The UK’s second high speed rail line (HS2) is mired in planning controversies and may face years of delays. Gil Shidlo explores the reasons why this project is in its infancy whilst European countries, some of which are in deep economic crisis and have heavy debts, none the less run some of the most successful high speed train systems.
High speed rail is ubiquitous in Europe, and is growing. Spain for example, runs the world’s largest track system of high speed trains after China and France. Just before Christmas Spain inaugurated its latest route – the AVE from Madrid to Valencia. This new track reduces the travel time from about four hours to only 90 minutes and reach speeds of 300 km/h (190 mph).
The cost of this 272 mile line to Spain is a mind boggling £5.64 billion, and it will create 136,000 direct and indirect jobs according to Accenture, which is impressive in a country with 20 per cent unemployment. Portugal is also planning a high-speed train that will link Madrid to Lisbon by 2015.
Yet my Table below shows that so far high speed trains (HSTs) are a very European or Asian phenomenon. The Anglo-Saxon countries are almost absent from the rankings, with the USA, Canada and Australia lacking any mileage, and the UK’s only stretch being the diminutive stretch linking to Channel Tunnel.
Table: High- speed railways by country
|Country||In operation (km)||Under construction (km)||Total (km)|
Source – Wikipedia “High Speed Rail”
In England there are at least plans for change. HS2 Ltd (the company set up by the Government) published a report to Ministers in March 2010 outlining how the first phase of HST services will run from central London to a new Birmingham City Centre, with extra links to the existing Heathrow Express line and a new connection to the Eurostar service through the Channel Tunnel.
Phase 2 (much later on) would split HS2 at Birmingham to form a Y shape as it travels north to Manchester and Leeds. At the final stage (predicted to be several decades away at least), the HS2 would enable commuters to connect from the West Midlands to London in about 30 minutes and travel from Leeds and Manchester to London in 80 minutes at speeds of 200 mph.
A key way to reduce the heavy use on highways and the crowded airports is for government to invest in a high-speed train system. It has been estimated that Britain’s highways and trains will experience severe congestion by 2025. Network Rail has calculated that by 2024 the West Coast Main Line will effectively be full, with no further enhancements that could reasonably be made to meet future demand.
Since future air and road traffic in the UK will both be constrained, a reduction in short haul air routes makes sense and passengers can use High Speed Trains for city centre to city centre trips, as is common in Europe, Japan and China. High Speed trains would also reduce pollution, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and connect smaller towns to larger urban centers. Many neglected small towns in Germany, Spain or France have become new industrial centers or alternatives to expensive urban housing, and recent research has shown strong growth effects from HST investments.
Opposition to High Speed Trains in the UK
In England, the main opposition to the so called HS2 train line is not from the car lobby or airlines, but within the Conservative party, even though the current coalition government (has protected the plan for the UK’s high speed train link. Philip Hammond, the transport secretary announced recently that the preferred London to Birmingham route outlined by the previous Labour government, which goes through Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire (which are Tory constituencies) remains the best option. Although Hammond stated that the route had been altered to alleviate the impact on local communities, and has recently promised to plant millions of trees around the line, locals have threatened a political backlash.
The HS2 Action Alliance has warned of political consequences for the Conservative party whose MPs along the route includes the Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan, the MP for Chesham and Amersham. Other concerns about this route have been voiced by Tory MPs on the route such as Steve Baker in Wycombe and David Lidington in Aylesbury. The Conservative MP for Buckingham and a Commons Speaker, John Bercow, argued that the HS2 route has no identifiable benefits.
Yet other Conservative MPs have won concessions. The new line would be further away from Brackley (a town in Northamptonshire) as well as from several villages on a stretch between Buckingham and Coventry and sunk lower near Tamsworth. Thus, Conservative MPs in Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Northamptonshire will not be opposed to the changes announced (including Jeremy Wright in Kenilworth; Andrea Leadsom in Northamptonshire and Chris Pincher in Tamworth).
The Transport Secretary has pledged to set up a multimillion pound compensation scheme for homes affected by the project and is keen to see that the new High Speed Train will go ahead. Meanwhile, opposition to the £17 billion London to Birmingham line (which would see up to 18 trains an hour travelling at 250mph through the heart of the Chilterns) continues to be spearheaded by two Westminster agencies. The residents group,‘Conserve the Chilterns and Countryside Association’, called in Foresight Consulting to manage lobbying. Quiller Consultants, a public affairs agency was hired by the campaign group Transport Sense, which is composed of landowners and affluent residents in Northamptonshire.
