Cities, Coronavirus and Public Transport

16 July, 2020

In our latest short new report, Greengauge 21 examines the impact of Coronavirus on cities and public transport.

The current restrictions on public transport use – for essential journeys only – are now being  eased in a measured way. Cities depend on public transport. Their economies will not be able to recover until public transport is fully operational. and judged safe to use.

In this extract from an upcoming report for the UK2070 Commission on the transport revolution needed to ‘level up’ the national economy, we summarise the likely effects of Coronavirus on travel demand. We argue that a restored, healthy and improved public transport service is central to national economic recovery and to compliance with Government commitments on climate change.

You can read the full report here: Coronavirus Cities and Public Transport

While a lot of interest has centred on ‘work from home’ instead of commuting to offices, the report points out that journeys to work account for fewer than 1 in 5 of all journeys and office-based work accounts for a minority of jobs.

There are some practical steps for Government that will help economic recovery. The report provides evidence that government itself is a crucial city-based activity that spawns its own business infrastructure. This is an added reason why dispersal of central Government functions – as well as devolution of powers – is so crucial to regional growth. “These are suitable tactics to help regional economic recovery” says Jim Steer.

In the initial stages of re-opening the economy, Government has felt it

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International Energy Agency calls for investment in high-speed rail

18 June, 2020

In a report published today, the IEA says that the world has only 6 months to change course with the climate crisis. The stimulus packages being created this year to address the economic downturn from Covi-19 risk a sharp up-turn in emissions unless policies are well-directed.

A ‘sustainable recovery plan’ would however create 9m new green jobs each year, according to the IEA. Measures taken in the long-distance transport sector could contribute 0.65m of these new jobs annually.

As the IEA report notes:

“Some governments have started to support the aviation sector by providing financial relief packages to try to limit job losses: a co-ordinated approach would also consider investment into alternatives modes of transport such as high-speed rail (HSR).”

There are around 60 000 km of HSR in operation today, and around 32 000 km HSR lines are under construction or planned around the world.

“Accelerating plans for new HSR lines would spur new employment and could, if well prepared and executed, provide long-term economic and environmental benefits.”

Previous IEA reports have shown that around 10% of flights in Europe could be displaced by high-speed rail. This shift brings an environmental dividend. According to the new IEA report:

“An estimated 18 grammes of CO2-eq would be saved for every passenger kilometre travelled by high-speed rail rather than by air. High-speed rail, on average, is at least 12-times more energy efficient than air and road travel per passenger kilometre.”

Greengauge 21 Director Jim Steer adds:

“High-speed rail must be part of the national economic recovery plan and part of the country’s own ‘Green Deal’ given the opportunity that the IEA report emphasises to cut carbon emissions.”

You can read the report here.


We’ll take the high road

9 April, 2020

Government has published its remit for developing the integrated rail plan for the Midlands and North – which it terms High Speed North. The remit lists four key aims and the fourth is perhaps the one that risks getting least attention:

“How best to deliver rail connectivity with Scotland, in conjunction with the Scottish Government.”

It’s easy to overlook the huge air market that exists – well, did exist before Covid 19 – between Scottish and English airports. The Glasgow/Edinburgh – London daily aircraft movements in particular were huge (around 60/day each way) pre Covid 19. At the same time, rail has been

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The informed view on HS2: get it done!

6 February, 2020

After six years of design work and preparing environmental and other assessments, the Bill to proceed with HS2 was first debated in Parliament four years ago. Abandoning it now with no conceivable replacement in sight means nothing will happen for 10 years soonest.

The leaked Oakervee Review firmly recommends proceeding with HS2 and points out that suggested ‘alternatives’ would not just take longer, but also be very disruptive and bring fewer benefits. Government would be right to take Oakervee’s advice and proceed.

But the Review’s more detailed points may encourage the project’s detractors. It says that train throughput on the Phase1 railway should be planned at a maximum of 14 trains per hour (tph) rather than 18tph, retaining an option to increase this out to 16tph.

Some might assume that 4/18 (22%) of the project’s benefits would be lost. This would be wrong. In our work of 2018 ‘Beyond HS2’, we anticipated this issue. We pointed out that if it was decided to drop back from 18tph, there could be major capital costs savings (a much simpler station at Old Oak Common where it would no longer be necessary for all trains to stop) and enhanced benefits (most HS2 trains to/from Euston and Great Western trains to/from Paddington quicker by about 5 minutes). This is one of those cases where less really can be more.

Prudently, the Oakervee Review says that, to avoid delay, any changes to Phase 1 should be made within the limits and scope set by the Phase 1 Act. It wants to see better integration of the HS2 part of Euston station with existing facilities within this constraint. But it doesn’t point out that, if 18 tph is dropped, the need for a ‘second bite of the cherry’ at Euston, to provide capacity for the Phase 2b uplift in train numbers might not be needed at all – offering another capital cost saving.

We conclude that if Government accepts this part of the Oakervee Review conclusion, it should do so confident that there are ways of protecting – and indeed improving – the business case of the project.


