High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from WPCSTOPHS2 (HSR 33)


1.1  This submission represents the views of the WPCSTOPHS2 Group, a group formed amongst residents of Whittington and Lichfield District to consider the impact of proposals for High Speed Rail (HSR). As our name suggests, our group was initially formed in opposition to HS2, not unnaturally given our proximity to the proposed route. However this vantage point has enabled us to study the proposals in much more detail than other UK residents have felt necessary, and it is very clear to us that the proposals make little overall sense for the UK as a whole. We therefore remain firmly opposed to the project.

1.2  We welcome the review by the Transport Select Committee, and agree with many of the issues and questions the Committee are planning to pursue. We comment specifically on some of the issues raised in our evidence below. In general however, our overriding concerns about the proposals for HSR are as follows:

(i)  The huge project cost, and the net public subsidy (£17.1 billion for the "Y" phase alone) are an unnecessary waste of public funds and do not address the shortcomings of public transport in the UK. We are not convinced by the demand or benefit case as presented by the Department for Transport (DfT)—if the benefits really exist, why is a public subsidy required?

(ii)  Much better, more flexible and cheaper alternatives exist to satisfy demand for intercity travel, which have not been properly represented by the DfT. These can give much earlier relief for overcrowding, and the lower cost would give scope to address other weaknesses in transport infrastructure.

(iii)  The proposals will mean unnecessary destruction of the environment and cause hardship and blight to local communities. This has not been properly considered and is ignored in the business case.

(iv)  We are concerned about the role of HS2 Ltd, and the lack of process for managing consultation responses. We have found HS2 Ltd analysis to be unclear and selective in favour of the project, and consultation questions to be carefully crafted for a positive response with no clear procedure for review. It is disingenuous for a consultation to be conducted about High Speed Rail in general whilst so little has yet been published for routes north of Birmingham and there has been so little engagement of the general public beyond the HS2 route. Whilst we recognise this may not fall within the Committee's normal line of enquiry, we strongly believe that a much more independent public consultation process is necessary for a project of this importance.

1.3  We have tabled our specific comments below to reference the issues being addressed by the Committee.


2.1  We are concerned at the apparent lack of a comprehensive transport strategy and the failure to develop rail as part of an integrated approach. We share the desire to improve inter-urban transport links in the UK, and recognise the important place that fast, efficient rail services have in this infrastructure. Our major concern however is that the scale of expenditure proposed on HSR will soak up all available transport funding, starving other transport services of maintenance and development for many years to come, as appears to have been the case in France. This will benefit relatively few travellers on HSR and deprive many more on other routes.

2.2  There are a wide range of transport needs that are not adequately provided at present, and these vary by region and individual. From our local station at Lichfield we currently have a very good peak time service to London, with a fast journey time of 69 minutes. Our rail needs are to improve station facilities and to improve journey times to other destinations (currently 126 minutes to Bristol, 170 minutes to Cambridge etc). Instead, HSR will bypass Lichfield, leaving us with fewer, slower rail services to London or the environmentally damaging prospect of driving to Birmingham to join HSR. Many other cities and towns are also in this position, with HSR not addressing real issues and creating worse services despite rising demand.

2.3  The reality is that we already have fast rail connectivity with London in the UK, comparing favourably with Europe. Our major problems are capacity (addressed by HSR but at great cost) and the wider transport network (not addressed by HSR, and probably damaged by it). Average journey times between the capital and each country's five largest cities are:[31] Germany 4hrs 04m; France 3hrs 41m; Italy 3hrs 04m; Spain 2hrs 31m; UK 2hrs 25m.

2.4  A real alternative to HS2 is available and was initially developed for the Department of Transport by Atkins as part of the March 2010 case for HS2.[32] We believe that this alternative, known as RP2, has not been adequately presented or had the consideration by the DfT that it merits, receiving only cursory review and rejection when reappearing in part as Scenario A in the latest consultation papers.[33] In effect, RP2 represents an upgrade to the existing WCML by extending trains and removing pinch points, thereby meeting capacity demands and generating the same fare income at a fraction of the cost of HS2. Furthermore, this approach can be evolved as demand rises, delivering benefits sooner, and to take advantage of new signalling technology as this becomes available to increase speeds and capacity further. Information on this alternative has been presented by HS2 Action Alliance,[34] has never been refuted, and deserves full and detailed consideration.

