Commons Gate

Priorities for investment in the railways (HC 1056-i)

Transport Committee 28 Oct 2009

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Evidence given by: 2.45 pm English Regional Development Agencies Roger Allonby, Director for Infrastructure at Advantage West Midlands
The Northern Way Professor David Begg, Chair of the Northern Way Transport Compact
pteg (Passenger Transport Executives Group) Neil Scales, Chair of pteg and Director General of Merseytravel
Transport for London Richard Meeks, Network Development Manager, London Rail
3.45 pm Passenger Focus Anthony Smith, Chief Executive. Guy Dangerfield, Passenger Link Manage
ASLEF Simon Weller, National Organiser, Hugh Bradley, Executive Committee Member for District 2
4.15 pm Office of Rail Regulation Bill Emery, Chief Executive, John Thomas, Director, Railway Markets and Economics, Michael Lee, Director, Railway Planning and Performance

Q5 Mr. David Clelland: Could I just look a bit more closely at the high-speed rail issue? Could the witnesses tell us what the specific benefits to their regions would be of high-speed rail?

Professor Begg: : We would argue for the north of England that high-speed rail is not just desirable but is essential because we cannot see any other credible strategy which is going to deal with the capacity constraints that we are going to experience on the West Coast and East Coast Main Lines. I know that patronage is going to take a hit because of the recession, but all the evidence we have seen is that the rail patronage numbers will come back and that in 10 to 12 years' time we are at capacity on the West Coast and a few years later we are at capacity on the East Coast. Now, the best way to deliver on that extra capacity is not to do what we have done on the West Coast Main Line, which is to spend 9 million on an upgrade with all of the upheaval that goes with it, but that the best way to spend taxpayers' money is to deliver on new capacity. You would have to be absolutely mad in 10, 15, 20 years' time to put in new capacity which wasn't state-of-the-art high-speed rail because the benefit to cost ratio is excellent. So we would argue it is pretty essential, but it is desirable in the sense that we would get tremendous economic returns in shrinking the journey times between the cities in the north of England and London, not just to London but right across the Pennines.

Q6 Mr. David Clelland: Do you regard state-of-the-art as being traditional rails on steel rails? What about Maglev, would that not be state-of-the-art?

Professor Begg: : Yes. We have not really got bogged down in the exact type of technology yet. That is a debate which still needs to be had. One of the reservations I would have about Maglev is its ability to have interoperability with the existing rail network and penetrate city centres. I would worry about a strategy which does not give us good access into our cities.

Mr Scales: : Just amplifying David's point there, high-speed rail will free up lots of capacity on an inter-urban network, but also freight at well, we mustn't forget freight. So I think we need a high-speed rail spine going up the country. Now, whether it goes East Coast, West Coast, is yet to be determined but certainly we need one, again for the economic wellbeing of UK plc.

Q7 Mr. David Clelland: What would the preferred routes be then, from your point of view?

Mr Scales: : We have got to be very careful on that too, Chair, because as soon as you declare a route you declare blight. High Speed 1, for example. I cannot remember the numbers exactly, Mr Clelland.

Q8 Mr. David Clelland: Well, you are not going to be making the decisions so there will not be any blight, so just give us an opinion.

Professor Begg: : I will give you an opinion, actually, because this is a contentious point. Everyone is in favour of high-speed rail until they find out their area isn't going to be served. Again, if I can focus mainly on the north of England, we actually argue strongly for a West Coast and an East Coast route with a link across the Pennines. We argue for two separate routes because firstly we think that the economic case is very persuasive on that and we are really concerned about having one route into London with four tracks in each direction because the capacity problems that would create for a London terminal would be immense. So that takes us to two routes, and we would argue strongly that the route that is giving the best economic return is the West Coast route from London to Manchester, but very quickly after that we would want to build the East Coast, London/Yorkshire, up to Newcastle. We have some concerns that if there is quite a big time-lag between developing high-speed rail from London to Manchester via Birmingham and quite a big time-lag in serving some of the east coast cities, that could be quite a big economic disadvantage to Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle. So we are arguing that that connection should even come before the connection to Scotland.

Q9 Mr. David Clelland: Do the RDAs want to make any comment on that?

Mr Allonby: : I think we are very supportive and think high-speed rail will deliver huge economic benefits, not only in terms of direct economic benefits as set out in the recently released national study but if we are going to compete for inward investment with other competitive European nations who have got high-speed rail links it is important that we have got the infrastructure and the conditions for future growth. Also, obviously a major issue that we have tried to address across the regions is the kind of economic performance output gap. Trying to attract investment and business growth in areas outside the South East requires a very strong modern rail network to allow us to compete in new markets and attract new markets.

Mr Meeks: Within the London region the Mayor supports high-speed rail, but we do perhaps have a slightly more parochial slant on it. For us, one of the key aspects is the capacity cascade which Mr Scales: referred to whereby additional capacity for the long-distance high-speed services frees up line capacity for the suburban services. It relates back to the previous question about continuing to invest in transport infrastructure. The economic impacts of transport investment, particularly in London, are absolutely colossal and on a lot of lines we are running out of options for ways in which we can add extra capacity. I mentioned this to Network Rail recently and they said for the West Coast mainline they have identified high-speed rail as the most cost-effective solution. So that leaves you with little alternative but to push on with it if you want to sustain the economic development and economic growth.

Q10 Mr. David Clelland: How important is it that high-speed rail links in with Heathrow Airport?

Professor Begg: : It is very important if we are trying to achieve all the benefits that come from a modal shift from domestic aviation to rail. Sir David Rowlands will be producing his HS2 Report to the Secretary of State by the end of December and one of the big things to look for is what is going to happen to CO2. If you get a connection into Heathrow you will find that creates a very persuasive argument for high-speed rail in terms of CO2 reductions, especially if you start to get a big modal shift in Scotland from aviation to high-speed rail, and also Manchester and Newcastle.

Q11 Mr. David Clelland: What is the London view on the importance of the high-speed rail link into Heathrow Airport?

Mr Meeks: Linking airports is really an issue about long-distance journeys within the UK, which is really outside our area of interest, so we really look to companies like HS2 to make the case for links to Heathrow Airport. We do not have a particularly strong view on that.

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Q32 Mr. David Clelland: Just bringing Professor Begg: to his comment reminding us about the objectives of the Northern Way to reduce the economic divide between the North and the South, and the fact that high-speed rail could play a part in that, but that suggests that those cities that are linked up to the high-speed rail system will have an advantage over those who are not. So if, as he says, we should develop the West Coast first, where is that going to leave the East Coast in terms of the disadvantage they would suffer as a result?

Professor Begg: : We have been very forceful on this, to argue that you have got to start somewhere. Somewhere has got to have a high-speed route before somewhere else and the evidence is pretty persuasive in favour of London, Birmingham, Manchester. It has just got a better rate of return, and that is partly because the capacity problems become more acute quicker on the West Coast Main Line. But we have been at pains to argue that Yorkshire and the North East need to be developed very quickly, in fact I have been quite controversial in arguing that we go to Yorkshire in the north-east of England before we go to Scotland, which has not been flavour of the month with some of the people I know north of the border. So we would argue very strongly for that. Sir David Rowlands will be coming out with his options on how you develop high-speed rail north of Birmingham towards the end of the calendar year and we are very hopeful that there will be better news there for Yorkshire and the North East than was contained in the Network Rail report.

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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