High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Eurostar (HSR 128)


1.  Eurostar is the high-speed train service linking the UK to destinations across France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. We have been operating since 14 November 1994 and have since carried around 115 million passengers, doubling the size of the market for travel between London and Paris in the process.

2.  Since September 2010 Eurostar has been a single British-registered company, Eurostar International Limited (EIL), having previously been an unincorporated joint partnership between the British, French and Belgian railways. As well as helping to streamline decision-making and reduce unit costs, this will better equip us to meet the challenge of increased competition arising from the new Open Access framework. We also believe it will help us more effectively expand our own operations, as we seek to broaden our reach across the UK, regional France, and further into continental Europe.

3.  Our first step as a new company has been to announce a £700 million investment in our rolling stock, with the purchase of 10 new train-sets and the refurbishment of our existing fleet. Built to a bespoke specification, the new Eurostar e320 trains will be "interoperable", meaning that they can operate across the European high speed rail (HSR) network, and provide direct services between London and a range of city centre destinations throughout Europe.

4.  We aim to become the leading travel experience in Europe, substantially increasing the number of connecting passengers to destinations beyond Brussels, Lille and Paris by 2015. At the same time, we want to maintain our leadership on the London-Paris route, which will be central to our success in the future.

5.  Eurostar supports the Government's plans to expand the country's HSR network and, as the only operator currently running international HSR services in the UK, has a number of substantive points to make in response to the Committee's inquiry. We have only responded to those questions where we have felt able to put forward a view based on our experience as a HSR operator.

The main arguments for High Speed Rail

Increasing capacity

6.  High speed rail represents the most effective means to introduce additional capacity to the national transport system. It is noteworthy that the original business case for France's first high speed line from Paris to Lyon included the benefits of capacity released on conventional lines, by transferring intercity trains to the new line.

7.  Additional capacity will soon become necessary in the UK. For example, the West Coast Main Line - despite being upgraded at great expense and disruption - will again encounter capacity constraints by the middle of the next decade. Investment in new infrastructure in the form of HSR will restore capacity on existing railway lines, for the benefit of local stopping services and freight movements, and deliver a step-change in reliability. This cannot be matched by upgrading the existing rail network.

8.  Capacity improvements, combined with a dramatic shortening of journey times for medium- and long-distances journeys, will result in significant modal shift to HSR from carbon-intensive car and air travel. This will not only release capacity on motorways but bring with it considerable environmental benefits and will be crucial to meeting the ambition of the European Commission, as stated in its recently published White Paper, to see a "50% shift of medium distance intercity passenger and freight journeys from road to rail and waterborne transport".

Environmental benefits

9.  Through the 2008 Climate Change Act, the UK government has signed up to ambitious carbon reductions targets of 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. The UK Committee on Climate Change has also recently recommended an interim target for 2030 of 60% reduction with an adjustment to the 2020 target, raising it to 37%. At the time of writing, the Government has not yet decided whether to accept the recommendations of the Committee. In parallel, the European Commission's recent White Paper on Transport sets out steps to achieve a 60% reduction in transport emissions across Europe by 2050. As the transport sector is responsible for approximately 29% of European carbon emissions, it has a significant role to play in helping the UK to meet its own carbon reduction targets. Within the sector, delivering modal shift to lower carbon forms of transport such as HSR is clearly critical in meeting the proposed 60% target.

10.  Travel by HSR produces only one-third of the carbon emissions of car travel and one-quarter the emissions of an equivalent trip by air, taking into account the average loadings typically achieved on each mode. For example, a typical Eurostar journey between London and Paris or Brussels generates around a tenth of the amount of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by the equivalent short haul flight.

11.  The shift of passengers from short-haul air to high speed rail within the first year of operating on HS1 resulted in a combined passenger saving in excess of 40,000 tonnes of CO2. Investment in HSR will therefore make possible a lowering of emissions from the transport sector at a time of increased public awareness and acceptance of the effects of damaging CO2 emissions on climate change.

12.  These benefits will further increase in the future as HSR becomes more environmentally efficient and as the UK electricity supply becomes less carbon intensive. The UK electricity supply is currently amongst the least environmentally friendly in Europe in terms of CO2 emissions per kW hour of electricity generated. It is certainly the most carbon intensive electricity supply on Eurostar's network, with grid averages for France and Belgium having approximately a fifth and a half, respectively, of the carbon intensity of UK generation.

Journey times

13.  High Speed 1 was the first new mainline railway for 100 years, with the principal practical effects having been to reduce the journey times between the centres of London and Paris/Brussels [fig.1] These faster services, as well as the convenience of city centre to city centre travel, have resulted in both significant modal shift and a stimulus to business and leisure activity.

Figure 1
November 1994 September 03
(opening of CTRL 1, first part of HS1)
November 07
(completion of HS1)
London-Paris2h 55m2h 35m 2h 15m
London-Brussels3h 15m 2h 20m1h 51m
London-Lille  2h 05m 1h 40m1h 20m

14.  A further principal attraction of HSR to passengers is reliability. Because HSR lines are purpose built, they offer much higher reliability and punctuality than is possible on conventional lines. The presence of often older equipment and a mixture of different train types mean that any delays that occur on conventional lines are often compounded. In contrast, the average delay per train due to infrastructure problems of any reason (including weather) on HS1 since it opened is less than ten seconds per train.

