Lessons from Spain

This is by Andrew Bodman.

A recent study –  http://www.icevirtuallibrary.com/content/related/advert?advert=310512 – has
indicated that high speed rail has not captured as much market share from air between Barcelona
and Madrid as was expected. This was the busiest air corridor in Europe and 4.8 million people were
travelling by air on this route per year, prior to the opening of the high speed line in 2008. After four
years of operation the high speed line has struggled to take more than 50% of the market, although
high speed rail has taken over 70% of the market for routes such as London-Paris and Madrid –
Seville.

While the train journey time has come down from over 6 hours (classic) to 2 hours 30 minutes, the
flying time is only one and a quarter hours. What is perhaps more telling in these difficult economic
times is the ticket price. Trying to book a return journey for early next week would cost almost £200
by train compared to just £104 by plane.

The Barcelona to Madrid distance is 382 miles and the most comparable section for the proposed
HS2 is London to Glasgow at about 400 miles. We already have a much quicker classic service than
that previously provided for Barcelona-Madrid; our quickest trains make the journey in 4 hours 34
minutes. Although HS2 trains will be faster than those elsewhere in Europe, they will not be able to
use this extra speed for approximately half their distance to Glasgow as they will be travelling on the
existing WCML track north of Manchester. This means their time saving will be one hour whereas
the time improvement on the journey in Spain was 4 hours.

We don’t yet know what the ticket pricing for HS2 will be. What we do know is that the chairman of
the Public Accounts Committee thinks it very unlikely to be the same price as a classic train ticket,
despite the views expressed by the Department for Transport. Margaret Hodge has suggested that it
very probable that there will be a ticket price premium.

The latest HS2 documentation released by the DfT indicates that air travel will grow more slowly
than previously thought. However this Department is now expecting to take 81% of passengers from
London to the whole of Scotland by 2037, which is a higher proportion than on any of the high speed
routes listed above. Maybe it is worth taking note of some of the final comments of the article: “…..
it is necessary to carry out specific demand analysis rather than simply extrapolate the rules of good
practice”.

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One comment to “Lessons from Spain”
  1. I used to regularly go to Glasgow on business. It was quicker to get to LHR than a station connecting to Glasgow and incredibly cheaper to fly. It would take even longer to go by HS2 and no doubt even more expensive.

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