High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from the Institution of Civil Engineers (HSR 103)

1.  What are the main arguments either for or against High Speed Rail?

1.1  The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) believes that the current proposals of the UK Government for a High Speed Rail (HSR) network offers the potential for significant economic benefits to the North of England, the West Midlands and Scotland as a consequence of the freeing up of capacity on the existing congested classic national railway network and improved connectivity with London and markets with the rest of the European Union.

1.2  The HS2 proposals also offer a sustainable alternative to domestic and short haul flights providing that HS2 can compete with air travel on price, flexibility and connectivity.

1.3  Most importantly, the ICE believes the nation's interests will be well served by addressing the real need to increase long-term transport capacity within this structured approach to the nation's transportation planning.

1.4  The performance of a nation's transport network is a key component of its productivity and competitiveness. Enhanced connectivity is critical to the economic growth of the nation's major cities. Fast, integrated and reliable transport systems help sustain the productivity of urban areas, supporting deep and productive labour markets, and allowing businesses to reap the benefits of economic agglomeration.

1.5  Transport corridors are vital to both domestic and international trade, boosting the competitiveness of the UK economy. Put simply, better connectivity enhances business value, increases labour market catchments and workforce opportunities. This translates into more jobs, greater productivity, higher incomes and, ultimately, higher tax revenues.

1.6  Inter-urban rail services are expected to face increasingly severe capacity pressures. Demand for transport is concentrated on particular places, modes and times of day. Continued economic success has created increasing demands on the network, which are putting parts of the system under serious strain.

1.7  Network Rail have estimated that before 2020, the existing rail lines from London to the North and West of England will be operating beyond full capacity and the classic next generation tools for increasing capacity will be exhausted. This would constrain the economy, and continued growth in demand.

1.8  Put simply, capacity growth on congested corridors will soon be essential if the UK is to continue to grow and prosper both physically and economically.

1.9  However, there is a counter-argument to suggest that the funding which would be put forward for High Speed Rail would be better spent on upgrading the existing classic network.

1.10  There is an additional argument which questions whether we will actually need to travel as often in the future, in light of improved telecommunications and increased home-working. The responding argument is that cities and business clusters will continue to be as important in the future as they are today, but the question should be addressed.

1.11  We see High Speed Rail as a sustainable, economic and environmentally acceptable solution to achieving the necessary step change in capacity.

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?

2.1.1  The Eddington Transport Study, produced in 2006, stated that there was clear evidence that a comprehensive and high performing transport system is an important enabler of sustained economic prosperity: a 5% reduction in travel time for all business and freight travel on the roads could generate around £2.5 billion of cost savings, which was quoted as being some 0.2% of GDP.[298]

2.1.2  Travel demand in the UK over recent decades has grown rapidly due to its continued economic success. This has created increased pressure on certain parts of the road network at certain times of the day. The rising cost of congestion could potentially waste an extra £22 billion worth of time in England by 2025.368

2.1.3  The nation already has some of the most crowded roads in the world. In 2007, the Green Light Group, which was facilitated by the ICE, published its report on Road Pricing, which identified the need for measures to be taken to reduce congestion on the UK's roads. Traffic congestion in the UK is worse than in any other of the 15 members of the EU before enlargement. In Germany, 7% of road users experience congestion, while that figure is only 4% in France. In the UK, 20% of road users experience congestion, making UK roads much less reliable.[299]

2.1.4  The Green Light Group suggested some clear options of what could be done to mitigate this. These options were:

—  Build more roads;

—  Make better use of our roads—such as driving on the hard shoulders of motorways and ensuring the use of all lanes of motorways and dual carriageways;

—  Invest in new or improved public transport routes and services;

—  Encourage working from home, teleconferencing and driving at non-peak hours;

—  Encourage people to walk or cycle instead of travelling by car;

—  Concentrate new development in areas well served by public transport and limit the amount of town development;

—  Manage demand through parking schemes and road pricing.

Since the production of this report, further steps have been taken to encourage sustainable transport options within towns and cities. However, measures to provide an attractive alternative to car travel between urban agglomerations have not yet been taken.

2.1.5  The Green Light Group considered that a restructuring of the way in which transport services are priced and the way we paid for them was essential. A road-pricing scheme, which took into account the costs and environmental externalities, could lead to greater efficiency, as well as greater investment into both roads and public transport. The introduction of road pricing beyond local schemes designed to deal with local problems should be complemented but a restructuring of vehicle and fuel taxation.

2.1.6  However, in May 2010, the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, rejected calls to introduce road charging on England's motorway network and described the existing fuel duty regime as an effective "pay as you go" system. In addition, although the Government objective to promote the electric car is a welcome step in terms of reducing carbon emissions, this will not impact upon reducing road congestion.

