High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Mr A Bobroff (HSR 56)

This is the first time I have ever submitted evidence to a Select Committee, but given the fact that I believe that this is the biggest single investment ever undertaken in the UK and the huge implications in terms of cost, pollution and sacrifices having to be made in other areas to pay for this grand vision, a planned legacy of political vanity, I feel compelled to do so on this occasion.

1.  The main argument for HSR is to solve the capacity problem on the West Coast Main Line … if this is the case the best way to solve the problem is to implement RP2, the upgrade of WCML, by way of Longer Trains, better Rolling Stock, no first class, longer Stations, better signalling and some track addition to bypass pinch points. This would generate well over 100% extra capacity at a cost of £2 billion, 10% of the HS2 Phase1. It would have the additional benefit of being implemented incrementally and effective a lot quicker than 2026 when HS2 would be operational, by which time WCML will have grounded to a halt. So this actually needs to be done anyway and HS2 will simply divert funds away from the real problem.

2.    Another factor mitigating against investment in 20th Century technology of High Speed Trains is the advent of the 21st Century internet. Video Conferencing is growing expedentially at no cost with easy facilities to multi conference at the same time all over the world (this is new, 10 years ago companies were having to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on Video Conferencing, now every laptop has it with an easy download, this is why Microsoft have just bid £5 billion for Skype). Business Travel will reduce to those occasional necessary face to face meetings. We should be investing in super fast Broadband to reach every one in the country for instant Connectivity to our colleagues and overseas markets and suppliers.

3.  HS2 will not divert passengers away from Air Travel. There are no flights from London to Birmingham and only 20% of Passengers fly from London to Manchester. So the Passengers Transferring from Air to Rail would be few from Scotland and even by HS2 Ltd optimistic claims, this would account for 8% of HS2 Passengers, if the Y were to be completed.

4.  HS2 will not help us deliver a low carbon economy. Not even HS2 Ltd suggests this. They claim that it will be carbon neutral. So in actual fact this is probably a best case scenario.

5.  The UK Transport infrastructure is in desperate need of modernization, however the building of a High Speed Rail link between London and Birmingham, thereafter to Leeds and Manchester, at an estimated initial capital cost of £32,000,000,000, of dubious benefit to 7% of the Population, will do nothing to solve the problem.

6.  The UK Challenge, unlike France and Spain, is not to bring distant cities closer together; instead to deal with the density of Urban Transport demand.

7.  The fares will be prohibitive to the majority of people and it will therefore only be of use to a small number of wealthy business people.

8.  High Speed Rail beyond Birmingham will not be at over 200 mph, since north of Lichfield the HSR will use existing track. Further more HSR trains are not designed to go round bends, and therefore they will actually be slower than the existing Pendalino Trains that service Manchester and Leeds.

9.  We have a perfectly good High Speed Rail to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, and to save 15-20 minutes against today's journey times, hardly seems worth £34 billion, especially when by the time this is built, existing rolling stock and signalling will have been upgraded. The net time saving beyond 2026 on the journey to Birmingham will be about 10 minutes! As against the Chiltern Line or Virgin West Coast Main Line. Passengers will need these 10 minutes to get from The New Birmingham HSR terminal to Birmingham New Street.

10.  There is a far more cost effective alternative available "Rail Package 2" proposed by Network Rail which can provide all the capacity we need into the foreseeable future (20 years) for a tenth of the cost of building a new high speed rail line half way to Scotland—HS2 is not a cost effective solution to a capacity issue.

11.  Rail Package 2 proposed an upgrade on the existing West Coast Main Line, modernized signalling, longer trains, upgraded rolling stock, longer platforms, increasing capacity by between 135% and 178%, more than sufficient, even based on the exaggerated assumptions published by HS2 Ltd. NB High Speed Rail planners have a history of overestimating demand to build a business case need. HS1, the Channel Train in 1996, was forecasting a 300% passenger increase by 2004, this turned out to be a 50% increase! Continual over forecasting, led to a need for continual financial restructuring in 1998, 2001 and 2004.

12.  HS1 has just been sold off the 30 year lease for a £1½ billion, a fraction of the cost to build of £5 billion.

13.  The Financial viability of High Speed Rail has been shocking. In 2008 US Amtrak's Inspector General reported that six European nations' operations required a subsidy of $42 billion per annum.

