High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Malcolm Griffiths, Bluespace Thinking Ltd. (HSR 15)


1.1  There is not a strategic, business or environmental case for building a totally new 250mph UK High Speed Rail (HSR) network serving only major cities and "by-passing" 42% of the business population on the route. There is a case to progressively enhance the existing rail routes to form a reliable and comfortable 125-140 mph High Speed Rail network serving all areas of the UK.

1.2  The HS2 passenger forecasts are over estimated due to DfT Webtag guidance not being up to date and HS2 Ltd having ignored the guidance concerning growth capping. HS2 HSR proposals do not provide an effective solution to the increase in passenger demand forecast or flexibility in the event the demand predications are not correct.

1.3  There are alternative HSR solutions that provide sufficient capacity for the next 40+ years. The alternatives would cost about £27 billion less than the HS2 Y scheme leaving money to be spent on transport projects targeted to enhance economic regeneration.

1.4  Demand reduction on existing rail lines caused by HS2 will result in the need for increased fares, subsidy or the reduction of services. Splitting passengers and fare revenue between two systems will create inefficiencies, raise costs and complicate transport transfers.

1.5  HS2 Ltd. forecast that when complete 43,000 passengers/day will travel between Scotland and London on HS2, more than are forecast to travel to/from Birmingham—forecasts confirmed by HS2 Ltd and the DfT.[15] The HS2 Y scheme utilises all available train slots on the new track but provides just 18 trains/day in each direction to and from Scotland about a third of the number required to meet the demand predicted


2.1  High Speed Rail in the UK has become synonymous with the current HS2 proposals, Arguments against HS2 are its very high cost, the impact on the 350+ mile route to the local environment, its limited effectiveness in improving inter urban connectivity. These problems do not exist with other HSR solutions.

2.2  As well as highlighting the errors and omissions in the HS2 analysis this paper compares the 225-250mph HS2 proposals with an alternative scheme of improvements, on the existing lines, raising train speeds above 125mph, the EU definition of HSR, which increase capacity and reduce journey times.


3.1  HS2 Ltd have reduced the "HS2 to West Midlands" passenger demand forecasts by about 40%, but they are still based on 1990s long distance elasticities. The DfT know that there are errors in the forecasts—quote "We agree that the PDFH 4.1 recommendations produced infeasibly large elasticities". New analyses by DfT researchers and a revised version of the DfT guidance has not been approved for use by the Secretary of State.[16] Current DfT guidance requires promoters to carry out sensitivities with specific elasticity caps, these have not been carried out on HS2.

3.2  Although WebTAG (Unit 3.13.1) specifies that rail demand forecasts should be capped at 2026 predicted levels HS2 Ltd initially allowed growth to continue until 2031, as the economic case has collapsed they have extended the growth to 2043 twice the period specified in the DfT guidance.

3.3  The principle economic benefits of ultra fast 250 mph rail is calculated to be business user time saved and assumes business users are not able to work on trains. The DfT have accepted that this assumption is wrong but say that because people can not work on overcrowded trains the overcrowding benefits should be higher. This will have the effect of substantially reducing the benefits of HS2 while increasing the calculated benefits of the alternative 125-140 mph HSR improvement schemes on existing lines.

3.4  The value of business user time saved is based on 2002 users socio economic profiles and salaries that are increased over the evaluation period to 2086 at about 2%/year (real GDP/capita growth) above inflation. The 2002 DfT analysis suggests that only the highest 10% of earners used trains for business travel, HS2 Ltd forecasts assume this in-equality will continue even though they anticipate a tripling of business rail travel on the routes.[17]

3.5  Each of the four flaws (elasticities, growth capping, time saving and value of time) if corrected would bring the already low cost benefit ration of 1.6 nearer to 1, the point at which there is no benefit in doing the project. Combined they bring the NBR below 1, the project actually destroys value. In addition the HS2 comparison is made against an out of date "do minimum case" HS2 are claiming benefits for an improved frequency of trains that has already occurred on the West Coast Main Line.

3.6  The prescriptive nature of DfT Webtag guidance is in part to ensure that projects are evaluated on an equal basis, the extent of these flaws undermine this intent. All local, regional and inter regional transport projects would have substantially improved economics if 2026 growth capping was not applied, the other issues would impact projects in different ways.


4.1  In 2010 2,200 passengers/day travelled by rail to or from Scotland to or from London,[18] and 13,500 travelled by air to/from Glasgow/Edinburgh to/from all five London airports.[19] Air travel has declined 20% since 2005 however HS2 Ltd predict that when HS2 is extended to Glasgow it will transport 43,000 passengers/day to or from London. The Y scheme schedules show 18 trips/day to Scotland and utilises all the trains slots, 18/hour, available on the new line.

