High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Joanne Staton (HSR 47)

Q1.  What are the main arguments either for or against HSR

A1.1  In my view, as a Chartered Mechanical Engineer (Imperial College, London) who has studied, with an open mind, a vast array of documentation produced by the Government and other organisations, detailing the HS2 proposal, I can see NO arguments FOR HSR in our country.

A1.2  However, the arguments against it are numerous and so blatantly apparent, I cannot believe this proposal is being pursued. For me, this puts into question the Government's motives to back this proposal - is it a "vanity" project linked to "political legacy" or is it trying to play catch up with our European neighbours? Or is it linked to influential vested interests in the construction and other industries that would benefit from the project going ahead? Either way, these reasons are short-sighted. There is no doubt that developing HSR would be at great detriment to our country.

A1.3  The main arguments AGAINST HS2 include:

—  It is not required:

—  We already have fast frequent intercity network that connects our capital to its top five cities faster than many European countries that have HSR (refer to paragraphs A2.1.1-2).

—  There are far less expensive, less disruptive and substantially more environmentally friendly alternatives to meet the predicted increased demand (refer to paragraphs A3.2.1-4).

—  There has been a failure to assess these alternatives properly (refer to paragraphs A3.1.6 & A3.2.1).

—  Environmental argument:

—  The arguments on environmental impact are flawed. The project will certainly NOT reduce carbon emissions but actually be a large contributor and it will have a substantial detrimental affect on the environment (refer to paragraphs A6.1.1, A6.1.2-6 & A6.2.1).

—  The Department for Transport (DfT) are not conducting a proper Environmental Impact Analysis until after the decision has been taken which underlines that they are not taking the environmental issues seriously.

—  Demand/Business Case:

—  The arguments used in the Business Case are flawed (refer to paragraphs A3.1.1-6).

—  National Interest:

—  This appears to me to be a new argument developed when it became clear that the business and environmental cases were fundamentally flawed.

—  Additionally, the arguments for North/South divide and regeneration are also clearly flawed (refer to Paragraph A5.1.2)

Q2.  How does HSR fit with the Government's transport policy objectives

Q2.1  HSR is designed to improve inter-urban connectivity. How does that objective compare in importance to other transport policy objectives and spending programmes, including those for the strategic road network?

A2.1.1  The UK already has a fast frequent intercity service, superior to those between capital and principle cities in other major Western European countries that have high speed rail. Services on the East Coast, West Coast and Great Western are so fast that lines up-rated to their existing maximum speed (125mph or 201km/h) can qualify as high speed railways under the European Directive.

A2.1.2  As the Eddington Study found, our rail network already provides journey times comparable to or better than those of the four largest West European countries. In 2010, the average quickest journey rail connections between the capital city and their five largest cities were:

—  145 mins for UK.

—  151 mins for Spain.

—  184 mins for Italy.

—  221 mins for France.

—  244 mins for Germany.

A2.1.3  A modern signalling system (already under development in the UK and planned for implementation from 2014) would allow trains to travel faster on the existing UK track in some places.

A2.1.4  Also, travel between the locations to be linked by HS2 represents less than 1% of all rail travel in the UK and 7% of all distance travelled, and therefore the introduction of HS2 does not contribute significantly compared to the substantial outlay required, when considering the Government's overall Transport Policy Objectives.

A2.1.5  Considering all of the above, the objective of improving inter-urban connectivity seems far less important than many other transport policy objectives and spending schemes. Surely investing in the NHS, School Building Programmes, other Educational Programmes, maintenance and upgrade of the existing road and rail networks, would be of far more benefit, with substantially less disruption, to the people of the UK, as they focus on sustainable jobs and maintenance of an existing strong transport system.

Q2.2  Focusing on rail, what would be the implications of expenditure on HSR on funding for the "classic" network, for example in relation to investment to increase track and rolling stock capacity in and around major cities?

A2.2  The evidence suggests to me that the introduction of HS2 would be detrimental to the funding of our "classic" network. The business case is fundamentally flawed, as detailed in Paragraph A3.1.1, therefore overall costs are certain to be higher than predicted, which is likely to drain funding from existing transportation. France has experienced exactly the situation described above. Currently their TGV is running a debt of €29bn plus 1% of GDP to subsidise it. This has been vastly detrimental to all other Rail Services which have been starved of funding as a result.

