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Report casts doubts on Government’s carbon forecasts for HS2

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A new report released today shows that, contrary to Government forecasts, High Speed 2 (HS2) could in fact cut carbon emissions, but only if specific policies are put in place.

The interim report on The Carbon Impacts of HS2 discovered that far from being carbon neutral, the proposed new high-speed railway line between London and the West Midlands has the potential to actually reduce UK carbon emissions.

The report, the result of research carried out by Greengauge 21 and commissioned by Campaign for Better Transport, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), examined all the factors which will affect the carbon impact of high speed rail and identifies several areas which will have the greatest influence:

  • how electricity in future is generated, for instance, how much comes from renewable sources
  • how transport and land use planning are integrated, in particular where new stations are sited
  • how successful HS2 is in attracting passengers from other modes of transport
  • how much capacity HS2 frees up on existing lines in order to accommodate more freight
  • how HS2 might be operated, in particular its service patterns and normal operating speed, which could be more important that its top speed.

Jim Steer of Greengauge 21 said: “We need to move beyond the will it, won’t it level of debate about the carbon impact of HS2. Our research has looked at a wide range of factors that might affect the carbon case for HS2 and discovered the impacts are complex and inter-related. But if the detailed planning is done properly, HS2 should make a positive contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Ralph Smyth, CPRE, said: “Integrating land use and transport planning will be of critical importance if high-speed rail is to cut carbon. Well sited high-speed rail stations could stimulate brownfield regeneration and create attractive, walkable neighbourhoods.”

Stephen Joseph, Campaign for Better Transport’s chief executive, said: “The Government view is that HS2 is neutral in carbon terms, but this does not take account of the impact on the rest of the rail network. The West Coast Main Line is a very busy mixed use railway and if capacity for better rail services is freed up by HS2, mode shift from road to rail could – if combined with other policies – result in big carbon reductions, especially in freight and in medium distance commuting and business travel.”

Melanie Coath of RSPB said: “Climate change poses the greatest long term threat to wildlife so we need transport systems that help us deliver a low carbon economy. A robust analysis of the carbon impacts of HS2 will help us understand the role high-speed rail might play compared to other modes of transport.”

The report is an interim document ahead of the full results of the research, which will be published in 2012. In the next phase of the study will examine the knock-on effects on other modes of transport, examining for the first time the carbon impacts of freeing up capacity on existing railways for more rail freight or local passenger services, and identify the policy measures that will have the most impact on the carbon emissions for high speed rail.


Notes to Editors

1. The research study, The Carbon Impacts of HS2, is being carried out by Greengauge 21, a not-for-profit research organisation on high-speed rail. Greengauge 21 has in turn commissioned various experts in the environmental and transport fields and coordinated the research programme.

2. The Carbon Impacts of HS2 was commissioned by Campaign for Better Transport, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The groups are all signatories of the The Right Lines Charter, which was launched in April 2011 and which ten other organisations have now signed up to. It sets out four principles for ‘doing High Speed Rail well’, including highlighting the need for high-speed rail to be planned and justified as a strategic element of a sustainable, near zero carbon transport system.

3. The Carbon Impacts of HS2 is sponsored by Siemens, Systra and the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC).