A report published by Britain’s Commission for Integrated Transport on February 8 makes ’a persuasive case’ for ’a fresh look now at the future role for high speed rail.’ CfIT’s remit is to advise on transport policy, and the Chairman Professor David Begg urged government to start looking seriously at building lines for 320 km/h trains between major cities.

Apart from the partially-completed Channel Tunnel Rail Link to London, UK policy has been to upgrade inter-city lines for 200 km/h. However, the extraordinary cost and disruption of the West Coast Main Line modernisation has graphically illuminated the false economy of this approach.

Professor Begg believes new lines offer much better value and add far more capacity than upgrades. He says the London - Birmingham - Manchester - Glasgow, London - Leeds - Newcastle - Edinburgh, and London - Bristol - Cardiff corridors offer the volumes required over optimum distances for competing with road and air.

Consultants Steer Davies Gleave examined appraisal techniques and construction costs in France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Japan for CfIT. One important conclusion is that the cost of constructing new lines in Britain is far higher than it should be. CTRL is the most expensive high speed line to be constructed anywhere in the world (right), despite a much lower proportion in tunnel (25%) than several Shinkansen routes.

SDG estimates that even under the UK’s cumbersome rail industry structure, the cost of high speed lines should be 30% lower. For example, professional staff costs absorb 25% of total project costs on Britain’s railways, and were even higher on CTRL. On the recently opened Madrid - Lleida line (RG 11.03 p682), where the cost per km is 13% of CTRL, infrastructure authority GIF put professional costs at around 3%.

Last year, an appraisal of high speed options from London to Scotland - including partial use of upgraded lines - was undertaken for the Strategic Rail Authority by WS Atkins. SDG has reviewed and adapted this basic work, which currently shows benefit:cost ratios around 2. SDG reckons that if the UK used costs and appraisal criteria applied elsewhere in Europe, ratios in the 3 to 4 range are possible.