Q2.3  What are the implications for domestic aviation?

A2.3  There is no London/Birmingham air market and rail already has 80% of the Manchester-London flow.

HS2 Ltd/DfT project a 178% increase in domestic air passengers by 2033. This assumes the third runway at Heathrow. It ignores the reality of the declining domestic air market for London. There has been a decline in domestic air passengers flying from Heathrow since 1997. Domestic passengers from all London airports to the North West and Scotland (lowlands) have been declining since 2004, and total domestic passengers have been reducing since 2005.

The forecasted volumes expected to transfer to HS2 (11,000 journeys/day - 8% of all HS2 journeys) could not occur. It is agreed amongst experts that passengers may switch from air to rail when journey times by train are less than about 3 hrs (excluding domestic air flights from northern Scotland).

Domestic air routes that are poorly served by rail or road connections may well continue to grow (for example Aberdeen-Exeter was started in 2006 and has grown rapidly), and will not be affected by a high speed rail network.

Therefore, considering all of the above, I believe there is unlikely to be any implications for domestic aviation, which adds further doubt to the Environmental Arguments for the project as HS2's only means of reducing emissions is winning traffic from air (refer to Paragraph A6.1.4 for more details).

Q3.  Business case

Q3.1  How robust are the assumptions and methodology - for example, on passenger forecasts, modal shifts, fare levels, scheme costs, economic assumptions (eg about the value of time) and the impact of lost revenue on the "classic" network?

A3.1.1  In my opinion, HS2 does not have a sound business case. It:

—  Has no commercial case and it is justified on a partial cost benefit analysis.

—  Relies on excessively high demand growth of 267% now amended by HS2 Ltd. to the still excessive 100%.

—  Relies on exaggerated time saving benefits (that presumes all travel time is currently wasted).

—  Ignores the effects of competition.

—  Is inferior to some of the alternatives considered in cost benefit terms.

A3.1.2  No commercial organisation would consider HS2 without subsidy. The "business case" shows that the incremental fares (£15 billion) do not cover the (£25.5 billion) total costs it absorbs. HS2 is in fact justified on a partial cost benefit analysis, where the uncharged consumer surplus (£28.7 billion) arising from faster journey times and less congestion, and the "wider economic benefits" (£3.6 billion) are put forward to justify the cost. The analysis is partial as it does not include either the damage to the environment of its route, or the reduction to property values from its negative impacts.

A3.1.3  Growth in rail demand within the Business Case is overstated. In the initial months of the proposal, growth was estimated at 267%. HS2 have now reduced this figure to 100%. But to maintain an acceptable benefit ratio they increased the forecast period by 10 years (2043 instead of 2033)! Even so, the benefit ratio for Phase 1 has fallen from 2.4 to 1.6, which would be very marginal even if true. Not only does this appear strongly of manipulating the figures, the new growth figure exceeds all "reasonable" current forecasts including those of Network Rail - except those of the Dft/HS2 Ltd. Additionally, the growth figure does not take into account any effect from increasing use of technology or reducing propensity for business travel due to cost. Without such a major demand, as clearly there is not, HS2 will be underutilised and make even larger losses. I strongly believe the lessons of HS1 on overestimating demand have not been learnt.

A3.1.4  The largest benefit attributed to HS2 is the time savings to travellers (£13 billion, or nearly 40% of the benefits). This is plainly overestimated: It assumes that all time on a long distance train is wasted and uses out of date data on business travellers. It neither takes into account current practices and improving information systems, nor changing patterns of employment. It is apparent, even today, when travelling by train, mobile technology is making on board time useful. With the inevitable advances in mobile technology over this extended time frame, how can the Business Case argument of time wasted during train travel be expected to apply when HS2 begins in 2026 (the first phase), let alone by 2033 when the Y route is planned to be fully operational?

