HS2

20.11.08

Domestic high speed rail: a breakthrough?

So much has changed in the four months since I wrote my last article, it is difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps we should start with the demise of yet another transport minister.

Ruth’s Kelly departure made the average tenure of the last nineteen ministers just 18 months. The marginal nature of the job in the government hierarchy was well illustrated by the choice of the successor team. Enough said. Kelly had been converted to increasing electrification, by the time Hoon has learned what that means he will also be moving on or out. So the merry-go-round continues.

The announcement of the Conservative plan for a high speed line has been overshadowed by the financial mess that an unconstrained market has resulted in. What is remarkable is the sudden availability of funds for the bail out, a small proportion of which would have resulted in a much more robust infrastructure if sensibly invested over the past decades.

The news of a major commitment to a high speed line in the UK is extremely welcome. Theresa Villiers, the shadow transport secretary, said that just as the steam locomotive helped push forward progress and prosperity in the 19th century and motorways and airports in the 20th century, in today’s world it could be high speed rail.

“Firstly, high speed rail could relieve nightmare levels of overcrowding by freeing up space for more commuter services on existing lines, alongside more paths for freight, taking hundreds of lorries off our congested roads. Secondly, it could generate huge economic benefits – a full high speed network could add £60 billion to the UK’s wealth, with £5.2 billion for Birmingham alone. Thirdly, high speed rail could help heal long standing divisions in our economy by shrinking the distance between north and south.”

And she said HSR delivered for the environment as well with the latest generation of trains emitting 50 times less carbon than cars and 70 times less than flying.
The proposed new line, linking St Pancras, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, would also have a link to Heathrow where the third runway would not be built: “a high speed link from St Pancras to Heathrow, connecting to the north, could replace up to 66,500 flights a year. That would free up almost a third of the capacity that would be provided if a third runway were built.”

It is worth unwrapping some aspects of this announcement. Although in principle the firm commitment of a possible future government to a domestic HS line is welcome, it should be seen in the context of an eventual network, just as the first motorways were part of a planned whole.

The projected savings at Heathrow seem very optimistic and must presumably include many regional European flights being abstracted by the new rail line and Channel Tunnel and finally. The energy figures also seem to be based on figures from France for trains powered by nuclear electricity which we are not in a position to match in the UK for many decades to come.

The HS network idea was presented in my article in the July 2008 issue. Critically, it included a link to south Wales over a Severn barrage. This barrage could produce between 6 to 9% of our electricity from tidal movement with zero CO2 production. If the third Heathrow runway was then replaced by a new airport in the Severn estuary, fast access across the UK could be achieved by the HS network.

It is interesting to note that the government recently strengthened our CO2 reduction target from 60% of 1990 figures by 2040 to 80%. Of course, whilst this is welcome, it is pure fantasy unless it is backed by detailed plans on how it is to be achieved. It is rapidly being realised that wind power, which forms a major plank in our armoury, will be incapable of making the major contribution expected. The newly announced policy of insulating loft spaces was, I recall, much in evidence in the seventies!

Returning to the immediate question of the economic downturn and its likely effect on the railways. There are many calls for a Keynesian return to investment in public projects but the size of the financial bail out seems likely to preclude further expenditure.

It is likely, therefore, that the railway in the UK will have to increasingly stand on its own feet in the near future. With falling ridership likely, particularly in the important London commuting market, it is going to be extremely difficult for the TOCs to meet the financial targets agreed with their franchises.

This represents a huge challenge for TOCs with existing subsidies rapidly changing to large premium payment back to the government. It will be interesting to see how many of the TOCs will wish to continue this game of risk-free privatisation when the going gets tough. We can expect to hear the rattle of keys being returned.

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

Network Rail reveals detailed £2.9bn upgrade plans for TransPennine route

23/08/2019Network Rail reveals detailed £2.9bn upgrade plans for TransPennine route

Major station upgrades and plans to rebuild and electrify an 8-mile stretch of track have been put forward by Network Rail as part of a public co... more >
Aldershot railway line to be directly powered by solar farm in ‘world first’

23/08/2019Aldershot railway line to be directly powered by solar farm in ‘world first’

A Network Rail pilot scheme will see the world’s first solar farm to power a railway line directly in Aldershot, in Hampshire. Ar... more >
Transport Scotland announces £817k Local Rail Development Fund

23/08/2019Transport Scotland announces £817k Local Rail Development Fund

Cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity, Michael Matheson, has announced eight communities across Scotland are set to be... more >

editor's comment

23/01/2018Out with the old...

Despite a few disappointing policy announcements, especially for the electrification aficionados amongst us, 2017 was, like Darren Caplan writes on page 20, a year generally marked by positive news for the rail industry. We polished off the iconic Ordsall Chord (p32), hit some solid milestones on Thameslink (p40), progressed on ambitious rolling stock orders (p16), and finally started moving forward on HS2 (p14) ‒ paving the way for a New Ye... read more >

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the... more > more last word articles >

'the sleepers' daily blog

Network Rail’s Anna-Jane Hunter on, NPR, TRU, HS2 and supply chain opportunities

12/08/2019Network Rail’s Anna-Jane Hunter on, NPR, TRU, HS2 and supply chain opportunities

Anna- Jane Hunter, is a ‘proud northerner’ and is passionate about continuing the investment and success story of rail across the North.  She plays a key role in working with government and northern leaders to enable the network to carry on thriving. We caught up with Anna-Jane, for her expertise and insight into connecti... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >

comment

The challenge of completing Crossrail

05/07/2019The challenge of completing Crossrail

With a new plan now in place to deliver Crossrail, Hedley Ayres, National Audit Office manager, major projects and programmes, takes a look at ho... more >
Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

04/07/2019Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

The move to decarbonise the rail network involves shifting to cleaner modes of traction by 2050. David Clarke, technical director at the Railway ... more >
Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

02/07/2019Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

Smart electrification is the way to boost clean energy resources, argues Leo Murray, director at 10:10 Climate Action. Contractors are clear... more >
Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

02/07/2019Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

The TCR Midlands conference is only days away and tickets are going fast for the sector event of the year at the Vox Conference Centre in Birming... more >

rail industry focus

View all News

interviews

Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio 4's BBC’s flagship news programme that he wo... more >