High Speed Rail 88


There is no scenery so beautiful is is not enhanced by a train running through it. If the Victorians had equivalents of the silly people from the Chilterns Society, we would never have the amazing beauty of the Settle to Carlisle railway.

The biggest problem about the government’s plans for high speed rail are that they are far too limited. Rail is by far the most resource efficient way of moving large quantities of people, and above all freight, around the country, and is much less disturbing to the environment than the equivalent motorway capacity. An updated and expanded rail network is an absolute necessity for the UK.

Unfortunately not only are the government’s high speed plans very limited, they doubtless will involve a model whereby the taxpayer pays for the construction, the fares are sky high, the taxpayer pays an operating subsidy and yet there is “profit” for a “private” operator and its financiers, who purchase our politicians.


88 thoughts on “High Speed Rail

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  • anno

    An overnight journey by train in India is perfect. Chuntering relaxedly at a speed that can anticipate cows on the line, comfort and privacy, and tea served at daybreak from an old metal urn.
    I absolutely do not care about speed if my basic human needs are being served on the way.

  • Andy

    I remember, in the late ’90s, being able to go for a weekend visit to Manchester from London for around £25 return. Turn up at the station after work on a friday and be in a Manchester pub with friends a few hours later. The train was slow, a bit grubby, but it was affordable. Then one day I found out that the service had been taken over by Virgin and the price had doubled. Yes, I could have got to Manchester 30 minutes earlier but so what when the fair was now too expensive for me. I can’t imagine why it is so important to have high speed rail in the UK.
    Spending many billions of £ to shave off 40 minutes from London to Birmingham.It’s nuts. A simple, cheap reliable service. Bring back the restaurant car on long journeys with great affordable food. Sleeper cars from London to Glasgow.

  • Canspeccy

    Dutch High Speed Rail Disaster:
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    The new “Fyra” high-speed service in the Netherlands — opened just two years ago — is close to financial collapse with passengers shunning its premium fares and trains running up to 85 per cent empty.
    .
    The line, between Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Breda, cost taxpayers more than £7 billion to build but is losing £320,000 a day amid disastrous levels of patronage.
    .
    A Dutch passenger pressure group, Voor Beter OV (For Better Public Transport), is now taking the national rail operator to the Netherlands’ competition tribunal after it slowed down services on the regular network in an apparent attempt to drive passengers on to the high-speed line.
    .
    “The high-speed line has been a very, very bad result for taxpayers and passengers,” said Rikus Spithorst, VBOV’s spokesman.
    .
    “The taxpayer paid for it and the idea was that the money would come back from the train company. But that isn’t going to happen.”

    .

  • Mary

    When looking up the interesting piece about the Dutch high speed railway, I couldn’t help noticing this link to the financial and tax affairs of the UK’s leading war criminal.
    .
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/8999890/Tony-Blair-and-the-8million-tax-mystery.html
    .
    and this about the pair’s cronies, the Sabans.
    .
    {http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/8999602/The-Blairs-billionaire-friends-give-more-than-a-million-dollars-to-their-charities.html}

  • Parky

    …well if HS2 does get built at least it will create the all important jobs (no doubt cheap labour shipped in for the purpose) as well as nice big profits for the constructors and some nice back handers on the way down the line oiling the machinery.
    /
    i’m reminded about the M6 toll road, apparently built mostly with private money, i’m no doubt others will correct me if that’s not the case, which seems by all accounts to be very under used, drivers prefering the free and possibly slower option of the non-toll road.
    /
    HS2 seems to make no operational sense but that hardly matters anymore in this putrid sea of corruption we endure.

  • larry Levin

    This has been a long discussion about High Speed rail, what I want to know is if a huge investment is going to occur why no go for the Maglev train. china is developing a version of maglev that can travel at 600mph.

    “China is reportedly developing a high-speed train that will travel at up to 1,000 kilometers per hour, or approx. 621 miles per hour, through Maglev lines in airless tubes underground.”

    from smartplanet.com

    If we do it lets do it right.

  • CanSpeccy

    In the days of Stephenson’s Rocket, before blacktop was invented, before the bicycle, before the automobile, before the motor coach and the airliner, passenger rail was cool. Since then, it’s market share has dropped off a bit.
    .
    Mostly, as Crab notes, the twelve percent of the population who use the train are commuters, many of them stock brokers and bankers paying over six thousand quid a year for a first-class pass between Horsham, Surrey and Waterloo.
    .
    So who wants high speed rail at astronomical public cost? Judging by the Dutch experience, probably about 1% of the population. And even they won’t use it unless the other 99% pay almost half the running cost, as with the present network, and pick up the tab for the entire multi-multi-billion capital cost.
    .
    Larry we cannot afford rocket trains in vacuum tubes because we don’t have China’s enormous slave labor pool: 110 million manufacturing workers earning about 200 quid a month, versus 11 million manufacturing workers in the US earning ten times as much.
    .
    But the way things are going, we’ll get there. Then, by all means let the elite rocket around in vacuum tubes.