14.  In France the taxpayer has to subsidize HSR at a cost of 1% of GDP, about 20 billion Euros per annum, plus the accumulated debt of 29 billion Euros. The Dutch High Speed Train Operator is facing Bankruptcy. None of these schemes succeed in attracting private finance. The taxpayer will therefore have to pay the deficit, at an estimated net cost to each of us of £1,500.

15.  Over half the £44 billion of benefit claimed is calculated on the basis of value of the number of minutes saved by businessmen on HS2 versus existing trains. The value of time is calculated at £70,000 per year (hardly an average), besides which I've always found time working on the train my most productive.

16.  HS2 is planned to stop nowhere between London and Birmingham, so that anyone wishing to travel either way has to get into the hub at either end to catch the train. This will be totally counter productive to people living in the huge conurbations in between Birmingham and London. Places like Coventry, Warwick, Northampton, Milton Keynes, Aylesbury or Watford will actually find their services being cut. It is no coincidence that all these County Councils are opposed to the scheme. The government is already cutting funding to our existing train services.

17.  The proposed hub at Old Oak Common, which is envisaged as a major interchange, will actually slow down the 5 million passengers a year into Paddington, who will be forced to stop there.

18.  The regional regeneration argument is spurious, of the 44,000 jobs that HS2 estimate will be created 10,000 are as a result of the building and of the balance 73% are in London, which is totally contrary to regional regeneration.

19.  In France, the Lille area, which is often quoted as a beneficiary of HSR has 50% higher unemployment than the National average and Clermont Ferrant, which is nowhere near High Speed Rail, is 50% lower.

20.  Our Regions need investment in Industrial Infrastructure to generate real growth. It is not getting to London 10 minutes faster that will generate sustainable jobs, and those that are created will only be transferred from other areas, not on the line. Would Corby want a steel mill kept open, or the facility to get to London quicker?

21.  This proposed High Speed Rail Project does nothing for the vast majority of millions of commuters who are increasingly squeezed on their daily compulsory journey to work. Nine of the 10 most crowded routes in the country will not be effected. Take a poll on the Guildford or Reading Line.

22.  This is a classic example of a Government faced with a huge transport problem, deciding to side step the actual issue, and build a vision of a shining new Engineering Structure. This is a legacy project similar to the Millenium Dome, but 40 times more expensive!

23.  The state of our roads is despicable, our cycling lanes laughable, our trains are overcrowded, old and increasing their fares by up to 12% per year.

24.  The average cut in Public expenditure is 25%, and in higher education by 80%. Councils are closing Care Homes, Libraries and Hospitals up and down the country. Our armed Forces are risking their lives without the necessary equipment.

25.  £32,000,000,000 could buy 150 University College Hospitals, run an average council for 115 years or pay for 750,000 students for four years at Universities charging the top rate.

26.  The Y HSR Network, links neither Birmingham nor Heathrow Airports and less than 8% of the Passengers transferring onto the train are estimated to come from Air travel. There are indeed no flights from London to Birmingham.

27.  As for road trips, HS2 Ltd foresees very little transfer from road to HSR, since 56% of all road journeys are short distances and commuters. It is estimated that HS2 will reduce the traffic on the M1 by 2%.

28.  Contrary to Fashionable Spin, HSR is more polluting than every other form of Transport per passenger mile except for Air.

In Summary High Speed Rail solves none of our problems, quite the reverse, it will make London even more concentric. Getting somewhere a few minutes quicker does not in itself generate economic growth. The alternatives have been dismissed out of hand, which I suppose is not surprising when the company researching is called HS2 Ltd and already has 54 full time employees. They are also being advised by engineering companies who will be bidding for the business in due coarse. Rail Package 2, electrification, modern signaling, and new rolling stock for of all our train lines are a perfectly viable, incrementally deployable alternative. We have a good rail infrastructure, it needs progressive investment, not side lining in favour of a polluting rocket train, which stops nowhere and serves few.

Government's role is to plan for the long term, to build the foundation for sustainable long-term economic growth. This is the way to bridge the North South Divide not shifting spurious numbers of people around faster on the basis of forecasts 35 years in the future. The first ever PC was sold in 1982, and has dramatically changed our lives in less than 40 years. This HS2 proposal feels rather like the rearranging of the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Let's solve the underlying problems of our Country; this is not one of them.

May 2011

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011