High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Leslie Fawcett (HSR 86)


1.  Thankyou for the opportunity to comment on HS2.

2.  A new railway will almost certainly be needed but the current HS2 plan is fatally flawed.

3.  Please press the government to commission an independent review of HS2 by professionals not tied to DfT or HS2 Ltd, as part of a national transport plan.

4.  The plan does nothing towards the legally committed 80% reduction in CO2 emissions, while a sensible route at a sensible speed could make a major contribution befitting the largest rail scheme in the UK for over a century.

1.  What are the main arguments either for or against HSR

It is most likely that we will need new rail tracks northwards from London to carry the number of people wanting to travel and the government is right to plan for it. The forecast passenger numbers are only forecasts and they may turn out to be wrong. A flexible policy is needed to respond to demand as the picture becomes clearer. This can be achieved by incremental development of the network, not by an all-or-nothing segregated railway that will take 10 years of construction before it is any use at all, and will then be found to be not what the nation actually needs.

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?

Rail is the correct means of achieving the extra capacity for long-distance passengers and freight that will be needed in the future for an increasing population, consistent with the commitment in the Climate Change Act to reduce our CO2 emissions by 80%.

Road will remain the principal mode of UK transport. Rail developments can reverse the long-term increase in road usage, especially for long distance journeys, thus obviating large-scale expenditure on trunk road and motorway works. Since it is widely accepted that we cannot build our way out of road congestion, rail is the answer.

A shortcoming of the HS2 plan is that it deals only with one corridor. A national rail plan is needed incorporating HS lines where appropriate.

For local journeys, light rail and bus should be developed together with further discouragement of car use. This will reduce congestion and carbon emissions while allowing economic development in a growing population.

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?

The rate of spend on HS2 will be similar to the current spend on Crossrail and Thameslink, while other rail works continue. Consequently there is no reason why development of the classic network should not progress concurrent with HS2.

Demand is likely to increase on all rail corridors so the HS2 plan should be part of a national rail plan considering all needs.

2.3  What are the implications for domestic aviation?

Demand for long-distance air transport is likely to rise despite rising fuel price. Airport space can be released by replacing internal and near-continent air travel with HS rail travel. This will give slots for more long haul flights by larger aeroplanes, without new runways.

International agreement is needed to subject air travel to the same realities as surface travel, eg VAT and fuel taxation.

Passengers going to Heathrow will be a very small proportion of those using HS2, so access to Heathrow must not be allowed to dominate the HS2 plan.

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 forecasts put forward by HS2 Ltd are symptomatic of someone striving to prove a weak case. Whilst it is true that Treasury approval will not be given unless there is a business case, the case should be made for HS2 to Manchester and Leeds rather than for the expensive first phase out of London. Forecasts can be wrong, therefore we should develop a range of plans in parallel. We have five years before construction is due to start and can reassess our plan during that time. This is more realistic than a gung-ho pursuit of a very expensive segregated HS2 that is not what the nation needs.

Scheme costs are unreliable. For example, a blanket figure has been allowed for diversion of statutory services, whilst "stats" can form over half the cost of urban schemes. Records of underground services are available from all the "stats". Costs should be calculated from the actual work needed rather than a blanket figure. The unreasonable charges made by stats as monopolies should be challenged, but this is a matter outside this study. It is a reason for UK construction costs being higher than those in similar economies.

The transport planning profession have calculated the value of time on a train as lost time, and have only recently acknowledged that time is not all lost time because passengers work on trains. Philip Hammond recently announced that the NATA transport tool will be replaced by a new tool giving more emphasis on carbon emissions. Application of this to HS2 will lead to some of the basic flawed decisions being challenged, eg 400km/h and DfT infatuation with Old Oak Common, the source of the disastrous choice of route.

The HS2 plan should be specific about its effect on classic services.

The theory of HS2 releasing capacity on classic tracks is valid where trains are removed from towns where they currently pass without stopping, but is detrimental to towns where services stop now and would be taken away. The aspirations of bodies such as Centro and Greengauge 21 for a considerable increase in classic services consequent to the opening of HS2, are not backed up by any responsibility to provide those services, and in some cases there are not the available paths for them without additional works that are not proposed within HS2. That is why a national rail plan is needed rather than one for HS2 in isolation.

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?

Alternatives to HS2 have been developed and costed. Whether they would provide sufficient capacity depends on the passenger numbers. Forecast numbers may prove to be wrong. The government is right to progress the HS2 plan, indeed it would be irresponsible to neglect it in the face of the forecast demand. The answer to the uncertainty is to progress the alternatives in parallel. We have five years before construction is due to start. In that time we can reassess our needs and have more confidence in the likely demand before committing to construction. The government should take a neutral stance in the debate rather than spending public funds promoting HS2 to a sceptical public. Most important of all is for the government to commission an independent review of HS2 which would either reassure the public that the right decisions have been made, or more likely to reveal that the plan is fatally flawed and needs to be reconsidered.