A3.1.5  The case for HS2 takes no account of competition between HS2 and conventional rail services. Competition will result in lower prices for high speed and conventional rail, lower passenger volumes for HS2 or both. HS1 experience is relevant, where apparently no account was taken of cut-price airlines.

A3.1.6  Finally, the handling of the alternatives to HS2 that were developed is unsatisfactory. Two packages of alternatives (Rail Package 2 and Road Package 2) had better Net Benefit Ratios than HS2 (3.63 and 3.66 respectively). DfT neither recommend the options with the best Net Benefit Ratio, nor used these options for assessing the incremental costs with incremental benefits of HS2. If they had, the case for HS2 would be exceedingly weak.

Q3.2  What would be the pros and cons of resolving capacity issues in other ways, for example by upgrading the West Coast Main Line or building a new conventional line?

A3.2.1  There are substantial benefits with the Rail Package 2 compared to High Speed 2. However, I believe DfT have hidden and misrepresented the facts. I can only conclude that this option has not been taken seriously because it does not provide a political legacy and it is not as glamorous as a new railway - both of which are certainly not valid reasons to dismiss the best solution for the UK.

A3.2.2  The advantages of RP2 include:

—  RP2 provides all the capacity DfT say is needed (RP2 provides 135% extra capacity, extendable to 176%) and has less crowding (51% load factor on RP2 compared with 58% on HS2).

—  RP2 is cheaper than HS2 (£2 billion net cost not £11.9 billion - on DfT's 2010 figures).

—  RP2 can be delivered more quickly (no waiting until 2026) and without major disruption.

—  RP2 takes a risk free incremental approach, which can be flexed around true demand (the forecasts for which are dubious, as detailed in Paragraph A3.1.3).

—  RP2 is better value for money (50% better than HS2, on DfT's figures).

A3.2.3  A major argument for HS2 is the need to create more capacity. But extra capacity does not require a new railway, nor one capable of speeds of 400km/h, nor does it have to mean disruption on existing lines. If more capacity is needed it can be created at a small fraction of the cost of HS2, and incrementally without having to gamble on demand forecasts. The capacity needed to meet the demand that HS2 Ltd forecast for conventional rail (133%) could be met for a little over £2 billion- as compared to £11.9 billion (£25.5 billion less incremental fares, etc) for HS2 (with just over £1 billion to be spent on planning for it in this term of parliament). This alternative also meets the requirement to be high speed, as under the EU Directive high speed rail is 125mph (201km/h). To a great extent capacity can be increased without disruption to existing services. There is potential to increase the number of carriages per train following minor infrastructure improvements that are already underway and planned to be complete within two years (permitting a 65% increase in WCML capacity, almost half what is said to be needed).

A3.2.4  Furthermore, the largest part of the £44 billion benefit predicted from HS2 comes from the erroneous assumption that time is unproductive on trains (as detailed in Paragraph A3.1.4), so time savings become highly valuable. As already discussed, modern technology allows those who wish to work to do so very effectively whilst travelling by train. Also, much of the other benefits of HS2 are solely because DfT have assumed that without HS2 there will be no economic growth. In fact, the evidence that improved intercity performance has any beneficial economic effects is very weak: reductions in journey time cannot be expected to yield material productivity benefits; and faster rail travel has not been shown to deliver other economic benefits. Therefore considering all of the above, if HS2 is compared with RP2, the bulk of the HS2 benefits are eliminated.

Q3.3  What lessons should the Government learn from other major transport projects to ensure that any new high speed lines are built on time and to budget?

A3.3  The Government should learn from the HS1 project (currently running at less than 50% its capacity) not to continue pursuing high speed rail. As mentioned above, HS1 was justified with vastly overestimated demand figures (exactly the same thing has occurred in the HS2 Business Case as detailed in Paragraph A3.1.3) ultimately ensuring its fate as a major loss-making enterprise.

The Government should also learn from other countries experiences with introducing and operating HSR, such as France and Spain, where the results have been far from economic success stories.

Q4.  The strategic route

Q4.2  Which cities should be served by an eventual high speed network? Is the proposed Y configuration the right choice?

