High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Terry Brennan (HSR 79)


The key points of my evidence are:

—  The government's expectation of huge growth in demand for inter-regional rail travel does not appear to be supported by age-specific demographic projections from the Office for National Statistics.

—  The ages most likely to use rail travel are ages 20-59. ONS projections indicate that by 2033, the government regions of the West Midlands, the North West, and Yorkshire and Humber will see only 3% growth by 2033 in these age bands.

—  The bulk of population growth in England by 2033 (78%) will occur in ages 0-19 or 60+, both age bands at which people rarely choose to travel by rail.

—  Longer term the number of people in the 20-59 age bands could diminish because of the UK's "sub-replacement fertility rate" (of less than two children per female). This long-term decline will only reverse if significant net migration into the UK continues, and/or if fertility rates increase.

—  Modal shift from car appears to be a forced policy through capacity restriction of the UK motorway network, to the benefit of European competitors.

—  Modal shift from air appears not to be an objective of The Northern Way, who want to maintain existing Heathrow Airport slots and encourage regional airport expansion.

—  Value placed on time-saving appears to be overstated, with reference to recent commuter and business traveller behaviour.

—  The so-called "full appraisal of sustainability" is neither full nor sustainable because it omitted the likely impact on the London-Birmingham section from the proposed "Y" route (even though the likely number of "Y" route trains is known).

—  The assessment of environmental noise appears to have been downplayed, by modelling noise from train roof height as being a noise source at rail track height.


—  I would like the Transport Committee to ask the Office of National Statistics to audit the demand forecasts for HS2 passenger numbers, to see if they are consistent with the long term demographic profile for the main demand pool of rail passengers (ages 20-59).

—  I would also like the Transport Committee to call on HS2's advisors or officials, particularly Mr. Rick James, to give evidence about why noise assessments and the potential train throughput has been modelled in the way that it has.

Question 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?

Passenger forecasts

1.  The government's proposals for a new rail network are supposed to address a future capacity issue. At the most fundamental level, such a conclusion should depend on the number of people in future and their ages, compared with now.

2.  However, the most recent population projections from the Office for National Statistics[113] (summarised in Appendix 1) suggest that population growth in the regions to be served by HS2 may not support the forecast passenger numbers. Whilst it is clear and commonly accepted that the population of England is increasing, much less understood is the age profile of the demographics. This is important to understanding the pool of potential demand (people) for future rail travel.

3.  The age demographics are highly significant because, as demonstrated by the recently published National Rail Travel Study[114], the bulk of rail passengers are aged 20 to 59. For a clearer understanding of this, Figure 1 is a graph of rail travellers by age taken from the NRTS:

Figure 1


(source: NRTS 2010 page 21)

4.  Under the government's proposals, by 2033 (the year that ONS population projections run to) the London to Birmingham section of HS2 would be in its 8th year of operation and the onward sections to Manchester and Leeds would begin operating.

5.  However, the ONS projections indicate that by 2033 approximately 64% of the population growth in England will be in the over 60+ age groups. A further 15% of the population growth will be children and young adults (below age 19). Both of those age bands take relatively few rail trips.

6.  On a regional basis, in the West Midlands government region 93% of population growth will be under 19 or over 60; in the Yorkshire and Humber government region its 68%; whilst in the North West government region the figure is 100%—ie any population growth in the North West will be either 0-19 or 60+ whilst the ages 20-59 group will actually diminish.

7.  To complement the earlier graph of age profiles, Figure 2 below illustrates the predicted change in population across England by 2033. Most of the population growth will occur in the age bands that are not typical rail travellers.

Figure 2


(source data: ONS Sub National Population Projections).

8.  So in the main demand pool of rail travellers, by 2033 the ONS predict that:

—  In the wider government regions of the West Midlands, North West, and Yorkshire & Humber, there will be only 3% growth in the 2059 age group.

—  In terms of population numbers, the West Midlands, North West and Yorkshire & Humber will see an additional 283,000 20-59 year olds by 2033.

9.  At this point it should be noted that, at current rates, only about 3% of the population chooses to travel by rail on a daily basis. More importantly, it should also be noted that there is actually a downward trend in the number of trips (of all modes) per person as people's lifestyles change.[115] People want to travel less frequently. It follows then that only a small proportion of this additional population growth might choose rail travel.