2.1.7  Therefore, alternative methods of reducing congestion on the road network must be sought, and High Speed Rail would provide a suitable and attractive alternative for inter-city business and leisure travel. The ICE and its membership will be considering these issues in greater detail before responding to the DfT consultation.

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  It is fundamental that the UK continues to improve the "classic" rail network. High Speed Rail will only be able to work to its optimum if part of a complete network. This requires that the existing "classic" network acts as a complementary feeder to the high speed network. High speed trains will be able to access parts of the classic network to reach principal destinations.

2.2.2  The provision of High Speed Rail would release much needed capacity on the "classic" network to be used for more local and interconnecting services. This should provide a far better service in the vicinity of the HSR corridor. Also, if the proposals for High Speed Rail are approved, there would be the need to operate some high speed trains on the existing classic network. Therefore, the infrastructure would need to be improved sooner rather than later to reap the benefits of increased speed on the classic network before any high speed line is implemented.

2.2.3  Connections must be seamless if High Speed Rail is to be effective. Therefore, if High Speed Rail is to be introduced, the "classic" network should not be considered as a separate entity, but part of an holistic rail network, with additional integrated transport solutions applied for inner-suburban and urban travel.

2.3  What are the implications for domestic aviation?

2.3.1  In 2010, the ICE published its report Rethinking Aviation, which aimed to stimulate debate and highlight actions required to improve UK Aviation and Airport Infrastructure. Whilst it recognised the importance of aviation to investment in the UK economy, it documented that runway capacities at the busiest airports in London and the South East of England were severely constrained. This not only caused delays, but impeded the UK's global connectivity, and ability to attract new long-haul services to and from emerging economies.[300]

2.3.2  As the UK emerges from recession it is essential to find new commercial opportunities in emerging markets. The ICE has encouraged strategically placed airport capacity to guarantee international connectivity for passengers and freight. More importantly, in relation to this Inquiry, the ICE supports the gradual surface-based substitution of short-haul flights within the UK. To enable this transition, more surface transport infrastructure, such as low carbon rail and road would need to be developed to not only ensure the UK meets its ambitious carbon reduction targets, but also to maintain regional connectivity as domestic air travel is reduced.

2.3.3  In 2009, the ICE produced its Aviation 2040 scenarios report, aimed at challenging industry and government to challenge their beliefs about what the future of air transport and infrastructure holds. The most significant message drawn from this report was that international long-haul aviation, in particular, is highly valuable to the UK economy and vital for maintaining the UK's global competitiveness. However, unrestrained growth in aviation would lead to damaging long-term effects such as increased carbon emissions, higher noise levels and air pollution. This leads to the need to develop strategies that facilitate the provision of valuable long-haul business without extensive airport expansion.

2.3.4  Air travel and demand for air travel has risen in the UK, with respect to both domestic and international journeys. This is clearly putting pressure on airports and airspace. If a successful modal shift were to be achieved for short-haul domestic aviation, this could have significant implications for domestic aviation and reducing the environmental impact of increased air travel. It would be some time before High Speed Rail would be able to compete competitively with international short-haul flights, but, in the long-term, additional international short haul flights could be migrated onto rail. The success of the Eurostar High Speed Rail link from London to Paris/Brussels clearly illustrates the viability of this.

2.3.5  Therefore, the ICE would encourage the establishment of a network of fully integrated, low-carbon surface transport infrastructure solutions to provide alternatives to domestic short-haul air services in the long-term.

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?

3.1.1  The assumptions and methodology appear fairly robust. Our members have commented that the level of detail they have received is comprehensive and far beyond the level provided in previous consultations. However, with regard to operational costs, these were based on 2009 prices. The costs of oil have risen somewhat since this time, due partly to the 2011 "Arab-Spring" and the instability of Governments within the Middle Eastern region. This should be borne in mind. Of course, the energy mix of the trains being used would dictate the operational costs and it is not possible to predict how far energy costs will have risen by 2026. The key issue is that high speed trains would be powered by electricity and, that it is up to current energy strategists in government and industry must ensure that, in the future, UK grid electricity will be generated with the lowest carbon impact. As far as possible, this should be insulated from political manipulation.

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?

3.2.1  Upgrading the West Coast Main Line or adding a new conventional line would provide additional capacity, but it would not match High Speed Rail for speed, and would not be as effective in encouraging a modal shift from air/car travel to rail. Congestion on the WCML is only a significant problem southeast of Rugby, so the high-speed route must take account of that section.

