High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Supplementary written evidence from Malcolm Griffiths, Bluespace Thinking Ltd. (HSR 15A)


1.1  The HSR Command paper presented to Parliament (March 2010) recommended progressing HS2 based on answers to a number of key questions. There is conflicting evidence for the conclusions, this paper sets out the issues and some of the questions requiring clarification.

Are the Strategic Alternatives to HS2 a better solution to meet the predicted demand?

The Command paper concludes that moderate upgrades to the existing lines cannot meet the projected demand. However the Atkins work on which this conclusion is based suggests that the upgrades can meet the demand. I have requested further information from the DfT to get clarification on which view is correct. The DfT say that they have no details only the Atkins summary reports. The Information Commissioner's Office are currently investigating to see if more information should be made publicly available.

Will reduced rail travel time to London increase economic activity in the regions?

A graph of travel time to London versus economic activity (GVA/head) is used in the Command paper to show that regional economic activity will increase if travel time is reduced. It appears as if the graph is based on selective data, when full UK major conurbation data is used there is not a statistical correlation or any evidence to suggest the assertion is valid.

Are the CO2 emissions from HSR travel a lot less than travel by car?

At the HS2 Consultation exhibitions and in the Command paper a graph of CO2 emissions by air, car and rail is used to demonstrate that HSR produces significantly less CO2/passenger km. This graph and possibly the detailed HS2 assessment of emissions does not take into account the emissions involved in travelling to the HSR stations. It is possible that emissions for many HSR journeys may be very similar to those made by car and significantly greater than by using the existing rail system.


2.1  HS2 Ltd studies, assuming continued mode shift from car and air to rail, predict that demand for long distance rail travel on the HS2 Y routes will increase by 100% (double) by 2043.

2.2  Table 2.4 (p51) of the Command paper sets out the options to increase capacity on the West Coast Main Line. It shows that a mid-scale rail upgrade package would provide a maximum potential capacity increase of about 50%. A new HSR line is predicted to provide a 200% increase. With demand predicted to increase by 100%, one may conclude that a new line is needed.

2.3  However Atkins strategic alternatives reports show that with already planned improvements and the upgrade referred to in the Command paper the capacity would increase from about 88,000 seats/day to 253,500 seats/day, almost a 200% (tripling) increase. The upgrade appears more than adequate to meet the 100% increase in demand.

2.4  The Command paper appears misleading but the numbers can be explained. Assuming the planned improvements go ahead and increase the WCML to about 170,000 seats, increasing this further to 253,500 is about a 50% increase. In the same way the 200% increase from a new HSR line would increase the capacity to 510,000 seats/day. To maintain current "optimal" load factors of about 50% (balancing comfort with cost) 176,000 seats are required, 253,500 seems a few too many, 510,000 would be considerable, very expensive, over capacity.

2.5  The East Coast Main Line and The Midlands Main Line upgrades are more opaque. The Atkins Scenario B schemes increase the capacity so that load factors decline to 43% and 24% respectively. These levels would suggest the upgrades are providing too much capacity to be efficient and that there are probably more optimal solutions.

2.6  The information requested from the DfT is required to establish the cost and benefits of the optimal upgrade schemes for each of the existing lines. It is fundamental to deciding whether HS2 or upgrades to the existing lines are the best solution to increase capacity.


3.1  Section 3 (p55) of the HSR Command paper sets out to make the case that High Speed Rail will support growth in the regions. This assertion is based on a view that there is a statistical relationship between the time taken for rail travel to London and GVA/head. The report states "correlation can be seen between the rail journey time from London of British towns and cities and the value of the goods and services they produce (known as Gross Value Added (GVA) . Their figure 3.2 shows a relationship, for 36 towns, cities and conurbations, suggesting that as journey times to London reduce, GVA/head increases. The correlation (R2) is about 0.4.

3.2  However the locations used include Swindon, Colchester, Torbay, Milton Keynes and Peterborough with populations less than 200,000 people, but exclude Aberdeen, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Swansea and Medway all of which have populations above 200,000. Figure 1 shows the result using the largest conurbations in the UK, all above 200,000 people. The larger (yellow) squares on the graph are the 15 UK conurbations with populations above 400,000. For the full group there is no statistical correlation, for just the larger locations there would be a slight negative relationship, the further away the higher the economic activity but this is not statistically significant or sound. (Note: the longer journey times are capped to air travel times and GVA/head are the latest ONS data)

3.3  The Command paper acknowledges other influences on GVA/head including education and skills. The correlation between qualifications and GVA/head across all UK local authorities is reasonably strong (R2 0.68). Skills (probably derived from education and apprenticeship) are a far greater influence on economic well being than travel time to London.

