Commons Gate

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

Transport Committee 11 Nov 2009

Evidence given by: 3.45 pm Eurostar Richard Brown, Chief Executive Deutsche Bahn Dr. Andreas Hamprecht, Head of International Business France, Benelux, UK Greengauge 21 Jim Steer, Director 4.20 pm Association of Train Operating Companies Michael Roberts, Chief Executive Richard Davies, Head of Strategic Policy Virgin Group Tony Collins, Chief Executive Officer, Virgin Trains National Express Andrew Chivers, Managing Director, National Express East Anglia 5.15 pm Network Rail Iain Coucher, Chief Executive Paul Plummer, Director of Planning and Regulation Ed Wilson, Head of Public Affairs.

Q113 Mr. David Clelland: We are constantly being told during this inquiry and we have heard again today that there are great economic and other advantages to be had from high-speed rail for the cities and regions it serves and I just wondered if Mr Hamprecht could tell us about the experience in Germany. He has indicated that yes, there are advantages, but are the advantages greater or less than anticipated when this process began?

Dr Hamprecht: There is an incentivisation in funding these types of projects to overestimate the benefits and to underestimate the costs. That is naturally because it is always really difficult to get the funding for such a huge investment. So yes, we have seen overestimations in passenger forecasts and we have also seen underestimations of costs, but we have now 40 years' experience of building high-speed rail, so there is each kind of project you could find an example for which would allow for good benchmarking to set up a structure how to best properly avoid such problems.

Q114 Mr. David Clelland: So overall the investment has been worthwhile? That is the lesson we take from that?

Dr Hamprecht: I would say definitely, yes.

Q115 Mr. David Clelland: On the other hand, then, if there are great advantages to be had by those cities and regions which high-speed rail serves, is the corollary the case, that those cities which are not served by high-speed rail and those regions which are not served by high-speed rail are at a disadvantage or become disadvantaged as a result?

Dr Hamprecht: We have these debates when a new high-speed line is set up, where to stop, and you have to find a compromise between the travel time and the frequency of stops. Actually the high-speed line brings additional traffic and brings additional industry or at least businesses to the cities which are served. I do not see the opposite. I do not see that when a train does not stop it does automatically decrease the attractiveness of that city. It is just that they do not get the additional access to the high-speed network.

Q116 Mr. David Clelland: That seems rather curious. So businesses are not attracted to develop in areas which are served by high-speed rail rather than those areas which are not?

Dr Hamprecht: Well, that is a very extreme formulation. What we can observe, for instance if you take the city of Lille, Lille is geographically very interestingly positioned and Eurostar is serving it, and once they were connected to the high-speed network we have lots of especially French international companies putting their headquarters there because it is easier to access than Paris, it is not that expensive and it does really boost Lille without any damage to any other city. I do not think Paris is really suffering from Lille, it is just an additional, more effective location there.


Q137 Mr. David Clelland: I wonder if Mr Hamprecht could tell us if the forecast reductions in journey times when we are at the planning stage actually lived up to expectations?

Dr Hamprecht: Today we have quite a good insight into what can be achieved, what share of rail can be achieve in competition with the air market, in relation to certain travel times it will be cheap, so once we know the passenger streams which are given today then we have planning examples of the set-up, projects which are finished and where we see the benefit, to which we can calibrate the estimations. So today there is quite a good probability that the forecast can be done at a reasonable quality and can be achieved. What we have seen earlier, I recall some over-estimated passenger flows for Eurostar in its initial phase, but they were in a different stage of experience, so I guess today we are very much further.

Q138 Chairman: Mr Brown, what would you say from your experience? Have the reduced journey times lived up to their expectations?

Mr Brown: Reduced journey times are usually well-achieved because they are fairly finely calculated.

Q139 Mr. David Clelland: But that is not the question. Were the reduced journey times as forecast? We expect the journey times to be reduced but were they as forecast at the planning stage?

Mr Brown: Sorry, that is what I meant to say. Yes. The only exception I know of is between Brussels and Amsterdam, where I think there were some errors in the planning and I think Brussels and Amsterdam will be about five minutes longer than they originally expected because they left a bit of track out in the middle, or something, but generally the reductions are as forecast, if not better sometimes.

