Extending high-speed rail beyond Birmingham would increase emissions benefits fourfold, but savings dependent on a green energy system
The environmental case for the planned high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham has received a boost after a report yesterday found it could yield “significant” emissions reductions for the UK – as long as it is accompanied by a set of bold policy initiatives.
The study commissioned by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), RSPB and the Campaign for Better Transport says the £32bn High-Speed Rail 2 (HS2) scheme can help the country meet its target of reducing emissions 80 per cent on 1990 levels by the middle of the century.
The controversial scheme has been challenged on both environmental and economic grounds. Campaigners have complained the 225mph trains will not displace any domestic flights while MPs called for the plans to be revisitedafter a Public Accounts Committee report warned inaccurate projections made ahead of construction of the London to Folkestone HS1 line could be repeated in HS2.
But yesterday’s report, following up on an interim report published in December, finds that if HS2 was available today, the carbon emissions arising from making a trip would be 73 per cent lower than making the equivalent journey by car and 76 per cent lower than flying.
Building HS2 on its own delivers a modest saving in carbon of 0.6 million tonnes of CO2 over sixty years, but the beneficial carbon effect is increased fourfold by the planned extension of HS2 further north to Manchester and Leeds.
A further 55 per cent could be added to the direct carbon savings from HS2 by running three train paths per hour in each direction on capacity freed up on the existing rail network as a result of the high-speed line.
However, these carbon savings are reliant on a package of measures not currently in place including operating high-speed rail services across the country, decarbonising the nation’s electricity supply, and shifting passengers and freight away from planes and cars and onto trains.
“Failure to achieve this will mean that HS2 reductions are modest, or, at worst, marginally negative,” the report says.
Harry Huyton, head of climate change at the RSPB, called for “decisive action from Government to put the measures in place that would ensure HS2 is used to its full and, critically, to ensure that the electricity used to power the trains is low carbon.”
The report adds operation changes such as reducing the top speed of trains from 360km/h (224mph) to 300km/h (186mph) at certain points in the years before the electricity system is decarbonised and driving the train economically could achieve further savings.
“The scale of carbon reduction will vary depending on the design of the HSR network, on wider government policies and on external risks and uncertainties,” the report concludes.
“[But] a perfectly achievable set of complementary policies for HS2 itself and on related matters can together ensure that the carbon legacy of HS2 is strongly beneficial.”
The first leg of HS2 is expected to be completed in 2026, bringing journey times between London and Birmingham to under 50 minutes. The next stage, a proposed Y-shaped extension towards Manchester in one direction and Leeds in the other, could be built by the early 2030s.
The report comes after the consultation process around HS2 was branded a “shambles” as it emerged hundreds responses were omitted from the original analysis.
Baker said in a Commons written statement further errors had been identified since July when it was announced that more than 400 responses had not been examined by the consultants who conducted the analysis.
However, he added: “Inclusion in the original analysis would not have changed the substance of [the] findings, nor affected the considerations which informed the decisions following the consultation.”
Conservative former Cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan, whose constituency is in the path of HS2, said the project was in “disarray” and demanded ministers order a fresh consultation.
Original article posted at HS2 may be on track for ‘significant’ carbon savings, report finds