High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Atkins Ltd (HSR 145)

Atkins has been involved in the debates over High Speed Rail (HSR) since its original study for the former Strategic Rail Authority between 2001 and 2003. In 2008, we produced an independent research paper[341] which set out the ongoing case for investment in HSR in the UK. We have subsequently provided advice to the Department for Transport (DfT) and High Speed 2 (HS2 Ltd) on demand modelling and economic appraisal for HSR options, as well as investigating alternative options to HSR.

We stress that this submission is an independent assessment of the issues raised by the transport select committee. It is not based on - and does not represent - any work or advice given to either DfT or HS2 Ltd.

1.  What are the main arguments for and against HSR?

1.1  We strongly believe that HSR is the most effective way to provide capacity to the UK transport system in a way that encourages sustainable economic development and maximises efficiency of the overall transport network. In particular:

—  HSR provides a step change in the capacity of the rail network by removing the fastest services from the network and making space for more regional and local passenger services and freight trains. This capacity is needed to address the ongoing growth in both long-distance and commuter travel by rail.

—  The reduction in journey times between London and the main economic centres of Scotland, the North and Midlands will provide huge economic benefits that no other major transport scheme could provide. The majority of economic benefits from the scheme will be accrued by residents and businesses outside London.

—  The development of HSR stations and hubs can act as a focus for sustainable economic development in those areas, and encourage local transport networks to feed the hubs and increase accessibility of local employment opportunities.

1.2  We also recognise that HSR is a huge infrastructure project, which needs to be planned carefully, both to minimise the impact on local communities affected by construction and operation of new lines, and maximise the benefits of the investment in a new HSR network.

2.  How does HSR fit with government objectives?

2.1  Importance of inter-urban connectivity: Although inter-urban trips make up only a small proportion of total travel in the UK, their impact on the transport network is large. Statistics from the National Transport Survey in 2009 showed that around 40% of car kms on the road network were associated with trips over 25 miles, with that figure rising to 75% of passenger kms being trips over 25 miles on the rail network. In other words, t strain on the transport network comes from catering for longer-distance journeys.

2.2  However, inter-urban and local connectivity are closely inter-related, particularly for rail and HSR. For HSR to be successful, the stations on the network need to be easily accessible - local connectivity is vital. In turn, development of rail and HSR hubs encourages local transport networks to develop around those hubs, creating a potentially symbiotic relationship.

2.3  From an economic perspective, inter-urban and local connectivity also complement each other. While inter-urban connectivity increases accessibility to markets for businesses, local connectivity is often more effective at increasing accessibility to skilled workforce, It would be misleading to describe either local or inter-urban connectivity as more important than the other.

2.4  Impact of HSR on funding for "classic" network: Because of the national scale of developing a HSR network across the UK, it is vital that investment in the existing rail network and services is not affected. To a certain extent, the High Level Output Specification (HLOS) process set up by the previous government provides a framework which requires the rail industry to ensure investment is targeted appropriately and fairly through setting targets on capacity, safety and reliability across the network.

2.5  Implications for domestic aviation: The UK domestic aviation market is highly competitive, and has historically competed with rail on both journey time and price. Recent research conducted by ATOC[342] suggests that rail has started to regain market share, at least partly due to improved rail services on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) route.

2.6  If fully completed, international research[343] suggests that mode share for HSR on the main Scotland to London routes could be up to 75%. It is unlikely that HSR would completely eliminate domestic aviation unless there was significant additional regulation imposed on domestic aviation. For example, while Eurostar enjoys a high mode share (around 70%) on the London to Paris route, three airlines fly 28 flights a day each way between the two cities. For many areas around the two cities, airports are still more accessible than the HS1 terminal at St Pancras.

3.  Business case

3.1  Business case methodology: Atkins has assisted HS2 Ltd with development of its passenger forecasts, estimates of modal shift and calculation of economic benefits, all of which are consistent with government guidance and international best practice. We provide the following comments in two areas raised by the Inquiry:

—  Forecasts of passenger growth through to 2030 and beyond are inherently uncertain, but are vital to understand what the likely value for money of HSR would be, and, critically, ensure any scheme is designed with enough capacity to cater for the expected passengers. While HS2 forecasts of 95% growth in passengers over 100 miles from 2008 to 2043, we understand that passenger growth since 2008 on the current Virgin franchise has been between 20% to 30%[344] - ie already a quarter of the total forecast growth to 2043 in just two years.

