High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Exeter City Council (HSR 71)

1.  How this evidence has been compiled

This evidence has been prepared with the approval of the Council's Portfolio Holder for Sustainable Development and Transport.

1.1  Introduction

Our purpose in submitting this evidence is not to express a view on whether high speed rail is in principle the correct policy decision (since Exeter is nowhere near the proposed high speed line). Instead, our evidence concentrates on issues of relevance to Exeter and the wider South West. In summary:

—  We support investment in transport (and rail in particular) as a core element of the National Infrastructure Plan.

—  We wish to highlight the importance of investing in the rail system as a whole, in order that the benefits of high speed rail, if adopted, can be distributed throughout the whole country. Specifically, investment in local rail in Exeter and Devon is essential to underpin the growth provided for by our emerging Core Strategy.

—  If High Speed 2 comes to fruition, we strongly support the proposed inclusion of an interchange with the Great Western main line at Old Oak Common, and a connection to High Speed 1.

1.2  Our evidence

We have used your numbering, although we have not provided evidence in response to every question.

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

(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?

2.1  We are concerned about the implications for funding the "classic" network. While we support a strategy of enhancing the capacity and performance of Britain's inter-city rail network, this should apply to the network as a whole, not just the routes between London, the Midlands and the North. We welcome the separate announcement that the route from London to Bristol and Cardiff will be electrified, and urge the Government to pursue progressive electrification of the remainder of the Great Western inter-city network, including the lines to Exeter.

2.2  Use of local rail services in Devon has increased by at least 10% annually between 2001 and 2010,[85] with minimal increase in capacity[86] and consequent overcrowding. No new infrastructure south west of Bristol is proposed by the Great Western Route Utilisation Strategy, despite recognising that by 2026, Exeter and its immediate surroundings expect to see an additional 18,500 dwellings, 37,000 inhabitants and between 22,300 and 28,500 jobs.[87]

2.3  We make this point because it is crucial that development of a high speed system to serve the Midlands and North is not achieved at the expense of investment in rail in other parts of the country. On the contrary, complementing the significant investment in high speed rail with relatively modest sums for local rail will add value to the overall system by enabling seamless journeys by train from one part of the country to another.

2.4  To address the proposed growth in and around Exeter, Devon County Council has worked up proposals for a "Devon Metro" which include improved frequencies and additional stations, including three within the city's boundaries. Their Appraisal Report, submitted in support of our Core Strategy, costs two of the stations (each comprising a single platform) at around £4 million each, and the third (two platforms) at around £6 million. While it is anticipated that significant funding for the stations will come from developer contributions, including a Community Infrastructure Levy, this is unlikely to meet the cost of all three stations, or the additional passing loop (not included in the above figures) which is necessary if all of the stations are to be delivered. A passing loop and associated station improvements at Penryn, Cornwall, were recently provided at a cost of £8.5 million.

2.5  The increased frequencies, necessary because our lines are already overcrowded during the peaks, will be dependent both on funding and the availability of rolling stock. Developer funding is not going to be sufficient to pay for additional trains. In terms of rolling stock, it does not appear that sufficient diesel multiple units (DMUs) will be available nationally to enable increased frequencies to be operated on our local lines. While some DMUs will be displaced by electrification (for example around 57 trains are to be released by electrification of the Thames Valley network), we fear that there will not be sufficient diesel stock nationally to replace the 140 substandard and ageing "Pacers", let alone allow for increased services here and in other parts of the country which are experiencing significant growth.

2.6  Between them, the stations and enhanced services proposed as "Devon Metro" would make a significant contribution to serving the development proposed in and around Exeter by our Proposed Submission Core Strategy. Without them, the city's roads, which are already operating at capacity during the peaks and near capacity for much of the day,[88] will become even more congested. The Core Strategy proposes that this development is concentrated near rail lines, which will facilitate train travel as long as the necessary stations can be provided. Exeter has a successful track record in this respect - Digby and Sowton station opened in 1994 to serve a major area of new development, and now caters for over a quarter of a million passengers annually.

2.7  Although the sums needed to pay for these improvements are dwarfed by the £32 billion price tag for HS2, they are massive sums for us to raise locally. Whether or not HS2 goes ahead, this investment in "classic" rail is essential if the rail network as a whole is going to have the capacity to cater for anticipated growth across the country.

4.  The strategic route

(1)  Are the proposed stations in the best possible locations?

(4)  Is the link to HS1 the right decision?

4.1  If High Speed 2 is implemented, we support the proposed interchange with the Great Western main line at Old Oak Common, and the link to High Speed 1.

4.2  In our view, it is particularly important that if high speed rail is adopted as a national strategy, the high speed network should be fully integrated with the existing system. This integration would be enhanced by enabling travellers from west of London to connect with high speed trains at Old Oak Common, rather than having to travel via Paddington to St Pancras and back again.

4.3  This connection would admittedly be of more benefit to travellers from towns nearer to (but west of) London than it would to travellers from Exeter, who have direct services to Birmingham and the north via Bristol. However, the proposed connection to High Speed 1 would be of great benefit to the entire South West, potentially enabling travellers from Exeter to connect directly with HS1 trains. We strongly support this proposed connection.

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

4.4  We would make the point that the high speed rail network described (the Y network) is not a "national" high speed rail network, despite being described as such in the DfT's Consultation Document. However, we recognise that improvements are proposed to other parts of the national inter-city network, including partial electrification of the Great Western lines, which we welcome on the basis set out in paragraph 2.1 above. We support the policy of progressive electrification of the rail network,[89] and would welcome an extension of the wires to Devon at the earliest opportunity.

5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

(2)  To what extent should the shape of the network be influenced by the desirability of supporting local and economic regeneration?

5.1  There is a risk that in attempting to balance the economy between the north and south, imbalances are created elsewhere. For example the DfT's Consultation Paper refers to HSR bringing both Manchester and Leeds within 80 minutes of London.[90] The fastest journeys from Exeter to Paddington take around 130 minutes. It is imperative that the rail links from London to the South West are upgraded, including by the introduction of electric trains, if the competitiveness of cities and towns in the region is to be maintained.

May 2011

85   Figures from Devon County Council Back

86   Increased frequency on the Barnstaple-Exeter line has been achieved with County Council support Back

87   GW RUS Figure 5.1, page 114 Back

88   Exeter Infrastructure Planning: Baseline Traffic Evidence Base Report-Devon County Council, February 2011 Back

89   As per the statement of The Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, 1 March 2011 Back

90   At paragraph 1.6 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011