Q140 Mr. David Clelland: What are the forecasts for the journey times between London and Scotland on high-speed rail? What are the reductions in journey times?

Mr Steer: Our estimate, based on in this case CISTRA, which is the consulting arm of SNCF, having outlined a route and with their experience of what has been achieved with TGV and Eurostar, is a London to Glasgow or London to Edinburgh journey time of two hours, forty minutes, with one intermediate stop. If you took that one intermediate stop out, you could make it two hours, thirty minutes.

Q141 Mr. David Clelland: That is a reduction of, what, an hour, is it?

Mr Steer: The current journey time at best is around four hours, twenty minutes, so it is a saving of one hour, forty minutes. It is a big saving.


Q197 Mr. David Clelland: What should be the preferred routes for a fully developed high-speed rail network and why?

Mr Roberts: If I might make an opening suggestion and then perhaps I can look to my colleagues to offer their own views. If I could start by explaining that I think the reason for the interest, certainly in our industry and in the political community in high-speed rail is for two reasons. Probably the most important of those is the need to provide additional capacity on our network. As I said, this is a network on which we are going to see demand increase, it is going to double over the next 20 to 30 years and we already have a constraint on capacity. It is one of the most fundamental reasons why we are looking at new lines. If you are going to build a new line, thinking about high-speed ones which provide a different product to the UK market.

Q198 Chairman: Yes, but where should they be built and in what order?

Mr Roberts: The reason for my introductory remarks is to explain that if you follow that logic and building on the comments of my colleagues, one of the networks, the inter-urban network, which is most challenged in terms of capacity is the route from London to the West Midlands and therefore I think the logic takes you to saying that that would be your priority.

Q199 Mr. David Clelland: I was not particularly asking you about the order, although that may be a follow up question, but where should the network be now?

Mr Roberts: I think the routing needs to be along that corridor, from an ATOC perspective, going beyond there certainly has many attractions. We need to make sure the business case is sound and that in turn drives where the route goes north of the West Midlands. My colleagues may want to add something.

Mr Collins: We have a slightly different view. I think we have reviewed this and to be fair we have not had the massive number of people to do the study, but we have looked at it from the demand point of view, where is the best demand for this route, and our view is the route needs to find its way between Manchester and Leeds as quickly as it can, so it can branch off to Manchester and Leeds and connect those two regions, because we believe you can actually achieve most of the demand on the West Coast from Birmingham by improving the West Coast. We believe the tipping time for the journey between Birmingham and London is about 60 minutes and that would grab the vast majority of demand and you could achieve that on the West Coast by some improvements there. The other thing we looked at is the risk of a high-speed line. It starts out and goes north. We think we need a strategy which also starts at the North and comes South, and actually you could see over time the north end of the West Coast and the north end of the East Coast becoming high-speed 3 and 4 and linking the things together. So we would certainly advocate a route which goes effectively through the middle of the country and branches off to Manchester, branches off to Leeds and creates that, that is where the big demand pocket is, and have a link into Birmingham onto the high-speed route, which you could then do some modal shift on, off the M42 and the M6, but then also look at the way you develop the north ends of the East and West Coasts to speed those up, so that at some point you can bring the whole thing together, i.e. the point we were making earlier that we need a network here, not just a line. To be fair, we have looked at it purely from the demand-led point of view.

Q200 Chairman: Mr Chivers, have you any other view?

Mr Chivers: I would agree with what Tony has said.

Q201 Mr. David Clelland: Do you think a high-speed rail network would be a completely stand-alone network or will high-speed trains also run on classic lines for some parts of the journeys?

Mr Collins: I think to make it work and to drive the best level of service, then the answer is you need to have trains that are comfortable operating on the classic lines as well as the high-speed lines because what you have to do is you have to go and fetch the passengers from somewhere and what you do not want to do is have them having to keep changing trains. So it would be great, for example, to go to Carlisle or Preston and bring the passengers onto the high-speed line so you do not need to have 14, 15 car train sets, you need maybe 10 or 11 car train sets for that, but they have got to be comfortable operating on the classic lines as well as the high-speed. Yes, you might have some dedicated services running on the high-speed line, but you want to be able to bring service off the classics onto the high-speed as well.

