Paxo stuffing, part 5

(… continued from Paxo stuffing, part 4, posted on 23 Jun 2015).

My discussion of the letter sent by Sir David Higgins to the Financial Times has reached the fifth sentence.

Sir David says:

“HS2 will help relieve the housing, commercial property and transport pressure on London whilst improving connectivity, and therefore productivity, in the Midlands and the North.”

I say:

The HS2 Ltd Executive Chairman has made similar claims before, and has provided a little more, but not much, in the way of justification. The report of an interview that he gave to the Sunday Times (see footnote 1) explains:

“A new rail network, including HS2 with its 250mph trains, is vital, Higgins argues, because it will help ease the pressure on London’s ‘overheated’ economy by encouraging some of the companies concentrated there to move to ‘underperforming’ northern England.

“The scheme, which links London to Birmingham and then cities further north, would unlock the ‘massive’ amount of available brownfield land in Leeds and Manchester for house-building, which would help tackle the country’s chronic housing shortage.”

In identifying HS2 as an instrument to encourage business relocation out of southeast England Sir David is relying on one of the main assumptions underlying the infamous KPMG report. In fact, this report has been criticised for, as is admitted in paragraph 5.3.2 therein, making “the implicit assumption that transport connectivity is the only supply-side constraint to business location”. Now, whilst I am prepared to accept that good transport connections will be on the decision list of any businessman considering the relocation of his business, I am pretty sure that there will be other items on that list, some of which might even carry more weight than easy access to a high-speed rail link. The KPMG report even admits that there “could be other constraints”, and identifies the “availability of skilled labour and land in a given location” as two of these (also in paragraph 5.3.2).

The simplifying assumption of ignoring all constraints on business relocation other than the quality of transport connectivity is, I feel, a major shortcoming of the KPMG analysis and, inevitably, means that the economic stimulus that HS2 will bring has been overestimated by that work. Notwithstanding, it seems reasonable to assume that HS2 will stimulate the economies of the Midlands and the North, the only doubt being how significant the effect will be.

Sadly, this fairly supportable prediction is not enough for Sir David. He feels the need to boldly stride out onto the thin ice and predict that business relocation out of the southeast of England will be sufficient to take some of the fire out of that region’s “overheated” economy. In making this claim he seems to be ignoring the stimulus that HS2 is likely to bring to the south-eastern economy – even the KPMG report concedes that “Greater London does well” out of HS2 (paragraph 5.3.1) – and the huge momentum of that economy that appears to be such a barrier to other regions keeping up. Some economists have even predicted that the north-south divide will continue to increase despite HS2 (see footnote 2).

In its report The Economics of High Speed 2 the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (EAC) even contemplates the possibility that HS2 could actually make the situation worse (paragraph 277):

“We heard evidence that London was likely to be the biggest beneficiary from HS2. This has been the case with similar projects in other countries where the largest cities have benefitted the most, including in France where Paris was the biggest beneficiary from the TGV. This does not mean other cities may not receive some economic benefit from HS2, which could stimulate growth and play a role in rebalancing the economy if coupled with appropriate policies to foster economic growth.”

Aside from whether business relocation resulting from HS2 will prove to be the relief to pressures on development land in the southeast of England that Sir David Higgins predicts, there is another economic mechanism associated with HS2 that could have some impact on housing demand, and that is long-distance commuting to and from London. I will take a look at that in my next posting.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The article was published on 26th October 2014, but is behind a paywall. I have not been able to locate a free-access version of the article.
  2. For example, see the written evidence submitted to the Lords EAC inquiry The Economic Case for HS2 by Professor Mike Geddes (pp 279-286).

Blue badge tour guide

What has become a familiar face to anti-HS2 campaigners turned up at a session of the HS2 Select Committee recently. The Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP, one-time true blue Cabinet minister but now the Government’s strongest Commons critic on HS2, addressed the Committee on what was billed as an “informal presentation on tunnels” (see footnote 1).

