9 Jan 2009

Staverton expansion and saying no to high speed rail travel?

Just back from work early today and ended up making hasty comments re news that Staverton Airport has increased passenger numbers. See my comment here.

In campaigning against Airport's I have seen some argue for high speed rail as an alternative to air travel. Indeed, it is still partly Green party policy, although there are some clear steers as to how and when - see here.

There are clearly potential benefits from a modal shift from air travel to high speed rail but there are downsides too:
- the huge carbon footprint of the construction of such lines - destruction of the countryside - inefficiency of high speed rail compared to conventional rail - there would also be a large modal shift from conventional rail routes to high speed rail routes.

There is talk for example of a link between Birmingham International (read the NEC and Birmingham Airport) and Heathrow. Yet right now, a Virgin journey between the two cities can take as little as 1 hour 10 minutes at a frequency of every 20 minutes (and then there are two other cheaper services to take!). This is a good service in many ways, even though it has displaced local trains that can't fit in the timetable for big business commuters want of their long distance journeys. Network Rail prioritises long distance over short distance journeys.

Apparently a Green party colleague notes that the talk in Birmingham now is that the high speed rail would be great if Heathrow did not get its third runway as little Birmingham (10 million passengers at the moment, to rise to 27m by 2030 with its runway extension and expansion plans) could be the 'third runway'. As he notes London Birmingham might not have a ring to it like London Gatwick does but the Airport can serve London very well if it wanted. Indeed, a fast rail link between the two Airports would mean transfer times of 35 minutes to
Birmingham, which could be quicker than the Piccadilly line from Heathrow into central London. See here.

Indeed in the event that the 3rd runway does go ahead, high speed rail could still encourage more air travel from Heathrow, and only assist Heathrow Airport and perhaps work against regional airports. But then chances are, we'll not see high speed rail for a very long time anyway, if at all.....

I am increasingly strongly of the view that high-speed rail is a mistake, and the Green party should oppose it more clearly. Our key aim must be to reduce the need and demand, then to reduce the energy consumption of what remains. High speed rail is very energy hungry - and just as with road building and air travel, a reduced journey time makes previously impossible patterns of travel possible - and thus increases demand. This is a proven and familiar vicious circle with road building, but rarely mentioned for rail, where it is surely equally true?

As another Green noted there is a better case for new rail based on increasing the loading gauge (the width and height under bridges). British railways are very restricted compared with the continental standard and as a result carry both passengers and goods less efficiently, and have difficulty coping with intermodal freight transhipment. Another issue is our high population density that makes the land take for any new mainline railway a much more serious problem than in France, Germany and Spain - the main builders of high speed rail on the continent. There are some closed lines that could relatively easily be recontructed, but we should look dimly on wholesale destruction of countryside for entirely new lines.


Anonymous said...

There is another issue with these high speed routes. When the West Coast Main Line updating was complete the BBC news reported that there were to be 1,000 more trains a day. This has led to problems at crossings - during the rush hour long lines of cars build up as people wait for trains to pass, often the whole queue does not get through before the barrier goes down again - and fewer of the trains actually stop at the stations. So local people are inconvienenced, so that business people can make best use of their time. This must be happening at many town,/villages etc. throughout the length of the routes. Just as a busy road can divide a conurbation, so can a busy railway line

Andy said...

The talk is more of a route between Birmingham and St Pancras via Heathrow. And note High Speed rail uses the same technology as conventional rail, but with straighter tracks. Obviously higher speed means more energy consumption but you could argue that existing trains shouldn't run at 100mph because that consumes more energy than running at 50mph...

Philip Booth said...

From Western Daily:

Bristol is a step closer to getting a high-speed link up to London and Europe after the Government confirmed it is considering creating a £4.5-billion international rail interchange at Heathrow.

Detailed plans that divert the Great Western main line through to the London airport, which would allow passengers to transfer to the Eurostar line, are being considered by the Department for Transport.

Until now Government's plans had focused on creating a controversial third runway at Heathrow to expand air travel capacity while the Conservatives proposed an overhaul of the rail network to allow passengers to travel to the country's other major airports instead.

