More Trains? No, Just More Hot Air

This is a guest post from VoxOpp

The announcement made on 1 April by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, to business and civic leaders from London and the South East, that “Many towns and cities could benefit from a huge rise in direct trains to London once a new high speed rail network is built”, may have sounded encouraging but it actually promised nothing.

It was, in fact, just another example of the drip-fed misinformation with which the government repeatedly tries to deceive the population into believing that there is a sound business case for HS2.  The truth regarding this latest statement is that, as things stand, there are no plans whatsoever to increase train services anywhere as a direct result of building HS2.

In fact, the opposite is true.  In response to this question being asked at the HS2 roadshow at London’s Euston station, a Department for Transport spokesman said, “Train services will be cut on existing lines as there will be fewer passenger journeys”, explaining that this would be due to the increased capacity provided by HS2.  This response was not surprising as it is exactly the same argument put forward for the recently introduced HS1 in Kent.

Lord Adonis, then Transport Secretary, had claimed HS1 would “transform the journeys of large numbers of rail passengers”, just as Philip Hammond claims now for HS2.  The actual result is that the high speed trains from Kent achieve little, if any, reduction in time over the old services for most commuters from Kent.  Further, these old services have been deliberately slowed down to make the high speed trains’ performance look better and some of the old services have been cut.  Between Chatham and London, for example, there used to be 14 rush-hour trains on the old line. Now there are 11.

If HS2 were to be built, the nine high-speed/classic compatible trains each hour that would travel beyond Birmingham, would continue their journeys on the existing network at an overall slower speed than the pendelinos currently in use can achieve.  As Lichfield, a little further north, is already the most congested part of the West Coast Main Line, other services would inevitably have to be cancelled to accommodate them.

However, there are viable alternatives to HS2.  Plans exist which could deliver a massive 135% improvement in the capacity of the existing West Coast Main Line, more than HS2 can deliver, and speed up its services.  Called Rail Package 2, these plans are not popular with the government as they render the vastly more expensive HS2 project unnecessary.  When National Rail first published them last year, just a few days before HS2 was announced, the government tried to bury these plans.  They never released the fact that in a comparison between the two, RP2 had a better business case than HS2 and at a fraction of the latter’s cost.  The only thing RP2 would not deliver is those shiny new super high-speed trains.  For that reason the government now tries to rubbish RP2 at every opportunity.

Further, plans to greatly improve rail services in the north, called the Northern Hub or Manchester Hub project, also exist.  Again from Network Rail, these plans aim to revolutionise trans-Pennine rail with high-speed, non-stop services connecting cities across the North to cut the journey time between Leeds and Manchester, and Sheffield and Manchester to about 40 minutes, and between Bradford and Manchester journey to 50 minutes.  And these plans additionally increase and improve existing stopping services between those cities.  David Higgins, the new National Rail chief executive said, “The great thing about the Northern Hub is that we can get a 50 per cent increase in passenger utilisation and a return on investment of around four to one. From my point of view, we must make it our top priority to invest in the plans.

Interestingly, although these plans received no mention in the original HS2 plans one tiny reference has been quietly slipped into the consultation document.  Yet it is these plans, not HS2, which are capable of delivering real benefits for the north at a comparatively small £0.5billion.

Many countries which have built high speed rail systems have already found some reasons to be disenchanted with them.  In Britain, we have the opportunity to be clever, to go a different route and not rush headlong into a money pit.  HS2 would benefit only a few, to the detriment of the rest of the country and in particular still leaving the north out in the cold.  But the government, seeing only the latest must-have fashion, remains determined to play ‘follow the leader’.

14 comments to “More Trains? No, Just More Hot Air”
  1. freeing up capacity on the route to provide better local services on those routes. The provision of those local services is dependent upon the provision of extra route capacity.

    As people in Kent saw with HS1 it sounds good in principle but in practice it made everyones lives hell as expensive highspeed trains were given priority over energy efficient existing trains that people actually wanted to use.
    why does Coventry have to have the frequency of its energy efficient trains reduced, forcing people onto expensive and energy inefficient 250mph trains.