Whilst Mrs Gillan did review the options that have been proposed for additional tunnelling under her constituency, it emerged that her presentation was intended to be, in her words, “an informal briefing” for the Committee in advance of the Members’ imminent visit to her constituency. Mrs Gillan is the first MP to be afforded this facility; I expect that this is probably because she is the first to have asked. I note in this context that, following her appearance, the Committee’s programme has been modified to accommodate a similar appearance by her Rt Hon Friend David Lidington, Member of Parliament for Aylesbury, so perhaps she has started a belated trend.

The supplication to the Committee by the Member for Amersham was that her constituency merits special treatment by virtue of being within an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), and that the current plans “fail to protect and enhance” the AONB. In her view, “the right thing to do is to protect it to a greater degree”, and the way to do this is an “extended tunnel solution”. She is, of course, not the first by any means to request that a location be protected by additional tunnelling, and the signs appear to be that, so far, the Committee has been resolutely unmoved by such requests. However, it remains to be seen whether the letters “AONB” will prove to be the password that will spur the Committee to unlock the Government’s money box in the cause of better treatment for the environment.

Like me (see footnote 2), Mrs Gillan appears to be concerned that the Select Committee should address the sheer enormity of the impacts that HS2 would have on our environment. She cites the report that summarises the responses to the consultation on the Environmental Statement prepared for Parliament by Golder Associates as possibly contributing to this lack of appreciation, it being “just 112 pages long” whilst it “summarised 21,833 responses”. According to Mrs Gillan, “nearly 22,000 responses which have been distilled down don’t actually give you the full flavour of the objections on environmental grounds to the damage that is being done”.

Mrs Gillan reminded her three Conservative Party colleagues on the Select Committee of the pledges on the environment in the recently-published Conservative general election manifesto that she felt were “so many … that it became embarrassing”:

  • “We will build new roads and railways in a way that limits, as far as possible, their impact on the environment (page 55).
  • “We will … maintain national protections for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (page 54).
  • “We will put in place stronger protections for our natural landscapes (page 54).
  • “We will build new infrastructure in an environmentally-sensitive way.” (page 55)

Mrs Gillan didn’t let Mr Mearns off the hook either, reminding him of his party’s manifesto claim that Labour feels “passionately about our local landscapes, our open spaces and wildlife’ and pledge to “support the work of the Natural Capital Committee to protect and improve wildlife habitats and green spaces”.

Mrs Gillan told the Committee that the decisions that had been taken on routeing, leading to HS2 cutting through the AONB and her constituency rather than using a route that was “far less damaging environmentally”, such as the M1 corridor, were “rushed and driven by [operating] speed”. She said that she had been told that “it has to go through (sic) straight through your constituency because of speed”.

On the proposals that have been aired to “streamline” the process of hearing the large number of petitions deposited by her constituents, Mrs Gillan appeared to issue a challenge to the Committee, noting that “every petitioner has paid their £20”. She commented that “although it may be good to try and get those petitioners gathered together, they paid their £20 because they want to have their voice heard”.

On hearing this, Sir Peter Bottomley appeared to make a thinly veiled threat that the Committee, faced with a situation of having to hear a large number of petitioners, might extend its hours; he referred, semi-jokingly I think, that petitioners might “find it is 4.00 in the morning” that they are scheduled to be heard. Mrs Gillan retorted that, if this was the case, her constituents would “be here at 4.00 in the morning, I can assure you”.

Early signs that there could well be a confrontation on this point in the near future came from the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, who commented that the “main promoters [of the tunnel proposals]” would appear during “a relatively short set of hearings” which he thought would take place over the course of about two weeks. He expressed the opinion that this would mean that the Committee “will have heard all the key points that it needs to hear in order to form a pretty clear view as to whether something needs to be done to change [the HS2 design]” and that “there’s room for some optimism about how long the substance of these arguments is likely to take”. In other words, it is Mr Mould’s view is that there is no need to delay the Committee’s proceedings to allow all petitioners to have their say.