  • crab

    I hadn’t in mind bankers and stock brokers doing all the commuting CanSpeccy, your original reference casually described the ‘relatively better off’ as the biggest users, ie. office workers of all kinds – commuting every day. Bankers and Stock brokers are mostly “very well off” not “relatively”. It is quite a stretch, with common experience of the railways in uk, to believe they are the preserve of the well off. ‘Relatively less well off’ travel by rail as much as they/we can afford to travel at all, just not everyday.
    .
    I found Iain Orr’s early comment one of the best here: “..Because of their history, railways and trains are designed and seen as public goods – which is part of the reason why monopoly privatization has been so disappointing in the UK. Similarly, no town is not enhanced by a church or mosque or temple … or sportsfield. And no high street is not enhanced by a public library and a musuem. All are expressions of communal life – shared pleasures and aspirations.”
    .
    Trains are part of an ever shrinking public space hosting society, a potentially socialable and pleasant space where you can chat, write, eat, and stretch out. Coaches, cars, taxis etc dont and practicaly cant provide the same quality of space. I dont believe Rail is inherently very expensive, why should it be compared to wide roads sporting little screeming cars and buses, all driven intensely to lethal speeds and all too often stopping starting and crawling in jams?

  • CanSpeccy

    Re: “Relatively better off”
    .
    I was quoting the Transportation Secretary Phil Hammond, who said rail use is limited to about 12% of the population. I think his description was correct. People don’t pay thousands a year to commute unless they’re among the relatively better off. Of course they’re not all bankers and stockbrokers, although a large proportion of bankers and stock brokers are among that “relatively better off” group.
    .
    Why you think the public as a whole should subsidize their travel and then pay the grotesque capital cost of a high-speed rail network that will be used only by the relatively better off among the relatively better off I cannot imagine unless you’re an elitist, like most liberals.
    .
    You imply that privatization of rail service has somehow worsened it, which is bollocks. The service may be crap now but it was crappier before, and if it cost less before it was because the state assumed greater losses and imposed them on the population as a whole.
    .
    The idea that a railway subsidized for the benefit of the relatively better off should be considered part of the public space is daft. Might as well call Harrods a public space that should be subsidized by the public at large.

  • Isopbel

    http://www.knowledgeatwharton.com.cn/index.cfm?fa=viewfeature&articleid=1718&languageid=1 hope this links… hopefully it will show the advantages that Taiwan have experienced since the building of High Speed Rail…. I am one of the lucky ones who have been on this super fast and efficient service…. possibly because my eldest was a Project Engineer for the signalling….. it has many advantages, the biggest disadvantages I can forsee in this country, the *cost*…. whilst it may be a cheaper mode of transport in Taiwan… it will be more expensive than our present operators…. pity the railways were not kept in public ownership…. Thatchers legacy.

  • crab

    re: “rail use is limited to about 12% of the population”
    .
    This is a vague and limited little statistic from which you infe an unreal picture of the situation which everyone here in the UK knows from their own eyes – There is *every* sort of people using our trains, it is not a high class or well off crowd *at all*. Most people here prefer train travel to coach travel for obvious reasons of space and facilities. Coach and bus routes compete with rail routes already and have wider coverage overall, so you have 12% of population choosing run down rail services, over buses, coaches, taxis, cars and not travelling. 12% is not a small fraction of the population in this context.

  • crab

    Isobel – nice article thanks. Interesting, the possibility that these high speed lines can compete with air travel.

  • Canspeccy

    @Crab
    .
    “Most people here prefer train travel to coach travel for obvious reasons of space and facilities.”
    .
    Well suuuure. I prefer to cross the Atlantic on the Queen Mary II “for obvious reasons of space and facilities,” than by BA economy class, but I don’t expect the taxpayer to pick up half the tab.
    .
    You may find the Minister’s 12% of the population a “limited little statistic,” but it seems to be about right.
    .
    In the 2002–3 operating year, BR franchised services provided 976 million journeys totaling 24.7 billion passenger miles (up 30% from the time of privatization), which means the average journey distance was close to 25 miles. This strongly suggests that most travelers were commuters. As commuters, they would have made around 400 trips per year totaling 10,000 passenger miles each, which implies about 2.5 million regular rail commuters, or less than 4% of the population.

