High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents


Written evidence from Catherine Calow (HSR 22)

I am writing to you not as an expert but as a voter who has put a lot of time and effort into gaining an understanding of the issues of concern here. My home will not be affected by the proposed route of the HS2 line and I prefer here to consider whether there is a case for HS2 at all.

I would like to comment on some of the points I understand you are covering:

1.  IMPACT ON DOMESTIC AVIATION

I have looked at all the flights that are currently scheduled between all the UK mainland airports that may be affected by HS2. It seems a good argument that HSR will reduce domestic flights. However, I have found that apart from a small number of flights between London and Manchester and Newcastle, there would only be a point to HSR if it reached Edinburgh or Glasgow, to which there are a high number of flights a day. But there is no plan to extend beyond Leeds or Manchester. So, there is hardly any benefit in reducing domestic flights.

2.  IMPACT ON DRIVING BETWEEN LONDON AND BIRMINGHAM AND FURTHER NORTH

For journeys to and from town centres rail is an excellent solution, it resolves problems of car parking, inner city congestion and is less stressful. I am sure most business people do take the train when possible. However, I cannot see that the demand figures used in the forecasts can be accurate. For example, visits that are anywhere much outside the centre of town require one to take taxis etc and it doesn't take much to make a car journey still more viable. Eg I am HR Director for a large industrial company in the UK and we have a lot of national and international travel. However, unless you are going into central London for a meeting you take the car. We are based in High Wycombe and have a sister company in Birmingham—but it's in West Bromwich—the car is the only viable way to travel and if there is more than one person it is by far the cheapest. If you need to carry anything you will also go by car.

3.  VALUE OF HIGH SPEED

(a)  The whole idea that businesspeople don't work on the train is archaic. I am sure MPs' work on the train as do most people now. So, the need for a quicker journey time is redundant, and hence the need for a special high speed solution that is a straight line. As time progresses businesses are more and more using video and telephone conferencing. As the true cost of their carbon footprint becomes measured by including travel there will be more pressure for this. Professional people are increasingly working from home. The need for excessive business travel should be reducing.

(b)  The notion that leisure travellers will spend more money by arriving in Birmingham (or more likely in London) quicker is illogical—people only have a certain amount of money so will just get a later train or go home earlier.

(c)  The only benefit of speed that I can see is that rich commuters will be able to consider living in Birmingham and working in London, thus benefiting from cheaper house prices and London levels of pay. This will further enhance London at the expense of cities further north.

(d)  I suspect that the whole notion of a high speed rail line is to compete with the neighbours. This has already been considered by the committee. However, I cannot believe that tourists don't visit the UK because we don't have a high speed rail system. They may stay predominantly in London but that is more to do with our heritage and marketing than anything else. As long as people mostly fly into a London airport they will continue to stay in London.

Please recognise that England is a small and crowded country. We are not like France or Spain with vast areas of empty land and a small population. So what if we get low scores on some international rating?—we get low scores for areas that are much more serious like crime, teenage pregnancies etc.

4.  OPPORTUNITY COSTS

The projected cost of the HS2 line is around £33 billion. Therefore, it is likely to be close on £50 billion from normal project experience. In a time of austerity is this really the best use of our money? HS1 was sold off for a loss so there is no track record that HS2 will ever be financially viable. This is a white elephant project that was devised by Labour. Some of them are now walking away from it. Please take this opportunity to have a long look and decide to spend the money on something else—eg improving congestion in the northern cities, improving links between the northern cities. Don't allow London to get even bigger. We need more sustainable centres in the north and better networking there. Take advantage of the plans to improve the WCML that are already in existence and which could give the capacity and most of the speed at a much lower cost.

5.  Environment

From a carbon footprint perspective a 250 mile an hour train cannot be efficient. The massive works to build a new line with all the digging and concrete required must be taken in to consideration when calculating energy efficiency. I do not see any evidence that a high speed rail line will be environmentally friendly and will reduce other forms of transport in any significant way. There will be no impact on domestic aviation if it doesn't reach Scotland and if it did then the airport authorities would give the slots to long distance routes.

The line is planned to cross the widest point of the Chilterns, an AONB. What is the point of establishing protected areas if they are they ruined?

A far better environmental approach would be to improve the WCML which already exists and don't be seduced by the concept of trains at this ridiculous speed.

I do hope that you will take my arguments into account in your deliberations and come to a decision that is logical and realistic.

8 May 2011


 
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Prepared 8 November 2011