High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from VoxOpp (HSR 35)

VoxOpp (Villages of Oxfordshire Opposing HS2) is an association of local people representing Oxfordshire villages most affected by the plans for HS2. We recognize that the Transport Committee does not intend to examine the issues that affect individuals. However, while investigating the proposal for HS2 in order to inform the people we represent, we have gained knowledge and insight about both it and HSR generally. We welcome the opportunity to submit our views to the Committee.


As transport develops it progressively gets faster. VoxOpp opposes ultra high speed rail, such as HS2. It does not oppose HSR generally. By now, the HSR debate should have led to development of a more detailed overall plan for the future rail transport needs of Britain and its people. Priorities for future acceptable levels of fares, journey time, reliability, frequency, comfort, environmental effects and other criteria should have been established for the whole system. Instead, Government has focused on a very costly ultra high speed train with limited access. The opportunity should be taken to plan a more accessible system providing more people in Britain with wider benefits. This would better enable prioritisation of rail projects and HSR's place in them.

Existing and developing HSR systems elsewhere should have been examined more critically. While development of HSR generally would bring Britain further into line with other countries in Western Europe including France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, it should be noted that all of these countries have experienced serious problems arising from HSR, the main ones being:

—  Prosperity—results have been variable. The notion that all cities connected by HSR should increase in prosperity has been disproved.

—  Development costs—in both France and Germany the high investment in their HSR systems has led to inadequate investment in their other rail systems.

—  Usage—France, the Netherlands and Spain all have routes that are loss-making. In Holland one route is used so little that the whole system is now at risk.[39]


The main arguments against HSR development as currently proposed are:

—  high cost for HS2's very limited coverage and limited additional time saving;

—  high energy consumption of ultra high speed trains;[40]

—  experience elsewhere shows investment on existing networks tends to suffer;[41]

—  uncertain profitability;

—  unpredictable economic outcomes along HSR routes generally; and

—  alternative solutions exist which are better in a number of ways in a small country with low potential for modal shift.


1.  HSR is designed to improve inter-urban connectivity. How does that objective compare in importance to other transport policy?

Statistics from DfT[42] indicate the relative sizes of the three main forms of transport we wish to compare in terms of person/kilometres travelled (and person/trips made):

—  car journeys are by far the highest used at about 85% (and 82%);

—  rail journeys account for about 8% (and 3.4%); and

—  domestic air travel about 1.1% (and less than 1%).

The estimated spend on major road improvements over the whole of Britain for the period 2000 to 2017 is around £14 billion.[43] Against this, the £17 billion cost of constructing just HS2 Phase 1 that would link only London and Birmingham is huge. In the context of transport costs this cost is excessive for such little substantiated benefit.

2.  Implications of expenditure on HSR on funding for the "classic" network

France and Germany have found that the high costs of investing in their HSR systems has led to a reduction in the money available for maintenance and development of the rest of their railway systems. In both countries their classic non-HSR system are falling into some decay. A more fully classic compatible system would help avoid this pitfall.

3.  What are the implications for domestic aviation?

There are no scheduled flights between London and Birmingham. Looking further into the future, there are only around 15 scheduled flights daily from Manchester to London,[44] carrying around 2,000 passengers. As far as modal shift is concerned, the numbers would be insignificant to HS2. There could be a small loss of business for domestic aviation but they have 15 years to consolidate their market share if they wish.


1.  Robustness of assumptions and methodology

At the technical seminars we attended last year it appeared that most assumptions made in HS2 Ltd documents are largely extrapolations on past statistics. There seems to have been little significant use of market and other types of research to establish future travel patterns. The "estimates" of likely usage made may be little better than guesses.

The business case relies heavily on a half hour saving being made by each business traveller on each journey, and on that time being monetised, ie additional money being realised (at a rate of £50 per business person/hour).[45] This is nonsense. It assumes that journey times will not be reduced within the next 15 years anyway and that all time spent travelling is wasted time. Also, and confusingly, the Secretary of State for Transport has recently said that 70% of travellers on HS2 would be leisure travellers.[46]

Fares need to be high to make a profit for such an investment but this seems to be at variance with the Government's aim of attracting more people to travel by rail. The Government appears to be arguing against itself.

