High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Messrs Edwards, King, Osborn, Rees and Sullivan (HSR 93)


Since HS2 Ltd. published its draft and consultation proposals for a new high speed railway linking London to the West Midlands and, ultimately, the North West and North East, views and attitudes have become increasingly polarised between those against and those for. The authors of this Submission are concerned that reasoned discussion between the two sides has become sidelined. We support the concept of high-speed rail in Britain, accept that some environmental damage will occur whichever route is finally chosen but feel that possible alternatives should be re-examined. We hope that the Alternative Approach to High Speed Rail, outlined below, will lead to a constructive debate of this exciting project.

In our view the present Government's stated objective, in its Coalition Agreement of May 2010, of creating "a truly national high speed rail network for the whole of Britain" has been thwarted by two factors. First, HS2 Ltd's enthusiasm to operate at extreme and pioneering speeds and, second, the previous Government's original 2009 requirement that any new high speed line should be orientated to serve in some way London's Heathrow Airport.

This Paper offers an Alternative Approach, an approach that has emerged from study of the technical background papers to the High Speed Rail Command Paper published in Spring 2010 and other sources. We are persuaded that the flexibility offered by operation at proven speeds of circa 300kph (187mph) outweighs the incremental journey time savings achieved by higher speeds. We are persuaded, too, that the alignment of Britain's High Speed rail network should be dictated by the needs of the many—not dictated by an impractical vision of improved rail-air interchange for a small minority of travellers. We believe that the foundations of our work are sound and its logic is solid.

Two models for high-speed rail infrastructure have emerged from experience around the world over the past 30 years—overlay and hybrid. In the absence of a clear national rail strategy, HS2 Ltd. has chosen to address a narrow interpretation of its brief using an "overlay" model. We have looked instead at a broader application using high-speed network enhancements of the existing rail network where they are beneficial in addressing broader needs of the travelling public. We call this hybrid the Alternative Approach. As its advantages compared with the HS2 Ltd. proposal are very significant, we believe it merits serious consideration. It would be faster and cheaper to build, would be more flexible to operate and would serve more of the UK population.


1.1  A truly national high-speed, or higher-speed, network can be achieved by:

—  utilising a mix of (mostly) existing main lines—upgraded to higher speed than 200 kph where technically possible; and

—  building a limited set of new higher-speed lines, integrated with the network and operating as a part of the whole—essentially a hybrid approach.

New line speeds could be 320kph (200mph) while speeds on existing, upgraded, lines could be as high as 260kph (160mph) where curvature permits and 200kph-225kph (125-140mph) where alignment constraints prevent it.

1.2  The hybrid approach takes advantage of recently announced commitments to rail investment, especially Crossrail. It circumvents HS2 Ltd's dependence on a new interchange at Old Oak Common (OOC), resulting in greatly reduced tunnelling in London and through the Chilterns. It proposes interconnection for London Heathrow (LHR) similar to that proposed by HS2 Ltd, and expands it to serve a larger population base. It suggests that greater integration with the existing rail network is complementary to its modernisation.

1.3  Overlay networks, as proposed by HS2 Ltd, provide new high-speed, end-to-end, links between major conurbations. The Japanese were first to implement the idea; followed by China, Spain and others, including the UK's Channel Tunnel Link—HS1. An overlay approach was necessary in both Japan and Spain, where the gauge of the national network is not standard. Hybrid models have proved more appropriate in closely settled European countries such as France, Germany and Netherlands. New sections of high-speed line have been built between cities while existing, sometimes upgraded lines in urban areas are shared with conventional inter-city and regional services, and use established major stations.

1.4  During the last 30 years, speeds achieved by high-speed trains have risen progressively from 200kph (125 mph), which were the operating speeds both the Japanese Shinkansen at its launch (1964), and the UK's HS125 (1976). Today, the Shinkansen operates at 300kph, the design speed on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (HS1) through Kent. Although experimental trains have achieved higher speeds, operational speeds have converged across the world in the region of 280-320kph. Consideration of energy usage, track design and aerodynamics indicate that, with the relatively short distances between UK cities, still greater reductions in journey times from the higher maximum speeds proposed by would not be justified. Importantly, lower speeds enable more curved alignments, so that new lines can follow more closely natural landform and existing transport alignments. Lower speeds therefore allow routes rejected by HS2 Ltd. to be re-considered.

