HS2’s passengers: taking the high carbon option

Last week, when she announced the government’s decision to go ahead with HS2, Justine Greening wrote

HS2 is entirely consistent with the Government’s objectives for carbon emissions. Electrified rail is a comparatively low-carbon mode of transport, especially with the continued decarbonisation of the grid. Speed increases power consumption, but also makes HS2 more attractive to those currently flying or driving. The faster journeys on HS2 – Edinburgh and Glasgow will be just 3.5 hours from London – could transfer around 4.5 million journeys per year who might otherwise have travelled by air and 9 million from the roads…. HS2 is therefore an important part of transport’s low-carbon future.

But this paints a misleading picture.

Most passengers on an HS2 jouney would have used conventional speed trains if they weren’t on a high speed train – 65% according to HS2 Ltd’s latest economic case. Like Justine says, “Speed increases power consumption”, making these HS2 journeys more environmentally damaging then the ones that they replaced.

Are passengers going to come from air travel, meaning that we can stop airport expansion?


According to the economic case published last week a mere 3% of passengers on HS2 will have flown otherwise. (This is half the percentage in the consultation documents published less then a year ago in February 2011.)

As news today shows, the government is thinking about building an entirely new airport in a completely different area. Greening’s disparaging remarks about “patch and mend” for railways clearly also apply to her thinking about airports.

As for modal shift from road travel, that’s 8% of HS2 passengers.

So, according to HS2 Ltd’s own predictions, 11% of passengers on HS2 will have decided to take the train, rather than fly or drive. And 65% will have taken less power hungry conventional speed trains.

The other 24% of HS2’s predicted passengers will be taking entirely new journeys: journeys made simply because HS2 has been built.

Does Justine really think HS2 is “an important part of transport’s low-carbon future”, as 89% of HS2’s predicted passengers will be causing more carbon emissions then they would have if HS2 was not built?

Or is the government’s carbon commitment just empty words?

2 comments to “HS2’s passengers: taking the high carbon option”
  1. De-carbonisation of the grid? How and when is that going to happen?

    Government targets are to get to 15% renewables by 2020. New nuclear plants to be completed by 2025 will replace the ones that will have closed. Even so, based on current levels, two thirds of electricity would still be coal and gas – assuming we can still get it.

    Ministers like to talk about ‘energy security’. The fact is that we are dependent on imported oil and gas which is becoming difficult and expensive to find and extract, and increasingly concentrated in only a few countries.

    “…there will be NO combination of alternative energy solutions that might enable the long term continuation of economic growth, or of industrial societies in their present form and scale.” http://www.postcarbon.org/report/44377-searching-for-a-miracle

    Carbon reduction, whether voluntary or forced, is inescapable. We are already seeing energy prices increasing and most of us are turning down the heating and switching to low energy light bulbs.

    I agree that we should think ahead regarding our future transport needs, and that we need to be less dependent on carbon intensive forms of transport. I would also agree that rail travel has the potential to meet this test, but strongly disagree that high speed rail is part of the solution.

    We can expect the ‘high speed trains’ of the future to run at 80mph and air travel will become so expensive that demand will be reduced meaning that there will be loads of surplus airport capacity.

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