28 August 2009

High speed rail not environmentally friendly

It's curious that the government backed private company that runs Britain's rail infrastructure - Network Rail - is promoting an extremely grand plan to make taxpayers pay for a high speed rail line from London to Edinburgh. £34 billion is the cost of a line from London to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh. It would cut travel time from London to Edinburgh by rail to 2 hours 9 minutes.

See according to the Guardian, a consultancy report 2 years ago said there would be similar CO2 emissions from building and operating a high speed railway between London and Manchester as there would be to fly the route. The difference being that aviation on the route needs no subsidy. It would be better to improve capacity on the existing line through removing bottlenecks and improved signalling.

So the environmental advantages are at best dubious, and the economic costs are enormous. A massive transfer from taxpayers to business users of trains.

If there is congestion on the current rail network, that simply means fares are too low at busy times, so they should be raised so overcrowding can be reduced and revenue raised to put in extra capacity as it is needed. New lines when existing lines have ample capacity most of the day are unlikely to be particularly a good choice.

Of course the fetish for the moment is that flying is evil, as is driving, despite people continuing to choose those options. The truth is flying is largely a commercially run private business. Road transport involves privately provided vehicles paying excessive taxes to use roads managed bureaucratically. Railways involve a mix of commercial and subsidised services on subsidised tracks. Maybe of the highways were privatised, and charged commercial tolls reflecting demand, the excuses to subsidise railways would start to evaporate?

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