Case for High Speed Trains considered unconvincing?

Ripping off Timmy:

Laptops and mobile phones mean that at least a modicum of work can be done while travelling. So the value of time saved by fewer hours travelling should fall. In fact, we can almost certainly go further. Sitting with a laptop, a phone and a decent internet connection in a comfy seat on a train is, these days, almost as productive as being in a nice office in a comfy chair with a computer, phone and decent internet connection.

In which case the value of the reduced transport time for these very important people collapses down to almost nothing. Something which rather explodes the cost benefit analysis of having the fast trains at all for the benefits rely so heavily on the high value of the time of these very important people not doing anything.

In short, forget making the trains faster and just install decent in carriage Wi-Fi. We get the same benefits at vastly reduced cost: and what can be bad about that?

Having just travelled through the lovely near-Wendover countryside to Princes Risborough, I have a vague interest in this. But I'm also deeply suspicious of HST II. This looks to be one of those Ego / Boondoggle projects that are doomed to go ahead whilst other more useful things languish (example: running moderate speed sleeper services through the chunnel would have been far more use to me, and I suspect many others, that the big-willy fast trains, no matter how pretty and thrusting they may look).

I had a quick look at the HST II website, in the hopes that they might tell me why they were doing it. But all I found was them saying that ministers had told them to. So I'll guess: this is a flight-replacement thingy. Well, maybe. But there are lots of problems: running high speed trains through peoples back gardens does rather tend to annoy them. And as Timmy points out, a rather more honest assessment of costs and benefits might well show that the costs exceed the benefits. High speed trains throw out lots of CO2, too (especially if you're going wobbly on nukes), so it isn't some majick fix for that problem either.

Refs - The Other Side. I ripped off their logo. Pity they can't spell.

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Don't have numbers handy, but I seem to recall that once you get up to "proper" high-speed rail speeds, emissions are roughly comparable with aviation anyway. Not sure if that's accounting for altitude effects, but for short-haul flights I'm not sure it makes much difference.

I would very much agree that there are many ways to improve the rail network that don't involve building new high-speed lines... Just fixing the existing lines so they can run at reasonable speeds and extending some platforms so they can take longer trains would make a huge difference in many places. Not as headline-grabbing though...

Dunc: the interesting difference being that the trains can be electric.

[That only really becomes interesting when we have spare electric -W]

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 13 Jul 2011 #permalink

It is perhaps unsurprising the the high speed AVE rail link from Madrid to Lisbon is being punted into the long grass, but that does not put it out of the reach of the ball boys.…

Viewed as a replacement for the existing rail link one must question how interested the Spanish and Portuguese are in meeting each other.

The highpoint in the current journey is the micropolis of Valencia de Alcántara (Population: 6178 wikifact). Here the trains wait until both are in the station before proceeding an operation for which an hour or so is allowed. Valencia has its atractions but is a little dead "de madrugada" for it is in the wee small hours that the once daily trains pass here. That they do so here is beneficial as but a single old track runs the route.

Still the station at Valencia is not so bad a place to wait. It has seen better times and once upon a time they actually sold tickets and had other conveniences such as toilets and platform staff but no matter.

The train when it comes brings but few natives but an air of a past life when hippies backpacked their way from country to country as cheaply as possible. The linqua franca is English of colonial inflection, the dress, behavior and outlook not so much reminiscent of the sixties as the real deal.

Cancelling AVE will cost both Portugal and Spain dearly in terms of grants and I suspect that it is not quite a dodo yet.

If it does come perhaps a little money could be found to support the heritage of cultural history that the current service maintains.


By Alexander Harvey (not verified) on 13 Jul 2011 #permalink

If you want to bring electrification into the debate, I strongly suspect you'd get more bang for your buck from the electrification of existing lines, rather than from building a small number of new electrified high-speed lines in the hopes of displacing some air travel.

I agree with Dunc on electrification. However the West Coast Main Line carries both passengers and freight and is approaching capacity, so probably some new track is required. Whether that should be high-speed or not is the question.

The UK loading gauge (i.e. no double-desk trains) significantly impacts efficiency.

Maybe it would make sense to cut a partial route suitable for double deck and high speed conversion and lay standard track?

HS2's own appraisal of sustainability doesn't make a compelling case:
"The contribution of HS2 to climate change would depend mostly on how the power to operate the high speed fleet will be generated. With gas and coal expected to have a less significant role and nuclear and renewables a greater role in providing power to the national Grid, electrically powered transport generally is expected to have an increasingly important role in limiting CO2 emissions. Other changes would also have an impact on the relative contributions of other transport modes, such as engine efficiencies for cars and aircraft, low carbon fuels and changes in travel demand. However, the key benefit of HS2 in reducing CO2 emissions would be in replacing air travel. If passengers switching from air to HS2 were to be translated into a reduction in flights from UK airports, then HS2 could make a contribution to reducing UK CO2 emissions, though in overall terms this would be limited."

[Thanks. That comment from them that you quote looks very vague - I'd have expected some real numbers if they were actually serious -W]

{Dunc: the interesting difference being that the trains can be electric.

[That only really becomes interesting when we have spare electric -W]}

Wrong. Large sources can be both a) more efficient and b) less polluting because controls can be better implemented at generating stations rather than moving objects.

[That only really becomes interesting when we have spare electric -W]

Which of course is not a problem when it comes to personal transport - the electric car?

Mr Connolly, how about comments on the implications of 20million+ electric cars in the UK? My tip, avoid having a medical operation during rush hours!