Mrs Gillan appeared to place undue reliance in her quest for a fair outcome from the Committee’s deliberations on two weapons in her armoury. The first of these was to promise that the Members would “have a good lunch” when they visited Amersham. The second was a letter that she had received from the Prime Minister that contained his assurance that “the government remains committed to listening to the views of all those affected by the scheme”. Well, I guess that words are cheap; is there anybody who genuinely believes that the Government is really listening to petitioners?

Footnotes:

  1. Mrs Gillan’s presentation was made at the start of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 17thJune 2015, and is recorded, together with a short subsequent discussion, in paragraphs 2 to 87 of the transcript. It occupies the first three-quarters of an hour of the video of the session. At the time of posting, the accompanying exhibits had not been e-published.
  2. See my blogs Unfinished business, part 2 (posted 26 May 2015) and Unfinished business, part 3 (posted 30 May 2015).

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee from which the quotes reproduced in this blog are taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

Paxo stuffing, part 4

(… continued from Paxo stuffing, part 3, posted on 19 Jun 2015).

In my discussion of the letter sent by Sir David Higgins to the Financial Times I have reached the fourth sentence.

Sir David says:

“[Mr Paxman] might also want to consider why productivity in countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, which have invested in high-speed rail, is higher than in this country.”

I say:

Mr Paxman may well want to contemplate this matter, but I fear that he is unlikely to come to any supportable conclusions. Sir David is correct in two respects, the three countries that he cites all have mature high-speed rail systems and the table of normalised GDP per hour worked has all three ranked higher than the UK; for the year 2013 the UK holds thirteenth place, and the Netherlands, France and Germany lie in the fifth to seventh ranked places.

However, the implication in Sir David’s sentence is that there is a direct correlation between the extent of the investment in high-speed rail by a country and that country’s consequent rating in the productivity table. If this is what Sir David is claiming, then he is clearly overplaying his hand. Even the Government does not go this far in its document justifying HS2 (The Economic Case for HS2) – not, I think it is fair to say, a publication that is given to understating the advantages of HS2. This document contents itself with the somewhat more modest proposition, in paragraph 8.1.9, that HS2 “could offer the potential for additional benefits … through increased productivity”.

In its report the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (EAC) examines the claims made for the potential for HS2 to have a positive impact on economic activity in Chapter 6, Will HS2 stimulate economic growth? and in paragraph 247 of this report, the Committee records its general conclusion:

“Evidence we have heard shows that investing in transport infrastructure does not necessarily lead to economic growth. Improvements in transport infrastructure need to be carefully chosen and linked with other policies to ensure that money is spent where it can be most effective in stimulating growth.”

I would suggest that, if he were to take account of this conclusion when acting upon Sir David’s invitation to consider the UK’s failure to achieve the productivity rates of countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, Mr Paxman might well conclude that the reasons are likely to be many and complex. He may be tempted to reflect that, whilst the quality of communications between cities is likely to be a contributing factor in determining the level of economic activity and productivity, rail travel still only accounts for around 15% of trips of 25 miles and over within England (see footnote) and improving the quality of rail links is, accordingly, only likely to have a marginal affect.

Mr Paxman may also be helped in his contemplation of Sir David’s observation by comments made to the EAC by “an expert on French high speed trains”, and summarised in paragraph 246 of its report, as meaning that “it was difficult to attribute increases in economic activity [in France] to the construction of the TGV network”.

Sir David also needs to look at the positions of some other countries in the productivity league table. Surely if developing a high-speed rail network was the key to success then Spain, a country that has invested heavily in the technology, should be higher than its current seventeenth position. Even more significant is the case of Japan, the birthplace of high-speed railways, which is languishing in twentieth place.

