OK. First of all, people involved in the rail business will tell you about the superiority of high-speed rail travel over any other mode of transit. No surprise there.
People in the aviation business will tell you that HSR does not substitute for expansion of airport capacity. That should be acknowledged as sensible, but it's certainly not heard in the endless conversation dominated by rail advocates, such as the CHSRA in California. Indeed, the rail authority reaffirms, over and over, that failure to build their precious train will oblige us to do the unthinkable; that is, expand highway and runway capacity in California. And that will cost even more, they say smugly.
Listening to the CHSRA, you would believe that they want their HSR so much that we should neglect if not abandon all our highways and airports. Do they realize how silly they sound?
This article is about the HS2 high-speed rail project in the UK. They're saying that it's either the high-speed train or an additional runway at Heathrow. What a false choice! Just hearing it put that way suggests what nonsense this is. Yes, we know that there are certain HSR routes on the Continent where air traffic has proportionately declined. Those events are few and far between and do not generalize to every route in every country. This 'either/or' is not a geometric axiom.
Airports serve a far larger customer base than that served by a particular rail line. If you think about it for a second or two, the rail/air analogy is a false one. There is no one set of virtual tracks (in the sky) between two airports, as there is usually one rail line between two train stations. And even the few major rail terminals with a number of tracks from an number of destinations does not compare with the limitless routes of air travel. Trains can't suddenly divert to other train stations. In short, different modalities, rail, air, highway, are all fundamentally different, perform different tasks, serve different purposes and constituencies at different times.
Let's just agree here and now that pitting one transit modality against another one -- competitively -- is ridiculous. The world is not a one hour TV game show. It is endlessly complex and dynamic. What works in this decade may well fail in the next. Anticipating the future ( "The Future Lies Ahead," said the comedian Mort Sahl.) is a difficult game and our infrastructure needs are also dynamic. We can't allow ourselves to think that we can trade one modality for another.
Let me just add here that rail is the least flexible transit mode of the three or four major ones. The highway network is like our vascular system in our body. Aircraft can access any runway anywhere. Rail is trapped by its linear constraints. In the US, train tracks have been put down and then pulled up since the beginning of railroading, and at great expense. If we require ever greater transit flexibility, perhaps we should incorporate these realities in our thinking.
For another example, it's not a choice between either highway based trucks OR freight rail. It has to be both, but wisely deployed. Trucks are essential distribution vehicles short-haul, while rail is more cost/effective long-haul. If air travel is airport based, rail travel is train station based. Both systems absolutely require an integration with other transit modes, including the highway network. That's why all train conversations invariably involve car rental discussions. And now, the fact is that information technologies are now so widespread and globally integrated that they too impinge upon transit and its diverse modalities. And certainly not either/or.
What's the lesson here? Most if not all of the arguments and proposals made by the high-speed rail authority are specious attempts at persuasion. They are superficial and there is no substance to them.
High-speed rail is no substitute for airport runways, says ex-HS2 boss
Gatwick chairman blasts Tory plans as 'total nonsense'
Dan Milmo Transport correspondent
Tuesday 25 January 2011 19.26 GMT
The former chairman of the High Speed Two project will tomorrow dismiss as "total nonsense" the government's claim that a 250mph north-south rail link can replace a third runway at Heathrow airport.
In an outspoken attack on one of David Cameron's main policies, Sir David Rowlands will say there is no evidence that a rail route from London to Scotland can solve capacity problems at Britain's congested airports. Rowlands rejects claims by Philip Hammond, the transport secretary, that high speed rail will "make a difference" to airports in south-east England, even if it includes a spur to Heathrow.
"A link to Heathrow does little for the high-speed network and the network doesn't do much either for Heathrow," he says. "This isn't simply just another of those inconvenient facts. What is a fact is that it is a total nonsense to suggest that building a high-speed network means there is no need for more runway capacity in the south-east." The London-to-Birmingham phase of a £30bn high-speed rail programme could be completed by 2025 and represents a key part of the government's aviation policy, which has imposed a moratorium on airport expansion in south-east England.
In a speech at a Transport Times aviation conference tomorrow, Rowlands will add that the decision taken by the new government to block a third runway at Heathrow had been taken with "scant regard" for evidence and with "wanton disregard" of expert analysis. Rowlands will also criticise government proposals to increase air passenger duty at south-east airports in a bid to divert traffic to regional airports. "I am afraid that rhetoric alone simply will not do. Nor will random suggestions such as higher air passenger duty at south-east airports in the absence of a coherent overall strategy for all Britain's airports," he says.
Rowlands, who stood down as chair of HS2 last year, is now chairman of Gatwick airport, Britain's second largest airport after Heathrow. The Gatwick chairman reiterates in his speech that the airport had "no current plans" to expand its single runway site. Gatwick airport was sold by BAA in December 2009 to a consortium led by Global Infrastructure Partners, an investment firm, in a £1.5bn deal.
Rowlands oversaw the drafting of the Labour government's controversial airport expansion policy as permanent secretary of the Department for Transport between 2003 and 2007. In 2009 the then transport secretary, Geoff Hoon, confirmed support for a third runway at Heathrow in the face of fierce opposition. However, the green argument against airport expansion has been undermined by a recent report by the Committee on Climate Change, a government advisory panel. The committee has forecast that British airports can handle up to 140 million more passengers a year – the equivalent of four runways at Heathrow – by 2050 without breaching emissions targets.
Rowlands' views threaten to overshadow a speech that will also be made at the conference by Theresa Villiers, the transport minister, who is expected to outline plans for a new aviation policy paper. Referring to plans for a "scoping" study on aviation policy, Rowlands said: "It is ludicrous to put a stop to airport expansion in days and then spend years deciding what it all means."
Responding to Rowlands, Villiers said: "The success of high-speed rail across Europe has shown how such links can cater for journeys that had previously been dominated by aviation. That is why our commitment to a high-speed rail network was a factor in the decision we made to reject a third runway at Heathrow."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011