Examination of Witnesses

High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:37 pm on 9th July 2013.

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Paul Plummer, Rupert Walker and Jim Steer gave evidence.

Photo of Jim Sheridan Jim Sheridan Labour, Paisley and Renfrewshire North 4:00 pm, 9th July 2013

Thanks very much to our witnesses for coming along. We are due to finish this session by 4.30 pm, so we would appreciate brevity if that is possible without interrupting the quality of the questions and answers. May I begin by asking you to introduce yourselves?

Jim Steer: I am Jim Steer, director of Greengauge 21, which is the capacity in which I am appearing. I am also director of Steer Davies Gleave and I happen to be president of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport for the year.

Rupert Walker: I am Rupert Walker, head of high-speed rail development at Network Rail.

Paul Plummer: I am Paul Plummer, group strategy director at Network Rail.

Q 114

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

Going first to Network Rail, will you briefly sketch the history of why Network Rail came to the conclusion that a new rail line was needed?

Paul Plummer: Certainly. A few years ago, we initiated what we called the new line study. That was after the west coast route modernisation. We looked through that study at where we thought the existing network was going to first reach capacity, in the sense of not being able sensibly, incrementally to grow the existing network, and at where, as a result of that, we should look further at the case for a new line. We concluded that in the light of the growth we had seen and the capacity constraints we were already seeing, the corridor from London, Birmingham and Manchester was going to reach capacity in the mid-2020s, and that it would not be economically viable to continue incrementally to grow that capacity, so we should develop that new line at that point.

Since then, we have obviously worked very closely with the Government, HS2 Ltd and others in looking at various detailed options, but our thinking came from that study, which was fundamentally about capacity and the needs for growing capacity in this country.

Q 115

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

Earlier today, we heard from 51m, Stop HS2 and HS2 Action Alliance. They suggested a couple of things: one is that there are alternative ways of generating the same capacity—if, indeed, they accepted the need for such capacity—and the other is that Network Rail has not conducted a real analysis of their alternative options. Is there any merit in their criticisms, and how do you respond to them?

Paul Plummer: I will ask Mr Walker to comment on the specific things in a moment. In general terms, we conducted a series of studies about the alternatives that you could deploy in order to grow capacity. They would be very considerable in scale, very expensive and very disruptive to existing services. That is fundamentally the reason why we started looking at this in the first place. They would involve major grade separation of existing junctions and major straightening of existing lines, none of which is easy to do while continuing to run an existing service. That is basically what has driven our approach, but we repeatedly go back and look at whether there are still options we could put in place. Of course, there are things that we would do over the next decades, but they do not get us anywhere near where we think we need to be.

Rupert Walker: Building on what Paul has just said, we looked at the two alternative proposals that were put forward as alternatives to HS2. Our conclusion was that neither proposal would meet the forecast demand on the west coast main line. Although there were things that one could do incrementally, and they provided a benefit in that spot or that location, together they did not meet the forecast demand, and the only viable intervention would be to construct a new line.

Q 116

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

Looking at the west coast route utilisation strategy, you conclude that the west coast main line will effectively be full by around 2024, if demand grows as predicted, and that is two years before phase 1 is due to open. What steps are you taking to address capacity constraints in the lead-up to that period?

Paul Plummer: Obviously, funding, through our regulatory process, to grow capacity. We have funding to work with existing train operators to develop that further. You will know that there are some issues with capacity on today’s railway and we work to try and find timetable solutions to some of those, rather than simply looking at physical infrastructure, wherever we possibly can. There are more things that we can do, as we improve performance as well. We can take different choices about balance between capacity and performance. We are constantly looking at this and we have those interventions, but it will not get us where we think we need to be.

Rupert Walker: Our new lines study said that by that time all the incremental improvements we could make that would be economically viable would have been delivered, but the railway would still become full at that point.

Q 117

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

Mr Steer, what do you believe the regional benefits of high-speed rail would be? How would you respond to the comments by Professor John Tomaney this morning—if you heard them? Can you say whether you think that the lines—the stops and cities covered—are the right ones, particularly in relation to out-of-town locations?

Jim Steer: The evidence that we have collected in Greengauge 21 suggests that the balance of advantage in terms of regional economic growth could well be for the north. Specifically, the north and Scotland together are projected in studies that we have commissioned to get more benefits than, say, London. But clearly the reality is, if you provide a better connection between two places, both will gain, probably in different ways. The question is, which is likely to be the bigger? There is certainly evidence to suggest that it may not be quite like that. It might be, for instance, that there is a bigger proportional benefit in city or regional economies in the north than, say, the south—but of course London is a big economy, so the impact on that could be in aggregate larger.