—  Estimates of economic benefits associated with time savings are consistent with central Government guidance and are designed to allow meaningful comparison between different public investments. For each individual project, the standard methodology will necessarily over-estimate in some areas and under-estimate in others. For example, although there may be some use of productive travel time on high speed trains - which may reduce the value of overall time savings for business users - equally the methodology underestimates the productive time savings of those switching from car or air to HSR, and the overall generally higher value of time for business travellers who make long-distance trips.

3.2  Alternatives to HSR: Atkins was also appointed by DfT to undertake a study of potential alternatives to HSR, to increase capacity on the London to Birmingham corridor, through road and rail enhancement schemes. An independent challenge team developed realistic alternative schemes for providing more capacity on the route. We found that some of the upgrade packages - particularly a medium scale upgrade of the WCML route ("Package 2")[345] - could offer value for money, although it would not provide the scale of capacity benefits or economic benefits that HS2 offers.

3.3  However, it would be wrong to interpret the analysis as showing that conventional rail upgrades offer better value for money than a high speed rail network for several reasons:

3.4  First, while Package 2 does provide additional capacity on the WCML route, HS2 would provide capacity relief on the parallel Midland Main Line (MML) and East Coast Main Line (ECML) routes as well through the eastern branch of the "Y" network. Only very minor capacity enhancements could be provided on those routes in a cost-effective way because of the mix of commuter and long-distance services. Furthermore, if passenger growth continued, it is unlikely that further capacity enhancements on the WCML could be undertaken in a cost-effective manner, and little of the additional capacity would be available during peak hours when it is most needed.

3.5  Second, the business case for HS2 focuses solely on the changes to long-distance services from Euston as a result of HS2 services being introduced. The development of a separate HSR network provides a step-change in the availability of spare capacity on the existing network to provide new inter-regional services (for example, Manchester Airport to Milton Keynes) that the limited capacity upgrades of existing routes either fails to provide or even removes as the intensity of use of the existing network increases.

3.6  Finally, HSR provides much greater network resilience, as the intensity of use of the expanded UK rail network is correspondingly reduced. Beyond improvements in service reliability, the availability of a new rail corridor would ameliorate the impact of temporary closure of any of the main trunk north-south routes due to major incidents.

3.7  Managing rail demand: There are other ways of managing rail demand, principally by either increasing fares on crowded services and routes or restricting ticket availability. In either case, the impact will be to encourage further travel by road or air. Since around a half of long-distance rail trips are made for leisure purposes, increasing rail fares to manage demand would affect the less well-off disproportionately.

3.8  Beyond the problems of increased congestion and pollution, this would also reduce the benefits of businesses locating in areas easily accessible by public transport, making sustainable economic development more difficult. In the long-term, developing a high speed rail network provides a more efficient rail network and actually reduces the ongoing operating cost per passenger km across the system, allowing additional capacity for regional and local trips to provided more cheaply.

3.9  Lessons from other major projects: The successful completion of HS1 into St Pancras contrasts heavily with the huge problems associated with the WCML upgrades started by Railtrack and taken forward by Network Rail. We believe the key lessons to take on board are:

—  Reducing and managing interfaces with the existing network effectively, including planning carefully to mitigate impacts on passengers. We believe work on the Thameslink Programme by Network Rail has demonstrated how this can be achieved even on a heavily used rail line.

—  Staged construction and development of the HSR network, reducing risk exposure to all parties and allowing early provision of benefits where possible. This was achieved on HS1 through construction of an early section reducing journey times into Waterloo International, and providing revenue streams to support further construction work.

—  At an early stage, robust external challenge by potential contractors of proposals, including technical and design standards, to drive down costs, eliminate any unnecessarily high specifications and improve deliverability.

