Stop HS2 submission to the TSC aviation review

Last month the Transport Select Committee’s review into aviation strategy closed. This is what our submission to their review said.

1. Stop HS2 is the national campaign group against the proposed £33billion High Speed 2 railway.  As such general aviation strategy is outside our remit: however there are obvious cross over points between aviation strategy and high speed rail policies.

2. Stop HS2 believes the assumptions behind the HS2 proposal are flawed and it should be cancelled entirely.

3. Our answers below are most relevant to the following inquiry questions:

1 e. Where does aviation fit in the overall transport strategy?

2 c. How can surface access to airports be improved?

3 b. Will the Government’s proposals help reduce carbon emissions and manage the impact of aviation on climate change? How can aviation be made more sustainable?

HS2 is not part of an overall transport strategy

4. One of Stop HS2’s concerns is that HS2 has not been developed as part of a wider transport strategy.  The proposed spur to Heathrow was not included in the original plans but has been retrofitted, which means the service pattern direct to Heathrow will be very low, due to capacity constraints.  The spur will not open until Phase 2 of HS2, due to be completed in the mid 2030s.

5. It is high risk to plan a £33 billion high speed rail line separately to aviation policy, especially as that aviation policy may include plans for a new airport.

6. High speed rail policy should not be considered separately to aviation policy. As one witness told the Transport Select Committee last year, during the High Speed Rail inquiry

Q378 Steven Costello: The argument is that each node should be one of these pearls on a necklace. Therefore, as in Germany and France, an airport is an interchange directly located on the through line, but with high speed through lines so that not every train needs to stop. As soon as you start getting into branch lines or spurs, you start to lose that seamlessness and the ability to generate modal shift.[1]

HS2 is not an alternative to Heathrow third runway

7. The pressure on the previous Secretary of State for Transport to reopen the discussion of a third runway at Heathrow restarted earlier this year, shortly after she had given the go-ahead for HS2 in January 2012.  This shows that many people do not consider HS2 to be an alternative to Heathrow expansion.

Timing of HS2 planning and the Davis Commission revie

8. The Davis Commission on future aviation capacity is not due to report until summer 2015.  Meanwhile the Government want to deposit the HS2 hybrid bill in October 2013, with the intention of getting it through Parliament by spring 2015.

9. If the Davis Commission recommends building a new airport, then the HS2 hybrid bill will have legislated for a route without links to this new airport.  In these circumstances, it is highly likely that the Government of the day will scrap the HS2 legislation.  It would have been a huge waste of Parliamentary time.

Modal Shift

10. In the three economic cases for HS2 (2010, 2011 and 2012), the expected modal shift from air to high speed rail has fallen significantly.

11. The table below shows that HS2 Ltd now expect a significantly smaller modal shift from air: the 2010 case which had 8% modal shift from air in 2033, compared to the most recent 2012 case which has 3% modal shift from air in 2037.


Classic Rail New Trips Air Car
2033 – (2010 economic case) 57% 27% 8% 8%
2043  – (2011 economic case) 65% 22% 6% 7%
2037 –  (2012 economic case) 65% 24% 3% 8%

HS2 Ltd data: modal shift when rail usage has doubled.


12. There is in any case, limited potential of HS2 to reduce internal flights.  There are currently no scheduled flights between London and Birmingham.   Rail’s share of the London Manchester market is increasing by about 5% a year. In 2009, 74% of passengers on domestic flights between Heathrow and Manchester were transferring onto a connecting flight[2].

Carbon emissions: HS2 is carbon neutral:

13. The limited modal shift explains in part why HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport say HS2 is expected to be carbon neutral.[3]


14. With the growth of digital telecommunications and videoconferencing, people will be increasing using web-based alternatives to face-to-face meetings.  This will affect the demand for air travel as well as rail travel.

Aviation Representation on HS2 Challenge Panels

15. When HS2 was originally being developed there were no aviation representatives on the scrutiny panels.[4]  This may explain why one witness to last year’s TSC inquiry on High Speed Rail described the HS2 route as “in aviation terms, a thin route”[5].

[1] 1185-ii Volume II – Oral and written evidence

[2] Air and High Speed Rail Briefing Paper – The Realities of Rail. March 2010

[3] High speed trains use significantly more energy then conventional fast trains: a recently published report by high speed rail proponents Greenguage 21 showed that the HS2 trains would have to be significantly slower then currently proposed if they were to reduce CO2.  This would however cause the business case to worsen.

