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WSP and the HS2 cargo cult

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In ‘HS2, railfreight, and carbon emissions‘ the Beleben blog explored the WSP consultancy’s claims about the released-capacity cargo benefits of HS2.

[WSP, 11 January 2013]

HS2 could take 500,000 HGV lorry journeys off the M1, M40 and M6 motorways each year leading to environmental benefits worth over £45 million per annum and saving over 65,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per annum, according to figures published by leading engineering consultancy WSP.

An enhanced version of the claim turned up in a ‘HS2 fightback’ speech by transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin in September 2013.

[Patrick McLoughlin, ‘Benefits of High Speed 2 to Britain and the economy’, 11 September 2013]

In fact one estimate says HS2 will mean half a million fewer lorry trips a day on our main motorways.

So far as can be ascertained, the DfT has yet to retract or correct the claim made by Mr McLoughlin. But as Beleben research has shown, there are a lot of problems with the original claim made by WSP.

HS2 Ltd has belatedly confirmed that their October 2013 released-capacity railfreight claim of ’20 more goods trains per day on the West Coast Main Line’, means 10 in each direction. That is consistent with the Beleben blog’s interpretation of the Department for Transport’s Strategic Case.

Beleben research can reveal that the “500,000 HGVs-a-year” claim is far from being “conservative”, as WSP’s Ian Brooker claimed. For general freight (including containers), Network Rail has stated that one goods train has the equivalent capacity of 43 HGVs. In general, freight trains are scheduled to run 5 days a week (or less), and it is not uncommon for individual paths not to be taken up.

If one made the generous assumption that the 10 released-capacity railfreight trains in each direction operated

  • 6 days a week,
  • at full load,
  • with all paths being taken up,

the annual road-to-rail shift would be (10 * 2 * 43 * 6 * 52) = 268,320 lorry movements. In practice, one would expect the realisable shift to be somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 movements, which sounds a lot, but isn’t.

HS2 is not a means of enabling transfer of large amounts of goods transport from road to rail; that could only happen with a dispersed investment programme, such as Rail Package 6. In summary, HS2’s railfreight capacity benefits look as meagre as its commuter capacity benefits.


Written by beleben

January 26, 2014 at 3:19 pm

One Response

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  1. I don’t know how the 500,000 was derived as it refers to several motorways and it is not clear whether a particular vehicle is travelling only 1 section on 1 motorway or many sections on many motorways. It would be more instructive if the figure was given as

    Neverless, I thought it would be instructive to relate the 500,000 lorries a year to the number actually using the M6 at some point. I eventually found some traffic flow data for the M6 on the Government’s Open Data site. This has files for months between 2009 and June 2013 but unfortunately the May 2013 file I chose is rather large at 900Mb. It is also in text format arranged by road section in what appears to be a random order. I cannot use my version of Excel to extract the flow data for a particular section as it runs out of memory. As a quick and dirty alternative, assume 100,000 vehicles use the M6 each day (both directions combined) and say 20% of them are HGVs then the yearly flow would be 7.3 million. Of course any relief provided to the northern M6 by HS2 would not arise for at least 20 years and who would like to guess what it would be like by then. Needless to say any “spare” capacity would always be taken up by suppressed demand.


    January 26, 2014 at 9:48 pm

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