High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Socialist Environment and Resources Association Scotland (HSR 149)

The Socialist Environment and Resources Association Scotland (SERA Scotland) campaigns for our sustainable environment, economy and society. A transport system both environmentally friendly and inclusive in economic terms is a priority. High Speed Rail has particular implications for Scotland. SERA Scotland aims to meet the Parliamentary Committee's request for concise responses. Several millions of pounds have been expended by the Department for Transport (DfT) and related studies on the High Speed Rail (HSR) project. It is beyond the means of our voluntary group to analyse completely the DfT study findings. However, further details could be provided if specifically requested. This response follows, as requested, the format proposed in the consultation.

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

That Britain's South - North railway system, in particular the West Coast Main Line (WCML), is already almost at capacity and unable to cope with demand. Additional tracks are the only solution. Tinkering with the already full WCML in the late 1990's was a financial disaster. Additional tracks have to be built to modern standards without low speed restrictions but not necessarily to the very high speeds proposed.

Present railfreight demand is very much suppressed by the large subsidy lavished on the road haulage sector. Transfer of more freight from road to rail would make a more significant reduction in CO2 emissions. The other aims of economic regeneration and CO2 reduction by a switch from air travel are less clear.

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

1.  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?

HSR is designed, but only amongst other objectives, to improve inter-urban connectivity. HSR is only fully justified taking into account these other objectives such as increased capacity for regional and local passenger services and railfreight services. Increased railway capacity in terms of additional tracks is an important investment for the future and more important than even further expansion of the strategic road network. Investment in the road network should be changed to the objective of safer, more environmentally friendly roads designed so as not to increase the overall level of road traffic any further.

2.  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?

HSR must justify its investment and not reduce the effectiveness of the rest of the rail system. This will be the duty of the Government and the Rail Businesses. It will take into account that an objective of HSR is to free capacity on the rest of the system. Some evidence from other countries is that their "classic" rail operations have become very much downgraded with the advent of their HSR. This must not happen in Britain. It should, however, be noted that a great proportion of the passenger overcrowding repeatedly emphasised in the DfT Study is due to lack of rolling stock and the fixed formation train design. Outside the S.E. England Commuter belt few trains are operating at maximum length and the recent DfT design for new inter-city trains are for short length fixed formations.

3.  What are the implications for domestic aviation?

Nothing to which aviation cannot adapt. The bulk of domestic aviation susceptible to HSR has already been lost to the 125 mph railway (but not in Scotland). Aviation's challenges are future fuel prices, security and being brought into the tax regime. HSR may give aviation advantages in higher value longer flights.

3.  Business case

1.  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?

The assumptions and methodology cannot be robust. The variables and timescales take us all too far into the unknown. The DfT Study has, however, investigated as thoroughly as possible and used all the advised methodologies and procedures. These, in theory, allow comparison with other investment options but, even since the study was undertaken, some of these methodologies have been discredited or changed. The essential point is to use strategic "common sense". Any HSR must be sufficiently flexible to be a future asset under the almost certainly changing World conditions of next 60 years and at an affordable cost.

The secondary point of the financial effect on the "Classic" system is a very significant detail. The DfT Study includes large cost savings for the classic system but this response did not find quantification of reduction in income (it must have been quantified). The concern is that these main lines were working and earning at almost full capacity which may be diluted with some diversion to HSR. It is generally assumed that the "Inter-city" services provided the lion's share of profitable income. This is not necessarily true as the 1990's WCML Renewal was a financial disaster. The DfT Study appears to concentrate on the generally correct view that there is suppressed demand on the existing main lines which will be satisfied on introduction of HSR. There is the issue of the Classic Lines beyond the proposed phases of HSR and if these are not yet at capacity then HSR will increase their demand and earnings.

2.  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?

This is THE most important question and depends on what is meant by "conventional". It is clear that additional tracks are essential. The existing WCML cannot be tinkered with any more. The 1990's attempt to renew the very busy railway while trains were running was a disaster. It must not be tried again. The other main lines can and should be improved but would still provide insufficient capacity. Additional semi-independent tracks are essential but at what speed? There can be little doubt that a reliable, comprehensive 100 mph railway system would meet better all the objectives except competition with motorways and airlines. Environmentalists are concerned about the negative effects (particularly energy consumption) of the 225 mph design and it is understood Network Rail expressed concerns about the increased costs of maintenance at these speeds. Energy demand is approximately proportional to the square of the speed and at some speed HSR will have no energy advantage over air travel. SERA Scotland believes a sustained 155 mph is possibly the best compromise with much lower CO2 emissions and costs although it is appreciated that track alignments should allow for higher speeds. These 155 mph speeds, if sustained, should be competitive with air between Central Scotland and London. Even 225 mph would not be competitive with air between Northern Scotland and London. The train at 125 mph has effectively already captured the airline market between London and Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Yorkshire and even Newcastle. The DfT Study should review the design speed. Its findings are that the very high speed would divert more traffic at higher fares giving a better business case. This depends on assumptions such as "Load Factor" which is a difficult assumption and, in any case, is supposedly already at a maximum south of Newcastle and Lancashire. Should an assumed business case take precedence over an environmental case?

