High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Network Rail (HSR 186)


—  Network Rail owns and operates Britain's rail network. It is a private, independent, "not for dividend" company directly accountable to its Members and regulated by the Office of Rail Regulation. Profits made go straight back into improving the railway. The aim of the business is to provide a safe, reliable, efficient and sustainable railway, fit for the 21st century.

—  Network Rail owns around 20,000 miles of track; 40,000 bridges and tunnels; 1,000 signal boxes; 9,000 level crossings; 2,500 stations that are leased to train operators; 18 large stations that are managed and operated directly by the company, and a further 8,200 commercial properties all of which fund the rail network infrastructure.

—  In a complex and entirely interdependent system, both Network Rail and the train operating companies share the responsibility of delivering train services to the travelling public and to the nation.

—  Network Rail welcomes the Committee's intention to conduct an inquiry into the issues connected to high speed rail, and the opportunity to respond.

1.  What are the main arguments either for or against high speed rail

1.1  The fundamental argument in favour of high speed rail is that, by expanding the capacity and improving the performance of our rail network, it can play a vital part in supporting sustainable economic growth.

1.2  Of the 1.3 billion passenger journeys made on the railways every year, 1 billion are made by people commuting or travelling for business and our forecasts predict continued strong growth in passenger and freight demand, in line with the trend of recent years.

1.3  On the West Coast Main Line in particular, strong growth on intercity services and continued growth on commuter and regional services to towns including Milton Keynes and Northampton, will soon mean that capacity on the line will be effectively exhausted and it will be impossible to do anything to further increase capacity on the existing line. Our New Lines Study (published in August 2009) and West Coast Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS: published in December 2010) predict that this point will be reached around the end of this decade.

1.4  The West Coast Main Line RUS set this out clearly:

"the WCML, particularly at the south end of the route, is effectively full and any interventions will be disproportionately expensive compared with the benefits gained. The RUS supports the development of the proposed high speed line, initially between London and the West Midlands and then onwards to Manchester and beyond."1

1.5  In this context, "full" means that, at certain times of the day, some train services will be carrying so many passengers that—ordinarily—some form of capacity enhancing intervention would be considered essential. However, once the work that Network Rail is undertaking at Stafford (which will have capacity benefits further south on the West Coast Main Line) has been completed, there will be no possibility of increasing capacity on the line further to enable significantly more trains to run, and no possibility of lengthening the crowded services significantly.

1.6  At first, the pressure will be felt on commuter services serving communities such as Northampton or Milton Keynes, but this pressure will soon be similarly problematic on long-distance high speed services using the current infrastructure as, in the longer term, demand for all services will continue to grow strongly.

1.7  Network Rail's passenger growth forecasts for the three biggest cities on the proposed HS2 "Y" network show that demand will continue to grow. Our published figures also lead us to expect growth into the foreseeable future. Note that these projections are for the discrete intercity markets only, and on a different timescale to the Department for Transport (DfT) and HS2 Ltd's forecasts.

—  London-Manchester will see passenger demand growth of up to 61% by 2024.

—  London-Birmingham will see growth of 58% over the same period.2

—  London-Leeds passenger demand was forecast to grow by 44% from 2006-2016.3

1.8  Given the already very intensive use of the network by today's level of traffic a step change increase in capacity to accommodate increasing demand can only be delivered by a new line. Network Rail's New Lines Study considered the long-term future of the main inter-city routes, including the West Coast Main Line, finding that:

"only the addition of further running lines over long sections of route would be likely to provide any meaningful increase in capacity."4

1.9  Additional rail capacity, and specifically the additional capacity provided to the network by a high speed line, can play a vital role in supporting sustainable economic growth. The business case for HS2 shows benefits of £43.7 billion against net costs of around £17.1 billion.5 Furthermore, there are substantial risks in doing nothing: that our transport infrastructure becomes a brake on economic growth, and not an accelerant of it.

2.  How does high speed rail fit with the Government's transport policy objectives

2.1  The Government has been clear that one of its main policy objectives is to build an economy which is more balanced both sectorally and geographically, delivering sustainable economic growth at the same time as meeting climate change targets.

2.2  Investment in transport infrastructure generally, and in high speed rail in particular, is seen as central to delivering this objective. High speed rail will contribute both by providing the additional rail capacity that can accommodate anticipated demand growth but also by encouraging modal shift and helping to minimise congestion on Britain's strategic road network.

2.3  The Eddington Study estimated that time lost to road congestion costs the economy £7-8 billion every year, a figure that is set to rise to £22 billion by 2025. Investment in high speed rail helps to address the issue of road congestion not only by providing passengers with a fast and efficient alternative to intercity road transport but also by releasing capacity on the West Coast Main Line for freight and in so doing, encouraging lorries off Britain's roads. It is estimated that each freight train can typically take around 60 lorry journeys off the roads.

