High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Gatwick Airport Limited (HSR 40)


1.  Gatwick Airport Limited (Gatwick Airport) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Transport Select Committee's inquiry into High Speed Rail. Gatwick Airport is well placed to respond to this inquiry given that it is the UK's second largest airport and best connected UK airport. We are the busiest single-runway airport in the world, with more than 31 million passengers to over 200 destinations in 90 countries for short haul, long haul and charter airlines.

2.  Gatwick is a major economic driver for the South-East region, directly contributing around £2 billion annually to the UK economy,[60] in addition to £360 million that our passengers currently pay in direct tax on their journeys. The airport supports 23,000 on-airport jobs and a further 13,000 jobs through related activities. In addition to the direct economic wealth that we generate, we also support 9% of the UK's inbound tourism market.[61] Our £1 billion investment programme is already underway and will directly improve the overall passenger experience, and in turn enhance the airport's contribution to national, regional and local economic growth. Gatwick is the best connected major airport into the heart of government and City of London. It is situated 28 miles south of London with excellent public transport links, including the award winning Gatwick Express. Gatwick is owned by a number of international investment funds, of which Global Infrastructure Partners is the largest shareholder.


—  Gatwick supports the construction of HS2, but we would also urge the Government to focus on the provision of current generation of rail infrastructure that is needed today, particularly in the South East and on the Brighton Main Line, where no additional line capacity is currently proposed to meet surging future rail demand. HS2 will not address this need and will only form a part of Britain's future rail requirements.

—  The construction of HS2 is not a valid reason to restrict new runway capacity at airports in the South East. Government forecasts show that 70 million passengers will want to travel to and from South East airports by 2030. They will not be able to do so without that capacity. HS2, and the connectivity that it may provide to Europe via new high speed rail links is no effective substitute for the shortfall in airport capacity in the South East hat the UK faces.

—  Gatwick serves the largest number of domestic locations of any UK airport. We do not see domestic aviation as a primary market for growth. Placing an element of the business case for HS2 around a perceived growth in demand for domestic aviation, and a policy objective to curb it, does not reflect our understanding of current market conditions. The view that HS2 would automatically lead to a wholesale move away from the use of air travel to short haul European destinations requires further scrutiny.

—  The Government's proposals for the strategic route for HS2 are generally sound, but should also seek to improve access to international gateways, including Gatwick airport as well as Heathrow. This would not require any change to the currently proposed HS2 route and could be accommodated using existing or already planned rail infrastructure.

—  The correlation between the reduction of carbon emissions from aviation, and the construction of HS2, is less clear than the Government envisions. In the long term, the best way to reduce emissions from aviation is not through moving air passengers on to high speed trains, but through a constructive approach by Government to incentivising the up-take of low-carbon technology by UK airlines.


3.  There is an urgent need to promote improved regional connectivity between different parts of the country. High Speed Rail is essential to meeting this need. Major cities in the Midlands, the North of England and Scotland should be able to derive more of the benefits that the economic strength of London generates for the UK. We concur with the Eddington Transport Study (2006) that "a comprehensive and high-performing transport system is an important enabler of sustained economic prosperity". HS2 will be an important step in meeting the criteria that Eddington laid down. HS2 will be a necessary in the course of promoting the greater regional connectivity essential to future economic growth, and we fully support its construction.

4.  The aviation sector contributes £53.3 billion (3.8%) to UK GDP.[62] For the West Midlands region alone, HS2 is projected to provide £17 billion of economic benefits.[63] Together, these transport modes will form the UK's future critical transport infrastructure. Much of the debate on the case for and against HS2 has focused on a perceived need to transition from air to rail. There is a danger that these two transport modes are seen purely competing against each other.

5.  Air and High Speed Rail are not necessarily competing modes of transport. The complementary capabilities of these two modes together can satisfy principal requirements of passengers.[64] We urge policymakers to recognise this and exploit the potential of both to promote growth. HS2 and a future strategy for air travel should be part of a wider national transport strategy. They should not simply be juxtaposed as "one mode over another" either in the context of domestic, or short haul international travel. This focus applies not just to HS2, which will not be complete until the middle of the next decade, but on the rail network as it exists today.

6.  In geographical terms, Britain will always require a comprehensive network of air services as rail will remain unattractive for destinations in southern or eastern Europe (see paragraph 12). The development of the rail sector needs to be considered alongside the development of the aviation sector. A truly integrated air-rail network should be a primary goal of the overall HS2 project. The HS2 network should be seen as complementary to existing transport modes, rather than isolation of them.


7.  The committee have indicated that they would like to focus on the potential implications for domestic aviation from the construction of HS2, and how that impact might support the overall business case for HS2. As the airport with the largest number of domestic routes in the UK, we feel well qualified to comment on these particular assumptions.