Now Transport Minister Lord Adonis has indicated he wants to push forward with both plans.

He said: "It makes good sense to plan improvements to Heathrow and the rail system together.
Click here!

"I think that it's an attractive idea. It's vital we have an integrated approach to planning new rail capacity and any new airport capacity that's also required."

Engineering consultancy Arup's proposal includes a 12-platform station built on the northern boundary of Heathrow, operating direct high-speed services to the continent and major English cities such as Bristol and a link around London to the Eurostar line. It would make the station the largest in the UK.

A DfT spokesman confirmed it was considering the scheme along with electrification of the Great Western line to Plymouth.

Last year the Tories said they would scrap the third runway scheme and instead unveiled a package of measures that included creating a rail spur at the London end of the Great Western main line, ending the need for passengers to change at Paddington.

Although the party had not finalised details Shadow Transport Secretary Teresa Villiers said she would expect it to be in place by 2027.

But she criticised the Government for considering linking up train plans with the Heathrow expansion.

"A new rail hub at Heathrow should be an alternative to a third runway not a sweetener for it," she said.

Anonymous said...

From yesterdays Guardian:

The high-speed train network is also helping Spain control carbon emissions.Straight tracks and few stops mean AVE trains use 19% less energy than conventional trains. Alberto GarcĂ­a, of the Spanish Railways Foundation, has calculated that a passenger on the Madrid-Barcelona line accounts for one-sixth of the carbon emissions of an aeroplane passenger.

Note that they claim that the HS trains use less energy than conventional trains, not more. This is presumably due to less acceleration/deceleration and more streamlining.

So in some cases HS is the way forward.

Full story:

Anonymous said...

Be aware that the international data show a very clear trajectory towards more people travelling more often over longer distances by higher speed modes of transport. High speed rail adds to the strongly negative trends in global society for moving around a lot over long distances using energy greedy modes of transport. It threatens global climate and is totally incompatible with a policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is also incompatible with reducing consumption.

The countries with the biggest high speed train investments have had year on year growth in aviation overall as well as year on year growth in use of high speed trains. Our capacity to go further and faster at a cost of billions (a regressive public policy that shifts investment towards wealthy
users) is insatiable and is supported by the green party.

Anonymous said...



Lester R. Brown

Aside from the overriding need to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels to stabilize climate, there are several other compelling reasons for countries everywhere to restructure their transport systems, including the need to prepare for falling oil production, to alleviate traffic congestion, and to reduce air pollution. The U.S. car-centered transportation model, with three cars for every four people, that much of the world aspires to will not likely be viable over the long term even for the United States, much less for everywhere else.

The shape of future transportation systems centers around the changing role of the automobile. This in turn is being influenced by the transition from a predominantly rural global society to a largely urban one. By 2020 close to 55 percent of us will be living in cities, where the role of cars is diminishing. In Europe, where this process is well along, car sales in almost every country have peaked and are falling.

With world oil output close to peaking, there will not be enough economically recoverable oil to support a world fleet expansion along U.S. lines or, indeed, to sustain the U.S. fleet. Oil shocks are now a major security risk. The United States, where 88 percent of the 133 million working people travels to work by car, is dangerously vulnerable.

Beyond the desire to stabilize climate, drivers almost everywhere are facing gridlock and worsening congestion that are raising both frustration and the cost of doing business. In the United States, the average commuting time for workers has increased steadily since the early 1980s. The automobile promised mobility, but after a point its growing numbers in an increasingly urbanized world offer only the opposite: immobility.

While the future of transportation in cities lies with a mix of light rail, buses, bicycles, cars, and walking, the future of intercity travel over distances of 500 miles or less belongs to high-speed trains. Japan, with its high-speed bullet trains, has pioneered this mode of travel. Operating at speeds up to 190 miles per hour, Japan’s bullet trains carry almost a million passengers a day. On some of the heavily used intercity high-speed rail lines, trains depart every three minutes.

Beginning in 1964 with the 322-mile line from Tokyo to Osaka, Japan’s high-speed rail network now stretches for 1,360 miles, linking nearly all its major cities. One of the most heavily traveled links is the original line between Tokyo and Osaka, where the bullet trains carry 117,000 passengers a day. The transit time of two hours and 30 minutes between the two cities compares with a driving time of eight hours. High-speed trains save time as well as energy.

