High speed rail beats air travel on all counts but when will the train arrive?

By: Gillian Upton @gillupton1
Published: Tuesday, November 4, 2014 - 12:34 GMT Jump to Comments

High speed rail is heralded as the solution to many of the country’s travel infrastructure shortcomings, but will it be? And how long must we wait for the full high speed network?

The south/north divide in terms of transport infrastructure is as stark as it’s ever been. However, the North/South HS2 and HS3 rail lines bring hope of growth, jobs and investment throughout the north of the country and an end to the cries of London centricity.

In his summer report, Mending the fractured economy, Lord Adonis highlighted that Britain is rated 28th globally for infrastructure by the World Economic Forum. Moreover nearly half of the CBIs membership in the past has rated the UKs transport networks as below average by international standards. This makes our world-class cities less competitive with other world-class cities.

HS2 and now HS3 are heralded as the solution to many of the country’s infrastructural shortcomings, but will they be? HS2 is a two-phase project that will see the London-Birmingham phase, up and running by 2026 with journey times cut to only 49 minutes. It’ll be another six years though before the line extensions to Leeds and Manchester are open.

When they are the journey times between Leeds and Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield Meadowhall, York and Birmingham and Nottingham and Birmingham could be slashed in half, or better. Current journey times between Leeds and Manchester of 55 minutes could come down to 35 minutes or less.

High-speed rail will bring closer together the likes of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull. HS2 Ltd.’s chairman David Higgins refers to the need to “rebalance Britain”, moving away from our economic over-reliance on London and moving towards a national transport strategy.

Paul Wait, CEO of the Guild of Travel Management Companies,  (GTMC), commented that “The GTMC’s extensive research tells us that business travellers want and need greater connectivity in addition to the already well connected South East region.”

If both phases of HS2 get the go-ahead, it will certainly do that, placing Birmingham at the heart of the network and providing far more capacity for those business travellers currently challenged to comply with travel policy that dictates rail travel over road and air travel.  Viewing it as the greenest mode of transport, the travel policies of many UK companies dictate this modal switch.

The fragile economic recovery has driven a return to sustainable travel so employers are aware that rail provides the fastest and most efficient mode of transport. Improvements in business-friendly products, services and booking procedures have already been made.  There are airline-like departure lounges at some major stations. We are beginning to see more car parking spaces, more at-seat food service, Wi-Fi connectivity, wider seats and a better space to work.

Those employers with significant numbers of domestic travellers can install rail ticket printers in their offices, for example and there are also innovative carnet tickets available.

There are however two issues that remain: First class cabins have been shrinking as train operators make way for more standard class seating in order to increase capacity and ease congestion; and cost is still an issue. Travel managers are doing their best to encourage a change in booking behaviour as advance booking can bring substantial savings.

In its Total Impact Report, travel management company CWT undertook a comparative cost survey of four domestic routes and two continental European routes earlier this year. The report takes into account cost of ticket, traveller productivity and cost of carbon offsetting and the report concluded that had its UK clients chosen rail over air on routes with competing services, in the ten months last year they would have saved:

• 65,540 hours or 2,730 days or 7.5 years
• £7.9 million in fares
• £365,224 in carbon offset

The biggest average fare savings – of 29% - was found on London-Edinburgh while the highest potential productivity saving was found on the London-Paris route.

Meantime, in the south, there are also improvements on the way. Crossrail – Europe’s largest infrastructure project - will improve connectivity east to west, with ten new stations and provide a minimum of 10% increase to rail capacity in the capital. Crossrail stretches from Reading and Heathrow in the west to Abbey Wood in the east and will bring the wider benefits of easing congestion with easier interchanges for business and leisure travellers alike.

And there are other improvements afoot. Network Rail, for example, is promising a train every 2 ½ minutes from Gatwick to London, 24 peak hour trains to London from Gatwick (the same frequency as Crossrail), and a doubling of rail capacity at Gatwick by 2020.   Moreover, new franchise holder Govia Thameslink will be introducing higher quality trains on the London-Brighton route from 2015.

It’s a brighter picture for rail travellers and UK PLC, although still a long way off.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.



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