1.5  HS2 Ltd's proposal for a "Y" network links just four cities—London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. It would not be a truly national high speed rail network; its lines would not reach Scotland, Wales, the West Country, and East Anglia, much of the East Midlands or central Southern England. An alternative, hybrid approach addresses these omissions to serve an increased population. The likely environmental impact appears favourable, though HS2 Ltd has produced no Environmental Impact Assessment to support their preferred route and, therefore no numerical comparison can be drawn.

1.6  HS2 Ltd's programme envisages services to Manchester and Leeds—the Phase 2 "Y" route—but at a later date than Phase 1—London to Birmingham, arguably the two best connected conurbations in the country today. By reducing cost and complexity, the alternative hybrid network creates the opportunity of including Manchester and the East Midlands cities within the timeframe proposed by HS2 Ltd for Phase 1.

1.7  HS2's proposal includes an entirely new interchange in northwest London—at Old Oak Common—linked with Euston via a long and very costly twin bore tunnel. This is justified by the need to reduce pressure of increased passenger numbers at Euston. We propose instead to greatly reduce London and South East commuter use of Euston, by re-routing outer suburban services directly into Crossrail at Old Oak Common, and transferring the inner suburban (Watford dc) service to the Bakerloo Line. The former is foreseen by Transport for London as a potential additional arm to Crossrail; the latter is a TfL proposal already. HS2 Ltd makes much of the additional population centres served by locating its second London station on Crossrail at Old Oak Common (OOC)—implicitly emphasising the London centric view that underpins its vision. By contrast, the hybrid alignment creates opportunity to serve population centres outside London ignored by HS2—in particular, the growth triangle of Milton Keynes, Bedford and Northampton, and the manufacturing cities of the West and East Midlands, Coventry and Leicester. An additional served population (1.5 million people) is reached without penalising either cost or journey time.

1.8  To satisfy the (unproven) needs of international travellers from the Northwest (Manchester) and North East (Leeds), HS2 Ltd. has proposed a tunnelled spur from HS2 directly into Heathrow (LHR) at a cost of £3-4 billion, to be constructed during Phase 2 of the project. We propose that both travellers and airport staff should instead access LHR using existing and/or upgraded rail routes - linked to an electrified GWML—without the need for a new railway and its concomitant tunnels. We believe that overall end to end differences in journey time are marginal and do not justify the enormous costs proposed by HS2 Ltd.

1.9  HS2 Ltd. states, in its Consultation Document, that a dedicated high-speed line will relieve pressure on the existing West Coast Main Line (WCML), allowing more paths for both fast and commuter passenger trains and for freight traffic. However, HS2 appears not to have studied the implications of freight demand on the WCML (nor the other main lines), in order to substantiate its claim. We suggest that new capacity for Fast Passenger and Slow Freight services on the West Coast (WCML) and Midland (MML) Main Lines would be more beneficial if it facilitated dedicated freight transport on two tracks of the WCML and released the (currently under-utilised) MML for passenger use.

1.10  Inevitably new high speed rail infrastructure has both positive and negative impacts on the environment. Its positive impacts result from modal shift—from road and air to rail. However, HS2 Ltd has failed to recognise that operation at unnecessarily high speeds unnecessarily damages the environment through excessive energy usage, inflexible (straight) track alignment and increased noise. The alternative approach impacts all of these by reducing speed and has also considered opportunities for modal shift through improved rail access for local travellers and airport staff. We believe that HS2 has also ignored the opportunity for modal shift of freight from road to rail, available if capacity released on WCML is optimised for freight transport.

1.11  Consideration of both freight and passenger utilisation studies of Network Rail indicates that the extension of High Speed Rail services north of London does not require long, expensive and inherently risky tunnelling. Instead, the Alternative Approach follows the MML Corridor, already shared with the southernmost section of the M1, via a short tunnelled link from Euston Station and thereafter largely follows the M1 corridor to its junction with M6 at Crick (near Rugby). Our mapping confirms that 300kph+ operation is readily achieved virtually everywhere on this alignment.

1.12  If the Centro (West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive) proposal for 4-tracking the congested line between Coventry and Birmingham is accepted, the alternative approach would use the existing track from Crick through Rugby to Birmingham; otherwise new track would be required.