3.3  What would be the pros and cons of alternative means of managing demand for rail travel, for example by price?

Price is a valid tool in a purely commercial venture but rail is a public service highly dependent on public funds. Fares are already labyrinthine with widespread anomalies and unfairness. Managing demand by price would increase the unfairness, and perhaps more importantly if there is insufficient capacity we will reap the economic consequence. Pricing is valid as a temporary measure, if only to raise the funds for a better railway, but is no substitute in the long term for providing the capacity needed.

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?

Experience shows that when risk is offloaded by employers onto contractors, prices rise, claims rise and delayed completion is more likely. This often happens where there is insufficient time to complete design work before inviting tenders, and when the employer has insufficient expertise to do the detail design. The remedy is to design the project in detail before asking contractors to price the work.

Incremental development allows continuous smooth demand for expertise and construction industry output, and allows the first section completed to be used while construction of later phases continues. This is better than waiting 10 years to see if it all works.

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) intermediate stations?

The plan for HS2 is defective, perhaps because the brief was wrong. If the design team had been asked what transport provision the nation needed, they may have come up with a different plan from the one making a beeline from London to Birmingham.

Euston is the right choice for a London terminus because it is the only place with sufficient space.

Old Oak Common is ideal as an interchange for various services including those running off HS2 en route to Heathrow, but there is no justification for diverting HS2 miles off its natural course northward from Euston, very expensively in tunnel, wasting time by stopping at OOC, then having to exit London via the Chilterns AONB in yet more tunnel which is only likely to get longer to placate protestors. (Tunnels form 25% of the construction cost of HS2, stations another 25%).

Commentators have agonised over whether HS2 should go through Heathrow. It should not, nor should it go near Heathrow on the vague notion that it would allow easy access to Heathrow. There is no need for a change of train to go to Heathrow if trains run from various cities via HS2 to north London then directly to the various Heathrow stations via N London line and OOC.

The proposed station near Birmingham is the worst example of an out-of-town parkway sucking in thousands of cars on roads already congested, then needing another journey to reach NEC/B'ham airport. There is no need for it when there is International station in exactly the right place, with space for more platforms and car parks if needed, and already rail connected to most of the country.

Fazeley St is the best compromise for a station in central Birmingham. It is unfortunate that it also called Curzon St because this leads people to believe it would be at the original station some distance from New St and Moor St stations. Terminus stations need travelators to reduce the walk distance. Travelators (or at least a shuttle bus) are also needed to integrate the new station with New St station.

Moor St station should be integrated with Fazeley St to form one interchange station. The space above WCML should be bridged over to provide pedestrian, bus and taxi space between the old and new parts of the station.

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

All communities along the route should benefit, not by having a HS line to each of them but by having UK gauge trains running off HS2 to existing city centre stations. This needs HS2 to be integrated with the existing network to link cities rather than being a stand-alone showpiece railway that links just a few of them to London. It will need 4 tracks to do it. HS2 have proposed this then forgotten about it in their detail plans, and they have admitted that a second route north would be needed eventually. We must get it right first time.

A Y-plan would be acceptable if it could achieve those principles, but it will not. A spine and spur route east of the Pennines will connect more cities with less route miles on easier terrain at less cost and with less carbon emissions in construction and in use.

4.3  Is the Government correct to build the network in stages, moving from London northwards?

Yes, it is inevitable that the project will develop within the limits of cash flow and construction industry capacity.

A basic error in the HS2 plan is that the London-Bham section is proposed to take 10 years and £17 billion before it is of any use whatsoever. If passenger numbers increase as forecast, that will be too late. If instead HS2 is linked to WCML near Rugby, it will come into use earlier and cheaper while construction progresses onward. This alignment along M1 allows early connection to MML at Leicester and eventual connection to ECML, thus serving all communities north of London.

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?

I can't evaluate the relative merits. Both links are needed, but they do not have to be HS rail links. It may be helpful to say that Heathrow needs better rail access from all directions, but HS2 is not the vehicle for it given that only about 2% of HS2 passengers will want to go to Hrow.

The proposed single track connection between HS1 and HS2 is likely to be regretted in the future. Double tracks are needed.

5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

5.1  What evidence is there that HSR will promote economic regeneration and help bridge the north-south economic divide?

There is no doubt that an HS station will attract development around it (as at Lille in France) but the effect will be local and development may not be desirable there, eg at the Bickenhill WM interchange which would be in the green belt. Benefits around the station will be counterbalanced by disbenefits to communities remote from the station.

