Stop HS2 Evidence to the HS2 Blank Cheque Committee

Here is the evidence submitted to the HS2 Committee. Other written evidence can be found via this link.

SUMMARY

1. This evidence seeks to deconstruct the arguments being used to support the proposals to build HS2 and is submitted on behalf of Stop HS2, a national organisation working with over 100 local communities, local authorities and charitable organisations. At Committee, Rail Minister Simon Burns has confirmed that this Bill is only concerned with releasing more funds to develop this out of control project, and specifically is not about solving any of the current problems with the project . This perfectly sums up the prevailing attitude surrounding HS2 from Government and the rush to push forward with HS2, no matter how widespread the criticism is and how evident the problems are . Stop HS2 is opposed to the HS2 proposals and the passage of this ‘Blank Cheque’ Bill, which seems to have appeared for no reasons other than to endorse financial irresponsibility and political expediency.

HISTORY

2. The problem with HS2 is that is a solution looking for a problem. The decision to proceed with HS2 (notwithstanding the fact that the DfT argued in the High Court at Judicial Review in December 2012 that ‘no decisions have been made, HS2 is not a plan or a programme, it is simply a policy’) was made in isolation, simply because it was decided that the UK ‘needed’ to invest in High Speed Rail. The most plausibl e reason for HS2 progressing thu s far was given by HS2 Ltd chief engineer, Andrew McNaughton at a meeting in August 2010: “There is a political will to build high speed rail in this country. If the French can do it, why can’t we?”

3. The Eddington Transport Study , produced for the DfT, warned of this approach in 2006, stating: “It is critical that the government enforces a strong, strategic approach to option generation, so that it can avoid momentum building up behind particular solutions and the UK can avoid costly mistakes which will not be the most effective way of delivering on its strategic priorities.”

4. “The risk is that transport policy can become the pursuit of icons. Almost invariably such projects – ‘grands projets’ – develop real momentum, driven by strong lobbying. The momentum can make such projects difficult – and unpopular – to stop, even when the benefit/cost equation does not stack up, or the environmental and landscape impacts are unacceptable.”

5. “The approach taken to the development of some very high-speed rail line options has been the opposite of the approach advocated in this study. That is, the challenge to be tackled has not been fully understood before a solution has been generated. Alternative options do not, therefore, appear to have been fully explored so it is not clear what the highest return solution to a problem would be; nor indeed is the challenge clear.”

6. Because HS2 is not a product of evidence-based policy making, over the last three years a series of justification s for building HS2 have been attempted. None of these gambits have stood up to any scrutiny, as evidence and arguments used to support HS2 have all been contrived after the decision to proceed was made.

7. The first argument used to justify HS2 was the reduction in journey time s between major cities. Whilst the journey times predicted under HS2 are no longer the vogue argument to use by supporters of the project , i t is clear that speed was key initially , as it made the business case ‘work ’ based on false assumptions, detailed below. Throughout the last three years a series of new justifications have been used to try and promote HS2, with supporters often saying: “It’s never been about speed, it’s always been about X” . This is because there was never a good reason for proposing HS2 in the first place, so new arguments have had to have been introduced each time the previous argument has been completely discredited. None of the arguments have fitted, because they we re bolted on after the act. The progression through these attempted justifications is outlined in this document .

ENVIRONMENTAL ‘ CREDENTIALS ’

8. The only mention of HS2 in the Coalition agreement is a high speed rail network should be developed to contribute to a ‘low carbon economy’. At that time, HS2 Ltd were claiming that high speed trains produce half the carbon per passenger of conventional railways, an estimate they arrived at by using the French network, which is mostly nuclear powered as the benchmark for high speed rail. Using this baseline, HS2 Ltd claimed during their 2011 consultation road shows that high speed rail was the least carbon-intensive form of motorised travel. Now, HS2 Ltd claim the network would be ‘broadly carbon neutral’, however as carbon output is worked out per passenger mile, this depends on what we believe are grossly inflated passenger forecasts, and it completely ignores the carbon impacts associated with constructing HS2. When the carbon impacts of construction are taken into consideration (assuming passenger predictions are correct) , HS2 would produce 60% more carbon than conventional rail and 35% more carbon than driving. With only 3% of predicted passengers expected to transfer from air travel (which assumes a significant increase in domestic air travel before HS2 is completed), meaning 97% of passengers are expected to transfer from less polluting alternatives, including a significant proportion who are predicted not to travel at all until HS2 is built.