[4] Since then the Director of the Campaign for High Speed Rail has become a director of BAA.

[5] q 377 Steven Costello: …. Certainly, from aviation’s point of view, it is the worst of all possible worlds at the moment, simply because a line from Birmingham, bypassing Heathrow, through central London to HS1 and Europe would be, in aviation terms, a thin route. There would not be enough traffic from point to point to sustain services at a frequency that is going to generate modal shift.

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9 comments to “Stop HS2 submission to the TSC aviation review”
  1. Very interesting . I still don’t have an answer to my genuine question as to why there is no direct through link for Heathrow, but more importantly why no link at all is planned in phase 1. Please can someone explain.

    • In a nutshell… because finding the fastest route matters more than any other considerations. Why? Because the whole economic justification is built on journey time savings.

      In opposition it was conservative policy that it would go to Heathrow. Then in government they adopted the route devised under labour, but with the addition of a spur to serve Heathrow. There are many who still think it should go to Heathrow from the start, and on route to Birmingham. Heathrow Hub Ltd is going to court to challenge the government’s decision in a judicial review.

  2. If you read the aviation response to hs2 they state that 60 per cent of passengers from heathrow transfer to domestic flights so some of these passengers could transfer to hs2 instead. The report says that at least 1/3rd of air passengers on domestic flights could potentially be lost to high speed rail .

    Also you conveniently ignore that hs2 will also allow much faster journeys to European destinations. Eurostar already has eighty percent of London Paris Brussels customers. Also of course there will be destinations in the north and Scotland that will have reduced journey times as a result of the hs2y

    Finally you state that the heathrows spur won’t open for some years and that there will then be capacity constraints yet a common theme of hs2 critics is that it will not attract enough passengers !

    • I am against HS2 , all of the “nice to haves” simply don’t stack up to £ 40 BILLION pounds.

      But if you are going to build it why on earth you wouldn’t stop directly at Heathrow in stage 1 rather than , at best ( if you believe Dominic Grieve ) , with a spur in 20 years time astounds me. If anybody knows the answer I would be genuinely interested to listen.

      As for 60 % of Heathrow arrivals transferring to domestic flights , doesn’t sound right to me. What about the ones who are going to London ?

    • Two thirds of the passengers between Manchester and Heathrow are connecting with other flights. An infrequent rail service to Heathrow via Old Oak Common would not provide a viable alternative for most of these passengers. I would agree that this looks like a big planning failure if HS2 is meant to reduce domestic flights.

      • Finmere……what you conveniently forget is that rail journeys under 4 hours centre to centre are very competitive with air travel per se. What that means for Manchester is that if we use a journey to Paris for example, with HS2 that would be around 3 1/2 hours……….even less for Birmingham. We already see Eurostar as the dominant travel mode for London to Paris.

        • That’s as may be but anyone going from Manchester to Heathrow for a connecting flight won’t be going on to Paris or Brussels. They can get direct flights to these destinations. Heathrow is the hub for long haul journeys – Australia, Africa, Russia, China etc.

          Two-thirds of the one million or so annual passenger flights between Manchester and Heathrow are connecting with other flights. For them to switch to rail there would need to be a frequent direct service to Heathrow. British Airways currently operate 11 flights a day on this route.

          The main point is that by not going to Heathrow, HS2 is missing an opportunity to capture this segment of the market. This is hard to reconcile with the modal shift objective to reduce domestic flights. That’s why it looks like a big planning failure.

          • Finmere……… need to do some homework. A direct link to Heathrow is part of the overall HS2 plan, and in fact if you look at the service spec modelling done by outside consultants, there is 1 train per hour from Manchester and 1 train per hour from Leeds direct to Heathrow


            • There is much doubt and uncertainty about the Heathrow connection which there would not be if the line was going to go there from the start.

              No one knows what will happen in 20 years time. All the forecast service patterns are just mock-ups of what might be possible. HS2 functionaries can point to an official looking booklet and say ‘there will be one train an hour to Heathrow’ so as to silence their critics. One train an hour, capacity 550 passengers, demand 120 passengers, would be wasteful and therefore expensive. The reality would depend on supply, demand, price, convenience and competition.

              The point I am making is that if modal shift and a reduction of internal flights is as important as it is being made out to be, then trains would be stopping at Heathrow on route to Birmingham right from the start, and there are many who think it should, rather than bolting on a costly spur as an afterthought.

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