High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from the North East Transport Activists Roundtable (HSR 61)

NECTAR, the North East Combined Transport Activists Roundtable, is an open, voluntary, umbrella body, established to provide a forum in which the many organisations with an interest in sustainable transport in all its forms can develop a co-ordinated view on contemporary transport issues. NECTAR provides opportunity for the exchange of news, studies and information.

Membership of NECTAR is open to organisations which:

—  support the use of sustainable transport and sustainable changes to the transport infrastructure;

—  broadly support integrated transport and land use policies which reduce the need to travel;

—  promote better provision for public transport, walking and cycling; and

—  seek to minimise any negative environmental or social impacts of transport, whilst maximising accessibility, safety, good health and quality of life for all.

NECTAR is one of a national network of Transport Activists' Roundtables working together with the Campaign for Better Transport, railfuture northeast and similar national bodies that share the core aim to promote sustainable transport.

NECTAR executive committee members currently include Campaign for Better Transport (Tees Valley), Chester-le-Street Station, Campaign to Protect Rural England (North East), Cyclists Touring Club, Durham Coastliners, Friends of the Earth (North of England and Newcastle/Gateshead), Living Streets Tyneside Area, railfuture northeast, Tyne & Wear Older People's Transport Forum and the Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership, but all are welcome to participate.

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

We strongly support HS2 in principle. The main argument for high speed rail is that the status quo is unsustainable, by which we mean will not be able to continue as at present. Passenger numbers, already commonly in excess of the available capacity, are set to rise significantly according to route utilisation strategies prepared by Network Rail. UK transport is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, contributes significantly to UK carbon emissions, and is responsible for serious air quality problems in places where there is traffic congestion. Increasing capacity for road traffic and aviation is not a strategy that can be guaranteed to deliver the UK's transport needs.

There are also major economic benefits to be gained, particularly the agglomeration benefits for the Midlands and Northern towns and cities. For Great Britain to benefit fully from high speed rail requires it to be integrated into the European high speed network. Failing to invest in high speed rail or integrate it into the European network runs the risk of isolating the majority of the country that lies outside London. Britain needs a rail network as effective as the best in Europe to be able to compete.

Finally there are improvements to health (resulting from reduced air pollution) and safety (as accidents and injuries from rail travel are so much less than on the roads).

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

We are not sure what are the Government's transport policy objectives: there has been no white or green paper from DfT since the coalition government took office.

Secretary of State Philip Hammond has outlined long term challenges in a speech delivered in September 2010 as follows:(1) For long-distance, inter-urban journeys, our challenge is to make the train the mode of choice. For short-distance urban travel, our challenge is to make public transport or low-impact modes such as walking and cycling the most attractive options. The Secretary of State goes on to suggest that medium distance complex journeys will still be made by car, although it will be electrically driven. We agree with the general thrust of this statement, interpreting public transport to include local rail, metro, tram and bus, all electrically powered.

An alliance of environmental organisations (Campaign for Better Transport, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Chiltern Society, Civic Voice, Environmental Law Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace UK, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust) has pointed out that the High Speed Rail proposals do not form part of any comprehensive long term transport strategy.(2) They suggest the following objectives for such an overall strategy: reducing the need to travel, improving rail capacity and connectivity throughout the country, reducing regional economic disparities and ending dependence on oil.

We would agree broadly with these objectives. We believe that high speed rail should form part of the strategy, delivering a national rail network that provides attractive transport links between major centres of population throughout Great Britain.

2.1  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?

Transport networks in the UK are necessary for the movement of people and goods, and these networks at present are often congested resulting in delays and inefficiency costs to individuals and businesses. Investment in transport networks is therefore necessary to ensure the continuing prosperity of the country. It is true that the majority of traffic is carried by the road network (largely because of the road building policies of previous decades and the construction of facilities only accessible by car), and that the existing network must be well maintained. Nevertheless, experience has shown that new road construction leads only to more traffic and increased congestion elsewhere.