10.  Whilst there has been a recent increase in rail usage, overall rail usage as a proportion of daily journeys is still extremely small. Recent increases in rail travel include the new services on High Speed 1 (Eurostar) and the additional passengers on the West Coast Main Line—which were vigorously sought to meet the requirements of the operator's business plan. These additional passengers could reasonably be thought of as the result of Say's Law, whereby a new supply creates its own demand.

11.  But even then, whether overall rail usage remains at around 3% of daily trips or increases (through choice or policy), a leap of faith would be required to assume that all of the extra passengers from the moderate population change would demand inter-regional trips. Referring again to the National Rail Travel Study,[116] the proportion of daily rail passengers travelling inter-regionally is actually very small as shown in Figure 3 below:

12.  So from a reasonable perspective of looking at future increases into the basic pool of demand (the number of people), and current travel behaviour, it would require some extraordinary assumptions of future behaviour to produce sufficient passengers to support the business case.

Figure 3


(source: NRTS 2010 page 17)

13.  So clearly HS2 will need to find more passengers to make a strong business case. Perhaps this is why it has been claimed that 70% of HS2 demand could be leisure travellers. However the NRTS findings lend no support to this assertion because only 24% of travellers on a typical day do so for leisure reasons. This reinforces similar findings from the National Travel Survey 2005, and the National Passenger Survey (Autumn 2006).[117]

14.  In the longer run, the demographics of the UK will be affected by its fertility rate. A population generally needs a fertility rate of 2.1 children per female to maintain a steady state and anything less could imply a long-term decline in population. The UK now has an ageing population, with birth booms of the 1960s and 1970s approaching retirement ages. The UK fertility rate has been below 2.0 since the 1970s (most recently it was around 1.9). To offset this potential decline, the UK will need a continuous net migration inflow, and/or encourage higher fertility rates.

Modal shift: Road

15.  In making the case for HS2, the government and lobbyists also cite what is happening with our European competitors, particularly France, Germany, and Spain. Therefore it is interesting to discover from the European Union statistics website[118] the following observations:

—  France has reduced its railway network by 2,042km in the period 2000-09. In the same period France has added 1,390km to its motorway network (the 2nd highest increase in the EU).

—  Germany has reduced its railway network by 6,796km in the period 2000-09. In the same period Germany has added 1,101km to its motorway network (the 3rd highest increase in the EU).

—  Spain, in contrast, has increased its railway network by 2,947km in the period 2000-09. But in the same period Spain also added 4,974km to its motorway network (the highest increase in the EU).

16.  What about the United Kingdom? The UK has reduced its railway network by 914km in the period 2000-09. And in the same period, the UK has added just 97km to its motorway network (the 22nd highest increase in the European Union). It's not clear from the statistic whether this includes the innovative scheme for using the hard shoulder of motorways.

17.  Should anyone presume that the UK's modest increase in motorway length may be because it already has a substantial network, the statistics show that is not the case. The UK appears to have only 60% of the motorway capacity that Italy has; 33% of the French capacity; 28% of the German capacity; and 26% of the Spanish capacity.

18.  From this it appears that our European competitors place a much stronger emphasis on the economic benefits of road transport, placing the UK at a competitive disadvantage.

Modal shift: Air

19.  It has been established elsewhere that there are no substantive air links from Birmingham or Leeds to Heathrow Airport, whilst rail already has over 75% of the London-Manchester market. Nevertheless it is worth noting that, according to The Northern Way's recent analysis, business can cope quite well without links to Heathrow:

"With the loss of the Leeds Bradford to Heathrow service businesses in Yorkshire have adapted their travel behaviours and are now also connecting over Manchester, Amsterdam and Dubai to other long-haul destinations. This is also to a lesser extent true in the North East. Businesses often cite a more relaxing and pleasant experience from travelling via Amsterdam rather than travelling through London Heathrow".[119]

20.  Even so, and despite this adaption, the Transport Committee should note the intention laid out quite openly that, as well as lobbying for high speed rail, The Northern Way will also lobby for maintaining remaining links with Heathrow and for the expansion of northern airports.[120]

