That’s a bit sneaky

As a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (MIET) I was interested to see that my institution, jointly with the Royal Academy of Engineering, has submitted a response to the public consultation on HS2 (under the banner Engineering the Future). With my curiosity aroused, I downloaded the document here.

I was not pleased with what I saw on the first page:

In principle, we support investment in low-carbon transport infrastructure as a necessary contribution to meeting the Government’s targets for reducing carbon emissions. Electrified rail is one of the few methods of decarbonising long-distance travel and high speed, high capacity rail can help achieve modal shift from other transport options through the provision of faster, frequent and more reliable journeys. It would be too easy in these difficult financial times to dismiss the possibility of a major rail infrastructure project as unaffordable – a decision which future generations might come to regret.

I was just about to fling the copy of the response that I had printed off into the waste paper basket and dash off a stiff letter of resignation to the Institution, when I noticed that one or two of the paragraphs which followed were possibly not quite the type of “support” that Philip Hammond might be hoping for; so I read on.

It is quite clear that the IET and RAEng are not entirely happy with the “evidence” that has been provided by the Government to inform the public consultation, nor of some of the methodology that has been employed in the analysis. The response criticises a number of features of the economic and business case, including: considering HS2 in isolation from other parts of the rail network, lack of clarity on plans to bridge the north/south divide through transport, questionable money values attributed to time savings and failure to include details of the planned cost of fares in the analysis.

The response also criticises the way that the “do minimum” analysis in the financial appraisal has been defined. In addition it says that the analysis should have included details of the post HS2 service levels on WCML and HS1.

Much of this is of course consistent with flaws that have been identified by others, but the IET and RAEng do raise at least one point that I have not yet come across elsewhere. The response says:

High Speed 2 will take 15 years to build. During that time, there will be a need for capacity improvement on existing inter-city routes. However, with the prospect of High Speed 2, it is not clear how this would impact on such investment or how the rolling-stock leasing companies (ROSCOs) might be persuaded to invest in new rolling stock which would have greatly reduced residual value after 2026, when the new line would be opened.

The response is also not happy with the “optional extras” that Philip Hammond asked HS2 Ltd to add to the proposal after he became Transport Secretary. It concludes that the connection to HS1 “has not been significantly appraised” and that the case for a direct link to Heathrow Airport “has not been proven”.

Now if you feel that reporting on these matters means that I have strayed from my environmental remit, you would be right. So to get back on the right track, I can also report that the response document makes two important observations on the environmental aspects of the HS2 proposal.

Firstly, that “no analysis has been presented as to why High Speed 2 requires a line speed of 400km/h”; this is a point that I have also raised in my blogs.

Secondly, that the “high-speed line could lead to an increase, not a reduction in CO2 emissions”.

On a personal note, I am grateful to IET and RAEng for clearing up a problem that I had with figure 1.2 on page 37 of the Consultation document. This figure is reproduced below:

Carbon emissions by mode of transport (source: HS2 Ltd)

The histogram originally appeared as figure 2.2 in the High Speed Rail Command Paper, Cm 7827 (which may be downloaded here). In neither document in which it appears is the derivation of the emission levels given in the histogram adequately explained.

What I find troubling about this figure is the two bars at the extreme right hand end. These appear to show that the high speed Eurostar generates only about a third of the CO2 emissions of the conventional speed inter-city. So have we been wrong in the opposition camp in claiming that HS2 will lead to higher emission levels?

The IET and RAEng consultation response offers a reason for this apparent contradiction:

One can surmise that this is because the Eurostar is assumed to be fed with French “nuclear” energy while intercity rail is assumed to be fed by the current UK electricity energy mix …

The carbon emissions resulting from the generation of electricity in France are indeed lower than in the UK. The former derives over three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear power stations, whereas in the UK the proportion of electricity supplied by nuclear power is only about one-sixth. Whilst electricity generation by nuclear power is not entirely carbon free, the carbon emissions are considerably less than the hydrocarbon based generation upon which the UK predominately relies.

So what does the IET and RAEng document think about the comparison that HS2 Ltd has made between conventional and high speed rail? It says that the use of two different electricity generation regimes is “a distinction which is inappropriate if the purpose of the document is to represent alternatives for the UK in the 2030s”.

The consultation response by the New Economics Foundation confirms the “surmise” by the IET and RAEng, and gives further information. The Eurostar CO2 figure uses an average grid carbon intensity figure for UK, Belgium and France and the inter-city figure includes emissions from diesel trains operating on the inter-city routes. Also the Eurostar calculation assumes around 70% occupancy, whereas the occupancy of inter-city varies from 28-45%.

As I said in the title to this blog: “That’s a bit sneaky”.

Note: The IET was formed in March 2006 by merger of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) and the Institution of Incorporated Engineers (IIE). Like this blog’s author, the great majority of IET members are former IEE members and so the merged institution has its routes firmly in the electrical engineering discipline.

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