The other view is that for the 225 mph design proven equipment is available "off the peg" from overseas. This is not exactly true because of loading gauge restrictions but there is a concern about designing a "British" solution. It is understood that in France and China, leaders in HSR, a lowering of maximum speeds is under way because of high running costs.

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

The railway is already doing this, fares are too high and complex, and it is damaging our environment and social and economic inclusion.

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?

Careful consideration by Government, designers and practical, experienced contractors and operators such as Network Rail. Many large projects are built on time and budget, and, if this is the implication, it is not just some rail projects which go over budget. The DfT Study costings include large "optimisation" costs which are unhelpful and effectively a "fiddle factor". One important point is that any statutory acts for HSR must include all the margins needed for construction works, not just the final product, and comprehensive site investigation is essential prior to costing .

4.  The strategic route

1.  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?

There is concern about the Phase 1 Route through the "greenfield" Chilterns. This is chosen primarily because it is cheaper to construct through undeveloped countryside rather than along an existing corridor. There is something environmentally wrong with this even if the same decision has been taken in the past for routing motorways. A route along the existing WCML/M1 Corridor would be preferred, even at higher cost, but not intertwined with the existing WCML tracks. The DfT Study has put a lot of consideration into this decision and we appreciate the dilemma. There are many other advantages and disadvantages in following the developed WCML/M1 corridor but space in this response does not allow a repetition of the arguments.

There is no justification for a station between Old Oak and Birmingham International.

It is felt Euston is the right terminal but although Old Oak Common is a very clever intervention to meet the new Government's changed specification it does have other implications and it has to be asked if it should be either Old Oak OR Euston rather than Old Oak and Euston. The Birmingham City terminal should be at New Street but the difficulties are understood and a Curzon Street Terminal is unlikely to affect Scottish interests but where will HSR trains from the North terminate in Birmingham?

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

All the northern cities should be served one way or another. Serious thought should be given to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Carlisle and this may be included in the December 2011 announcements? The "Y" proposal is correct, notwithstanding the preference for the "Y" to follow the existing transport corridor. The previous view of a sinusoidal route through the middle of practically every northern city was completely impractical and counter-productive. It should be appreciated that with a maximum capacity of 15 trains per hour on HSR compared to all the longer distance departures from the four north London terminals then a single HSR will be insufficient and that a "Kings Cross" route more direct to Yorkshire will be required at some future date. However, the "Y" branch to Yorkshire would be fully utilised on just NE to SW services.

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

It cannot be done in any other way although the main justifications given, diversion from airlines and freeing capacity, cannot be achieved until Central Scotland is included. Effective air diversion has already been achieved from Lancashire and Yorkshire southwards. It is Scotland to the South, including Manchester, where the gains are to be made. SERA Scotland also suggests that, given financial uncertainties, the big terminal constructions at Euston and Curzon Street (and even Old Oak) should be phased later while capacity and speed gains are made on the main part of the route at an earlier stage. Initial use of existing terminals has been a feature of British, and many other, HSR proposals. The Chiltern route may preclude this but the other British practice of chipping away at costs will surely re-visit this aspect of phasing.

Note that Network Rail's WCML Rail Utilisation Strategy suggests only minor journey time reductions to Scotland within the early phases of HS2 compared to "conventional" trains with a similar reduced number of station stops.

4.  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?

Yes, and for the clear reasons given in the DfT Study.

5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

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

The DfT Study tries hard to find evidence but is not convincing. As is the case with motorways an individual change in transport tends to move development around with some locations more advantaged, others disadvantaged and just a slight overall improvement. The suggestion that a new terminal will "create" 400 new jobs cannot be justified any more than a new supermarket would create 400 truly additional jobs. Jobs are gained and jobs are lost. Safeguarding our transport system against oil price rise and availability is important for the North-South divide but if motorway and airline services ever become unaffordable then HSR, in contrast to conventional rail, would become less of a priority.

The actual construction work would be a welcome improvement to employment with expenditure mainly retained within Britain, unlike the purchase of foreign built trains. Apparently, according to industry sources, Britain is so far behind with HSR technology that we cannot teach China anything.

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

In contrast to the above response HSR can advantage and disadvantage local and regional economies and this has to be thought out. However, the main objectives of HSR, environment, capacity and possibly commercial return, should not be lost in attempts to serve all markets by primary HSR services. There is a well founded concern that existing centres will lose good train services and that on the "classic" lines HSR extended services will be pre-eminent and squeeze off local passenger and freight train services. A further study by DfT is due to report in December 2011.