2.  Pros and cons of resolving capacity issues in other ways

Solutions other than HS2 could resolve existing problems and increase inter-urban connectivity. More consideration should have been given to projects such as:

—  Rail Package 2 (improvements to the WCML which could increase its capacity by 135%);[47]

—  Northern Hub plan (improvement in connectivity of rail services across northern England which would include faster, non-stop trains between northern cities);

—  East West rail (a new line linking east and west of England, relieving routes through and around London and improving freight connectivity between ports).

Removal of existing pinch points and remedying other current infrastructure problems which require trains to slow would reduce journey times and enable an increase in the number of trains on the WCML. Work such as these three projects would not only resolve capacity issues but would deliver a good result more quickly than HS2 could, at less cost and in a more environmentally friendly manner. A new HSR system may still be required but the benefits of a non-ultra high speed line over a dedicated ultra high speed line would be that:

—  It could be designed to fit better into its surroundings (whatever the route) as the need for such straight lines and level track would be reduced at the lower speed.

—  A new non-dedicated line could incorporate stations along the route, thus making the line a viable alternative to the car for more people (or could link with the existing infrastructure to allow some interchange).

—  It could include places, perhaps at the additional stations, where HS non-stop trains could pass slower ones, as is intended with the Northern Hub project.

—  Existing rolling stock and freight could use the line giving greater flexibility.

—  Power consumption would be less, making the trains more environmentally sustainable which would sit well in a sustainable low CO2 transport policy.

3.  Pros and cons of alternative means of managing demand for rail travel

Transport policy is for sustainable green solutions for all our transport needs. Managing demand for any rail system by price where high occupancy is achievable would be counter-productive. We should be working towards a rail network which has affordable fares and maximum usability.

Managing demand for travel at all is a separate matter. The Government is, for example, promoting working from home and web-driven meetings. Country wide fast broadband would enable this and better support companies developing this approach.

4.  Lessons the Government should learn from other major transport projects

The Government should take more seriously the problems encountered with HSRs in other countries. The information is available and the positives should not be seized on without paying even greater attention to the negatives. Downsides must be recognised in both effect and scale when decisions are made. Britain does not need to risk building the fastest HSR. The Government should be careful about embarking on what may become an emblematic project where national prestige is seen as just as important as the delivery of a cost-effective transport solution.


1.  Suitability of planned locations of HS2 stations

A new line designed to promote inter urban connectivity should connect the urban centres that it is designed to serve. Out of town hubs like those proposed at Birmingham and Old Oak Common (and later at Manchester) are likely to encourage car usage rather than reduce it. The France/German approach of high speed trains running to many destinations, not just on special high speed lines, and reaching into the hearts of cities would be better for Britain. The DfT dismissed the idea of classic compatible trains yet a need to change trains to reach a city centre is apparently acceptable.

At the London end, Euston is the least well connected of all the north orientated main line stations yet has been chosen for a multi billion pound makeover. To encourage modal shift from car and air to rail, the rail option must terminate at a main line London station which would immediately connect to HS1 and/or the Heathrow express.

2.  Cities which should be served by an eventual high speed network

The full HS2 plan includes dedicated ultra high speed lines to connect London to Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and a station each in East Midlands and South Yorkshire. Trains going on to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, etc. would have to be classic compatible anyway as they will have to travel along existing classic lines.

The HS2 configuration with dedicated ultra high speed trains connecting just a few of Britain's richest cities to London mainly benefits London (see working paper referred to in paragraph 5.3). London is hogging it. There are no current plans for further high speed lines of any sort linking the East and West of the country.

Despite their current rail problems, France's approach of using only classic compatible trains has been successful for thirty years. A similar approach in Britain, using trains that could reach many destinations by use of the classic network would allow lines to be updated and improved on a more incremental basis. Other destinations (Bristol, Cardiff, etc) could be included earlier enabling wider inter-urban connectivity.

