Key arguments left out of HS2 consultation

David lidington hs1
David lidington hs1

A REPORT written by an Advertiser and Review reader claims the consultation into the HS2 proposals has been distorted due to a delay in the publication of research into how much business takes place on train journeys.

Part of the Governments justification for the £34billion scheme is that not only will business passengers be able to save time travelling on high speed trains, they will also benefit the economy by working during the journey.

Colin Allen showing how a key document was lelt out fo the HS2 consultation

Colin Allen showing how a key document was lelt out fo the HS2 consultation

But a Freedom of Information request submitted by Colin Allen from Turweston revealed the Government’s estimate of money generated as a result of that work, was nearly twice that of more detailed research.

Mr Allen said consultations which led to Transport secretary Justine Greening to confirm the coalition’s commitment to HS2 in January 2012 did not contain the full facts about the possible benefits of HS2. He found the original estimates were based on an incomplete, 15 page report published in 2008. That report predicted work on trains would have an economic value of 74p per minute. The report was completed in June 2009 and found the original estimates were ‘unsupportable’, and that empirical evidence indicated the ‘value of time’ for business passengers is closer to 34p per minute.

Mr Allen said: “It is sad when Government Ministers are frightened into hiding all the critical economic evidence against HS2 from MP’s and taxpayers, and the public consultation. All because they do not feel politically strong enough to do a u-turn on Cameron’s trophy project, this is causing daily problems for those living in the 120 mile blighted corridor.”

Bernie Douglas, chairman of campaign group Villages of Oxfordshire Opposing HS2 (VoxOpp) said: “This information should have been included in the consultation. We have the chief executive of Hs2 Ltd Alison Munro state in writing all information relevant to the consultation into HS2 has been released, But is has not.

“My question would be, has this happened to other documents? It is very unfortunate and undermines trust in the whole project.”

Transport Minister Theresa Villiers said: “HS2 is a project that will deliver jobs and prosperity across the entire country by connecting the south with our great northern cities. With the West Coast Main Line expected to be at full capacity by the mid 2020s, building a new high speed line is the best and most cost effective option.

“Productive use of travel time is a complex issue and we have reservations about this (DfT) study because it only provides partial analysis. We have taken the best approach to calculating HS2’s benefits and our analysis is robust.”

Mr Allen’s report is published in full below.

In it he also highlights research carried out with business passengers which suggests that even if they do save time they are unlikely to use that extra time to work.

The DfT report shows during the Spring of 2008 business passengers worked an average of 46 per cent of their time spent on a train. Mr Allen said: “They also asked them how they would use the time they saved by having shorter journey times and 60 per cent of business passengers would do no work in the time saved.”

The report also shows that for every 10 minutes shaved off journey times, only 0.75 minutes of extra work would be carried out. Mr Allens said: “None of these properly quantified conclusions is mentioned anywhere else in the consultation documents In fact the entire report is massively detrimental to those promoting HS2.”

How The HS2 Consultation Was Distorted, by Colin Allen

In the very extensive public consultation on HS2 detailed plans, documents, and the business case were all made available to the public, and some 55,000 formal responses were received by the Department for Transport (DfT). Then the Transport Select Committee looked at it, taking submissions, and hearing from witnesses from all sides. Finally, this January, Justine Greening announced her decision to proceed with HS2.

In the past there has been an assumption in transport schemes that saving journey time for rail passengers gives them more time to work, and so benefits the economy. The HS2 business case uses this old assumption to claim 10 minutes of extra work for the economy for each 10 minutes of journey time HS2 saves a business passenger.

At the time of the consultation there was some research in the public domain into how business passengers worked on trains in a small and incomplete, 15 page, 2008 document “The Productive Use of Rail Travel Time and Value of Travel Time Saving for Travellers in the Course of Work” by the Mott MacDonald IWT Consortium.

A Freedom of Information request (FOI) asking for more details on the passenger research was repeatedly refused, until a further request unexpectedly came back with a link to the document saying it had just been published (in April 2012) on the DfT website.

It is a successor document by the same authors to the one above, but has grown to be an impressively rigorous and

unbiased 170 page research document “The Productive Use of Rail Travel Time and the Valuation of Travel Time Savings for Rail Business Travellers - Final Report - June 2009”.

This document was signed off in June 2009 when Lord Adonis was in charge. It was then kept hidden by the DfT until after Justine Greening’s decision to proceed with HS2, so its contents were hidden from all those participating in the consultation, from MP’s and the Transport Select Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and the Major Projects Authority (who gave HS2 a ‘red/amber’ status without seeing this).

The document contains almost all the high level properly quantified facts about HS2’s main business passenger group. It also recommends that the ‘Value of Time’ for business travellers be cut from what the report describes as an ‘unsupportable’ £0.74 per minute (as used in the HS2 business case) to £0.37 per minute.

The report considers in great detail how and when business passengers work on trains, and concludes that, as at the spring of 2008, an impressive average of 46% of all their scheduled rail journey time was being worked. They also asked them how they would use the time they saved by having shorter journey times and “60% of business passengers would do no work in the time saved”.

Next the report combines the research of their use of on-train time, with how they said they would use the time saved off-train, and concludes that:- “a reduction in scheduled rail journey time for a business traveller by, for example 10 minutes, would increase the average amount of time spent working by all business travellers by just 0.75 minute” - i.e. here is the DfT’s painstakingly considered opinion that 92.5% of the time saved by business passengers is wasted.

None of these properly quantified conclusions is mentioned anywhere else in the consultation documents. In fact the entire report is massively detrimental to those promoting HS2, which is perhaps why a self-interested DfT hid it from every one, until the go-ahead was given.

The £34 billion HS2 project, the most expensive infrastructure project ever considered in the U.K., is only proceeding because all this negative information was concealed from the consultation, this invalidates the consultation.

One of the great attractions of the train today is that passengers are able to work to earn money as they travel.

So there is no reason to think that the very strong trend to more working on trains will not continue.

If the 46% of the trains scheduled time being worked, by business passengers, goes through 47.2% then the overall work gained by cutting journey times goes negative. At the speed of increase over the previous 3.5 years to the spring of 2008, as shown in this document, this will have happened just four months after they carried out their research.

If that trend is still carrying on then there could be serious damage to the economy by HS2 shortening rail passenger

journey times, and cutting down this valuable work done on trains. This research shows that business passengers working on work conducive trains effectively extends their working hours, give them faster trains and they say they are not going to work in the time gained.

Perhaps the DfT also has secret research asking their business passengers if they will still use the railway when they have near universal access to optic-fibre internet. No they don’t - both the DfT and HS2 Ltd have replied in FOI’s that they have not asked their passengers ‘any questions about the internet’.

The higher the rail passenger forecasts, the more money we pay the DfT, so it pays them to carry on deliberately ignoring the internet. They told me while I was in the DfT “it is not our job to consider it”, a statement that will not inspire confidence in taxpayers that they can project passenger numbers over 75 years.