3.2.2  However, a further upgrade of the WCML would be extremely disruptive to the existing train services during construction, as occurred during the previous upgrade. Upgrades can also be far more costly, relative to the benefits accrued than new railways. It will always be more expensive to work on an existing railway where trains are still required to operate. This is even without accounting for any compensation which would be liable to rail operators and/or customers, where the cost penalty can be huge.

3.2.3  A new high speed railway would provide a step change in travel times and route possibilities for many potential users, particularly once the line is extended further north. Research indicates that significant modal shift to rail from other modes can be achieved once journey times are reduced to below three hours. New convenient direct services would be possible between our major cities.[301]

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

3.3.1  This would be a short-term option which would do little to increase the UK's competitiveness, and would do little or nothing to increase economic growth or resolve the real need for additional transport capacity. Rail travel should be encouraged as a reliable, effective and affordable source of travel, not limited to the wealthy.

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  The Government should ensure that a new high speed line is built to standard specifications used previously, such as for High Speed 1 or a French LGV. This reduces risks of use of new technologies, which can delay projects or lead to cost escalations. High Speed 1 (the Channel Tunnel Rail Link) was built to time and to budget on that basis. The ability for the track to cater for double-deck rail carriages should also be considered strongly.

3.4.2  High Speed 1 was successful in terms of its construction planning and execution. There is substantial information available publically on lessons learned and of course this is directly comparable to HS2, being a high speed railway to be constructed in the UK. Infrastructure UK (IUK) has investigated the reasons why construction costs are relatively high in the UK and the ICE is working with IUK on implementation.

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  The ICE West Midlands regional office is currently considering whether these are the best locations for a High Speed Rail route. High Speed Rail will be most effective if it travels quickly from city-centre to city-centre, and allows seamless interchange to allow passengers to arrive at their destination. Curzon Street should allow this assuming that increased public transport connectivity is provided.

4.1.2  A stop at Birmingham International would seem a sensible option. Birmingham Airport is a Strategic National Asset and is running at less than 40% capacity. There is spare capacity at Birmingham—enough capacity to take another nine million passengers immediately and an anticipated 21 million plus passengers in future years, as capability is enhanced in line with existing Planning Consents. Currently, London Euston is only 70 minutes from Birmingham Airport. With a High Speed Rail link between London and Birmingham in place this could be reduced to just 38 minutes. This would provide a realistic solution to alleviating capacity shortages at airports in the South-East.

4.1.3  The Old Oak Common station would seem a sensible option to provide a link to Heathrow Airport, if a direct link to Heathrow is essential. Appropriate junction engineering works would be included to make it possible for a High Speed spur to Heathrow to be built at a later date.

4.1.4  With regard to the case for more intermediate stations, this should be assessed by considering whether or not these impact greatly upon the journey time between city-centres. The key attractions of High Speed Rail are speed and capacity. Increasing journey times would slow the service and reduce line capacity, therefore making the service less attractive to long distance travellers. It would be far better to add stations to the classic lines where this would increase overall accessibility to the rail network once High Speed 2 is operational, for example on the Chiltern Line or the West Coast Main Line.

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

4.2.1  This is an issue we are currently discussing with our members. It is vitally important that we consider, at this stage, whether this strategic route is the right option for providing a truly national High Speed Network. HS2 has to be designed to the correct holistic railway engineering principles. The key points on which the new railway has to perform are on the attached document.

4.2.2  Regardless of the cities served, good connectivity from those not served will be essential. There must be frequent, fast and reliable connections between cities and any HSR hubs. The resulting overall journey times for real passengers must be competitive with the alternative transport modes such as road or air. The requirement to provide airport links, particularly to Heathrow, has a huge effect on the ultimate "high speed" solution. We have to prioritise the key aim, which is to end up with an efficient, high-capacity, inter-conurbation railway.

4.2.3  Connectivity outside London, inter-regionally, is a major shortcoming of current UK rail transport. Improving this situation needs to be a key objective of any new rail development whether high speed or not, if the UK is to achieve worthwhile modal shift to rail.

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

4.3.1  In our view, yes, because this would lead to staged resource requirements at each stage, eg for design, procurement and construction, and reduces the timescale for Stage 1, which leads to earlier benefits for all.

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  Yes. A link to HS1 would be difficult and intrusive to construct at a later stage; would bring immediate benefits of reduced journey times for passengers travelling from the north to the continent, and reduce the number of passengers travelling through the London terminal stations. However, we consider that the link, as provided for in the current proposal, is inadequate and should be enhanced to improve capacity from that envisaged in the current proposal.

