High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Further written evidence from The Chiltern Countryside Group (HSR 178B)



A newly upgraded fast line between London and Birmingham opened 5 September http://www.chilternrailways.co.uk/mainline.

Details of the Chiltern Mainline have recently been made available:

1.  Journey Time

The fastest Chiltern Mainline trains will do the London-Birmingham trip in 90 minutes. They will operate at peak periods and journey times will be competitive with the West Coast Main Line (WCML) (journey time 84 minutes).

2.  Connectivity


The Chiltern Mainline London terminus is Marylebone.

The Heathrow Express at Paddington Station is just two tube-stops away from Marylebone. Oxford Street similarly is just two tube-stops away.

Apart from Marylebone having its own underground station, Baker Street Underground is five minutes' walk away. This is served by the Jubilee, Bakerloo, Circle, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan lines.

Baker Street provides quick links to the City and Canary Wharf.


Chiltern Rail's Moor Street and Snow Hill are a similar distance from the city centre as the WCML's New Street Station.

All these stations are more conveniently situated than HS2's planned Curzon Street Station.

3.  Cost of Travel

Chiltern Mainline London-Birmingham standard off-peak return is £50, super off-peak return is £25 and anytime travel return is £75.

This can be compared with the WCML. Standard off-peak return London-Birmingham tickets by Virgin and London Midland cost £43.30 and £44.30 respectively, and anytime travel return is £74.70 and £149 respectively. Super off-peak fares on the WCML are £19-£26. (Cheaper WCML tickets can be bought but only for tickets booked in advance for specific trains.)

4.  Working on Trains

Chiltern Rail is promoting comfortable carriages, landscape windows and freshly cooked food on its Mainline service. We are told free WiFi was available in every Chiltern Mainline carriage at the launch of the service.

Chiltern Rail clearly sees a niche in meeting the needs of passengers wanting to work while travelling: Mainline trains will have dedicated Business Zones. These areas will have extra large seats, more spacious tables with free WiFi, at-seat power sockets, and a host allocated for their catering requirements.

Tickets in the Chilterns Business Zones are not first class, and can be obtained with just a £20 supplement.


(a)  Capacity

From the date when the new Chiltern Mainline rail service came into operation - 5 September - passengers from Birmingham have a choice of fast trains into either Marylebone or Euston with a similar journey time and cost.  Given that Chiltern Line journey times will have been cut by 20%, and that the service will have good connectivity, superior comfort and attractive working arrangements, the Chiltern Mainline service will undoubtedly draw passengers from the WCML releasing capacity there.

Passengers using the Chiltern Mainline will release capacity on local Chiltern Line trains. Commuters in the Chilterns can drive to their station of choice to access either local Chiltern or WCML stations and will doubtless take advantage of this extra space on the local Chiltern trains, thus again releasing pressure on the WCML.

It is clear that there is underused capacity on the Chiltern Line with scope to absorb passengers, thus releasing capacity on the WCML.

Is there then a case for spending £17 billion on a new line - HS2 - serving the same population centres?

(b)  Time Working on Trains is not Wasted

It is clear that Chiltern Rail's forward-planners for its Mainline have met the needs of an important market sector: passengers wanting to work on board for a relatively small fare-increase.

Chiltern Rail's decision to install Business Zones on Mainline trains demonstrates one of the mistaken premises of HS2 Ltd's business case: assuming time spent on trains is wasted.


1.  HS2 and Strategic National Corridors

Strategic National Corridors (SNCs) are designated to reflect the significance of transport links between the largest urban areas, ports and airports. These corridors have been identified as carrying the largest volumes of long distance passenger and freight traffic (1).

HS1 - the Channel Tunnel Rail Link - travels over-ground almost exclusively in association with SNCs in Kent - the M20, A2 and M2.

In contrast, the vast majority of the proposed phase 1 HS2 route does not follow SNCs.

In the Chilterns the planned HS2 route travels in association with the A413. This road is not an SNC.1 In addition, the A413 is mostly single-lane in each direction. Nor does this road carry the volume of traffic, nor anything like the volume of freight traffic, of an SNC.

Thus the noise and visual impact of HS2 is much greater than if it were associated with SNCs.

2.  HS2's Appraisal of Sustainability acknowledges the Route - as planned - will adversely affect the AONB

1.  HS2 travels for 20.5km in the Chiltern Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). HS2's Appraisal of Sustainability tells us that 14kms of this is on the surface2 ie 68%.

Is this appropriate considering the level of protection afforded AONBs (Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 s85; Planning Policy Statement 7 paragraphs 21 and 22)?

2.  The Appraisal of Sustainability2 acknowledges that the route - as currently planned - would result in "adverse impacts on the character" of the AONB.

It suggests, however, that the effect on the character of the AONB would be made acceptable by the introduction of bunds:

"At this stage of design development, the length of the surface route (including cutting) through the AONB is about 14km and adverse impacts on the character of this area would occur. But revisions to the scheme design have reduced the magnitude and it would be possible with further earthworks to provide bunds (earth banks) and false cuttings that would further conceal the alignment".2


(a)  Use of the word "character" with reference to landscape has a specific meaning.3

     An AONB is a "precious landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so outstanding that it is in the nation's interest to safeguard them"4 (Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000; PPS7 paragraph 21 and 22; draft National Planning Policy Framework paragraph 167).

     Thus, by definition, bunds introduced in the Chilterns AONB will not help protect the character of the AONB, as the developer seems to believe; rather, they will contribute to altering it and damaging it.

(b)  If bunds were to be provided in the AONB, they would be limited by the presence of natural and historic features (2nd TSC submission Chiltern Countryside Group: Spoil). In addition, many question the need for bunds for noise mitigation in the AONB because, apart from a few sites, for much of its length the route in the AONB is in deep cutting and is travelling through sparsely populated areas.

(c)  If bunds were to be constructed, land-take and alteration of the AONB landscape would potentially be considerable:

     ie a reasonable width allowance for a five metre-high bund would be in the order of 30-35 metres allowing for a gap between the top of the cutting and the perimeter of the bund (Derek Godfrey FICE pers. com.). Thus a bund built on both sides of deep cuttings (65-90 metres wide at the top) would produce a corridor 125-160 metres wide in the AONB. Such cuttings make up nearly 8 kms of the HS2 route in the AONB.

In conclusion, HS2 was right to acknowledge that the line would result in "adverse impacts on the character" of the AONB.

HS2, however, was wrong to suggest in the same paragraph that this damage could be mitigated by providing bunds. Given this, is the route in the Chilterns AONB valid?

6 September 2011


1  Promoting Connectivity between the Capital Cities of the United Kingdom http://www.parliament.uk/deposits/depositedpapers/2010/DEP2010-1733.pdf

2  Appraisal of Sustainability Main Report Volume 1 page 84 paragraph 8.4.5

3  Landscape Character

4  National Association of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

7 September 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011