2.4  At their full extent, new high speed lines also have very significant potential for modal shift, making rail the transport mode of choice between our key cities. Effectively integrating HS2 in the existing network can help to maximise the benefits of the project. This could be with Crossrail at Old Oak Common, or in Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield where the network will, funding permitting, have been substantially improved by the Northern Hub project.6

2.5  Modal shift to rail can also bring significant environmental benefits over time. Network Rail's New Lines Study found that there are significant potential environmental benefits from a new line. Our model was for a different specification project, but it was clear that the reduction in road and air journeys resulting from a new high speed line connecting London to the Midlands, the North West and, eventually, on to Scotland would lead to carbon savings. However, any carbon savings should be seen alongside the significant increase in capacity and therefore the support for economic growth HS2 would provide.

2.6  In terms of the implications on funding for the existing network, the DfT has yet to set out its funding strategy for HS2 in detail, though it should be noted that the expenditure will, of course, be in stages over a decade or more. Over this period, however, the existing infrastructure can be expected to continue to require investment, particularly to deal with the growth in passenger demand.

2.7  Sir Roy McNulty's recently published independent Rail Value for Money Study, jointly sponsored by the Department for Transport and the Office of Rail Regulation, recommends ways in which the whole industry can work towards delivering a safe and efficient railway. The study estimated that the whole industry should be 30% more efficient by 2018-19. Network Rail is already committed to reducing the cost of the rail network by £5 billion between April 2009 and March 2014.

3.  Business case

3.1  Network Rail's New Lines Study demonstrated there was a robust business case for a high speed rail line on the basis that it serves a sufficient number of cities. An optimised network which serves the key targets—London, Birmingham and Manchester—and adds more destinations to spread the costs over more journeys produces a strong business case.

3.2  In terms of future additions to the network beyond the Y, our findings indicated that the extension of any line to Scotland would significantly improve the benefit-to-cost ratio. London-Scotland is a substantial market currently dominated by aviation; a high speed rail line would reduce carbon emissions and time and offer substantial improvements to connectivity.

3.3  Our New Lines Study only looked at the key transport markets on the WCML—London, Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland. Later (though unpublished) work confirmed that the second part of the Y—to the East Midlands, South Yorkshire and Leeds, also had a strong business case.

3.4  It is worth noting that the wider economic benefits of HS2, as well as alternative rail packages, have been assessed using the New Approach to Transport Appraisal (NATA) framework. Using conservative assumptions, this analysis calculated HS2 would generate £44 billion benefits for the economy, set against net costs of £17 billion.

3.5  However, research published last year by Network Rail—Prioritising investment to support our economy—showed that traditional appraisal methodology do not necessarily capture all the wider benefits to the economy. The report suggests that spending decisions on transport and other related sectors (such as housing and regeneration) should focus more strongly on real economic returns of projects. Such an approach would better understand impacts such as changes in business behaviour, job creation and responses in local labour markets.

3.6  The difficulty of traditional models in capturing the full economic impacts of transport projects is unfortunate when dealing with incremental improvements, but is possibly more problematic when dealing with a potentially transformative project such as HS2. The impact of nearly halving some journey times and releasing huge amounts of capacity is hard to capture adequately with an approach based on assessing the value of incremental improvements in journey times. As a result, it is possible that the full positive impact of HS2 on the economy may have been underestimated as a result of the limitations of the methodology used in terms of capturing the full economic benefits of the project.

3.7  The proposed scheme would deliver a huge increase in capacity to the rail network as a whole and the key routes to the Midlands and the North of England in particular. In our view, smaller schemes are simply not suitable alternatives for meeting the Government's strategic objectives. It should also be noted both that upgrading the existing infrastructure would have substantial negative financial impacts as a result of the inevitable disruption that would be caused, and also that it was only in December 2008 that the West Coast Route Modernisation programme was completed.

3.8  HS2 clearly meets the strategic specification required from government, unlike any other scheme. No alternative would deliver enough additional capacity, nor would it improve journey times to anything like the same degree or have anywhere near the same transformative economic impact. Upgrading the existing network would also be disruptive for passengers and companies moving their goods by rail and this, of course, would in itself have an associated cost.

3.9  As a result, we strongly believe that a new line is the most appropriate way of addressing the need to deliver substantial additional capacity to the rail network to meet future demand. That being the case, our New Lines Study concluded that the additional cost involved in making any new line a high speed line, compared to the additional benefits that would accrue, were such that it should be high speed.

3.10  Managing demand through price would not, we believe, be a sustainable long-term—and politically acceptable—solution to the capacity issues. In our view, it is only through a substantial increase in capacity that these issues can be addressed.

4.  The strategic route

4.1  In our view, the proposed route is the best option. It is highly efficient both in terms of land use and in making maximum possible use of existing transport corridors, tunnels and deep cuttings while also ensuring the route can support optimal journey times. The route has been designed to maximise performance while mitigating the impacts on local communities as far as possible.

