Commons Gate

Future of Aviation (HC 499-v)

Transport Committee 8 Jul 2009

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Evidence given by: Eurostar: Tony Deighan, Director of Strategic Projects; UK Ultraspeed: Dr Alan James, Chief Executive; Network Rail Richard Eccles, Head of Route Planning; High Speed TwoSir David Rowlands, Chairman

Q409 Mr. David Clelland: I would like to pursue the Maglev concept that Dr James was referring to earlier. I have been interested in this ever since I was in an engineering apprenticeship in the early 1960s and learned about the linear motor around which Maglev technology is built, the Government argues that Maglev is considerably more expensive than high speed rail and that the system is unproven. I do not know if Dr James would like to comment on that?

Dr James: Lest I forget, quite a number of things have been said about Maglev in the last couple of years and there really is no alternative than to experience the thing for yourselves. I would very much like to invite the Committee to come and ride the test track in Germany, where we can levitate you at 250 miles per hour, and allay some of the myths. Going back to the question of costs, in the documentation supporting the 2007 Rail White Paper a number was quoted. It took one of our own numbers, which was an estimate of total capital cost, including land, quoted our own cost but misquoted it as excluding land, which led in the fullness of time to the doubling of our estimate which, because we are talking about a big project, is £31 billion. Adding £31 billion to the price tag of anything has a material effect on the inclination of any playing field. We have, of course, written to ministers to point this out.

Q410 Mr. David Clelland: So the actual cost is £15 billion?

Dr James: The DfT upped our number of around 30 to around £60 billion.

Q411 Chairman: Have the DfT accepted that it was an error or are you disputing their figures?

Dr James: That figure has not been withdrawn and we would seek the Committee's assistance in getting to the bottom of that and getting that factual matter corrected. On that basis we have done plenty of very detailed work since, some of which with public sector partners, including between Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, some of the most difficult bits of the system, including the Pennine transmission. The average cost per kilometre for Maglev comes out at £30 million per route kilometre. That compares to £56.42 million for Britain's only high speed railway, which was the Channel Tunnel Railway and High Speed 1. Clearly High Speed 1 had some very difficult work to do getting into London, but therein lies the point. If you want to build a TGV line that goes fast into cities you have essentially to tunnel it, which is what High Speed 1 does. Maglev is fundamentally different; it is basically an elevated structure. We are 100% confident on the basis of independently validated work done to date that Maglev can produce obviously faster journey times over any of the routes in question than high speed rail, but can produce those faster journey times with lower capital costs, lower whole life operational costs, less land take and per passenger kilometre lower carbon emissions. There is a lower noise issue as well.

Q412 Chairman: But Maglev cannot travel on conventional lines, can it?

Dr James: No, absolutely not, it requires new infrastructure, and I would like to address that issue. A number of people have said that one of the advantages of conventional high speed rail, Shinkansen or TGV, if you like, is that you can build it incrementally and you can run off the new high speed line on to existing classic infrastructure. That is indeed the way that the TGV network has been built up in France. It just does not work in the UK; it is a complete red herring. Professor Rod Smith wrote a paper in 2006 for DfT in which he said that incremental build of high speed rail lines in the UK does not work.

Chairman: Dr James, I want to ask you about Maglev as your particular area of expertise rather than going into some of the other areas because we have a lot of questions to ask you.

Q413 Mr. David Clelland: In that case can I ask Network Rail, have you produced any estimates of the costs involved in building a Maglev network?

Mr Eccles: We have not looked at the costs of building a Maglev network, no.

Q414 Mr. David Clelland: Why?

Mr Eccles: On the basis that we were looking at a strategic business case and we did an evaluation of various forms of high speed rail around the world and had the co-operation of the UIC and other places and looked at the Transport Study, we rather found ourselves at the position you expressed to begin with, that it looked to be very expensive and unproven.

Q415 Mr. David Clelland: It looks to be, but you have not actually done any work on it.