The flip side of the same coin can be seen in the cases of Norway and the United States. The former has less high speed track laid than the UK at present, and the operating speeds barely merit the tag “high speed”, nevertheless Norway stands at number one in the productivity league. The United States, where high-speed rail has barely a toehold, is third in the table.

Of course, reasons can no doubt be found to explain the successes and failures of the economies of these four particular nations, but I doubt that the level of development of high speed rail achieved by each will be prominent amongst them.

(To be continued …)

Footnote: Refer to Table NTS0308, Trips by length and main mode England 2013, published by the Department for Transport.

Paxo stuffing, part 3

(… continued from Paxo stuffing, part 2, posted on 15 Jun 2015).

As promised in part 2 of this blog series on the claims in Sir David Higgins’ recent letter to the Financial Times, I will concentrate in this part 3 on the second half of the third sentence of that letter that makes the assertion that incremental improvements in the rail network “will not deliver the step change in capacity that is needed”. This phrase contains the explicit claim that a single intervention that provides a step change in capacity is necessary, and the implicit contention that HS2 should be that intervention.

I say:

Like many other aspects of the case for HS2, the claim that only a step change will deliver the necessary capacity increase is not universally accepted. In paragraph 69 of its submission to the 2011 public consultation on HS2, the 51m consortium of local authorities outlines a method of incremental improvements to the existing network that 51m contends, in paragraph 68, “can deliver more than enough capacity to meet forecast demand” – in paragraph 70 the claim is made that “in the order of trebling capacity” could be achieved on the 2007/8 base demand. Also in paragraph 68, the submission identifies four reasons why an incremental approach is preferable to a step change intervention:

  • Implementing changes incrementally would allow an approach that could avoid “wasted investment if the massive demand increases forecast by HS2 do not materialise”.
  • The interventions proposed by 51m would, the submission claims, be “far cheaper than HS2”.
  • The 51m interventions “can be introduced much more quickly than HS2”, an important consideration if the capacity of the existing network is running out as fast as the Government claims.
  • The 51m interventions “are very low risk and are more likely to be commercially justified”.

I feel that the first of these is particularly important considering the view expressed in paragraph 109 of the Lords Economic Affairs Committee (EAC) report The Economics of High Speed 2 that it is “difficult to assess the plausibility of the [Transport] Department’s forecasts of future demand for long-distance rail travel”. More than a decade will have passed before any HS2 trains will have run commercially, and the predictions of passenger demand going forward from that date lie outside of the scope of reasonably accurate prognosis – nobody knows what the world may look like so far ahead.

In this scenario making a decision to go ahead with HS2 is rather like putting all your chips on one number on a single spin of the roulette wheel, and it’s one hell of a stake, the total bill predicted for HS2 being equivalent to a little more than the entire UK defence budget for one year.

And it’s not just a question of whether the Government should be gambling with taxpayers’ hard-earned in this way, but also whether the Department for Transport has chosen the right number on which to pile its chips, which leads me to the implicit contention in Sir David’s letter that HS2 is the right step change intervention.

I hope that you will agree with me that the analysis that I have presented in my blog series Degrading practices (part 1 was posted on 19 Mar 2015) demonstrates just how inefficiently HS2 Phase 1 addresses the capacity issue:

  • There is poor interconnectivity between HS2 and the existing network, a result mainly of the dearth of stations on the new railway and its use of a new route corridor that avoids population centres. This results in only 35% of current West Coast Main Line (WCML) passengers being offered the alternative of a captive or classic-compatible service by Phase 1 of HS2 (see part 4, posted 4 Apr 2015).
  • The poor interconnectivity also results in inefficient replacement of existing long-distance services by HS2 trains because there is still a need to serve intermediate stations on the WCML that are missed out by HS2. In Degrading Practices, part 8 (posted 16 Apr 2015) I cited the example of five peak-hour long-distance services (three on HS2 and two on WCML) being required to replace the current three serving the London-Birmingham route.
  • As it does not address the problem directly, HS2 is a very inefficient method of improving capacity on commuter services. As I point out in Degrading Practices, part 8 providing ten new peak-hour train paths by HS2 Phase 1 results, according to the indicative service plans that have been published, in only four additional commuter train paths.
  • Similarly, no additional freight paths are provided by HS2, since there are no plans, we have been told, for it to carry freight. The putative shortage in freight capacity can, therefore, only be addressed at the expense of passenger train paths.
  • The 51m consultation submission referred to above also makes one further claim relating to the inefficiency of the HS2 solution, this being that it “oversupplies capacity on one part of the network”. I make a similar claim in Degrading Practices, part 5 (posted 4 Apr 2015), identifying the London-Birmingham route as overprovisioned by HS2, and providing some rough calculations in support of this charge.

In Chapter 5 of its report, Alternatives to provide capacity, the EAC reviews the main alternatives to taking the HS2 course to increase capacity and the reasons that the Government has given for preferring HS2. The conclusion that the EAC reaches in the light of this review is damning:

“The Government has not made a convincing case that the number of seats provided by HS2 is required …” (paragraph 231).

(To be continued …)

Paxo stuffing, part 2

(… continued from Paxo stuffing, part 1, posted on 11 Jun 2015).

In this second part I will continue my responses to the claims made by Sir David Higgins, Executive Chairman of HS2 Ltd, in his recent letter to the Financial Times, responding to an opinion piece by Jeremy Paxman in that newspaper (see footnote 1).

Sir David says:

“The result [of predicted passenger growth] is a rail network that is so full that incremental improvements, whilst very welcome, will not deliver the step change in capacity that is needed.”

I say:

Again I feel that Sir David should read the Lords Economic Affairs Committee (EAC) report The Economics of High Speed 2. Within a detailed analysis in Chapter 4, Capacity, the EAC takes the essential step of identifying, and considering separately, three constituent parts to the putative capacity problem: overcrowding on long-distance services, overcrowding on commuter services and space for passenger and freight train paths (see footnote 2).

For its analysis of overcrowding on long-distance services, the EAC concentrates on the West Coast Main Line (WCML). The reasons given for this are that the WCML is the one that the Government has identified as the “most under stress” of the three north-south lines, and is also the line that the EAC has “received most evidence on” (paragraph 146 of the EAC report). The report presents data made available to the EAC by the Department for Transport (DfT) that the former says “has not previously been published” (paragraph 153). This data reveals that “long-distance services arriving at and departing from Euston are only 43 per cent full on average over a whole day and between 50 and 60 per cent full at peak times” (paragraph 151). The EAC concludes from this data that “it is clear … that overcrowding is not a problem on today’s West Coast Main Line long-distance services” (paragraph 155).

Whilst bemoaning that the passenger demand statistics for long-distance services are “partial and inconsistent” (paragraph 173), due to at least some extent to the DfT’s claim that it has “a franchise obligation with the train operating companies not to release [more detailed] information as it is commercially sensitive” (paragraph 150), the EAC report also identifies a particular problem with the DfT statistics; this is that they “do not distinguish between local and long-distance traffic” leading the EAC to postulate that “[a]ny future overcrowding problem on long-distance services could be caused by commuter traffic” (paragraph 173).

In the face of this incomplete picture of current usage and future trends, the EAC’s verdict is that, as far as the demand for long-distance services is concerned:

“The Government has not presented a convincing case that there is a long-term overcrowding problem” (paragraph 173).

However, the EAC is more receptive to claims that there is a potential capacity crunch for commuter services on the WCML, describing services into London as “much more of a problem … than [is the case for] long-distance services” (paragraph 175). The EAC also identifies overcrowding as appearing to be “a problem at peak times” for “trains arriving into [other] cities that are planned to have HS2 stations” (paragraph 177). The EAC report points out, however, that the “main beneficiaries of the overcrowding relief provided by HS2 will be London commuters on the West Coast Main Line” (paragraph 181) – I wonder if this is something that Sir Richard Leese has grasped?