4.2  Clearly, rail technology has changed enormously between the time the West Coast Main Line was built and today. Higher train speeds require much straighter lines. The WCML winds sinuously around the landscape, hence the need for tilting Pendolino trains to reach current linespeeds of 140 mph. This type of tilting rolling stock is not necessary on the East Coast Main Line, which was built on a far straighter alignment.

4.3  As noted in 3.1-3.3 above, our conclusion was in line with that reached by HS2 Ltd in terms of the markets that should be served by high speed rail. It should also be noted that additional intermediate stations would reduce route capacity and impose a significant journey time penalty (approximately six minutes for each station stop), thereby undermining the journey time benefits of the scheme as a whole.

4.4  Adopting a phased approach for a project of this scale is both suitable and appropriate. Beginning in the south and moving from London northwards is also logical given that it is at the southern end of the West Coast Main Line that the need for increased capacity is most acute.

4.5  In terms of strategic links to and from the line, both the spur to Heathrow and the link to HS1 show the limitations of relying solely on the benefit-to-cost ratio. Our modelling of the business cases did not make a strong case, but the fact that there may be a stronger strategic case to build these connections is understood.

4.6  In addition, it should be noted that the proposed link to HS1 would require a tunnel from Old Oak Common, and it is this that requires it to be included in the first phase of the project, rather than this being an indication of having been accorded a higher priority than the spur to Heathrow.

5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

5.1  HS2 will support economic growth nationally, but this would particularly be the case in the cities served by new high speed services both to and from London and each other. However, the positive impact of the new network capacity delivered by HS2 on economic growth would not be restricted to the cities it serves. By moving the majority of inter-city passenger journeys onto the new line, significant spare capacity on the existing infrastructure can be released for freight, commuter and regional services.

5.2  Network Rail is currently working with Passenger Focus now to explore how best to use this released capacity, including consulting with local communities to understand their preferences and future aspirations. This would potentially also give those companies who already make extensive use of rail freight, particularly in the West Midlands, more scope to expand and more flexibility in their use of the network. In turn, this would help take lorries off the roads and ease congestion on a key part of the national road network.

5.3  Furthermore the direct benefits in terms of increased capacity and faster journeys are unlikely to be sum total of the benefits that high speed rail delivers. A new high speed line will provide vital support for regional growth through agglomeration effects. By improving the connections between the major cities of the Midlands and the North a high speed line will help businesses by improving access to wider markets, bigger pools of labour and greater numbers of suppliers.

6.  Impact

6.1  As noted in 2.5 above, it is our view that HS2 will deliver substantial carbon benefits, but it is vital that these are seen alongside the project's contribution both to long-term sustainable economic growth and the pressing need to meet the capacity challenge effectively.

6.2  However, the proposed route for HS2 will have both positive and negative impacts on the environment. In our view, the negative sustainability impacts arising from the project such as pollution (noise, vibration and visual aesthetics), climate change, environment, heritage and community impacts have been very substantially mitigated through the extensive use of deep cuttings, routing along existing corridors and tunnelling.

6.3  The proposed route interacts with the existing rail network at various points. Some of these interfaces will present challenges in making sure that both the high speed and existing lines are optimised.

6.4  However, none of these challenges are insuperable, and we look forward to working with the department and HS2 Ltd to produce the best overall outcome and minimising disruption. The key issues which will need to be worked through include:

—  Old Oak Common, where the interfaces between Great Western Main Line, HS2, Crossrail, and local services will need to be managed effectively.

—  Euston station will need to remain operational throughout the construction phase, which will be a major challenge and one in which close co-operation between all partners, including Transport for London, will be essential.

—  Delivery of the North London Line link has the potential to be disruptive for existing passengers; we are working with HS2 to refine the scheme and minimise the impact.

—  In the Day 1 scheme, high speed trains will have to run from the high speed line onto the existing West Coast Main Line at a point north of Rugeley. This will undoubtedly present challenges to the operation of the network. Scheduling all the services is likely to be complex, though we look forward to working with DfT and HS2 to resolve these issues.

6.5  It is important that HS2 is seen in the context of the whole network and, by thinking in this way, the benefits of the scheme for the network as a whole can be maximised and any negative impacts mitigated as far as is possible.

June 2011


1 Network Rail (2010) West Coast Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy Draft for Consultation, p 8.

2 Network Rail (2010) West Coast Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy Draft for Consultation, p 4.

3 Network Rail (2008) East Coast Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy, p 77.

4 Network Rail New Lines Study (2009) Capacity Analysis, p 30.

5 Department for Transport (2011) High Speed Rail: investing in Britain's future p 14.

6 Network Rail (2009) The Northern Hub: transforming rail in the North

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011