High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from D.J. TOLLEY (HSR 41)

A submission in general terms confined to the itemised questions set out in the announcement of 18/3/2011.

1.  Main arguments

An overall case has already been submitted by letter to the Committee although inevitably some of the arguments will be repeated under the specific headings here.

As regards the remit statement, it is a matter of concern to read that issues regarding impact assessment and property rights affected by the proposed route of HS2 "would be dealt with in due course by a hybrid Bill committee", which the writer hopes is conditional not implying what many people already believe to be the case.

The project is referred to here as HS2 rather than HSR, since it can hopefully be assumed that even if built, there is unlikely to be an HS3; one "lesson" that has been "learned" is that that there has been no successor to Concorde, imposed by a previous government against reasoned argument.

As previously outlined, [letter] the main arguments against are economic disadvantage, minimal contribution to transport capacity, higher travel costs, higher energy demand and widespread environmental destruction.

2.  How does HSR fit in with Government transport policy objectives?

2.1  HS2 is designed to improve inter-urban connectivity? Initially it would link only London and Birmingham centres with possible extensions to Leeds and Manchester and ultimately perhaps, Glasgow.

This is of no benefit to the many other urban centres around the country, including the proposed "enterprise zones", which rather suggests that government/DfT transport policy is not joined up with other objectives.

The alleged purpose of HS2 is to provide high speed travel between limited centres which, in the case of London-Birmingham is relatively marginal, especially as present routes are already planning to shorten journey times.

As repeatedly pointed out, at a fraction of the quoted costs, significant improvements could be made to the road and rail networks with increased economic/environmental benefit to the country as a whole, not to limited "centres".

2.2  On the presumption that there is a substantial economic deficit, HMG cannot spend money twice.

Even the initial quoted cost of HS2 for stage 1, which surpasses cancelled defence projects and essential security services, obviously prejudices any extensive improvement in the existing rail network.

2.3  The main advantage which HS2 appears to offer over domestic aviation is that it is presumably more environmentally acceptable.

This conflicts with the government's case which is to have high-speed travel: if speed alone is the main criterion, on longer distances air is likely to be faster.

This raises the fact that the entire project is only justifiable by executive travel. Business class is probably the sector which has a need to travel comparable with air, or could afford the premium fares that must apply if the project is not to lose even more money operationally.

Another class might be foreign tourists, but in this connection, I reproduce the faxed comment of an American visitor to UK who travels from Scotland to the south of England and London.

The project has Chambers of Commerce support: it is well known that business people like to travel quickly and in comfort, an argument previously advanced for Concorde.

The committee should take note of comments by Sir Philip Green, that he expects his people wherever possible to use video conferencing which, if speed is the real criterion, cannot be beaten.

3.  Business Case

3.1  These questions are impossible to forecast: although it is likely that apart from diversion of government funding to support the existing network the impact on network travel will be relatively small.

1(a)  The public outside of the proposed centres will not want or be able to pay the premium fares of HS2

1(b)  No-one in their right mind, for example, is going to want to travel, say, to Birmingham from Coventry to visit London, which would be longer and costlier for them to do.

3.2  This addresses capacity: obviously the West Coast line is a strong candidate for improvement. Whether new "conventional" lines are necessary is open to question. Apart from upgrade of the existing rail network, another option would be to look at the possibility of reopening previously closed cross country routes of which a number exist and could be brought back into use, if only for freight.

If this question has been properly understood, it implies managing capacity by price.

In relation to itself, HS2 will take care of this, unless some governmental fudge subsidizes the project to an unbelievable degree.

As regards the rest of the network, the writer was under the impression that it was generally the policy of all parties to encourage people to use public transport, wherever possible.

Thus the exclusion of people from rail travel makes no economic sense: it needs to be understood by any government that travel, and other component costs, needs to be kept as low as possible because these reflect ultimately on the nation's economic performance and inflation.

3.4  This question implies that there will be other high speed rail projects. As stated above, if this project is ever completed, it is likely to be another case of retrospective "lesson learning".

As may be inferred from the general tone of this submission the writer is greatly unimpressed by government departmental costing, of which there have been many unfortunate examples.

4.  The strategic route

Despite the disclaimer in the cover document, questions 4.1 to 4.4 are all route related. The sequence of questions seems to imply that the project is regarded as "a done deal" as some objectors have described it.

As this writer clearly regards the whole project as financially and environmentally irresponsible these questions do not apply, but it is pointed out that as regards 4.1, if "speed" is the basic justification, then intermediate halts, while servicing more people, negate the purpose of the project.


