Greenguage 21’s carbon impacts report

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.”

11 comments to “Greenguage 21’s carbon impacts report”
  1. in order to get people to use rail instead of cars or short haul flights you have to compete with the speed of air and the point to point convenience of the car. so you will use more energy with faster trains compared with conventional speeds but less then that of competing modes. if you dont increase the speed then you dont achieve the modal shift. you can argue that perhaps the speed of hs2 could be less then the actual operating speed planned of 220 mph. i suspect this whole issue is a red herring as even if it was stated that hs2 would run at say 155 mph you still would argue it wasnt needed.

    and once again upgrading the exiisting lines would cause massive disruption and likely be even more expensive to build then hs2. there is also the slight problem that the existing lines go through towns and villages and countryside and farmland. if we accept that extra tracks are needed these will be the same width whether they are built as new or alongside other lines it is likely you would disrupt many more people and businesses and would end up with an upgraded victorian railway with a twistier alignment and longer overall distance which would mean you would use more energy then you needed to as well as likely having more co2 emissions during construction.

    it is also clear that if you remove some longer distance limited stop trains from existing lines onto hs2 that you will free these paths for other rail traffic. remember how much also rail usage is growing every year.

  2. HS2 is meant to help the British economy to grow and to ease congestion, by making northern Britain more easily accessible and taking thousands of people there more rapidly.

    Could someone correct me if I am wrong in thinking that:

    – a growing British economy is likely to result in faster population expansion.
    (Britain has been economically successful in the past, attracting people from overseas, and people have been able to afford to support larger families.)

    – this higher population will create more carbon emissions.
    (Each person has a carbon footprint – more footprints mean more carbon. Radical steps will be necessary to prevent ‘successful’ people being blasé about their
    carbon footprints. There are countries that prove this).

    – increased accessibility to the north will cause congestion in and around northern hubs, producing higher carbon emissions.
    (I sat in my car for an hour and a half unable to leave the 13th floor the South Car Park of Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena last Saturday night, because the local roads
    were gridlocked – the emissions were evident. Why did we go by car? No Chiltern trains timetabled late enough to get us home).

    If I am right (or even if I am wrong), would someone nominate me for an award for my ability to analyse evidence?

    • when we get growth again in the economy and when the population increases as it will people are still going to need and want to travel and electric rail and high speed rail is the least polluting way of achieving this. so as the report says we need to encourage modal shift from cars and planes onto rail but we cant do this until the extra capacity that hs2 will provide and release on exisiitng lines is available.

      incidentally when you and others were stuck did you all leave your engines running ?

      • I agree that electric rail is potentially cleaner – all depends on how the electricity is produced, of course.

        High-speed is contentious. To travel faster needs more energy. More energy requires more power. More power means more emissions and pollutants – depending on how the power is produced of course.

        The report should be suggesting reduced travel, rather than modal shift – which is just as achievable and is necessary if you look further into the future.

        I need “the extra capacity that HS2 will provide” explained clearly and definitively, if you could oblige.

        The way I see it is that HS2 on its two tracks will carry up to 1100 passengers in each direction around every seven minutes. That sounds good – providing there are that many people wanting to do that particular route and they can afford the fare. Of those people a few of them will come from existing busy routes, but as they transfer onto HS2 there will be other people using their vacated seats and standing areas on the slower trains. The slower trains will remain congested because they stop in more places where people want to get off.

        As the slower trains will remain in demand there will be no difference in the rail availability for freight trains – so how will HS2 make capacity for more freight? All those extra people going north will need more goods transported north for their businesses and general needs, and south from manufacturing bases – so even more freight capacity will be needed, with more planes in the air and more lorries on the roads, and More CO2.

        Our engines weren’t running while we waited – in fact we got out of our car and looked over to the roads below at the chaos, where there were thousands of engines running. We even have a car that turns the engine off when we take the car out of gear and take our foot of the clutch!

        But even with this pollution preventing technology we are also training ourselves to be more selective in our reasons to travel by car. That’s what we all should be doing – not fantasising that fast trains are a cure for congestion and are environmentally friendly.

        • gloria you are right there is no such thing as environmentally friendly transport that is a fantasy but less polluting transport isnt.. we should try and travel less but i just dont see it happening. i also have a stop start device in my car it is called the driver ! however i dont believe that the congestion that hs2 will relieve is a fantasy but a cold hard reality. interestingly though sncf stated that in their opinion hs2 should have 4 tracks. they based this on how busy the main tgv line has become and said they would have had four tracking with the benefit of hindsight.

  3. I have only got to page 19 of this report and am already spitting feathers, ( not because the RSPB was one of the parties who commisioned this report – gobsmacked at this! ) but because it takes vast amounts of ‘what if ‘ -‘could’ -‘might’ -data and conjures up a blatant pro-HS2 report. Reduction in short haul flights – from where to where. Reduction in speed WHAT !!??. People might buy more cars if we don’t build it – oh come on ! Freight will be taken off the roads because of the newly available capacity on train lines, what about the supposed future capacity problem this is supposed to solve – passengers second ? The chances of the scenario being painted here coming about are like planning what you are going to spend your multi-million pound lottery win on.