    • HS1 was designed for long distance high speed trains to Paris and Brussels etc…..if the channel tunnel had never been built, the commuters in Kent would not have the opportunity to use faster commuter trains.

  2. It doesnt affect me but that sounds defeatist and condemns many to high costs of getting to work not to mention time wasted.
    Where are the people with vision who really want to make things better

    • It doesnt affect me but that sounds defeatist and condemns many to high costs of getting to work not to mention time wasted.
      Where are the people with vision who really want to make things better

      Well people can always move house in order to get to walking distance of work John….and as for the people with vision who want to make things better, well I think we are all in agreement that we have to be a lot more greener nowadays, and encouraging people out of their cars and trucks off the road does require some vision…..hence investment in rail, which as we all know, is a very green form of transport.

  3. Ok lets pull this article apart …..

    1 – Plans exist which could deliver a massive 135% improvement in the capacity of the existing West Coast Main Line, more than HS2 can deliver, and speed up its services.

    Currently there are 9 high speed trains per hour from Euston. HS2 delivers 18……..a 200% increase on the current service.

    2 – If HS2 were to be built, the nine high-speed/classic compatible trains each hour that would travel beyond Birmingham, would continue their journeys on the existing network at an overall slower speed than the pendelinos currently in use can achieve.

    Rubbish……train speed is dictated by the capability of the line which is why pendolinos do not operate at their full design speed. New rolling stock would face the same issue.

    3 – As Lichfield, a little further north, is already the most congested part of the West Coast Main Line, other services would inevitably have to be cancelled to accommodate them.

    No its not…..Lichfield is part of Trent Valley which is four tracked, and also has an extra line to transfer services to the low level line. As it stands now, there is capacity for 1 high speed train per hour extra without impacting on current performance levels. This is likely to be taken up by the new West Coast franchise in 2012. When HS2 is connceted, it will be via a flying junction, which aviods traffic conflicts. One of these is being built at the next bottleneck further up ( Stafford/Norton Bridge ).

    4 – The truth regarding this latest statement is that, as things stand, there are no plans whatsoever to increase train services anywhere as a direct result of building HS2.

    Milton Keynes gets an increase of 100% on its current service level. That is a direct result of HS2.

    5 – When National Rail first published them last year, just a few days before HS2 was announced, the government tried to bury these plans.

    National Rail is a brand name associated with TOCs….they are mainly responsible for providing timetable and fare information to the public via the net or call centre. They do not publish plans associated with the running of the railway.

    6 – David Higgins, the new National Rail chief executive said……

    David Higgins is the chief executive of NETWORK RAIL ….asI said above National Rail has nothing to do with infrastructure.

    7 – Further, plans to greatly improve rail services in the north, called the Northern Hub or Manchester Hub project, also exist

    These have existed for some time…..it is very much business as usual along the lines of Thameslink or Crossrail. This is a Network Rail led project , with funding from a number of sources, and is in fact already under way. It has nothing to do with HS2……HS2 will complement this however once built. A limiting factor of Northern Hub is the franchise currently held by Northern Rail. The original spec was for no new rolling stock, however that is very likely to change when the franchise is up for renewal in 2012. A lot of the fleet is old and will fail the DDA compliancy test. The new franchisee will have to demonstrate their committment to new stock. Interestingly 2 open access operators recently had their applications to run services to London from regional north stations turned down on the basis of ” primarily abstractive “…….however, when the timetable solution was worked out for them, it was found that the greatest problem of pathing was actually found to be in the Northern region and not on the West Coast line itself.

    8 – HS2 would benefit only a few, to the detriment of the rest of the country and in particular still leaving the north out in the cold.

    Manchester currently gets 3 trains per hour from London , 10 years ago it was 1. Considering that HS2 connects 2 of the Norths biggest cities, we aint exactly shivering up here!!!

    All in all, a poor piece ( again ) from the stopHS2 campaign……as I said before, it sounds like you are clutching at straws.

