High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Glasgow City Council (HSR 154)


Glasgow City Council strongly supports the construction of a UK High Speed Rail network, which is considered essential both for the country's future economic prosperity and also to reduce transport's contribution to carbon emissions. However, GCC contends that the full economic and environmental benefits of HSR will not be realised until a dedicated HSR line is constructed over the entire route between London/HS1 and Scotland.

GCC considers the construction of a new HSR line between London and Birmingham to be the optimum means of providing the increased transport capacity urgently required in that corridor. However new HSR infrastructure has the potential not only to provide increased transport capacity but also to reduce end-to-end rail journey times between Glasgow/Edinburgh and London to well below three hours. So doing will encourage considerable modal shift from air and road to rail, thereby reducing transport's overall carbon emissions and generating new rail patronage to maximise the return on investment in HSR.

Glasgow City Council is concerned that the construction of dedicated HSR lines only as far north as Manchester and Leeds could increase Scotland's peripherality and concentrate economic development and regeneration in the southern half of Britain, to the detriment of Scotland's economy and that of north east England. Consequently, given the significantly greater journey-time reductions and consequent modal shift from air that would be achieved by providing a dedicated HSR line over the northern half of the London - Scotland route, GCC believes that the UK Government should commit to the early provision of a new HSR line over the entire route between Edinburgh/Glasgow and London and construct this line simultaneously from both ends.


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

1.1  The main arguments for HSR are as follows:

1.1.1  Economic Growth - Capacity constraints on much of the existing rail network are proving costly to business and restricting economic growth. Most constrained at present is the southern end of the West Coast Main Line (WCML) between London and Birmingham with capacity on more northerly sections of this line and parts of the East Coast (ECML) and Midland Main Lines (MML) also constrained. With HSR the fastest-growing transport mode in Europe, there is a danger of regional British cities losing out to regional European cities in terms of economic growth, in the absence of HSR connectivity.

1.1.2  Reduced Journey time - This is a more important benefit for longer journeys such as those between Scotland and London. Current rail journey times between Glasgow/Edinburgh and London are too long for travel to morning business meetings and same-day return trips by rail allow little time for activity in the destination city.

1.1.3  Reduced Emissions - Increased capacity and reduced journey times will encourage modal shift from air and road to rail. The emission benefits from HSR will obviously be highest where trains run with high load factors and utilise electricity generated from renewable fuels. Again, the most significant reductions will be for longer journeys (such as London - Glasgow) where city centre - city centre journey times by rail will better those by air and be considerably shorter than those by road.

1.1.4  Capacity on existing rail lines will be released by the construction of a new HSR line, facilitating improved freight and local passenger services on these lines. These services will, in turn, encourage more modal shift from road thereby reducing road congestion, benefitting both the economy and the environment.

1.2  The main arguments against HSR are as follows:

1.2.1  Affordability - Some claim that public finance in the United Kingdom cannot afford HSR. However, by the time that major expenditure is required, the country is likely to be emerging from the current economic downturn. Without HSR the economy is likely to be more (not less) vulnerable to future economic downturns.

1.2.2  Disruption - The construction of any major engineering project will be disruptive to the landscape and communities through which it passes. However, the disruption caused by construction along a carefully chosen new alignment is likely to be much less than that caused by widening an existing transport corridor, where many residents and businesses located adjacent to the existing corridor boundaries would require relocation. The use of an existing corridor would also be much more disruptive to existing transport services using the corridor than will be the case for a new alignment.

1.2.3  An upgrade of existing rail lines would be preferable. Some argue that the provision of additional capacity on the existing rail network would achieve the same objectives (as HSR) but be cheaper and less disruptive. However, the actual costs of adding capacity to the existing network are more difficult to estimate than those for a new line on a new alignment. Widening existing rail corridors to provide additional tracks is likely to require the purchase of many parcels of land and will prove extremely disruptive to some owners. While it may be argued that lengthening trains or providing higher-capacity rolling stock would be relatively inexpensive and easily implemented, the consequent changes required to infrastructure may not be.

1.2.4  Any platform lengthening required to accommodate longer trains will be disruptive, both to rail users and to those with property required for the extended platforms. Platform lengthening is likely to be particularly problematic adjacent to existing bridges or tunnels and future services may require selective door opening or the omission of some station stops. Similarly, there are likely to be many locations on existing lines where increasing the gauge clearance to accommodate double-deck trains is problematic. However, the chief failing of any proposal to increase capacity on the existing rail network is that it would not provide high speed rail services. While this may be of little consequence to those travelling between London and Birmingham, the benefits for those travelling between London and Scotland are significantly less than for HSR.

