High-speed rail reduces carbon emmissions
‘If HS2 was available for use today, the carbon emissions arising from making a trip by high-speed rail (HSR) would be 73% lower than making the equivalent journey by car and 76% lower than flying.’
This line appears in the introduction to Greengauge 21’s report The Carbon Impacts of High Speed 2.
We have frequently outlined the importance of using capacity released on existing lines by HS2 so it is encouraging to see Greengauge 21 focus on these benefits.
HS2 Ltd has adopted conservative assumptions on how much West Coast Main Line (WCML) capacity freed by HS2 is re-used for new and improved rail services. We estimate that the HS2 carbon savings could be increased by 8% by fully using spare WCML capacity for enhanced commuter or inter-regional passenger services.
Greengauge 21 also reports that the carbon dioxide resulting from construction of the line would easily be offset by Phase one (London-Birmingham) alone.
Carbon savings increase exponentially as we head north
The savings increase exponentially as HS2 progresses north.
While the first phase of HS2 between London and the West Midlands is estimated to deliver a 1.8MtCO2e reduction in carbon emissions, this would be increased four-fold to a saving of more than seven million tonnes CO2e when the second phase of HS2 opens. The route extensions to Leeds, Manchester and Heathrow substantially increase the scope for mode shift from air and car travel.
Greengauge 21 concludes that the government’s plans for high-speed rail can help meet carbon emissions targets — but only if supported by a set of bold policy initiatives which are not currently in place.
They say Government needs to put in place a wider package of policies to ensure HS2 is as green as possible. Doing so would quadruple the emission savings. The report highlights that greater carbon reductions can be achieved by sensible complementary policy measures and by making full use of the capacity that HS2 will release on the existing railway.
Crucial factors for HS2
Greengauge 21 reports that the crucial factors are whether:
- The electricity used to power the high speed trains is low carbon and how quickly this decarbonisation is delivered
- New development is focused around the stations served by HS2, encouraging use of public transport, walking and cycling
- High-speed rail stations are located in city centres rather than on the urban periphery
- The additional capacity that is created on the conventional railway is used to its full potential, especially for rail freight which would result in fewer lorries on the roads
- Policies are put in place to take passengers out of cars and planes and on to HS2