It unlikely that the government will shelve the high speed train link entirely and so these two groups will rather focus on lobbying to change the routes. It needs to be seen if further changes will be made to the ones proposed by Philip Hammond, who offered a revised route for 65 out of a total of 127 miles specified by the previous Labour government.
Opposition to HSTs in the USA
It is worth asking why the USA has been so slow to pick up on high speed trains, especially since it will also have severe transport problems – highway congestions by 2035’ and constrained air traffic by 2025. Recently, the Obama government offered billions of dollars for a High Speed Train System to various states.
Amazingly, even though the Federal government agreed to pay nearly 90 percent of the construction costs, the Governors of Wisconsin and Ohio rejected these projects on the grounds that they would become a burden on the local tax payer. The opposition in Florida to the link between Tampa and Orlando might be overcome by high speed train manufacturers (all European or Chinese) offering to finance the relatively small portion of the total cost allocated to Florida.
States justify their objections by a fear that in the end HST projects will come in over budget or the state will be saddled with high maintenance costs. The US highway industry makes billions in repairs every year, and lobbies strongly against rail projects along with the automobile industry. One beneficiary of other states’ opposition is California, which will receive a large portion of the federal funds allocated for high speed train networks.
Under a plan approved in December 2010, federal and state authorities have committed some $5.5 billion to the first leg of the project which will eventually be a 800 mile system connecting San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento and other major California cities and run through the state’s farm-rich Central Valley. On December 9, California received a windfall of additional federal stimulus money – about $600 million which was intended for Wisconsin and Ohio.
Farmers in the Central Valley area of California have been voicing opposition to high speed train tracks gobbling up precious agriculture land as well as citing noise pollution. Still it seems that California opposition is not very strong and so it will be the first state to have the high speed train system, beginning building in 2012 and running through to 2017, creating tens of thousands of jobs in an area with high unemployment.
The defence spending dimension to HST underinvestment
How is it that some high debt European countries like Spain and Portugal (part of the so-called PIGS euro crisis countries) are at the cutting edge of HST travel while England and the US remain far behind? Is it a cultural bias towards cars and planes, or something else at root?
One possible explanation for the lack of high speed trains in the UK and the USA is both countries’ over-expenditure on defense programs – which reaches $663 billion, over 4 percent of GDP in the USA. The UK spends $69 billion a year on its defense program, 2.5 percent of its GDP. By contrast, countries such as Spain and Japan only spend 1.2 percent and 0.9 per cent respectively on defence.
There are exceptions to this pattern. France with 1896 km of high speed trains still spends 2.3 of GDP on defense, but has had a historically strong railway engineering profession with a strong role within the state. But overall, the Anglo-Saxon economies could be paying a high price for fetishizing defence spending, while neglecting the critical national infrastructures that HST railways already are in Europe and Asia.
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I read your report on high speed rail and concur with your opions we are unable to create a national high speed rail network across Britain.
However your headline changes somewhat from a national network to England only in your text. This is very typical language used when describing the UK. I suppose if this island was all England then there would be a national network from Inverness and Aberdeen connecting cities across Britain and fast routes direct into Europe without station changes in London. As with flights the hub is London adding costs and travel times fot the rest of us in Britain. No wonder there is referendum in Scotland with such language. These countries do not have such an unbalanced country and incorporate all their cities as should HS2 and start building and connecting north major cities. Birminham to London on its own has no real benefit as already, Northern cities such Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen to the south will create strong economic centres. Until the attitude changes to a Great Britain again then we will have an unbalanced and bitter north south divide.
How very British for us to focus not on the whole transport policy but on the next ( quite small line )of High Speed Rail which is characteristically being opposed by many on grounds ranging from economics to environment. Surely what this country needs is a comprehensive transport policy so that any particular project can be seen in context. Right now we have a Mayor of London promoting a new airport for London and a governemnt of the same political persuasion opposing and an opposition preferring a third runway; a main rail operator promoting electrification of the old western region and a government unsure of it and, with HS2 a Secretary of State promoting a high speed rail network but unable to define what ‘network’ means. By way of contrast Asiatic and some European states (eg France) have been open and direct about their infrastructure objectives, promoted lavish compensation for those affected and got on with the job.