4.2  This shows that HS2 is not a viable solution for the demand predicted, while the high speed line will probably never be extended to Scotland if the demand predicted for Scotland and the North East is to be met services to Birmingham, Leeds, or Manchester would need to be reduced.

4.3  The DfT have published limited information about three alternative schemes to HS2, non of them are optimal however they show clearly that there are better solutions to the need for increased capacity.[20] Their Scenario B scheme shows load factors of less than 51% can be achieved in 2043 on the existing routes, whereas HS2 to West Midland would have a load factor of 58% at this time.


5.1  Because the DfT benefits calculations are weighted heavily towards business time saving, rather than the provision of transport capacity where it is needed, and because it is sub optimal the predicted Net Benefit Ratio (NBR) for the DfTs Scenarios B scheme is 1.4, slightly below that predicted for the HS2 to West Midlands scheme.

5.2  The cost estimates for Scenario B includes projects that are already in the do minimum case, provide capacity that is not required and projects that would be required even if HS2 proceeded. The estimates for rolling stock and operating costs in the alternative schemes are also inflated to allow for contingencies as if they were un-proven technology trains.

5.3  The alternative schemes need to be compared with the HS2 Y scheme as they provide sufficient capacity to deal with all three North-South routes for the next 40-50 years not just the West Coast Mainline.

5.4  Based on the work carried out by Atkins for the DfT it is possible to develop a more optimal "Alternative scheme" that would meet the predicted demand at lower load factors than the HS2 Y scheme. This scheme can be developed for an infrastructure cost of about £8.3 billion, a day one rolling stock cost of about £1.7 billion and an initial annual operating cost of £0.28 billion.[21] This compares with the HS2Y scheme having an infrastructure cost of £32.1 billion, rolling stock cost of £5.3 billion and annual operating cost of £1.1 billion.

5.5  As well as releasing £27 billion of investment funds for transport or other projects, with higher NBR returns and targeted specifically to support economic development, the Alternative scheme will need less ongoing subsidy or could be run with lower fares.

5.6  If the time saving predicted by HS2 Ltd is achievable, if the demand does exist, if it were true that business user can not work on trains and that their value of time does increase to £180/hour (un-inflated 2010 £s) by 2086 then HS2 is forecast to add £19.3 billion in journey time savings.

5.7  HS2 Ltd also claim that it will create about £4.1 billion in reliability saving. It is assumed that HS2 trains on the HSR track will on average be 6 seconds late versus 2-5 mins for conventional trains and that the value of time associated with trains being late is three times the normal rate. There is no technical basis for these assumptions, indeed the technical experts have doubts about the ability to run 18 trains/hour let alone do so with only an average six second delay. The value figure is acknowledged as a "perception of value" it does not translate to individual or community benefit but is included in the HS2 benefit calculation.[22]

5.8  Assuming the HS2 analysis were correct Table 1 provides Present Value and the Net Benefit Ratio calculations for HS2 and the Alternative of substantial improvement to the existing lines.[23]

Table 1

HS2 phase 1
Consumer benefits£6.40 £13.10£5.57
Business benefits£11.10 £25.20£5.83
Other benefits£0.40 £1.70£0.00
Tax reduction-£1.10 -£2.70-£0.92
Revenue£13.70£27.20 £9.49
Capital cost£17.80 £30.40£6.95
Operating cost£6.20 £13.90£5.06
Net Benefit Ratio (NBR)1.631067961 2.181286554.149984684
Wider economic benefits£4.00 £6.30Not calculated
Funds available for investment elsewhere £17.90£0.00£27.50

5.9  The Alternative meets the demand required, it can be carried out in stages and optimised to meet actual demand, it leaves £27 billion of funds to invest in public transport and urban roads de congestion projects that will have NBRs in excess of four. The Alternative with an estimated NBR over four is substantially better use of public funds.

5.10  If current evidence is used for the demand elasticities and value of time saving, and HS2 reliability assumptions were realistic, HS2 economics become substantially worse, however due to the impact of the DfT suggested transfer of value from time saving to overcrowding the Alternative scheme could have an NBR above six.


6.1  Estimates of wider economic benefits are provided for HS2 but have not been published for the alternative schemes. With the reduction in demand on the existing lines future services will require subsidy. This subsidy maybe included in the HS2 analysis but in 20 years time decisions will be based on the usage of the lines and, other than commuter lines, heavily subsidised services will probably be cut. If long distance travellers move to HS2 as predicted, mid to long distance connectivity for those not living in the major cities will be reduced.

