Part of The City Rail Link Series
Debate on the City Rail Link continues with figures and all sorts coming out from both sides coin.
It is time for a discussion and VOAKL will provide one – for everyone with a VIEW
For a people and country renowned for political and economical nous, I am surprised I am running a Rail Fallacy post on the Dutch. But a Rail Fallacy is a Rail Fallacy and the light must be shed on it so we Aucklander‘s can avoid the same mistake as the astute Dutch did when coming to building piece of rail infrastructure.
I have already mentioned the Dutch briefly in my previous Rail Fallacy post on the Poms, however I am going to further point what happened over in The Netherlands can very well happen here.
Lets take a brief recap or look at what happened over in The Netherlands:
From The Telegraph
As the Government prepares to give the go-ahead to its hugely controversial London-Birmingham high-speed rail project, its closest equivalent in Europe has had to be saved from bankruptcy with a £250 million government bailout.
The new “Fyra” high-speed service in the Netherlands — opened just two years ago — is close to financial collapse with passengers shunning its premium fares and trains running up to 85 per cent empty.
The line, between Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Breda, cost taxpayers more than £7 billion to build but is losing £320,000 a day amid disastrous levels of patronage.
A Dutch passenger pressure group, Voor Beter OV (For Better Public Transport), is now taking the national rail operator to the Netherlands’ competition tribunal after it slowed down services on the regular network in an apparent attempt to drive passengers on to the high-speed line.
“The high-speed line has been a very, very bad result for taxpayers and passengers,” said Rikus Spithorst, VBOV’s spokesman.
“The taxpayer paid for it and the idea was that the money would come back from the train company. But that isn’t going to happen.”
Okay now I do not think anyone is going to be doing a bail out of the City Rail Link – mainly because even with a Public Private Partnership, the majority is still carried by the public purse (rate and taxpayer). Also with the CRL opening latent capacity within the Auckland rail network, patronage would continue trending up – not down. However there is two points from The Telegraph article that need to be pointed out:
- First the idea of shunning an existing system and building a new one
- Second being under-cooking the costs and over selling the benefits
Shunning an existing system and building a new one
However, many other routes — including most commuter lines — are over capacity now and campaigners say scarce money should be spent on relieving problems that already exist. HS2 will, in any case, create its own capacity problems north of Birmingham, where its trains will have to use the existing lines.
Government sources also cite a new Network Rail review which will reportedly dismiss alternatives to HS2, such as upgrading the existing line. The report does not yet appear to have been published, but research for the Transport Select Committee found that previous comparisons between a line upgrade and HS2 had been skewed to favour the new scheme.
The Poms and the Dutch both decided rather than upgrade their existing systems (which was perfectly viable and actually provided a higher Benefit:Cost Ratio (BCR) than these new high-speed lines) to keep pace with demand, they decided to literally shun the working existing system and build a totally new one instead. Well wasn’t that a fool hardy move that cost the Dutch 250 million Pounds (around NZ$450m) (in a bailout) and will cost the Brits a few shiny pennies in the billion Pounds range on new systems that have a lower BCR than our Holiday Highway (interesting Wikipedia and Google knew what I meant when typing that in ) proposal that is floating around.
And now you wonder why if looking at the brief introduction and subsequent quote above, the Dutch are royally pissed when they got shunned from their existing system to the new bankrupt system. The same will also happen over in England once HS2 is opened.
Look there was a saying: “if it is not broken, why replace it.” The existing conventional heavy rail systems in Britain and The Netherlands were not broken, yes overcrowded but not broken (Auckland’s rail system in 2003 was broken…). All it needs is the same amount of money that would have been dumped into these high-speed lines to upgrade the systems and the results would have been a lot better than what they got stuck with now.
Shunning the regular customer for the perceived premium customer as the Dutch did is one way of pissing off the main-stream voters in a hurry. Ouch when elections roll around and clean sweeps happen…
So The Rail Fallacy is applied with monetary and time costs as predicted, but also the social factor from the shunning of the existing system is playing into effect here as well. Not very good confidence builders when the State embarks on further non road infrastructure building…
So how does this apply to Auckland and the CRL?
Primarily it does not as we are not shunning our conventional heavy rail for something else like this Driverless Rapid Transit Rail being proposed else where. But it does serve a warning if Auckland Council decides to have a moment and shun our conventional system for this Driverless stuff. I might follow-up on that in another post, but let the Dutch experience serve as a warning.
