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Off the rails?

Eddington report - Does Sir Rod Eddington's transport study signal the end of the north-south high-speed rail link?

IN HIS Treasury commissioned report into transport and its effect on the country's economy this week Sir Rod Eddington is clear: 'New high-speed rail networks in the UK would not significantly change the level of economic connectivity between most parts of the UK, given existing aviation and rail links.' Not good news for High Speed One constructor London & Continental Railways (LCR) which deliberately chose the moniker with a view to building High Speed Two - the much debated north-south rail link.

But it remained upbeat about high-speed rail's future. 'As a Treasury report we would expect it to be cautious on big projects. But there are two elements of the report that make very good points, ' says an LCR spokesman.

'It highlights the need for a change in the planning arrangements that we would absolutely endorse as it makes planning for major projects easier [see viewpoint] and more critically he [Eddington] talks of the need for transport infrastructure to keep up with economic growth, ' he adds. 'High Speed One shows that transport infrastructure can act as a catalyst for economic growth and regeneration.' Which may be true. However, the Treasury has to pay for it and regeneration benets do not form part of the cost-benefit analysis as this is calculated according to the Treasury's Green Book rules.

Another scheme that may fall into Eddington's major project category is Crossrail. However, its supporters insist that the scheme is not in jeopardy, even though funding is not yet secured.

'When launching the report Sir Rod said that his remit was to look at 2015 and beyond, and that the cross-London Crossrail scheme was already in the planning stage, ' says a Campaign for Crossrail spokesman.

'Nevertheless, he said that although Crossrail's cost was substantial, there was a business case for it and that if it was not delivered London's congestion would get worse.' oincidentally the ICE's own report into high-speed rail Which Way? , assessing the technical options for a high-speed railway in the UK, was also published last week. But does the ICE think high-speed rail is dead?

'The answer is that it ought not to be yet, ' says report author and chair of the ICE High Speed Rail Group Graham Monteith.

'It may have been decided within government, but there are many more issues to take into account before it is put to bed, ' he insists.

The biggest issue, he points out, is the need for a full costbene analysis - something that many expected would be included in the Eddington report.

'There is little data in the Eddington report comparing high-speed rail with the alternatives, ' says Monteith. 'We are calling for that comparison to be done so we can adequately assess whether to enhance the existing network or provide new infrastructure.' Currently the fastest trains in the UK are travelling at 200km/ h on the West Coast Main Line.

Although in some areas track is physically able to take speeds of up to 225km/h 'the signalling can't cope', says Monteith.

High Speed One between London and Folkestone will be 100km/h faster and according to LCR is creating regeneration bene s of £10.5bn compared with construction costs of £5.5bn.

Despite this Eddington warns against implementing transport schemes in order to drive regeneration. 'It is evident from my work in transport debates across the world we see situations where the solution develops st - perhaps driven by the prospect of an exciting technology, aspirations of transforming the economic fortunes of a region or simply because a competitor city or country has one. The idea rapidly becomes a solution looking for a problem' he says.

And he goes on to argue that new networks could be a waste of money. 'Ambitions and dreams of extensive new networks that will only ever make marginal improvements to connectivity of the UK are not a priority, ' says his report. 'Transport policy needs to avoid wasting time and money pursuing alluring new super high-speed motorway or rail networks, or pursuing 'grand projects' with speculative returns.' However, some disagree with this analysis. Steve Norris, former Tory transport minister and now chair of the transport working group in the Conservative Party's Quality of Life Commission, is one.

'I would argue that connectivity of major cities is undervalued in the report and it underestimates the impact of high-speed rail on the airlines, ' he says.

'The point is that this report may well have fullled the Treasury's brief, but from a transport perspective it is a disappointing report? from a business man who used to run an airline, ' he says.

What else is in the report?

Eddington is clear that for the best economic return investment must be focused in cities and their surrounding catchments as 69% of business journeys and 84% of commuter journeys are within 25km.

The UK's priorities for transport investment should be:

urban catchments

inter-urban corridors

international gateways.

Tackling road congestion must be through road user charging (see news) and more control over local transport priorities, and investment given to the regions - including more control over the buses.

The planning system should also be less bureaucratic with an independent planning commission established to make nal decision instead of ministers.

Eddington also urges policy makers to implement solutions to address specic situations, rather than enforcing new technologies because other cities have them or with the aspiration that this will transform a region's economy.

NCE 500

Is high speed rail in the UK dead?

56 %No

30 %Yes

14 %Don't know

NCE 500 is 500 engineers who agree to be polled with a different question each week. Have your say at www. nceplus. co. uk

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