1.2.5  Environmental Damage - Any civil engineering construction work has the potential to damage the environment but this can be mitigated by sensitive design and ancillary works. The most commonly cited environmental arguments against HSR are damage to landscape and noise pollution. The insertion of a new rail line into a landscape will certainly change it but not necessarily damage it. The route currently identified for HSR between London and Birmingham does not cross open moorland but a landscape already bisected by numerous roads, tracks, pathways and even rail lines. The new line will obviously be a feature in the future landscape but, carefully designed, should not inflict lasting damage. In fact many major structures on "classic" rail lines are now listed in recognition of their positive contributions to the landscape.

1.2.6  The noise generated by HSR trains is likely to be intrusive only in areas that are currently quiet. For much of its route the HSR line will pass through built-up areas, where there is already background noise from traffic, aircraft, industry and farming operations. In these areas, HSR will add to the noise but is unlikely to be particularly intrusive. In "wilderness" areas, the introduction of noise where there is presently silence will inevitably destroy the tranquillity. However, even in these circumstances, the intermittent noise from passing trains is, arguably, less intrusive than the constant drone of road traffic, which emanates, night and day, from a motorway.

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

2.1  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?

2.1.1  Improving inter-urban connectivity is the most important transport policy objective for economic development, although improving the sustainability of transport is arguably the most important objective overall. HSR scores highly on both counts. Inter-urban connectivity is improved through the provision of additional capacity and reduced journey times. Being electrically-powered, HSR is more sustainable than either road or air transport due to the potential to generate electricity from a variety of renewable sources and its non-reliance on depleting reserves of increasingly expensive oil.

2.1.2  Additions and improvements to the strategic road network can improve capacity locally but are also likely to reinforce the perception that road is the preferred mode of travel, leading to greater congestion elsewhere on the network. By way of contrast, investment in HSR will create capacity for an alternative travel mode. This will abstract some traffic from the road network, thereby reducing road congestion, without simultaneously encouraging additional road traffic. HSR will also release capacity on the existing (classic) rail network for additional freight and local passenger services, thereby further reducing road traffic and congestion.

2.1.3  Over longer distances, such as those between Scotland's Central Belt and London, HSR will also abstract traffic from air services, since city-centre to city centre travel times will be shorter by HSR. Assuming similar load factors for air and HSR services, this transfer will significantly reduce carbon emissions. It will also bring economic benefits in terms of the ability to use HSR journey-time more productively than is the case with air travel.

2.2  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?

2.2.1  There is no reason to suppose that spending on the construction of new HSR infrastructure will reduce capital spending on the existing network. 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. These two schemes will be close to completion by the time construction is proposed to start on HSR between London and Birmingham in around 2016. Spread over ten years, the £17 billion estimated cost of HSR should generate annual expenditure no greater than for Crossrail and certainly below the combined peak expenditure of the two London projects.

2.2.2  As regards increasing track and rolling stock capacity in and around major cities, HSR may constitute the most cost effective means of doing just this. Transfer of long distance inter-urban services to the HSR network will provide seats on existing rolling stock for commuters and capacity on classic tracks for additional commuter services.

2.3  What are the implications for domestic aviation?

2.3.1  There is likely to be little impact on domestic aviation as a result of HSR services between London and Birmingham, since most travel between these cities is currently by road or rail and reductions in overall rail journey times between London and cities north of Birmingham will be insufficient to encourage significant modal shift from air.

2.3.2  Extension of the new HSR line to Manchester and Leeds is likely to reduce journey times between London and Scotland sufficiently to encourage some transfer of cross-border domestic air travel to rail. It should also eliminate the use of air services for travel between London and those cities on the HSR network, except, perhaps for some interlining.

2.3.3  However, to achieve a significant modal shift from air to HSR, it will be necessary to provide a new HSR rail line over the entire route between London and Scotland, thereby eliminating the current time penalty in using rail services for these longer journeys. In 2009, some 20% of journeys between Edinburgh/Glasgow and London were made by rail. If the rail journey time were to be reduced to 2 hour 30 minutes (by providing a new HSR line over the entire route), it is anticipated that around 80% of journeys would be made by rail - resulting in four or five million fewer domestic air trips on these routes.

