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Use of business and leisure time, January 2017

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We all knew that people worked on trains.  This note goes further.  It cites a report by Mott Macdonald, commissioned by the DfT, and one by Microsoft.  Taken together, those reports show that business time on a train is almost as productive as time spent in an office.  The implication is that the value of in-train journey time savings for business passengers should be set to zero, destroying the economic case for HS2 at a stoke.

The Mott MacDonald report

The Mott MacDonald report of June 2009 with the title, “Productive Use of Rail Travel Time and the Valuation of Travel Time Savings for Rail Business Travellers” was commissioned by the DfT.  The report provides:-

  • At page S-2, “It was found that the proportion of business travellers working on the train was, in Spring 2008, 82% for an outbound journey, and 77% on the return journey, a significantly higher value than the figure of 52% obtained from the National Passenger Survey (NPS) in Autumn 2004, the last comparable dataset. For those that spent some time working, the percentage of journey time spent working was 60% on the outward leg, and 54% on the return leg. For both directions combined, this corresponds to 46% of journey time by all business travellers being spent working”
  • At page S-3, “In economic appraisal, if work is done on the train, it has to be appraised in terms of the working time needed were that to be done in the usual office environment. The SPURT surveys showed that some two-thirds (68%) of working business travellers would take “about the same” amount of time, 8% would take “more” time (on average 29 minutes more) and a quarter (24%) would take “less” time (on average 18 minutes less). Across all journey lengths a slight saving of 1.7 minutes per journey would be realised in the usual workplace as compared to the train, this corresponds approximately to a 97% efficiency of working on-train compared with at-workplace”

Hence nearly 45% of business in-train time is used effectively.

The Microsoft report

The Times, 5th Oct 2015, reports a study by Microsoft.[2]  It found, “Employees waste three hours of every shift and only half of the normal working day is productive”.  The implication of that, together with the findings in the Mott McDonald report, is that time in an office is no more productive than time in a train.

Leisure time

HS2 uses values for leisure time derived from surveys of motorists carried out in 1994!.  However a motorist can scarcely read as he drives and likewise for his passengers.  In contrast leisure or commuting time on a train may very well be as enjoyable or otherwise as is time spent anywhere else - after all rail companies advertise for great days out by rail. Not surprisingly the House of Lords Economics Affairs committee at paragraph 378 of its report into the Economics of High Speed 2 says, “We are not convinced that basing values of time on outdated surveys of motorists is the best way of calculating some of the benefits of a major rail project”,


We conclude that all, or nearly all, the in-train time savings attributed to HS2, currently amounting to 50% of the supposed benefits, are illusory, destroying the case for this misconceived project at a stroke.


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