P-p-p-pausing Phase 2b

27 January, 2020

In Just Get HS2 Done, we urged Government to proceed with HS2 Phases 1 and 2a. We were also clear that there are problems with rail services in the North today that need addressing, not in 20 years’ time.

Leaks of the Oakervee Review of the project say that it urges Government to proceed with HS2 Phases 1 and 2a which is most welcome but that it also:

‘recommends that work on Phase 2b of the project from the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds be paused for six months for a study into whether it could comprise a mix of conventional and high-speed lines instead’. (Source Financial Times, 20th January 2010)

There has been enough dither and delay already. The Oakervee Review was only due to take six weeks – and that was 6 months ago. Looking again at using existing lines (perhaps with upgrades)

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Just get HS2 done

22 January, 2020

The country is divided (40% of London businesses say it’s necessary, but 46% disagree in a Savanta/ComRes poll published this month); a decision on whether to proceed has dragged on for the last three years; it’s a project that impacts on the North especially strongly. Sound familiar?

Not Brexit (soo 2019), but HS2 – a key decision for the new decade. This one has been even longer in the making: plans were first published ten years ago, and have been the subject of Parliamentary scrutiny, ever since. Now is not the time for dawdle and dither.

In fairness, the Government obviously wants to get this one right, and to do so it will need to ignore some siren voices saying ‘build only part of it, say the bit in the North – save lots of £££ and address the area of greatest need’.

To understand why building in the North/starting in the North makes no sense and would bring a host of unwanted consequences, we need to remember that HS2 itself comes in three different size chunks. But this is not a goldilocks moment, as we explain (imagine cheese rather than porridge).

The first HS2 chunk (Phase 1) links the West Midlands to London. It’s big and mature: it has Parliamentary Powers, work has started (holes in the ground) and so can be delivered by 2030. The second chunk (known as Phase 2a) is much smaller and links the North West to the West Midlands. It sits happily atop Phase 1. While its Parliamentary Powers have not yet been signed off, there was provision to do so in the recent Queen’s Speech, so it too can be delivered by 2030, in fact, almost certainly sooner.

The third chunk (Phase 2b) is large again, and it connects the first two phases onwards into the centres of Leeds and Manchester. It serves the East Midlands and is mainly to be built in the North. But (and it’s a huge ‘but’), the Parliamentary process has not even begun for Phase 2b. This means that construction would probably be in the 2030s, with completion by 2040. Not our estimate, but the careful comments of HS2 Ltd Chairman Allan Cook advising Government last summer.

Yet, astonishingly, proceeding with ‘just the northern bit’ (Phase 2b) has been advocated by some who should know better. Once the penny drops, the politics alone would surely rule this out. What Northern MP could keep its constituents satisfied with a solution in 20 years’ time? The PM can’t plausibly postpone ‘regional levelling up’. It might look like it’s an approach that would cut the HS2 budget and target investment where it’s most wanted. But the problems that North of England commuters face today can’t be left unresolved for 20 years.

The Phase 2b chunk is apparently unloved in the Oakervee Review, according to leaked reports. It’s a subject to which we will return in a follow-up blog.

HS2 benefits don’t land just where it’s built

We need to understand a key aspect of HS2: it is not a free-standing scheme. Rather, it’s a major upgrade to the national rail network. Indeed, each of the three HS2 ‘chunks’ comes with new connections to the existing network so that as soon as they are built, high-speed trains can run onwards over existing lines to reach places such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Stoke-on-Trent, Wigan, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

You don’t often hear it said, but the first chunk (Phase 1, Midlands-London) uses these connections to bring very substantial benefits to the North, to Scotland, to North Wales – as well as to the Midlands and the South East.

The largest speed-up of Anglo-Scottish services, and for services between NW England and the capital, and therefore the biggest impact on reducing short-haul flights, for example, stems from Phase 1.

Let’s be crystal clear. Ditching the first chunk (and the much smaller second chunk) would deny the North, Scotland and North Wales and the nation as a whole getting these benefits.

The spread of benefits of HS2 are not restricted to the regions in which it is built.

HS2 parts Location Length Regions and nations that benefit Delivery date
The first chunk:

Phase 1

West Midlands-London 140 miles Scotland, the North West, North Wales, West Midlands, South East 2030
The second, smaller chunk:

Phase 2a

North West-West Midlands 40 miles Scotland, the North West, North Wales, West Midlands, South East 2030 (probably sooner)
The third big chunk:

Phase 2b

Yorkshire (Leeds)-East Midlands-West Midlands and North West extensions (Manchester/Wigan) 150 miles Scotland, the North East, Yorkshire, the North West, East and West Midlands, the South East 2040 (probably)

Phase 2a and Phase 1 can be built simultaneously – that is starting in the north and south at the same time. They are projects for the 2020s. Neither Phase 2b nor the Northern Powerhouse Rail project can be built in this timescale. Neither has begun the necessary parliamentary approvals process.

Given the geographical spread of HS2 project benefits, Government can and should press the ‘go’ button on Phases 1 and 2a now, and get HS2 done.

Greengauge 21

January 2020