2.3.4  One implication of this reduction in domestic air travel between cities served by HSR services could be the release of capacity at British airports for additional domestic flights to cities beyond the reach of HSR infrastructure (eg Aberdeen and Inverness) and for additional international flights. These additional flights could bring economic benefits in excess of those already calculated to result from the construction of a UK HSR network.

3.  Business case

3.1  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?

3.1.1  In addition to the work undertaken by HS2, Atkins (on behalf of SRA, later updated for the Government in 2008), Network Rail (New Lines, 2009) and Greengauge21 (Fast Forward, 2009) have separately researched the business case for HSR. While each of these studies considered a slightly different HSR network, all produced a case for a north-south spine route linking the major cities between London and Edinburgh/Glasgow, indicating that the overall case is robust.

3.1.2  The methodology adopted by HS2 is based on standard DfT and Treasury models and cannot, therefore, be challenged in isolation. Moreover, the use of this methodology allows the benefit:cost ratio for HSR to be compared directly with those calculated for other transport schemes.

3.1.3  It has been argued recently that, in assuming that time spent on trains is "un-productive", HS2 has overestimated the benefits of HSR arising from reduced journey times. On the other hand, Greengauge21 reported that regarding time spent on HSR trains as productive "working-time" marginally increases the overall benefit:cost ratio for HSR. The basis for this finding is that the productive time gained by passengers transferring from car and air outweighs the working time lost by passengers transferring from classic train services of longer duration. It might also be argued that HSR will create a better working environment than current rail services, affording greater en route productivity for passengers than by all other modes, including classic rail.

3.2  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?

3.2.1  The most recent upgrade of the West Coast Main Line added significant capacity to the route but this capacity is rapidly being filled as passenger numbers continue to rise and is likely to be exhausted by 2020. To create significant additional capacity on the existing tracks, it would be necessary to lengthen the trains and/or provide higher-capacity rolling stock (eg double-deck carriages). As set out in response to Question 1 above, provision of the infrastructure necessary to accommodate either of these capacity enhancements is unlikely to be readily achievable over the entire length of the existing route. Even if additional capacity were to be created in this way, it would be only a matter of time before this too was exhausted. Consequently, Network Rail have concluded that the only realistic long-term capacity solution for travel between London and West Midlands is to provide an additional line.

3.2.2  Additional to the considerable engineering costs of increasing the capacity of an existing rail line are significant costs in terms of disruption to services and reduced capacity during construction. These latter costs were further increased in the case of the recently completed upgrade of the WCML by delays to the project programme, due to the difficulties of working alongside an operating railway. None of these additional costs will arise with the construction of a rail line on a new alignment and the capacity created will be considerably greater that that achieved by upgrading an existing line.

3.2.3  A new conventional line (restricted to 125 mph) could deliver increased capacity equally as well as an HSR line but would not reduce journey-times and would therefore be of more limited benefit for longer journeys (eg between London and the North of England and Scotland) where overall travel times are a major consideration. Without the journey-time savings, there will be less modal shift to rail from road and air and consequently reduced environmental benefits in terms of pollutant and carbon emissions. However, proposals for a new conventional line are likely to generate the same opposition from those on the line of route as proposals for a HSR line. The construction of a new conventional line would therefore appear to be a non-starter.

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

3.3.1  Managing demand by higher fares or by not providing more capacity would encourage passengers to travel by less sustainable modes (ie car or air) and, in the case of car travel, would increase road congestion. Alternatively, some journeys may not be undertaken at all which, while more sustainable, would be detrimental in overall socio-economic terms.

3.3.2  To some extent, demand is already managed by price and, except where travel is free of charge at the point of delivery, this will continue to be the case. If it is accepted that rail travel is more sustainable and environmentally acceptable than air or road travel, the aim should be to provide the capacity that will enable rail services to be available at the lowest possible cost. To do otherwise would adversely impact on both the environment and business and the economy in general.

3.3.3  It is likely that there will be a continuing role for price in maximising the efficient use of the rail network. Differential pricing according to time of travel and speed of journey could assist in maximising train load factors on both the classic and high speed networks.

3.4  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?

3.4.1  The 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 project). Competitive procurement on a design-and-build basis is probably the best means of reducing cost overruns.

4.  The strategic route

4.1  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?

4.1.1  For the benefits of HSR in terms of reduced journey times to be maximised, there should be few, if any, intermediate stops on routes between any two city centre stations. Consequently, the HSR network should be designed in a similar fashion to the UK's motorway network with the route by-passing all towns and cities en route. In general, intermediate cities would be served not by through stations on the main line but by terminal stations reached via spurs off the main line. Such a terminal station is currently planned for Curzon Street in Birmingham.