There are some things that HS2 will bring that, by their very nature, are providing for the regions—regional cities—advantages that London has to itself at the moment; for instance, direct and very good access to the only—currently, anyway—international hub airport; direct access to the European high-speed rail network. And London has the peculiar advantage over provincial cities of being well connected with just about anywhere you can think of in the country. So you have the odd situation that you can get to London from Newcastle much more quickly than you can get from Newcastle to Birmingham.

HS2 does not provide all the linkages that Greengauge has advocated as needed in a long-term strategy, but it goes a long way towards providing, as well as better connections with London, better connections between the regional cities.

For those reasons, I think there are real impacts for regional cities that London will not get. There are other advantages that London will get out of it.

As for the second part of your question on station location, it is pretty clear to us that the ideal in every situation is to have a high-speed rail station in the centre of cities, or at least the part of the established city where  the market is strong and where there is good public transport access. That is our model of the sustainable future of the nation: make the cities well interconnected and supported by very good urban city region transport systems.

Yes, we would have a question about any station located away from those places, but that is not to say that, on balance, they may not be the better solution. You talked about Nottingham and Toton this morning. Nottingham, unfortunately, is not really on the line of route between London, Birmingham and Leeds. It is probably the best that can be done, but with it, you really need to ensure that it is successful. You need what I know other witnesses have said to you: an apparatus of coherent planning around it to make it work.

Q 118

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

We heard the witnesses this morning speak about the plans for Euston station. Since High Speed 1 does not go out of Euston, we asked about the practicalities of bringing High Speed 2 into Euston when High Speed 1 runs out of St Pancras. It would seem that the passengers just have to walk between the two, which is not desirable if you have luggage, children and it is raining. I am not a railway engineer—why were the plans not to put High Speed 2 into the place where High Speed 1 emanates?

Jim Steer: The simple reason is that it was impossible to fit into the footprint of King’s Cross St Pancras, if you take those two together, as I am sure Mr Dobson will aver. The development that has already been created around there—all the new things that are happening, many of them stimulated of course by High Speed 1—really precludes putting in another station. I have to say that 10 years ago protecting a site on King’s Cross lands was looked at, but sadly, this is the way these things happen. High-speed rail was not on the agenda 10 years ago. It was debated and discussed whether you could protect a site for something that nobody even has an inkling of, let alone has planned.

Euston, on the other hand, is a well connected station, like King’s Cross St Pancras, and it has some scope to accommodate—not entirely within its footprint—additional service. It seemed the best option, and from the work I have seen on all the options I think that it is pretty much supported by Transport for London as the best available site. All kinds of other things were looked at besides King’s Cross—build it under Hyde park, you name it. Where do you put a terminal in the centre of London? Admittedly, some of them were probably far-fetched. Euston does seem to be the best site.

You then have the question, “What about the people travelling between the two?” to which the answer has been, “There should be a link provided between the two railways across the top of Euston and St Pancras.” That way, services could run directly from HS2 to HS1. Again, Greengauge 21 has done some work on that recently to look at the demand for it, because at the moment, I suspect that we have the costs of that link provided for, but we have not yet got clarity around the benefits, which we believe are quite substantial.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

May I ask a supplementary question, Chair?

Q 119

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

This morning, a witness made the point that structurally the North London line might not be able to provide such a link—once again, I am not a railway engineer—and for High Speed 1 that was eschewed in favour of a tunnel. As railway experts, what is your view on that?

Rupert Walker: There are complicated engineering challenges associated with providing a link either along the North London line or through a tunnel, and with the location of the London underground and the point at which a tunnel would come out and join HS1. Equally, the proposal to run HS2 along the corridor of the North London line, as currently proposed, would constrain our ability to grow services on the North London line and potentially cause conflict with freight services that currently use that corridor. So there is not an easy solution to the problem; it is complicated whichever way you look at it.

Jim Steer: May I just add that it is a very short distance? It is obviously a sensitive part of London, just like everywhere is, but it is not a very big distance, so it ought not to be beyond our collective wit to find a solution to this geographically quite short problem.

Q 120

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras

I have two questions related to the link. First, if HS2 and all its associated works were the product of some grand strategy, which is what we have just been told, why was there no mention at all of an HS2-HS1 link when HS2 was launched?

Secondly, is it not the case that HS1 from Barking to St Pancras is in a twin-bore tunnel virtually under the North London line, and that the engineers decided to do that because the North London line’s embankments, cuttings and bridges were so poor that tunnelling was more predictable and less likely to go wrong? What has changed about the North London line now that makes it preferable to a tunnel?

Rupert Walker: The first point is that we are talking about different parts of the North London line. The current proposal for HS2 is that it would emerge from the Old Oak Common tunnel at Primrose Hill and rise up on to the elevated section through Camden Road, which is where Network Rail has concerns about the conflicts with London Overground and freight services. There are complexities over the use of that viaduct. Engineering surveys are under way to understand whether those complexities are so much that HS2 Ltd may need to look at the opportunity of using a tunnel—[Interruption.]

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.