Greenguage 21 yesterday published a report looking at the carbon impacts of HS2, claiming that HS2 could help reduce carbon emissions, possibly, if changes were made to the proposal. As currently planned, the £17 billion spend on HS2 between London and Birmingham will be carbon neutral. However most of Greenguage’s impacts are nothing to do with HS2 and they could happen even if HS2 was cancelled tomorrow.
The first suggestion from Greenguage 21 was to slow the trains from HS2′s current top speed of 360kph to a top speed of 300kph.
It’s clear that trains that go slower will use less energy then trains that go faster: Stop HS2 have been saying this for some time. But, HS2 Ltd have made it clear that maximum speed as vital to the business case. Their economic case relies purely on journey time savings for half the benefits: slowing the trains will reduce further the shaky cost benefit ratio, making the project economicly unfeasible.
If Hs2 Ltd were willing to slow the HS2 trains down, their excuse for not having stations between London and Birmingham would also be removed. They claim that slowing the trains for a station, which could be used by many more people, would cause the HS2 journeys to take too long: and if HS2 aren’t willing to allow more people to benefit by slowing the trains, than it seems unlikely that they will be willing to reduce HS2′s Co2 emissions by slowing the HS2 trains.
(In addition if HS2 Ltd did decide to slow the trains for the benefit of the climate, they could also make changes to the route to enable it to avoid some of the 160 wildlife sites on the HS2 route, including 21 ancient woods that it will directly effect. But there was no suggestion from Greenguage 21 that this might be a good idea.)
Greenguage’s second set of impacts were public policy measures, none of which directly relate to HS2 and any of which could be implemented even if HS2 were cancelled tomorrow. These policies include regulating the motorway system to bolster HS2′s carbon case – Greenguage suggest road pricing – and aviation policies, and Greenguage say that you can’t just look at individual travel modes.
Stop HS2 have been arguing for an integrated transport policy for some time, but a flaw with Greenguage 21′s suggestion, is that deciding your road/aviation/rail policy round a specific, but unbuilt, railway cannot result in the best solution for the country.
Another public policy measure Greenguage mentions is decarbonising electricity generation. However, this needs to happen anyway and will reduce the carbon emssions of all forms of electrified transport, including convention speed electric trains and electric cars. To reduce carbon emmissions from travel, it might be better to spend some of the proposed £33 bn cost of the HS2 Y route on electrifying the whole of the UK rail network.
Finally Greenguage 21′s report mention uncertainties from technological and market developments. They discuss biofuels and energy prices, but no-where in the entire report do they discuss the effects of digital technologies which will lower the demand for travel, changes that are already happening.
Just like the Department for Transport and HS2 ltd, Greenguage 21 refuse to consider the possibility that videoconferencing and other similar technologies might reduce the demand for travel – however for people who are genuinely concerned about the environment, travelling less overall is far more environmentally sustainable than building HS2.
PS In a report last year, the Transport Select Committee criticised the Hs2 Ltd’s challange panel, saying “The Strategic Challenge Panel comprises eight transport and local government experts who are almost all publicly supportive of high-speed rail, including the Director of Yes to HS2, the Director of Greengauge 21 and the Chairman of Network Rail.”