Railfuture campaigns for better rail services over a bigger rail network, so that more people can travel where and when they want, with an enjoyable journey experience.

Traffic on the rail network has doubled in the last 20 years. The rail network, motorways and airports in Britain are now full. HS2 is the most cost-effective way to deliver a lot of extra capacity; without it, our transport network will glue up and our economy will stop growing. The importance of the availability of rail transport to economic growth was demonstrated when the rail line was cut at Dawlish, costing the South Western economy around £1.2Bn.

Like HS1, objections have been raised against HS2 during its planning phase. However the experience with HS1 shows that these fears are overstated:

Fear 1: Environmental impact; not following existing transport corridors.

HS1 has become part of the environment, accepted by local residents who recognise the benefits of the domestic HS1 service. HS2 has no intermediate local station, and has been poorly promoted as something altogether different and threatening. Unlike in Kent, areas near the M1 and West Coast Main Line (WCML) such as Watford and Luton are densely populated, so if HS2 followed the existing transport corridor significant property demolition would be required, affecting many people’s lives. However both HS1 and HS2 have a much lower land take than another motorway which would otherwise be required, and the budget for HS2 includes substantial provision for serious mitigation in the form of long tunnel stretches, green noise barriers and compensation. Rail is more energy efficient than plane or car so has less environmental impact.

Fear 2: Disruptive construction at Euston.

Railfuture has campaigned for better interchange and new connections in West London at Old Oak Common and also at Stratford in East London linked by the Euston Cross scheme, and diversion of suburban services to Crossrail and the North London Line. Such schemes lower the land take at Euston by provision of a much less disruptive to construct East to West station box tunnel at Euston, far better connected to the Underground and to St Pancras and Kings Cross.

Fear 3: HS1 did not meet its predictions and HS2 costs are out of control.

The Channel Tunnel was one of a number of major projects that ran well over budget in the 1980s and 1990s. One of lessons taken by the Treasury was that project promoters are naturally optimistic, so in 2003 it introduced the Green Book which defines the rules by which project costs and benefits are calculated, including the provision of a necessary level of contingency, and effective programme and project management is put in place. Previous budget estimates have been based on 2011 rates and did not include rolling stock, whereas the latest budget estimate of £55Bn given to the National Audit Office is based on the expected outturn rates so includes trains and the effect of rising pay rates and material costs. Britain’s largest construction project, Crossrail, followed the Green Book rules and will finish soon on time and budget at £16Bn, proving that the rail industry can deliver projects successfully, and HS2 should be no different.

Fear 4: Benefits are made up; economists don’t support HS2; high speed lines in other countries lose money.

WebTAG, introduced by the Department for Transport at the same time as the Green Book, set the rules for calculating benefits, which HS2 has followed. Railfuture argues that the rules actually understate the traffic predictions and therefore benefits, and that the focus on time savings is less realistic than the wider economic benefits that rail developments will achieve. For example, in its first year the Borders Railway carried over 1 million passengers compared to a prediction of 647,000, attracting travellers to and from a wider area in the Borders than expected and so stimulating more economic growth.

When the Channel Tunnel was planned who would have thought that Hastings might be regenerated by domestic HS1 services? Unexpected benefits are also likely to arise from HS2.

HS2 is a classic example of Keynesian economics, investing in infrastructure to promote economic growth. KPMG have calculated that HS2 will deliver £15Bn of wider economic benefits, whilst it is reported that Ernst and Young have calculated that HS2 will deliver £40bn in new homes, offices and jobs to the UK economy.

Many countries (including France) choose to subsidise rail services, including high speed rail, because they believe in the social, economic and environmental benefits.

Fear 5: WCML is the least crowded main line; rail capacity is needed elsewhere.

Traffic on the West Coast Main Line has doubled since 2001. Since 2011 Virgin have set their pricing policy to manage demand and minimise overcrowding (although we have experienced trains to Scotland with 200 standing). However growth is continuing on London Midland (8% since 2011), Chiltern (23% since 2011), East Coast (13% since 2011), and the motorway network (10% since 2011). There is also suppressed demand for new services to areas such as to Shropshire, North Wales, and Northern towns such as Blackpool and Blackburn. Freight traffic is also increasing; the port expansion at Southampton announced recently will deliver many more containers to the UK. Without a dramatic increase in rail capacity, we will see many more trucks on our crowded roads.

Some interim enhancements have been made on WCML to increase capacity, but enhancements on existing railways offer diminishing returns; each successive enhancement delivers less extra capacity and costs more. A new route such as HS2 is more cost effective, and will provide extra capacity needed to relieve the WCML and also the Midland Main Line and the East Coast Main Line, which are also heavily utilised.

HS2 has its own budget. Cancelling or deferring HS2 would not release money for other rail projects. Crossrail will soon be completed to deliver extra capacity to London commuters, whilst Crossrail 2 is being planned in parallel to HS2. In the north, the Northern and TransPennine franchises have committed to new longer trains. Railfuture argues that planning of HS3 should also be progressed to bring Northern cities closer together.

Fear 6: Rail service to intermediate WCML stations will be worse.

Transfer of long distance trains from the West Coast route to HS2 will enable complementary services which improve journey opportunities at places such as Watford, Milton Keynes, Lichfield, and Liverpool whilst maintaining appropriate levels of service to places not served by HS2 such as Coventry, Stoke, and Wakefield.

Even when HS2 reaches Crewe, the reduced journey times to Scotland will attract many travellers away from flying, whilst mere capacity will be available between Birmingham and Manchester.

The growth of London will continue to drive commuting growth from Northampton and Milton Keynes which is only sustainable if capacity on WCML is released by HS2; there is already 18% standing on London Midland services in the morning peak.

Fear 7: Lack of answers to questions raised by the Public Accounts Committee and the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.

We are investing a very large amount of money so it is right that Parliament should carefully scrutinise the programme and ask difficult, searching questions. That does not mean that the programme should not proceed, rather that satisfactory answers must be found.

Railfuture’s position on HS2

HS2 has suffered from its initial, and flawed, conception as a very high speed railway serving specific points only.

Railfuture has successfully campaigned for co-located stations at Leeds and Sheffield, and better connections between HS2 and the existing network. It is now accepted that HS2 is all about capacity of the rail system and stimulating regional economic regeneration, by integrating HS2 with regional and city transport networks.

Speed is still important; shorter journey times will attract passengers away from travelling by car or plane.

We have been living off the Victorians’ investment in our railway system for too long. Major investment is needed now to make HS2 the core of an integrated rail network, providing massive extra rail transport capacity for the next 20, 50 or 100 years. The alternative is massive road building with much greater negative effects on the environment.

Listen to Chris Page’s debate with Joe Rukin of the StopHS2 campaign, recorded on a domestic HS1 train journey between St Pancras and Ashford, which was broadcast on LBC radio at 7am on Monday 3rd October 2016.

High speed rail