15.  The problem of regular weekend disruptions because of maintenance or renewals also barely exists for HSR lines. The greater spacing between tracks necessary for high speed operation - a wider "six foot" in railway parlance - means that relaying and maintenance works can be routinely carried out on one line with the other still fully open with reversible working.

Economic impact

16.  France's TGV network provides a number of examples of the economic impact of HSR. Lille is such an example. The city has been transformed by its location on the crossroads of the northern TGV networks, with direct links to Paris, Brussels and London. 20 years ago, it was struggling with around 40% unemployment resulting from the decline in its traditional engineering and mining industries. The TGV has given Lille residents access to new job opportunities in Paris and Brussels, with significant commuting flows to both, and encouraged new businesses to locate there because of its superb accessibility. The line has also enabled tourism to flourish in the city, further fueling the local economy and creating new jobs in the area. Unemployment is now around 11%, only a couple of percent above the national average.

17.  Eurostar believes that similar benefits could flow from the construction of a London to Birmingham high speed line and the extension further north of the UK's high speed network.

18.  The establishment of high speed rail services between London and Paris has also had a major impact on the economies and geographies of those two cities. London is now France's sixth city in terms of population with over 300,000 French nationals now living and working in London. Many companies exchange personnel weekly between their Paris and London offices, and some service both capitals from a single office - in both cases boosting productivity and extending markets. It is also well known that the volume of tourism between the two cities has expanded enormously - with the market for French visitors to London virtually created by Eurostar.

19.  Moreover, according to London & Continental Railways (the builders of HS1), since the construction of the line, there has been £10 billion worth of development and investment committed around St Pancras International/Kings Cross, Stratford and Ebbsfleet stations. Although not all of this development is attributable to HS1, the line has undoubtedly played a major role in encouraging this investment.

How does HSR fit with the Government's transport policy objectives?

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?

20.  Of all the potential options available, HSR is the only one capable of offering a step change in the reduction of journey times, and therefore improved accessibility between key cities and regions. Building a new motorway would not directly reduce inter-regional journey times, because maximum speeds would still be the same as on existing motorways. If anything, motorway speed limits may be reduced in future - as they already have been in Spain - in order to improve fuel consumption and reduce dependence on imported oil. Likewise, domestic air services are already largely at their practical limit in terms of aircraft speed, and therefore journey times. This leaves HSR as the only mode which would materially reduce passenger journey times on an inter-regional basis, and therefore achieve the desired strategic improvement in accessibility.

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?

21.  It is important that the Government maintains adequate investment in the existing rail network, including - as achieved in France with great success - allowing for the integration of existing lines with new HSR lines. The Government has already demonstrated its commitment through the allocation of hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in the classic rail network. Eurostar supports the ring-fencing of funding for HS2 away from the main DfT budget.

What are the implications for domestic aviation?

22.  The construction of a HSR network should result in a decrease in domestic air journeys. The introduction of an HSR line between Brussels and Paris, for example, has virtually eliminated commercial flights between those two cities. This will, in turn, release airport capacity for long-haul flights and better enable Heathrow to preserve and build upon its status as a global aviation hub.

Business case

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?

23.  Alternatives to the construction of the national HSR network, such as upgrading the West Coast Main Line or building new conventional lines, whilst resulting in new capacity, would lead to considerable disruption during the period of construction without a concomitant improvement to journey times, punctuality or reliability. There is considerable evidence to support this, including research carried out by Atkins for the Department for Transport in 2009 and 2010 and for the Strategic Rail Authority in 2003, Network Rail's New Lines Programme and Greengauge 21's Fast Forward research programme in 2009.

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?

24.  Despite the complexity of that programme, HS1 and its associated projects serve as a good model for what future schemes can achieve. The £5.8bn project to build the UK's first high speed rail line was achieved on time and within budget. In this respect, it is one of the country's most successful major infrastructure projects in recent years, and provides an excellent example of UK engineering excellence.

The strategic route

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?

25.  HSR makes possible fast city-centre to city-centre journey times. It is self-evident that the more intermediate stations there are along a HSR line, the longer the length of the journey. As noted in a number of key studies on high speed rail,[97] reducing the overall speeds by stops at smaller intermediate towns can reduce the benefits for major cities without achieving sufficiently large compensating gains for the smaller centres. Examination of existing high speed networks in other countries reveals that most trains run between the capital and the major target city, with very few intermediate stops.

26.  Where intermediate stations have been built on the French high speed lines - such as at Le Creusot - thus building up its role as a local centre of activity, the expected development around the station has failed to materialise and has deterred the construction of further intermediate stations.

27.  Although careful planning in some areas - for example, at Aix-en-Provence - has sometimes been able to generate new development around an intermediate station, we consider that investment in the classic network, which would ensure that these areas can link to the major HSR hubs, would represent a better use of funding.