A4.2  As previously stated in Paragraphs A2.1.1-4, the UK already has a fast and efficient rail network, bettering many of our European neighbours with HSR. Using only a small proportion of the HS2 budget to upgrade existing lines (the RP2 alternative is discussed in detail in Paragraph A3.2.2), ALL cities and towns would benefit and continue to be served via the existing network.

A4.4  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?

A4.4  In my mind, the Heathrow and HS1 direct services make no economic sense. There is not enough demand to justify frequent direct services. HS2 Ltd demonstrated this in their analysis for the 2010 White Paper. Although HS2 Ltd now forecast greater potential traffic, it is still inadequate to support a sufficiently frequent service for it to be viable.

In addition the 18 trains per hour planned for peak Y operations make no allowance for trains to Heathrow and HS1 which is likely to both reduce total line capacity and reduce service availability for London Services, undermining the delivery of the claimed benefits.

Q5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

Q5.1  What evidence is there that HSR will promote economic regeneration and help bridge the north-south economic divide?

A5.1.1  In conducting my research to respond to this Transport Select Committee Inquiry, I have found that this is an area rife with poor analysis and inapposite analogies. In addition, it appears to me that this is a new argument which was developed when it became clear that the business and environmental cases did not make sense.

A5.1.2  On HS2 Ltd's own analysis, HS2 itself, leads to very limited economic growth:

—  The agglomeration growth benefits that come from faster connectivity between two centres are tiny (ie about £10m/a as Imperial College work commissioned by HS2 Ltd demonstrates).

—  HS2 Ltd ascribes £3.6 billion to wider economic benefits, of which £2.0 billion is for agglomeration and does not depend on high speed but the re-use of freed-up conventional capacity to run more local services. Such additional local services could be provided without HS2.

—  The demand forecasting work implies important redistributive effects that favour London not the West Midlands - this is inconsistent with Government's stated objective to reduce the North/South divide. The demand elasticities used in the HS2 Ltd forecasts show the major growth in travel will be in journeys into London - not starting from London - with nearly three times as many having London as their destination. This implies that expenditure will move from the regional centres to London - not the reverse - with more passengers taking trips to London and spending in London shops and amenities. This tendency to reinforce the dominance of London is confirmed by other work and is a consequence of London being an exceptionally large city (more than twice the size of other West European capitals). London is also seven times the size of the next largest UK city - other major West European capitals are about twice as big as their next largest city. In fact, DfT say 73% of the 30,000 regeneration jobs will be in London. Also, there is little evidence of high speed rail redressing regional imbalances. For example, unemployment rose in Greater Lille relative to the French average after high speed rail arrived. Transport links (Motorways and existing rail) have never been major factors in solving N/S divide, they have made matters worse.

—  OECD report concluded that there was no evidence in Europe of regeneration resulting from High Speed Rail investments. Interestingly, "Paid-for" vested reports support regenerative effects (eg Centro), academic reports (eg Imperial College, Warwick University, OECD) do not.

—  It has been claimed that 40,000 jobs will be created. However more realistic figures state 1,500 new rail jobs are expected along with 9,000 temporary construction jobs. The rest are "regeneration" jobs such as in shopping malls by new stations. These are just mainly relocation of existing jobs, and not a net increase to the country. I strongly believe we should invest in sustainable industries such as manufacturing and technology. I have heard it estimated that if the £34 billion for HS2 was invested in IT/broadband, 700,000 jobs (as opposed to the 40,000 above for HS2) would be created, of a type which would be easier to distribute and set up throughout the country, going much further to distribute wealth across the UK, perhaps really contributing to addressing the North-South divide issue.

Q6.  Impact

Q6.1  What will be the overall impact of HSR on UK carbon emissions? How much modal shift from aviation and roads would be needed for HSR to reduce carbon?

A6.1.1  The work undertaken for HS2 Ltd concludes that HS2 is "broadly carbon neutral" - ie makes no contribution to reducing carbon emissions. This is inconsistent with the official Government line that repeatedly states HS2 is part of a low carbon economy.

I strongly believe that HS2 is not "green" because:

A6.1.2  Speed is not "green". Most of HS2's forecast passengers (ie 57%) would otherwise be travelling on less energy consuming conventional rail (on HS2 Ltd's own forecasts).