Throughout the DfT Study there is continuous mention of "releasing capacity" on classic lines by-passed by HSR but there is no guarantee that previous services will actually be replaced by local/regional services. In particular, the DfT Study mentions many times the City of Lille in Northern France where a declining industrial city campaigned and won a HSR line through the city centre with a station served by HSR trains. There is not, however, a single mention of a British "Lille" in the DfT Study. In fact the inference is that potential "Lilles" will be bypassed and that cities such as Carlisle will not be on the eventual HSR system at all.

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

Considering the thorough detail in the DfT study this subject is not well treated. Some locations will gain a competitive advantage but there must be an absolute commitment to having a second and third tier of train services which will connect into HSR services and fill gaps left by HSR lines. The faster and more segregated a HSR service is then the more likely premium fares and supplements will be charged. This is not made clear in the Study. If not properly guaranteed then less wealthy people will lose out on HSR, especially for short notice travel and it is often the least wealthy who cannot take advantage of loss-leader advance fares. Additionally, without safeguards, people may have to have a car to access HSR services both adversely affecting poorer people and damaging the environment. These are dangers which must be addressed.

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?

While all funding streams should be assessed we do not recall, for example, motorway building being funded by local businesses and local authorities. This is essentially a duty for railway Businesses and Government (including Scottish Government). Local authorities can help by co-operation on planning and roads issues. Professional planning can save a lot of money and time. We imagine that at this very moment planning authorities somewhere are granting consent for adverse development on previous and potential railway land or insisting that rail projects in their area fund incidental road improvements.

6.  Impact

1.  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?

The DfT Study gives a wide range of CO2 savings or increases, depending on assumptions, with which SERA Scotland concurs. It seems that most divertable domestic air travel from Lancashire/Yorkshire southwards has already been diverted. For CO2 a compromise on speed is essential. SERA Scotland suggests 155 mph but that is arguable. Secondly, the diversion of heavy freight from road haulage is an essential element. Road haulage should pay more of its true costs and there should be no further increase in the size of lorries operating on the public street. Additionally, HSR must not be an incentive for people to drive long distances to major park and ride terminals. A comprehensive second and third tier train service (as well as integrated buses) is essential to connect with HSR and fill gaps left by HSR.

The advantage of railways is the ability to run on electricity. CO2 emissions depend on the method of electricity generation but the trend, fully supported by SERA, is towards renewable low CO2 modes of generation. One eccentric concept is that, as HSR is new then its electricity must be drawn from the marginal pool and therefore coal generated. This should be dismissed. Another is that of "embedded" CO2 which the DfT Study considers. As railways last for a century or more and as all rails are inevitably recycled it is difficult to see railways being worse than the alternatives.

A particular issue for CO2 comparison is load factor and this is essential in making CO2 comparisons between different modes. Presently the conventional main lines are at very high load factors (according to DfT Study) and it is difficult to see how occupancy could be raised further. To do so would require practically all travel to be booked in advance which would be counter-productive. People would just go by car instead. Flexible length train formations would help load factors.

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

Probably not despite good attempts by the DfT Study. Environment aspects always have to be considered both in and outside the business case. While noise is important it can be overstated. The author of this response lives next to the WCML which operates 24/24 (HSR is proposed to operate 18/24). This community does not appear affected by the train noise and, in reality, people try to build new houses right next to the railway. When planning consent has been withheld they have gone to appeal and won. It is the change of circumstances which gets people upset not the actual noise itself. Existing transport corridors should be prioritised for HSR.

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

Beneficial where capacity is released but very problematical should HSR trains be prioritised beyond the new HSR line limits, in particular the lines to Scotland where HSR extended trains may conflict with freight and local passenger services. DfT is to report later in the year and Scottish Government should take active interest.

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

A lot less than previous WCML disruption. Euston will probably be reviewed with the possibility of a deeper low deck, shorter HSR trains (but longer than at present) or even abandoning Euston in favour of an Old Oak Common Terminal. A practical review should be made by Network Rail.


An additional double track between London and Scotland is essential for capacity.

Design speed should be commensurate with objectives and not the highest attainable.

The existing WCML cannot be modified again to increase speed/capacity.

A long term investment, HSR should be capable of mixed use in future if required.

The "Y" route strategy is supported, an additional east HSR may be needed in future

The main route should follow the WCML/M1 route corridor if practicable.

The HSR case for CO2 reduction is not clear cut.

The HSR case for total economic regeneration is not clear cut.

HSR would provide some protection against increased oil prices and shortages.

HSR may advantage and disadvantage different areas.

It is essential that local train services connect into or fill gaps left by HSR.

Long distance car driving to HSR terminals should be discouraged.

Fares must not exclude less wealthy sectors of society.

Phasing of construction and design is unavoidable

Terminals may be phased later after new line capacity is commissioned

Issues with connection to Scotland should be addressed

Issues with remaining and by-passed "Classic" lines are under consideration.

Statutory actions should include all land needed for construction.

Site investigation is an essential, not an add-on.

Connections to HS1 and Heathrow are correctly phased. Heathrow to be reviewed?

May 2011

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011