High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Marilyn Fletcher (HSR 173)

Will HSR bring economic benefits? Can Dr Terry Gourvish's "The High-speed Rail Revolution: History and Prospects" shed light on this?

Dr Gourvish was commissioned by HS2 Ltd to write an appraisal of the global experience of HSR. I am not an economist, but I do pay attention when one of the UK's leading academic authorities on rail from the London School of Economics says:


"Do HSRs stimulate economic growth? It is often assumed that the improvements in accessibility which are created will enlarge markets and increase the competitiveness and productivity of firms within a newly-connected region. However, most studies indicate that it would be unwise to pin much faith in new railways as an engine of growth. This is not to say that a growth stimulus is entirely absent. In 1997 the European Commission estimated that the major TENs would add only 0.25% to EU GDP, and 0.11% to employment over 25 years. The literature review of Preston and Wall produced the conclusion that the growth impact of HSRs was likely to lie within the modest range of 1-3% of GDP."

It should be noted that the 1997 estimate was published when money was being poured into HSR and yet the predictions of benefit from HSR on growth and employment were low.

Dr Gourvish had nothing more to say on the matter.


The researcher was equally lukewarm about any regenerative effect from HSR. Whilst Lille is often quoted as benefitting economically from HSR there are many places where regenerative effects have been modest or disappointing.

2.  Dr Gourvish's Credentials

2.1.  Business History of the UK and Europe, especially railways, are among his special interests.

2.2.  In addition to numerous papers, he has written several authoritative works on the subject:

—  Britain's railway 1997-2005: Labour's strategic experiment (2008).

—  The official history of Britain and the Channel Tunnel (2006).

—  British Rail 1974-97: from integration to privatisation (2002).

—  Los ferrocarriles como medio de transporte en Gran Bretaña, 1830-1990. (1999).

—  The regulation of Britain's railways: past, present and future. In: Andersson-Skog, Lena and Krantz, Olle, (1999).

3.  I think the Committee would agree that what a leading academic says on the subject is more likely to be nearer the truth than an economist with other interests to protect. As the Committee will know, for a university academic, giving a balanced critique is extremely important.

4.  The Committee may be interested to learn that although "History and Prospects" was commissioned by the developer, HS2 Ltd did not include Dr Gourvish's appraisal with its other commissioned work in the List of Supporting Documents (page 246) of its March 2010 Report to Government. Gourvish and his work are only referred to in text on page 23 when rolling stock speed is being discussed. His paper was required to support the "basic model" for HSR in the UK (page 27 March 2010 Report to Government). This includes factors such as maximum speed and usage which have become contentious subjects.

5.  I can only surmise that whilst HS2 Ltd was happy to refer to Dr Gourvish's work when it suited the developer, it did not want to draw attention to his less favourable findings.

May 2011


The High-speed Rail Revolution: History and Prospects pages 26-28

London School of Economics Dr Gourvish

HS2 Ltd March 2010 Report to Government

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Prepared 8 November 2011