5.1/5.2  Regeneration?

Self-evidently a non-mass transit premium service, carrying no freight can make negligible contribution to economic performance, compared with that already provided by the motorway network.

As indicated in 3.2 above, a better option would be the development of rail freight services. As regards non freight business see Sir Philip Green's comments on the use of electronic media.

Drawing another example, from air travel, the committee should compare the economic results from the high-cost "prestige" project Concorde against the substantial success accruing from so-called "jumbo jets" developed by USA.

The UK, it seems has "learned no lessons".

As regards the "north-south divide", it needs to be explained how a high-cost, non-mass transit system, carrying no freight, can change what the motorway network is presumably seen as having failed to do.

5.3  Substantial communities by-passed along the route corridor will gain nothing, but may lose if the constraints placed on government infrastructural funding resulting from HS2 prejudicially affect these areas. HMG cannot spend money twice over. The business class is the only identifiable beneficiary which is why the project is supported by CoC's, whose record in this field is not good.

5.4  As the main beneficiary the business class, which as usual expects others to fund it, including those communities and interests penalised, should be challenged to bear the overall cost, which may temper its enthusiasm for massive expenditure.

This question also suggests that local authorities will be among the "major beneficiaries". A mistaken assumption: presently, County councils and other affected local authorities along the proposed route do not see it that way and are pledged to oppose the project.

The presumption of the question may be that local authorities are likely to change their minds, which raises the subject of what inducement or pressure may be applied by HMG for them to do this.

Reference to the EU Ten-T programme, adds a new dimension to the debate:

It is well known that outside of the permanent way, UK is not fitted to provide the hardware for this project, which is likely to come from France.

SNCF is reportedly seeking to supply HSR projects to Australia and the USA, where space and distance may make such projects viable. In order to sugar the project in the USA, the SNCF management found it necessary to apologise for having transported Jews to Germany during WW2, even though the present management can have no responsibility for that tragic event.

The conclusion to be drawn from this is that there are no ethical limits to this kind of promotional activity, which should be taken into account.

6.  Impact

6.1  Probably impossible to predict, although doubtless some consultancies or university-based studies will provide a series of predictions, depending on the provenance of their commissioning.

The DfT should be challenged to provide substantive figures, to show where they come from and how they are arrived at. To date, no-one seems convinced by the   vague predictions, plucked out of the air to justify this project.

Even without data, it is certain that the energy demand to supply this project will be enormous. Where is the electricity coming from?

This again questions the consistency in government policy by the fact that in the not far distant future UK is going to face electricity generation problems, to which high speed rail is certain to add.

France, the leader in high speed rail, is strongly provided with nuclear power but the future nuclear power provision for UK is presently uncertain.

Unless this project is to be as exempt from the professed Low Carbon economy as it has so far proven to be from public spending restraint, the committee must ask DfT to calculate how many wind turbines the network will have dedicated to it and where they will be sited. Again, where's the energy coming from?

6.2  This writer has not seen any substantive "business case" nor, according to many concerned people, has anyone else. The public is subjected to unsubstantiated predictions.

An example of this was provided in an interview given by Birmingham Chamber of Commerce to Richard Savage of Radio Northampton which harped on about the "economic benefits," claiming something like 20 or 25 billion, which left the interviewer understandably incredulous.

A public meeting presentation in Leamington by a Birmingham based supporter claimed 20 billion: 20 billion on a forecast (!) of 17 billion, does not sound like a reasonable return, given all the disadvantages of such a destructive project.

This return would look better if it could be established if it was after construction and operating costs were met, neither of which can be absolutely predicted, probably accounting for the vagueness of the case.

6.3  Impact on freight services

This is not understood. HS2 will carry no freight. Is it thought that enough passengers will transfer from the classic network to enable these lines to reduce passenger traffic thereby increasing freight capacity?

This is unlikely unless HMG is considering a kind of "introductory subsidy" on fares, to initiate the project. Otherwise, Fares will be too high, only those people with immediate access to destination points will travel anyway.

It should be noted that the present Transport minister has significantly raised fares across the rail network, presumably as means to decrease demand, without regard for social or economic consequences.

6.4  Disruption: [to existing Network]

Impossible to predict, disruption to the classic network would only be temporary, but the disruption and damage done to people's lives and businesses in the corridor areas, will be serious, costly and, unlike Concorde, consequentially irretrievable.

This is a situation which should never be allowed to arise.

Even without the deficit, this country has greater priorities than a mere vanity project instigated as the result of lobbying and a seriously mistaken sense of priorities by the present and preceding governments.

2 May 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011