4.  The strategic route

4.1  Station locations: The reports by HS2 have shown that there may be a case for an intermediate station between London and Birmingham - possibly up to £2 billion present value (PV) in user benefits and £1 billion PV in revenue, depending on station location.[346] This level of benefits and revenues would outweigh the costs of any station or services. However, in turn, stopping HS2 services at an intermediate station would have detrimental effects on a similar scale on passengers travelling between London and the North, and would reduce overall line capacity.

4.2  We agree with HS2's assessment that, in the long term, the disbenefits of an intermediate station to longer-distance passengers would outweigh the benefits for users of that station. This situation would only change if capacity on the line, either because long-distance patronage was much below forecast or if a second HSR route into London was developed which diverted HSR services to the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East away from HS2.

4.3  The strategic locations for new stations in the West Midlands provide access to central Birmingham as well as accessibility by car from a large area of the West Midlands. We stress the importance of providing effective interchange with existing stations at New Street and International.

4.4  At present, the spur line into Birmingham is planned to be operated as a self-contained HSR route. The government should examine whether this section of route, which would neither be intensively used by HSR services nor operated at full high speed for significant lengths, could be developed as a conventional line, to allow more long-distance high speed services to be released from the existing crowded corridors in the West Midlands area. We also stress the importance of physical connections from the HSR station in central Birmingham to the existing rail network, to allow HSR services to continue south from Birmingham to the South and South West.

4.5  In London, Euston is by far the most appropriate central London location for a high speed rail station, from an engineering, economic and planning perspective. The case for a station at Old Oak Common is largely driven by providing access to a much wider catchment area via Crossrail, particularly from the East and West of London, and alleviating pressure on the Underground network at Euston station. However, we regard provision of this station as adding incremental value to the scheme, rather than an essential component.

4.6  Shape of proposed network: The "Y" network proposed by HS2 has significant strategic advantages, by using the additional capacity between Birmingham and London to benefit both the East and West Midlands, and both Yorkshire and the North West. This configuration also gives an opportunity to extend beyond Leeds and Manchester to Edinburgh/Glasgow via a west coast route, and to Newcastle via an east coast route, linking London by HSR with the largest core urban areas.

4.7  Depending on the level of passenger growth and on technical views of the effective capacity a new HSR line, there remain doubts as to whether a single route into London would be sufficient to provide HSR service to all major urban centres. At present, a combined total of 19 long-distance services (serving markets more than 100 miles from London) operate every hour on the WCML, ECML and MML routes, rising to 22 services in peak hours.

4.8  If only a single HSR route into London were to be provided, then inevitably some major urban centres more than 100 miles from London would not have direct HSR services, although they would continue to be served by residual services on the existing network. We note that there are currently four HSR lines from Paris, each of which carry about eight-12 TGV services an hour to both "online" and "offline" urban centres, and believe that it is likely there is a case for developing two separate high speed rail lines into London from the north, providing direct HSR services to many more regional centres. If sufficient capacity is provided, we believe there is a strong case for connecting as many cities as possible to the HSR network, through using HS2 as a "trunk" route, and accessing smaller stations on the existing network, as is the case on the German and French high speed rail networks.

4.9  We stress that the "Y" network does allow a further leg into London to be built, probably from the East Midlands, at a later stage. It is important that any route through the East Midlands is planned to facilitate a suitable second HSR route direct to London to be provided subsequently. It may also be worth examining whether a more direct connection from the main East Midlands centres to the main HS2 route to London further south of Birmingham could provide faster journey times to London from more centres in the East Midlands.

4.10  We also recommend further examination of the relative merits of extending the "Y" network to Glasgow and Edinburgh via Newcastle, rather than a western route via the Lake District.

4.11  Staging: The first stage of the high speed network in the UK should be from London to the Birmingham and the Midlands, as this section would provide the greatest relief to the most heavily used sections of the UK long distance rail network and offer reduced travel times for the highest number of passengers and freight services.