Network Rail's 2009 New Lines Study evaluated the benefits to each city served. Not surprisingly they were proportional to the size of the city. This means that the north-south divide would be exacerbated by HS2 rather than relieved, not only by favouring the largest cities but also blighting the communities bypassed by a poorly-designed HS2. The way to avoid that problem is to design the route of HS2 so it is not London-centric and to make sure all communities are included.

5.2  To what extent should the shape of the network be influenced by the desirability of supporting local and regional regeneration?

HS2 should take into account planned developments rather just trying to serve communities as they are.

It would be a mistake to skew the network as a means of social engineering, hoping economic generation will follow HS2 in areas with deep economic problems.

5.3  Which locations and socio-economic groups will benefit from HSR?

Locations that will benefit are those near the stations. Claims that benefits will spread from cities with stations to cities without them are somewhat optimistic when the clear indication is that communities not served will be blighted. Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Dudley, Walsall, Stoke on Trent, Coventry and Leicester, would all be disadvantaged by the current plan, whilst an alternarive plan integrated into the existing network could be benefit all of them and be of so much more use to the nation as a whole.

Users of HS2 are likely to be mainly the higher echelons of society. This is true of the existing railway and is likely to be more prevalent with a premium cost service. Classic services are likely to suffer as those prepared to pay the higher fares are creamed off by HS2. Classic services will have less passengers when HS2 runs parallel, the remaining passengers will be more price-conscious, so services will need more subsidy or will be withdrawn.

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?

The government should seek EU funding and it is surprising they have not already done so in view of the large sums already spent.

Making local authorities and businesses contribute to the cost would no doubt dampen their enthusiasm. It has only been worthwhile for local authorities and businesses to lobby for HS2 on the assumption they would get an advantage over others without having to pay for it. There is no perfect formula, but the government could propose one on the French TGV model where the state gives the largest contribution, the region gives some (TfL and Centro or the successor to AWM), businesses pay an enhanced business rate and the local authority gives a smaller amount. It would be interesting to see local reaction to such a proposal. The clamour by various cities to be served by HS2 is perhaps more to do with them terrified of the indignity of being left out than any confidence in HS2 being of real benefit to them.

6.  Impact

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?

HS2 Ltd tell us that carbon emissions will barely change due to HS2 (+0.3% to -0.3%). That is not acceptable for the biggest transport scheme for over a century when we are committed by the Climate Change Act to reduce our emissions by 80%. If HS2 cannot contribute, what can?

The major source of transport emissions is road. That is because road is the dominant form of transport. It is therefore essential for any rail scheme to enable a reduction in road use.

Rail is nominally more green than other forms of transport, but the situation reverses when a full car or coach is compared with an empty or poorly-loaded train. The way to ensure trains are well loaded (especially if they have 1,100 seats as proposed) is to run them along a series of cities. A spine and spur arrangement achieves this, whilst a fan of tracks radiating from London does not.

The design speed of 400km/h involves more construction cost and environmental damage than is necessary. Energy use increases exponentially with speed. No rail service in the world runs at 400km/h. HS2 Ltd describe this as future-proofing. Their plan cannot be future-proof when they say that a second HS route will be needed northwards from London for the passengers not served by HS2. It is clear that there will not be a case for a second HS2 after the first has creamed off most of the flow. We must get it right first time. The way to do that is to route HS2 directly north from London along the M1 corridor and to link it with WCML, MML and ECML to relieve the congestion on all those routes that will be congested by the time HS2 is open.

6.2  Are environmental costs and benefits (including in relation to noise) correctly accounted for in the business case?

It is not possible to accurately evaluate noise, visual intrusion, division of communities and disruption during construction, in money terms. The relative values can only be a judgement. It is the lack of such judgement that has lead to the insensitive current HS2 plan.

6.3  What would be the impact on freight services on the "classic" network?

Any new rail tracks are bound to yield spare paths for freight. Whether the railfreight industry uses them is subject to commercial judgement. Part of the national rail plan I am asking for is enhanced freight facilities subsequent to the opening of HS2.

6.4  How much disruption will be there to services on the "classic" network during construction, particularly during the rebuilding of Euston?

Rebuilding of Euston is necessary and must involve some disruption. This can be minimised by working through the station gradually, taking two platforms out of use at a time, as in the rebuilding of New St. There is no need to expand the footprint of Euston or to demolish five blocks of flats. 400m platforms can be built within the current area, 2 new platforms can be added in place of a lorry ramp, some local services can be diverted to Old Oak Common. Pedestrian travelators are needed for 400m platforms as it is unreasonable to expect passengers to walk that far. Combined with escalators and a new pedestrian deck above the platforms, this gives more pedestrian area within the same footprint and the opportunity to separate conflicting pedestrian flows. Stations form 25% of the construction cost of HS2 and rebuilding of Euston is planned to take all of the HS2 construction period. There is scope for large cost savings at Euston and OOC, and earlier completion.

May 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011