HS2 Questions

Examining the issues around the proposed High Speed 2 route

Does HS2 meet any of the criteria for investing in rail?

with 2 comments

There is a case for investing to improve rail capacity on the West Coast Main Line (WCML), even though the special factors driving growth in train usage have largely run their course.

The choice of investment should be guided by the following criteria.

  • Able to increase capacity soon, not in 15 years time; and meet long term capacity needs
  • Flexible enough to respond to both rising and falling demand as technology impacts the travel market
  • It must make economic sense, i.e. benefit significantly in excess of cost
  • It must make environment sense, i.e. reduce CO2 emissions
  • Minimum impact on our tranquil countryside and biodiversity.
  • Minimum disruption during construction.

HS2 does not meet any of these criteria. Rail Package 2 (RP2) meets all of them.

HS2 phase 1 is not expected to be operational until 2026. It’s an all or nothing project: if it turns out that demand is not there – as happened on HS1 and some lines inEurope– it will be too late, the price will have been paid and the countryside lost. The net benefit ratio is marginal and significantly overstated: half the benefit comes from assuming time is unproductive in trains; wrong income figures and an out of date model also inflate the benefit, leaving actual benefits way below cost.

According to HS2, 87% of passengers will be new journeys or passengers from lower carbon transport therefore adding to CO2 emissions. It will cut a concrete swathe across some of our most tranquil countryside causing outrage from leading national environmental and wildlife organisations. The complete rebuild of Euston will cause 8 years of total chaos and it will disrupt the Chiltern and Great Western lines as well as residents and car users along the route.

And finally it will generate almost no new jobs and the experience of HS1 suggests that the hype about transformation is completely groundless. House prices in Ashford have actually fallen relative to areas away from HS1 and commuters are up in arms about what Andrew Gilligan in the Daily Telegraph called ‘the worst service they have ever known’.

RP2, a package which deals with seven pinch points on the West Coast Main Line and includes new rolling stock and train lengthening, can provides a 151% increase in capacity for a net cost to Government of £2bn. It would increase capacity rapidly and incrementally in line with demand. The capacity increase is more than even HS2 Ltd believe we need and can be further extended through 12 car train sets and / or substituting standard class carriages for underused first class carriages.

The net benefit ratio is several times higher than HS2, it will not take from the diminishing heritage of tranquil countryside we are leaving for future generations or destroy SSSI and ancient woodlands. Disruption at Euston and along the WCML will be limited and manageable. It will not lead to a cut in services for Coventry, Rugby and Milton  will leave more resources to improve train services across the country.

With some improvements and intelligent roll RP2 out, WCML capacity could be doubled and the Milton Keynes commuter capacity problem solved with purely rolling stock changes and one infrastructure development (Ledbury junction). We can then review in the 2040s in the light of actual demand.

It’s a no brainer. Time for another U-turn?

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Written by hs2questions

April 18, 2011 at 10:19 am

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2 Responses

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  1. Well let’s take a look at this arbitrarily chosen set of criteria:
    1. Able to increase capacity soon, not in 15 years time; and meet long term capacity needs
    2. Flexible enough to respond to both rising and falling demand as technology impacts the travel market
    3. It must make economic sense, i.e. benefit significantly in excess of cost
    4. It must make environment sense, i.e. reduce CO2 emissions
    5. Minimum impact on our tranquil countryside and biodiversity.
    6. Minimum disruption during construction.

    HS2 does not meet any of these criteria. Rail Package 2 (RP2) meets all of them.

    1. The infrastructure elements of RP2 would not be quick to deliver either. It requires significant changes to the existing rail infrastructure in London, West Midlands, and Manchester. The rolling stock elements could be delivered more quickly, but are independent of either HS2 or RP2.

    2. Well its certainly true that you can’t just build half a high speed line. However you can modify the start date and build programme to best match supply and demand (and availability of funding). RP2 would not be particularly flexible either (other than rolling stock interventions – see above).

    3. Applies to HS2.

    4. If you can invent a mass-transport system for the UK that reduces carbon emissions you will be on to a winner.

    5. That’s what I mean by arbitrarily chosen criteria. What about the impact on towns, and on existing rail users. RP2 would be much worse in this respect.

    6. HS2 wins heavily on this one. Disrupts far fewer people during construction than an on-line reconstruction of the railway as per RP2.

    Just a reminder too that HS2 has been taken to a stage of engineering design well beyond the RP2, which is merely a concept for comparative testing of the business case. Nobody in the rail industry believes RP2 would be achievable. Think I’m wrong? Then find me a respected railway operations expert (a description that automatically excludes Wolmar) who believes it.

    ggrrllaa

    April 26, 2011 at 10:18 am

    • In response to your response:
      1. The only urgent infrastructure development with RP2 would be Ledbury junction. Could be delivered within 5 years.
      2. The Point is that you can roll RP2 out in stages as required, not all at once and then find it’s a white elephant.
      3. Allowing for DfT errors, HS2 NBR ranges from 30p (Phase 1 excluding WEI) to 60p (Y including WEI) for every £ invested.
      4. We have it: classic rail. Though cars are catching up.
      5. No, HS1 left commuters up in arms about cuts in regular services.
      6. Rubbish. Only Ledbury junct is worth doing before the 2040s. No other infrastructure development needed to meet HS2 growth forecast.
      7. Buying a few more Pendolinos and substituting standard for first class carriages doesn’t need engineering design. Ledbury is fully costed at £243m.

      hs2questions

      May 9, 2011 at 5:06 pm


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