Most of the so called “economic benefits” of HS2 come from the idea that time is money, and if we are on a train, then we are wasting that time.
Time savings are separated into business user savings and commuter and leisure user savings: business travellors are assumed to have a very high income, and very valuable time.
Over half the monatarised benefits come from business user savings, so it is vital that these are justifiable – and that for instance business travellors are not spending the time on the train on their laptops, and making use of wifi.
Recent academic work shows that the amount of time spent working by business travelers on the train has been increasing over the last decade. A 2008 paper (The Productive Use of Rail Travel Time and Value of Travel Time Saving for Travellers in the course of Work, 2008 The Mott MacDonald IWT Consortium) says that
“In the UK a trend over time is discernible by comparison with the activities reported in the Autumn 2004 National Passenger Survey. A like-for-like comparison gave the proportion of business travellers who spend some time working/studying as 52% in Autumn 2004, 79% in Spring 2008. ” p8
Proponents of HS2 will tell you that all this makes HS2 more important, because they deny that anyone would work on a crowded train.
The first point is that the busiest trains are commuter trains (and a commuter’s time is not as “valuable” as a business travellor’s time, according to the HS2 economic case).
Long distance trains from Euston are not overly crowded: an independently verified survey in last weeks Financial Times showed that on average, trains from Euston between 4.30-6.59pm were only at 56% occupancy rates. (For some reason the Department for Transport had refused to release the details following an FOI request.)
And the busiest commuter trains go into Paddington: HS2 won’t make these less crowded.
But what the same research shows is that even for business users the amount of crowding on the train is less important then proponents of HS2 might have you believe: the report referenced above says “productivity remains high, even in the worst crowding conditions.”
These results show that the assumptions used by HS2 Ltd about the value of time for business travelers on trains are out of date and should be revised. This is especially important for a project which will not start operating for 15 years.