3.4  It is well known that the South has higher levels of economic activity so it is understandable that proximity to London is thought to impact on GVA/head, however if London data itself is removed there is a reasonably equal distribution of GVA/head across the UK.

3.5  The Command paper includes a sketch showing HS1 domestic HSR services to Medway and Kent. Medway with a population of 250,000 is much larger than Milton Keynes, Swindon or Peterborough the recognised high skills growth areas used in the DfT analysis. Medway's GVA/head is only 63% of the UK average, similar to Greater Manchester North (Greater Manchester South is above average at 109%).

3.6  The latest Office of Rail Regulator's data, with HS1 domestic services operating, shows that from 2008-09 to 2009-10 rail journeys from Kent, including Ebbsfleet and Ashford International, declined by about 5.6%, generally UK rail journeys reduced by less than 1%. Medway's journeys to other regions declined by 8.2% one of the largest falls in the UK.

3.7  There are consultant predictions but little evidence that Medway and Kent's economic activity will increase due to HS1. With jobs being drawn to London, higher fares due to HS1 investment and the reduction in services on the conventional lines it would be unlikely. Conventional rail from Medway to London takes about 45 minutes. If economic activity were correlated to travel time to London it is doubtful Medway would be in the bottom 15% of UK district authorities GVA/head.

3.8  Clarification of the relevance of travel time to London on economic activity is required to decide if the substantial cost of 250mph trains versus upgrades to the existing lines is worth while.


4.1  The Command paper stresses the importance of reducing transport emissions and figure 2.3 p49 provides a comparison of emissions for various modes of transport. The graph shows a single occupant car uses 200 g CO2/km although current DECC emissions data combined with DfT car distance information shows that the figure is currently 175 g CO2/km, this years new car fleet averages 159 g CO2/km.

4.2  Emissions from Eurostar (a surrogate for HS2) are shown at 20 g CO2/km probably due to French supplied nuclear power, there is no emissions figure predicted for HS2. Based on HS2 Ltd energy consumption predictions and current UK electricity generation fuel mix the emissions would be about 40 g CO2/km. Figure 2.3 was used at the HS2 consultation road shows and encourages the conclusion that HSR produces less than 20% of the emissions of average car use. With the more accurate figures above this almost doubles to 40%.

4.3  Of greater concern is that these numbers are for the station to station portion of the journey only and take no account of the travel to the station. Over 12 million people live within 15 miles of Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool the possible locations of the HS2 Y stations. However only 13% 1.5 million actually live within three miles of the centres. Journeys to the stations will be by car, bus, train or taxi and be much further than to the multitude of stations with current direct fast intercity services.

4.4  If someone from Manchester makes separate visits to a typical business or social contact at each of the other locations the total average journey time by car would be about 14.5 hours. The time by train with the current schedule, assuming travel to the station by car, averages about 19.5 hours. This will reduce to 18.5 hours if HS2 is built. If public transport is used to get to the stations the journey times increase considerably.

4.5  Business travellers who use a taxi to get from the station to their visit end location will probably have combined CO2 emissions of the train and taxi similar to those if an average car is used for the entire journey.

4.6  Increasing peak time core city centre road speeds by the provision of improved bus public transport could save two to four minutes on every journey. This would reduce local commuter emissions and reduce the duration of both local and inter city connectivity car journeys. It could also reduce average intercity city rail door to door journey times by four-eight minutes.

4.7  According to the magazine Transport Extra some of the country's leading transport modellers have recently told the DfT that the computer modelling underpinning the Government's high-speed rail plan is inadequate and cannot provide a sound basis for proceeding with the project. As well as questions about journey time savings and mode & station choice it is concerning that HS2 Ltd and the DfT may not have included the CO2 emissions attributable to station access journeys and that the Command paper comparisons are possibly misleading.


5.1  Most of the UK public want Parliament to make the best decisions possible for the economic and social well being of the country. Obtaining clarification of the assertions made in the HSR Command paper will help Parliament make good decisions related to High Speed Rail.

18 August 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011