Meeting future demand

Network Rail makes the case for high speed rail to provide Britain with a safe, reliable and efficient railway fit for the 21st century

What a difference three years makes. The publication of the government’s Eddington report on transport in December 2006 poured cold water over the prospect of high speed rail in Great Britain. Today the situation is very different. By spring there will be a general election – an election that will see all three main political parties give manifesto commitments to new, high speed lines.
Network Rail has been shaping this debate. Since the Railways Act of 2005 we have had responsibility for long-term planning on behalf of the industry with our management of route utilisation strategies – planning documents that take a 10-year look ahead at the future shape of rail. This planning for the future leads us to the unmistakeable conclusion that we need new rail lines.
Rail has been one of the great success stories of the last decade. Passengers have returned to the railway in vast numbers – the greatest numbers we have seen the 1940s. They have returned to a railway that is safer than ever and more punctual than ever. This success has a cost though – the railway is filling up and we have to plan for new capacity.

Planning for the future
In August, following a thorough, detailed analysis of capacity constraints of the main long-distance routes from and into London, Network Rail revealed the results of its first new lines study.
The conclusions of that study demonstrated that the present route up the west side of the country to cities such as Birmingham and Manchester would be the first to reach full capacity. The only solution, in our view, was to build a new railway line to serve these cities and that it made economic and environmental sense that such a line should be high speed – 200mph+.
The cities we aim to connect are vital engines for Britain’s economy. The economic and regeneration benefits of linking them by high speed rail will be huge. Also 21st century trains are the fast, greener alternative to congested motorways or domestic flights.
Just imagine a journey time to and from London and Glasgow of just over two hours. Imagine speeding on sleek, fast, comfortable trains and arriving at gleaming new stations. This will not happen overnight. Planning and building this new network will take time and it will not be cheap. Yet the benefits for all in Britain will huge – this is a prize we must grasp.

Growing demand
Soon our new lines study group will report on options to serve destinations currently served by the Midland Main Line and the East Coast Main Line. But let’s take a closer look at what our first report revealed:
The study looked at how best to solve the problem of growing demand for rail travel on the routes between Britain’s cities. Four main travel corridors were looked at:

  • London to the North East (e.g. Leeds, Newcastle)
  • London to the East Midlands (e.g. Leicester, Sheffield)
  • London to West Midlands and North West (e.g. Birmingham, Manchester)
  • London to the West (e.g. Bristol, Cardiff)

By the end of the next decade, despite all the investment that has been made and all the additional capacity that has and will be provided, the route that will become full first is the corridor to Birmingham and the North West – particularly its southern section – with no spare capacity for more trains or passengers.
The study found that the best answer to the question of providing significant new capacity to keep these key urban centres connected is the building of a new railway line. Analysis also showed that the strongest and best case was made by making the new line capable of carrying high speeds trains.
Experience across Europe has shown how high speed rail generates large revenue streams, takes significant traffic off roads and can decimate domestic air travel. The Madrid to Seville route, opened some 17 years ago, it has stolen 90 per cent of air market between these two cities (2.5hrs by rail), and the recently opened line to Barcelona has captured 46 per cent in a little over a year.
With big targets for reducing carbon emissions, our roads and skies getting unbearably congested and with little capacity on existing key rail arteries, the need for a new railway route has never been stronger.

West coast main line
Network Rail’s £1m+, 12-month study, running to over 1,500 pages of research, modelling and analysis, looked in detail at the case for a new route mirroring the capacity stretched West Coast Main Line. The new route would need to connect the major economic centres to make it viable. Key markets were identified and detailed market analysis undertaken to determine and weigh-up all the possible options and scenarios.
Over a dozen different options were analysed with the study concluding that a new high speed line from central London to central Manchester (in just 1hr 06mins) with a diverging high speed line to the centre of Birmingham (just 46mins) whilst delivering many benefits, did not capture a big enough market to make a positive business case.
By continuing the high speed line to Preston (2hrs), with a diverging high speed line to Warrington (1hr 06mins) and Liverpool (1hr 23mins), and then northwards splitting to go directly to Glasgow (2hrs 11mins) and Edinburgh (2hrs 9mins) a much bigger market could be tapped and a significant modal shift from air to rail realised.
This transformed the business case generating revenue and benefits worth over £70bn compared to a cost of £34bn. The line, over the course of 60 yrs, paid for itself 1.8 times over.