9. Network Rail is already the largest consumer of electricity in the UK. The HLOS electrification plans mean their consumption will increase before HS2 is built, by which time the UK is already forecast to face an energy crisis. Where the electricity for HS2 is supposed to come from is a completely unanswered question. The HS2 business case assumes energy prices will never inflate from 2011 prices.

10. No- one is able to officially answer why that when HS2 was first announced in March 2010, the operating speed was set at 250mph. While operating speeds are now set to be 225mph, the design remains at 250mph, with it claimed this means the line will be ‘futureproofed’. This is not high speed rail, but ultra-high speed rail. Besides the resultant increase in projected carbon emissions and energy requirements, this also severely reduces routing options. This is why HS2 is so devastating to communities and the natural environment, because it cannot bend like a normal high speed railway to avoid such sites. HS2 threatens 350 unique habitats, 50 irreplaceable ancient woods, 30 river corridors, 24 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, a national nature reserve, 10 county wildlife trust reserves and hundreds of other important areas.

11. The development of HS1, which sees the maximum speed of Eurostar trains at 186mph allowing more sensitive routing options and a much smaller land-take than HS2 , saw the establishment of the ‘Kent Principles’. These principles were meant to be used as a template for future infrastructure programmes , but have been completely ignored in the design and specification of HS2.

A ‘STRONG BUSINESS CASE’

12. The main argument for HS2 as cited by former Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond was that there was a ‘strong business case’ for building it . This argument has now been so discredited that it is no longer used by anyone. When Mr Hammond took office in March 2010 the BCR for Phase 1 was 2.4, with Phases 1 and 2 together enjoying a BCR of 4. In September 2011, Mr Hammond told the Transport Select Committee that if the BCR for a project fell below 1.5, he would put it under ‘serious scrutiny’, however we was no longer in post by April 2012 when , after a series of reviews and the discovery of errors, the BCRs had fallen to 1.2 and 1.4. In a move which is typical of the way the figures have been fiddled to support the case for HS2, the BCR s were reviewed again and brought back up to 1.4 and 1.9 , mainly by devaluing the value placed on the countryside to be destroyed from over £4bn, to under £1bn.

13. There have been a multitude of instances where HS2 Ltd have quite deliberately used out of date models or false assumptions in an attempt to inflate the business case for HS2. The most well known of these is of course the fallacy that all time on trains is wasted, and that therefore a cash value to the economy can be put on any time saved on a journey, when the reality is that many people find that without other distractions , they are more productive on trains than in the office.

14. Another issue which ha s inflated the business case was the decision by HS2 Ltd to use version 4.1 of the Passenger Demand Forecast Handbook, which had already been superseded by version 5 when first used. This serves to inflate the predicted passenger numbers for HS2, as does the concept that HS2 will not be a premium service, despite the fact the concept of pricing based on journey time is clearly apparent throughout the existing rail network.

15. The most obvious indicator that no faith can be put in the forecasted HS2 business case is the assertion that it will make a profit. This would make HS2 an outstanding exception in UK passenger rail, especially given the facts that HS2 would have higher running and maintenance costs than other rail networks , and that it is supposedly not going to be subject to premium ticket pricing . The reality was explained clearly by the Sustainable Development Commission just before they were abolished in the cuts: “Building HS2 will mean putting in a massive ongoing subsidy into something which only benefits the richest in society.”

16. Many of these issues have been raised by both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee , but their concerns as yet seem to have been ignored and dismissed . If these fundamental errors are addressed when the long awaited reassessment of the business case takes place in August this year, it is quite possible that HS2 will get a BCR below 1 , a point at which Mr Hammond told the Transport Select Committee that projec ts would no longer be undertaken .