We believe that the railway is better suited to a future in which carbon emissions must be reduced and in which fossil fuels may not be available in the quantities in which the world has become used to consuming them. It therefore follows that investment in the classic rail network and in high speed rail is a priority, not least because the primary fuel source for rail traction does not have to be oil or indeed fossil fuel dependent. The increasing availability of non-combustion driven transport provides an opportunity to ensure that the polluter pays.

2.2  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?

The present plans for HSR do not anticipate serious levels of expenditure before 2015, but the key expenditure programmes on the classic rail network need commitment now. The classic rail network is already seriously stretched throughout the country. A much smaller proportion of the network is electrified than in other European countries. Wales is almost unique in Europe in having no electrified rail or light rail services. Despite considerable investment in new trains, much of the fleet, particularly in the North of England, is old and increasingly unreliable (witness the current Rail Accident Investigation Branch investigation of an incident at Durham (3) in which part of the drive shaft from a class 142 Pacer train dropped on to the track, something that turns out not to have been an isolated instance). To meet the challenges of the future, considerable investment will be required in the classic network now. Many opponents of high speed rail believe that HS2 will starve the classic network of investment funds. The Government can show that this is false by continuing (and even expanding) its plans for electrification and new rolling stock either within or outside franchise contracts.

2.3  What are the implications for domestic aviation?

In other European countries, the introduction of high speed rail services has resulted in declining passenger numbers for domestic aviation and the consequent withdrawal of services. On environmental grounds, we are entirely comfortable with this outcome.

3.  Business case

3.1  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?

The business case has been contentious, criticised on the one hand by those opposed to HS2 as depending on unrealistic numbers of passengers and on the other by supporters as being unduly pessimistic. We do not have the capability to make a detailed assessment of the business case, but would say that in many other parts of Europe patronage of high speed rail has met or exceeded projections. Nearer to home, HS1 now delivers around 80% of all ticketed journeys between London, Paris and Brussels.

The track record of forecasting passenger numbers in this country is one of seriously underestimating use almost immediately after a new line is opened. Recent examples include Bathgate to Airdrie, Stirling to Alloa, and the Ebbw Vale line. Improved forecasting techniques have been developed by Network Rail (see for example the East Coast Main Line 2016 Capacity Review and the draft Northern Route Utilisation Strategy).

The latest rail passenger figures show a marked increase, which has been attributed to increasing fuel prices and consequent higher cost of motoring. This is a continuing trend despite disproportionate fare increases imposed by Government. Rail travel in Britain is already the most expensive in Europe.

HS1 shows that it is possible to deliver a high speed rail project on time and on budget. Extensive economic modelling has shown that high speed rail has overwhelming economic benefits for the national economy.(4)

We should also reiterate the fact that time spent driving a vehicle is time lost to any alternative activity: time spent as a passenger can be used for other purposes, to suit the needs or wishes of the passenger.

It is therefore likely that the business case rests on reasonable economic assumptions and that estimates of passenger numbers are more likely to be pessimistic than optimistic.

3.2  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?

High speed rail fits badly with other trains on mixed use lines. The greater disparity of speeds reduces capacity. Signalling requirements mean that every other train using the line has to be fitted with dedicated equipment. This argument was rehearsed in the early stages of the last West Coast Mail Line upgrade, when other operators balked at the cost of equipment that would allow Virgin West Coast trains to run at 140 mph.

The West Coast Main Line upgrade concluded in the last decade was an object lesson in how not to go about increasing capacity: the process resulted in serious disruption to passengers, massive cost overruns, and convulsed the rail industry and government during the years that it was underway.

High speed rail will remove one class of long distance trains from some of the classic network. This will allow expansion of regional and commuter services on the routes concerned. There is already discussion of how stations on the West Coast Mail Line can benefit from the extra timetable space.

3.3  What would be the pros and cons of alternative means of managing demand for rail travel, for example by price?

UK rail fares are already the most expensive in Europe and are set to increase by RPI + 3% for the next three years. Making an already expensive railway even more costly is unreasonable, especially for taxpayers who are compelled to support the system but cannot afford to use it.

