Written evidence from the Institution
of Mechanical Engineers (HSR 62)|
1. What are the main arguments either for
or against HSR
The main arguments for High Speed rail (HSR) are
economic. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has
consistently supported the development of HSR as an integral part
of a sustainable transport infrastructure as in the UK's long
term economic interests. It will enable regional development as
part of a broader socio-economic policy.
Modern economies rely heavily on cities, and cities
rely on good communications for access to them, between them,
and movement around them. The global shift is towards greater
use of railways because of their inherent strengths:
capacity for high volume movements between urban centres.
environmental advantages which include:
land take per unit of capacity.
reliance on fossil fuels (subject to electricity generation mix).
significant emissions at point of use.
energy requirement per passenger kilometre.
There is nothing special about the UK cities and
demographics that nullifies these advantages.
Additional factors which support HSR are:
Sustainable efficient movement of passengers
in high volumes does not depend on any technological breakthrough.
All of the technologies required to achieve HSR levels of performance
are already in proven operation. This brings high levels of certainty
and lower risk into decision making.
Europe and network benefits
The UK has a direct rail connection to
Europe, where rail and HSR are an important and growing part of
the transport infrastructure. Experience shows that rail is an
attractive option for travel between the UK and near European
cities. Presently this impact is restricted to London and the
South East but HSR will significantly spread this opportunity.
Capacity where it's needed
Recent growth in the attractiveness of
rail has taken the existing network to the limits of its capacity
in key flows. The growth has been despite a perception of relatively
high fares. HSR provides the capacity the system needs on a prime
routes key to the development of the UK economy and demographics.
Journey time is an important factor in modal competition.
Continued movement towards rail as an efficient mode in applications
that play to its strengths (eg Inter-City travel) depends on development
of high quality public transport services. It is clear that HSR
is part of this development. The competitive position of the rail
mode will decline and its advantages will be lost to the country
unless the quality of the rail offering continues to improve through
Laying down railway infrastructure is
a long term investment and decision. The benefits are inherent
and sustainable. It is not possible to imagine a role for London
as a world city without the rail infrastructure that serves it.
This infrastructure was built largely by the Victorians and has
already lasted 150 years. As we lay down new rail infrastructure
it is important that we do not restrict its future flexibility
in speed and capacity. The plans developed for HSR are in line
with global and European standards.
The faster the travel, the more energy is consumed,
the greater the noise, and all other factors being equal, the
safety risk is higher. The energy and noise issues are fundamental
to the physics of air resistance. They can be mitigated by good
aerodynamic design but cannot be eliminated except by speed reduction.
The IMechE has consistently argued that our trains should go as
fast as they need to, not necessarily as fast as they can. Nevertheless
it follows that a flexible infrastructure allows for them to go
as fast as is safe and efficient to achieve the necessary economic
benefits. This speed is currently around 350kph, but can be expected
to rise towards 400kph over the life of the investment.
The safety risk can be designed out to such an extent
that the Japanese HS system has operated in a densely populated
corridor for 50 years without a single passenger fatality from
a train collision or derailment. HSR should have a dedicated infrastructure
with the same design elements.
2. How does HSR fit with the Government's
transport policy objectives
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?
The policy objectives are driven by the government's
socio-economic and climate change objectives:
(a) The proven ability of good rail communications
to revitalise and regenerate regions and cities provide an excellent
fit with the socio-economic objectives.
(b) The key 2050 climate change objective is
indirectly met through:
shift from less sustainable modes.
of capacity on the existing network to meet shorter journey length
attractiveness of the rail mode through high quality service provision.
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?
Compared to London, other UK cities have less dense
use of their railway infrastructure. It follows that increasing
this density makes economic sense. In general this is achieved
first by longer trains, more frequent services, and electrification.
These improvements require less capital than building new capacity
and infrastructure. Both new lines and improvements to the "classic"
network will be required in future with a balance to be struck
on socio-economic grounds. The needs and the solutions are complementary,
not mutually exclusive.
2.3 What are the implications for domestic
To a limited extent, HSR will reduce the level of
internal domestic air travel which will release airport capacity
for essential longer flights. The UK aerospace industry therefore
has an opportunity to retain its position as a global power in
technology and manufacturing and service delivery. By way of contrast
the UK railway engineering industry will further suffer if its
home market does not participate in the global and European rail
shift to HSR.