2.5  We would also add an obvious point that transport needs in the UK cannot be met by inter-urban train services alone. A more integrated efficient infrastructure is required. In the West Midlands there are many areas where business is inhibited by traffic congestion that could be relieved by improvements to the road network, and many opportunities to relieve congestion through improvements to local transport facilities (such as local bus and train services, or expansion of Birmingham Airport to avoid journeys to Heathrow). The Government transport strategy should be providing a lead, and funding, to support regional schemes.


3.1  We find the business case presented for HSR to be deficient and surprisingly uncommercial. It is puzzling that the proposals are presented with so little detail on sections north of Birmingham, without reference to a realistic alternative, and without a full examination of a downside case and sensitivities. We note that the base demand forecast has already been substantially reduced by HS2 Ltd, but that this reduction has been masked by extending the demand growth assumption by 10 years until 2043. We doubt the justification for this, and question the outdated modelling assumptions used to estimate and value the potential benefits. We fully support the analysis prepared by HS2 Action Alliance to review the updated business case.[35]

3.2  We believe the committee should probe deeply into the costs and affordability of HSR. There is a history of underestimating the cost of infrastructure projects, and at this early stage of HSR we believe there should be greater clarity on the future overall cost. Whilst the DfT talk in terms of £32 billion construction cost, we also see estimates of £112 billion[36] for the whole network. In addition, the DfT seem to accept that the opportunity for grants or private funding is relatively minor, such that virtually all funding and risk will be met by the public finances, at a time of very high national debt. We find it surprising that the Government should wish to commit to a long term strategic venture that forces the country to an ongoing subsidy of selective rail services, estimated at £17.1 billion for the "Y" route alone. Is HSR such a poor commercial venture, or such a vital strategic project, to require high public subsidy and leave such a legacy of debt?

3.3  We also believe the Committee should probe the demand case, which appears to us to defy common sense. We wonder what research has been done to understand why people want to travel, and why travel to London is something this nation wants to encourage. We have seen in previous projects (eg HS1 and the M6 Toll) serious overestimation of demand, and a failure to consider the competitive reactions to major projects. We know that other transport modes are striving to become greener and cheaper. We see a rapid advance in the impact of technology and communications reducing the need for business travel. We see also the issue of price dominating so many discretionary purchases, and consumers seeking real value. Yet it is proposed to commit huge expenditure for a 60 year project which relies on a doubling of demand in a mature and saturated market.

We are particularly concerned about the impact of rail fares, which are critical to demand levels and return on investment. We are told that the HS2 analysis has been based on the concept of fares rising at RPI +1% pa, yet that demand is so sensitive to price that a fare rise of RPI +2% pa will reduce demand by 24%, and lower the Benefit Cost Ratio from 1.6 to 0.9.[37] This is a massive sensitivity and risk.

With uncertainty over demand, fares and construction costs, it is uncommercial to opt for the high risk, expensive fixed system solution of HSR when more flexible alternatives exist.

3.4  The evaluation of the purported benefits of HSR is subjective and fails to convince on many levels. Whilst the notion of valuing time savings from faster journeys has some logic, no attempt has been made to justify this in real fares. In addition we see little detail given to explain figures, the use of out of date data, and simple errors such as not recognising that time spent on trains can now be very productive, using modern technology, and not wasted. We also find it incredible that the benefit case should introduce subjective user benefits such as agglomeration, whilst the costing completely ignores widespread hardship, blight and environmental damage.

We trust that the Committee will examine the benefit case in more detail, or force the DfT to accept that the Benefit Cost Ratio analysis is largely meaningless and that the more robust numbers to focus on are the gross expenditure and the lifetime public subsidy. At the end of the day, if the benefits presented by the DfT were real, customers would be prepared to pay higher fares; HSR could operate without subsidy, and could be funded by the private sector.

3.5  Most importantly, we believe that any analysis should be undertaken against a direct and meaningful comparator (see 2.4). A comparator based on evolving the RP2 package, upgrading existing facilities at lower cost, would be a more relevant alternative against which to properly judge HSR. This would enable real incremental costs to be compared against real incremental fare revenue, and a conventional commercial financial evaluation to measure this project in the real world.


