High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Andrew Bodman (HSR 72)

What are the main arguments for or against HSR?

1.  The net benefit ratio for HS2 lies between 0.3 (phase 1) and 0.6 (phases 1 and 2) when corrected figures are used for demand and benefits (Source: HS2 Action Alliance). That is well short of HM Treasury requirements where the minimum value is 2.

The UK economy (GDP) flatlined between October 2010 and March 2011. Its growth in the first quarter of 2011 was 0.5%, which was below that for Greece (0.8%) and the eurozone (0.8%).The European Commission has downgraded its forecast for the UK's economic growth to 1.7% for 2011. In these circumstances the Government must seriously question spending £33 billion on a project particularly when there are much better value for money alternatives available.

HS2 offers poor value for money. At a cost of £130m per mile for phase 1, it will cost more than four times as much as the average European high-speed line. (Source: Financial Times editorial 28/2/11)

HS2 is likely to require an ongoing subsidy based on the fact that there are only two profitable high-speed rail routes in the world: Paris—Lyon and Tokyo—Osaka. (Source: http://www.newgeography.com/content/001344-high-speed-rail-toward-least-worst-projections)

The operators of the recently opened high speed rail systems in the Netherlands and Taiwan have run into serious financial difficulties. (Source: Reuters and International Journal of Business and Management). As the UK rail system already receives an annual subsidy of £5 billion per year, I consider it inappropriate to consciously add to that.

The design is fatally flawed because there will be a bottleneck on the Birmingham—London section of HS2 once the high speed lines to Leeds and Manchester are opened. See my response to section 4.2 on page 4.

The focus of the HS2 project appears to have been on reducing journey times rather than increasing passenger capacity; in my view, increasing passenger capacity is the more important priority. A train running at 225 mph for most of its journey from London to Birmingham will save 10 or 11 minutes over a train running at 160 mph. Is that 10 minutes so important? In my opinion it is not.

One of the biggest issues facing our rail system is seriously overcrowded trains at peak times travelling into major conurbations such as London, Leeds and Manchester. HS2 addresses a very small proportion of that problem as it focuses on one route (West Coast Mainline) and provides some additional relief on another route (East Coast Mainline). It does not address the serious overcrowding that has existed for years on other routes into London, as well as routes into Leeds, Manchester, etc. which affects season ticket holders, regular commuters and other rail users some of whom regularly have to stand for their journeys every day.

It will be 15 years (Birmingham) and 21 years (Leeds and Manchester) before HS2 brings any solution to existing and future train overcrowding. It is unacceptable to wait all those years when there are much cheaper solutions available in a few years time, ie Rail Package 2.

During HS2 phase1, Manchester and Stockport will have a reduction in seat capacity on their routes despite this route being forecast to have the highest passenger growth. Some stations such as Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent and Shrewsbury are expected to experience a reduction of train services. For HS2 phase 2, the following stations would see no passenger capacity increase: York, Darlington, Durham, Newcastle, Berwick on Tweed, Edinburgh. (Source: HS2 Action Alliance).

In 2006 Sir Rod Eddington was commissioned by the Government to examine the long-term links between transport and the UK's economic productivity, growth and stability. In volume 3 of his report, you will find the following: "4.166 Upgrading rolling stock and lengthening trains on congested rail links, combined with changes to timetables to increase frequency can significantly increase the effective capacity of existing rail lines. Evidence of illustrative interventions to increase variable capacity on inter-urban links into London by investing in new rolling stock, for example, suggests strong returns are possible from well-targeted interventions, with wider BCRs ranging between 1 and 13 and costs between £50 and £500 million but more typically between 1 and 3.28 The higher returns are largely driven by the ability to add variable capacity with minimal infrastructure requirements". That describes Rail Package 2 very neatly, a much cheaper option the Government is now choosing to overlook.

The compensation arrangements are completely unsatisfactory. Homeowners whose houses will have to be destroyed have not been contacted by DfT or HS2 Ltd. The principles on which compensation will be based have not yet been determined, even though many homeowners have suffered property blight for more than one year. One of the compensation schemes being considered will not provide any compensation until 2027 (phase 1) or 2033 (phase 2). One is hardly encouraged by the workings of the Exceptional Hardship Scheme when 60% of the applications made so far have been rejected (Source: Guardian, 15 May 2011). The compensation arrangements are quite unacceptable.

HS2 is claimed to be broadly carbon neutral; that is unlikely given that 87% of passengers will either be making new journeys or be switching from lower carbon "classic" rail. Even if it is carbon neutral, that is not compatible with a government objective of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

It is also routed through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is opposed by many organisations such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Green Party, Institute of Economic Affairs, National Trust, Ramblers, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Wildlife Trusts and Woodland Trust.

The Kent Criteria for HS1, established by Kent County Council, do not appear to have been adopted for HS2.

