26 August 2009: The Network Rail report published today raises serious questions about whether a high speed rail line is a good way of spending £34 billion.
Lots of people think it's a good idea because it offers an alternative to damaging short haul flights. But the report predicts that a high speed line to Scotland would only mean 18% fewer air journeys. And 40% of the high speed rail journeys to Edinburgh would be new trips - people travelling more, travelling further, and generating more carbon.
Network Rail isn't counting on any overall carbon reduction from people switching from plane to train - because building the line would produce a lot of CO2, and because it doesn't know how the airlines would respond to the competition. The study does say that 39,000 tonnes of CO2 would be saved because of people and freight switching from road to rail. But that's only about 0.03% of transport's carbon emissions. We've got some better and cheaper ideas for how to get serious about cutting carbon emissions from transport.
Transport Secretary Lord Adonis says increasing capacity is the main reason for high speed rail. But has he asked Network Rail to look at alternative options? For example, a freight only line would reduce congestion on passenger lines, and upgrading the existing West and East Coast mainlines by increasing line speed, doubling the track and providing bypasses would provide more capacity and quicker services.
Speed is not the only reason why people switch from plane to train - cost is also key. Instead of waiting until 2020 or later for a high speed rail line, the Government could act right now to make it easy for people to go green. Help us convince the Government to cut train fares and tax the fuel on domestic flights.