1.13  The alternative approach provides a full capacity connection with HS1, without further tunnelling, replacing the long, costly and inflexible single bore tunnel projected by HS2 Ltd. It also facilitates direct connection between mainland Europe and the Thames Valley, West Country and South Wales using an electrified GWML (now committed).


Q1  Main arguments for and against HSR

Principal case for: need for additional capacity to reinforce constraints of the Victorian Network, encourage modal shift from road and air, promote business and regeneration, and extend European HSR north of London. This submission supports the principle of High Speed Rail. However, it strenuously opposes HS2's proposed overlay solution as technically over-ambitious, outrageously expensive, and unnecessarily risky. Substantially better financial performance (BCR) can be achieved along with improved sustainability and reduced environmental damage. We believe that a hybrid approach would be cheaper and faster to build, meet the key objectives of the remits given HS2, serve more of the population and cause less environmental damage.

Q2  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?

Increased rail capacity for both long distance and commuting passengers and for freight, targeted at pinch points of the current network, is fundamental to a successful transport policy.

2.1.1  HS2 proposes initially to serve only intercity travel between Birmingham and London, already the UK's best connected cities by rail and road. Other major communities, and the devolved capitals of Edinburgh and Cardiff, do not benefit from HS2, as currently proposed. Potential travellers from these communities, who wish to benefit from HSR face additional journeys, typically be car, to reach the few rail heads served.

2.1.2  Construction of a new parkway interchange for Birmingham will necessarily increase traffic on already heavily loaded stretches of the motorway network and its feeder roads eg M40, M42, M4, and M6.

2.1.3  Provision of new rail connection to Heathrow only at OOC, does nothing to reduce road congestion of M4, M40, M25 and their feeder roads, (see also 2.2.1).

2.1.4  HS2 repeatedly states that it will relieve capacity (unquantified) for freight on the WCML. However, increased inter-modal freight volumes, the area of greatest growth and greatest environmental benefit, merit not just increased freight movements, but a dedicated freight line on the WCML alignment.

2.1.5  HS2 programme includes heavy costs for environmental mitigation, funds which are therefore not available to Highways Agency to meet commitments under the Noise Regulations (2006). Environmental funding for HS2 could be reduced if its alignment used existing transport corridors (which the A413 is not).

2.1.6  With commitment to electrification of GWML, trains from Thames Valley, West Country and S Wales could run directly to HS1.

2.1.7  HS2 has ignored the potential for an interchange at Milton Keynes with the East West Line between Reading, Oxford and Bedford / Cambridge, which would provide access to a large swathe of South Central England, currently ill-served for rail connection beyond London and Birmingham.

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?

2.2.1  Four-tracking of the line between Coventry and Birmingham is stated by Centro (West Midlands PTE) to be necessary by 2021 whether or not HS2 is built. The high cost to the public sector of the published HS2 Ltd plan would make very unlikely the funding of 4-tracking Coventry-Birmingham.

2.2.2  HS2 would involve a massive eight-year rebuilding of Euston. The provision of such a large station, providing for London & South East suburban services too, would use up funds that could be better spent on connecting the WCML at Willesden to Crossrail and avoiding the need for such a major rebuild of Euston.

2.2.3  Airtrack (regrettably cancelled) would have permitted commuters from southern Home Counties eg Surrey to travel by train via Heathrow to destinations served by Crossrail, Euston (by extended Heathrow Express) and HS1. Funding is less likely to be made available for this scheme if HS2 is built.

2.3  What are the implications for domestic aviation?

2.3.1  HS2 prejudges the outcome of a UK strategy for airports, by focussing on two airports whose growth is constrained by proximity to major population centres—London Heathrow and Birmingham. Potential at other airports is ignored by HS2 Ltd's proposal.

2.3.2  In the absence of flights between Birmingham and London, HS2 has no impact on these routes.

2.3.3  Rail already dominates the market for travel between Manchester, Leeds and London. A fast train service to Heathrow from either of these would presumably be attractive to relatively small numbers of interchange passengers, but the £4.3 billion cost could never be recovered from an acceptable fare surcharge.

2.3.4  HS2 ignores the potential for an electrified loop on GWML to provide interchange at Heathrow not only for Thames Valley, the West Country and South Wales, but for Southampton and Birmingham (via Oxford). The latter would go some way to achievement of direct termination at Heathrow, using largely existing tracks.

