Written evidence from the North West Transport
Roundtable (HSR 18)|
North West Transport Roundtable welcomes the House of Commons
Transport Committee inquiry because we object to the fact there
were no national consultations on alternative schemes, design
standards or routes for HS2. Options must be fully assessed and
should include examining what could be achieved with the same
investment in the existing rail system and in small measures.
Together they have the potential to deliver benefits more widely
and fairly around the UK than HS2.
advise an ongoing questioning approach to the claims for wider
economic benefits being made for very high speed railway lines
in the UK which assume phenomenal patronage based on an extra-polation
of the high growth in rail journeys of recent yearsdespite
warnings in a Government White Paper of only four years ago that
growth rates are unpredictable due to lifestyle changes.
the UK, very high speed rail can offer users only small time savings
but has the potential to cause detrimental impacts on millions
of passenger journeys, the existing rail system and the environment
and would not reduce CO2 emissions. We point to the
emphasis placed by public transport users on reliability rather
than time savings yet again in the most recent national passenger
support the HoC Transport Committee in its call for a national
transport strategy which will clarify how transport will be delivered
at a sub national level and in a holistic manner now that Regional
Spatial Strategies (and Regional Transport Strategies) have been
believe the findings of SACTRA (the Standing Advisory Committee
on Trunk Road Assessment) in their report "Transport &
the Economy"in relation to new road infrastructureapply
equally to building a super fast strategic rail system. No automatic
assumptions should be made that it would bring huge economic benefits
to certain areas. It could just as easily suck workforces and
investment away (in this case to London). We therefore query claimed
economic benefits for the regions.
emphasis is needed on environmental implications and on environmental
capacity in relation, amongst other things, to parkway rail stations
on Green Belt causing calls for new roads.
Who we are, why we were established and our approach
to influencing policy
The North West Transport Roundtable (NW TAR)
operates under the auspices of the Campaign for Better Transport
(CfBT). We are an umbrella body that promotes sustainable
transport, healthier lives and low carbon lifestyles. The regional
roundtables came into being in the late 1990s to represent the
opinions of organisations and individuals who believe in sustainable
transport and to try to bring about more environmentally friendly
transport and planning policies. We engage only on policy issues
(we are not a direct action organisation) and we do so at a variety
of different levels. Many of our recent outputs are viewable on
our website www.nwtar.org.uk.
Point of clarification
All the specific questions posed by the HoC Transport
Committee for this inquiry refer to HSR (High Speed Rail) and
not to HS2 (High Speed Two) but appear to be primarily about HS2.
For the record, UK law defines the HSR network as consisting of
the existing West Coast, East Coast and Great Western Main Lines
as well as the High Speed One Line (HS1). But these questions
clearly relate to the provision of new ultra high speed capacity.
So, for the purpose of answering this series of questions in an
uncomplicated manner, we answer assuming they are talking about
new strategic rail infrastructure which is additional to/ faster
than the existing high speed system.
Q.1: What are the main arguments for or against
A: The main arguments in favour have been
set out by the UK Government itself, but only in the last two
years. They were initially promulgated latterly under the previous
Government by the previous Secretary of State for Transport, Lord
Adonis, who presented to parliament the 150-page "High Speed
Rail" paper in March 2010 and more recently by the current
Transport Secretary, the Rt. Hon Philip Hammond, M.P., whose department
predicts wider economic benefits for HS2 of around £44 billion.,
plus revenues of £27 billion. and claims strategic journey
times would be "slashed". But, it should be noted,
this approach and these predictions are at odds with the Government's
direction and opinion of only four years ago. The White Paper
"Delivering a Sustainable Railway" of 2007which
looked 30 years aheadruled out a new high speed line due
to the uncertainty of future passenger growth rates and the way
that people will use rail. It said: "In future, when people
have double today's income and half today's carbon footprint,
behaviour patterns may change significantly". NW TAR
aligns itself with this cautious approach. We have adopted a very
questioning attitude to ultra high speed rail in the UK and the
benefits being claimed for it.