How very ‘un-British!’
Please stop comparing our tiny island to massive land masses which can more easily accomodate high speed rail. It is ridiculous to do so. Your figures on high speed are also incorrect. HS1 is the only dedicated High Speed line but there are many trains operating at speeds defined as “high” by the EU on existing lines.
There have been no concessions made on route, minor amendements have been made for engineering purposes. There is no Business Case for High Speed 2, No Envrionmental Case and it should not be a transport investment priority for the UK – local connectivity that benefits the masses should. Please visit our website for more information. STOP HS2 is the National Campaigning Organisation against HS2. Please do consider joining us at our “Enabling Communities for Consultation” National Convention on 19th February 2011. Christian Wolmar is the key speaker. Thank you. Lizzy Williams, Chairman.
Sign the petition for a parliamentary debate http://www.gopetition.co.uk/petitions/stop-hs2/sign.html
The reason for HS2 is rail capacity, not speed, with a secondary aim of relieving Heathrow. Given that, the current scheme is the wrong one, but it is wrong for reasons other than you’ll generally hear (the pretty countryside or nimby argument won’t convince anyone).
The main flaw is that the scheme tries to follow the French/Spanish model for high speed, which is entirely unsuited to the UK. Draw a map of population density to area for France or Spain and you’ll see just how focussed the population is on specific cities and how far apart those cities are – perfect conditions for that kind of “air-replacing” high speed rail. The UK’s geography is fundamentally different.
In the UK, while there are large cities, there is much more population *between* the cities, and the cities are much *closer*. Because of the population between cities, many people want to travel from the big cities to the intermediate sized towns (think MK or Northampton) as well as to the edges of the cities (think Watford). And because the distance between cities is closer (Birmingham to London) the time of driving to Birmingham International and picking up a train will be about the same as just driving all the way to London (with Coventry and Wolverhampton big losers in the current scheme). All this makes the French/Spanish model entirely unsuited to the UK. Unfortunately, governments of all hues haven’t worked that out yet.
What is needed is more frequent, and slightly faster, trains from a broad range of places, not just one or two. This requires extra capacity above and beyond the West Coast Main Line (and also straighter).
So, the UK needs an additional line from London to the Midlands, but it doesn’t need to be of the top-end speed variety, as that is unsuited to the UK geography.
Therefore, the right route is along the M1, with stations at Luton (parkway or town), Milton Keynes (parkway by the M1), Northampton (existing station site) with branches to Leicester (angled to join the Midland Main Line through Leicester) and initially somewhere around Rugby (for connections to the existing Birmingham/Stoke routes). Northampton would become the major UK junction long term – with services (via additional lines) to London, Watford-Heathrow, Oxford-Bristol, Wellingborough-Corby, Stevenage-Cambridge and Kent in the South and all the big cities in the North. Northampton would replace Birmingham New Street as the hub of all cross country services. To achieve this, the line South of Northampton would be 4 track – but the additional cost of 4 track over 2 is marginal once you start building.
Finally, this route completely changes the economics. The Kent HS1 line was only financially justfied by commuter services. This route would have similar commuter services to Luton, Bedford, MK and Northampton. These would bring in the real revenue and benefits to justify building the line.
And Scotland? Well, the French/Spanish model makes more sense for a single non-stop journey from London to Scotland. But building such a non-stop line doesn’t make sense in other ways as indicated above (what about Preston or Carlisle or Stoke on Trent?). Of course, the route above would reduce time to all those Northern destinations as a side benefit of the main goal – capacity in the London-Midlands corridoor that is on a sound econimic basis – commuters + hi-speed.
BTW. chiltern campaigners should take note of the above – its only logical transport arguments (M1 route with 4 tracks and commuters) as above that will change government minds.
These commentators stress the social negatives and the economic impracticality of building high speed rail in the UK
Its hard to argue with those points.
However, if we lived in a world where profits didnt decide everything we do, and better living standards for all was a driving force, the getting rid of cars and aeroplanes for high speed rail links would be a good way to go
It would be nice if you could make up your mind whether you’re talking about the UK or England. It would also be nice if you could have acknowledged the fact that HS2 as currently envisaged will massively disadvantage Scotland, the northeast of England and Wales because we are being completely excluded. Yesterday, the transport secretary said it would be “at least 20-30 years” before high speed rail reaches Scotland.