3.  Is the Government correct to build the network in stages, moving from London northwards?

The value of time saving on the shorter HSR journeys is more questionable than for longer journeys and yet the maximum possible time saving was one of the reasons that the classic compatible train option to Birmingham (and Manchester and Leeds) was dropped. These already well-linked cities are the only destinations to which dedicated high speed trains will go.

4.  The Government proposes a link to HS1 as part of Phase 1 but a direct link to Heathrow only as part of Phase 2. Are those the right decisions?

HS1 terminates at St Pancras and HS2 would terminate at Euston. A link is necessary only because of the decision to use separate London termini. If more thought had been given to the future of the whole network earlier a different approach to the linking of any new lines, HSR or otherwise, might have been possible


1.  What evidence is there that HSR will promote economic regeneration and help bridge the north-south economic divide?

Even pro-HS2 organisations admit the HSR cannot deliver regeneration, it can only help support it. There is little evidence for any other conclusion. HS2 Ltd confirms the line only links places for which regeneration is planned or is already underway, although the DfT has also claimed there will be strategic benefits which are "unquantifiable".[48]

Lille, with its HSR link to Paris, and despite its claimed regeneration, has a level of unemployment[49] which is considerably higher than that of France as a whole. In fact, unemployment in Lille has risen in the period since the TGV link was built.

The Northern Hub project is a much more credible plan than HS2 to contribute to regeneration in the north by enabling easier access to jobs through increased mobility between the big cities of the north and a large and mobile workforce across the region to draw from which might encourage companies to locate there.

2.  To what extent should the shape of the network be influenced by the desirability of supporting local and regional regeneration?

We believe that all HSR should be on an integrated classic compatible basis designed to spread benefits across the country more widely, rather than restricting them to a few selected cities.

3.  Which locations and socio-economic groups will benefit from HSR?

A working paper[50] from the University of Barcelona indicates that when two large towns/cities are joined by HSR, both may benefit but there is a tendency for the larger city to be the bigger winner. The main beneficiary of HSR in France has been Paris. The same is likely to happen here with most benefit going to London, not the regions. The paper also reports that while some locations served by the lines benefit, others inexplicably do not. Large towns and cities in the vicinity of, but not served by, an HSR line may suffer a negative impact where the city which is linked feels a positive impact. This may indicate that in some instances increased prosperity for one is merely a reallocation of prosperity on a local basis.

HS2 Ltd appears to be assuming, in monetising the half hour saving per business person/trip, that the average business person travelling on HS2 would be earning about £65k p.a. The Secretary of State for Transport has stated that "fares will be unaffordable for many"[51] and has suggested the possibility of using fares to control usage of the line. Since then, he has added that leisure travellers could get cheaper fares provided they book them well in advance but inevitably business users would be from the higher socio-economic groups. This proposed HSR would not at all be a train for the people.

During the build phase, work is available for people in the construction business who are likely to be from wider socio-economic groups. However, this is equally true for any large-scale development of the railways.

4.  Financial contributions and risk-sharing of major beneficiaries

Out of our scope.


1.  Overall impact of HSR on UK carbon emissions and size of modal shift from aviation and roads needed for HSR to reduce carbon?

It is clear from the Booz & Co report in the appendix 2 to the AOS[52] that insufficient information exists to make a sound forecast of likely carbon emissions due to HS2. More work should be done before proceeding.

As power consumption increases with speed,[53] significantly higher carbon emissions would be produced by HS2 than for a conventional or even a classic compatible HSR train on the same route. HS2 Ltd. and the DfT promote HS2 as being progressively greener as the source of the power it uses becomes less dependent on fossil fuels and moves to nuclear driven power stations. Plans for a sustainable transport system should take account the fact that power does not come for free and wanton squandering of power cannot be sustainable. It has been claimed that HS2 could last 100 years. In that period prodigious amounts of power would be used to reduce journey times over a 120 mile route for a relatively very small number of people.

We do not believe the HS2 estimates of modal shift are accurate. The estimates were made largely by modelling an extrapolation of past travel statistics supplemented with a small amount of market research into the future.

