The following guest post was written by Simon Haywood.
A few years ago, my circumstances arranged themselves such that I was living in Birmingham and working in Central London. For a period of about six months, I commuted to work on the West Coast Mainline. My experience of that time has helped shape my view of the proposed High Speed Two rail link.
My home was in Moseley – which is very close to the centre of Birmingham, and my work place was in Bloomsbury – very close to Great Ormond Street Hospital in the centre of London – and not far from Euston station. My journey comprised a trip from my home to Birmingham New Street station – then a train to London Euston, then a short journey across London.
The journey time from Birmingham New Street – on a Virgin Trains Pendolino – was then (as it is now) scheduled roughly at an hour and twenty minutes. Because I made the journey regularly I owned a season ticket that was valid for travel on any train. To take advantage of Virgin Trains’ catering service, I travelled First Class. It meant I saved time in the morning by not breakfasting at home, and again by eating my evening meal as I travelled. I guess I was exactly the sort of traveller that the proponents of HS2 have in mind.
My view was that the Virgin Trains experience was mostly excellent. The trains were reliable and fast – so fast in fact that I remember regularly arriving at Coventry from London some fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. The difficult leg of the journey was from my home to the centre of Birmingham.
There is a railway line running through Moseley, but the station has long since been closed. There is a good bus service into the centre of the city, but in the morning peak the journey could take anywhere between forty five minutes and an hour – and the terminus for the route is at Birmingham’s Bull Ring, some ten minutes walk from the railway station. Driving to the station was also not an option – both because of the traffic congestion, and the fact that there is no parking available at the station.
My total door-to-door journey time was therefore an hour from my home to Birmingham New Street, an hour and twenty minutes to get to London Euston, and then a further twenty minutes to walk to my final destination. A total of two hours and forty minutes.
However, I managed to cut forty minutes from that journey time – and make the journey viable and manageable. I cycled from my home to Birmingham New Street station. I could make the trip in fifteen minutes (giving you an idea of how close to the centre of Birmingham Moseley is) – but I always allowed myself twenty minutes. With the bike, my door-to-door journey time was two hours.
Cycling through heavy rush-hour traffic is not for everyone of course – but it’s the underlying experience that is the key. Sort out the local transport – to get travellers to and from the inter-city hubs – and you can massively reduce overall journey times for a fraction of the cost of high profile projects like HS2.
In a world with HS2, and Birmingham Curzon Street to London journey times of an hour, my door-to-door travel time using public transport would have been reduced by twenty minutes to a total of two hours and twenty minutes – still twenty minutes longer than I was achieving when I was making the journey with my bike and the existing West Coast Mainline.
Whoever the target customers of HS2 are, they are very unlikely to live in either the centre of London or the centre of Birmingham – and almost certainly not within walking distance of the HS2 station. To make their journey, they are going to have to start it at home. The same applies for the cities of Nottingham, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh – and anywhere else on the proposed route of HS2.
It’s the local transport that matters. It brings the most benefit, to the most people, for the least cost.