4.12  However, there may be a case for considering completion of other regional sections of high speed rail at an earlier stage, to provide a greater spread of benefits across the UK. For example, early completion of a HSR route between Sheffield and Leeds, in conjunction with electrification/upgrade of the Midland Main Line route and a simple connection to the HS2 route near Lichfield, could provide reduced journey times from London to Derby (55 min from 1 hour 33 minutes), Sheffield (1 hour 20 minutes from 2 hours 07 minutes) and Leeds (1 hour 40 minutes from 2 hours 15 minutes). Journey times from Birmingham to the same areas would be similarly reduced, for example to Leeds by up to 45 minutes.

4.13  In turn, capacity could be released on the Midland Main Line and East Coast Main Line routes for more services from Nottingham, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh to London in advance of completion of high speed rail to those areas. Further sections of HSR route in other locations, such as between Newcastle and York, could also reduce journey times between London Kings Cross and Newcastle/Edinburgh in advance of connection to the London to Birmingham leg of the network.

4.14  Links to HS1 and Heathrow Airport: Until completion of a more extensive HSR network across the UK, which could be capable of accepting standard European high speed train sets, the prospects of extending HS1 services north onto HS2 are relatively limited - only Birmingham would be available during Phase 1. The connection between the two lines should only be built at an early stage if there are significant construction savings by doing so.

4.15  The phasing of any link to Heathrow is more complicated, and needs to be planned in conjunction with a wider strategy of medium and long-distance rail access to Heathrow. If any major new rail infrastructure to access Heathrow is built, it should be developed and designed in a way that facilitates rail access from other areas, including South West England and South Wales.

4.16  We note that the vast majority of Heathrow travellers, even those from outside London, come from areas which would not be directly served by HS2 services. As such, we recommend that links to any new Heathrow rail infrastructure are provided to the existing Chiltern, WCML, MML and ECML routes, allowing areas not on the HSR route, particularly closer to London, to benefit from connections to Heathrow.

4.17  Finally, we note that extending HSR services from HS1 at St Pancras through to Heathrow Airport would have the potential to reduce demand for short-haul flights from Heathrow to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. When combined with potential government intervention on prioritisation of flight slots at Heathrow and through-ticketing on HSR services, this could allow complete removal of some short haul flights at the airport.

5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

5.1  Economic regeneration: The extent to which HSR can assist in economic regeneration is heavily influenced by station location and the willingness/ability of individual cities to adapt their economic, land-use and transport policies around a new HSR hub. There is inevitably controversy and differing views on whether HSR provides net increases in inward investment in particular areas, or only diverts investment towards the HS2 hub and away from areas less well-served. We recommend this is examined further to ensure that cities and towns not currently proposed to be served by the HS2 network are not adversely affected.

5.2  Figures produced by HS2[347] demonstrate that the majority of the economic benefits from high speed rail would accrue to residents and businesses outside London and the South East. While transport investment on its own cannot eliminate the north-south economic divide, the faster journey times between regional centres and London provide a significant incentive for businesses to locate significant skilled capability in regional centres, while still being able to maintain contact with the huge international base of potential customers in London and the South East.

5.3  We are not aware of any estimates of figures of job creation in individual areas which would be served by HSR. We emphasise again the need for local economic development and transport planning to be shaped around the increased inter-urban accessibility provided by HS2, including review of potential job creation for individual business sectors for each location. The benefits of HS2 come from joining up economic development and transport policies, not just from faster journey times.

5.4  Decisions on network shape: The development of a new HSR network is a national planning decision. The overall shape of the network has to be guided by transport and economic development priorities at a national level, reflecting the significant investment by the government.

5.5  Decisions on how individual cities and towns would be served after completion of HS2 should take local economic development needs into account. We stress that there are a number of options of how centres can be served, whether by dedicated stations on the HSR line itself, by services running off the HSR line and onto the existing network to serve multiple stations, or by improved long-distance services making use of released capacity on the existing network. These decisions should take into account development plans and priorities in the surrounding areas.

5.6  Distribution of benefits: The majority of benefits from HSR accrue to areas outside London, as described in HS2 reports and other research on HSR. This is principally due to the fact that more long-distance trips are made by residents and employees of firms based outside London and the South East.

5.7  Different socio-economic groups will benefit from HS2 in different ways: while long-distance trips are generally made by higher income groups, the released capacity on the existing network will primarily benefit those making shorter commuting trips and inter-regional trips, improving accessibility to employment opportunities for many communities.