Now it is a sad fact of life that, unless you are going to operate your commuter railways in a wildly inefficient manner, the spikey nature of the daily commuter demand/time curve will mean that some degree of overcrowding at peak periods is inevitable. As demand increases though, a stage will be reached when some intervention(s) become necessary. However, the data in tables 12 to 14 in the EAC report appear to indicate that the services are not at this point just yet.

I am, however, quite prepared to accept that, unless there is some appreciable change to the working practices of commuters, overcrowding on commuter trains could reach unacceptable proportions over the coming decade, or so, and something(s) will have to be done to alleviate the problem.

On the third capacity issue – the need for more “space for passenger and freight train paths” – the EAC report concedes that “the West Coast Main Line is nearing full capacity in terms of train paths”, but, at the same time, expresses the view that “[f]uture technological innovations could however release capacity” (paragraph 188).

So on these last two aspects the EAC appears to be giving some support to Sir David Higgins’ scenario of a full network. However, the Committee delivers a very sharp sting in the tail of its comments by concluding at the very end of its analysis of capacity issues in Chapter 4 of its report (paragraph 188):

“We have not seen convincing evidence that the nature of the capacity problem warrants building HS2.”

What is sadly lacking in Sir David’s overly-simple identification of a capacity issue is any attempt to analyse and understand the nature of the problem, if there is one. Only if the problem is correctly and completely described can the most effective and economical intervention(s) be established. After all if you went to a surgeon with a pain in your toe, you would hope that he would diagnose and treat your ingrown toenail, rather than amputate your leg!

In the next part of this blog series I will look at the second element of Sir David’s claim, namely that “incremental improvements, whilst very welcome, will not deliver the step change in capacity that is needed”.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The original Financial Times article is behind a paywall, but a free-access copy is available here.
  2. These constituent parts to the capacity problem are identified in paragraph 145 of the EAC’s report.

 

 

Paxo stuffing, part 1

Another well-known voice joined the HS2 chorus of disapproval recently. The new recruit to the choir of critics is no other than Jeremy Paxman, scourge of hapless undergraduate and dissembling politician alike, and the organ that he chose to publish his heresy is the esteemed Financial Times (see footnote). In his trademark entertainingly deprecating style, “Paxo” misses no opportunity to force the sage and onion up the rear end of the HS2 chicken. He brands HS2 as “a grotesque waste of money”.

Much, if not all, of what Mr Paxman has to say repeats objections that have already been raised, many times in some cases: disbelief that the project will be achieved within the current projected cost; scepticism that it will make our country much more efficient; questioning of the burning need to decrease travel times in an IT age; the inconvenience resulting from the dislocation of HS2 and current stations; conviction that improving east-west, rather than north-south, rail links should have priority; the incompetence of UK transport planners; and, State tyranny to its citizens. Nevertheless, it is an excellent example of the wordsmith’s craft and an entertaining read, provided that you are not a fervent supporter of HS2 that is. One such fervent supporter – and who wouldn’t be for around £600k a year – is Sir David Higgins, Executive Chairman of HS2 Ltd and it appears, to judge from his reaction, that he did not find Mr Paxman’s efforts at all amusing.

Mr Paxman is not the first high-profile public figure to make a public repudiation of the HS2 faith, nor will he be, I suspect, the last, so it is by no means clear why he should have been the trigger that prompted Sir David into responding. However, respond he did by rattling off a letter to the FT, and almost at the speed that his trains may one day achieve. His letter certainly has the look of something dictated in a hurry; it is by no means an attempt to match the elegance of Mr Paxman’s essay. As I sit here with a print of the letter in front of me, I can’t but be reminded of the trauma of submitting my English homework when I was at school, so many years ago. In my mind’s eye I can see a single word scrawled by my teacher in red ink at the foot of Sir David’s missive – “paragraphs?”. Indeed, Sir David’s letter resembles a stream of consciousness, rather than a structured thesis, with one unsupported assertion after another.

