Transport academics want HS2 review

A group of leading transport academics have called for a review of HS2. They say there are more cost-effective and time-sensitive ways of achieving its four key objectives.

The call follows a similar one made by 30 leading transport engineers, planners and economists in March to the Prime Minister for work on HS2 to be paused while a review was conducted.

Report authors Professor Tony May (University of Leeds) and Jonathan Tyler (Passenger Transport Networks consultancy) argue that a much wider range of options is required. Their findings also include input from transport academics Richard Allsop and James Croll, and transport planner Stephen Plowden.

The authors say that there are better and more cost-efficient ways of achieving HS2’s four key objectives, namely: (1) to add capacity; (2) to  improve connectivity; (3) to generate economic benefits in the North;  and (4) to reduce carbon emissions:

“There are much less costly and environmentally damaging ways of improving capacity. HS2 provides only limited improvements to connectivity, and will worsen London services for several cities, as well as many cross-country journeys. Its wider economic benefits for the North are uncertain – investment in the North is a more certain way of providing them, and HS2 contributes nothing to the objective of reducing carbon emissions from transport.”

The cost of building the double track 400km/h (250mph) high speed line has grown from the original £30bn and is now estimated at £56bn.

The cost of HS2  – approx £105m per route-kilometre – is contrasted unfavourably with France’s TGV Tours to Bordeaux line (currently under construction) which is around £20m per route-kilometre (more than four times as much). A 2013 government appraisal gave HS2 a BCR ratio of 1.8, or 2.3 after including £13.3bn in wider economic benefits: “A BCR of 1.8 means that the project is of medium value for money while 2.3 only just enters the high range and many alternative transport schemes show higher scores,” the authors comment.

The report also questions the need for additional capacity:

“Euston, King’s Cross and Marylebone are the three least crowded of all London termini, with a load factor on Virgin West Coast of less than 40%. The need for additional capacity is based on predictions that passenger demand will continue to grow at rates similar to the recent past. Significant improvements to capacity could be achieved at a much lower cost and much more rapidly.”

Easing pricing restrictions and using longer trains could boost capacity by 25%, it says. The authors challenge the assumption that HS2 would automatically free up capacity for freight traffic on the WCML; they argue constraints would still exist north of Preston and south of Rugby.

Also refuted is HS2’s claim to improve connectivity:

“Completion of many journeys by HS2 to London Euston, Birmingham Curzon Street, Leeds or Manchester will require a change of train, often including a lengthy transfer on foot. In some cases this will be exacerbated by the size of the train (up to 400m), the scale of the station and the crowds of people circulating in it. The stations at Toton and Meadowhall will depend upon additional transport investment to connect with their intended catchments.”

And some destinations would end up with a worse service: “Taking the 21 places most directly served by the high-speed corridor, 43 of their 210 connections would be enhanced by HS2 and the trans-Pennine HS3 together, while 48 would be made worse.”

East-West links were ignored when the ‘Y’ layout (serving Leeds and Manchester) was drawn up. A journey from Leeds to Bristol by HS2 would not only just involve changing trains, but stations as well (at Birmingham from Curzon Street to New Street).

The report questions the regeneration allegedly brought about by France’s 2,000 kilometre TGV network. It says that these claims  are unsubstantiated, and that the often-quoted economic benefits to Lille and Lyon were the product of locally-made decisions.  It is equally dismissive that HS2 will ‘rebalance the economy’: “There is a real danger that HS2 will benefit London rather than the North, while Leeds and Manchester would benefit at the expense of smaller centres.”

HS2 would have little impact on carbon emissions and could make things worse:

“HS2 would make virtually no difference to carbon emissions from transport. The claim cannot be reconciled with the forecast that only 4% of HS2 journeys would be diverted from road and 1% from air. 69% would be diverted from conventional rail, a far less carbon-intensive mode, and 26% would be new journeys which, by definition, will add to transport emissions.”

Operating trains at speeds over 300km/h would add significantly to greenhouse emissions. The authors cite studies saying increasing speeds from 300km/h (186mph) to 360km/h (224mph) would increase energy consumption by 23%.

Alternative options were not taken into account when drawing up HS2 plans:

“HS2 did not emerge from a comprehensive review of scenarios, options and priorities across the network, but as a fully-fledged proposal in its own right. That proposal was subsequently scaled back by omitting two of its key features – the links to Heathrow Airport and to HS1. Moreover, once the commitment was made and HS2 Ltd was established as an independent body its leaders adopted determined policies to build a railway as isolated as possible from the existing railway. Not surprisingly therefore no alternative high-speed scheme has been developed for consideration by Parliament and the public.”

Less costly schemes with higher BCRs were passed over. More capacity could be squeezed out of the existing system though upgrades, and by lengthening trains and station platforms. A number of suggestions are floated:

“The possibilities include reducing the impacts in Camden by making Old Oak Common the terminus, linking the West Coast Slow Lines to the Elizabeth (Crossrail) Line and pursuing less damaging and less costly designs for Euston Station. All of these should be assessed against one another, and against the current proposal, to ensure that, in Eddington’s terms, the best options have not been overlooked and money is not being wasted.”

The authors say a review is a matter of priority and should consider lower-cost, shorter-time-scale measures that would result in more immediate benefits; work on HS2 could still continue.

Responding to the report criticisms, and not least to the French cost comparison, a spokesman for HS2 Ltd informed 21CR:

“The French section of track is not comparable. The French track has no new stations, it does not go through a dense built-up urban area, it does not have the tunnels that we are building on HS2 to protect the environment‎ and property prices are very low in comparison to the UK. The net result is that it is cheaper, but we will use joint ventures including continental firms with experience of building high speed rail and this will drive down our costs.”

HS2 and the railway network : the case for a review

 

 

 

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