High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Dr. Moshe Givoni and Professor David Banister, Transport Studies Unit, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford (HSR 189)


We welcome this opportunity to submit evidence to the Transport Committee's review into the Strategic Case for HSR, as all forms of transport must be seen as part of an integrated strategy that facilitates door to door travel in reasonable time and to a high quality. This is one reason why the car is seen to be an attractive option, as it provides such a service. It is not just the HSR element of a journey, but the means by which it allows people to respond positively to a high quality door to door experience, and so the total travel time should be a key consideration and not just the HS element of that journey. Access to and from the HS rail station is a key element in the journey. Secondly, HSR is often marketed in terms of its maximum speed, not even its average speed, and when the access and egress times are also considered, this means that total door to door travel time may bear little relationship to the maximum speed. Here we argue for the notion of reasonable travel times (and speeds), as this balances the desire among some for high speed with the costs (financial and environmental) of providing such a service. In this short submission we make a series of substantive points, together with a clear conclusion on the need to review HSR as part of a coherent passenger transport strategy that covers all modes of transport including the car.


In Europe, HSR has increased its share of rail travel from 15.9% of rail passenger-km in 2000 to 23.9% in 2008 (and 62% in France). Yet, despite this rail renaissance, passenger rail accounts for only 6.3% of all passenger-kms (9.8% in France) down from 6.6% in the EU27 countries in 1995. Furthermore, while the HSR network has more than doubled in length between 1995 and 2008, the railway network as a whole lost about 6% of its route km in that period, and HSR lines still represent only 3% of the European rail network in 2008.[453] In the UK, demand for rail services is at record high, but railway's mode share has not changed dramatically and is still relatively minor. HSR development in the UK would probably result in similar trends as seen across Europe, and this limits the benefits of HSR.

In the current transport paradigm, travel time is considered to be "wasted time" and a disutility. This means that travel time needs to be minimised and consequently speeds need to be increased, and this argument has been central to investment in HSR. "Time is money" and therefore "faster is better" is a central concept in transport planning. It is therefore not surprising that "speed" gets the headlines in the HSR development discussion, but even the concept of "speed" is open to discussion (Banister, 2011).

The "speed" that dominates the debate is the maximum operating speed, but the travel times that passengers experience are a factor of the average-speed, of which the maximum operating speed is only one factor (Givoni and Banister, 2011). The number of stops on the HSR line and the percentage of the line on which maximum speed can be achieved are both crucial factors. Each additional stop (station) can "cost" 5-10 minutes and often trains must "slow-down" through cities, even if they are not stopping there. While maximum speed of 350kph is considered the new standard for HSR, most HSR services are provided at a much lower average speed, and the world's most successful HSR line in terms of passengers carried, between Tokyo and Osaka in Japan operates at an average speed of less than 240 kph (for the fastest service).[454]

Passengers are not necessarily primarily concerned with the station-to-station travel time when deciding on their mode choice. Door-to-door travel time is of importance, together with the convenience and reliability (and the cost) of the entire chain of journeys from the beginning to end of a trip. The characteristics of the HSR favour a minimum number of intermediate stops, and this factor becomes more important with increases in the designed maximum operating speed (as the costs of additional stops and deviation from the shortest start-to-end route will increase time more than proportionally). This means that HSR, like with air travel, results in most of the travel time (and effort) being spent on getting to and from the HSR station, and this constitutes the bulk of the journey travel time. Hence this submission questions the primary concern of a National Strategy that is only concerned with the "High Speed" element of the total journey, the impacts on the "Lower Speed" network that is already well established, the environment, the priorities for evaluation and the role of air transport as a complementary rather than a competitive part of the Strategy.


