High Speed Rail from a Scottish perspective

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Dec/Jan 2013

The case for a high-speed rail line connecting Scotland to London and the Continent is irrefutable on both economic and environmental grounds, argues Roderick McDougall of Railfuture (Scotland).

Scotland, lying on the periphery of both the UK and Europe, relies on good communications and transport links for its economic health. Between them the wider Edinburgh and wider Glasgow areas account for over 2/3rds of Scotland’s economic output. One of Scotland’s major economic generators is tourism, which relies on excellent transport connections from the rest of the country, the Continent and the rest of the world. Edinburgh and Glasgow are both ranked in the top 30 cities in the world for conferences and almost 30% of all international association meetings held in the UK are hosted in Scotland.

As the major cities in England (Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester etc.) grow closer to each other and to London with faster rail links, their economic links with each other grow stronger.

The corollary to this is that their economic links with the Scottish cities grow weaker, thereby harming the Scottish economy. Rail capacity on the two routes to Scotland is estimated to reach saturation within 20 years to the future detriment of efforts to improve and expand rail freight movements across the border.

At present almost 80% of all travel between central Scotland and London is by air – around 100 fl ights per day (5.6m passengers in 2009/10), as opposed to 1.66m by rail and a negligible number by road. The carbon emissions from air travel are 131g/passengerkm whilst those from high-speed rail would be 31g/passenger-km with the current electricity generation mix and will drop as national electricity generation decarbonises.

The current travel time from central Scotland to London is generally accepted as three hours, taking into account travel time to/from the airports, check-in/security time, travel/waiting time within the airports and flight time.

In order to cause the major mode shift from air to rail required to have a signifi cant benefi cial effect on the environment and to counter the air transport response to signifi cant reductions in passenger numbers by reducing fares, the rail journey must reduce to less than 2.5 hrs. Obviously there will not be a 100% shift from air to rail, due to interlining at the London airports but at this journey time an 80% shift would be expected (based on similar trips in Europe where high speed rail has been introduced), thereby increasing the rail passenger level to over 6m per annum without taking into account passenger growth or generation. These passenger numbers alone would justify nonstop hourly services from both Edinburgh and Glasgow to London.

Both the major reports by Network Rail and Greengage 21 conclude that the benefi t-tocost ratio is signifi cantly greater when the segregated high-speed network is extended from London to Edinburgh and Glasgow than any of the other options examined. Network Rail also calculates that such a service would be virtually immediately profitable.

However London is not the only destination for public transport travellers to/from central Scotland. Figures from the Scottish Transport Statistics 2011 publication show that there are annually 0.9m to/from Birmingham (67% by air); 1.84m to/from Manchester (12.3% by air); 2.33m to/from North-east England and Yorkshire (negligible by air); 0.37m to/from East Midlands (56.5% by air); 0.5m to/from Bristol (88% by air) and 0.35m to Southampton by air. There will also be signifi cant numbers by road on the shorter journeys i.e. those to Manchester, North-east England and Yorkshire.

The Eddington Report emphasises the need for any high speed stations, intermediate or terminal, serving a city to be situated within the heart of that city.

Most other studies also conclude that connectivity – both with the traditional network for onward travel to regional destinations, and with suitable public transport facilities for local destinations – is essential.

As a minimum, a UK high speed rail network must connect all the major conurbations with a population greater than 0.5m, comprising the eight ‘Core Cities’ in England (Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, and Sheffield), Kingston upon Hull, Glasgow and London. Other significant centres of population such as Bradford, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Teesside should also be included. Although the combined population of Southampton and Portsmouth would meet the above population criteria, they are far enough apart not to be considered a single destination and neither is large enough on its own to justify inclusion in the above list. However they could be considered for inclusion as part of a future network connecting to London and the initial network via Heathrow.

Conversely, although the combined population of Luton and Milton Keynes is less than the above criteria the conurbation may be considered for inclusion if the network naturally passes through the area.

The aims of a high-speed network must include the reduction of the transport carbon footprint, which by defi nition implies rail travel being competitive with both domestic air travel and car travel. This in turn implies very limited stops (if any) on the longer journeys to comply with a target time of 2.5 hrs and excellent connectivity with the local transport networks at the HSR trip ends.

It is unlikely that this target could be achieved with a network built on the traditional system connecting city centre to city centre with some stopping trains and some through trains. In order to ensure the integrity of the network, the system would have to be built as a spine route with branches to or loops through the cities en route.

Generally centres with enough traffi c to justify terminating services would have branches to, and those with less traffi c would have loops through, intermediate stations.

Although ideally all the above conurbations would have direct high speed connections with all the other listed conurbations, it is recognised that the travel demand between several of the trip ends would not be enough to justify a new direct high speed connection, particularly if conventional rail services have, or can be made to have, suitably fast enough journey times to compete with alternative modes of transport.

It is also recognised that for a high speed network to be commercially viable, certain lowdemand direct journeys between trip ends may not be practical. However, such journeys may be feasible with suitable interchanging and still be within the target travel time to compete with other modes.

The majority of the main stakeholders in Scotland, including the relevant local authorities, transport partnerships, Scottish Chambers of Commerce, The Scottish Council for Development & Industry, Scottish Financial Enterprise, Confederation of British Industry, Institute of Directors, Federation of Small Businesses and Scottish Enterprise jointly support the proposal to commence construction of a high-speed rail network from central Scotland southwards simultaneously with construction from London northwards.

The main questions still to be answered therefore relate to routeing both crossing the border and within Scotland. Proposals to route via one of the cities to the other would not achieve the objective of a sub 2.5-hour journey time to both cities.

The Glasgow-Edinburgh Collaboration Initiative favoured a ‘Y’ configuration within Scotland with a single new border crossing splitting at an appropriate location equidistant from Edinburgh and Glasgow to twin termini within the two cities. This approach would also allow a local high-speed link between the two cities. This has now been accepted by the Scottish Government with the announcement by the Deputy First Minister on November 12 that a high-speed link connecting the two cities, thereby forming the northern branches of the Scottish ‘Y’, will be built by 2024.

This leaves the location of the border crossing still to be decided. There is no obvious route, the choices all being through mountainous country with the engineering problems to meet the high-speed criteria that would ensue.

The far longer coastal routes would be unlikely to meet the journey time objective and be more likely to interfere with existing settlements, industrial and agricultural interests.

The routeing decision must therefore be taken on the basis of the greatest benefi t to the economy by reducing travel time to the intermediate destinations. From the statistics above, the most economically advantageous intermediate destinations lie in northeast England, Yorkshire and the East Midlands. Although there is a substantial movement to/ from Manchester, the imminent electrification of the lines from Preston to Manchester and Liverpool will allow Pendolino trains to take over the routes to both Glasgow and Edinburgh, resulting in significant enough journey time reductions to maximise modal shift towards rail.

A route down the east side of the Pennines to the East Midlands could intersect with the HS2 line to Leeds, thus completing a route to Birmingham and London – although a more direct route via Luton airport would be shorter and improve both international and local connectivity.

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]


John Band   13/02/2013 at 03:26

Good article - if the Scots are happy with Pendolinos for Liverpool/Manchester connectivity, then Carstairs - Darlington looks the best Anglo-Scottish route, with English regional policy justifying extension of HS2 through York to Darlington and Newcastle. If the volume on HS2 is as expected, then a new High Speed route from York via Cambridge/Stansted to London will provide the final logical part of a really fast Scotland link.

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