High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Tony Bristow (HSR 24)



I believe that the case as presented in Ref A is weak in the first place, unsubstantiated by the evidence adduced and fraught with too much risk for the country to contemplate this huge financial investment. The evaluation of alternatives is superficial and dismissive, especially since the DfT's Rail Package Two (RP2) has been suppressed by omission. At £32 billion, the capital cost is enormous for a project which could not even start to deliver any benefits at all for half a generation. My work has given me considerable experience of European rail travel, high-speed and "classic", and I make my submission with that in mind. HSR/HS2 is a fiendishly expensive project that does nothing for the overwhelming majority of UK rail passengers, other than the inevitability of investment starvation on all other lines.


2.1  The summary strategic case (p12 col 2 of Ref A) merely claims "could benefit thousands of businesses by improving access to the .... markets of London and the South East.." and that "HSR would act as a catalyst for regeneration..." The identified beneficiaries are stated to be businesses although the productivity claims are based on unrealistic thinking on the value of communications technology on the move. The example of regeneration is given of 40000 jobs for Phase 1, yet most of these are in the retail sector in London, thus reinforcing not reducing the North-South divide.

2.2   Business cases relying on traffic increases have a history of error, notably for the Channel Tunnel, for HS1 and especially for Eurostar links North of London, even resulting in the disposal of some Eurostar train sets early in the concession!

2.3   Unquantified regional prosperity is claimed for modest journey time reductions to/from London (never improved by more than 60 minutes per Fig 2) or to/from Birmingham (mostly 34-47 minutes, Leeds 55 minutes, per Fig 2.1), whereas the quoted example of Lyon gained a benefit of 2 hours to/from Paris so cannot be validly used as a comparator. If businesses were really convinced, they would be clamouring to fund HS2; the silence is deafening.


3.1  Ref A as good as admits that there is no carbon or environmental benefit whatever from building HS2; in fact there is every likelihood of carbon increase. Ref A admits "..without any overall increase in carbon emissions.." (para 2.52), "..carbon impacts...broadly neutral.." (para 2.55) and, extraordinarily, "..carbon emissions associated with the construction of the new line totalling around 1.2 million tonnes...many of [which] would be offset by reductions elsewhere under the EU Emissions Trading System."

3.2  Experts agree that energy use by a train at 225 mph is more than double that at 125 or 140 mph. The greenest way to increase capacity is to add additional coaches to classic trains at conventional speeds. As for any projected modal shift from domestic air to rail, HSR is not proven to be more carbon efficient than air, and any airport slots released by discontinued domestic flights would be seized for use by longer distance services using heavier aircraft at great carbon penalty.

3.3  Ref A fails to present environmental realities to the public, yet asks a question about sustainability the facts of which have been omitted. The construction period of eight years for Phase 1 alone would cause immense intrusion, disruption, nuisance and delay to millions of people, irrespective of the route selected; the extent of this has again been cynically hidden from the consultation document.

4.  Alternatives

4.1  The case presented for HSR in Ref A dismisses new conventional-speed lines as saving little cost (just over £3 billion) for lower calculated benefit; I do not disagree with this. However, enhancements to existing networks are discounted in just three pages of unsubstantiated assertions that manage to bury RP2 for the WCML, despite that package being capable of providing the 135% capacity increase by tackling seven infrastructure pinch points and providing 11-car Pendolino trains at a fraction of HS2's net cost (or +165% capacity if all trains 12-car).

4.2   Table 1 of Ref A lists the works that could be considered to improve the Midland and East Coast main lines as well; this combination should be evaluated to the same depth as HS2 for anyone to make informed decisions. RP2 and/or the projects in Table 1 represent value-for-money viable alternatives which can be implemented earlier, separately and in a phased programme to provide progressive relief for a wider travelling community; each of the 15 listed works provides benefit without waiting half a generation for an all-or-nothing project such as HS2.

4.3   If we actually have £32 billion to spend on our railways (HMG's fiscal pronouncements very much suggest otherwise), we the taxpayers should be presented with the alternative of investing as much of that as we can actually afford on the whole railway network, not just on a prestige project on one Y-shaped route which will only carry just 4% of the UK's current annual passenger journeys (50.8 million out of 1.3 billion). The strategic case should address the alternative of spreading investment to relieve the lot of all rail passengers, not just a small business minority.

4.4   It is widely stated (evidently driven more by pride than hard economics) that we need to catch up continental Europe in the field of HSR. The dominant industrial player in the EU, Germany, has significantly chosen to adopt HSR selectively for isolated stretches to bypass pinchpoints or slow alignments in their network, some at line speeds lower than 300 kph which "classic" trains can share at their own speed, typically 200 kph; this strategy should be looked at as a progressive alternative, applicable to any main line in the UK. France has far greater distances to deal with and a largely empty country in which to build HSR.

4.5   Finally, we have Pendolino and Mark 4 coaches originally designed for 140 mph operation, but limited to 125mph by signalling under-investment; we should have a national ambition for 140 mph conventional lines across the country. Interestingly, the South-East High Speed services on HS1 have a maximum service speed of 140mph yet are hailed as a breakthrough.


5.1  The business case presented in Ref A relies on the timely achievement of unrealistic high-end forecasts, an all-or-nothing project to improve just 4% of annual passenger journeys by rail, all with a brazen acceptance that modal shift from air would be limited to just 8% of HS2 traffic and that no carbon savings would be achieved in operation after a massive carbon-producing and environmentally-damaging construction phase lasting half a generation.

5.2   For all the commitment of £32 billion, there will be no benefits before 2026 whatsoever, the Y-shaped network will not come into use until 21-22 years from now and projections have been needed to 2043 to manipulate optimistic BCRs.

5.3   Alternatives are available which overcome all such shortcomings and the consultation should be totally revised to present a balanced picture. Moreover, the DfT consultations are only being offered at locations on-route, cynically leaving the rest of the population completely in the dark. Our railway infrastructure needs continuous improvement for the benefit of all rail travellers over the whole of the UK not just for a selected few. Nowhere has the essential commitment that all necessary rail infrastructure investments outside HS2 will be maintained intact. There are far more standing passengers off the WCML than on it; capacity is the problem on many other lines.

5.4   Each family in the land is effectively being asked to contribute £1,000 from their taxation for the benefit of a small minority of rail users a long time in the future despite environmental damage for so many. The Select Committee will doubtless consider the unenviable task facing the vast majority of MPs in explaining to their constituents why rail improvements in their area will have been denied because of the prestige project of HS2.

5.5   Finally, the fundamental and unforgiveable weakness of the HS2 proposals is the absence of any credible risk assessment for such a costly project. I hope that the Select Committee will be able to delve deeply into the strategic case, its costs and risks in a balanced scrutiny of an unbalanced proposal.

9 May 2011

30   Reference A: HSR: Investing in Britain's Future-Consultation February 2011 (DfT) Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011