It must be remembered that through Government intervention rail travel has been made increasingly expensive over the past four decades, while the cost of motoring has been held flat in real terms. Recent examples include the 1p reduction in fuel tax this year whilst imposing RPI + 3% increases in rail fares. The inevitable consequence of these price signals is the levels of road congestion that we currently experience. The increasing Government funded availability and artificially constructed cost advantage of road transport (including the differing fares and taxes already alluded to, together with the recent subsidy for trading-in old cars) has also led to high levels of car dependency. The adverse impact resulting from this dependency is well documented, but in this context the financial consequences are widespread. The cost to the health service alone in dealing with obesity, respiratory disease and road traffic accidents is considerable.

There is a role for decreasing demand for travel overall. Business is increasingly using techniques such as teleconferencing. Promoting alternatives to travel is a recent addition to DfT's agenda. Nevertheless, if road traffic is to be reduced then capacity on the railway must increase significantly. Given the current modal shares of road and rail transport, even small shifts from road to rail will mean that minor reductions in road traffic will correspond to large demands on rail capacity. This points to the need for a modern transport strategy that takes these factors into account and provides a context for the contribution expected from high speed rail.

3.4  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?

Consult widely, agree the specification in detail before work begins and don't change it. HS1 sets a good precedent.

4.  The strategic route

4.1  The proposed route to the West Midlands has stations at Euston, Old Oak Common, Birmingham International and Birmingham Curzon Street. Are these the best possible locations? What criteria should be used to assess the case for more (or fewer) intermediate stations?

High speed rail ceases to deliver significantly shorter journey times if there are too many stops en route. We are not otherwise concerned to debate the merits of alternative station locations, but note that the key strategic link required is with HS1 to bring Britain into the European network (see 4.4).

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

The proposed Y configuration is far better than the alternative reverse S route, which would have seen journeys between London and Leeds going via Manchester. However, the key word is network; as in France, Germany, Spain Italy, Japan, China and elsewhere, the eventual network should link all the main towns including but not necessarily limited to Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff, Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Southampton. The Y route is a good core southern line but a national network is an imperative. High Speed 1 delivers London/Brussels in 2 hours 15 minutes; the indicative HS2 time for London Newcastle is 2 hours 37 minutes, hence the need for a high speed network. Britain has a lot of catching up to do.

4.3  Is the Government correct to build the network in stages, moving from London northwards?

The lengthy planning, consultation and parliamentary phases of the project mean that building HS2 in stages is likely to reduce the time taken to get the first stage finished. Nevertheless, we believe on the basis of continental comparisons that a high speed network could and should be constructed and in operation very much more quickly that the present plans suggest.

Opponents of HS2 who live in areas affected by the current alignment claim that there is no need for high speed rail because the UK is a small country. This is not true in terms of distance: for example London is further from Edinburgh than Paris is from Zurich. It also ignores the benefits of faster journeys and extra capacity on the network. There is a pressing need for greater capacity between cities of the North of England, where overcrowding on services between Leeds and Manchester is severe. Existing transpennine services are slow and follow circuitous routes. We believe that high speed rail might have got off to a less contentious beginning if a route linking Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham had been proposed.

4.4  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?

Yes, it is important that HS2 links to HS1 from the start in order to encourage through travel to Europe by train from regions of Britain outside the South East. It is important to project the concept of a European high speed rail network; the feeding of intercontinental flights by rail is less important.

5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

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

International comparisons suggest that destinations linked into a high speed network experience a significant increase in prosperity. The classic example is the transformation of Lille. It should not be forgotten that Ebbsfleet International station was built on HS1 specifically to regenerate the surrounding area. We would hope to see this effect in the North of England. The agglomeration benefits of high speed links from Birmingham through the Midlands towns to Teesside, Tyneside and Edinburgh would develop a "centre" (measured as journey time) of population as large as London with the associated impact on regional output. To this end, it is essential that Leeds station is developed as a through station from the start and not as a terminal. The increasing integration of Edinburgh and Glasgow through the current frequent rail service gives a small indication of what could be achieved.

