High-speed-rail

UK High Speed Rail: the 'platform’ required to achieve environmental change in UK transport?


High Speed Rail (HS2) has been discussed in the UK for a number of years, but under the current government the debate has restarted in earnest. A public consultation has begun and will run until July 2011 with both sides currently setting out their stalls.

The key drivers behind the development of such a rail scheme are three fold; economic, environmental and social. The Y-shaped national high speed rail network would link London, Birmingham, Manchester Leeds, the East Midlands, South Yorkshire and the HS1 Heathrow Airport link at a  cost of £32 billion.

The following article is the first in a three part series that will investigate the requirement, potential pitfalls and benefits of the development of a High Speed Rail Network in the UK. This first article  explores the environmental reasoning for HS2, the second will look at the economic reasoning. The series will culminate with an article that identifies the required action and clear methodology of ensuring the High Speed Network is delivered more economically in UK than it has been in Europe and other countries around the world.

This first article concentrates on the environmental factors that will influence the development of High Speed Rail (HS2) in the UK which may serve as to substantiate the sizeable investment proposed.

Naturally there are concerns about the route – both in terms of the economic advantage of being connected by HS2 and the perceived environmental damage of creating a new rail infrastructure but are there more benefits than there are detrimental effects?

One consideration would be the ever growing population in London is increasing pressure on the housing market in the South East and the associated transport infrastructure. The number of people using the railway is at a generational high, trains are congested and overcrowded forcing people back into their cars which has a negative environmental effect and completely contrasts the aim of decreasing the volume of commuter and social road usage.

So there would clearly be a local benefit to London as those commuters could make use of a reliable and fast means of transport, however the real target market of a High Speed Rail scheme will be journeys over 150km and more precisely to combat the short haul aviation industry and achieve substantial modal shift.  This is easier said than done as short-haul flights are the most popular journey in British aviation, accounting for seven out of 10 flights, however train travel is also popular in the UK – the British public already make 1.3bn passenger rail journeys each year

Presently journeys over 150km in length are mainly undertaken by car with rail taking only 10% of the market, however as the journey length increases so does the rail usage, 15% of journeys above 400km. Once the journey length is more than 500km, air travel takes the majority share of the market.

High Speed Rail (HS2) is presented as being more environmentally friendly than air or road travel for three main reasons:

1. Change in modal transport use

To achieve a substantial modal shift so as to ensure the commercial and environmental viability of the development of a high-speed rail network, the emphasis must be placed upon journey time versus the cost of achieving a time saving, in other words if the time it takes to travel somewhere by train can be reduced, nearing that of air travel whilst the ticket costs do not escalate greatly, one can expect a modal shift which is representative of the size of investment and thus a substantial reduction in the UK Carbon footprint.


HS2 aims to displace transport usage from more environmentally damaging modes of transport. The competition is primarily the short haul aviation industry as short-haul flights are the most popular journey in British aviation, accounting for seven out of 10 flights.

There are more than 22million domestic air trips in the UK each year, HS2 aims to take a substantial part of this market share. HS2 in Europe has demonstrated that when a journey is less than three hours there can be a 50% / 60% shift from air travel to train travel, this increases to 90% if the journey is less than 2 hours.

To achieve a substantial modal shift so as to ensure the commercial and environmental viability of the development of a high-speed rail network, the emphasis must be placed upon journey time versus the cost of achieving a time saving, in other words if the time it takes to travel somewhere by train can be reduced, nearing that of air travel whilst the ticket costs do not escalate greatly, one can expect a modal shift which is representative of the size of investment and thus a substantial reduction in the UK Carbon footprint.

2. Lower energy consumption per passenger kilometer

The positive impact on the environment can be clearly demonstrated when considering that the average short-haul plane journey emits 120g of CO2 per passenger kilometre compared to just 30g for HS2.

HS2 rolling stock will be powered by electricity and as the UK decarbonises its electricity supply the carbon efficiency of the railway will improve.


3. Reduced land usage for a given capacity compared to motorways

Current infrastructure will not be able to sustain UK’s required economic development, enhancing the transport network will need to be undertaken and HS2 is the least intrusive in terms of capacity benefits vs. land usage.

However, the use of land will be considerate; for instance following existing rail or road transport corridors, using deep cuttings and tunnels, and avoiding sensitive sites wherever possible.


The UK Government’s transport policy is driven by European Union legislation, an aim of which is to optimise the balance of transport modes to achieve greater energy efficiency and reduce the impact of transport on the environment. A common transport policy is essential to mitigating the environmental impact of an expanding EU and greater economic prosperity. The following statement is an extract from the Commission's November 2000 Green Paper on security of energy supply;

“In 1998 energy consumption in the transport sector was to blame for 28% of emissions of CO2, the leading greenhouse gas. According to the latest estimates, if nothing is done to reverse the traffic growth trend, CO2 emissions from transport can be expected to increase by around 50% to reach 1,113 billion tonnes in 2010, compared with the 739 million tonnes recorded in 1990.”

An objective of High Speed Rail in the UK, namely HS2 is to meet the Government’s target of reducing Carbon Emissions. The 2008 Climate Change Act sets a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050. This is a legally binding target and HS2 could play a massive role in helping achieve it. The HS2 route from London to the West Midlands aims to save “a central estimate of 5 million tonnes of CO2 over 60 years”. The Green Paper also identified that only an ambitious, integrated transport policy across the EU could reduce CO2 emissions to 1998 levels.

HS2 is a key component of an integrated EU transport network but to truly deliver the targeted environmental benefits it must be developed in conjunction with the following regional policies:

  • Economic policy
  • Urban and land use policy
  • Social and education policy
  • Budget and fiscal policy
  • Competition policy
  • Transport research policy

Simply connecting conurbations with HS2 infrastructure does not immediately confer an environmental benefit. However development in line with the above regional policies will assist in achieving triple bottom line agenda of which environmental impact and benefits is a major contributory factor.

The investment into High Speed Rail Infrastructure will contribute to the Government meeting its carbon reduction targets and avoid fines from the European Union. This in turn will contribute economic benefits through delivering a sustainable source of fast transport the length and breadth of the UK, encouraging modal shift from car and air transport. In a country the size of the UK, no two major cities need be more than three hours apart via HS2 clearly demonstrating that the proposed environmental benefits can be achieved. If ticket prices remain affordable one can expect a modal shift and thus a substantial reduction in the UK Carbon footprint.

At present the route between London and Edinburgh is predominantly made by air. If HS2 is completed with the optional extension to Edinburgh then a reduction of almost 90% in CO2 emissions per passenger can be achieved – with only 1 hour compromise in travel time.

The environmental benefits are long lasting although the financial implications are substantial. The second article in this series will discuss the economic and financial impacts of HS2 in the UK.

HS2-times

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AOodit
For more details on Turner & Townsend’s research into High Speed Rail, please contact:
 
Anooj Oodit
t: +44 (0) 20 7544 4000
anooj.oodit@turntown.com