Written evidence from Steve Rodrick
What are the main arguments either for
or against HSR
A national transport plan
1. It is essential that the UK prepares
a national transport strategy to identify what the country's transport
needs are and how investment and timing priorities should be set.
The commitment of so much money to high-speed rail in the absence
of a national context for investment in all forms of transport
is premature. The plan prepared not so long ago by Rod Edington
is a good starting point. It would also help to settle those who
believe that high speed rail is a political vanity project. In
the absence of any thorough justification it's a label that will
High Speed Rail will significantly increase
2. Based on published information it
clear that HS2 will lead to significantly increased carbon emissions.
Despite best efforts to de-carbonise the national grid, fossil
fuel generated energy will remain a significant component of generating
capacity for many decades. The significantly higher energy demands
of high speed rail will increase directly carbon emissions compared
to classic rail. The proposal to offset this by attracting air
passengers and for airlines to both subsequently withdraw those
flights but not replace them with flights to other destinations,
is not credible. The aviation industry is almost certain to use
those valuable slots to replace those withdrawn short-haul flights
with long haul, especially from the London airports. This will
lead directly to significantly increased emissions. For example,
a long haul flight to the far east will cause emissions ten times
that of a UK domestic flight.
3. The combination, in addition to the
embedded carbon in construction of high speed 2 and the stated
aspiration of Birmingham Airport to increase its passenger throughput
by 9 million passengers per year if a Birmingham Parkway station
is built, mean HS2 should not be allowed to proceed. It should
be a basic principle of major government investment that it will
provide a significant contribution to meeting UK carbon reduction
The opportunity costs of investing in
high speed rail will be significant
4. There are more pressing transport
needs which would provide better value for money and greater improvements
to services used by more people over a wider geographic area.
Improvements to the existing rail network, bus services (have
we forgotten more people use buses than trains), the quality of
the road network, cycle lanes, shared space initiatives footpath
enhancements would provide more benefits to more people at lower
cost. In so doing the economy would benefit to a greater extent
in the short and long term and carbon emission reductions achieved.
The extraordinary improvement in the emissions performance of
cars should be noticed and welcomed. It is conceivable that in
time they prove to be the lowest polluting form of travel.
Does high speed rail really stimulates
5. The evidence that high speed rail
stimulates economic development is weak. It seems is largely confined
to an area within close proximity to the stations themselves.
The city centres of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool,
Glasgow and Edinburgh have been successfully regenerated in recent
years. The economic problems of these cities do not lie in their
centres. There is no evidence that the more peripheral areas
benefit. The oft quoted example of Lille is misleading. Lille
enjoys a unique location in Europe. It is notable that unemployment
in Lille, always higher than the French average, has risen faster
than the French average despite its central position in a European
We already have high speed rail
6. Claims that that UK "will be
left behind" lack any rationale that is pure politicking
trying to justify expenditure which would fail any reasonable
value for money test. In comparison with countries with high speed
rail, the journey times between our main cities is shorter - they
are trying to catch up with the UK. The more important time is
that from door to door rather than station to station. In this
context the modest time savings achieved by HS2 are even less
7. The Government has failed to explain
that there are several definitions of high speed rail. Perhaps
to the surprise of most, many of our existing routes capable of
operating services at 200 kph can already be considered as high
speed. Surely it is a higher ambition to provide most of the country
with a high speed network by upgrading all intercity routes than
just a few cities with a very high speed line.
IT reduces the need to travel
8. The advance of communications IT in
recent years has been very impressive enabling instant communication
whilst on the move and increasingly displacing the need to travel.
IT makes it possible to work nearly anywhere at any time. This
has much reduced the imperative to get a journey over with as
quickly as possible. Arguably some journeys provide a working
environment better than in an office, rendering the reading of
reports, for example, more achievable than in a busy office environment.
Faster journey times are more likely to bring social (ie getting
home to put the kids to bed) rather than work time benefits.
9. It is interesting to note that in
no other form of travel is there a desire for much greater speed.
It is not clear, therefore, why it should matter so much for rail
travel. Certainty, punctuality and value for money are all more
important to the traveller.
Reducing the Need to Travel - Reducing
the demand for long distance travel
10. Except for a few instances nobody
travels for its own sake - it entails a time and monetary cost.
Better still, not to travel at all unless there is an overriding
reason to do so. With advances in technology and awareness of
the costs, most businesses will increasingly reduce the need for
their staff to travel - a pattern already becoming well established.
For most people improvements to short journeys in and around where
they live and work will have greater value. Building a few hundred
kilometres of high speed rail in 20 years time may contribute
a small amount to national pride but will do little for most people.
It is a fair bet the majority of the population will never use
it. Making a difference to the journeys that most people do most
days will have a far greater value to society and the economy.
