17 Dec 2010

Green Party on High Speed Rail

I received this from my MP, who is the only Green Party Member of Parliament.

"My position on high speed rail is that in principle I support it, provided there is clear evidence of greenhouse gas reductions. I also want to ensure that any rail investment is progressive and does not end up simply benefitting the most well off in society. I think it is critical that any projects are genuinely sustainable, by which I mean they must not cause any environmental degradation such as loss of habitats, for example, and the local communities affected must be properly consulted. I am opposed to the current plans to run a high speed track through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty like the Chilterns. Insufficient consideration has been given to alternative routes and there is local opposition to the plans, which I fully understand. The Secretary of State will be making an announcement about High Speed 2 next week and please be assured that I will be doing what I can to instead press for investment in sustainable public transport."

Which sounds as if Caroline Lucas is against HS2, certainly in its present form. From her perspective, the objections to the line must outweigh any conceivable benefits. This kind of investment must be assessed in comparison with other ways of investing the same amount in public transport infrastructure. Experience in other countries, notably France, has been that high speed railways have been developed at the expense of the local railway network, with the result that lines have been severely curtailed, thereby forcing people to travel by road, which generally means that they will drive. Whilst this might tempt people to travel by train instead of by air for longer journeys, the much more numerous short journeys the people make are now by road rather than by rail, which cannot be good for carbon emissions.

There is a more general issue here as well. Running trains at 200 mph costs more than twice as much as running at 125 mph. The only way to make this economically viable is to use sophisticated yield management, which can only offer affordable fares at limited times on a book-ahead basis. It is anything but a walk-on service. Thus those who want to travel at short notice are more likely to travel by road than if the train service was slower and with affordable walk-on fares. Worse still, the need for passengers to book onto particular trains means that they have to arrive at the point of departure long beforehand, thereby losing most or all of the benefit of the higher speed trains.

This project really needs to be exposed for the folly it is, and the Greens should be in the forefront of the campaign for public transport that addresses people's daily travel needs.

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