High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) (HSR 160)

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) represents train operators in Great Britain. We welcome the chance to submit this evidence to the Transport Committee on the case for High Speed Rail.

1.  The main arguments for High Speed Rail—ATOC's View

1.1 ATOC firmly backs the principle of the provision of a new high speed link to the Midlands and beyond to provide greater capacity to allow more people and freight to use rail.

1.2 The development of high speed rail and in particular High Speed 2 (HS2), with the Y-shaped network that the Government proposes, sets a clear, long-term plan that will help bring significant journey time gains to and from many regions of the country, including the North West, Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland. It will also release capacity on all three of the existing North—South main line corridors (the West Coast, Midland and East Coast Main Lines).

1.3 Beyond these immediate impacts, a high speed rail network of this kind would provide substantial, broader benefits in development and environmental terms. In particular, it would:

1.3.1  improve the economic development of the regions served, increase their competitiveness and reduce their peripherality,

1.3.2  contribute to the country's longer-term environmental goals by attracting passengers from air and car, whilst also taking the pressure off runway capacity in London and the South East, and

1.3.3  through the release of rail capacity, unlock the development of improved commuter and regional services on today's North-South main lines, particularly the West Coast, whilst permitting improvement in both the capacity and transit times of freight services. The latter would make a significant contribution to the development of the strategic freight network that the rail industry has been developing since 2007.

1.4 The lead time for development and construction of High Speed One (HS1) was 20 years and this is why it is right to plan now for new high-speed lines that will be required beyond 2020. ATOC, together with Network Rail and the Rail Freight Operators' Association, has been actively working on a network-wide approach to investment looking at growth trends over the next Control Period (CP5) and the next 25 years and, in Planning Ahead 2010: the Long Term Planning Framework set out an initial viewpoint.[253] This document sets out the industry's view on where it should be going in terms of long term improvements in customer satisfaction, capacity, carbon emissions and performance. It provides the planning background both for CP5 and for longer-term investment plans such as HS2 whilst also setting out the need to continue to fund upgrades of the capacity and capability of existing routes, in line with the strategies the industry is now developing, where there is a good business case for doing this and the costs involved are demonstrable value for money.

2.  The strategic route

2.1 ATOC welcomes the Government's conclusion that the line should be planned as a Y-shaped network serving not only Birmingham but also Manchester, the East Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds. The earlier plans for a route to Birmingham alone would have limited the benefits that high speed rail could bring; the new plans for a Y-shaped network set much clearer goals and will deliver greater advantages, in particular by offering high speed services to and from Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield. On these routes, today's current journey times of 2 to 2.5 hours to London can readily be reduced to 1 to 1.5 hours. The Y-shaped network with connections to Birmingham will also improve connectivity between many of the cities in England's central belt to underpin economic regeneration here as well.

2.2 We also welcome the Government's commitment to explore further options with the Scottish Government for reducing journey times to and from Scotland, although we expect that the costs involved here are likely to mean that the tradeoff will be between new route construction and selective upgrades of the existing routes. Scotland will gain some immediate journey time benefits from the first stage project now being consulted on, with Anglo-Scottish expresses able to use the new high speed line south of the Trent Valley and further savings would be possible once the Y-shaped network reaches the North West.

2.3 ATOC also supports the Government's decision to base the London terminal of the high speed line at Euston. A comprehensive view is needed here of the additional demand this will pose for the already crowded tube network. One option that ATOC and Network Rail have looked at is the possible diversion of London Midland services at Willesden into the new Crossrail network. This would release track and platform capacity at Euston whilst bringing commuters directly into the West End rather than having to change onto tube and bus services. Such a project would potentially also permit the HS2 platforms to be accommodated within a smaller station "footprint" due to the release of suburban platforms, facilitating reduced disruption during the station's rebuilding.

2.4 ATOC is pleased to see that phase 2 of the programme is now planned to include a spur to Heathrow. The examples of France, Germany and Spain show that a high speed rail network can abstract air traffic without having stations directly at airports,[254] however a direct airport link may make sense in the longer term, providing a sound business case is proven. The spur solution will avoid the journey time penalty that diverting the HSL via Heathrow would have created and will also unlock the potential for additional extensions of the high speed network to the South and South West.