In this respect the UK often compares badly to our counterparts.
Congestion and Crowding
11. The media and HS2 Ltd would have
us believe that all inter-city trains, especially on those on
the West Coast Main line, are crowded to bursting point. However,
the reality is very different with very few trains full and passengers
left to stand. It is interesting to read that HS2 Ltd anticipate
that HS2 services will have higher load factors than current services.
12. The challenge is to prevent the crowding
from happening without having to build an entirely new line -
surely the worst of all options. A good start will be to reduce
the need to travel in the first place. The obvious options then
fewer first class and more standard class carriages.
what you can to increase the speed of existing services.
reservation only trains for peak hours - that will happen anyway
pricing policy to even out demand.
13. As so many employers are switching
to flexible work patterns the traditional rush hours will increasingly
become a thing of the past. The scope to work at home will also
reduce the need for so many people to travel into the city centres
in the first place.
3. Business case
14. The forecasts for the numbers of
passengers who will use High Speed 2 do not seem to be realistic.
It is impossible to understand why, unless the population increase
dramatically, so many more people would want to travel between
Birmingham and London on a daily basis, especially for leisure
trips. No explanation is provided by HS2 Ltd on the motivation
for such journeys. The forecasts can only have been prepared by
desk based statisticians and not based on research which actually
asked people what sort of transport improvements they wanted.
15. The estimated costs of HS2 are vast.
But it is a reasonable expectation that the costs will exceed
those given now. This looks like an extremely complicated project
and many unexpected problems will arise. Other factors will, no
doubt, intervene and eventuality the costs will rise. As the Government
will have made such deep, long term and irreversible commitments
there will be no turning back and High Speed rail will gobble
up yet more scarce funds. Such a prospect fills most taxpayers
with dread - it looks like yet another debt we will load onto
the next generation. A more sensible strategy would be an incremental
one, which provides more flexibility and lower risk.
4. The strategic route
16. This proposed route will create yet another
London centric transport network - with the added bonus of even
more preferential treatment for Heathrow. A more imaginative approach
would be to build the last leg to London. I have no doubt those
captains of industry who routinely sign letters calling for yet
more public funding to be spent on projects which suit a small
number of large corporations would be filled with dread.
17. As someone who lived in the north of England
and Scotland for 30 years it is hard to see how saving 40 minutes
on a long journey makes any difference at all. A day trip from
Glasgow to London is still impossibility unless you fly. The door
to door time will barely changed. Saving a few minutes will probably
be welcomed but it won't suddenly trigger great economic activity.
High speed IT might, but not a train.
5. Economic rebalancing and equity
18. HS2 will almost certainly generate more economic
activity in London than anywhere else. It is difficult to see
Londoners making their way to the provinces is equal numbers as
those travelling to the capital. The result, economic activity
gravitates to London again. Ironically the majority of tickets
will be bought by those in the midlands and north, draining billions
of pounds from the regional economies.
19. I have read of Chambers of Commerce in northern
cities saying HS2 is essential for their well being, but I have
yet to hear any of them explain or give a real example of how
it would make any difference in practice. As is so often the case,
the prospect of a shiny new toy largely paid for by someone else
is seductive, and those easily seduced lose their grip on reality.
20. As the energy needed to move an object multiplies
by the square of its speed, trains travelling at 400 kph will
use 4 times that of a train travelling at 200 kph. As HS2 plans
to transport 4 times as many passengers as currently use those
routes this means that HS2 services will use up to 16 times that
of comparable services now (assuming broadly similar seating
capacity) . That is a lot of extra energy and carbon dioxide.
I believe that HS2 hopes to balance those emissions by "ending
domestic aviation". Presumably that really means London to
Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is hard to see why passengers would
entirely abandon planes when the HS2 save so little time. However,
even if they did, do we really expect airlines to keep those
valuable landing and take off slots free? Those airlines flying
out of Gatwick and Heathrow will be falling over themselves to
replace domestic flights with one to the far east presumably,
as the main growth market. That means each cancelled UK flight
will be replaced by one which emits about ten times as much carbon.
21. The next effect of these two HS2 induced
impacts is a truly massive increase in carbon emissions. The law
of unintended consequences makes an entrance! Yet another argument
for improving the existing railways so we can all benefit, and
concentring on those local journeys which genuinely need to be
22. A look into the crystal ball also suggests
that IT will play a far larger part in our lives than those planning
this expensive railway, using taxpayer's cash, are willing to
Do we really want to trash the countryside?
23. The British care about nothing more that
the countryside. We have long lost the art of building beautifully.
With the best of intentions the cutters of budgets and aesthetically
blind will turn this into yet another eyesore.