4.1.2  In certain situations, it may be appropriate to provide through stations on the main line, such as that currently proposed at Birmingham International. However, only trains commencing or terminating their journeys a few miles distant (in this case at Curzon Street) should slow down and stop at these stations; other services should continue non-stop at high speed on a parallel bypass line, thereby avoiding any increase in their end-to-end journey times.

4.1.3  The proposed station at Old Oak Common (OOC) is supported, in the short term at least, as a useful interchange for London Crossrail and services to Heathrow airport. Given its proximity to the proposed Euston terminal, the increases in end-to-end journey times for HSR services resulting from stops here should be smaller than would be the case for intermediate stops elsewhere on the network. Stopping HSR services at OOC for interchange to London suburban services could also reduce congestion on connecting services at Euston. In addition, directly connecting the West Coast Main Line into London Crossrail at OOC, could reduce the number of platforms required at Euston to accommodate classic services (see also comment at 6.4.2 below).

4.1.4  Additional stations should be provided only in cities where passenger demand for travel to a single destination served by HSR is sufficient to entirely fill high speed trains. If it becomes necessary for trains to collect passengers from several stations to achieve the loading required for viable operation, the benefits of high speed travel will be seriously eroded by repeated station stops. Where a city cannot generate sufficient patronage to justify a HSR station, feeder services should be provided on classic lines to a convenient HSR station for interchange. To minimise the potential for feeder journeys to be undertaken by private car, interchange with HSR services should take place at city centre stations wherever possible.

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

4.2.1  As stated above, only those cities generating sufficient patronage to fill trains destined for a single location should be directly served by the eventual high speed network. Likely candidates are London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Bristol, Edinburgh and Glasgow. These cities should be considered core cities for the network and could be joined by Sheffield and an East Midlands station if patronage there is sufficient.

4.2.2  The proposed Y configuration serves only four of the suggested core cities but the eastern branch of the Y could readily be extended northwards to also serve Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh, suggesting that it forms a good basis for the eventual HSR network. Two further extensions should be considered to complete the network of dedicated HSR lines - one from Birmingham International to Bristol and the other from the East Midlands to London.

4.2.3  Given that hybrid HSR/classic trains are proposed to provide initial HSR services to destinations north of Birmingham, it is suggested that, network capacity permitting, these trains could be used subsequently to provide through-running HSR/classic services westwards to Cardiff via Heathrow and Bristol, southwards to Southampton via Heathrow and northwards to Aberdeen and Inverness.

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

4.3.1  Pragmatically it makes perfect sense to start the HSR network with the London-Birmingham section, which is the most capacity-restrained section on the West Coast Main Line. Furthermore, the link to London and HS1 is an essential element of any national HSR network so, should the London - Birmingham section be rejected, it is unlikely that a truly national network could ever materialise.

4.3.2  However, future phases do not necessarily have to be constructed 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 starting construction of these sections at an earlier stage rather as the last legs. 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.

4.4  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?

4.4.1  While it is understood that construction of the link to HS1 has been proposed as part of phase 1 for technical reasons, it is welcomed as essential to enable direct services between Europe and UK cities north of London. It is suggested that, as soon as this link is operational (possibly prior to the opening of HS2) consideration is given to extending the UK's existing sleeper services to European destinations. Caledonian sleeper services currently arrive in London at around 6.00am and, given the procurement of suitable rolling stock could reach Brussels and Paris in time for morning meetings. Similarly, evening departures from these cities would reach London prior to midnight to utilise the existing WCML train paths to Scotland.

4.4.2  The Heathrow market will to a large extent be catered for through the Old Oak Common 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 that enables High Speed Trains for Heathrow from the north to continue on the classic network to Southampton and those from London to continue to Bristol and Cardiff (see 4.2.3 above).

5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

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

5.1.1  While not all European cities directly connected to the high speed network have benefitted economically, those that have co-ordinated their social, economic and planning policies and projects to capitalise on HSR have experienced increases in their economic growth. The only experience of HSR in the UK to date is HS1 and Greengauge21 reported an upsurge in business activity in parts of Kent following its construction.

5.1.2  A study undertaken by Halcrow for the Glasgow-Edinburgh Collaboration Initiative has specifically identified the policy approach and action necessary to ensure that the construction of HSR lines to Edinburgh and Glasgow will promote economic regeneration throughout Scotland. The location of HSR stations in Edinburgh and Glasgow City Centres will, in particular, facilitate urban regeneration rather than the development of "Greenfield" sites.

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

5.2.1  The most important role of a High Speed Network is to improve connectivity both between the main centres of population in the UK and also with Europe, where HSR is fastest growing mode of travel. Currently London and the South East are both better connected to Europe than other UK cities and also experiencing the greatest economic growth. By directly linking regional city centres to London and Europe, HSR will bring agglomeration benefits to UK plc and will also promote regional regeneration.

5.2.2  The network should certainly be shaped to serve those areas of the UK most in need of regeneration. In this respect, it is particularly important that the North East of England and Scotland are included in the network from the outset and that their regeneration does not stall as a result of HSR's initial connection only to Birmingham and the WCML. Scotland is already at a disadvantage due to its geographic peripherality in both the UK and Europe. The UK's HSR network should aim to reduce this peripherality and not increase it.

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

5.3.1  It is anticipated that any city-region directly served by the HSR network will benefit from its development. While HSR services will be long-distance and used mainly for business and leisure (tourist) travel, the capacity released on the classic network will facilitate improvements to local passenger, commuter and freight services. Consequently, all socio-economic groups will benefit from HSR. The cascading of hybrid HSR/classic rolling stock to lines running on from the dedicated HSR network (see 4.2.3 above) will ensure that the benefits of HSR are also felt beyond the network itself.

5.4  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?

5.4.1  Government procurement of a HSR network will be funded by all UK taxpayers and businesses. Provided that the network is developed to benefit all regions of the UK, this appears an appropriate means of sharing costs and risks. Given that the UK HSR Network is likely to "replace" classic rail lines that currently form part of TEN, it would appear sensible to seek support from any relevant EU budgets.

6.  Impact

6.1  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?

6.1.1  Assessment of the overall impact HSR on carbon emissions is complex due to the number of variables involved. While emissions resulting from initial construction of the track and rolling stock can be calculated with a fair degree of accuracy, those resulting from HSR operation will be highly dependent on the mix of fuels used for electricity generation and train loadings. However, under almost all scenarios, the emissions due to HSR travel will be lower than those for the equivalent journey by air. It therefore follows that most favourable impact on emissions will result where HSR encourages a significant transfer of air passengers. This significant transfer is unlikely to materialise for domestic passengers until Scotland and London are connected by HSR (see 2.3.3 above).

6.1.2  The impact of HSR on carbon emissions as regards modal shift from roads is likely to result more from the capacity relief that HSR brings to the classic rail network than from the HSR services themselves. In particular, the provision of additional freight paths on the classic network will enable a transfer of container traffic from road to rail. This will not only directly reduce the carbon emissions generated by the transport of that freight; it will also reduce congestion on the road network, thereby reducing the emissions per tonne-kilometre for freight that remains on the road network. Similarly for passenger traffic, additional commuter and local rail services will reduce emissions both directly, in terms of those who shift from road to rail, and also indirectly, in terms of a reduction in road congestion.

6.1.3  Overall, GCC would expect carbon emissions to be lower with HSR in place than would be the case if an HSR network were not constructed. This will certainly be the case if the primary energy source is renewable, when the carbon footprint from HSR operations (after construction) should be negligible.

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

6.2.1  HS2 appear to have taken a very cautious (pessimistic) approach in their assessment of overall environmental benefits. With the exception of noise, the effect of which is difficult to analyse on a cost:benefit basis (see 1.2.6 above), it is likely that HS2 have underestimated the environmental benefits of HSR.

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

6.3.1  The release of capacity on the classic network, in particular on the West Coast Main Line (the busiest rail freight corridor in the UK)) should in part be utilised by rail freight services. Consequently, HSR's impact on freight services on the classic network is expected to be entirely positive.

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

6.4.1  Provided that the HSR network is constructed on a new alignment, there should be no disruption to services on the classic network other than at locations where the two networks cross each other. Even here, disruption should be minimal. However, there is obviously potential for significant disruption at Euston and some during construction of the HS1-HS2 link.

6.4.2  Experience of the St Pancras redevelopment indicates that it is possible to minimise disruption to existing services, while redeveloping a station to accommodate HSR, but the scale of reconstruction proposed at Euston is greater than at St Pancras, as is the scale of existing rail operations. It is suggested that potential disruption to classic services at Euston could be reduced by connecting the West Coast Main Line to Crossrail at Willesden/Old Oak Common and diverting services running between London and towns south of Birmingham on to the Crossrail network, prior to works commencing at Euston.

May 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011