In terms of arguments against, in the first instance
we take issue with the modus operandi adopted for HS2. Why were
there no national consultations on alternatives (inc. design standards)
and on routes? The DfT's own WebTAG (Wider Economic Benefits Transport
Appraisal Guidance) calls for a robust examination of possible
alternatives to transport interventions. We share the doubts raised
by leading commentators such as independent rail analyst Christian
Wolmar and Andrew Gilligan of the "Sunday Telegraph".
The latter, in an article on 6 March 2011, describes HS2 passenger
projections as "quite heroic" in view of the
plan to start from day one with 14 trains an hour each way between
London and Birmingham, rising to 18 an hour each way or 342 daily
in each direction. This compares to 10 non-stop TGV trains a day
each way between Paris and each of Lyon, Valence and Avignon on
France's LGV Sud-Est.
Based on HS2's own documentation, the "Telegraph"
calculates that up to 750 trains every day to places not on the
new high speed line would be slowed down or scrapped and almost
40 million passenger journeys a year, on current figures, would
be affected. If rail travel usage rises as expected, the number
deleteriously impacted could grow to 60 million by the time the
line opens in 2026. And time savings would not be as great as
claimed because: (a) the best journey times now are better than
stated and (b) rail connections would be poor. On the second point,
the city centre HS2 stations in both Birmingham and Manchester
would have to be specially built, separate from the existing principal
mainline stations. The article, which also points out that over
70% of any regenerative impacts are forecast for London and not
the regions, goes into much greater detail than has been replicated
here, can be viewed at: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/8364407/High-speed-rail-running-rapidly-right-off-the rails.html.
One of the government's main arguments in favour
of HS2 is time savings but NW TAR would point to the fact that
in survey after survey, public transport users rate reliability
above journey time. Passenger Focus report again in their Spring
2011 newsletter that the latest National Passenger Survey shows
"punctuality is the biggest driver of passenger satisfaction".
The Transport Committee will also be aware of debate amongst
transport planners about the value the transport appraisal system
places on time savings. Many have been calling for some time for
a down-grading in the way time savings are evaluated in cost-benefit
analyses, especially as it has been shown travellers themselves
tend not to notice modest time savings.
In addition, NW TAR have concerns about proposals
for parkway rail stations, which would create massive parking
lots on open countryside and generate new traffic movements and
calls for new/up-graded roads. We question why the government
has opted for such a very high speed system that requires near
straight rail lines with maximum noise and other impacts on communities,
tranquillity, wildlife and landscapes. (Phase 1 alone would damage
10 SSSIs, 50 ancient woodlands and four wildlife reserves). Meanwhile,
it would appear there would be no reduction in CO2
emissions as originally claimed because of the amount of power
demanded by the super-fast trains. We also share the concerns
of many other organisations and individuals that investment in
the existing rail system would be seriously compromised.
Q.2: How does HSR fit with the Government's
transport policy objectives?
(i) HSR is designed to improve inter-urban connectivity.
How does that objective compare in importance to other transport
policy objectives and spending programmes, including those for
the strategic road network?
(ii) Focusing on rail, what would be the implications
of expenditure on HSR on funding for the "classic" network,
for example in relation to investment to increase track and rolling
stock capacity in and around cities?
(iii) What are the implications for domestic aviation?
A: NW TAR, in common with the HoC Transport
Select Committee, finds it difficult to grasp where the government
is headed in terms of transport policy or to understand how policy
will be enacted in an holistic manner at a sub national level.
We note the Committee's report, 'Transport and the Economy' and
its call for a White Paper on transport strategy which would explain
how spending on transport will deliver economic growth and plug
the holes left by the scrapping of Regional Spatial Strategies.
Mechanisms to deliver sustainable transport at the sub-national
level have been removed and we fear that, along with them, so
have many sound ideals and concern for wider environmental impacts.
Following the Comprehensive Spending Review, the go-ahead was
given for a list of road schemes and the "Plan for Growth"
paper launched along with the Budget flagged up a weakening of
the planning system per se and the creation of 21 Enterprise Zones,
all measures which will encourage and increase car travel.
To date the Coalition Government have produced one
Transport White Paper which has two key government objectives.
"Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon", published in January
2011, cites these as: "to help create growth in the economy
and to tackle climate change by cutting carbon emissions"
(Foreword by Norman Baker, MP, Parliamentary
Under Secretary of State at the DfT).
On the first objective, the White Paper says, in
view of the fact that most journeys are short ones, it wants to
make short journeys by public transport more attractive. However,
as explained in response to Q.1, many local rail journeys would
actually suffer if HS2 was built and experience in other countries
where there has been an emphasis on very high speed rail has often
been that the traditional rail system has deteriorated. (France
is a prime example). Consequently, there is the potential for
many local economies to suffer. But, in any event, we would point
to the fact that no detailed comparative work appears to have
been carried out of the alternative of investing the same amount
of money in the existing rail network. It might well prove to
be the case that if there was more electrification, more passing
loops, longer and better quality rolling stock, longer platforms,
high quality stations, line re-openings and spurs, signal and
track upgrades, improved rail freight facilities and better ticketing
systems for passengers that the benefits to the economy would
not only be greater but more fairly distributed across the country.
Re. the second objective. The faster the high speed
trains, the more power they demand and the increase in power required
is exponential. The system envisaged is a very high speed one.
Not only would CO2 emissions not decrease, they could increase
if the projected switch of air passengers from short haul flights
fails to occur or if it does happen and the slots those planes
occupy are taken by longer haul flights. Also, we would draw attention
to the fact that there are no Birmingham-London domestic flights.
Q3: Business Case
(i) How robust are the assumptions and methodologyfor
example on passenger forecasts, modal shifts, fare levels, scheme
costs, economic assumptions (eg about the value of time) and the
impact of lost revenue on the "classic" network?
(ii) What would be the pros and cons of resolving capacity
issues in other ways, for example by upgrading the West Coast
Main Line or building a new conventional line?
(iii) What would be the pros and cons of alternative
means of managing demand for rail travel, for example by price?
(iv) What lessons should the Government learn from
other major transport projects to ensure that any new high speed
lines are built on time and to budget?
A: The assumptions being used make a leap
of faith that rail passenger demand will continue to grow at the
rate it has been doing in recent years. And, just as the original
case for road building had more to do with declamations by political
figures that "the economy needs them", there
appears to be a large element of similar assumptions in respect
of a high speed railway and the effect it might have on the West
and East Midlands and the northern regions. We would point out
that Japan built the world's first high-speed line in the 1960s
but has struggled economically for decades and we would remind
the HoC Transport Committee of the findings of SACTRA (the Standing
Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment) in relation to roads.
In their report "Transport and the Economy", published
in 1998, they made the point that highways work in two directions
(as do railways). SACTRA concluded that providing new highway
infrastructure does not necessarily bring investment to an area,
it can make it easier to out-commute and therefore suck investment
away from a targeted area. The same could apply to HS2 which could
make it easier for people to live in Manchester and Birmingham
and work in London. Effectively, the regions might merely become
dormitory zones for the capital. It also needs to be appreciated
that the cost of the project would fall on the taxpayer but they
would not necessarily benefit in the long term. The high speed
line to the Channel Tunnel which cost taxpayers more than £6bn.
has been sold to a Canadian pension fund on a 30-year lease for
a third of its cost because it has generated insufficient income.
Re. the value of time in the transport appraisal
system. Many experts in the field are now seriously questioning
the current approach to this. At the UK Transport Appraisal Summit
in early April even the key speaker in defence of the New Approach
to Appraisal, independent consultant John Bates, acknow-ledged
there was scope for improving valuations and that transport schemes
fuel land use changes. The leading speaker calling for reform
was David Metz, visiting professor at UCL's Centre for Transport
Studies and a former chief scientist to the DfT. He warned that
faster journeys translate into more longer distance commuting
and consequently pressure for more house building, higher land
value and property prices.
As far as the impact of lost revenue on the "classic"
network is concerned and being able to properly evaluate the pros
and cons of resolving capacity issues in other ways, these matters
must surely be the subject of studies to be funded by government?