5.8  Contributions from major beneficiaries: It is important that areas and businesses which benefit from HS2 contribute appropriately to the costs of the scheme. At the same time, higher local contributions may act against the aim of encouraging economic regeneration - a key objective of the HS2 scheme in the first place. However, it would be appropriate to require cities and towns to ensure transport and economic development policies maximise the impact of central government investment in HSR in their areas, and for businesses to contribute towards provision of other enabling infrastructure.

6.  Impact

6.1  Impact on carbon emissions: Estimating the net impact of HSR on UK carbon emissions is not straightforward, and depends on a complex balance between the higher energy consumption of HSR compared to conventional rail, the energy mix used in electricity generation in the UK, and the amount of modal shift achieved by HSR.

6.2  For HSR to contribute towards a significant reduction in carbon emissions, it needs to encourage modal shift to rail not just from air - which makes up a relatively small proportion of transport-related carbon emissions in the UK - but also from car, particularly for shorter, urban car journeys on congested roads. It is vital that the planning of HS2 is not just around introduction of new, faster, long-distance rail services, but also about improving local and regional rail services to provide an attractive alternative to commuting by car. This also reinforces the "step change" advantage of developing a HSR network that piecemeal upgrades of the existing network cannot achieve.

6.3  Constructing a new line to operate at lower speeds might result in lower ongoing energy consumption for the rail network, but the much lower levels of mode shift achieved would mean that associated reductions in carbon emissions for air and car would be greatly reduced compared to HSR.

6.4  Environmental costs and benefits: We do not have any specific comments on the methodology used to calculate environmental costs and benefits in the HS2 business case. From a technical perspective we note that it is difficult to provide a quantified comparison between the environmental benefits at national and regional levels, and the disbenefits at local levels caused by construction of the route and operation of HSR services. We recommend a focus on assessing what appropriate levels of mitigation against local environmental disbenefits should be.

6.5  Impact on freight services: Again, we emphasise that the key advantage of HSR is the step-change release in capacity across the network. The current rail network is particularly constrained in peak periods, with extremely limited opportunities for freight services to operate due to the density of passenger train operation and the need to maintain overall rail network service reliability. HSR will provide much greater flexibility to operate freight services throughout the day and reduce vulnerability of freight service operation to closures of the "classic" rail network for maintenance and upgrade work.

6.6  We emphasise again the need to develop an overall strategy for how the existing rail network - particularly the WCML route - can be used to provide maximum benefits for passenger and freight users from the released capacity.

6.7  Disruption during construction: The recent work to upgrade the WCML route demonstrated the massive disruption that reconstruction of the rail network can cause, and is one of the main advantages of HS2 over further capacity enhancements on the WCML and other routes. The published HS2 proposals provide an outline plan of the areas and timings of how the existing rail network will be affected by HS2 construction. We note that the existing network will be affected not just around Euston, but also on the Great Western Main Line through the construction of the proposed Old Oak Common interchange.

6.8  While the staged approach at Euston, making best use of the much larger site for the final station, will alleviate disruption to passengers, we believe there is merit in looking at whether some services could be diverted into Paddington, using some of the capacity released by Crossrail, to alleviate disruption to passengers during works at Euston.

May 2011

341   "Because Transport Matters: High Speed Rail", Atkins 2008 Back

342   ATOC Press release 05 April 2011: Shift from air to rail heralds "turning point" in how people travel between UK's main cities Back

343   "Competition and interaction between rail and air, part 2: time series analysis in Sweden", Anna-Ida Lundberg, Bo-Lennart Nelldal, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Department for Transport & Logistics, KTH Railway Group (2011) Back

344   Office of Rail Regulation's National Rail Trends Yearbook 2010 Back

345   "High Speed 2 Strategic Alternatives Study: London to West Midlands Rail Alternatives - Update of Economic Appraisal", Atkins, February 2011. Back

346   "HS2 Demand Model Analysis", February 2010, Table 6.2b Back

347   "HS2 Demand Model Analysis", February 2010, Table 10.4 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011