3.  Business case

3.1  How robust are the assumptions and methodology—eg 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?

3.1.1  HS2's assumptions and methodology have been challenged by many critics, elsewhere and will not be dealt with here. As no project can make firm predictions for a 60 year life, proponents of any such project must reduce cost and de-risk their proposal to the greatest possible extent. This HS2 has signally failed to do.

3.1.2  Service only for few conurbations, excessive speeds, over dependence on tunnelling increases capital and running costs while restricting revenues. The result is a BCR of 1.6 (2.0 with Wider Economic Impacts (WEIs), and a risk premium of 64%.

3.2  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?

3.2.1  The WCML needs additional capacity—a new line—only south of Rugby. North of Rugby its divides into two, and the main Trent Valley line has spare capacity following 4-tracking of the 2-track section in southern Staffordshire in 2004-08. There is no case for a wholly new line north of Rugby. Where new capacity is built, it can be designed for 300 kph (186 mph) running; a new conventional line would not be a suitable solution.

3.3  Pros and cons of alternative means of managing demand for rail travel, for example by price?

3.3.1  Even in China's controlled society, government plans to operate its high speed train network at 300kph to achieve competitive prices.

3.3.2  Restriction of travel by rail would increase pressure of travel by road, which is noisier, more dangerous, less environmentally friendly, and slower.

3.3.2  Rationing freedom of travel by price would be politically unacceptable.

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?

3.4.1  UK can achieve success with major programmes (LHR T5 and Olympic).

3.4.2  Design goals must include minimise of risk. This has not been done by HS2—eliminate excessive tunnelling, large work packages, gating of the entire project by one critical element, operation at unproven speeds, excessive project duration, big-bang rather than progressive introduction.

3.4.3  Form one team that comprises best experience available, can contribute all necessary skills

3.4.4  Avoid "mission creep".

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?

4.1.1  Euston is the only London station capable of operating as the London terminus. It currently carries two commuting streams, whose diversion (to LU and Crossrail) would facilitate adaption potentially within the existing footprint and with reduced disruption to services. On completion of Crossrail which will serve Heathrow, the Heathrow Express service can be re-routed to Euston instead of Paddington. Removal of commuting traffic from Euston reduces pressure on its limited onward connections.

4.1.2  Hence, OOC appears unnecessary and should be replaced by a station at Milton Keynes (MK), to serve the travelling population of MK, Bedford and Northampton. Journey times would continue to be based on a one stop strategy.

4.1.3  We remain unconvinced of the overall benefit of introduction of constructing additional parkway stations. Upgrade of the city centre stations at Coventry and Leicester should be considered instead, at a frequency justified by travel volumes.

4.1.4  Curzon Street is the best location in Birmingham for a major national interchange. New Street cannot take more trains, or full-length high-speed trains. The HS2 Ltd proposal for a separate Curzon Street station for high-speed trains only would not enable interchange or connections with other services. It should be designed as Birmingham's main station, with New Street acting primarily for suburban and regional commuter services.

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

4.2.1  The Y network appears to be driven by a vision that the overlay high speed network ultimately evolves to be more and more independent of the existing network—imposing ever higher costs for ever reducing returns as it progresses north. HS2 appears to base the Y network on an untested assumption that there should be a hub at Birmingham International Interchange rather than in Birmingham City Centre, where existing lines meet. We question both these fundamental assumptions.

4.2.3  The distance between Birmingham and Manchester is approx. 110 kms—less than London to Birmingham. Even operating at 400kph cannot hope to save more than a few minutes compared with upgrading WCML via Crewe and Wilmslow. Any speed advantage would be negated if the Manchester HS2 station is not one of the existing main stations (Piccadilly and Victoria) so that interchange from other services was not possible. As far as is known, HS2 Ltd does not propose to use either of these stations.

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

4.3.1  The immediate focus should be relief of capacity constraints on existing lines, which are most severe on (but not exclusive to) lines emanating from London.

4.3.2  Similar priority should be given to capacity relief elsewhere permitting progressive service introduction.

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?

