HS2 – pollution, but not a solution

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AS an aviation expert, Derek Lowe has worked as a consultant to British Aerospace, Mitsubishi, Canadair, Daimler-Benz and many other organisations.

But his true calling is towards greener fuels – sparked by a mission to help mop-up at the Torry Canyon super-tanker disaster in 1967 when he was in the Royal Air Force. He now runs his own green technology business, Automotive Green Developments, and has worked with the Energy Efficient Motor Sport (EEMS) Working Group. But another large scale scheme has been worrying Derek, from Blakesley; namely the HS2 high speed rail link. On the day consultation on HS2 comes to a close, Derek explains why the scheme would be a pollution nightmare.

History proves that humanity can often be slow to learn from history. Technical and economic histories provide useful sources for learning. China has just had a major rail accident involving two ‘Bullet’ trains; most bullets are dangerous.

HS2, the proposed high speed rail project, is the rail equivalent of a Concorde airliner. Concorder climbed to 59,000 feet where the air is very thin; but on a single flight it would burn 75 metric tonnes of fuel and emit 240 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Concorder quickly became a financial fiasco; Air France and British Airways only took seven aircraft each; and other airlines withdrew their purchase options. So what went wrong and can we learn from it?

In the early 1970’s the American administration demanded an environmental impact statement for Concorde; this alarmed potential buyers. Who has seen any environmental impact statements for HS2? Then as the Concorde sales team were chasing airline orders, there were major upheavels in the Middle East. The combination of environmental issues and the steep rise in the price of crude oil soon killed of Concorde sales.

A train’s aerodynamic drag increases with the square of the speed; while the power required increases with the cube of teh speed. Therefore a three fold increase in speed from 80mph to 240mph leads to a nine fold increase in aerodynamic drag. While the power required has increased 27 times, just think about those fuel bills and carbon emissions.

High speed trains require electric power; with the focus on electric cars, will the UK have the generating capacity? Germany is marching away from nuclear power after the disaster in Japan. Power is still linked to oil and gas, but now we have political instability in many parts of the Middle East. British oil productionm peaked at 137.4million tonnes in 1999, but by 2010 British North Sea oil production had plunged to 63million tonnes, a 54.2 per cent fall in production in a decade..

There’s a similar decline in the UK’s North Sea production, which peaked in 2000. It’s already fallen by 47.3 per cent. So Britain is now importing greater quantities of oil and gas, while Germany’s production of bio-fuel is 16 times higher than that of Britain.

In January, the All Party Parliamnetary Group on Peak Oil suggested fuel rationing to ‘deal with global energy shortages and the climate crises’.

In February, Chancellor George Osbourne was urging G20 members to ‘embrace energy efficiency measures and curb the use of fossil fules.’

How does the proposed high speed train fit in with such statements? Surely the internet and high speed broadband are reducing the need for business travel. In Britain we limit your latest Ferrari to 70mph; and high speed rail is about as relevant to future British travel requirements as is a V8 6.2 litre Cadillac.

Isn’t HS2 highly stupid too? You already have eco-bands applied to your cars; don’t we also need eco-bands for planes and trains?