HSR travel is not attractive for many travellers, despite its faster maximum speed compared to other modes, especially when the origin and/or the destination are not close to an HSR station. In addition, any time savings on the rail journey from the high speed section might be lost as a result of the additional time taken for access and/or egress journeys to/from the HSR station. Faster rail services often result in shorter travel times (in absolute terms and in comparison with other alternatives) on only a few selected corridors, and only for certain locations within them. As the high speed network is often sparse, the total travel journey distance may be considerably increased when using HSR, and this again reduces its attractiveness.

Given the choice between time spent on the train and on getting to it, it is likely that passengers will prefer to reduce access time. These comments have important implications not only for the number of stations on a given HSR line, but also for their location, which should be accessible to the rest of the transport network and especially to the urban (public) transport network, the conventional rail network, the main airports, and to car drivers.

The changing (normative) definition of what speed is "high-speed" in rail operation has become inconsistent. The European Commission official definition (used to collect statistics on HSR operation), seems a reasonable one as it defines the operating speed as being in excess of 200 kph. In China, which is in the midst of constructing the world's largest HSR network (even when considering Europe as one country), the government has ordered the maximum operating speed to be cut to 300 kph, from 350 kph. But the speed that really counts is the average speed on the total journey. More important than average speed is the journey reliability, comfort, security and safety and service frequency, all of which make up the journey experience. Achieving high quality values for these components of a journey that include a rail segment might often mean compromising on the maximum speed achieved just over one part of that door-to-door journey.


Improving journey time does not necessarily translate to improving connectivity, and therefore does not necessarily improve accessibility. The nature of HSR means that the reduction in travel time it offers can play important element in improving accessibility, but this also depends on the frequency of service and its integration with the rest of the transport network, and especially the rail network.

Adopting an HSR technology whereby the HSR can also use the conventional rail network is an important condition, but not a sufficient one, as many (regional) lines would still not be served by HSR. Given the limited number of HSR stations, it is crucial for these stations to be central nodes on the conventional rail network, to allow passengers from a much larger catchment area to benefit from HSR services. The difficulty and inconvenience associated with the need to transfer between modes of transport must be fully acknowledged, and it is possible that current attempts to monetize this inconvenience may underestimate its importance.[455]

When travel time and connectivity are central objectives in rail planning there is a high value for a through station, as opposed to an end of the line station on a spur/branch from the main line. The nature of through stations means higher frequency of service (in theory as all trains on the line pass the station). This is crucial in the case of HSR as it will also mean higher demand, which is a necessary condition for HSR services.[456]

HSR in the UK will have substantial effect on the geography. In many respects it will "shrink" it, but for many (more) places it will expand the UK. HSR might turn the geography of the UK upside down, with cities closer to London by distance being further from it in rail travel time and convenience aspects.[457] This is likely to have adverse socio-economic implications for such places as proximity to London has proven to be critical[458] and is likely to impact on transport demandif accessibility to London is higher for places farther away. Overall, it might result in more travel and even more travel by car depending on the reduction in the level and quality of rail transport on the conventional rail network, and the extent to which HSR stations might be more accessible by car than by other modes.


Rail and HSR are often considered as one mode of transport from an overall public policy perspective. Yet, the promotion of HSR is often at the expense, and not in addition, to other rail initiatives. The financial discussion surrounding HSR rail development is based on the construction costs, while the substantial operational and maintenance costs, which may not be covered by the revenues, are not explicitly accounted for.

This situation can result in direct competition for public funds and policy attention between the high-speed and conventional rail networks and services. Most of the passengers transferring to HSR from other modes are likely to have used conventional rail services before. In such a competitive situation, the HSR investment is likely to take preference over other rail investments. This can result in deterioration of conventional rail services, and may in turn reduce the overall viability of rail transport across a country or region, even if HSR gains significant market share on the few city-pairs it services. Such effects can be seen in France and Spain.

The existing rail network is already well established and it does not need to be started from scratch, as would be the case with HSR. The real benefits for HSR would be when a network is established so that there are many routes that could be used, and such a network has only really been achieved in France, Spain and Japan, and now China. But the funding requirements are substantial. Improving the quality and capacity of existing rail may make better use of available resources. In the UK there is little potential for a HSR network, as the population centres and the distances are not really suitable for HSR operations. Shifting the focus away from speed to the other elements is key for rail to gain market share from other modes.


