Our latest report Modal Shift Matters – and HS2 delivers it sets out how HS2 is uniquely positioned to provide a more attractive alternative to both motorways and domestic flights and provide the capacity needed to accommodate modal shift on a significant scale.

The report makes clear that a national high speed rail network, with HS2 at its centre, has an essential role to play if the UK is to have any chance of achieving its net zero ambitions by 2050, facilitating the move from polluting car and air travel to rail.

HS2 modelling results to date suggests only a small modal shift from car to rail travel, but this looks to be due to data limitations. The evidence from completed projects elsewhere reveals people do switch from car to high speed rail, with pressure being taken off parallel motorway networks.

Rail’s share of the London-Scotland travel market could leap from 29% to 75% if, alongside HS2, high speed services are sped up north of Crewe, just as Government’s recent ‘Union Connectivity Review’ called for. On the London-Glasgow route alone, modal share for rail would increase by 50%, rising from 47% to 70%. The report makes clear that the tipping point for the move from air to rail is journey times between 2½-4½ hours – which HS2 can play an important role in facilitating.

There is international precedent for such a transformation. On Britain’s only existing high speed infrastructure, HS1, Eurostar services have reduced air passenger volumes by 50-60% on London- Paris/Brussels routes. Whilst in France the TGV Atlantique route has achieved a 65% shift from air to rail, while models had predicted only a 29% increase.

With road transport accounting for some 67% of the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions rail will also play an important role in moving users out of cars. This is particularly important on longer distance journeys, which account for 30% of vehicle miles and carbon emissions and where battery-powered cars and lorries reach their limits.

The report can be downloaded here:

Modal shift matters – portrait version

Modal shift matters – landscape version

Whilst increasing moves towards the decarbonisation of the freight sector means that there will be a consequential shift towards rail provided there is the capacity to handle the extra rail freight services that will be needed- particularly on the country’s busiest freight corridor, the West Coast Main Line. It is estimated that 40% of today’s HGV road mileage could switch to a better rail alternative.

The report makes clear that where there is a low-carbon, high speed rail option available, there are serious market shifts.

Report author and HSRG Board Director Jim Steer commented:

“The undeniable contribution that HS2 services can make in reducing carbon emissions is substantial and has been under-reported across the years. Modal shift will happen with HS2, much like it has across the world where high speed rail services have already been provided and integrated with other forms of transport. In this report, we have shown that high speed rail has the unique capability to achieve the modal shift that will be required to reach net zero.”

Mark Southwell, chief of civil infrastructure at infrastructure planners, AECOM, who contributed to the report said: “We need to shift to low carbon forms of mobility to limit global warming. As this report demonstrates, the evidence to support a sustainable, low carbon, high speed rail network is compelling.”