‘ TRANSFORMING AND REBALANCING THE ECONOMY ’

17. Although many politicians have claimed that HS2 will have a ‘transformative effect’ on the UK economy, the evidence shows that it would not be transformative in the way which is being billed. While the headline is that HS2 would rebalance the economy and help heal the North-South divide, the evidence shows that HS2 would more likely exasperate not only region al divisions, but divisions within regions .

18. HS2 is likely to do little other than suck more economic activity to London. High Speed Rail in other countries has had this effect, which is likely to exasperated in the UK, given the overriding primacy of London. It is clear that this fact has not been lost on general public, as in the latest YouGov poll, which saw 46% opposed to HS2 against 34% for the project, and the only region where supporters of the project outnumbered opponents is London.

19. The recent addition of the argument that we ‘Need to connect to the cities of the north’ smacks of desperation from proponents of HS2. This somehow suggests that the cities of the UK are not already connected , and the proposed HS2 service pattern does not focus on connecting them with shorter journey times to each other, but to London . For example, there is no plan to connect Sheffield with either of the Leeds or Nottingham stations in the proposed service pattern . The city centre stations in Birmingham and Manchester are proposed to give direct links to nowhere besides London.

20. The other significant issue is the lack of rail connectivity HS2 provides. Besides Manchester Piccadilly, o utside of London the HS2 proposals are for new stations, but how exactly they connect to the existing rail network has yet to be explained or costed. The benefits of having high speed rail services are immediately lost if passengers cannot easily transfer onto ongoing journeys.

21. It is bizarre that from the points of view of both environmentally sustainability and future economic growth, that the proposal from Government is to encourage more travel. The sustainable option which would develop the regions would be to do more to allow people to have jobs where they actually live, opposed to asking more people to travel further for work . HS2 also ignores the effect IT will have on working practices in the future, cutti ng the need for travel as the workplace is increasingly populated by a workforce which has grown up with developed IT solutions. As technology continues to develop, the financial imperatives of business to reduce travel with further impact the economy. The best current example of this is HS2 consultants ARUP, who three years ago instructed employees not to travel for meetings, but use video conferencing instead. It is myopic to invest so much in providing a 19th Century solution to develop a 21st Century economy.

GETTING ABOARD THE ‘HIGH SPEED RAIL REVOLUTION’

22. The Prime Minister has stated on several occasions that the UK “Needs to get on board the high speed rail revolution “ . However, while Mr Cameron claim s that HSR has been a success in across the globe, the reality is one of massive debt, cutbacks and project cancellation. The common theme interconnecting these project disasters are grossly inflated passenger forecasts , and overly optimistic business cases which were used to justify construction.

23. It is highly likely that the construction and maintenance of HS2 will mean fund s are not available for the existing network. Recently (before the recent fatal crash), the president of SNCF declared a ‘state of emergency’ on conventional railways in France, due to decades of under-investment during which funding has gone almost exclusively to the TGV. This coincided with an announcement from the French Government to cancel all TGV projects not already under construction.

24. Another fallacy, commonly cited by politicians and proponents of HS2 is that the UK is lagging behind countries due to the assertion that we only have 67 miles of high speed rail. This is utterly incorrect. The international definition of what high speed rail consists of is 124mph for upgraded lines. These service speeds have been timetabled in the UK since the 1970s, and were first achieved (surpassed) 75 years ago. The speed of UK railways, coupled with the size of the country means journey times between the capital and the next five biggest mainland cities are lower in the UK than Spain, France, Germany and Italy. We do not need to catch up with the rest of the world, they are still catching up with us.

25. Another selling point of HS2, which when stated by proponents demonstrates complete ignorance of what is actually being proposed, is the idea that people will be able to catch trains in the Midlands and North which will go to continental Europe via a link to HS1 . There is absolutely no provision for this in the service pattern proposed by HS2 Ltd. Proposed service patterns show the 18 train per hour capacity will be taken up exclusively by domestic trains. It should also be noted that the proposal to run 18 trains per hour is currently impossible, as it depends on technology not yet invented.