Far from bringing the UK closer together and reducing distances, the effect will be to make much of the country even more remote in relative terms, further reducing our ability to compete economically with the southeast and access European markets. It doesn’t even address the environmental impact of the fact that people from Glasgow or Edinburgh are much more likely to fly to London than people from Birmingham or Manchester.
Factually incorrect. HS2 Phase 1 will see journey times decrease from London/Birmingham to Glasgow/Edinburgh, Phase 2 will see journey times decrease for Leeds, York, Newcaste etc… – I fail to see why that (or any other centric infrastructure project in your back yard or not) disadvantages the places you mention?
High speed travel is not an end in itself- there has to be a reason to invest in very expensive high speed trains. Those who talk about us lagging behind seem not to realise that the journey times now, between the UK major cities are shorter than any other major industrialised country. Even with HSR they lag behind us. We also have the most dense network and frequent services. We have a much better intercity railway network that we realise. The talk of bringiing about an immense modal shift from plane to train is misplaced. The use of UK domestic air services to London have been in decline for a decade anyway. HS only has a prospect of attracting passengers flying from Glasgow and Edinburgh, but low cost operators will remain competitive. In any event short haul slots freed up at Heathrow will be filled by long haul flights. If a BirminghamParkway station is built Birmingham airport has said it will market itself as a fourth London airport and hopes to double its traffic. In other swords HS2 wi lead to an incresae in flying and the associated carbon emissions.
Undoubtedly we do need investment across our transport infrastructure. Commuting servicies are poor, our cycle network is a very poor, not enough cities have trams etc etc.
There is no evidence to support claims that high speed rail creates large numbers of jobs – thre is more evidence it enocurages re-location. And it cannot be good sense to encourage regular long distance commuting. In no way is that economically or environmentally sustainable. It’s not worth commenting on the proposal to plant 2 million trees. That doesn’t make it green- mere window dressing. A green investment would be to reduce the need to travel. The fuutre requires the best possible IT network. The next generation to reach to the work place usesIT in a way the rest of never have. They won’t to spend any time on any trrain if thy can avoid it. Let’s not forget that less than 2% of journeys are made on long distance trains. We need a transport investment policy that benefits most of most of the time.
That such a factually incorrect and poorly researched blog should ever see the light of day is a poor reflection on one of our leading institutions of higher education. I would like to take this opportunity of correcting a few facts.
Travel time from Euston to a new station on the outskirts of Birmingham city centre has been estimated at 49mins by HS2 and not 30 mins as stated.Conceivably it will still be quicker to journey from city centre to city centre by conventional rail which also has good onward transport connections. In the 1990’s B/R ran a 65 min non stop service so the like for like saving is 20mins at best.
The business case for HS2 is based on a staggering 267% increase in demand by 2033. Such wild over-estimation is seriously at odds with other independent forcasters whose figures vary from 30% to 70%.Capacity can be increased by up to 100% by the simple expedient of lengthening trains and converting some little used 1st class carriages to 2nd class.There is also massive underused capacity on the Chiltern Line. these are the solutions favoured by Network rail at a fraction of the cost of HS2. Additional capacity and speed can be realised by removing a few pinch points on the line and can be increased incrementally subject to demand. HS 2 represents a massive gamble and ignores the advances made by 21st century methods of communication such as internet broadband, video conferencing etc. HS2 will cost each household over £1200.00 and yet only about 2% of the population will ever use it.
It is ironic that the government have appointed a transport czar to look into ways of reducing the need for travel yet at the same time rely upon new trips to make HS2 viable.
HS2 will remove few cars from our roads and fewer flights from our skies. There are no regular flights between Birmingham and Heathrow and 80% of Manchester air traffic has alreay been captured by rail.It has been estimated that less than 2% of traffic using the M1 will switch to HS2.
At best HS2 is carbon neutral (HS2s own admission )and will create massive environmental damage not least to the Chilterns AONB. An area the size of greater Manchester will be built over. The 2m trees promised by Mr Hammond will have to be of the evergreen variety since “leaves on the line” remains a perenial problem through the Chilterns.