Such studies should have been carried out before the route for
HS2 Phase One was announced and before the current nationwide
consultation was launched.
On the matter of managing travel demandbe
it for rail or other modesthere has been much emphasis
in recent years on reducing the need to travel by having sustainable
communities, access for all to fast broadband, making better use
of facilities such as video and telephone conferencing, more home
working and the provision of homes that are better designed to
accommodate home working. The case for these measures has not
altered because there has been a change of government. As to using
price to control demand, we would baulk at this suggestion because
of its implications for social exclusion and the fact it would
work against reducing unemployment. In any event, public transport
fares are too high now.
Rather than concerning itself with getting major
transport infrastructure projects built on time and to budget,
the government should consider instead the benefits to be gleaned
from carrying out a whole series of smaller measures which it
has been shown can cumulatively have considerable effect. In the
recent past the DfT has accepted that this approach can reap widespread
Q.4: The strategic route
(i) The proposed route to the West Midlands has stations
at Euston, Old Oak Common, Birmingham International and Birmingham
Curzon Street. Are these the best possible locations? What criteria
should be used to assess the case for more (or fewer) intermediate
(ii) Which cities should be served by an eventual high
speed network? Is the proposed "Y" configuration the
(iii) Is the Government right to build the network
in stages moving from London northwards?
(iv) The Government proposes a link to HS1 as part
of Phase 1 but a direct link to Heathrow only as part Phase 2.
Are those the right decisions?
A: The five questions under the "strategic
route" heading assume that the case has been made for HS2
and also that the correct route has been chosen for Phase One.
NW TAR do not agree that this is the case.
In addition, we would highlight the point that the
number of stations now proposed for HS2 has the effect of nullifying
one of the Government's key arguments for building it, ie. time
savings. Just as initial claims about reduction in CO2
emissions have proven to be unfounded, we note that claims about
time savings are also constantly being eroded. A stop at Old Oak
Common is regarded as essential by the promoters of the scheme
in order to achieve connections in Greater London, but it would
not be possible to achieve connections in Birmingham or Manchester
city centres because access to New Street and Piccadilly stations
cannot be achieved. In the time that would be lost travelling
between the existing stations and the new ones, all time saved
on the inter-city journey would be lost. Meanwhile, there is a
perverse case being argued for having parkway stations at Birmingham
and Manchester Airports which would involve significant areas
of Green Belt being given over to parking, despite the Government
having declared its determination to protect Green Belt, and despite
the fact that local rail connections between Manchester Airport
and the strategic rail system are very poor and the positioning
of an HS2 station at Manchester Airport would foster calls for
the network of SEMMMS roads to be built (affecting yet more Green
As the current proposals stand, HS2 would not be
accessible to the majority of the communities it passes through.
If there were less, it would be even less accessible. If there
were more, the case for a new high speed rail system effectively
disappears altogether and the discussion might as well be about
building new and improved conventional rail infrastructure which
can be more easily adapted to consider the environment. NW TAR
would welcome more and more detailed discussions about this.
NW TAR calls on the Government, through the Transport
Select Committee, to take a step back and re-assess the whole
case, this time fully factoring in environmental considerations.
Q.5: Economic rebalancing and equity
(i) What evidence is there that HSR will promote economic
regeneration and help bridge the north-south divide?
(ii) To what extent should the shape of the network
be influenced by the desirability of supporting local and regional
(iii) Which locations and socio-economic groups will
benefit from HSR?
(iv) How should the government ensure all major beneficiaries
of HSR (inc. local authorities and business interests) make an
appropriate financial contribution and bear risks appropriately?
Should the Government seek support from the EU's TEN-T programme?
A: The first two economic rebalancing and
equity questions are asked from a positive rather than a neutral
perspective. Instead of only looking for evidence of how HSR will
promote economic regeneration, the Transport Select Committee
would be well advised to also look for evidence of how it might
not. On that front, we would point to Ashford in Kent. It is 38
minutes from central London - the same time distance it is claimed
Birmingham would be from London if HS2 were built. Christian Wolmar
points out that whilst unemployment has come down in Ashford since
the HS1 line opened, it has fallen by less than the Kent, South
Eastern and British average and house prices have risen by less
than the Kent and South Eastern average. He also draws attention
to the Dutch new high speed line rail line that opened last year.