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 IMechE's position in relation to this question
is related to our competence on the issue of engineering costs.
We believe the assumptions and methodology to have had an appropriate
level of peer review and professional input. This is coupled with
recent (HS1) experience that gives a great deal of confidence
in the cost side of the business case presented.
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?
By way of contrast with the positive HS1 experience
mentioned above, upgrading the West Coast Main Line (WCML) has
been likened to "open heart surgery half way up the Matterhorn".
The financial costs are high and relatively unpredictable. Such
a project on a key route would inevitably involve completely unacceptable
levels of disruption that damage the attraction of the rail mode
and delay its full contribution to the government's transport
Building a new conventional line would not necessarily
be cheaper or quicker, but would artificially limit the future
flexibility of the route as part of the network. The land take
and visual impact would be near identical. In the limit, trains
on a High Speed line can always slow down for environmental reasons
if required to do so. On the other hand, signalling or curvature
constraints built into a railway are expensive to remove, as is
witnessed by the recent WCML upgrade experience.
3.3 What would be the pros and cons of alternative
means of managing demand for rail travel, for example by price?
There is a logical case for travel pricing to be
related to the full cost of provision including all external costs.
On the other hand, constraining the achievement of socio-economic
goals through artificially raising the price of any mode does
not make sense. Taxation policies need to support the overall
strategy. Indirect beneficiaries (e.g. property developers, affected
landowners, growth businesses) should also bear their share of
the costs. Some subsidy of non-economic transport activities (eg
high peak operation) may also be necessary to meet economic and
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?
Recent experience suggests that the UK has the skill
base and know-how to deliver major rail infrastructure projects
on time and to budget, even when they have some involvement with
the existing infrastructure (eg HS1 and St Pancras). The major
delay for UK plc lies in a planning regime that injects uncertainty
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)
4.2 Which cities should be served by an eventual
high speed network? Is the proposed Y configuration the right
4.3 Is the Government correct to build the
network in stages, moving from London northwards?
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?
There are no overriding engineering based reasons
that make the IMechE question the proposed route or build phasing
strategy. Nevertheless engineering costs will be contained to
a minimum if the government can provide the confidence in a rolling
programme that will support private investment in the skills and
equipment required for highly mechanised and efficient production
of new railway in a competitive environment.
5. Economic rebalancing and equity
5.1 What evidence is there that HSR will promote
economic regeneration and help bridge the north-south economic
5.2 To what extent should the shape of the
network be influenced by the desirability of supporting local
and regional regeneration?
5.3 Which locations and socio-economic groups
will benefit from HSR?
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?
We have no response for these economic questions.
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?
We understand that the overall impact of HS2 on the
country's Carbon emissions by the key date of 2050 to be limited
or broadly neutral. It will provide extra capacity with the potential
for it to be low or even zero carbon. The degree of modal shift
required will vary depending on the speed with which each mode
improves its Carbon efficiency relative to the other modes. Nevertheless,
a half-full train running on green electricity has the lowest
carbon emissions per pass. km of all land transport, by a significant
margin. This position does not need new evidence to support it.
The IMechE has always argued that the UK energy policy needs to
reduce the Carbon emissions in the generation mix. When this has
been achieved the Carbon penalty associated with higher speed
rail travel will be largely eliminated. Electric trains operation
in Sweden has emissions per pass.km several thousand times less
than the UK average due entirely to this factor.
6.2 Are environmental costs and benefits (including
in relation to noise) correctly accounted for in the business
The IMechE has no evidence to question the accounting
for environmental costs in the business case. It would appear
from the lack of complaints related to HS1 operation that the
noise impact can be overrated by objectors at the planning stage.
The external costs of all transport modes based on fossil fuel
use need to fully reflect the health effects, including for example,
the respiratory affect of poor air quality in cities.
6.3 What would be the impact on freight services
on the "classic" network?
Increasing the available capacity on the "classic"
network delivers the opportunity to increase those services which
will contribute most to the government's transport related socio-economic
objectives. In some cases these will be freight services designed
to produce the optimum modal mix between coastal shipping, trunk
rail and local road distribution networks.
6.4 How much disruption will be there to services
on the "classic" network during construction, particularly
during the rebuilding of Euston?
The building of a new line implies that the majority
of the disruption will be to other modes and city life in the
affected areas. The recent experience of HS1 at St Pancras suggests
that this can be contained by good construction practice and engineering