High Speed Trains Make the Strain

by Jeremy on 20-Jan-2011

Committed opposition to the development of high-speed rail is by no means restricted to Britain. VoxOpp has been taking a wider view and found that people in other countries are also demanding that their governments back off from their frantic drive to build super-high speed railway systems.

Other governments too are determined to build the longest and straightest rail systems on which to run the biggest and fastest trains which stop as few times as possible (preferably travelling non-stop from one terminus to another). The travelling public, on the other hand, are generally much more interested in having a rail system which gives them a reliable and frequent rail service to the places they wish to go to at reasonable cost. Britain has so far built just one high speed rail system, Eurostar (now renamed HS1) which connects London to mainland Europe. This country has, therefore, limited experience of high speed rail and its effects. Other countries, though, with much larger systems up and running have gained real experience, from real results and are able to see the real effects on their countries.

Take Spain for example. An article in El Pais, on12 January 2011, reports that during 2010 newly built track extended the length of their high speed track to 2,665km, more even than in France, giving Spain the largest high speed network outside of China. Now, as in Britain, many Spanish people are questioning whether in these hard times their country can afford this luxury. Services on the recently introduced lines are expected to carry just 3.5m passenger trips in their first year. Compared with the 400m passenger trips made on the whole railway system in Spain, this usage is tiny. One of the reasons it is expected to be so low is that, as in other countries, fares on the high speed trains are significantly higher than on other services. People at the lower end of the income range, including most young people, cannot afford those fares and have no choice but to use buses and other road transport. With the effects of the global economic crisis likely to be felt for many years yet, public transport users in Spain are asking the government why it has spent €6bn on less than 1% of the rail travelling population.
(To read the full article on Presseurop, follow the link http://www.presseurop.eu/en/content/article/458981-bullet-train-white-elephant).

What then of China, much lauded by our current Transport Minister as a great example. There are some striking similarities. According to an article in China Daily, also on 12 January 2011, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Transport said that although the bullet trains have won some of the more affluent customers over from short distance internal flights, the cost of travelling on the luxury fast trains has still resulted in these trains travelling part empty, wasting significant transport capacity. As in Spain, the reduction in the number of slower train services (as will also happen here if HS2 goes ahead) has led to vastly overcrowded trains for most people. Again, it has also resulted in many travellers moving on to buses instead. Indeed, the spokesman continued, China is expecting 2.6bn bus passenger trips to be made in their Spring Festival holiday period, over 11% up on the same period last year. To cope, with these problems, an additional 70,000 buses have been added to the 770, 000 already on the roads.
(To read the full article in the China Daily, follow the link: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2011-01/12/content_11831362.htm)

The effects experienced in Spain and China are not theory, they are reality, they are happening now. Increased usage of road transport as a result of low occupancy of the high speed trains is not just foreseeable, it is fact.

If HS2 goes ahead the system, at a cost of £17.4bn (at 2009 prices), would have the capacity to carry a theoretical maximum of less than 2.5% of the rail commuting population of the country. However, HS2 would actually only be used by those who could afford the premium rate fares, and who wished to travel from Birmingham to London, or vice versa. All other rail commuters, including those who wished to travel the same route but who could not afford the high fares, and the massive majority who did not wish to travel between those two cities, would have either to squeeze into a reduced number of (even more overcrowded) slightly slower trains or take to the buses and other road transport to get to work.

The British government is promoting a plan which is not only far from green itself (you do not need to go beyond school physics to understand that an 800 ton vehicle travelling on land at 250mph will consume prodigious levels of power), but will actually push up the use of road transport. Oh yes, and there will be no reduction in the number of internal flights between London and Birmingham – there are none anyway.

Our government, like others, is more concerned about “keeping up with the neighbours” and is aiming to push ahead with the most expensive project of its kind that Britain has ever seen, paying scant attention to the problems being experienced in other countries. The working population of Britain just wants to get to work without having to pay through the nose.

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