5.2  To what extent should the shape of the network be influenced by the desirability of supporting local and regional regeneration?

It is unrealistic to expect local regeneration directly from a high speed rail network. However regional regeneration is a highly desirable consequence, that is implicit in the forecasts of classic rail travel growth across the north seen in the Northern RUS. To that end, the high speed network should link the nation's major centres of population, particularly along routes that are not currently served by fast services, eg, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Hull. Just as Broadband has transformed electronic communications, high-speed rail has the potential to transform physical connectivity.

5.3  Which locations and socio-economic groups will benefit from HSR?

Locations directly served by the new line will benefit most directly, but there will be indirect benefits for others. These include locations on the classic rail network that benefit from better services, as well as those areas that suffer from road congestion or heavy goods traffic where these movements can be attracted to rail. The benefit is likely to be seen across the socio-economic spectrum either directly or indirectly through the jobs created in manufacturing, tourism and the service industries. Labour movement would be more effective and travel more efficient. University and science based businesses would be brought more closely together for the benefit of all.

5.4  How should the Government ensure that all major beneficiaries of HSR (including local authorities and business interests) make an appropriate financial contribution and bear risks appropriately? Should the Government seek support from the EU's TEN-T programme?

As a central government scheme, the core funding and risk should be carried centrally. However, there are major opportunities for local authorities and private businesses to contribute to specific projects such as stations and station environments both in the construction and operation phases. The consultation makes no mention of TEN-T funding. In principle, the Government should seek funding from any source, European or otherwise, willing to provide it.

6.  Impact

6.1  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?

Overall, the impact would be a reduction in carbon dioxide and other pollutant emissions: any shift from air or road would make a positive contributi0on. However, quantification of the impact on UK carbon emissions of high speed rail (and the existing network of electrified railway which is planned to increase with the electrification of lines from Paddington to Cardiff) will depend on how the required electricity is generated. A detailed discussion lies outside the scope of this response, but without doubt the low carbon technologies and green economy manufacturing capabilities of the North East would benefit, thus building on the region's unique balance of trade surplus and contributing towards a relative growth in the economic output of the north of England.

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

It is hard to quantify non-economic costs and benefits. It must be acknowledged that some areas will suffer from noise and other disruption. It must also be acknowledged that other areas experience noise, disruption and air pollution from road traffic congestion and noise from domestic aviation, all of which high speed rail will diminish. So far as we can tell, these effects have been taken into account in the business case, but others are better placed to discuss the detail. The experience of HS1 is that fears expressed before its construction have mostly not been realised.

6.3  What would be the impact on freight services on the "classic" network?

The impact of high speed rail on freight services will be wholly beneficial because of the extra capacity made available by the rerouteing of fast passenger services to the high speed network. The effect would be of two-fold benefit to freight in that the timetable space released by the services removed could be made available to freight and the resultant nearer match in speed of the traffic using the classic line would increase the capacity overall.

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

Precedents for this exist in the construction of the original channel tunnel terminus at Waterloo and the subsequent construction of the High Speed 1 terminus at St. Pancras. Given this experience gained, it can reasonably be predicted that the disruption would be proportionately reduced. However, the proposal for Euston station is for it to be completely rebuilt and hence, as with all construction projects, disruption to existing passenger services is inevitable. The consultation document specifies the final shape of the station and states that careful planning will mitigate as much as possible the adverse impacts. Outside the station areas, a major benefit of the new railway concept is that there will be minimal disruption to users of the existing network.

May 2011


(1)  Sustainable Transport, Speech by Philip Hammond to the IBM START Conference Business Summit, 10 September 2010 http://www.dft.gov.uk/press/speechesstatements/speeches/hammond20100910

(2)  The Right Lines—A Charter for High Speed Rail, CPRE, April 2011

(3)  Investigation into an incident at Durham station, 10 April 2011, Rail Accident Investigation Branch

(4)  The Economic Case, YES to High Speed Rail http://www.campaignforhsr.com/the-economic-case

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011