It appears that the cost of the link to Heathrow has been omitted from the consultation material. That would add at least £7 billion making a total cost of approximately £40 billion for phases 1 and 2. (Source: costing by Arup engineers, printed in Uxbridge Gazette 11/05/2011). Hence the business case for HS2 becomes even worse and the public consultation is taking place with incorrect costs.

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

2.2  It is likely there will be adverse effects on rail investments in other parts of the UK. For example, an announcement was made on 25 November 2010 that 650 additional rail carriages would be introduced between 2010 and 2014. However this represented a 50% reduction from 1300 of the number of carriages previously announced to be added in that time period. (Source: RMT.)

2.3  The majority of passengers currently travelling between Manchester and London use rail in preference to air travel. Those who may switch from air to rail if HS2 is built are more likely to be based in Glasgow or Edinburgh. If any slots are released at Heathrow or Gatwick then these will almost certainly be used for long haul flights instead (Source: BAA), which will increase not reduce carbon emissions.

Business Case

3.1  While the DfT's latest forecasts for HS2 now show a rail passenger growth of 216% (was 267%) by 2043 (was 2033) for HS2 routes, the forecast is flawed for several reasons. Eddington has said that the model used should not project forecasts for more than 10 years. Out of date forecasting factors have been used; PDFH v5.0 should have been used. The historic base 2008 base numbers have been changed. Demand for travel is saturating; this has been ignored. The above information comes from HS2 Action Alliance.

In 2006 Aalborg University made a study of 210 infrastructure projects in 14 countries; they found 90% of rail projects had overestimated passenger forecasts. The average overestimate was 106%. By 2009, Channel Tunnel rail passengers (9.2 million) had reached approximately one third of those originally forecast for 2006 (25 million).

Fare levels have not been provided in the HS2 consultation documents. However they have a very direct bearing on whether a user chooses to travel by high speed rail or classic train. On HS1 in Kent, the high speed fare premium appears to be 20%. (Source: The Trainline for fares from Ashford to London). This has discouraged a significant number of regular commuters from switching to HS1 from classic trains. Consequently South Eastern Trains have taken a number of the Javelin carriages out of use as demand has not met their expectations. (Source: http://www.metro.co.uk/news/824624-140mph-train-service-is-reduced-after-complaints

Kent rail travellers on conventional trains have been very upset by the slower trains (more stops), less frequent service and higher prices since the HS1 Javelin service was introduced. Over 2,000 of them signed a Downing Street petition and their MP Roger Gale even asked questions in the House of Commons.


In making the case for HS2, it has been assumed that business travellers do not work on trains. Therefore it is argued that any time saved by a reduced train journey is an economic benefit. The logic applied is clearly wrong as anyone travelling on rush hour trains will see passengers using laptops, mobile phones or preparing for meetings by reading through presentations. This error seriously undermines the business case.

The impact of lost revenue on the classic network is likely to mean that it will require increased subsidy (in addition to that required for HS2 itself).

3.2  Rail Package 2 (London—Birmingham) provides a 177% increase in standard class capacity which is far in excess of the 102% background growth forecast by HS2 for 2043 (Source: Chris Stokes). It has a cost of £4.3 billion rather than £17 billion (2009 prices). RP2 can be delivered in a few years rather than waiting for 2026. It provides a risk free incremental approach (rather than the HS2 all or nothing). It has a net benefit ratio of 3.6 rather than the HS2 net benefit ratio of between 0.3 and 0.6, using corrected figures from HS2 Action Alliance.

Rail Package 2 would provide an increase in capacity by lengthening existing WCML trains to 12 carriages (except Liverpool trains which would have to be limited to 11 carriages) and by refitting one first class carriage per train as standard class. It also involves removing seven existing pinch points. Similar principles could be applied on ECML and MML. (Source: HS2 Action Alliance and Chris Stokes).

I attach no credibility to the recently revised costings for RP2. To suggest the cost of rolling stock has increased by 100% in 13 months is simply not believable. The DfT also said that the uplift for risk and optimism bias had been omitted and therefore needed to be added to make it comparable to HS2. However I would suggest that it was already included; see "High Speed Two Strategic Alternatives Study, Strategic Outline Case" by Atkins March 2010 on page 56, there is a breakdown of the costs for Rail Package 2; this includes a 60% uplift for risk and optimism bias. Hence we appear to have a case of double counting for RP2.

A conventional line would not require such a straight route and therefore there would be more possible choices of route. In addition its rolling stock would be cheaper (engineered for lower speeds) and it would be greener because its energy consumption would be less.

3.3  Rail travel should be encouraged as an alternative to air or road as it is generally considered to be a greener form of transport. Therefore reducing demand for rail by significantly increasing rail fares will almost certainly increase carbon emissions.

If the government want to reduce travel, one of the ways of doing so would be to provide a better broadband service. Compared to many other countries our broadband service is slow; we need to use fibre cables to improve broadband speed. Rural areas must be included. This will make video conferencing more accessible, assist businesses in many ways and facilitate more working from home.