2.  Are environmental costs and benefits (including in relation to noise) correctly accounted for in the business case?

On 14 October 2010 Andrew McNaughton, Chief Engineer HS2 Ltd, stated at a Technical Seminar that "in all likelihood the route and profile of the proposal line will change significantly as a result of the Environmental Impact Assessment". The EIA has not yet been carried out (we understand it will be done only after the consultation process). Environmental impacts and costs are therefore not fully accounted for in the business case.

Noise information provided by HS2 Ltd is inadequate and misleading.[54] They have used a best-case scenario for modelling noise. They averaged noise levels over a 19 hour period ignoring the WHO recommendation that both average and peak noise levels (Lmax and SEL) should be used to assess impacts.[55] The difference between peak (97dBa) and average (81dB(a) noise levels is 16db which means that HS2 Ltd are using a measurement which is about 1/40th of the actual noise level from a train.

No noise profile maps have been published with the consultation documents, contrary to standard practice. According to HS2 Ltd, they have not been produced. (FOI request FOI10-153). This is another indicator that not enough work has been done to assess objectively the impact of HS2 noise.

Finally, there is no evidence that HS2 Ltd. has researched the effects of the type of noise or the effect of the frequency of trains passing on people (despite the existence of published evidence covering increased blood pressure, risk of strokes, cardiovascular disease and cognitive effects).[56]

3.  What would be the impact on freight services on the "classic" network?

The WCML currently has capacity to run some 60 freight trains per day but currently runs only 36 trains per day south of Rugby and 44 trains per day north of Rugby[57]. Broadly, a third of existing capacity currently remains unused. An ongoing upgrade on the Felixstowe-Nuneaton cross-country route is likely to take a further 20 trains a day off these totals. Any freeing up of the WCML due to HS2 would be of no short-term benefit to freight on the existing network.

4.  How much disruption will be there to services on the "classic" network during construction, particularly during the rebuilding of Euston?

Works at Euston station will take eight years. A representative of HS2 Ltd stated that during construction six of the 18 platforms will be closed and substantial re-jigging of the timetable would be necessary. Disruption to existing services is likely to be extensive.[58]

May 2011

39   http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/01/netherlands-rail-idINLDE71025P20110201 Back

40   http://www.voxopp.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Energy-usage-against-speed-graph1.ppt Back

41   http://www.voxopp.org.uk/422/the-heavy-price-of-the-tgv-on-frances-non-hsr-railway/ Back

42   http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/statistics/datatablespublications/modal/-see modal charts Back

43   http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roads/nicholsreport/nicholsreport.pdf-section 2, page 5 Back

44   http://www.routesonline.com/news/36/the-hub/99197/bmi-cancels-domestic-link-to-boost-overseas-schedules/ Back

45   http://www.hs2.org.uk/assets/x/77834 para 3.5 Back

46   http://news.uk.msn.com/features/articles.aspx?cp-documentid=157137340 Back

47   http://www.taxpayersalliance.com/hs2capacity.pdf-page 5 Back

48   http://www.dft.gov.uk/press/speechesstatements/statements/hammond20110228 Back

49   http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/apr/06/france.angeliquechrisafis Back

50   http://www.ub.edu/irea/working_papers/2010/201003.pdf Back

51   http://news.uk.msn.com/features/articles.aspx?cp-documentid=157028201&ocid=tweet Back

52   http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/rail/pi/highspeedrail/hs2ltd/appraisalofsustainability/pdf/summary.pdf Back

53   http://www.voxopp.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Energy-usage-against-speed-graph1.ppt Back

54   http://www.voxopp.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Working-Paper-on-Noise-Bernie-Douglas.doc Back

55   http://www.who.int/docstore/peh/noise/ComnoiseExec.htm p.9 Back

56   http://bmb.oxfordjournals.org/content/68/1/243.full.pdf+html Back

57   Chris Stokes Back

58   http://www.voxopp.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/DW_A1388.wav HS2 Ltd engineer at MK road show-audio recording Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011