Mr Eccles: As I say, we were looking at what we thought was a value for money way of providing additional capacity on the existing network. So we did not just look at high speed rail, we also looked at the more traditional ways and clearly we had to take a judgement on what was likely to produce the best business case and then follow it up. So I would not contest the unit costs, we have not looked at them. We have looked in detail at what we believe would be the unit costs of building a conventional - if I can call it that - high speed railway in this country and they are not too different from the figures that have been quoted for Maglev, and we include 66% optimism bias at this stage. As we have said, the High Speed 1 is two parts. It does look to be the most expensive high speed railway in the world and I fear that High Speed 2 might turn out, with 66% optimism bias, to be the second most expensive high speed railway in the world.

Q416 Mr. David Clelland: Is it the case that Network Rail is taking a rather blinkered view then, that really they are sticking to what they know, that hundreds of tons of metal thundering along on steel rails is really what you know and that is what you will stick to?

Mr Eccles: I guess you could say that, but I would not express it in those terms! We were sticking to what would serve our purpose in looking at this whole issue and we are responsible for the operation, maintenance, renewal and enhancement of the existing rail network and need to make sure that we do that at the optimum whole life cost. So with the assets lasting - signalling systems 40 years, tunnels however long, 100, 150 years - we need to be looking to see what the future might hold so that we can make the most efficient decisions in the meantime. Looking at what we could see to be the deliverable, tested way of supplying additional capacity - not just capacity on the high speed line but what you do with the capacity that is liberated on the classic network by moving - as we were talking about the west coast - the Birmingham, Manchester, Scotland services on to the high speed line, that that answers the question that we want to ask.

Q417 Chairman: Mr Eccles, Network Rail has been criticised for its costs on the renewals, has it not?

Mr Eccles: Indeed it has.

Q418 Chairman: It has been alleged that Network Rail's costs are significantly higher than other European comparators. Are you getting those costs down?

Mr Eccles: In the last Access Charges Review the Office of Rail Regulation did make that accusation and we contested it through evidence of our own. We do need to get our costs down. We have reduced costs of running the railway by £1 billion a year in the last five years but we need to do more of that and we acknowledge that; and the Access Charges Review and the settlement that we have for the next control period challenges us to do that.

Q419 Mr. David Clelland: Just to finish this off. The Chairman did refer to the inoperability of Maglev with the traditional line and I wondered how Dr James would answer that. How is it going to integrate with traditional rail and other transport mediums and what about Maglev in terms of its visual intrusion as it passes across the country?

Dr James: Clearly we are a physically separate infrastructure to rails. We are not a railway, we do not have rails, Maglev levitates a centimetre above its guideway and it is that lack of friction that enables us to do what a TGV cannot, which is go at 300 miles per hour for roughly the same carbon cost as the TGV straining at its limits at 200 miles per hour. We cannot run off on to existing rail networks. That cannot be done by TGVs into many cities in the UK anyway due to the lack of capacity on the existing rail network. However, we have designed the network to integrate with the key points in the UK's transport system, that is Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and the Scottish airports, as well as serving the cities. So we are performing a city-to-city function and a feeder distributor function that will abstract significantly from domestic aviation. Maglev's key advantage is journey times, we simply go faster than traditional high speed trains. That enables us to offer a faster journey to the near continent for anybody living in Manchester or boarding a high speed system in Manchester than a simple extension of the existing high speed rail line to that part of the world. So people would get to Stratford quicker than even allowing for the time penalty of a change and would get them to parts of the continent quicker. To pick up then the visual intrusion point, two points need to be balanced here. Because Maglev is by preference an elevated system. You can build it in a tunnel if you wish, you can also build it at grade, but building it elevated has several advantages, namely you can keep it straight and level while the landscape does the wobbly stuff underneath. There is a precedent in the UK for elevated automated mass transit and that is the DLR; DLR does it with a couple of hundred people on at 30 miles per hour. We get into the heart of cities using elevated guideway with up to 1000 people on board at 125 miles per hour, making less noise than the urban background, so there is very much less intrusion there. There is also less intrusion in terms of land take. Typically, a linear metre of a TGV line will take somewhere around about eight or 12 square metres of land; we take two square metres of land where built elevated, and the land under the guideway remains useable for its original purpose.

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 here.

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