High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Mr and Mrs S Loosley (HSR 194)

I am writing to register our vehement opposition to the multi-billion-pound proposed HS2 high speed rail link between London and Birmingham.

Our objections are many, but essentially come down to: prohibitive and irresponsible cost; the availability of less expensive alternatives; the wildly optimistic predictions used to calculate the demand for the new service, which brings the whole project into question; and the inexcusable damage it would do to areas of outstanding natural beauty—an unwelcome legacy that has not been factored in.

I would like you to register our opposition to the plans, on the following 10-point basis:

1.  It would represent a ridiculously enormous outlay at a time when our country's economic frailty is likely to last for years. According to HS2 Ltd (the company the government set up to bring the HS2 line into being) the cost of a railway between Birmingham and London (including the trains) would be £25.5 billion. To take HS2 all the way to Scotland would mean a total cost of £88 billion. Yet, this figure excludes the additional cost of linking it to Heathrow or HS1 and, of course, the final bill is likely to exceed this proposed budget, as all large public projects tend to do. How on Earth can we afford this? It is an extravagant and irresponsible use of our national funds. This sense is exacerbated by the predicted revenue for HS2—with it being suggested that it would take an extraordinary stretch of 60 years to even reach E15 billion in revenue. So, it would probably take half a century to even claw back half of the outlay of the London-Birmingham project.

2.  The wider economic gains are valued by HS2 Ltd at only £3.6 billion over the same 60-year period. Even then, HS2 Ltd is unable to be precise about who would gain and where these benefits would be delivered. A study by Imperial College London shows that overall economic benefits would be negligible and more likely to lead to business re-location than any genuine regeneration.

3.  No consideration appears to have been given to cheaper options. When you consider the enormous rail network already in existence right across the British Isles you wonder why sections of this cannot simply be upgraded to High Speed at a far lower cost. Some sections, such as the West Coast Mainline is already capable of sustaining trains at speeds exceeding 180 mph (which is faster than the designated EU definition of "high speed"). Only financial pressures reduced these speeds to 125 mph. This could be easily rectified.

4.  The main argument for HS2 is for increasing capacity on the rail network. However, HS2 Ltd recently admitted itself that meeting this capacity need could be achieved by simply increasing the capacity available on existing rolling stock and increasing the frequency of service on existing lines. On top of this, the company has based its calculations on the incredible claim that an additional 38,000 passengers per day would use the new line just because it existed. This is surely not credible when existing usage of the West Coast Mainline is just 45,000 per day. In fact, it is a laughable claim.

5.  National statistics show that the UK public's demand to travel has remained static and unchanged since 1995. Yet, somehow, HS2 Ltd has forecast a projected growth in demand of 267% by 2033 (from 45,000 to 145,000 per day). This is very optimistic, to put it politely. Ludicrous, to put it more bluntly.

6.  The number of passengers switching from planes to HS2, according to HS2 Ltd, would only be 3.5nnillion per annum—fewer than 7% of all passengers using HS2 and less than 5% of all passengers using Heathrow Airport. So where's the big switch from aviation?

7.  HS2 Ltd has assumed that time spent on a train is wasted and therefore there is a monetary value assigned to the 20 or so minutes that might be saved for all travellers per journey. In reality most travellers already make good use of time on a train, especially for business purposes—therefore, it is not wasted. Furthermore, the value HS2 Ltd has assigned to that time saved is exaggerated—it is equivalent to the average business traveller earning £70,000 per annum in today's prices, which is hardly realistic. What is more, this whole argument is flimsy when you consider that research has shown that passengers want reliability and value for money much more than high speed.

8.  No value at all appears to have been assigned to the damage to the environment, let alone to the nationally protected Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, that the HS2 preferred route would wreak. Swathes of this treasured AONB would be irrevocably spoilt. We should be protecting the few jewels we have left in this country, not despoiling them. And, what about the money that tourism (both domestic and international) brings into the area because of its status? Surely it is folly to damage one of southern England's main assets? Historic buildings, parklands and countryside would be ripped up, torn down or forever blighted.

9.  In its justification for the need for this particular high speed rail link, HS2 Ltd assumes a worst case scenario for aviation emissions, when the CAA expects aviation emissions to show a significant improvement by 2030. Similarly, if HS2 means domestic flight slots are simply displaced at airports by long haul flights, then HS2 will have in fact triggered an increase in aviation emissions. Hardly "environmentally friendly".

10.  Similarly, the carbon emissions generated by the construction would be massive, and the energy used by high speed trains will be at least double that of existing inter-city electric trains and could end up using more than four times the energy.

In conclusion, I would like to quote Andrew Gilligan from an article in the Daily Telegraph, who neatly summed up the situation like this: "The burning need in public transport is not for sexy, pointy-nosed high speed trains whose economics simply don't stack up. It's for boring unglamorous improvements to the services we actually use."

We do not object to high speed rail travel, just to this unnecessary and irresponsible HS2 project, which we want to see cancelled.

June 2011

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011