2.5 The decision to carry out preparatory works for an eventual link to HS1 is important as, providing a good business case can be established, it will allow the development of journey opportunities into the wider European high speed network, not only from the Midlands and the North, but also from Heathrow, the West and the South West. The establishment of a link to HS1 will also accord closely with the EU's 2011 Transport White Paper objectives to complete a pan-European high-speed rail network,[255] enabling links into existing high speed services across the EU (eg to Lyon, Bordeaux, Amsterdam, Cologne and Frankfurt) .

2.6 The proposed Crossrail Interchange station at Old Oak Common would provide links into Central London and to Heathrow, but ATOC believes the longer-term business case for all HS2 and most Great Western trains to call at this station needs to be examined carefully. This strategy would undermine the journey time benefits of HS2 and journey times on the Great Western from London to Reading, Bristol, South Wales and the South West would be increased if stops on Great Western trains were introduced. In the longer term, following a Heathrow spur, some of the advantages of Old Oak Common as an HS2 interchange station for high speed services would naturally disappear and an overall balance therefore needs to be struck between interchange benefits, journey time disbenefits and the timing of any eventual direct link to Heathrow.

2.7. The proposed station at Birmingham, Curzon Street is in a good location for the city but ATOC believes that planning for it needs to accommodate fast, local links into the city centre and to the existing rail services at New Street and Moor Street stations. This might be accommodated by light rail.

3.  The fit with Government's Transport Policy Objectives

3.1 HS2 makes a significant contribution to improving city to city journey times and capacity, not only to and from London but also between the Midlands and the conurbations in the central belt, both east and west of the Pennines. The main motorways in these areas, the M1 and M6, are already at capacity due to the high levels of short to medium distance traffic; beyond measures to promote a smoother flow of traffic, there are few alternatives to expand the Motorways to accommodate further growth. By taking long distance traffic from the motorways, HS2 could play a role in reducing congestion on these routes and delaying the time when more substantial measures might be needed to improve capacity.

3.2 An important aspect of high speed service planning is to operate trains beyond high speed lines over the "classic" network. Around two-thirds of the train-mileage operated by TGVs in France is on the classic network, with the trains using the high speed lines to reduce journey times on the main corridors. In Germany, the equivalent proportion for the ICE network is even higher. High speed trains based on advanced rail technology have the advantage of being compatible with the conventional rail network, so that they can use existing city centre stations or run through to destinations where new construction cannot be justified.

3.3 One of the principal benefits of a new high speed network in Britain would be the creation of additional capacity to meet the growing needs of passengers and freight customers across the network, both on high speed and "classic" lines. A recent report by Greengauge 21 (of which ATOC is a member) on "Capturing the benefits of HS2 on existing lines"[256] demonstrates that the building of HS2 would also allow the delivery of a wide range of improvements and increased capacity on traditional lines to the North West of London, in the West Midlands and beyond.

3.4 The impact of HS2 on freight services running on the classic network will also be positive. The release of capacity by the reduction of faster services will be exponential, since the speed of freight services will be more closely matched to that of the existing and new passenger services. This could, in effect, see the replacement of a fast service transferred from the classic network by both a new semi-fast regional service and an additional freight service.

3.5 A wide package of regional benefits could be enabled by the release of capacity on the classic network that HS2 allows. The following improvements at regional stations exemplify what could be implemented—and which would not be possible without HS2:

3.5.1  Trent Valley (Lichfield, Tamworth, Nuneaton)

     30-minute services to London and the North West.

3.5.2  Coventry

     An improved package of, regular local and fast services to Birmingham.

     Cross-country services to/from North West, the South doubled from hourly to 30-minutes.

     Maintain a high frequency (30-minute) fast service to London through use of more economic service options (eg shorter trains in off-peak).

     New north—south service options possible due to the release of capacity at Coventry eg:

     Nuneaton—Coventry—Kenilworth (new station)—Leamington/Stratford.

     Coventry—Kenilworth (new station), Bicester, High Wycombe (& London).

3.5.3  Rugby

     30-minute services to London and the North West. Presently hourly to London, irregular to North West.

3.5.4  Northampton

     Five trains per hour to London (fastest 46 mins) in the peak. Presently three trains per hour (fastest 59 mins).

3.5.5  Milton Keynes

     Nine peak fast London services per hour. Presently four trains per hour.

