High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Staffordshire County Council (HSR 164)

1.  Staffordshire is one of a number of counties that make up the central "cross roads" of Britain and is consequently very much aware of the significance of the transport network to the well being of the economy and the people of Staffordshire. Part of this awareness includes the need for the networks, primarily road and rail, to work effectively and not suffer from unreliability and congestion. Consequently the County Council welcomes efforts to maintain or improve the network in these respects. Upgrades to the West Coast Main Line have and will continue to bring benefits in terms of service improvements to various stations/settlements across Staffordshire.

2.  Maintaining and improving the economic well being of the County and its residents is the top priority of the County Council. Much of the County Council"s activities are focussed on this priority, including its own transportation policies and proposals. It is against this background that the County Council has come to its views with regard to the present High Speed Rail proposal.

3.  The primary concern regarding the current High Speed Rail proposal with respect to the economy of Staffordshire is the prospect of deterioration in rail passenger services available at stations/settlements in the county, in particular in north Staffordshire. While HS2 highlight the potential benefits of available capacity released as a result of introducing the new line, there are no guarantees that viable services of the existing quality will be provided.

4.  While Stafford may be served by a High Speed train service using the classic network to Liverpool, the likely absence of any other stop/s in Staffordshire on the HS2 "Y" network as a very consequence of its "need for speed" and limitation on stops, puts Staffordshire at an economic disadvantage with the prospect of loosing economic development both existing and new.

5.  While specific to Staffordshire, similar concerns are relevant to authorities along the route/s most of which will not have stations on the High Speed network. Also in the wider context, the importance/value attached to station to station time savings as opposed to real full journey times (including time taken to get to and from the stations) is considered to have been grossly overstated. The wider economic benefits have been assessed as modest by HS2, and their advisers, and international experience has shown them to be limited in extent around stations and often simply local redistribution of development.

6.  The County Council does not deny the need for improvements to the national transport network but is of the view that the current High Speed Rail Network proposal, intrinsically (by virtue of the essential characteristics and requirements of High Speed Rail) fails to maximize the possible benefits of such improvements across the country and presents a real risk of concentrating future economic development rather than dispersing it away from London and the south east.


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

7.  The UK does not need very expensive "off the shelf" new High Speed Rail infrastructure technology to provide the most worthwhile solution to its capacity problems and in the process improve economic prospects across the nation. The circumstances of the UK warrant a particular approach that recognises the quality and speed of existing services; the potential to improve them within the existing network and individual corridors; the need for greater flexibility in routing in order to protect the environment; and the need to serve many more centres than the few on the proposed High Speed network.

8.  The "high speed" characteristics of the proposed infrastructure are unnecessary. Compared to other countries the existing speed of rail travel between major cities is already faster in the UK. The proposed increased speed levels provide only marginal real journey time (trip beginning to trip end) improvements for most journeys. Appropriate increases in the speed of journeys on the existing network can be achieved by the full use of existing technology in particular the use of European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) or in cab signalling, and specific targeted network improvements.

9.  Various actions have been proposed as ways of increasing capacity on the railway network including lengthening trains, converting some first class seats to standard class, and providing specific targeted line improvements together with programmed improvements such as at Norton Bridge and Stafford, which can be implemented at significantly lower cost and with the prospect of much quicker benefits.

10.  The case for economic benefit as a result of faster rail connectivity is unproven. Research into international experience clearly indicates that it is difficult to find well defined empirical and quantified evidence on the impacts of HSR. The wider economic effects of HSR could be significant but they are not always obvious or predictable and can vary significantly between different HSR projects. The possible economic consequence is just as likely to be a "drain" of any economic benefit into London as it is to be a "gain" for the locations on the route. Furthermore, the increased used of e-business solutions means that historical models that might link economic prosperity with rail accessibility are likely to be outdated. The benefits case for business (which makes incorrect assumptions such as the idea that time spent on the train is "lost" working time) is ill-conceived and overstated.

11.  Even if a case could be made to link economic growth with rail, the presumption of limited stopping restricts the number of localities that could potentially benefit from any service improvements and consequently places those localities not served, included all of Staffordshire, at a potential disadvantage that can be made worse by the possible deterioration of services available as business and income is diverted onto the new high speed network.

12.  In terms of environmental impact, the proposed infrastructure will have significant and inappropriate adverse impacts in terms of accommodation within the environment.

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

13.  Inter-Urban Connectivity: HSR is partial in the extreme in its improvements to inter-urban connectivity and may actually cause a deterioration. This is by virtue of the limited number of stations that are proposed and indeed are required in order to achieve the speeds sought. The passenger numbers required to justify the HSR proposal while potentially providing new path opportunities for new services on the classic network, put in question whether they could be economically justified or that the necessary subsidies would be available. Consequently, there is a real prospect of deterioration in inter-urban connectivity for many major urban areas and significant settlements.

14.  Carbon Reduction: The proposed HSR is at best carbon neutral and even this is based in part on the large increase in passenger numbers and speed of travel that are essential parts of the justification for the project. The Government is committed to reducing carbon emissions and yet is proposing transport infrastructure that, by virtue of these two fundamental requirements, is making no contribution to such a reduction. Contrary to the fundamental feature of HSR, Government/Department for Transport is positively seeking ways of reducing travel and in particular business travel. It is monetary value attached to time spent on such travel that is critical to the business case for HSR.