8.  Gatwick does not see domestic aviation as a primary market for growth. We have seen a number of our airline customers take the decision to either cancel or reduce frequency of domestic routes in recent months. Those decisions have been taken entirely by the operators concerned for commercial reasons. For example, domestic routes from Gatwick to Leeds/Bradford and Plymouth were recently cancelled. We see our primary areas for future growth being short haul and long haul—primarily point to point—international destinations, rather than domestic routes.

9.  Our most recent forecasts indicate that the total proportion of domestic flights operating to and from Gatwick will fall over the next 10 years, while the total number of long haul flights will double by 2025. These calculations do not take account of whether there may or may not be a new high speed rail network in place in that period. The overall proportion of domestic flights to and from Gatwick is already falling. The projection that there will be an overall increase of 178% in the number of domestic aviation passengers by 2033[65] exceeds the trends that Gatwick sees in terms of future traffic to and from domestic locations. We believe those forecasts may be revised in the light of future air travel forecasts to 2043. But these are not currently in the public domain.

10.  The Civil Aviation Authority illustrate the same trend, that overall domestic air traffic to and from London is already falling, and has done so since 2005. The issue of whether the business case for HS2 should in part be based on a policy objective to, either in part or whole, curb a projected growth in domestic aviation deserves further scrutiny.

11.  From a "short haul" international perspective, we note Ministers recent statements to the effect that the Government see the further introduction of high speed rail services as a way of reducing the number of flights taken to European destinations[66] from the South East, and that that "the development of a high speed rail network has been a key factor in our decision on additional runways at London's airports".[67]

12.  We would urge the Government to take account of credible and thorough research that suggests that, Europe wide, a journey distance of between 500 to 800 km[68] is the maximum range within which a passenger might choose high speed rail over a direct air travel alternative. Whilst this research was conducted some time ago, and focuses on a Europe-wide rather than a UK-centric view, we believe it would be prudent for the Government to review all available research to consider whether its current view reflects the evidence-base. Documents that outline the economic case for HS2 only appear to consider the potential impact on domestic air routes.

13.  We have seen no evidence that a thorough and independent review of the impact that HS2 might have on short haul international air travel from London's airports has taken place. Ministers have publicly stated that the Governments support for HS2 is based in part on a modal shift from aviation to rail for such short haul routes. Evidence of why passengers are likely to make such choices should be produced. The business case for HS2 would be strengthened by an updated analysis being undertaken and placed in the public domain.

14.  For example, Ministers have publicly stated that the impending introduction of High Speed Rail routes from London to Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Cologne could effectively mean that there would no need for the 140,000 flights a year that currently serve these three destinations from airports in the South East[69]. This is by no means the case. Substantive analysis indicates that there would only be a 16% shift from air to rail on a direct Amsterdam-Paris-Brussels-London high speed rail route[70]. Likewise, Both Frankfurt and Cologne are within a distance range from London where a passenger choosing high speed rail over air is by no means automatic.

15.  We would also seek further clarification, and the publication of a clear evidence base, to support the Ministers statements to the effect that passengers travelling by currently air to short haul European destinations, or a proportion of them, would transfer wholesale to rail following the completion of HS2.

16.  In the course of clarifying the basis and origin of this view, the Government must recognise that there are a range of other factors that impact on passengers' choice of travel mode, over and above time, distance and speed. Baggage, queuing, security, comfort and safety are all key issues that determine the choice that they make. The South East Airports Taskforce, under the direction of Ministers in the Department for Transport, is rightly considering how major airports in the South East can improve the provision they are making to improve the passenger experience in these areas.

17.  Since it changed ownership, Gatwick has invested nearly £1 billion on facilities that will improve the passenger experience. This investment is already bearing tangible results. Our passengers wait less than five minutes to clear airport security 97% of the time. Likewise, on airport check-in, we have successfully introduced a new approach that gives passengers complete control of the check-in process. Through it, passengers can check-in and tag their own bags, dramatically reducing the potential for queues to build up. In the first five months of the service, take-up by customers of the airline that use it has up the system has increased from 35% of passengers to 85% and transaction times have reduced from 2 minutes to just 20 seconds. Other airlines are introducing the system in recognition of its success. The view that high speed rail offers a better passenger experience in terms of queuing times and overall passenger care needs to be re-examined.

18.  We would suggest that while HS2 would be of benefit to the UK as a whole, a new network is not in of itself a substitute for satisfying the increasing demand for additional capacity at London's airports. The Department for Transport still projects that air passenger numbers in the UK will grow to about 455 million passengers a year by 2030. 250 million of them would use airports in the South East.[71] As matters stand, there will inevitably be substantial suppressed demand for runway capacity in the South East. By 2030, 70 million air passengers will want to fly to and from the South East but will not be able to.