I really can’t let this letter go by unchallenged. So here goes.

Sir David says:

“Rail travel in this country has doubled in the past twenty years and is forecast to keep growing at five per cent minimum per year.”

I say:

I suggest that Sir David reads the excellent summary in Chapter 3, Demand and fares modelling, of the Lords Economic Affairs Committee (EAC) report The Economics of High Speed 2. He will find, in paragraph 84, the average annual predicted increase used for HS2 modelling, determined by HS2 Ltd from an individual analysis of demand for travel between pairings of 235 geographical zones, quoted as 2.2%. This is described by the EAC as “the forecast increase in long-term demand for rail travel without HS2 [which] supports the argument that extra railway capacity is needed”.

Since Sir David has failed to provide a source for his 5 per cent forecast, it is difficult to comment on its veracity. However, I suspect that he may have confused historic and predicted growth rates; the EAC report advises that “the average year-on-year growth rate from 1994 to 2012 for journeys on long-distance rail services was 4.9 per cent” (paragraph 91). The EAC report reproduces a graph, as Figure 3, which shows the year-on-year growth rate dropping from this historic level since 2011/12 to a low of around 1 per cent in 2013/14. However, paragraph 95 advises that the year-on-year annual growth rate had risen again to around 5 per cent by the third quarter of 2014/15, compared with the same quarter of 2013/14. This increase, according to the report, is attributed by the Office of Rail Regulation “primarily to higher sales of advance and off-peak ticket[s]”, which signifies, we are told, an “increase in the leisure travel segment, with people making the most of the travel incentives offered by the operators”.

However, the EAC also quotes, in paragraph 100, reasons given in an article in Modern Railways by Chris Stokes, former executive director at the Strategic Rail Authority and former deputy director for British Rail Network Southeast, why he does not expect these historically-high growth rates to be maintained. The report also discusses, in paragraphs 101 to 108, the impacts that “developments in technology and working practices” may have upon future demand growth. The EAC concludes, in paragraph 109, that:

“Partial information on current railway usage, as well as uncertainty about future technological developments in automotive transport and working habits, makes it difficult to assess the plausibility of the Department’s forecasts of future demand for long-distance rail travel.”

(To be continued …)

Footnote: The original Financial Times article is behind a paywall, but a free-access copy is available here. The Daily Telegraph obviously regards Mr Paxman’s comments as significant, as it reported them in a news article.

Unfinished business, part 5

(… continued from Unfinished business, part 4, posted on 3 Jun 2015).

In this final part of this blog series about the HS2 Select Committee’s First Special Report of Session 2014-15 I want to mop up a few remaining odds and ends.

In one of the regular statements made by the Chairman (see footnote 1) petitioners were asked to note that the Committee had “heard the case” regarding the World Health Organisation (WHO) noise guidelines, and “do not need to hear it repeated”. This sentiment is reiterated in paragraph 95 of the report, which expresses the view that “it is not helpful for petitioners repeatedly to refer to World Health Organisation guidelines”.

I feel that the Committee is being unnecessarily restrictive and unreasonable here. Provided that petitioners do not take advantage of the situation to filibuster I feel that they should be permitted to make their case to the Committee in the best way that they can. If this involves the Committee in hearing some repetition of arguments then, in my view, that is a necessary price to pay in the interests of allowing petitioners a fair hearing.

HS2 Ltd provides petitioners with noise level predictions in decibels, but what residents want to know is how HS2 noise will impact upon their quality of life. It appears to me that HS2 Ltd has not been too helpful in making the connection between decibels and annoyance response or sleep disturbance. In these circumstances it seems perfectly natural for petitioners to seek impartial advice from the publications of an organisation that has the expertise to evaluate all of the evidence available on the health impacts of environmental noise, and what organisation is better qualified to do this than the WHO?