The emission of CO2 from the construction and operation of HST between London and Manchester is estimated to total 14-20Mt CO2 for 40 years, including 11-18 MtCO2 related to the operation of the HST services on the route (Miyoshi and Givoni, 2011). The analysis shows that overall CO2 reduction is relatively small at about 90,000 t CO2 per annum in 2033, which is less than 0.02% of the total UK domestic emissions in 2007. This is mainly because modal shift from air and road is relatively small on the London-Manchester route, and the UK electricity used to power rail transport relies heavily on non-renewable energy sources.[459] If the UK electricity generation mix does not improve in the future, and continue to rely on coal and oil, an additional 1.1 Mt CO2 will be generated by HST over 40 years. It is clear that energy efficiency improvement and attracting demand from car and air are important determinants of the environmental benefit from HST. Overall, the Miyoshi and Givoni (2011) analysis suggests that for meeting the UK stringent carbon emission reduction targets, HST development does not offer much. The main justification for the construction of HST in the UK is to increase rail capacity and avoid congestion on the rail network, and not environmental benefits.

Rail emissions accounted for only 0.4 % of the total UK domestic CO2 emissions in 2007. The total CO2 emission from car in the same year was 74.4 MtCO2, from rail 2.2 MtCO2 and from air 2.3 MtCO2.[460] The UK Government ambition carbon emission reduction target suggests mode substitution must play a role in achieving this, but the development of HST it appears might not contribute substantially in this respect. In the current financial climate, investments in HSR will almost sure result in a postponement of the plans for electrifying the UK conventional rail network (with some projects already cancelled), and will likely delay environmental benefits.[461]


The main rationale for the development of HSR in Japan and France was to increase capacity, not reduce travel time. Likewise, the need for HSR in the UK arises from the realization that the main rail corridors on the conventional network are near capacity and there is a need, if rail is to provide a greater role in providing mobility needs, to expand capacity. However, this initial capacity increase motivation, objective is quickly forgotten and travel time (savings) "calculations" overtake capacity (enhancement) "calculations" in the evaluation of HSR. At the same time, the cost of higher speeds in terms of energy consumption and CO2 emissions are not "calculated" at all.

Even the overriding focus on travel time savings (TTS) should be questioned. Up to 80% of the user benefits come from TTS and the strong embedded assumption is that travel time is "wasted time". The calculations are based on well established (although questionable) values of time. There is a new literature that questions the notions of how time is actually used when travelling, and the particular benefits of substantial amounts of time spent within a train. Some of this research is empirical (Jain and Lyons, 2007; Metz, 2008; Watts and Urry, 2008), looking at how people read, use computers, communicate, and work - this means that this time is not "wasted". Secondly more theoretical research examines travel time as a social construct, the quality of which should be maximised and more highly valued (Cresswell, 2006 and 2010). There needs to be a greater understanding of how people use and experience travel time, as it is not just a matter of time and speed that determine the value of travel, but important personal (emotional, relational and experiential factors), cultural (societal factors) and social factors that are also instrumental in everyday decisions about travel (Banister, 2011).


The railways, including HSR, have a strategic role to play in the UK's air transport policy. It is therefore surprising that the current debate only focuses on connection (or not) to Heathrow airport without due consideration for the entire UK air transport system and policy. Furthermore, in parallel to the Government consultation on HS2, another consultation is taking place on a "sustainable framework for UK aviation", which makes no explicit reference to HSR, but does mention the Government's decision to refuse permission for an additional runway at any of London's major airports. Given the nature of HSR (planning and operation) and the Government's general transport objectives and that for air transport, the two consultations should be considered together, as part of a National Transport Strategy.

