budget. There will also be a large number of European High Speed projects that have a good record in this respect.

4.  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?

4.1  The most important issue for high speed rail is that stations serve the city centre. Rail is the most efficient mode in respect of land use to access city centres and without city-centre termini the advantage of high speed rail will be seriously eroded.

4.2  Station locations outwith city centres will depend on local circumstances but the general rule of thumb should be that not all services will necessary stop at non-city-centre stations.

4.3  Additional stations should only be provided where there is sufficient demand for long distance rail travel. The temptation would be to add stations to cater for high volumes of shorter journeys such as commuting, but that would soon erode the benefits of HSR.

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

4.4  Most studies have considered wider networks that include London, Birmingham, Manchester, East Midlands, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. These should be considered as the core cities for a north-south high speed network (which could be expanded by a western network). The y-network would fit in well with this scenario.

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

4.5  Pragmatically it makes perfect sense to start the HSR network with the London-Birmingham section. It is the most capacity constrained section on the West Coast Main Line and it is probably also the most complicated section to plan and construct. Furthermore, the link to London is the most essential element of a national HSR network so should the London-Birmingham section be rejected, it is unlikely that a national network will ever materialise.

4.6  However, future phases do not necessarily have to be in a consecutive northwards order. The most speed restricted sections of the network are typically across the English-Scottish border so serious consideration should be given to start construction of northern sections at an earlier stage rather as the last legs.

4.7  In particular, the Government should show greater commitment to plan the future network beyond Manchester and Leeds so that the longer term benefits of a national network become clearer.

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?

4.8  The link to HS1 must be part of phase 1 due to technical issues but will also cater for the current West Midlands-Europe market.

4.9  The Heathrow market will to a large extent be catered for through the Old Oak Commons interchange as part of phase 1 so it is reasonable that further expenditure on this link should come later. However, the Heathrow link should be built in a way so that High Speed Trains for Heathrow from the north can continue on the classic network south of London to also serve important destinations such as Gatwick Airport and south coast cities.

5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

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

5.1  European experience has shown that most cities directly connected to the high speed network experience higher economic growth and there is no reason why this should not be the case for the UK. A Greengauge21 report also found that areas of Kent experienced rapid growth following the construction of HS1.

5.2  The 2009 Greengauge21 study also found that Regional economic benefits from a "full" HSR network between London and Glasgow/Edinburgh would amount to around £80 billion and would be widely distributed but with Scotland, the North West and the South East benefitting most.

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

5.3  The most important element of a High Speed Network is to improve connectivity between the main centres of population in the UK and in particular connectivity with London. By serving City Centres, high speed rail will indirectly support regional regeneration.

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

5.4  A Greengauge21 study advised that the business case for high speed rail was robust when based on current fare levels for long-distance rail travel and would cater for both business and leisure travel. Furthermore, the release of capacity on the existing network will also benefit other travellers and commuters in particular. As such, all socio-economic groups would benefit from HSR.

5.5  The majority of the population of the UK enjoys reasonable good links with the Cities that will be directly served by a future HSR network extending as far north to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Many cities will also experience improve connectivity by increased service levels on the classic network so most of the UK will benefit from HSR.

5.6  However, it must be recognised there will areas that will benefit less such as North of Scotland, Wales and the South West of England and transport investment in these areas should be identified (such as rail electrification programmes or, for the north of Scotland, improved air connectivity) to ensure a fair distribution of benefits.

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

5.7  There may be examples from other countries with HSR that could be used as models and there may also be lessons learned from London Crossrail project.

5.8  A UK HSR Network will "replace"current classic rail links that form part of TEN so support should be sought from relevant EU budgets.

6.  Impact

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?

6.1  HSR has considerably lower carbon footprint than car and air and also matches that of classic rail when the higher capacity of HSR trains are taken into account. If it can be assumed that the primary energy source is renewable, the carbon footprint from HSR operations (after construction completion) should be negligible.

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

6.2  It could perhaps be argued that studies have erred on the "safe" side so that overall environmental benefits have not been exaggerated.

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

6.3  The release of capacity on the classic network, in particular on the West Coast Main Line which is the busiest rail freight corridor in the UK)) should in part be utilised by rail freight services so the impact on freight services by HSR should be very positive.

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

Experience from the St Pancras redevelopment should indicate that this should be manageable. Disruption could also be reduced through service changes/improvements to some of the existing local services terminating at Euston. For example, some local services on the West Coast Main Line as far out as Northampton could be incorporated into the Crossrail network through a connection in the Willesden/Old Oak Commons area, extending planned Crossrail services from the East that would otherwise terminate at Old Oaks Commons. This could take away up to seven train arrivals/departures per hour from Euston Station.

May 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011