4.1  Our existing train network has been developed over many years to meet our population needs and is already largely a best fit solution, which can easily be modernised to provide links to Heathrow, HS1 and Crossrail. The proposed route is irrational in that it fails to link into existing stations at Birmingham New Street (with links to the rest of the West Midlands) and Birmingham International (with excellent links to Birmingham Airport and other facilities). We have no information on how local services will connect with the new Birmingham stations, or of the cost to provide adequate links. It is also irrational that the proposed route doesn't immediately take in Heathrow, that it overloads Euston and does not easily link to HS1 and Europe.

4.2  We are concerned that the proposed route will significantly worsen regional services. We currently benefit from long distance services which stop in our region—these will bypass us on HSR, and with usage of the remaining WCML being more than halved (on HS2 Ltd estimates) our service will disappear without a significant increase in subsidy. Whilst central Birmingham may welcome the new route, all other areas of the midlands (where most people live and work) will be worse off, with longer journeys, more car usage and environmental damage.

We see little consideration of the impact HSR will have on the viability of existing services, and no substance to support the notion that extra investment will be attracted to regenerate facilities that are disadvantaged by HSR.

4.3  A significant lesson from rail travel over the years has been that twin track routes are very inflexible. Trains need to travel at the speed of the slowest. We have benefited from the four tracking and modernisation of the WCML in recent years, and we see the same approach working for roads. To consider building a new HSR facility with only two tracks seems old fashioned and short sighted.


5.1  We see no evidence that HSR will assist economic regeneration and help to bridge a north south divide. If anything, we believe it will lead to further dominance of London and possibly a few large cities which are directly on the route, to the detriment of the regions. This is confirmed in a paper published by Greengauge 21 in July 2009 which states the need for complementary action (for which we believe there are no plans, processes or funding in place) without which "HSR on its own could increase the dominance of the Greater South East within the UK".[38]

5.2  We have seen suggestions that more jobs and services will be created in the West Midlands, but on deeper analysis it appears that these will largely depend on yet further unspecified investment. The DfT Consultation Summary is at least clear in suggesting that 22,000 of the 30,000 jobs that could arise from regeneration following HS2 would be in London. There are surely many better and less expensive ways, in a modern society, to regenerate regions and improve national prosperity.

5.3  There does seem to be evidence, confirmed from what we understand of the DfT benefit case, that the major beneficiaries of HSR will be more wealthy individuals who are able to afford a leisure trip to London. In essence this will mean the public subsidy for HSR benefiting the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

5.4  We are aware that there are supporters of HSR and, to some extent, we can understand the point if such a facility is provided free of charge. Recognising the challenge in the Committee's question 5.4 we would propose that:

—  HSR should be forced to operate without public subsidy—ie fares should be set to meet development and operating costs. Adopting this principle could potentially allow full privatisation of the route.

—  Local authorities should be required to meet the cost of new HSR stations built in their area, so that they can integrate local redevelopment and contribute to regeneration.

Should such financing not be viable, we need to understand better why we are meeting these costs from public funds.


1.  This is an unnecessary high risk project with doubtful benefits and requiring permanent public subsidy which will leave a legacy of debt.

2.  Better alternatives exist to meet rail passenger forecasts and wider transport priorities which can be introduced sooner, more flexibly, and at much lower cost.

3.  We do not understand the strategic imperative of this project and the business case is weak. We suggest that, if the proposed benefits were realistic, the project could be undertaken in the private sector without the need for public funds.

4.  We welcome the scrutiny of the project provided by the Select Committee, but remain concerned by the lack of clarity in detail provided by the DfT and by the lack of independent review and impartiality in the public consultation process.

May 2011

31   Source: More Capacity on WCML : an alternative to HS2, prepared by HS2 Action Alliance February 2011 Back

32   Source: HS2 Strategic Alternatives Study, Strategic Outline Case, prepared by Atkins March 2010 Back

33   Source: Strategic Alternatives to the Proposed Y Network, prepared by Atkins February 2011 Back

34   Source: More Capacity on WCML : an alternative to HS2 prepared by HS2 Action Alliance February 2011 Back

35   Source: Review of the February 2011 Consultation Business Case for HS2 prepared by HS2 Action Alliance and updated May 2011 Back

36   Source: Staffordshire County Council quoting HS2 Ltd Back

37   Source: Economic Case for HS2 (section 7.2.18) published by Department for Transport February 2011 Back

38   Source: Complementary measures to facilitate regional economic benefits from High Speed Rail prepared by Urban & Regional Policy for Greengauge 21 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011