With the issue of additional runway capacity in the South East still open, there is a possibility that (a future) Government would make a decision to expand an airport other than Heathrow (eg Stansted airport), and this would change the location of London's and the UK's future main (hub) airport. This would mean that Heathrow would remain with an expensive connection to HS2 but no need for it. Consequently, it is likely that current decisions on HS2 will dictate the UK air transport policy in the South East and therefore the rest of the country.[462] HSR development decisions are likely to lock-in UK's air transport policy for decades, and this decision will be taken before air transport policy is decided. Therefore the two must be considered together.

At present, the voice of the UK air transport industry is relatively silent in the public HS2 debate and on the issue of a possible connection to Heathrow. This strategy might be due to the industry's priority on promoting additional runways as solution to the lack of airport capacity, but in any case the opinion of the industry must be sought and included in such an important debate on HSR Strategy.

The need and importance of a direct rail (and HSR) connection to Heathrow airport has been explained in past submissions.[463] Such a connection will require substantial investment, but is expected to be beneficial. Yet, the emerging solution of a "loop" or a "spur" is likely to result in perhaps lower cost but very likely with no substantial benefits. A better approach would be to make an informed decision on whether to include Heathrow in HS2 via a station on the line, or not include it at all. We recommend the former.[464]


Embarking on construction of new HSR lines that strive to set new standards for speed may have a series of important implications:

(a)  It may reduce the role of rail transport within a national perspective, even if absolute number of passengers continues to increase.

(b)  There is a risk that efforts to develop new HSR services will reinforce current trends, where HSR gains an increasing market share, but the share of rail overall remains largely unchanged or declines.

(c)  From a spatial perspective, many more "places" will see rail travel diminish in attractiveness as compared with those seeing it improving. Thus, overall HSR will reduce connectivity, especially for rail transport and therefore accessibility. The discussion must give due consideration to the regional and wider spatial effect of developing HSR.

(d)  The environmental case for additional speed (and noise) should be set against the greater benefits from lower speed rail travel on a more extensive network.

(e)  Funding for HSR should not come at the expense of funding other rail projects, and the alternatives should all be seen as part of an overall rail strategy that in turn is consistent with a National Transport Strategy.

(f)  The attraction of ever greater speed for part of any journey needs to be set against the additional costs of access and egress, the need for understanding the total journey experience, and the ways in which passengers use time spent travelling.

(g)   If increasing rail capacity is the motivation for HSR development, then the best value for money alternative for increasing capacity, and not reducing travel time, should be adopted. Currently, there is no comparison between alternatives in terms of the capacity they provide.

(h)  HSR must be developed in full integration with other current and future transport infrastructure projects and transport policies. This approach will ensure HSR contributes to an integrated transport system and not to further fragment it. Current plans partially acknowledge the need for integration, but they have not been thought through and are likely to prove costly and probably ineffective.

The HSR debate seems to be led by engineering and not planning objectives and by financial and not economic considerations.

16 June 2011


Banister, D (2011) The Trilogy of Distance, Speed and Time, Journal of Transport Geography 19(4): 950-959.

Cresswell, T (2006) On the Move: Mobility in the Western World London: Routledge.

Cresswell, T (2010) Towards a politics of mobility, Environment and Planning D 28(1): 17-31.

Givoni, M and Banister, D (2011) Speed—the less important element in High-Speed Train. Viewpoint point submitted for the Journal of Transport Geography.

Givoni, M, Brand, C and Watkiss, P (2009) Are railways "climate friendly", Built Environment 35(1): 70-86.

Jain J and Lyons G (2007) The gift of travel time. Journal of Transport Geography 16(1): 81-89.

Martínez Sánchez-Mateos, H S and Givoni, M (2010) The accessibility impact of a new High-speed Rail line in the UK—a preliminary analysis of winners and losers. Paper presented at the 50 ERSA conference, 19-23 August, Jönköping, Sweden.

Metz, D (2008) The myth of travel time saving, Transport Reviews 28(3): 321-336.