     Regular (hourly/30 minutes) direct services to West Midlands, Manchester, Liverpool and Scotland. Presently irregular or off-peak.

     Potentially, new journey opportunities on services to/from new East—West Rail Link (Oxford—Milton Keynes - Bedford).

3.5.6  Watford

     Opportunities for regular frequency (30 minute) services to/from the West London Line and south London.

3.6 The case for HS2 is also supported by recent trends in modal shift from domestic air routes to rail. ATOC's latest findings[257] show that the delivery of improved, faster, rail services has led to a major transfer from air to rail. Between 2008 and 2010, the market share for rail on the London - Manchester corridor rose from 69% to 79% whilst between London and Glasgow it rose from 12% to 20%. These figures indicate that the further improvements that HS2 can bring will deliver even greater modal shift and will, as French TGV services have done, wipe out demand for domestic air travel on many routes. The major shifts in travel patterns that this can promote will deliver additional environmental benefits in terms of reduced emissions.

3.7 High speed rail will deliver a form of transport that has the potential to be extremely low in terms of carbon consumption, as a consequence of the "decarbonisation" of electricity supply which is being planned by Government to meet national carbon reduction targets. Analysis by ATOC for Greengauge 21[258] has shown that a journey by present high speed rail services generates only 33% of the CO2 emissions of a comparable car journey and 25% of the emissions of an equivalent journey by air and this advantage will widen over time. Although energy use increases with speed, the sophisticated design of high speed trains together with their high load factors substantially offsets this.

3.8 An issue that ATOC has long been concerned about is the risk that spending on HS2 might draw funding away from the existing "classic" network. In our view, it is important not to view these as competing options: the "classic" network is complementary to HS2 both in acting as a feeder to the high speed services and in enabling the wider benefits across the rail network that HS2 can allow. We were very encouraged by the outcome of Spending Review 2010, in which the Government recognised this point and safeguarded investment in the "classic" network whilst also setting aside substantial funding to take HS2 forward. The McNulty "value for money" review will be key in setting out the way forward in terms of the affordability of future investment but the point remains that a balanced approach to rail investment will remain important.

4.  Business Case

4.1 ATOC notes that HS2's cost estimates are higher than those assumed by the Network Rail and Greengauge 21 studies but still generate a positive business case, with a benefit/cost ratio of 2:1. However, to ensure efficient delivery, ATOC believes that the opportunity should be taken to review these costs and to assess the benefits of wider private sector involvement in construction and operation. This will both help maintain firm control on costs and create a clear commercial link between the revenues earned from the line and the costs incurred to achieve them which can help offset the risk of cost increases. The UK's train operators have wide experience of high speed operation, including Southeastern and Eurostar on High Speed One and of the demand and growth patterns in the regions to be served and we have met HS2 on a number of occasions to share this experience.

4.2 We do not support the position taken by some commentators that a further upgrade of the existing West Coast Main Line (WCML) would be a better alternative to building HS2. The recent upgrade of the WCML cost about £9 billion, caused significant disruption to existing services and the limited additional capacity it delivered is likely to be consumed at peak time well before 2020. There are also significant physical limits on what could be done next: for example construction of two new parallel tracks alongside the existing line would be impossible in some locations and the curvature of the route would still constrain line speeds to similar levels as those of today.

4.3 There are probably opportunities to improve the business case by challenging aspects of its cost and it is to be expected that, as the project progresses, the business case will evolve further, not least through the application of the findings of the Value for Money review.

May 2011

253   Planning for CP5; Planning Ahead 2010: The Long Term Planning Framework - see www.networkrail.co.uk Back

254   The networks in France and Germany, for example, initially focussed on city to city centre traffic and were only extended to airports (specifically Lyon, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt) later on.  Back

255   "Roadmap to a single European Transport Area" - EU Commission DG MOVE - http://ec.europa.eu/transport/strategies/2011_white_paper_en.htm Back

256   High Speed Rail - Capturing the benefits of HS2 on existing lines. Greengauge 21 February 2011. Back

257   "Shift from air to rail heralds "turning point" in how people travel between UK's main cities" ATOC, 5 April 2011. Back

258   Energy consumption and CO2 impacts of High Speed Rail: ATOC analysis for Greengauge 21, ATOC, April 2009 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011