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?

28.  Eurostar welcomes the proposal to connect HS1 to a HSR network from London northwards. This will offer more and more customers the potential of connecting to continental destinations via HSR. It will also help achieve the ambition recently articulated in the EU's Transport White Paper to complete a European high-speed rail network by 2050. At the end of 2009, Europe had over 6214km of HSR lines on which trains could run at speeds in excess of 250km/h. By contrast, the UK currently only has 109km miles of HSR line.

29.  The opening of the European rail network to competition under the EU Open Access framework will present passengers with greater choice in terms of both operators and destinations. The construction of a HSR line to Birmingham and northwards will enable more UK citizens to benefit from direct rail connections to Continental Europe, and for those regions to forge economic links with mainland Europe.

Economic rebalancing and equity

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

30.  As mentioned above, Eurostar has observed at close hand the economic benefits that HSR has brought to Lille. During the 1980s, post-manufacturing dislocation resulted in high unemployment and economic depression in the city. Since the introduction of HSR in the 1990s, however, Lille has been transformed into the crossroads of Europe's HSR network, becoming France's third most powerful financial, commercial and industrial centre.

31.  Cities such as Marseille, Lyon and others in France have also benefited from the steady extension of the TGV network. Economic growth has been much more evenly distributed across France, with consequent less growth pressure on Paris as a capital. By contrast, much of the UK's economic and population growth has been concentrated in London and the South East, with strong, and still growing, pressure on housing and infrastructure as a result

32.  Faster transport links between cities will boost regional business activity in the regions. They will help spread the economic halo effect around London and the south-east to areas in the Midlands, the North and the cities in Scotland. Improved business growth in regional cities will speed regeneration in run-down areas, and promote leisure travel to such destinations.

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

33.  As indicated above, the construction of intermediate stations can reduce the benefits of HSR for major cities through the extension of journey times without achieving sufficiently large compensating gains for those smaller centres. Investing in the classic network to ensure excellent regional links into HSR hubs represents a sounder use of funding. This will enable regions to not only benefit from released capacity on the classic network but also from geographical and economic centres being brought closer together.

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

34.  All rail users including low socio-economic groups will benefit from extra capacity on the classic network. For example in 2010, ticket sales at our lead-in fare of £69/€88 together with youth, disabled and senior tickets represented a significant proportion of overall ticket sales.


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?

35.  The UIC has recently published interim findings in a technical report which demonstrates that the European railway sector has reduced CO2 emissions by a total of 38% between 1990-2009. Although this figure is representative of the entire European rail industry, it is in stark contrast to the expected rise in emissions from domestic aviation which has a negative impact on the UK contraction and convergence targets.

36.  Independent research commissioned by Eurostar and conducted by Paul Watkiss Associates and AEA Technology Environment, determined that a return journey by Eurostar between London and Paris or London and Brussels generates one-tenth of the CO2 of the same journey by air. The shift of passengers from short-haul air to high speed rail within the first year alone of operating on HS1 resulted in a combined passenger saving in excess of 40,000 tonnes of CO2.

37.  Carbon savings will also result as modal shift takes place from road and short haul air journeys to HSR. For example, on the London to Paris/Brussels route, Eurostar now has an 80% market share of the journeys made. Since the opening of HS1, Eurostar has observed a significant modal shift from air to rail, as passengers grow accustomed to the speed and ease of HSR travel.

38.  A study commissioned by Eurostar in 2006 shows high speed rail's market share between a whole range of city pairs in Europe, plotting market share against journey time. The clear rule of thumb is that where the rail city centre to city centre journey time is reduced to three hours or less, rail succeeds in attracting a clear majority of the travel markets, and takes an overwhelming share where journey times are reduced below two hours. The large majority of potential British city pairs, particularly those with a significant domestic aviation service currently, fall comfortably into this range. Following the Ash cloud crisis in April 2010, Eurostar commissioned independent research which showed that 43% of respondents would be happy to travel by train for up to six hours.

39.  The environmental benefits of HSR will be further accentuated as supply chains become increasingly low carbon. Our experience has shown that business travelers are already switching to a less carbon intensive form of travel. More and more corporations and many smaller companies are having to report their CO2 emissions, and are consequently looking to reduce their environmental impacts. Our Tread Lightly carbon reduction programme was thus elaborated in response to demands from corporate customers who wanted to be able to quantify the carbon savings they were making by switching from plane to train.

40.  As mentioned above, these environmental benefits will only improve in the future, as HSR travel becomes more environmentally efficient. Electric trains can be switched to even lower-carbon sources of electricity as soon as these become available under the Government's commitments to derive 20% of the UK's electricity supply from renewable sources by 2020. This is unlike aircraft and road vehicles, which are likely to remain largely wedded to fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.

May 2011

97   Troin, J-F (1997). Rail et aménagement du territoire - des heritages aux nouveaux défis Edisud, Aix-en-Provence, p.84; Vickerman, R (1997) .High speed rail in Europe: experiences and issues for further development The Annals of Regional Science; Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011