It was then a surprise when in June 2008, the news was awash with Network Rail’s intention to investigate construction of a High Speed rail network..  A surprise because Network Rail is simply the company that owns the track and stations, has no in-house transport expertise, employing no transport planners. According to Department for Transport (August 2007) ‘The Rail and National Networks Group is now fully responsible for overseeing the planning and management of the UK rail and interurban transport network’ so why aren’t they doing the feasibility studies? Image 


According to trade newspaper Railnews, ‘Richard Eccles, Head of Route Planning at Network Rail, told a Railway Forum conference in Birmingham that a ‘new lines programme’ would be looking at the East Coast Main Line, Midland Main Line, West Coast Main Line, Chiltern and Western Main Line corridors’.  Railnews reported that a team had been set up by Network Rail to examine what should be done when network capacity runs out in the next 10 – 20 years. As if he had already decided the outcome, Eccles added “Our expectation is that the best value for money will be a high speed line.”


The question has to be asked by whose authority this setting up of teams and expenditure on further studies is to be authorised.  It is Network Rail, after all, that has so little understanding of passenger travel that it has been endorsing, not diversions of trains onto other routes during engineering works, but rather tipping people out onto bus substitute journeys.


Meanwhile journalist Christian Wolmar (website published an article in the TSSA Journal entitled ‘30 year strategy lasts just one year’ that could be politely described as hard hitting.  Acknowledging the arguments are highly complex, Wolmar states ‘On the plus side, a high speed line may well reduce carbon emissions by attracting some people from aviation (though not very many) and others from cars but, on the other hand, that impact will be reduced because a high speed line will attract more people to travel – including making journeys to and from the station.  Again, while a high speed line would undoubtedly increase the capacity of the railways, it may well suck investment out of the existing system, as has happened in France where there is a wonderful TGV network but many poor services elsewhere.’


It is this last point that must concern Birmingham Friends of the Earth on whose patch lies the proposal for enhanced local rail services to include trains to Balsall Heath, Moseley, Kings Heath and Stirchley.  The provision of local trains is supported by local MP, Dr Lynne Jones, and hundreds of local people have written in support.  The needs of Birmingham have been snubbed by Network Rail who left local rail out of their ‘Strategic Business Plan’.


The key tests for Birmingham Friends of the Earth are:

1. Will investment in local rail be safeguarded if High Speed Lines are to be built?

2. What is the net environmental impact?  While some air and car travellers will switch to high speed trains, some existing train passengers will also move to these more energy-intensive high speed trains.  In addition, construction of new rail lines uses a lot of energy so how long is the pay-back time (if it does pay back) in terms of climate impact?


The railway needs watching if it is to have a relevant role in future transport.