Although Japan’s bullet trains have carried billions of passengers over 40 years at high speeds, there has not been a single casualty. Late arrivals average 6 seconds. If we were selecting seven wonders of the modern world, Japan’s high-speed rail system surely would be among them.

While the first European high-speed line, from Paris to Lyon, did not begin operation until 1981, Europe has made enormous strides since then. As of early 2007 there were 3,034 miles (4,883 kilometers) of high-speed rail operating in Europe, with 1,711 more miles to be added by 2010. The goal is to have a Europe-wide high-speed rail system integrating the new eastern countries including Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, into a continental network by 2020.

Once high-speed links between cities begin operating, they dramatically raise the number of people traveling by train between cities. For example, when the Paris-to-Brussels link, a distance of 194 miles that is covered by train in 85 minutes, opened, the share of those traveling between the two cities by train rose from 24 percent to 50 percent. The car share dropped from 61 percent to 43 percent, and CO2-intensive plane travel virtually disappeared.

Carbon dioxide emissions per passenger mile on Europe’s high-speed trains are one third those of its cars and only one fourth those of its planes. In the Plan B economy, CO2 emissions from trains will essentially be zero, since they will be powered by green electricity. In addition to being comfortable and convenient, these rail links reduce air pollution, congestion, noise, and accidents. They also free travelers from the frustrations of traffic congestion and long airport security lines.

Existing international links are being joined by links between Paris and Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Paris, and a link from the Channel Tunnel to London that cuts the London-Paris travel time to scarcely two hours and 20 minutes. On the newer lines, trains are operating at up to 200 miles per hour.

There is a huge gap in high-speed rail between Japan and Europe on one hand and the rest of the world on the other. The United States has the Acela Express that links Washington, New York, and Boston, but neither its speed nor its reliability comes close to the trains in Japan and Europe.

China is beginning to develop high-speed trains linking some of its major cities. The one introduced in 2007 from Beijing to Shanghai reduced travel time from 12 to 10 hours. China now has 3,750 miles of high-speed track and plans to double this by 2020.

In the United States, the need both to cut carbon emissions and to prepare for shrinking oil supplies calls for a shift in investment from roads and highways to railways. In 1956 U.S. President Eisenhower launched the interstate highway system, justifying it on national security grounds. Today the threat of climate change and the insecurity of oil supplies both argue for the construction of a high-speed electrified rail system, for both passenger and freight traffic. The relatively small amount of additional electricity needed could come from renewable sources, mainly wind farms.

The passenger rail system would be modeled after those of Japan and Europe. A high-speed transcontinental line that averaged 170 miles per hour would mean traveling coast-to-coast in 15 hours, even with stops in major cities along the way. There is a parallel need to develop an electrified national rail freight network that would greatly reduce the need for long-haul trucks.

Any meaningful global effort to cut transport CO2 emissions begins with the United States, which consumes more gasoline than the next 20 countries combined, including Japan, China, Russia, Germany, and Brazil. The United States--with 238 million vehicles out of the global 860 million, or roughly 28 percent of the world total--not only has the largest automobile fleet in the world but is near the top in miles driven per car and near the bottom in fuel efficiency.

Three initiatives are needed in the United States. One is a meaningful gasoline tax. Phasing in a gasoline tax of 40¢ per gallon per year for the next 12 years and offsetting it with a reduction in income taxes would raise the U.S. gasoline tax to the $4–5 per gallon prevailing today in Europe. Combined with the rising price of gas itself, such a tax should be more than enough to encourage a shift to more fuel-efficient cars. The second measure is raising the fuel-efficiency standard from the 22 miles per gallon of cars sold in 2006 to 45 miles per gallon by 2020, a larger increase than the 35 miles per gallon approved by Congress in late 2007. This would help move the U.S. automobile industry in a fuel-efficient direction. Third, reaching CO2 reduction goals depends on a heavy shift of transportation funds from highway construction to urban transit and intercity rail construction.