Airport expansion? Who needs airports? Those huge big things that demand huge swathes of land just to fly winged contraptions called aeroplanes. Crossrail and HS2, both advocates of reducing ecological impact footprints, are essentially increasing this by way of connecting to airports, such as Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham airports. It has been said these new railway lines will not increase CO2 impact, but is that right? Let’s have a look at how things stand….
Its being said today that we will learn of the Government’s review into HS2 next week – with possibly the East Midlands section being scrapped. See for example this report from ITV. But it will still not resolve the question of how these new rail lines are going to tap into airport traffic….
I could go on and write about the other aspect of air travel, which is the environmental damage that is done when people arrive at exotic destinations, but I am going to leave that out. We know tourism has a huge destructive footprint, and a lot of what’s touted as green tourism is basically pie-in-the-sky. I wrote about the ecological impact of tourism in essays for university back in the early 1990s – and recommend the book Empty Meeting Grounds by Dean MacCannel as a starting point for enlightenment.
I do know today has been the start of climate emergency action against City Airport, and that is in fact what prompted me to write this post, something I have been wanting to do for a long time – but had hesitated doing. I did mention the Crossrail aspect very briefly a couple of weeks ago. At the same time I also discussed HS2’s slogan ‘Engine for Growth.’
To start with one of the huge delays being conferred to Crossrail 1 (the Elizabeth Line) is (besides construction issues) the very fact it wants to connect to Heathrow airport. The problem here being, the three different integrated train control systems. The tagging of Heathrow as an add-on branch to Crossrail invariably means many problems, thus instead of having two operational control systems (CBTC, TPWS) we have three (ETCS added for Heathrow.)
Had this been done in the days when ATO wasn’t seen as a possibility, it would have not been such an issue. It is now. The delays to Crossrail has made it even more apparent that it does not connect to Heathrow because of the hugely negative CO2 impact. By that I do not mean Crossrail’s own but indirectly the air based CO2 impact.
The fact Heathrow wants to expand enormously and take over huge swathes of land for that purpose must mean if this does go ahead, Crossrail has in no way negated its CO2 footprint but rather will be increasing it because of the fact it will deliver even more customers to the airport itself. The sort of people who want to fly to other cities in the UK or other countries around the world.
As the above schematic details, Crossrail says it will address the physical environment and climate change and energy. The latter not really if its supporting traffic to Heathrow and that airport too expands… Source: Crossrail
During the operational phase, Crossrail will reduce carbon dioxide emissions through the modal shift of journeys from other forms of transport such as car use. This reduction is predicted to outweigh the emissions resulting from operational electricity consumption. The assessment showed that there is high potential for Crossrail to have a net positive impact in terms of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, although further detailed design is required in order to quantify this impact. This includes working with contractors to develop more detailed construction plans, and further work on energy saving measures such as regenerative breaking, heating, lighting and ventilation systems. Source: Mayor of London
In fact it has been said large numbers of people are already reducing their need to fly. See this report from the BBC. So why Crossrail to Heathrow? Its essentially a no-brainer if the traffic there is in fact going to be drying up?
In fact Crossrail claims its new form of transport will achieve CO2 reduction trhough shifts away from car use. But it doesnt say its transporting loads of people to another huge CO2 contributor – Heathrow.
If one looks at Crossrail 2 at least at first glance its more about communities. Not airports. There are no airports connected on its planned routes. That’s a good start. Its not perfect however because it too will unfortunately tap into traffic from Stanstead, Birmingham, Manchester airports (the latter two via HS2.) And if HS2 doesn’t go to Euston traffic from those airports will still find their way onto these new lines somehow….
There’s a down side to that also. If airport expansion continues so does the building of planes too! And the profits of plane makers too. In terms of growth and expansion the airplane manufacturers are worried and instead its being said the demands on plane construction will in fact be reduced.
We need something other than this abhorrent design that takes up huge swathes of land simply because the very mechanism of flight means the wings are so big and need so much ground based air space in order to be able to take off, land and fly, as well as taxi to/from the airport terminals. Yes its a free-for-all in the skies but on the ground land is severely in short supply – and we simply cannot afford to decimate further swathes of land just to satisfy a perverse lust for air travel.
HS2 claims a significant CO2 reduction programme as well as a green corridor along its length. But the fact it wants to connect to a number of airports (and no doubt quite seemingly assist in their expansion too – ‘engine for growth’ being its motto) is a huge smack in the face when one tries to envisage just exactly how HS2 can be claimed to be the green railway it is so often said to be.
Manchester Airport is one example that is said to be benefiting from HS2 – for example I found this following quote which tells us how HS2 will expand the airport’s needs:
A hub station at Manchester Airport will be vital, helping us expand further our network of international routes, which connect people and businesses to destinations all over the world, attracting inward investment to the Northern and UK economy. Source: About Manchester
Not only that, Manchester Mayor’s says theirs and Birmingham’s airport needs to expand if Heathrow’s third runway is halted. And the catalyst for that growth will be HS2!
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has claimed that High Speed 2 (HS2) can act as a catalyst for increasing capacity at both Birmingham and Manchester airports, replacing the need for a third runway at Heathrow. Source: New Civil Engineer
I would think if HS2 really wants to make an impact (besides the other questions such as destroying ancient woodlands and the rest of it) it needs to show it is reducing the need for airports. Not expanding their use. For example removing the need for people to fly from Manchester to London or from Birmingham to London. And by that, largely preventing any need for these airports to expand.
It seems if we gain this very airport expansion and more flights too, that claimed CO2 neutrality for HS2 wont even be possible. HS2’s CO2 statement is here.
If it can be shown that HS2 and Crossrail 1 or 2 definitely have no need of expansion of any airports or any sort of tapping into any airborne passenger traffic, then I think we have a very good case for these new rail lines – as long as other environmental considerations are included too.
In terms of the other issues this means aspects such as community displacement, woodlands destruction and and the rest of it. Or demolishing large, even historic, swathes of London (as has happened with Crossrail/Elizabeth Line.) What these new lines must not do is that.
Its a very difficult juggling act but I am sure it can be done. Let us remember that for Thameslink 2000 the railways practically wanted the whole of Borough Market gone. Has that happened? No. Because of the huge opposition the railways went for a more creative solution and that is what we see there now – a brilliant solution to what was once a huge problem of gaining further rail capacity.
City Airport expansion not wanted. East London Advertiser 26 September 2019
I have written before on Crossrail missing out on a station at City Airport however in retrospect its good that it has not built a station (given the constraints of the land thereabouts too) – and Crossrail/Elizabeth Line should do the same with Heathrow. If that airport wants trains TfL can easily continue its present rail operations – which clearly don’t have any problems with any signalling interfaces along its route between Paddington and Heathrow! Of course there’s the Heathrow Express – which is being given an expanded service and a new maintenance depot – let’s not forget the Piccadilly Line and other long established public transport links too.