19.  We remain unconvinced that the needs of these 70 million passengers will be wholly catered for by a new High Speed Rail network. The Government has stated that HS2 will lead to six million air passengers transferring to rail from air travel.[72] We understand those six million passengers to be domestic in nature, although no actual clarity is provided around where they might have considered flying to and from in this scenario. Regardless of the specifics of this forecast, the fact remains that providing scope for six million passengers to move from air to rail through building HS2 still leaves 64 million air passengers who want to travel by air but cannot, because of limited runway capacity in the South East.

20.  Since the Governments consultation was published in February, further documents have been published by HS2 Ltd. which outline that by 2043, of "the total passengers forecast to use HS2, 6% will switch from air".[73] We are unclear as to exactly what forecast this number refers to, as the document concerned only provides a clear forecast for projected number of passengers on the London to West-Midlands element of the HS2 route, on which no air routes (either from Gatwick or elsewhere) currently operate.

21.  Ministers have, more generally, stated that "providing a viable rail substitute for even a modest proportion of [flights in the South East] could release significant capacity at our crowded airports".[74] Departmental forecasts for future air passengers, Gatwick's analysis, and a significant body of research around passenger behaviour show the accuracy of that view to be in some doubt. Gatwick have no current plans for additional runway capacity at our airport. Gatwick is party to a legally binding agreement that no such runway capacity will be built before 2019. We intend to adhere to that agreement. Despite this, we continue to believe that HS2 is should not be seen as a direct substitute for additional airport capacity in the South East in the long term.


22.  The Government has taken the right approach to integrating the new High Speed Rail network with the UK's airports. The fact that Birmingham, Heathrow and Manchester will all have direct links and stations is recognition of the view we express in paragraph 5. Broadly, a Y-shaped network built using "London upwards" approach using the phasing described appears appropriate.

23.  Nevertheless, we believe that there is potential for the Government to take this approach further, and ensure that, in the course of the construction of HS2, all the potential economic benefits from the truly integrated air-rail transport infrastructure that HS2 heralds are maximised. Currently, there are no proposals for either a direct, or indirect, link between Gatwick Airport, which is the second largest airport in terms of passengers in the country, and a future national High Speed Rail Network.

24.  We accept that the provision of a direct link, through a change in the currently proposed HS2 route, is likely to be unfeasible and financially prohibitive. However, the proposals fail to consider how Gatwick can be accessed by a connecting rail service to the Old Oak Common interchange in a way that has been proposed for Heathrow Airport. Opportunities for the nation's two largest airports to be connected to HS2 are essential in the course of promoting encouraging sustainable access to UK airports by the general public, and maintaining a positive competitive environment between the two largest airports in the country.

25.  We believe that it would be relatively simple, and comparatively inexpensive, for Gatwick to be indirectly linked to HS2 via a rail service to the proposed new station at Old Oak Common. The existing track infrastructure for such a link already exists. In order to support a direct link between Gatwick and Old Oak Common, track infrastructure at Clapham Junction and on a section of the West London Line would need to be enhanced to support longer trains and greater service capacity. Incorporation of such a service requirement into the overall design plans for the new station at Old Oak Common would also need to be facilitated. This could take the form of some additional terminating platform capacity at the proposed station over and above that which is already planned as part of Network Rail's London and South East Draft Route Utilisation Strategy. Through initial informal discussions with Network Rail, it is our understanding that initial estimated costs of the necessary line upgrades would be in the region of £15 million.

26.  Network Rail is including, within its proposed spending plans for 2014-19 (known as CP5), some funding to provide improved service performance on the West London Line. We would urge the committee to consider, as part of its assessment of the strategic route for HS2, a recommendation around the potential for an inclusion of the required funding in a further funding round[75] to amend the design of the proposed station at Old Oak Common so that it can accommodate a direct, half-hourly service from Gatwick Airport as well as serving Heathrow airport. In this way, the projected 40 million passengers a year that we may be carrying by the time that HS2 is operating would be able to effectively access a future HS2 route.

27.  We believe that such a link would have substantive benefits over and above Gatwick Airport passengers enjoying an indirect link to HS2. Over one million passengers use the airport rail station every year who are not air passengers, with 900 trains arriving and departing every day. The station is a local rail hub in is own right and is the busiest airport railway station in the UK. The potential for those living in major cities on the South Coast such as Portsmouth and Brighton to make use of HS2 would be improved by Gatwick having indirect link to the HS2 network. There would be substantive benefits to an entire region of the UK through an indirect link from Gatwick Airport to the proposed HS2 station at Old Oak Common.

