High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from B Bedford (HSR 142)

1.  I understand that your Transport Committee has decided to hold an inquiry into the strategic case for High Speed Rail (HS2). I am writing to you because my concern is that the building of this railway will not provide the economic growth so desperately needed by this country.

2.  I think economic growth can occur only if there is a perceived demand which a service or industry can satisfy at a competitive price. An example is the demand for Jaguar Land Rover vehicles which are perceived as good quality and good value in many overseas markets. Hence, this Indian owned company is proposing to invest in both increased production and also in an increased number of designs. In general, British manufacturers are failing to compete against foreign rivals due, in part, to their products not being-well designed or competitively priced but also due to the loss of workforce skills which are very difficult to regenerate. They also find it difficult to obtain bank loans with which to improve their performance and expand. The construction of HS2 would not improve this situation. Indeed, HS2 Ltd admit as much in their Tables 47, 48 and 50 in Appendix 3 of their Socio-economic Report, where they admit that a total of 157,000 sq metres of industrial area would be lost at the proposed three stations between London and Birmingham leading to less employment in the manufacturing sector, so vital to this country's recovery.

3.  This country is in a dire financial state. The Chancellor hopes to eliminate our monthly borrowing requirement by 2015 but our debt will still be around £1.4 trillion which will be a monumental hurdle for future generations to tackle. Therefore, any project which will not add significantly to economic growth but will add to our debt should not be pursued. I view the construction of HS2 as a project which should not be progressed.

4.  It is instructive to consider the experiences of Continental countries, who have built High Speed Lines. Both France and Spain, after writing off their construction costs, have highly successful lines, aided by the inhibiting influence on air travel which security processes provide. In both countries their rail systems had suffered years of decline so that they were unable to compete with either rail or air travel.

5.  However, demand forecasting has failed in a staggering 84% of High Speed projects (New Engineer 3/3/11). The Dutch High Speed Line is facing bankruptcy after only a year in service because some of the trains have only 15% of their seats occupied. Closer to home the traffic forecasts for the Channel Tunnel Rail link were so inaccurate that the operator, London & Continental, became insolvent in May 2009. The London & Continental Railway forecast that passenger numbers would reach 21.4 million a year by 2004. However, by 2009 they had reached only 7.3 million. Even in the U.SA. and China there are doubts whether demand will support their construction costs.

6.  It should be remembered that British Rail introduced into service trains capable of travelling at 125 mph long before other European countries considerered building high speed lines. The average speeds, calculated from published timetables, achieved by continental high speed lines are given in the following table:

Average Speed mph
St Pancreas to Brussels114
St Pancreas to Paris120
Paris to Lyon120
Paris to Tours118
Paris to Nice108
Berlin to Hamburg105
Madrid to Seville118
Average Speed113

These figures suggest that the maximum speed achieved by continental high speed trains are much the same as UK Long distance trains. They are not operating pioneering high speed lines which HS2 Ltd suggest.

7.  The recent upgrade of the West Coast Line and the introduction of Pendolino tilting carriages has enabled trains to travel for longer distances at 125 mph and has brought Glasgow to be only four hour 10 minutes from London. It has also produced a line capable of 1000 extra services a week and a 70% increase in freight capacity. However, HS2 Ltd has reported continued overcrowding on this line which, they admit is essentially at peak times. Perhaps the inhibiting factor against using longer trains and where necessary longer platforms is the "access charge" which is levied on train companies and which is proportional to the number of carriages comprising a train. These charges will impinge on the profit that a company can make.

8.  Train Operator East Coast has announced that on 22nd May, their new timetable will provide 3,000,000 additional seats per year, 19 new services per weekday and faster journey times for millions of passengers. They cite the return of the "Flying Scotsman" express which will travel from Edinburgh to Kings Cross in 4 hours including a stop at Newcastle.

9.  I think the cost of constructing HS2 to save approximately 30 minutes journey time to both Glasgow and Edinburgh is money not well spent.

10.  There appears to be an assumption by HS2 Ltd that this proposed line would be entirely reliable. The utopian situation has yet to be achieved in mechanical mechanisms or electrical systems. Nevertherless, they are proposing to transfer long distance services from the East and West Coast from day one. Surely a failure for whatever reason that brought a train to an unscheduled stop would be catastrophic.

11.  In reviewing the Business Case, I consider that the crucial monetary values given under Transport User Benefits are too high because:

(a)  Business will increasingly use video and other technology as an alternative to travelling to meetings.

(b)  Working from home will increase for office workers as the technology becomes more generally available.

(c)  Leisure travellers tend to use the cheapest mode of travel because time may not be a significant factor.

(d)  Quantifying in monetary terms the redevelopment of stations as a benefit to passengers is a step too far. For example, HS2 Ltd has concluded that the re-design of Euston Station would deliver benefits of between £900 million-£1.5 billion to passengers.

All the above assumptions are vital to the production of the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) and if demand is lower than HS2 Ltd computer modelling suggests, then revenue will be lower and the B.C.R would be on a knife edge. I have pointed out earlier in this letter that demand forecasting has failed more that it has worked.

12.  The heading of Chapter 2, Page 42 of the February 2011 Consultation is entitled "The Case for National High Speed Rail Network". However, the author confines his comments to London and the major conurbations of the Midlands and the North. He makes no mention of the fact that the combined population of South Wales and South Western England is over six million people - more than Scotland and similar to the major conurbations of Northern England - yet these regions appear to be forgotten in the HS2 coverage proposed by HS2 Ltd.

May 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011