Originally published on 51M.
The Department for Transport, to the sound of much celebration, announced details of the new East Anglia franchise. By 2021 there will be 1,144 additional week day services; improved connections; 1,040 new carriages; and 32,000 more seats for the morning peak time services coming into Liverpool Street station.
Of course, those challenging HS2 did wonder why such a way forward could not be adopted for the West Coast Main Line (WCML).
Back in 2011 51m proposed an approach that would introduce longer trains and a revised split between first and standard class seats that would enable the proportion for the latter to be increase.
These steps would be underpinned by making improvements to key pinch points on the WCML. Such an approach would be delivered much sooner and cost a fraction of HS2.
At the time the 51m proposal was dismissed as not delivering the necessary “step change” in capacity that was need as the WCML would be “full” in 10 years. The proposal was also seen as being very disruptive to rail travellers using the line. The implication was that HS2 would be less disruptive by comparison but no details were rolled out to support this assumption.
In April, 2015 reports emerged that Britain’s railways will be giving up using the current red and green light signalling, adopting electronic computerised in-cab control of trains instead. ETCS, (European Train Control Systems), as used in France and Germany today, allows braking distance between trains to be reduced substantially thus increasing capacity and speeds without major changes to track layouts.
But this is not the only significant innovation on the horizon that could play a major role in rail’s future. A similar issue relates to the current fixed box signalling used on the classic network. If this were replaced by a far more flexible moving block system, significantly greater capacity would be achieved. If this system was rolled out across the classic network, a dramatic increase in capacity would result.
In these respects, the prospect of an exciting future is already here, that does not depend on a vastly expensive vanity project requiring the taxpayer to pay £56bn for a shiny train.
HS2 is not the only solution to the ‘capacity crisis’. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Transport would be well to dwell on this fact.