The Strategic Route

4.1  Birmingham Interchange and Birmingham Curzon Street are stand alone stations which are not integrated into the existing rail network. Passengers arriving at Curzon Street will either need to make a 10 minute walk to New Street station to connect to the rest of the rail network or perhaps queue for a long time for a taxi. The design is unsatisfactory because some of the stations are not integrated with the existing rail network.

4.2  The UIC (The international Union of Railways) has indicated that the maximum number of trains which may run per hour is 16 where the maximum speed is 350 kph (217 mph). Greengauge 21, the pro-HS2 lobby has admitted that the maximum is 15 trains per hour. In Europe the maximum scheduled frequency of high speed trains on any one track is 12. (Source: HS2 Action Alliance). On page 61 of the Economic Case for HS2 (Source: DfT), it indicates a peak hour schedule of 18 trains per hour on the section between Birmingham and London once the high speed lines to Leeds and Manchester are completed. It closely reflects the existing frequency of services at peak hours to the destinations listed. The HS2 schedule on page 61 does not include any trains for Heathrow, Europe (via HS1), or Edinburgh.

The consequences of this are as follows:

—  Some cities may suffer a reduced train frequency with HS2 at peak hours compared to that which they currently experience.

—  The existing peak hour train frequencies (WCML, ECML) may have to be further reduced on HS2 to cater for trains to Heathrow, Europe and possibly Edinburgh.

—  There is absolutely no room for expansion (for more trains per hour) once the high speed lines have been built to Leeds and Manchester. This is a monumental shortcoming.

—  Any train failure or breakdown on the section between Birmingham and London will have major knock on effects with trains separated by approximately three minutes and carrying up to 1100 passengers. Unlike on a classic rail line, there are unlikely to be convenient alternative tracks to pass a stricken train.

The Atkins report "Because Transport Matters" (published in 2008) contained the following remarks: "By contrast, the Full Network option is likely to require additional capacity on the southern core section of the route relatively quickly (Figure 2.3). This reiterates the conclusion that a single HSR trunk connection to London is unlikely to provide the necessary capacity" (my italics). The "Full Network" is virtually identical to HS2 as far north as Leeds and Manchester, and then has a single high speed route to Scotland up the east side of the country.

I think the design of HS2 is fatally flawed for these reasons. A better solution for the planned capacity would be to have another high speed line linking East Midlands to Kings Cross or St Pancras to reduce the loading on the Birmingham—London HS2 section.

It is also questionable whether the underground rail services at Euston will be able to cope with an additional 10,000 passengers per hour at peak times, which is more than double the existing volumes. (Source: possible passenger volume from HS2 Ltd Route Engineering Report).

4.3  The planning for phase two will run in parallel with the construction of phase one. Construction of phase two may start before phase one is open. So phase two construction may well be underway before we know whether the forecast passenger demand is going to be achieved.

Economic Rebalancing and Equity

5.1  HSR is likely to increase the north-south divide not decrease it. The HS2 consultation report indicates that over 70% of the anticipated new jobs created will be in the London area (22,000 out of 30,000). A study by Greengauge 21 indicated that annual growth in London by 2040 is likely to be at least twice that in the West Midlands with or without HS2. (Source: Consequences for Employment and Economic Growth, 02/2010). The Research Institute of Applied Economics at the University of Barcelona made a study of high speed rail in five countries and found that any increase in jobs was more likely to occur at the larger/largest city with a possibly negative effect at any smaller city connected to the high speed rail network.

5.2  It is desirable to support local and regional regeneration, and this can be achieved partly through improving local transport infrastructure. HS2 is not the way to achieve that (see 5.1 above).

5.3  The location that will benefit from this is London in terms of job creation. The users who benefit will mostly be affluent and hence least in need of subsidy.


6.1  HS2 has been described as being broadly carbon neutral. Bearing in mind that the Government has committed to achieving legally binding targets of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, then HS2 is an unsatisfactory solution. The government cannot expect to achieve such a target unless it makes very significant changes to carbon emissions in its long term strategy.

6.2  The DfT is currently conducting a consultation process with the public for HS2. The process cannot be valid if the environmental impact assessment has not been made available, noise contour maps have not been made available and the method of compensating homeowners has not been decided. It appears the Government does not want to compensate homeowners until 2027. That is both unacceptable and indicates that compensation has not been properly accounted for.

6.3  There will be enormous disruption to Euston during construction of HS2 and additional disruption for users of the Great Western and Chiltern services for approximately eight years. Euston's reconstruction has been likened to "open heart surgery on a conscious patient". There will also be significant disruption to road and rail users (where bridges have to be built), local inhabitants and businesses which lie on the route of HS2 during its construction. It is not clear whether all public footpaths and bridleways interrupted by HS2 will be reconnected.

May 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011