Miyoshi C and Givoni M (2011) The environmental case for high speed train in the UK: examining the London-Manchester route. Paper submitted for publication in International Journal of Sustainable Transport.

Watts, L and Urry, J (2008) Moving methods, travelling times. Environment and Planning D 26(6): 860-874.

453   European Commission (2010) Energy and Transport in Figures, EC. Back

454   The world record for average speed of a commercial HSR service is 313kph, held by a non-stop service between Wuhan and Guangzhou in China (2009). Since then the speed on this route was reduced and a station added, reducing the average speed. Before that a French TGV service held the record with an average speed of 279 kph. Back

455   Current HS2 plans suggest a new HSR station will be built in Birmingham city centre, only several hundred meters from, arguably, the most central station on the conventional rail network, Birmingham New Street. New Street station is currently being redeveloped to create a "transport hub for Birmingham and the West Midlands". Back

456   The planned HSR station in Birmingham is on a spur from the London-Manchester line. This means many of the London-Manchester (and Scotland) HSR services will bypass Birmingham, and Birmingham city centre would have much lower frequency of services than otherwise to the rest of the HS2 cities. If services from London to the North stop at Birmingham city centre, this will entail considerable travel time penalty (and the need to "turn" the train). Only recently, the city centre railway station in Antwerp, Belgium, which was on a spur from the line leading from Brussels to the north, turned into a through station to accommodate the new HSR line from Brussels to Amsterdam, a case worth examining in detail in the Birmingham case. Back

457   Martínez Sánchez-Mateos and Givoni (2010) analysed travel time accessibility to London in a study of stations on the conventional network close to London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool (and based on Network Rail proposal for HS2) and concluded that in terms of ranking the cities by travel time before and after HSR development there were substantial changes. At the extreme cases, Buxton and Chinley, close to Manchester, were ranked 114th and 98th respectively in terms of current travel time to London amongst the 114 cities in the sample. With HS2 in place, these cities will see their ranking go up by 79 and 76 places respectively, turning them into one of the closest cities to London. At the same time, Loughborough and Radcliffe which before HS2 were ranked 22nd and 31st amongst the cities in the sample will see their rankings drop by 69 and 72 places respectively. It is clear how HS2 can turn the geography of the UK upside down - cities which are about 100km closer to London will experience longer travel times to it (by rail). Back

458   Leuning T, Swaffield J and Hartwich O M (ed.) (2007) Cities limited. Policy Exchange, London. Back

459   The London-Manchester air travel market is relatively small (eg, 817,000 passengers and 47,000 tonnes CO2 in 2006) compared to the whole London-Scotland air travel market (eg, 8.6 million seats and 0.43Mt CO2 in 2006) (Miyoshi and Givoni, 2011). Back

460   Energy White Paper: Meeting the Energy Challenge, CM7124. Department of Trade and Industry UK, May, 2007. Back

461   Givoni et al (2009) calculated that electrifying the entire UK rail network, to replace all passenger services currently operated by diesel trains with electric trains, would save about 200,000 t CO2 per year, based on 2006 UK electricity energy mix. This will increase to 250,000 t per year in 2020 with the expected changes in the electricity mix. The value of such reduction, over 50 years, is valued at about £300 million in net present value. Back

462   Another overlooked issue is that of Birmingham International airport. Under current HS2 plans this airport will be 40 minutes from London and more accessible to many than Heathrow. Birmingham International airport is not designed and planned to be able to meet this additional demand. Back

463   Givoni M and Banister D (2009) The future of aviation. In House of Commons Transport Committee, The Fututre of Aviation, First report of session 2009-10, Volume II, Oral and Written evidence, EV305-EV310. Back

464   Current HS2 documents suggest that the increase in travel time on the journey between London and Birmingham with a stop at Heathrow would be under two minutes and will add a £2 billion to the cost. A third runway at Heathrow would require a 6th Terminal. Terminal 5 at Heathrow cost £4.3 billion. Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011