Time value

21.  I refer again to the NRTS to point out that a majority of rail commuters (58%) and most business travellers (41%) actually walk to their station of origin, rather than use faster modes of bicycle, taxi, car, car share, or public transport. Logically this suggests that time-saving is not nearly as critical as the government believes, and in fact for the rational traveller, convenience and cost appear to carry far more significance than currently estimated in the government's assessments.[121]

Figure 4


CommutingBusiness LeisureTotal
Walk5841 5054
Cycle21 12
Bus/Coach107 1210
Car21631 2320
Underground/Light Rail/Metro14 191214
Other00 10
Total100 100100100

Percentages do not sum to 100% due to rounding

(source: NRTS 2010 page 19)



Question 6 (2):  Are environmental costs and benefits (including in relation to noise) correctly accounted for in the business case?

1.  With reference to the consultation material now published by the government and HS2, I urge the Transport Committee to call HS2 technical advisors to give evidence on the following points and clarify this issue:

Point 1: Noise source: Please ask the HS2 advisors to confirm that their own reference study[122] indicates significant noise from modern high speed trains at speeds of just 200kmh; that the loudest noise at 200kmh comes from around the top of the train; and that this noise source increases with train speed. (In public meetings they have told people there will be no such noise).

Point 2: Noise mitigation: Please ask the HS2 advisors to confirm that their own technical paper acknowledges noise barriers to be less effective against train roof noise; and that a decision was taken to model such noise as being at track level instead of at train roof height. This point is very significant.[123]

"Without first mitigating the source of aerodynamic noise, wayside noise barriers are not likely be as effective or feasible, due to the required increase in barrier height, to provide shielding to the entire train."….. "It was decided that some modification to the base CRN calculation should be included to account for aerodynamic noise. The best option at this stage was to retain a single noise source but alter the source height………..For train speeds less than 300km/h the rolling noise source location of CRN was used (rail head height)."

Point 3: European Commission advice: Please ask HS2 to confirm that Mr. Rick Jones of DeltaRail is the same advisor who participated in the IMAGINE project for the European Commission on how to appropriately model train noise. That project included a paper by Mr. Jones[124] which provided the following advice and illustration:

"It was agreed by the Work Package that the five source heights above rail head level (h) identified originally within HARMONOISE were suitable for carrying forward as the IMAGINE recommendations. These are shown in Figure 4.2."

Point 4: Accounting for noise: Following on, please ask HS2 to explain how their modelling of train roof noise, and its subsequent environmental costs, is justified and consistent with previous advice given by Mr. Jones to the European Commission.

2.  The number of trains used in the "Appraisal of Sustainability" is 432 per day. However, whilst the specific "Y" route may not yet be known, the potential train throughput from the "Y" route is known and could be up to 576 trains,[125] which is 33% more than used in the appraisal. Will the Transport Committee please ask HS2 officials to explain why they have claimed a "full Appraisal of Sustainability", which in fact appears to be neither full nor sustainable because further substantial impacts arrive just seven years later; and ask them to explain when a proper "full" appraisal will be issued for similar level of widespread scrutiny.

May 2011

113   Office for National Statistics: Sub-National Population Projections June 2010

114   National Rail Travel Survey: December 2010

115   ONS Social Trends 40, 2010 edition pages 170-171 and:

116   National Rail Travel Survey: December 2010 page 17 Back

117   National Rail Travel Survey: December 2010 page 26 Back

118   European Union: http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=tran_r_net&lang=en Back

119   The Northern Way: The Importance of Improving International Air Connectivity for the North's Economy-January 2011 section 3.13 Back

120   The Northern Way: (as above) section 10 Back

121   National Rail Travel Survey: December 2010 page 19 Back

122   "Noise Sources for High Speed Trains" table 3 (F Poisson, P E Gautier, and F Letourneaux) Back

123   HS2 Appraisal of Sustainability: Appendix 5 Technical Reports paragraph 6.3.3 and 5.6.10-11 Back

124   IMAGINE paper by Mr. Rick Jones, page 13

125   HS2 Appraisal of Sustainability: Appendix 5 Technical Reports-page 45 Table 1 Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011