6.2  HS2 Ltd predict that 42% of the schemes economic benefits will flow to London and the South East. In her evidence to the Select Committee the Rt Hon.Theresa Villiers cited Cross Rail as an example of a transport scheme predicted to add £50 billion to GDP, it is now clear that this number is based on TfL assumptions and is not in accordance with DfT guidance. DfT analysis predicts the impact of the £16 billion scheme will be between £7-18 billion "total" improvement in GDP[24] Economic regeneration should not just be about London, commuter transport in regional urban conurbations and the improvement of interconnectivity between all major UK locations will provide greater general economic benefit.

6.3  Based on Office of National Statistics data London is the most economically productive location in the UK but it has the lowest level of business journeys (any length including within London, and by any measure eg /population,/employment,/GVA) of any area,. In contrast the West Midlands has the highest number of business journeys but has one of the lowest rates of GVA/capita, there is no evidence to suggest that increased numbers of business journeys translate to improved economic development.[25]

6.4  Developing calculations of wider economic benefits or GDP benefit based on differing local assumptions and unproven methodology may lead to seriously flawed conclusions. There is conflicting evidence and insufficient academic understanding of the modelling and analysis of these benefits and dis-benefits to expect that including them will improve decision making.


7.1  Computer output of economics does not explain the detailed impact on individuals and communities of changes in transport services. We look at a few examples.

7.2  The West Midlands is currently served by 11 major stations with direct access to London. These are shown with their catchment areas as short black arrows on the map. Although direct services to these stations may continue the frequency of service will reduce and journey times will be longer. There are also three other significant rail catchments that go via either Birmingham New Street or south via Newport.

7.3  HS2 Ltd assume that about 75%, of the West Midlands population travelling to London will travel to Birmingham to join HS2. HS2 trains will go from a new station at Curzon street or a new parkway station, those that want to join HS2 by train will need to change station with a 10-15 min walk or bus transfer. If the 3.6 million people who live outside of the Birmingham catchment travel by car to the HS2 stations this will add to the road congestion that already exists in Birmingham. Given that people will be substituting a 1 hour 40 mins train journey, where they can read, relax or work, for a combination of rail, car, bus, walking and waiting time, it is doubtful it will be more productive, even if it is marginally faster. The details of the HS2 analysis released 13 April 2011 show that for commuters, journey time will actually increase.[26]

7.4  Apart from those directly impacted by the HS2 route the West Midlands maybe the region with that will suffer most from HS2. Further North the impact of stopping at only a few major stations or parkways is less severe although our analysis shows that HS2 "by-passes" about 42% of people living on the routes.

7.5  The HS2 Y service planned for Wigan is similar to the current service, one direct train/ hour through the day, two at peak times, the service will be faster. The capacity of each train will be similar to those running at the time on the West Coast Main Line. However as the HS2 train to Wigan will be the only HS2 train serving Scotland it will be crowded. There is not capacity for additional trains, as the service becomes too crowded to operate it is probable that the direct fast service to Wigan will cease in favour of through trains to Scotland. While the capacity to run trains on the WCML will exist continued frequent direct trains from Wigan to London will be dependant on there being sufficient demand for the service without the more northerly passengers. It is not clear whether passengers from locations like Carlisle will continue to have a regular direct service to London.

7.6  The HS2 Y scheme does not show any direct trains to Edinburgh although it is possible that hourly trains will alternate between Glasgow and Edinburgh.[27] Overcrowding will increase as demand builds up, in the event the HSR line is built to Glasgow then longer trains can be run but a more frequent service is not possible unless services to Birmingham, Leeds or Manchester are reduced. The direct Edinburgh service on the ECML will presumably continue although if the demand reduces due to travellers favouring HS2 it is possible that frequency will reduce or fares increase to limit the subsidy required.

7.7  We have asked both the DfT and HS2 Ltd how HS2 will provide an adequate service to Scotland to meet their demand forecast and what they believe will be the load factors on the service in 2033 both before and after the Y scheme is completed. They are not able to answer these questions.

7.8  We understand that the final report on "A High Speed Rail Network Strategy for Britain" published by Greengauge 21 (23 October 2009) by SYSTRA and MVA (two internationally recognised rail consultancies) advised that the maximum number of trains that could run at 225 mph was 17/hour at peak times 14/hour on average through the day. (the report was published on the Greegauge 21 website but has been removed).[28] We understand that HS2 Ltd are aware of the recommendation but are hopeful that new technology (braking and signalling) will enable the 18/hr peak and 16/hr average that they have assumed. They have however costed the rolling stock as off the shelf current technology HSR trains. In the event only 14 trains/hour can be run there will be little point in extending the service to both Manchester and Leeds as the section of line into London will not be able to cope with the number of trains required.