    We can infer, therefore, that the other 8% of users, if the Ministers’ number is correct, and I don’t see why you’d think it was not — limited and little though you find that statistic to be — are very occasional users of mainly long distance services.

    It is for these few occasional travelers, apparently, that you want to spend, how much public money? 50 billion? 100 billion? so they can save an hour or two on an occasional journey from, say, London to Edinburgh and Aberdeen on their way to pot grouse in the Highlands, or to attend some bureaucratic or business meeting, the need for which is in most cases doubtful in the extreme.

  • crab

    Well suuuure. I prefer to cross the Atlantic on the Queen Mary II “for obvious reasons of space and facilities,” than by BA economy class, but I don’t expect the taxpayer to pick up half the tab.
    .
    A big cruise boat is not an alternative to coaches or cars here – suuure duh.
    .
    Of course a large portion of people liking and using our current messed around and messed up railways are commuters! That is largely what mass transport is for and is to facilitate, noo? But while high value facilities are maintained well they can encourage non-work associated travel as well, picnics and things! truely Alfred! and tourism. Cars just get parked. Buses are ok, but not the only fruit.
    .
    2.5 million regular rail commuters in population of ~80 million. Youll find in fact 2.5 million people is a fair portion of the people who need to make these journies regularly in the country. I said i dont really know about the relative costs and benefits of prestige high speed works, but budget many billions on rail infastructure yes!

  • Mary

    CanSpeccy 8 Jan, 2012 – 5:09 pm

    Horsham is in Sussex not Surrey and nor is everyone who lives in Surrey journeying to Waterloo a stockbroker or banker.

  • crab

    I was looking for some context to the scarily large 17 to 30 billion bill for this. Here i found “M1 widening” costing 5 billion, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2007/may/06/transport.world – it is alot but doesn’t quite flatter the cost of this HSR line.
    .
    Then the strangest thing, we have somehow over the past couple of years invested around 1000 billion in a broken banking system!

  • crab

    Myth: The government spends too much money on train services
    .
    Fact: Total Government’s investment in railways was £6.3 billion in 2006/7 but only £5.2 billion in 2008/9, less than 1% of all government expenditure (National Rail Trends Yearbook 2008-9, page 56).
    .
    The Rail White Paper (page 128, table 12.1) makes clear that Government investment will drop to about £3 billion annually over the next few years.
    .
    Meanwhile, the aviation industry receives a ‘hidden’ subsidy from the Government of around £10 billion annually because it does not pay fuel duty or VAT on the fuel for its planes (Airlines revealed as country’s biggest tax dodgers October 2009). The Government spends £8 billion a year just to maintain roads, never mind the billions it spends to build new ones.
    .
    http://www.bettertransport.org.uk/campaigns/fair-fares-now/facts

  • CanSpeccy

    If the airlines get a subsidy, that’s no justification for giving one to the railways. It just means that market forces are being distorted in both industries. Obviously the correct policy is to get rid of all subsidies to all industries, particularly the most energy intensive industries; namely, railways, airlines and road transport. And when you’re bankrupt and running a budget deficit of 12% of GDP, this is surely the time to do it.
    .
    People move around too much creating the need for hideously ugly transportation infrastructure, and creating noise and air pollution. Raise the cost of transportation and cities will contract as people seek to live closer to where they work. At the same time traffic movement in cities will decline and the urban environment will improve.
    .
    The idea that cities have to be choked with traffic shows how feeble-minded the thinking behind western civilization has become and how subservient to the corporate interests, particularly the automobile and related industries.

    As I discussed here, there’s no need for any cars in the city, and without cars cities would be vastly more liveable places. And if British cities were half decent places to live, the urge to fly to the MyOrca or Ibizzier, or wherever the Hell it is that people seem compelled to go so frequently and at such environmental cost, might be greatly diminished.

  • rwendland

    Worth noting though that HS2 is not as wonderfully green as some imagine. Roughly speaking HS2 to Scotland would only have per-passanger CO2 emissions about half of using a plane, and twice that of conventional-speed rail. That extra speed needs fuel. It does of course it also depends on how green your electricity production is, but the 2007 whitepaper conclusion on this was:

    “6.15 The argument that high-speed rail travel is a ‘green option’ does not stand up to close inspection on the basis of the present electricity
    generation mix. The Government estimates that carbon emissions
    per passenger for a journey between London and Edinburgh will be
    approximately 7 kg of carbon for conventional-speed rail, 14 kg for
    high-speed rail, and 26 kg for aviation.” (page 62)

    If you want more detail take a gander at Fig 11.1 on page 113:

    http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.dft.gov.uk/about/strategy/whitepapers/whitepapercm7176/hitepapersustainablerailway1.pdf

    HSR to Scotland doesn’t seem to be a no-brainer environmentally best solution: twice the CO2 to save around an hour in time? I wonder if the huge amount of money would be better spent electrifying and improving the rest of the rail network.