    • reductions in short haul flights to the north east and scotland are achievable and rail can replace flights from say birmingham paris in much the way eurostar has done. with a station at heathrow interlining within the uk would be replaced with rail.

      if we dont build hs2 with its extra capacity the reality is that with the strength of the roads and air lobbies you are looking at more people using these modes of transport.

      the capacity hs2 will release will create slots for both freight and passengers on exisitng lines. if you dont think there will be enough capacity even with hs2 then you are arguing against yourself if you are also against hs2 ! the main reason for hs2 is capacity.

      as far as what penny has written i dont know by what logic she says that slowing hs2 down means that you can then further slow it down by having more stops – this would defeat the purpose of removing non stopping trains from existing lines. and apart from coventry what major cities are there between london and birmingham and for other towns, where would you locate the stations ?

      i have long argued on this blog that the carbon emissions reductions that hs2 will be somewhat more then is being stated officially. this report bears that out. also it has always been stated that the benefit cost ratio is much higher for the full hs2 y network then it is for the first leg to birmingham.

      • The thing is Vitman, using DfT and HS2 Ltd figures (ie supposedly the ‘truth’), the modal shift from air to HS2 is only expected to be around 6%. So not a lot then.

        If you are REALLY interested in reducing carbon, the focus should be on the massive shifts from road to train that would come from putting the same money (£33billion – but actually it would take far less) into improving and electrifying rail right around the country – classic and commuter services. Also, it apparently needs saying again and again, the faster a train goes, the more energy it uses. Speed is really bad for reducing carbon! The EU classifies speeds of 201kph as ‘high speed’. The design speed for HS2 is 400kph.

        So there really is no case to be made for HS2 from a ‘sustainability’ point of view. The DfT and HS2Ltd only classified it in their data as ‘environmentally neutral’ (that is, £33 Billion of infrastructure investment that will do NOTHING towards the UK CO2 reduction targets). They were instructed to stop referring to it as environmentally positive. The Green Party – who are definitely in favour of expanding trains – are against HS2. Time for you to stop trying to make the environmental case? There isn’t one.

        • i have always said that i believe that the case for modal shift is somewhat understated. hs2 is however primarily a transport project and trains use energy the more the faster they go as you say. do you believe we should have a 50 mph motorway limit and that we should replace short haul jets with slower turboprops as this would save energy. it may sound reasonable and do-able but in reality nobody would support it.

          elecrifying existing lines is going ahead and is a sensible policy which reduces costs is more efficient and pollutes less. but ultimately you need to provide extra capacity and to do this you have to have more lines which are very expensive to build and i believe that those against 220 mph hs2 would also be against 125 mph hs2. and if it was decided to “upgrade” (code for build new lines but somewhere else please !) the exisitng lines then the limited number of anti hs2 protestors in the chilterns would be replaced by anti dare i say rp2 or whatever protestors who would likely be more numerous. after all there is as much protest through west london against hs2 as there is through the chilterns yet the route in west london is akin to an upgrade as there hs2 is alongside the exising lines.

          • I’ll suggest some thoughts about your points Vitman. Reducing cars to 50mph – you are absolutely right there would be objections but – sorry, I don’t know how old you are – do you remember it happened before in an oil crisis? So road speeds are not really part of the case against HS2 – but bye the bye – we may yet see this again. Petrol vouchers too.

            It is tremendous news that the government are spending more on electrifying lines – so let’s have more of it, right across the country. That would truly have an impact on getting people out of cars and onto local commuter and classic rail lines. But it is really silly of Osborne and others to glibly say there will be enough money to spend on the whole HS2 package AND all of the desperately needed rail improvements around the country – and in the next sentence we hear them all baying for more and more cuts. Osborne knows it’s not true and I don’t like politicians who lie. Silly for anyone to argue there is money for both – and especially silly given the huge impact that improving rail right around the country could have as distinct from blowing it all on HS2.

            Which brings us to the issue of fairness and priorities. You know the bit about ‘we are all in this together’?? HS2 will cater for a very narrow income band – and even the President of the SNCF in France says his TGV programme has to be curtailed because TGVs are not catering for the vast majority of travellers’ needs. I’ll put up the quote if you want but Phillip Hammond wasn’t far off when he referred to HS2+ as ‘a rich man’s toy’. Also, as far as priorities are concerned, HS2 is clearly not tops judged from the national level. There are already 2 extremely good services between London and Birmingham – HS2 is the third. The Office of the Rail Regulator’s data says it is the 39th priority. Yes – THIRTY NINTH. So there you have it – building the most expensive railway per mile in the world and it is such a low UK priority. Can’t respect that. Surprised that others do.

            About speed – well one consequence of slower speeds is you could take more curves – Yes?? HS2 is massively destructive because it has to be such a straight line to cater for 400kph design speed. Now that is faster than ANY HSR ANYWHERE. Remember that HSR according to the EU starts at 201kph – so HS2’s design speed is approximately TWICE what it needs to to attract the HS label. Most of the European HS trains are travelling loads slower than HS2’s design speed. What is it about insisting on SUCH a destructive speed for HS2?

            You can only talk about ‘capacity needs’ if you do it relatively. What I want to know is how do the figures for HS2 stand when compared to capacity needs elsewhere in the UK? You see – there is a ‘social justice’ argument underlying many of the objections to HS2. Expenditure on HS2 will be privileging the richest regions and the richest travellers over all the rest of us. I can’t back that.

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