Delivering a Sustainable Railway: A 30-year Strategy for the Railways? (HC 219-i)
Transport Committee 9 Jan 2008
Q27 Mr. David Clelland: The White Paper seems to accept the conclusion of the Eddington Report that high speed rail would represent poor value for money in the UK. To what extend do you think that that assessment is acceptable?
Mr. Steer: We think that it is an invalid conclusion, and that is based on the work that supports the Rail White Paper. What the Rail White Paper I think, first of all, usefully does is it suggests that some of the alternatives to high speed rail are really not worth pursuing and I think in that respect it should be noted that the White Paper really did a useful narrowing down job. But it then, while acknowledging in the longer term that there is a capacity need for high speed rail, confuses itself by some pieces of analysis which suggest that really if we need new capacity it is very questionable, I think is their conclusion, as to whether it should be high speed or not. We have set out in our evidence where we think they got that analysis wrong. The evidence we have is that correctly applying assumptions high speed rail would have the same carbon impact - which is one of the key things they are worried about - as existing Inter-City rail, for very straightforward reasons - higher capacity trains, higher load factor and so forth. That seemed to be the telling reason which persuaded them that this was too early to say anything positive about high speed rail - a simply rather poor analysis on that point.
Q28 Mr. David Clelland: Should there be a reassessment given the success of High Speed 1?
Mr. Steer: Most certainly we feel that now is the time to really undertake the serious planning work that is needed on high speed rail. The Department is about to embark on a set of multi-modal corridor studies - sorry, it is a horrible phrase but there is nothing else to say for it - and we believe that there is a real risk that those will not be informed of clear plans for what high speed rail would actually provide. So we think that is really the challenge ahead this year.
Q29 Mr. David Clelland: Should there be a distinction made between conventional high speed train services and Maglev services, for instance?
Mr. Steer: The White Paper certainly made that distinction based on some work from two learned professors. We would say yes, they should make that distinction.
Q59 Mr. David Clelland: On the high speed rail point would the environmental impact of high speed rail be significantly different were it based on Maglev rather than more conventional systems?
Mr Ford: Can I catch this one, Madam Chairman? Maglev is a technology developed in Germany largely because the Germans could not match the TGV in exports. It is a technology looking for an application; it lacks the versatility of railways. If you are running at 500 kilometres an hour you are using a hell of a lot more energy than a train. When it gets to the end of its track it stops, the train can go on. I am not sure whether it can do regenerative breaking. Maglev is one of these things that keep coming around - technologies looking for applications. People think it is sexy and railways are old fashioned, but the old fashioned Stevenson railway is the transport system of the 21st century; it is flexible, it is fast, you can have metros, you can have high speed trains, on top of which the energy issue while important I think is overrated. You do not buy a railway to cut your carbon, you buy a railway because it gives it what you want; it gives you transport, reliability and efficiency and the environmental benefits come from buying a good railway.
Q107 Mr. David Clelland: There is a view that the White Paper is too much centred on London and the southeast and when taken together with the recent announcement about the investment in Crossrail that view was perhaps reinforced. Would any of our witnesses care to comment on that?
Mr McKenna: Yes, Chairman, if I may? Certainly our view from the County Surveyors Society is that there needs to be the appropriate balance, whatever that balance is. At the moment it does appear that most of the money is going into London and some of it to the rest of the southeast, and there are obviously good national economic reasons for a lot of that, but there is not sufficient information from the White Paper that it does represent a good balance in terms of the national economy, regional planning, regional economics, etcetera. That needs to be tested and the government needs to balance that properly.
Q108 Mr. David Clelland: So would a more proactive policy to improve and develop rail services in regions other than London help to improve modal shift in those regions?
Mr McKenna: Certainly we argued from our perspective that more funding should go into local transport and rail is a big component in many places of local transport. So we need to consider that investment as well as the rail investment, as well as where the rail investment takes place, and that needs to be better balanced than perhaps it appears to be at the moment.
Mr Perry: We have to put the appropriate solutions into the appropriate situation. It is very clear that there are very high flows around London that are not necessarily replicated in commuting flows in all of the other cities. Therefore, some non-rail solutions are sometimes more appropriate; and light rail is perhaps more appropriate. I think it would be nice to see better use of criteria of capacity and flow, for instance, because rail is very good at modal high capacity, high density corridors; it is not good at distributed tasks. I think the importance then of local influence and devolution of local transport planning is therefore quite important to take that kind of issue into account. It would be wrong for us to propose a system where heavy rail was the answer to everything - it is not. It is very good at cities, getting people in and out; it is very good at high density urban flows; it is very good at Inter-City; it is very good at bulk freight and those are the strengths that we have to use if we are going to have a sustainable transport system for this country.
Q109 Mr. David Clelland: In what sense are the long-term benefits of high speed rail uncertain, as claimed in the White Paper?
Mr Perry: I think the desperate need is for capacity. If we are going to have a policy to support modal shift to rail because it is good for CO2 then that policy has to support the elimination or virtual elimination of domestic air flights; it is obscene, in CO2 terms to be doing what we are doing, catching a plan from Bristol to Plymouth - it is crackers and we should not be doing it. And we should be making sure that we are hitting the road journeys and we will not make the CO2 reduction that we need unless we make an impact on modal shift from road to rail, both in freight and passenger. We need policies that support that. Those policies clearly demand capacity and we should go as fast as is appropriate in order to attack the markets and provide an attractive service. Speed is part of the attraction. There are other attractions - how long you wait on a cold platform, whether you know the train is coming or not, all those things are part of the attraction of the journey.
Chairman: Whether the coffee is drinkable.
Q127 Mr. David Clelland: We heard earlier from our witness, Mr Ford, that the Maglev system would not necessarily be environmentally friendly because it used a lot of energy, but given what you have said about the increasing use of green energy does that not make the Maglev system more attractive?
Mr Perry: You have to think about the price of these things as well. Let us imagine we have green, cheap electricity. Go as fast as you like. Use as much as you like. Will we get to that position in the 21st century in this country? I doubt it.
Q199 Mr. David Clelland: Do you agree, as some of our other witnesses appear to, that 21st century high speed rail should continue to consist of hundreds of tonnes of metal trundling along on steel rails or do you think we should be moving to a more highly technological solution like Maglev, for instance?
Mr Brown: I do agree with the previous witnesses. Maglev is once the technology is established. Nobody has built a network of Maglev services anywhere in the world. They tend to be quite short distance, point to point. To my knowledge, they have not produced a way of switching trains at a junction or switching Maglev, whatever they are called.
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
The full transcript may be read at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmtran/uc219-i/uc21902.htm
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