HS2 WILL ‘FREE UP CAPACITY’

26. The idea that HS2 will ‘free up capacity’ on existing lines is the largest contradiction in the case for HS2. For cities which are not on the HS2 core network and existing stations in city centres which will get regional stations , which currently benefit from being intermediate stops on services to and from London, the phrase ‘free up capacity’ can be simply interchanged with ‘losing the trains you already have’. The HS2 Ltd economic document is exceptionally clear: the business case for HS2 requires a £7.7bn cut to existing rail services. This will clearly lead to a reduction in connectivity.

‘THE WEST COAST MAIN LINE WILL SOON BE FULL’

27. Recently, the argument for HS2 has shifted to capacity. This is most likely for the reason that it will have some credence with rail passengers, as almost everyone who has been on a train will have been on a busy train, and that without the misguided assertion that HS2 is needed for capacity reasons, there really would be no argument for building it left. The reality is that Euston is, with the exception of the HS1 platforms at St Pancras, the quietest inter-city terminus in London. 2011 figures show that in peak hours Virgin Trains departing Euston had a loading of 52%, a 2% drop from the previous year. In t he eyes of the DfT, the glass is neither half full nor half empty, but ‘near capacity’.

28. The latest figures from the Office of Rail Regulation show for the first quarter of this year, long distance passenger numbers suffered an annual drop of 2.6%. This has been completely ignored by the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin who is still willing to say that rail use has been growing for 15 years. This is akin to denying an economy is in recession, because it wasn’t last year.

29. The entire concept that the West Coast Mainline will run out of capacity is based on the DfT using version 4.1 of the PDFH, which was supposedly replaced by version 5 almost four years ago in August 2009. The reason for changing models was that v. 4.1 significantly over-estimated future growth in long-distance travel, but it is still being used to justify HS2.

30. Additionally, the capacity of the West Coast Mainline is being kept artificially low by the current operators. According to Network Rail’s New Lines Study Capacity Analysis: “The entire WCML timetable structure is effectively dictated by the 20-minute even interval service pattern between London Euston and each of Birmingham New Street and Manchester Piccadilly. This pattern is inherently incompatible with maximum utilisation on key route sections including London Euston and Milton Keynes Central where the RotP planning headway is 3 minutes. With at one or more repeating 20 minute even interval services in each hour the theoretical quantum is reduced by 2tph. There is, therefore, effectively a cap below 100% by virtue of this passenger presentation and marketing led timetable structure to maximise revenue.” The fact that spare capacity exists on the WCML was confirmed by the First Group franchise bid.

31. Despite the fact that capacity is being kept artificially low by private train operators to maximise profits , i t has been said that a new line would be the only way to deliver the required capacity. T his assessment did not fully compare HS2 against alternatives or indeed fully assess some of the rail developments already committed to , such as HLOS or the potential for creating a new path from Milton Keynes and/or Bletchley to London via East-West Rail and the Great Central Line into Marylebone .

32. The weakest argument for HS2 has been reiterated by every Transport Secretary since 2010.  We decided we needed a new line, an d if we are building a new line, it might as well be high-speed.” By saying a new line ‘might as well be [ultra] high speed’ for no discernible reason, the proposers of HS2 are effectively saying:

a. It might as well take the most environmentally damaging route.

b. It might as well not inter connect with the rest of the rail network.

c. It might as well not carry freight (though this was said when HS1 was proposed, but it is now carrying freight ).

d. It might as well not have intermediate stations which serve the communities it goes through.

e. It might as well have higher maintenance and running costs than a traditional railway.

f. It might as well not have stations which are properly integrated with existing destinations.

g. It might as well have the highest energy input and carbon output possible.

h. It might as well only be of benefit to long-distance passengers, who are generally speaking, the richest in society.

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One comment to “Stop HS2 Evidence to the HS2 Blank Cheque Committee”
  1. Mr Burns said at the last session

    The total actual spend of both the Department for Transport and High Speed 2 Ltd in 2009-10 was £9.5 million; in 2010-11 it was £24.3 million; in 2011-12 it was £55.6 million and in 2012-13 it was £214.6 million. The forecast for 2013-14 is £366.9 million; for 2014-15 it is £442.5 million

    If they did the right thing and stopped hs2 now there would be nearly £700 million to spend on many more higher priorities

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