Q202 Mr. David Clelland: Is it your understanding that that is what has been envisaged by high-speed 2?

Mr Collins: I am not quite sure where they are with it. I think they have moved quite a bit. I think they are looking at the connectivity between classic and high-speed but I do not know exactly where they have got to on that.

Mr Davies: Can I just add something very quickly on that? Just echoing what Tony says, of course when we look at abroad we look at, for example, France and their new high-speed lines, but of course they put an awful lot of investment into upgrading some of the existing routes as well in order to make the maximum use. About two-thirds of the train kilometres run by the TGV network is on what they call classic lines rather than the LGV, so there is a lot of complementary investment that has gone on and I think that is a very similar story in Germany where the new lines have been augmented by huge high-speed improvement programmes and I think that is very much the way we would envisage a high-speed network for the UK developing as well. In some sense it is an extension of what we already do, it is not a whole new system, it is just a continuation but higher speed and higher capacity.


Q227 Mr. David Clelland: What are your views on the potential for a high-speed line from London to the North East?

Mr Coucher: We are very positive about this. We have published our report. It was led by Paul's team, so perhaps Paul can speak to that.

Mr Plummer: The main report we published was about a line from London to Birmingham, to Manchester, but as part of that we have always said that we need to be looking at the whole network in terms of how we develop the existing network but also as well as that in the longer term whether we develop further new lines, one of which would go up the North East of the country and although we have done the primary business case on that West Coast route, we do think there is a strong case for that other route as well and we think the cities along that route have as strong a case as anywhere else.

Q228 Mr. David Clelland: What would the timescale be between the development of these two routes?

Mr Plummer: The first route, if that is the decision, to go up the West Coast Main Line, clearly would take quite a number of years to deliver that and we do think that is the priority in terms of order to do that first.

Q229 Mr. David Clelland: How far behind will the North East line be in your view?

Mr Plummer: We have not put a timescale on that. It requires the decision from funding, whether that is wanted to be proceeded with.

Q230 Mr. David Clelland: The Northern Way, for instance, have said they believe it will be more beneficial to construct two North-South lines in England before extending to Scotland. What are your views on that?

Mr Plummer: One thing, as you mentioned earlier in terms of work in the North and the Manchester Hub, we certainly think that is something that should be done in the much shorter term and a key part, as we would see, of our plans for the next control period from 2014. So any new lines going up the West or the East of the country would be beyond that because we can deliver significant improvements by refining the existing network before then.

Q231 Mr. David Clelland: What about the Trans-Pennine link? What are your views on that? Should this be an enforced priority?

Mr Plummer: An important part of the whole work around the Manchester Hub would be about releasing capacity and making better use of capacity for flows across the Pennines and between all of the cities in the North. A new line across the Pennines is a different proposition and if we do those earlier things I think the case for that would be weaker eventually in terms of the order of how you do it.

Q232 Mr. David Clelland: What account does Network Rail take of other aspects of Government policy when planning or thinking about planning new lines? Obviously we have heard in discussions about high-speed lines what great benefits they will bring to the city to be served and some people think the opposite to that will be the fact that those cities not served by it would therefore be at a disadvantage. Does Network Rail take account of Government's regional policy, for instance, when looking at things like this?

Mr Coucher: Let us be quite frank and open. We did a high-speed report not as a definitive answer to the problem out there, it was something to inform the debate. We know that at the end of the day decisions about the precise route, where you go, which markets you serve, is down to the Government both here and in Scotland if it went that far, so we are not presumptive to say, "This is what you should do," and we tend to look at things from a fairly railway-specific issue. We know absolutely that Government needs to take on board regional space planning, all other type of local developments and the economic benefits driven by bringing towns closer together, which we cannot do. So our piece of work was designed to inform the debate, not to be the definitive answer, so we hope that Government listens to what we have got to say. We think it is a well-thought out piece of analysis, but it is only analysis and we would like them to tell you.

Q233 Mr. David Clelland: But it would not be the end of the world if the Government decided, for all sorts of other reasons, that the priority was to do high-speed rail on the East Coast Line rather than the West Coast Line?

Mr Coucher: No, that is what governments are here for. We are mere railway people and we run a service for passengers. Decisions like that are reserved, obviously, for Government.

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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