High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from the Guild of Travel Management Companies (HSR 74)


1.  The Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC) welcomes the Committee's inquiry into High-Speed Rail, an issue of considerable interest to our members and to the UK-based business travellers whose interests they represent.

2.  The GTMC is the UK's leading professional body for corporate travel management companies. Our diverse membership accounts for over 80% of UK expenditure on managed business travel, delivering value for money and extensive services to business travellers in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. As such we are the voice of business travel.

3.  This submission addresses only those questions which directly concern UK business travellers. It draws both on exclusive GTMC member transaction data (produced each quarter) and on two annual surveys of business traveller opinion conducted by the GTMC in late 2009 and late 2010.

What are the main arguments for and against?

4.  Business travellers, judged both on how they actually choose to travel and on their expressed preferences, increasingly favour rail travel where it is a viable option. This applies both to UK domestic journeys and to travel to the near- Continent. For example, between the GTMC's 2008 and 2009 annual transaction surveys, the only area of activity which showed an increase in the number of transactions booked by the GTMC member companies was rail travel (13% increase). Other categories such as air travel and hotel bookings fell by roughly the same proportion. To some extent this reflects the post-crash economic downturn. But it also reflects a growing readiness to travel by rail in the UK and to Paris and Brussels by Eurostar, especially following the opening of HS1 and the consequent reduction in journey times.

5.  In both the GTMC Business Traveller Surveys (2009 and 2010), High-Speed Rail was ranked first among 7 or 8 possible infrastructure improvements which would "make the biggest difference for business travellers in your organisation". It was judged significantly more important than both Crossrail and airport expansion in the South-east. The full tables are below;

Option2010 2009
High Speed Rail link1st 1st
Major motorway improvements2nd NA
Expansion of UK regional airports3rd 2nd
Mainline rail station improvements4th 3rd
London Crossrail including link into Heathrow 5th 4th
Expansion of South East airports6th 7th
Building a Thames Estuary airport7th 8th

6.  All of this strongly underpins the contention that business travellers see High-Speed Rail as the major priority for transport infrastructure investment in the UK.

What are the implications for domestic aviation?

7.  The overwhelming barrier to modal shift of business travellers away from air to rail is journey times. In the GTMC's most recent business traveller survey (2010), exactly half of respondents gave "Air is quicker than rail travel" as the main reason why they sometimes chose to travel by air rather than rail within the UK. (The same conclusion would undoubtedly apply to near-Continent journeys also.) The complexity of journeys and timetabling challenges were the only other factors to be widely mentioned. Frequent high-speed city centre-city centre services are likely to attract significant numbers of business travellers away from air to rail.

8.  The big prize in modal shift terms is of course to substitute significant numbers of Glasgow and Edinburgh to London flights with rail journeys. The envisaged journey times of 3 hrs 15 mins (saving around 45 mins) from both Scottish cities to London would achieve this, provided that there is a frequent, reliable and affordable service.

9.  There is always likely to be a need for England—Scotland flights, not least for connecting to flights at Heathrow (though this is partially dependent on the decision made regarding a Heathrow connection to HS2). However, provided that HS2 is continued beyond Birmingham to Glasgow, there would be reductions in flights with consequent reduced emissions and the freeing-up of slots at London airports. In theory this would enable expansion of air services to global business destinations within existing airport capacity in the South-east.

10.  Of key importance however will be how affordable the service is. Cost remains an imposing consideration when it comes to business travel choice (37% of Business Traveller Survey respondents identified cost of travel as the most important factor). Equally our data shows that the vast majority of business travellers by train use standard class as further evidence that they continue to factor in price when deciding on modal choice. If trying to break the habits travellers used to using air routes within the UK ensuring that the price of high speed rail services is competitive will be key.

Business case

11.  As should be clear from the above, it is journey times which dictate rates of modal shift for business travellers. Upgrading the WCML further or building additional conventional capacity would be most unlikely to achieve significant reductions in journey times and would therefore do little or nothing to entice business travellers away from domestic flights. Indeed, given the challenges in building any new rail line at all, there seems little point in overcoming these difficulties only to build a conventional line.

12.  Managing demand by increasing fares would seem to be a throwback to the bad old days of rail planning. What is badly needed now is investment in the rail network. Passenger figures indicate that there is an increased appetite for rail travel. As the road and especially motorway network becomes ever more congested, travellers, both business and leisure, will want to turn in increasing numbers to rail. Increased rail fares on conventional services would certainly push business people back into their cars or leave them flying domestically, with consequent adverse environmental impacts.

13.  Furthermore, it is questionable how much room for fare increases exists. The GTMC's surveys of business travellers suggest that they are broadly satisfied with the cost of advance tickets, but in 2010 54% of those surveyed were "not very" or "not at all satisfied" with the cost of tickets booked near to the time of travel. Any increase in "walk-on" fares would be like to push more short-notice journeys onto planes or into cars or perversely prove an additional burden on UK business people who often have to embark on journeys where there is little notice and consequently reduced ability to access low fares.

The Strategic Route

14.  It will already be apparent that for the business traveller journey time is all-important. Accordingly, whilst accessibility has to be balanced with speed, the fewer stops there are outside the main business centres, the better. The GTMC would not therefore support additional intermediate stations. Equally it is important that the vocal, and politically sensitive, opposition along the proposed route is respectfully engaged with but is not allowed to undermine a project that is of national importance nor to compromise the key factor of journey time in order to bypass such opposition.

15.  Business travellers supported the WCML option for HS2 over the ECML by a margin of more than 3 to 2. If a decision were to arise regarding prioritisation of build the GTMC would most strongly support completion of the London-Glasgow route as the priority.

16.  In support of this strategy, the GTMC would therefore like to see an early start on the Glasgow end of HS2, and urges the Committee to recommend that DfT begin discussions now with the Scottish Government to help bring this about. GTMC is concerned that HS2 might end at Birmingham or Manchester and that the vital link to Scotland might not be built or only after decades of delay.

17.  GTMC's 2010 Business Traveller Survey directly asked respondents how important it would be for HS2 to link directly into Heathrow in order to encourage modal shift. The results showed that there was a distinct preference (64%) for a network which linked directly into Heathrow. Based on this clear steer the GTMC strongly urges the Government to make the transition from HS2 to Heathrow as seamless as possible and include a direct link.

May 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011