4.4.2  Given that the London Heathrow to Manchester and Leeds routes have much greater potential to attract modal shift than London Heathrow to Birmingham, it would appear sensible for the construction of the LHR link to be constructed as part of Phase 2. Also, the interchange at Old Oak Common onto Crossrail will allow immediate benefits for passengers travelling to Heathrow from the north. Additional reductions in journey time through a later direct link to Heathrow can be added in stage 2 when demand has increased.

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?

5.1.1  Lille is an example, as it was in economic decline until the arrival of the LGV to Paris and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. It is now France's third most prosperous city. The arrival of the High Speed Line would benefit the regions that it serves ie Birmingham, the North West (Liverpool/Manchester), the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East, all of which would help bridge the North/South divide.

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

5.2.1  Its route should be influenced by where the demand is greatest, but the exact locations should be agreed with the local authorities to fit in with their local regeneration plans and where there is, or will be, good connectivity with other local areas.

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

5.3.1  Potentially all, from businessmen on the high speed trains; those using the route for leisure; through to those able to make more local rail journeys because of the freed up capacity on the classic routes. Another argument is that without HS2, capacity on the rail network may end up being regulated via escalating fares, which could lead to rail travel only for the rich. This is something that Government will need to address.

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?

5.4.1  HS2 should be funded centrally as a national strategic project, free from local funding uncertainties. If European Union (EU) funding is available then it would further improve the business case.

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  The proposals states that the impact on greenhouse gas emissions as a result of the implementation of high speed rail will be broadly neutral and we have no evidence or reason to disagree with this conclusion. We would like to state strongly, that every effort should be made now to ensure that carbon emissions are kept to a minimum during construction and operation.

6.1.2  High Speed Rail lines would be electrified, which provides the possibility of using a carbon free source of energy, whereas inter urban road and air transport are currently dependent on oil. Electrically powered trains are also free from local air pollution, except for a small amount of particulate matter from braking at the point of use, although the visual intrusion and noise from a new high speed line is often the subject of controversy.

6.1.3  In terms of energy consumption, High Speed Rail has a substantial advantage over air, car and conventional rail travel. HS2 trains would have fewer stops, and most of the energy consumption occurs when trains accelerate.

6.1.4  Diverting traffic from roads does not simply affect greenhouse gases, but also reduces road noise, accidents, local air pollution and congestion. The biggest external benefits of HSR are likely to come where road or air is highly congested and expansion of these modes is difficult and expensive in terms of environmental costs.

6.1.5  Ultimately for High Speed Rail to reduce greenhouse gases, it must depend on a non-fossil fuel source of electricity generation.[302] Electrified high speed rail will be low carbon or carbon free automatically to the extent that the nation's power generation system becomes so.

6.1.6  The embedded carbon, representing the carbon emissions associated with construction operations has been accounted for in the appraisal of sustainability. Although the source is subject to uncertainty, there is scope to reduce emissions by the selection of plant equipment, and every effort should be made to reduce carbon where possible.

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

6.2.1  The environmental costs and benefits are sufficiently accounted for, although we would have appreciated further details of the energy mix which would be used for High Speed Rail. We believe also that the impact of noise during operation has been sufficiently accounted and justified.

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

6.3.1  HS2 would release additional freight paths on the classic network. This again has further environmental advantages. Overall rail produces less than 1% of the total U.K. emissions of carbon dioxide, the principle green house gas, compared with 21% from road transport.[303] Tonne for tonne rail freight produces 90% less carbon dioxide than road transport.[304] With pressure on the classic network reduced owing to the reduction of long distance trains on West Coast Main Line there would be great potential to increase the number of train paths available for freight services, leading to increased capacity and reliability of freight services and further possibilities of modal shift from road to rail for freight.

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  It should be possible to follow a phased construction sequence as at St Pancras International, whereby the new terminal platforms on the west side of Euston are constructed, then the existing services are switched to the new platforms whilst work on the existing platforms is carried out, then the existing trains switched back to the refurbished side. This could be done with a few blockade weekends at bank holidays without too much interference to existing services

May 2011

298   Sir Rod Eddington, (2006), The Eddington Transport Study, The Case for action: Sir Rod Eddington's advice to Government Back

299   The Green Light Group, (2007), Road Pricing: What are the facts? Back

300   Institution of Civil Engineers (2010): Rethinking Aviation Back

301   Network Rail (2008): High Speed Rail Investment; an overview of the literature Back

302   Nash, C (2010), When to invest in high-speed networks and rail links Back

303   DfT Ports Policy consultation (2010) - Rail freight's role Back

304   DfT Ports Policy consultation (2010)- Rail freight's role Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011