In the Foreword of the WHO’s Guidelines for Community Noise the purpose of the document is stated to be:

“… to consolidate actual scientific knowledge on the health impacts of community noise and to provide guidance to environmental health authorities and professional trying to protect people from the harmful effects of noise in non-industrial environments.”

The Foreword of the complementary volume Night Noise Guidelines for Europe contains a similar expression of purpose:

“Although these guidelines are neither standards nor legally binding criteria, they are designed to offer guidance in reducing the health impacts of night noise based on expert evaluation of scientific evidence in Europe.”

In view of these “mission statements” it is wholly appropriate that a petitioner should seek to use the WHO documentation to support a petition, and it is surely to be hoped that the Select Committee will also avail itself of the advice therein. Indeed, the Chairman did concede in his statement that his Committee “will consider noise as a route-wide issue at a later stage and the guidelines may be relevant then”. So the practical problem facing a petitioner called upon to be heard prior to the consideration of noise as a route-wide issue, and with only one opportunity to address the Committee on offer, is that the subsequent deliberations by the Committee may not address all of the points that the petitioner wishes to raise in connection with the WHO Guidelines.

By telling petitioners that it doesn’t want to hear evidence referring to the WHO Guidelines the Committee is depriving them of the chance to ensure that possibly essential information relating to their petitions is considered in evidence.

The paragraph that follows the reference to the WHO in the Committee’s report (paragraph 96) expresses the Committee’s concerns that “there is insufficient data on the health consequences of infrastructure construction and operation” for a project of the scale of HS2 and suggests that “a research project on health impacts would be welcome”. This brings to mind a statement made in evidence to the Committee by Dr Dan Mitchell, an engineer with considerable experience of major projects (see footnote 2):

“But one thing that really worried me as an engineer [is that we found out] thanks to an FoI there was no engineering research budget. At all. And yet we’re intending to run trains at high speeds across the whole country. And most of the engineers that I know, on the mechanical electrical engineering side, have highlighted problems. And problems which are very, very serious.”

Speaking as an engineer myself, I share Dr Mitchell’s concerns. HS2 is a huge project that is seeking to push the technology envelope well beyond standards in use in Europe today. It seems inconceivable that there does not appear to be a comprehensive programme of research in place to confirm that the technology is viable, and that the effects on health will be acceptable. There would appear to be many aspects of the project that require study, and the Select Committee has identified just one at present (see footnote 3).

There is one further disappointment in the Committee’s report that I should mention. The Committee confirms, in paragraph 100, that it is content “for the time being” with the somewhat inconvenient arrangements to view the “helicopter simulation video” offered by HS2 Ltd in a letter responding to a request from three MPs that the simulation be made available on line (see footnote 4).

Finally, any petitioners who have yet to appear in front of the Committee might be well advised to read the guidance in paragraphs 140 to 144 of the report, although this section of the report appears to be chiefly aimed at protecting the sanity of the Members facing the months of tedium ahead. The report appears particularly concerned with the task of hearing “some 800 or so” petitions from the Chilterns; it has not escaped the Committee’s notice that “there is much common ground between these petitions”.

Footnotes:

  1. The statement was made at the start of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thJanuary 2015; paragraph 6 in the transcript refers.
  2. See paragraph 680 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday, 2ndMarch 2015.
  3. One particular area where I would like to see some theoretical and empirical work carried out to verify the assumptions made is the level and effective positions on the train of the sources of aerodynamic noise. Certainty in this area is an essential prerequisite for the proper design of noise mitigation.
  4. Just to rub salt into this particular wound, there is a HS2 webpage entitled Promotional material HS2 route flyover that purports to offer a “visualization of the proposed high speed rail connection between London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester”, but all this provides is access to two copies – yes two identical copies – of a short promotional video.

Important Note: The documents from which the quotes and extracts reproduced in this blog are taken include uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

 

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