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Railways: Carbon Emissions

Volume 718: debated on Thursday 18 March 2010


Asked By

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what contribution the construction and operation of the High Speed Line will make to meeting the United Kingdom’s carbon emissions reduction targets.

My Lords, the Government’s assessment is that high-speed rail is consistent with our carbon reduction targets. Carbon emissions from high-speed rail are substantially lower per passenger mile than from other modes. It is likely that the core high-speed network, proposed in the Command Paper published last week, will lead to modal shift away from domestic aviation.

I thank my noble friend for that reply and congratulate him on the tremendous response that his White Paper has received. I declare an interest as the chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, whose power stations are responsible for something like 80 to 85 per cent of the electricity consumed by the British rail network; as a consequence, it is the base-load generation on which high-speed rail and an expanded electrified rail network will depend. Therefore, can he not nod too closely towards the false gods of intermittent renewable technology in preparing his plans for this exciting development in our transport system?

My Lords, being an Adonis I steer clear of false gods in all their guises. However, my noble friend is absolutely right as to the benefits of high-speed rail, one of which is the much lower carbon impacts that it has per passenger mile than alternative forms of new transport capacity. The average carbon emitted per passenger kilometre by high-speed rail is in the range of 8 to 17.6 grams of CO2, based on the current operation of Eurostar. That compares with an average of 128 grams of CO2 per passenger kilometre in the case of car travel and 171 grams per passenger kilometre in domestic aviation. There are significant carbon advantages to be had from high-speed rail if we are going to provide significant additional transport capacity between our major cities.

Will the Minister take into account the much wider effects on transport of the high-speed rail line? Much more traffic will be able to use other lines as a result of the high-speed line. Will he also please take account of the fact that the fares charged to passengers are another important factor in the volume of use that these lines will get?

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord’s comments. All the modelling work done by High Speed Two Ltd, which prepared the plan on high-speed rail that we published last week, was based on the assumption that fares charged on the high-speed line would be the same as those charged on the existing network; it was not based on any assumption of a fares premium. On modal shift from other forms of transport, all the international evidence is that, when journey times between major cities by train can be reduced to three and a half hours or less, a significant shift takes place from the plane to the train. In the Command Paper published last week is the projection that with lines extending from London to Manchester and Leeds—connecting respectively with the west and east coast main lines so that high-speed trains can then run through to Glasgow and Edinburgh—it would be possible to have a Glasgow and Edinburgh to London journey time of three and a half hours. That would be a massive achievement for the railways and would lead to a significant shift of traffic from the plane to the train.

My Lords, how many apprentices will the construction and engineering industries be able to take on through this excellent project?

A large number, my Lords. The estimate in the Command Paper last week is that at least 10,000 new jobs will be created as a result of the high-speed rail project and there will be significant opportunities for new apprentices.