  • Canspeccy

    Good numbers on energy use. But the embodied energy in track upgrades and equipment are probably more significant.

    Rather than spending any public money on passenger rail, why tear up some of the tracks and turn them into dedicated bus and truck routes.

    National Rail
    1.20 billion passenger-km per 1000 km of track per year

    M’ways and trunk roads
    4.56 billion passenger-km per 1000 km of running lane per year

    Motorways
    5.72 billion passenger-km per 1000 km of running lane per year

    Freight:
    National Rail
    0.57 billion tonnes-km per thousand-km of track per year

    M’ways and trunk roads:
    1.76 billion tonnes-km per thousand-km of running lane per year

    Motorways
    2.50 billion tonnes-km per thousand-km of running lane per year

    (Data source)

  • Dunc

    “Rail is by far the most resource efficient way of moving large quantities of people, and above all freight, around the country”
    .
    Rail is, but high speed rail is not. Because the power required to move an object through a fluid is proportional to the cube of velocity, increasing speed dramatically increases the power (and thus fuel) required. The fuel requirements for high speed rail are of the same order of magnitude as for air travel.

  • crab

    A resource which is dedicated to calculation of energy generation and uses, is very complimentry of rail in general. eg:
    .
    Table 20.8. Overall transport efficiencies of transport modes in Japan (1999). http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c20/page_121.shtml
    .
    Energy consumption (kWh per 100person-km): Car-68, Sea-57, Air-51, Bus-19, Rail-6
    .
    The academicaly created resource contains many calculations and comparisons, which iirc place passenger rail more or less 10 times as energy efficient as road travel in general.

  • CanSpeccy

    Crab, you still haven’t addressed the issue of subsidies. If high speed rail is such a brilliant and socially beneficial way or raising the entropy of the universe, why does it need five and a half billion quid in subsidy this year and tens of billions more for upgrades to high speed.
    .
    Fact is, if people had to pay the full cost of high speed rail, they wouldn’t use it, as is evident from the experience the Netherlands.
    .
    The only difference, it seems, between a modern British liberal and an old style Commie is that whereas the Clause 4 Laborites wanted to nationalize basic industries, the Liberals want to piss away the public wealth on stupid windmills and self-evidently uneconomic high-speed rail, for the sole purpose of shipping self-important bureaucrats and business executives from one end of the country to the other at incredible speed in order that they can get together at a moment’s notice to discuss four fifths of fuck all.

  • crab

    Seems you have bounced away from the technicalities into the playful area of politics CanSpeccy. In that area i observe everything is taxed and subsidised in various manners and proportions, except in a theoretical land where certain people are theoreticaly ‘right’ and everything arranges itself very nicely indeed with little or no tax, subsidy and oversight required.
    .
    If people had to pay the full cost of cars and planes they wouldnt or couldnt use them very much, unless very wealthy. Also true perhaps of computers, meat, many medicines and alsorts of things.
    .
    The term ‘full cost’ itself is a multidimesionally interlinked layered onion, linked with the ‘full costs’ of all other things. People peel these onions, however it suits them. I dont mind the cost of good jobs and good shareable resources. I mind the cost of weapons and private resources.
    .
    Big projects cost big money, good to see big money making it to rail, instead of the unfixable road and car network, and the banks – which somehow have managed to shatter all the theoretically ‘right’ peoples rules on cost. Thats an allocation of ‘public money’ trick, i think should be studied and applied to the benefit of public works.

  • crab

    What is the cost of marketing, selling, reselling, financing and refinancing – every real and alluded asset in our economic paradigm? And the resulting cost of serving up private riches to the few people who triumph over and ravage the feild of persuation and control over the needs, insecurities and potential of ‘the Public’ (everyone not privately rich from econosport victories ? Does 1000 billion even come close?

  • Mary

    Network Rail to be prosecuted over Grayrigg crash
    The train derailed while travelling over the points at 92mph
    .
    Network Rail is to be prosecuted over the Cumbrian rail crash at Grayrigg in which one passenger died.
    .
    The Office for Rail Regulation (ORR) said it had started criminal proceedings for a breach of health and safety law.
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    Margaret Masson, 84, from Glasgow, died after the Virgin train derailed on the West Coast Main Line in February 2007.
    .
    In November, an inquest jury found poorly maintained points were to blame for causing her death.
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    The train went over a “degraded” set of points at 92mph and careered down an embankment, leaving 88 people injured
    /…
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-16544694

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