Of warnings, the second point is extremely relevant to the CRL
Under-cooking the costs and over selling the benefits
I already gave a warning in the last fallacy post in regards to the Pom’s and HS2 on under cooking the costs, and over selling the benefits. I am going to further reinforce that point from the Dutch article as a massive warning to Auckland Council. I just hope Council does not have any skeletons in their closest in regards to the CRL Business Cases (original or new).
A claim on the website of the Campaign for High-Speed Rail, the main lobbyists for the project, that HS2 will “create a million jobs” is described as “outlandish,” “patent nonsense” and a “lie” by transport experts. The claim. or variants on it, was repeated last Friday in a series of letters by economists, business leaders and trade unions which received widespread media coverage.
The million-job claim is based on a report last year by the Volterra economic consultancy for the “Core Cities” group of the largest English provincial cities. However, the report, in fact, admits that there is “relatively little information available that specifically quantifies the economic benefits that can be generated through high-speed networks.” Close examination of the report shows that almost 250,000 of the million jobs supposedly “created” by HS2 will be in and around Bristol and Newcastle, cities more than a hundred miles from the proposed high-speed line.
At a seminar last January, attended by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, the Core Cities group described the million-job figure as an “upper best case scenario” dependent on “global economic trends,” “improved export performance,” a “rebound in consumer spending,” “more modest public expenditure cuts” and “improved business investment.” No mention was made of HS2 in the published summary of the event.
The Volterra report says that HS2 would merely “underpin,” not create, any new jobs, since “investment in transport infrastructure” would be needed to move all the extra commuters. However, HS2 will be a long-distance, not a commuter service. The report claims commuters would still benefit because HS2 would release space on existing lines.
The report claims that there is a “very high correlation” between rising numbers of rail passengers travelling to a city and employment growth in that city. However, Birmingham, which has seen a 60 per cent rise in rail passengers over the last ten years, has seen only a 0.2% growth in employment.
Experience from the only British town to have been given a fully high-speed service to date suggests that claims about the economic benefits of high-speed rail are false. Ashford, Kent, has had a half-hourly high-speed service to London, using the new tracks built for the Eurostar, for more than two years. The journey time has fallen by almost half, from more than an hour to 37 minutes.
The local council has claimed that the new service has proved an “economic boon” for Ashford. In fact, the town’s unemployment rate since the line opened has fallen more slowly than the South-East England and British averages, and more slowly than in many other parts of Kent which are not on the high-speed line.
Data from France and other countries with developed high-speed networks suggests that they suck economic activity into the capital more than they push it out into regional centres.
Even many of HS2’s strongest supporters say that the jobs created will be only a tiny fraction of the million claimed. Centro, the transport authority for the West Midlands, the region supposedly benefiting the most from the project, says that HS2 will create just 10,000 jobs in its area. A further 12,000 jobs could be created if it is accompanied by a wider package of regional transport improvements, Centro says.
Greengauge 21, another HS2 lobbying group, estimates that the scheme will create no more than 42,000 jobs nationally. Many more neutral experts doubt even these figures. “The evidence that HS2 will have a positive impact on rebalancing the national economy, to use the current jargon, is not really there,” said Professor John Tomaney, of Newcastle University.
Talk about under cooking the costs and over selling the benefits over in England. Let the above from The Telegraph as well as my other Rail Fallacy posts serve as a stark warning to Auckland Council as the wheels on the CRL train continue forward. I need not remind Councillors the ramifications if what happened in England with HS2 were to happen here. The confidence in the CRL (which is needed by the way (am a CRL supporter) would virtually collapse as well as any other non road infrastructure mega projects. A collapse in confidence means the CRL pushed back 20 years on the minimum to the point of virtually defeated worse case. Why am I pointing out worse case then, because Auckland is not immune to what happened up North. So by serving a big fat warning now as well as keeping the gaze on Council and its bureaucrats, they will get the new business case and the CRL built right first time rather than repeat the Rail Fallacy through and through. Remember closer to home the Manukau Line suffered from the Rail Fallacy and that was a small project, we do not need the same fate on a mega project like the CRL.
So let’s get it right with the CRL first and only time folks. Allow the harsh lessons from the Pom’s and the Dutch be a lesson and warning to here at home when undertaking this mega project. To do otherwise is something I rather not think about…