4.4.1  Government proposes the link to HS1 in phase I only because the necessary very expensive tunnel cannot be constructed later. But a simple linkage can be made with HS1 at low cost by using the North London Line from the Primrose Hill tunnels through the former Chalk Farm station, building one new two-track bridge over Camden High Road to double trackage here from two to four tracks, and lay double track on the viaduct which connects the NLL with HS1. This viaduct was built for stock movements north of St Pancras as part of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Phase 2. This means a connection is possible for through trains at relatively low cost.

4.4.2  We do not believe there will ever be a case for construction of a tunnelled link to Heathrow from the proposed HS2 alignment. The economic and effective link would be to operate Heathrow Express from Euston instead of Paddington, once Crossrail is carrying air passengers between Central London and the airport terminals.

5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

No comments offered.

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?

6.1.1  HS2 Ltd has chosen to design the route to support speeds of 400kph (250 mph), substantially faster than any other operator, despite its claim that it will not be a pioneering solution. (Even China, acknowledged by HS2 Ltd to be the driving force in HSR has reduced its target speed to 300 kph in view of high ticket costs and safety hazards involved in travelling faster, and despite the much greater distances between cities compared with UK). A reduction of max speed from 400 to 320 kph (250 to 200 mph) will save approx 1/3 of energy used and an equivalent reduction in greenhouse gases, if power is predominantly generated by non-renewable sources. A railway designed for a maximum speed of 320kph.

6.1.2  A route designed for a maximum speed of 320kph will reduce the energy and cost associated with the direct cost of tunnelling by 75%, since fewer and shorter tunnels are required. Contributions to energy usage and cost for removal of spoil, the volume of which HS2 Ltd appears to have grossly underestimated, are similarly reduced.

6.1.3  HS2 Ltd has ignored the benefit to the environment available from modal shift of freight from road to rail enabled by transfer of passenger capacity from existing to new high speed lines. As it has failed to analyse the capacity released to freight on WCML, it is not possible to comment on this benefit.

6.1.4  HS2 Ltd has examined extension of the line in phase to provide direct access at London Heathrow, at a cost of some £4bn to serve some 2,800 travellers daily. It has ignored the much more pressing opportunity to improve local rail service at Heathrow for its 48K workers and 200,000 passengers daily whose journeys start or end within 50 miles of the airport. (When LHR was closed by volcanic ash and strikes early this year, the beneficial impact on traffic volumes and therefore flows was remarkable for a radius of at least 20 miles from the airport.

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

6.2.1  In the absence of an EIA, this question cannot be answered. It is extraordinary and completely unacceptable that HS2 will not release an EIA until the final route has been agreed.

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

6.3.1  HS2 Ltd claims that capacity for freight will be increased by the existence of the high speed line. It provides no evidence to substantiate the claim. We believe the scheme should be allowed to proceed only if, as result, 2 tracks of the WCML between London/Southampton and the West Midlands can be dedicated to freight.

6.3.2  HS2 proposes to route high speed trains on the WCML initially from Lichfield north and in the longer term from the interchange for Manchester/Liverpool. For freight travelling on WCML further north (including Scotland), where the WCML is a two track line, the consequences are disastrous. Each additional high speed train will displace three to five freight trains and therefore force 100 to 150 HGVs back onto the M6 motorway at high energy cost. Many of these will necessarily travel at night to avoid congestion, an increase of perhaps 50% on roads which are already unacceptably noisy at night.

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

6.4.1  HS2 Ltd indicates that reconstruction of Euston will take 8½ years, the longest single element of the entire programme. It therefore determines the critical path to completion. Choice of an alternative route could lead to service introduction on the high speed line up to five years earlier, bringing benefit rather than disruption to the UK's over stretched network.

6.4.2  HS2 Ltd's solution to overcrowding at Euston station is construction of an entirely new interchange at Old Oak Common, for which connections must be provided by tube, cross rail, bus and taxi. Introduction of these additional services in a busy area of North West London will create further disruption during construction and congestion in operation.

6.4.3  Overcrowding at Euston can be resolved by routing commuter traffic unto either London Underground or Crossrail using existing and new links. Disruption during reconstruction at Euston would then be greatly reduced, and it is possible that the reconfiguration could take place within the existing footprint—avoiding destruction of homes and disruption of the lives of hundreds of people.

6.4.4  A similar approach to distribution of traffic between New St and the proposed Curzon St stations in Birmingham would offer similar benefits.

May 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011