Informed transport commentators such as Chris stokes and Christian Woolmar as well as a study undertaken by Imperial college have all concluded that transformational benefits will be localised and very limited and that the benefit to the wider economy will be negligeable. Journeys to London will predominate.
Yes and we can have all these phantom benefits for £30bn. I rest my case.
I have rarely read a less informed discourse, it appears to have been sourced from Wickipedia and HS2ltd publicity. The entire population of the UK will be paying for this vanity project despite the only possible users being those living in in London and Birmingham. The rest of the country will derive no benefit apart from a reduction in their rail services. This money would be better spent on electrifying greater parts of the network, how “green” is the use of diesel trains to Wales and no electric trains in the whole principality. As for screening using “millions” of trees, 2 million in fact according to Hammonds platitudes. This amounts to 1 million either side of the track and anyone with any rural experience will tell you this is a) a low density of planting. b) They will take 30 years to grow sufficiently tall to approach a screening size. c) Mitigation studies have shown that trees are a very poor screening measure. I can only assume the author is a citycentric who has no appreciation of the countryside that will be destroyed to build this expensive “white elephant”. Any idea of how many people will need to travel in 16 years time, does this assume there will be no advances in electronic communication, presumably reflecting the lack of improvements over the last 16 years in computing use!!! The author should research more and dig deeper as UK has a wonderful level of rail connectivity,better I would suggest than most other European Countries. France, Germany, Spain are very poor comparitors in size alone .
Factually incorrect – the naive always trott out the “London to Birmingham” folly rather than accept that even HS2 Phase 1 can be used for trains to Manchester, Glasgow and London – even North Wales if they so desired.
And by the same token the entire population of the UK paid for the Olympics, is paying for Crossrail and Thameslink, and every other major infrastructure project in England, Scotland and Wales that they may never see or use so to use that example is the truest grand folly
Perhaps the reason other countries have not followed the Japanese/European example is that the claimed benefits of HSR in relation to the huge investment required (£160M per mile in the UK) are far from proven – particularly in small, densely populated countries such as the UK where rail travel tom,es between our capital and major cities are already shorter than larger European neighbours with HSR, and where the coosts, not least in environmental terms are far greater.
One example of many from independent research oth European experience:
“The essential message from this review is that high speed rail developments
in Europe have occurred for many reasons, without any clear overall
plan, but have instilled almost a mythical belief that they can solve both
transport and regional development problems wherever they are built. This
belief is not well founded in evidence”
From: High-speed rail in Europe: experience and issues for future development 1996
Roger Vickerman of the Centre for European, Regional and Transport Economics
HS2 will not go from central London to Central Birmingham. It goes from Old oak common at the London end to the NEC at the Birmingham end. The rest of the story doesn’t even warrent the effort of a comment as it’s so inaccurate.
It actually terminates North of Lichfield at present.
You state “European countries, some of which are in deep economic crisis and have heavy debts, none the less run some of the most successful high speed train systems.”
Only two high speed rail segments in the world break even (Paris-Lyons and Tokyo-Osaka). Elsewhere ordinary taxpayers subsidise cushy rail travel for the relatively well-to-do (as HSR lines are almost always premium services). Is it any surprise that some countries are reluctant to throw money at High Speed Rail? http://t.co/lNA9OIY
Your article and HS2 Ltd make little reference to the rail users between London and Birmingham along the line, who will not only have the blight of the track, 7 years of massive infrastructure construction locally, and then will have a reduced local train service from local stations to London.
I await clarification on how a project that is supposed to help with congestion/volumes, also supports a reduction in local train services…that does not appear to follow any form of logic, unless the local train reductions were used to make the numbers add up.
The southern WCML will see increases in services not reduced services and a lot of people along this route will see improvements – this is a common misconception lead by the anti-Rail brigade.
Also, what would 7 years of improvements mean to the WCML? I remember the last time the WCML underwent a massive improvement project and it was years and years of delays, bus substitutions and the benefits have only been seen in recent years. You cannot achieve the same level of capacity and speed increase that HS2 provides by upgrading the WCML which, lets be honest, is on a victorian alignment. No one has provided a decent WCML upgrade plan yet – 51M had a try but there were lots of flaws, questions, and aspects missed out of that report that would need to be (and so far have not been) answered