The best value for money option was a new high speed route from the centre of London to Scotland with new high speed lines delivering passengers to the centre of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh with calling points at Warrington and Preston. The new high speed line would offer up to 14 trains per hour from and to London, the Midlands, North West and Scotland and four trains per hour between regional cities.
The new city centre terminal stations in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh would be located close to the principal existing city centre stations ensuring good access to where people want to be. At this stage of the study no lines have been drawn on a map, it is just too early in the development of the scheme.
A new high speed line to the Midlands, North West and Scotland will represent a transformation in travel experience between these key economic regions. Some of the key benefits include:

  • Massive journey time savings: just over two hours from London to Glasgow and Edinburgh, 46 minutes to Birmingham, just over an hour to Manchester, 38 minutes from Birmingham to Manchester, and just over one hour 20 minutes to Liverpool.
  • £39.4bn of revenue generated (over 60 yrs)
  • £31.4bn worth of benefits (over 60 yrs)

The analysis in the new lines study, uses the latest government guidelines and modelling for calculating the benefits. It includes things like the value of the time saved by users, the value of time saved by passengers on the existing route and the reduction in overcrowding. The value of additional freight paths created on the existing route and the value of the reduction in congestion, accidents and carbon emissions from modal shift.
The study looked in great detail at the costs attached to the scheme and used the most detailed and up-to-date information available. The team used the unit costs of building railways today and making comparisons with the costs of building High speed 1 and international high speed lines.
The costs outlined in the study included everything conceivable and included things like:

  • Land costs
  • Over 1,500 miles of rail, sleepers and ballast 
  • 138 bridges over truck roads and railway lines
  • 53, 10-carriage and 20, five-carriage, 200mph capable trains
  • 34 miles of tunnels
  • 32 bridges over motorways
  • 8 new stations – with 400m platforms
  • 8 major junctions
  • Overhead lines and all electrical equipment
  • Signalling – ERTMS level 2
  • Moving utilities, such as gas and water mains
  • Fencing
  • Acoustic barriers in urban centres
  • Drainage
  • Embankments and cuttings

The approaches to city centres are assumed to be mainly in tunnels and have acoustic barriers in the suburban areas.
The overall costs are estimated to be:

  • Cost of construction – £15.086bn

*Non-construction costs – £5.403bn
**66 per cent uplift    £13.523bn

  • Total – £34.012bn

*Non-construction costs include things like design, programme development, planning costs, project management
**A 66 per cent uplift is applied to the estimate (following government guidelines) due to the early nature of scheme development
Building a new high speed line that almost shadows the existing West Coast Main Line delivers enormous benefits to passengers who will still use the existing or ‘classic’ line.
Benefits that will passengers on the West Coast Main Line could see include:

  • A complete recast of the timetable enabling more services between major towns on the route and more direct, faster services to London
  • New, faster journeys to large regional centres such as Milton Keynes, Nuneaton and Northampton
  • Reductions in overcrowding 
  • New capacity for freight trains created
  • Develop new markets not presently served with direct services to London.

Connecting to Heathrow?
The study looked in some depth at the question of whether the new line should connect to, or be routed via, Heathrow.
A new high speed line to central London would attract large numbers of rail users as has been the experience across Europe. It is possible that 90 per cent of today’s air passengers between the cities on the high speed line to London would switch modes.
However, building the high speed line via Heathrow reduced the value and benefits of the new line by some £3bn. The other option of a new line with a high speed spur to Heathrow, while impacting on the business case does so to a much lesser degree and overall still delivers a very good business case with the new line with a spur to Heathrow paying for itself 1.6 times over in the course of 60 years.
While not adding to the business case for a new line, the building of such a spur does make sense in the long-term as congestion on our roads and airways continues to build-up.
Our conclusion is that a new high speed rail line to the West Midlands, North West and Scotland with a spur to Heathrow has a sound and positive business case that more than pays for itself over the course of its lifetime and beyond. We will next look at other destinations and make a case for a new high speed network for Great Britain.

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