A6.1.2  Encouraging more travel is not "green". 27% of the 145,000/day journeys on HS2 would not otherwise have happened (on HS2 Ltd's own forecasts). This increase represents 87% of the 2008 total of long distance journeys on the southern end of WCML.

A6.1.3  HS2's only means of reducing emissions is winning traffic from air. However as already discussed in Paragraph A2.3, total domestic passengers have been reducing since 2005. There is no London/Birmingham air market and rail already has 80% of the Manchester-London flow. The forecast gain from air exceeds the entire of the current flow of air passengers between these places and Heathrow. Despite the proven steady decline, to achieve the quoted shift from air, internal UK flights would have to increase by 178%. Also, any flight slots which are released will transfer to carbon-hungry long-haul travel.

A6.1.4  HS2's "broadly neutral" assessment is based on the carbon emissions from electricity generation on the characteristics of total average electricity production rather than the daytime demand characteristic of a railway meaning they have been under-estimated. Also, their figures are based on new power generation technology coming on stream. However Nuclear power generation has been severely impacted by the Fukushima disaster and it is well known that wind and wave power only have limited potential in this country.

A6.1.5  The most shocking oversight that I can see in the HS2 analysis is that the millions of tons of carbon generated during the construction have not been accounted for.

Q6.2  Are environmental costs and benefits (including in relation to noise) correctly accounted for in the business case?

A6.2.1  The fact that HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport are not conducting a proper Environmental Impact Analysis until after the decision has been taken underlines that they are not taking the environmental issues seriously.

A6.2.2  I have four main areas of concern:

—  Carbon Emissions (detailed in Paragraphs A6.1.1-6).

—  Noise:

—  The Appraisal of Sustainability is misleading on noise as the noise contours previously promised were not provided, making it impossible to properly assess the likely noise impact of HS2.

—  Noise was assessed against inappropriate standards. For example, an average measure of noise exposure has been used, which is inappropriate where the noise is against a tranquil background, for which peak emissions are appropriate.

—  Because of the very high speeds, aerodynamic noise becomes the major source, against which conventional noise barriers are largely ineffective.

—  The mitigating efforts for the noise produced by HS2 will produce unsightly walls and barriers across the countryside. High noise levels will be inflicted on residents both during the construction and then operation. The noise maps provided fail to show the true impact of the proposal and there is no information as to how the noise targets will be policed and controlled if exceeded.

—  Destruction of the Landscape and the Impact on Chilterns and Green Belt:

—  All of the proposed routes ignore the ANOB, green belt, farming land, footpaths, ancient monuments and listed buildings. It impacts national paths (for example the Ridgeway) and closes 79 rights of way in Bucks alone. Other protected areas and historic buildings may be at risk if the Route goes further North.

—  Route selection seems to have been based on speed and straightness. As my previous statements convey, HS2 Ltd principles were flawed with the overriding emphasis on speed and time saving at the expense of all aspects of the environment.

—  Biodiversity and the eco-system:

—  Destruction of habitat will threaten rare species and result in losing many trees. It will cut through 23km of high grade farmland. It will have a huge visual impact - the track is 75m wide including a 25m non-vegetation zone on each side which is in stark contrast to the propaganda pictures displayed by HS2 Ltd, showing sleek trains running along green fields. Most worryingly, the AoS fails to address potential local impacts, for example the effect on the Chiltern Aquifer.

Q6.3  What would be the impact on freight services on the "classic" network?

A6.3  None. HS2 ignores freight and the opportunity to remove freight from the roads.

Q6.4  How much disruption will be there to services on the "classic" network during construction, particularly during the rebuilding of Euston?

A6.4  HS2 involves the complete rebuilding of Euston Station whilst it remains in use with predicted disruption for the significant term of eight years. Furthermore HS2 will increase road congestion and cause severe disruption during its lengthy construction duration and over its entire route due to the major nature of the works creating the brand new infrastructure. Whilst the RP2 alternative will inevitability cause disruption, it would not be on the same scale as that created by the HS2 project.

May 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011