Yes to High Speed Rail? No to Third Runway!

Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis has nailed his colours to the wall, surprisingly speaking out in favour of a future of high speed rail in the UK, at the expense of short haul air travel:

The transport secretary, Lord Adonis, said switching 46 million domestic air passengers a year to a multibillion-pound north-south rail line was “manifestly in the public interest”. Marking a government shift against aviation, Adonis added that rail journeys should be preferred to plane trips.

“For reasons of carbon reduction and wider environmental benefits, it is manifestly in the public interest that we systematically replace short-haul aviation with high-speed rail. But we would have to have, of course, the high-speed network before we can do it,” he said.

Goodness me. It’s a laudable aim, which I thoroughly support. It’s clear to me how long it’ll take, but an infrastructure upgrade such as this has been long overdue for decades. Our roads are rubbish, our rail system remains a joke, and moving to a low carbon domestic transport policy would be an amazing achievement for a government which over 12 years has shown scant regard for climate change. Surely this represents an about-turn for the Department of Transport, and the widely reviled third runway for Heathrow is now dead? No:

Adonis said a high-speed rail scheme would not undermine an aviation policy that calls for new runways at Stansted and Heathrow over the next decade.

“If you look at projections for long-haul air demand the third runway just on long- haul demand alone is justified,” he said. According to government estimates, air passenger numbers will nearly double to 465 million a year by 2030.

So it’s justified purely on his figures of long-haul air demand? Yet local businesses don’t want the third runway, nor do local residents, and BAA has recently been forced to admit twice as many people are affected by the airport’s noise than previously estimated. Thirteen CEOs of major British firms are against it, and passenger numbers are falling, and what about those figures…don’t they just fall down if short haul flights, which account for a third of all Heathrow’s traffic, and which are the driver of airport expansion get taken out of the equation? Adonis’ position on the third runway is untenable if he retains his commitment to using High Speed Two and beyond to move from short haul flights entirely; he can’t have it both ways.

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