High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Richard A Lloyd (HSR 60)

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

Every mode of transport has an optimum speed at which energy consumption, productivity, environmental impact, safety, construction cost, and operating cost are balanced. For road transport, speeds much above 100-120 km/h produce significant impacts with little benefit in the real world. For rail, using steel on steel technology, the break point seems to be 200-250 km/h, above which the penalties are disproportionate, again with little benefit when all factors are considered.

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

Inter urban connectivity is of little concern for most people. By definition, a city will have all the facilities of a regional centre, and in most cases, making other centres more accessible will have a negative impact on facilities and thereby increase the need for travel with its attendant pollution and wasted time. For occasional journeys—cultural, business, medical, judicial etc—the concern is with the door to door journey, and its timing, comfort, security, and cost. Rail systems work best when origins and destinations are crowded around the stations. Personal rather than shared transport systems are the most effective end to end solution in most cases, the main constraint being the lack of adequate parking in "town" situations.

The strategic road network is of far more general use and importance than HSR, because of the way it can interface seamlessly with local access. Unfortunately, in recent years, the network of Trunk Roads and A roads has received little attention, and measures to reduce speeds and noise in towns have diverted flows onto longer but quicker routes. (These comments do not apply to Scotland, where upgrading roads seems to remain a priority.)

Given the parlous economics of the rail industry, any further subsidy should be directed to where there will be most benefit, and this means local radial and cross-country services, rather than high-cost express services for a few.

HSR will have little if any impact on domestic aviation. The route planning appears to be heavily influenced by aviation interests, linking major airports rather than population centres. This negates the local connectivity advantage enjoyed by conventional rail systems. A specific example is the siting of the West Midlands HS2 station at Bickenhill, where only car access is practicable. Because of the cost of HSR and the connecting monorail to Birmingham Airport, little diversion of domestic aviation can be expected. Similarly, neither will there be any stimulation of long range flights, because HS2 provides no improved access for the whole of the natural catchment area for Birmingham Airport.

3.  Business case

The same hugely exaggerated claims as were made for HS1 have been repeated with HS2. It's not only cost that will deter new users—all the stations (except Euston) are inconveniently located, and without quick and economic transport for the last few miles, trains are unattractive. HSR will have the added disadvantage of security measures to deter terrorist attacks. The measures will not be so intrusive as at airports, but would clearly be an encouragement for private car use, in the same way as airlines have seen migration to private aircraft.

The capacity issues on the West Coast Main Line are very localised. Very few trains are overcrowded, and the tracks are not fully used for much of the route. In the West Midlands (Birmingham to Rugby and Northampton), there is plenty of scope for adding carriages and services without any need for work on the track. The present peak-hour schedule is divided up by mixing local and fast trains. By segregating them, much more resilience can be provided against delays, and the available time can be better-utilised permitting many more expresses. In addition, if the demand really was there and the additional services provided, it would be possible to have long distance trains stopping at "local" stations rather than Birmingham International. This would have a dramatic effect on overall journey times and comfort, and would do much to raise the attractiveness of rail travel.

With the mixed traffic on the WCML, an increase in the speed of express trains is predicated on improving the transit times of local services. This can be done with higher performance rolling stock. Freight services are to be moved off the line in the near future, but are less of an issue because they are non-stop and can operate off peak.

Managing demand by price has some attractions, but needs to be closely regulated to avoid abusive practices. No-one is fooled by the sort of add-ons and subterfuge used by the low-cost airlines. It would be more honest to have reserved seating and first-class accommodation available at more sensible prices—or else increase capacity by going to one class throughout.

There is no prospect that HS2 will be built on time and budget. There has been no detailed design work, or investigation, done for most of the route, and the proposals for all four stations and the HS1 and Heathrow links are deeply flawed with regard to interfacing with existing railways and maintaining services during construction. Any changes here, or any mitigation measures elsewhere on the route, will have a major knock-on effect. This process is all too familiar in the defence industry, and the remedy is blindingly obvious: don't develop your plans in secret by discussion with vested interests, and don't try to rush a half-baked scheme through Parliament.

4.  The strategic route

The route for HS2 is nonsensical. There is no schedule or capacity need to come to the West Midlands, and the selection of Euston as the terminus is driven by the unnecessary Heathrow connection. While the costs of HSR look distinctly unattractive, the only way to confirm the suitability for the UK is to do a detailed study of a realistic route—from HS1/St Pancras directly north to Manchester centre. Adding massive infrastructure like this, after the towns and cities have been built, can only be done by massive demolition work or extensive tunnelling—but shouldn't we do a study to find out?

It is ridiculous to start construction on the high-cost section which has little need. If (and only if) the costs of HSR can be brought down, the obvious first application would be Glasgow to Manchester.

The Heathrow link is completely unnecessary. Local rail links across the south east into Heathrow are far more important (eg the proposed Airlink from Guildford). However, no work on rail should be done until the overall airport issues are resolved. If it's true that Heathrow is at its limit, then no money should be spent on additional rail links. Stansted or Thames Estuary locations would be far more accessible from the north of the country, and would justify major rail construction (only if operating costs could be brought down).

5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

There is no cogent reason to expect HSR to reduce inequalities. Construction work will boost employment, but that's true of all such projects. However, with major borrowings and no economic return, the diversion of money from more productive projects, and high on-going running costs, the long-term effects could be disastrous.

To answer the question about locations and socio-economic groups, Think Concorde! Heathrow and New York may have benefited, but so did Bristol and Toulouse. The problem with HSR is that most of the materials will be imported.

Yes, local authorities should make an appropriate contribution: nothing. Particularly in the West Midlands, massive disruption and intrusion for large numbers of people is bad enough—expecting them to pay for it could result in civil-disobedience or more direct unrest. One should be perfectly clear about this: if the proposal was from a private company to build and run a new transport system, and they were seeking permission to do so, it would be an entirely different process of evaluation. Depending on the details, it might be found proper for the public purse to assist and facilitate some aspects of the project. However, with HSR, it seems taxpayers will carry the whole risk while private contractors are guaranteed a return in perpetuity.

6.  Impact

The effect on CO2 emissions will be detrimental, during construction and afterwards. HSR depends on peak-time electricity, which will be fossil fuelled for the foreseeable future. It is entirely wrong to go for a new system that uses three time the energy of known and satisfactory current systems. By the time HSR is widely in service, road traffic will have hugely reduced carbon emissions. Local personal transport will be battery-powered, charged off-peak from renewables or nuclear.

In twenty years time, aircraft will be twice as fuel efficient, and could be more so if it was international policy to reduce cruise speeds. One only has to look at the ultra-efficient military UAVs which can stay airborne for tens of hours.

Moreover, aviation isn't going to go away or go into a serious decline. Synthetic liquid fuels will be developed and produced by countries with sufficient foresight. As CO2 concentrations rise, yields from plants and algae will improve anyway.

Sadly, there has been no proper accounting of environmental impacts. Compensation won't be payable except for property valuations. Sustaining the quality of life is vital in the national interest, and can be quantified by considering the cost of substitution of resources. For instance, there is the CAVAT methodology for assessing the financial value of amenity trees.

May 2011

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011