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.