8.1  Neither the DfT or HS2 Ltd claim that HS2 will reduce emissions although if the shorter rail journeys reduce air journeys by 11,415/day, which is the assumption in the Y scheme, then the extra emissions caused by the increased speed are offset by the flight reductions. An alternative 125 mph scheme produces less direct emissions therefore has the same overall emissions without the need to reduce air flights, although the analysis shows a reduction in air flights will occur anyway. Assuming the Governments recently proposed 2030 floor price of £30/tonne, the CO2 emitted by HS2 or the Alternative equates to a cost of £4,000/day or £100 million (un-discounted) over the 60 year evaluation period.

8.2  It is possible to make assumptions about energy fuel mix, passenger demand forecasts and technology improvement to sway the argument either for or against HS2 but realistically the difference is minimal neither scheme makes a significant reduction in emissions. It would be far more productive both economically and environmentally to invest £100 million in carbon reduction schemes in developing countries or UK domestic insulation schemes than to try and reduce domestic flights between London and Scotland, beyond that which is already occurring, by investment in a new 225-250 mph rail system.


9.1  HS2 Ltd predict that 4,700 houses will be impacted by the noise from HS2 to West Midlands with 150 of them requiring sound insulation and noise protection,[29] scaling up for HS2 Y about 10,000 homes may be adversely impacted in total. If the loss of property value and amenity, particularly the use of gardens and external areas, devalues house by 10-15% then the total impact could be about £500 million. This level of impact is not in the HS2 Ltd evaluation, it depends on the compensation scheme whether this becomes a cost to Government or whether private individuals suffer this as a personal loss.


10.1  If, due to terrorism or mechanical failure, a train were to derail at speed onto the second line it is unlikely oncoming trains would be able to stop in time to avoid a crash. Apparently for HS2 no time has been allowed for passenger security checks to take place. Impact mitigation is best achieved by multiple transport systems and limiting damage as a result of fire, explosion or systems sabotage. The high profile nature and single route aspect of HS2 combined with the number of tunnels, extreme speed and frequency of trains are major concerns with regard to security and the impact of any failure.


11.1  Discussion about UK strategic transport needs has been been polarised by the HS2 proposals. HS2 Ltd and the DfT have substantially reduced their passenger demand forecast, accepted that the value of time savings from HSR are over stated and the HS2 economics show, at best, a low return.

11.2  Rather than conclude that the UK can not afford an improved HSR network it is time to promote lower cost HSR projects that can both add the required capacity to the UK rail system and improve, rather than fragment, inter urban connectivity. The money saved by this approach can be invested in other public and private transport improvements particularly urban congestion and strategic road bottlenecks.


The DfT and HS2 Ltd have been helpful in the provision of information to enable an evaluation of the proposals. HS2 Ltd issued further detailed information on the HS2 Y scheme on the 13 April 2011 which we have taken into account in our submission. We have requested further information on the alternative schemes from the DfT but do not anticipate receiving this prior to 16 May 2011.

May 2011

15   HS2 Ltd Demand and Appraisal Report March 2010 Back

16   DfT Webtag guidance 3.15.4 in DRAFT Back

17   DfT Webtag guidance 3.5.6 HS2 Ltd Model Development & Baseline Report April 2011 Back

18   Office of the Rail Regulator Regional Trends Back

19   Civil Aviation Authority Statistics Back

20   DfT Strategic Alternatives to the proposed HS2 Y network Back

21   Based on the Atkins information provided. Further detail has been requested from the DfT by FOI request. Back

22   HS2 Ltd Demand Model Analysis Feb 2010. HS2 Ltd Valuing the benefits of Hs2 April 2011 Back

23   DfT HS2 Ltd Economic case for HS2 Feb 2011. DfT Back

24   Cross Rail Business case July 2010 TfL, Cross Rail, Mayor of London, DfT Back

25   Office of National Statistics accessed via popanalyser.com Back

26   HS2 Ltd /www.hs2.org.uk/supporting-documents-temp Back

27   DfT Economic case for HS2 Back

28   MVA Consultancy www.mvaconsultancy.com/news/2009/high_speed_rail.html Back

29   HS2 Ltd Appraisal of Sustainability presentation March 2011 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011