It is failing to attract sufficient patronage due to high fares
and technical problems. Teething problems push up costs and deter
users from the outset. The system that the UK is proposing involves
a high-tec specification. This means it would be more susceptible
to teething problems and cost escalations. It might take some
time to bed in and along the way create a large army of disappointed
As far as "supporting local and regional
regeneration" is concerned, we would re-iterate the first
paragraph of our response to question three on page four, where
we quote the findings of SACTRA. The actuality could be that London
sucks economic benefits away from the northwhatever the
shape of the network.
As to which locations and socio-economic groups would
benefit from HSR, it apparent that London and groups A and B (who
can either afford to pay the fares themselves or are in the type
of employment that pays for their travel) would be the main beneficiaries.
Almost certainly, there would be a premium for using trains domestically
on HS2 as there is on HS1. This being the case, it is difficult
to see that too many average UK citizens would reap any noticeable
benefits other than for the very occasional leisure trip.
It is unclear to us how local authorities could be
made to bear the costs of the project, particularly as the government
is committed to "Localism" and giving local authorities
more autonomy and especially as some authorities such as Staffordshire
have already declared they are against it.
Re. the TENS programme. The NW TAR has long been
sceptical of the lack of evidence behind TENSthe Trans
European Networks. TENs have always appeared to be more about
aspiration than reality. We are reminded that only a few years
ago, an origin and destination survey carried out on the M62 established
that less than 1% of the drivers using it travelled the full distance
from Liverpool on the west coast of the UK to Hull on the east
or vice versa. Yet the M62 is officially part of a "TEN"
that crosses Europe. That said, we can see that there is a much
stronger case for very high speed rail services across the continent
of mainland Europe than there ever will be for them in the UK
where the distances are so much smaller and the dense populations
in many areas make strategic projects so much more difficult to
(i) What will be the overall impact of HSR on UK carbon
emissions? How much modal shift from aviation and roads would
be needed for HSR to reduce carbon?
(ii) Are environmental costs and benefits (including
in relation to noise) correctly accounted for in the business
(iii) What would be the impact on freight services
on the "classic" network?
(iv) How much disruption will there be to services
on the "classic" network during construction, particularly
during the re-building of Euston station?
A: Perusing the documentation provided by the government,
it is apparent that HS2 would be at best carbon neutral and has
the potential to increase carbon emissions.
We do not believe environmental costs and benefits
are adequately assessed by the present transport appraisal system
and the issue of environmental capacity is often totally overlooked.
Values placed on small time savings account for a disproportionate
amount of cost-benefit analyses both generically and in this specific
case. Also, whilst the preferred route for Phase One of HS2 recognises
the need to protect landscapes with highly rated designations
by placing part of the route in tunnels, designations such as
Green Belt are clearly given little weight. There is also a major
issue around the noise impacts of the very high speed trains.
Here we would flag up the charter drawn up by nine environmental
NGOs about the best way to make HS2 work if it does become a reality
("The Right Lines: A Charter for High Speed Rail").
Regarding rail freight. This has the potential to
produce 70% less CO2 than equivalent road journeys
but there is a land use issue which must not be overlooked. To
encourage it investment in the "classic" system would
still be required as well as in freight loading facilities and
the National Planning Policy Framework and the National Policy
Statement on national roads & rail networks need to be helpfully
worded. But, it is imperative sustainability is the over-riding
criteria to ensure rail freight depots are not used as stalking
horses for further expansive development on greenfields/ in Green
Belt, as has happened in the past.
In respect of disruption to the "classic"
system during construction of HS2, we view with horror the knock-on
effects of re-building Euston. Millions of people would be forced
to use cars for their journeys and many would probably not return
to public transport, particularly after such a long time span
away from it, and a generation of young people would be discouraged
from making rail travel part of their lifestyles.
We hope our comments are of some value and we hope
that the entire project will be reassessed.