    • Please can someone independent state the facts and stop this endless to and fro which clouds the real debate on how we gain the competitive advantage now and in the future and spend whatever money we have to best advantage

    • I ll state the facts for you John……the North to South rail corridors are fast approaching capacity, doing nothing is not an option. A new line is needed…..and you guys have already agreed with me that capacity is an issue.

      • Thats one answer but can we really go on building new lines to create capacity or do we for once have to address the cause and not the effect

        • The cause…….which is the fact that people and freight want to use the rail network in lieu of their cars and trucks??.

          How much new line was or is being built as part of the Evergreen project sponsored by Chiltern Railways? How many of you guys are actively against that, and the East/West proposals from Oxford ??

          • I see that as the effect of making it necessary for people to travel to earn a living and is that we should be addressing

            • Unfortunately John…..thats the world we live in, and you aint gonna change it, so adapt to it or stay at home , you have a choice.

  4. Declaration: Rail industry employee, living in the West Midlands.

    There are several errors in this article.

    Firstly, RP2 was not published by “National Rail) (sic) it was published by DfT on 12 March 2010.
    http://bit.ly/mDNG7W

    It is one of a number of rail and road packages which were developed by Atkins for the DfT for the purpose of evaluating value for money in comparison with HS2. It is not a fully-formulated set of proposals for increasing network capacity, and nobody within the rail industry (certainly not Network Rail) believes it would be deliverable. Virtually the only people who believe it is good idea are those who live along the proposed route of HS2, and are keen to highlight any possible alternative, regardless of their true merits.

    The HS2 Technical Appendix is quite clear what the proposals are regarding train services.
    http://bit.ly/kbMYon

    If you look through that you can see that Coventry and Stoke would tend to have fewer long-distance services than they do currently. Everywhere else would get the same or better levels of service. The journey times which are shown also take into account the fact that the HS trains would not tilt, so would be slower on some sections than Pendolinos. The published journey times are still significantly faster than anything which can be achieved today by Pendolinos.

    The statement in the article that “as things stand, there are no plans whatsoever to increase train services anywhere as a direct result of building HS2” is thus wilfully misleading. Look at the Technical Appendix, compare with the existing timetables, do the maths, and see for yourself.

    Lichfield in emphatically NOT the most congested part of he West Coast Main Line. The route modernisation that finished in 2009 involved 4-tracking through this area, which is now relatively uncongested as a result.

    The Northern Hub project is also mentioned in the HS2 Technical Specification, para 2.21 of section 2. This was published in March 2010. The Northern Hub project is independent of HS2 and solves a different issue. Personally I believe this should go ahead too, along with electrification of various routes in the North West, prior to the arrival of HS2. To imply that Northern Hub is somehow an alternative choice to HS2 is preposterous.

    Finally, it has understandable that HS2 should be compared to HS1. However this can be misleading. HS1 is only ever likely to have a maximum of 3 or 4 international trains per direction per hour, leaving loads of capacity for the operation of accelerated local services. HS2 takes an entirely different tack, by taking the long-distance non-stop services off the West Coast Main Line (and eventually the Midland Main Line and East Coast Main Lines too), freeing up capacity on the route to provide better local services on those routes. The provision of those local services is dependent upon the provision of extra route capacity, which is the driving force for HS2. The local services on HS1 have been criticised, but it is worth noting that the new timetable from May sees an increase in the number of services being operated, so they must be seeing some degree of success:
    http://bit.ly/f3V0JN

    • @ggrrllaa: excellent post, a comprehensive debunking of the RP2 concept — at least as alternative to HS2. It is in may ways a precursor, as the Norton Bridge grade separation and 11-car Pendolino fleet show that significant investment is planned incrementally to 2020, countering the claim that HS2 is ‘all or nothing’.

      Re the Northern Hub, the giveaway there on RP2 is that nowhere in the 185 pages (to my knowledge) is the Northern Hub mentioned; it is simply a ‘white space’ analysis of the theoretical capacity of a perfectly-functioning WCML. Ironically, on p85 of the Alternatives paper the 3 min headways required by RP2 are advocated on the premise that they are used on the Tohoku Shinkansen…which is (of course) a purpose built high speed line!

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