28.  Whilst the requirement for such a service would ordinarily be considered as part of future Rail Utilisation Strategies (RUS) and new rail franchises for the London and South East Region, we believe that in the context of constructing an integrated air-rail transport infrastructure that is fit for the 21st Century, the committee should examine how access to HS2 from airports over and above Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester could be facilitated within the scope of its report and how HS2 can support airports in delivering their Surface Access Strategies.


29.  As stated, we do not believe that the construction of HS2 will lead to the modal shift from air travel to rail that the Government appear to envisage. For Gatwick, other elements of the business case for HS2 are more compelling. In the long term, demand for further capacity at South East airports will continue to grow. Even if, in some way, it was shown to be feasible for that capacity to be provided at airports outside the South East,[76] it is apparent that unless the Government takes an innovative approach to incentivising new technology that might lead to a reduction in overall levels of carbon emissions generated by aviation, those emissions may continue to increase regardless of whether HS2 is built or not.

30.  Public policy that seeks to reduce overall carbon emissions through encouraging a modal shift away from aviation through the construction of HS2 is unlikely to be effective, and should not be justified on that basis. In a recent submission to the Environmental Audit Committee Inquiry "Budget 2011 & Environmental Taxes", we outlined our view that, in the long term, we believe that the most viable long term option available to the aviation sector to drive real carbon savings is through the further development of and widespread deployment of bio-fuels amongst major airlines. This is a concept that has been largely proven to be technically feasible.

31.  Measures to promote a transition to bio-fuels must be considered in a global context. The industry is after all, global in scope. Worldwide, existing airlines fleets are thought total around 23,000 aircraft. Total investment in this fleet is thought to in the region of billions or even trillions of dollars. Aircraft have a typical life of 25 to 30 years, meaning that significant fraction of the current fleet will be operational to 2020 or even 2030 and beyond. This long life cycle and high cost, coupled with stringent certification requirements for fuels, mean that airlines are generally not willing to consider any fuel that is not an immediate, or drop-in, replacement for current, petroleum-derived jet fuel.[77]

32.  A significant amount of research and development activity on whether biofuels could be a "drop in" replacement for conventional jet fuel has been undertaken. It is apparent that, in principle, it is possible they could be. However, widespread installation of the infrastructure required to bring the fuel to the aircraft is necessary before biofuels could be considered as the "drop in" replacement for conventional jet fuel that is necessary before a mass conversion could take place. Gatwick is working closely with onsite fuel providers to put that infrastructure in place at our own airport. We already have some capacity to deliver it on site. But there is currently no real financial incentive for our airlines to move towards using it on a significant scale. There is a role for Government, in the tax system for incentivising this transition.

May 2011

60   The economic benefits of Gatwick Airport. Tribal Consulting July 2009 Back

61   Ibid Back

62   Oxford Economics, The Economic Benefits from Air Transport in the UK (2011) Back

63   Department for Transport/HS2, Summary of HS2 Economic Case (2011) Back

64   Anna Coksova, EUROCONTROL Experimental Centre and University of Zilina, Passengers Choice Between High Speed Train and Air Transport (2005) Back

65   HS2 forecast Back

66   The Rt Hon. Theresa Villiers MP, Speech to the Westminster Energy, Transport and Environment Forum (17 March 2011) Back

67   The Rt Hon, Phillip Hammond MP, Ministerial Statement on High Speed Rail, (20 December 2010) Back

68   Relevant studies include: Rietveld, P & Brons, M (2001). Quality of hub & spoke networks; the effect of timetable coordination on waiting time and rescheduling time. Journal of Air Transport Management 7 (2001), p. 241-249, All about high-speed, Definition of High Speed Train (2002), (http:/www.uic.asso.fr), Moore, P (2001). High speed rail as a solution to airport congestion. Sierra Club-Loma Prieta Transportation Committee, California, European Commission-European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research (1996). Cost 308. Interaction between High Speed and Air passenger Transport. April, Ellwanger, G (2002). Successes for high-speed rail. Rail International, UIC September 2002, Brussels Back

69   The Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Speech to the Westminster Energy, Transport and Environment Forum (17 March 2011) Back

70   Peter Jorritsma, Substitution Opportunities of High Speed Train for Air Transport, Transport Business Journal (Issue 43) Back

71   Department for Transport, Air Passenger Demand and CO2 Forecasts (January 2009) Back

72   Department for Transport, High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain's Future-Consultation (February 2011) Back

73   HS2 Ltd, Demand for Long Distance Travel, (April 2011)  Back

74   The Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Speech to the Westminster Energy, Transport and Environment Forum (17 March 2011) Back

75   CP6 (2019-24) Back

76   In a written answer to the Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP (dated 6 September 2010) The Government confirmed that it has in fact conducted no assessment of the capacity for regional airports to expand in order to cater for additional demand for air travel. Back

77   Report for the Climate Change Commission, Review of the potential for biofuels in aviation, (August 2009) Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011