Richard Mabey is Research Secretary of the Bow Group, which today publishes its latest Target Paper, ‘Winning the consensus on High Speed Rail – Why all parties should now support the best route for HS2’ (pdf). In January 2010 the Bow Group published The Right Track – Delivering the Conservatives’ Vision for High Speed Rail (pdf) supporting directly routing HS2 to Heathrow and then following the M40 to Birmingham, following the best practice learnt from the construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (now HS1) in the early 1990s.
Anyone who has ever disembarked from a plane at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport to catch a high speed train has enjoyed a short and swift transfer. This major airport, like so many others on the Continent, has joined aviation and high speed rail to allow direct and unhindered transfer from air to rail and vice versa. Other major continental airports like Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt have built high speed railway stations at airports in order to provide the best transport and passenger experience and boost the business case for high speed rail. So why is the Government not proposing this model for Britain’s latest, and arguably most important section of high speed rail?
Justine Greening’s decision to delay her announcement on HS2 was as important as it was opportune. To get this project wrong would be nothing short of a national disaster given the sums of money involved, the implications for a more balanced UK economy, environmental impact, and HS2’s ultimate viability.
Why on earth are the railways so expensive? The cost of tickets is shooting up. And the taxpayer subsidy is huge too – Network rail alone gets a grant of nearly 4 billion from the government.
These huge costs are one reason why lots of people say that railway privatisation was a failure. Actually privatisation would be an interesting idea - if we actually tried it.
Think about it. The track is run by a huge government-created monopoly. The train companies are notionally private, but the Department for Transport (DfT) tells them in mind-boggling detail what timetable to run, what trains to use, and roughly half the time, what fares to charge too. Even the smallest details are controlled by the state. For example, the Government required South West Trains to relocate a vending machine at Wimbledon station. The old British rail logo may have been painted over. But in practice, the state is still firmly in charge of our railways.
Sir Roy McNulty’s review of UK rail, set to be published this week, is expected to say that costs need to be cut by 35 per cent to match European counterparts.
But if we are really going to get the costs of the railways down, we need to tackle the underlying reasons why the railways are so expensive.
In practice, micro-management by the DfT means wasteful subsidies for rail travel on routes that nobody travels on. For example, the author of a recent Policy Exchange report on rail recalls catching the train from Worcester to Oxford shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve. The train’s guard was surprised to see an actual passenger, because this particular train was usually empty all the way.
Policy Exchange has commissioned a report recommending a new waterborne Tube Line across the River Thames stretching from Putney to Woolwich - see this PDF. The report includes contributions from Justine Greening MP, Zac Goldsmith, Andrew Gilligan, Steven Norris and Boris Johnson's Adviser on Transport, Kulveer Ranger.
The report claims that in less than three years for an initial costing of £30million a fast and frequent boat service can provide an alternative commuting option for Londoners. The proposed revamped high-speed boat service will be both environmentally friendlier and more cost-effective than other transport infrastructure projects. New piers will be constructed in the Docklands and the Thames Gateway and the existing boat service will be extended as far as Putney in order to cover more of West London. There will be a total of 20 piers along the Thames and existing piers will be modernised. The service will be fully integrated with the Tube. If delivered it is hoped that an estimated 12million journeys can be achieved on the high-speed boat service by 2026 which will ease the congestion on the Tube network and London's roads.
Author: Joint report between The TaxPayers' Alliance and The Drivers' Alliance
Publication date: 25 November 2009
This report argues that many people perceive parking enforcement as little more than a money making scheme for councils. It states that a total of £328million of parking fines were received in the year 2008-2009 which is a 16% decrease on the previous year. The decrease is attributed to drivers being more cautious during the recession however in the view of the authors the amount being received is still far too high and the only beneficiaries are the wardens and their bosses.
"Road to Recovery"(PDF)
Authors: Professor Nick Bosanquet, Thomas Cawston, Andrew Haldenby, Patrick Nolan, Lucy Parsons and Elizabeth Truss
Publication date: October 2009
This report details the damning state of Britain's current infrastructure which is ranked 34th in the World (behind Namibia and Spain) and which receives less spending than any other OECD country. While the report's authors admit public finances are tight they argue that infrastructure spending represents good value for the taxpayer due to the consequent economic growth. The report encourages more use of the private sector in infrastructure projects and calls for the total withdrawal of the public sector from infrastructure projects in road, rail and renewable energy by citing successful projects such as the M6 Toll Road which have been financed through the private sector.
Authors: The Taxpayers' Alliance and The Drivers' Alliance
Publication date: 20 October 2009
This report acknowledges that the transport budget is likely to face some substantial cuts in the next few years with one projection of £29billion cuts over the next ten years. This report details the massive discrepancies between the amounts spent on rail compared to the amounts spent on roads per passenger and the raw deal that motorists who are paying £30.3billion per year in Fuel Duty and Vehicle Excise Duty are afforded. The report concludes that the spending on road projects should ideally be safeguarded at the expense of rail spending.
Authors: Dieter Helm, James Wardlaw and Ben Caldecott
Publication date: 1 September 2009
According to the report Britain's current infrastructure is inferior to many of its competitors such as France and it is damaging Britain's profitability. The authors predict the cost of repairing and replacing Britain's infrastructure will be around £500 billion by 2020 and in straitened economic times it is clearly going to be difficult to find this amount of money. Some of the radical suggestions for finding this amount include using money from ISA's and pension funds to address the likely shortfall. The authors also recommend setting up an infrastructure bank as has been done in Australia, Germany and Ireland.
Publication date: August 2009
The report calls for investment in value for money infrastructure projects such as increasing the length of trains, allowing cars to use the hard shoulder on motorways and basing new aviation infrastructure at existing sites rather than new builds. The report also calls for the abolition of various transport regulators such as the Office of Rail Regulation, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Highways Agency.
Author: John Petley
Publication date: August 2009
The paper contends that there is an ever-increasing volume of legislation emanating from Brussels in relation to the operation of railways. The author argues that this legislation is being used to undermine nation state railway operations and is another reason why the UK should withdraw from the EU.
Authors: Ben Caldecott and Sean Tooze
Publication date: 22 July 2009
The report calls for more emphasis on the development and commercialisation of sustainable bio-jet fuels as, in the opinion of the authors, bio-jet fuels are the only option to significantly reduce carbon emissions from aviation without cutting the number of flights. The report calls for an EU Sustainable Bio-Jet Fuel Blending Mandate to be in place by 2020 and increased financial support for companies conducting research and development into the production of sustainable bio-jet fuels.