3.  Business case

15.  There is no doubt that the use of the railways by passengers and freight has been increasing over the recent past. Similarly there can be little to counter the prospect of this increase continuing for some time to come both of its own accord and positively encouraged by the diversion of traffic from less sustainable road and air travel. Improvements in transport and communications over history have undoubtedly had economic benefits for the country albeit with varying impacts on different regions/areas/places depending on the localities served or ignored/bypassed.

16.  Some projections of future travel demand have been based on relationships with forecast levels of economic growth. This should not be the basis for assuming that economic growth is founded on increased capacity to travel, rather that travel demand may be generated by increased personal wealth. The HS2 business case confirms this by anticipating 70% of future passengers/journeys will be for leisure purposes.

17.  The basis for high future travel requirements needs to be questioned in the context of government aims to cut the need for business travel being investigated by Department for Transport.

18.  There is much debate around the basis for forecasting future travel demand particularly over the long term which provides the context for the assessment of the high speed rail network. There is concern that the Government"s proposal and its justification are based on unjustified projections of travel requirements including substantial new demand expected to be generated by the existence of the high speed service, and with over optimistic expectations of modal shift.

19.  Both policy and technology are working to reduce the need to travel. The Government/Department for Transport is positively seeking ways of reducing travel and in particular business travel as part of its "green" commitment. Technology forms part of this search with recent advances in e-technology including e-conferencing often removing the requirement to travel completely. As a consequence of these developments forward projection of travel demand should be approached cautiously.

20.  The evidence for linking significant economic development with high speed train facilities is inconclusive. A particular set of circumstances would appear to be necessary for significant economic development to take place (well established or strongly developing service sector with extensive local public transport networks) and most of this development would appear to be simply diverted from other localities rather than totally new.

21.  The material presented in support of the proposal with respect to new job creation shows a clear emphasis on it being located in and around London in the south east rather than remedying the north-south divide as claimed elsewhere. At the Birmingham end of the current defined route, supporters of the proposal show future economic activity focussed increasingly on central Birmingham and to a lesser extent near the interchange facility, to the detriment of other parts of the conurbation and the rest of the region including virtually all of Staffordshire.

22.  Given the regular and consistent over running of major infrastructure project costs in this country there is little reason to expect the already high costs of the proposed high speed rail network to be anything other than a minimum cost. The benefits are at best contrived in terms of the amount and valuation of travel time savings and otherwise minimal (wider economic impacts) or un-quantified (the statements of support from business). The method of financial appraisal effectively pre-empts the form of the proposal, maximum speed with limited stops thus fundamentally questioning the appropriateness of the evaluation process used.

23.  The level of government subsidy included in the HS2 business case already amounting to £17 billion is likely to exceed this level if project costs were to increase and the projected passenger numbers were to prove unrealistic overestimates. This was the case with HS1 and is increasingly becoming the experience in many parts of the world. Most recently reports suggest the Dutch high speed rail is rapidly heading for bankruptcy and several states in America are pulling out of the President"s high speed rail programme with fears that traffic forecasts are over-inflated.

24.  The costs (or disbenefits) need to include the reductions in the number and quality of services from settlements/stations that currently have a good intercity service. While the potential released capacity on the existing/classic network might provide new paths for new services, whether they would be economically viable or receive the necessary level of public subsidy is a matter of conjecture.

4.  The strategic route

25.  As commented under other headings, the strategic route and stations proposed are essentially determined by the project requirements in terms of speed and necessary journey time savings. If these "essentials" are changed then the ability to serve more stations, either existing or new, with improved services is increased with potentially greater economic benefits for more settlements and communities. Alongside the north Staffordshire conurbation, Stafford and Burton within Staffordshire are recognised as potential growth locations that could benefit from inclusion on the enhanced network.

26.  The idea of a phased roll-out of network improvements is fully supported but on a different scale to that attached to the current proposal, the first benefits of which would not be available until 2026 at the earliest. Incremental improvements to the existing network such as included in Atkins Rail Package 2 would allow benefits to be realised on a phased and more prompt implementation.

27.  Linking directly to the High Speed 1 line to the Channel Tunnel would have potential benefits for more distant parts of the country including Staffordshire.

5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

28.  There appears to be little evidence that HSR will/can promote economic regeneration and help bridge the north-south economic divide. As commented under other headings, international evidence appears to suggest the need for very specific circumstances to exist (well established or strongly developing service sector with extensive local public transport networks) and that most development would appear to be simply diverted from other localities rather than totally new.

29.  Furthermore, the evidence presented by HS2 would suggest that the greater part of the economic benefits will accrue to London and the south east thereby further enhancing the north-south divide.

6.  Impact

30.  While appreciating that to date much of the Appraisal of Sustainability has been of a strategic nature, it must be realised that this seriously underestimates the impact of the proposal. In particular, the visual impact on local communities has not been addressed or the impact on the local landscapes; the impacts on biodiversity are downplayed by underestimating impacts on designated sites and failing to address impacts on species and of fragmentation of ecological networks; impacts to Grade II Listed structures which, by their nature are also considered to be of national significance are currently ignored; vibration and noise from works and increased traffic along surrounding roads, as well as within the construction corridor may have a considerable impact. There are a number of shortcomings in assessments of noise impacts included in the Appraisal including: the absence of site surveys or baseline noise surveys having been carried out for the noise appraisal; probable need to adapt the assessment procedure to take into account the aerodynamic noise effects which occur at very high speeds; the need to take account of the potential adverse noise impact from the short term high pass by noise from individual trains; the possibility of locally lower ambient noise levels than those assumed in the Appraisal that mean for the section of the line through Staffordshire, being primarily rural and routed away from urban areas, the noise impact could be significantly greater than currently indicated.

May 2011

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011