In November 2011, HS2 Action Alliance carried out research to find out whether the West Coast Main Line trains really were full at peak times.
What the research showed – verified by independent research firm CRT Viewpoint – was that long distance trains leaving Euston during the week day, evening peak period (16.30 to 18.59) on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) had an average occupancy rate or load factor of just 56 percent.
This directly contradicts claims by the DfT and HS2 Ltd that the lack of capacity on the WCML is the central reason why the £32b HS2 rail line needs to be built.
The occupancy of the trains during peak period trains to Manchester was even lower than other destinations at an average of 45%. This further undermines the business case for second phase of HS2, which is planned to run from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.
The loadings on trains making an extra stop at Milton Keynes were significantly higher with an average loading of 107 percent. It might seem obvious therefore that Milton Keynes could really do with a HS2 station. However, in typical bizarre HS2 Ltd logic they said, in 2010, that they rejected Milton Keynes for a station because the trains would be full at peak hours.
The first trains after the peak ends (19.00 to 19.30) had higher loadings (67%). This demonstrates the effect on demand of the much cheaper fares that kick in when the off peak travel begins.
As Hilary Wharf said at the time;
“With extra capacity being at the very centre of the DfT and HS2 Ltd’s argument for the need for the £32 billion project, this research shows that the business case for HS2 is fatally flawed. Two extra carriages are planned for WCML services in 2012 which will reduce crowding further.
“We had to run our own research because the DfT refused a Freedom of Information request for the load figures. Having seen how low they really are in the peak it is clear why they tried to hide them.”
This research was followed up by Steve Baker at the Transport Select Committee when he questioned Justine Greening intensely about the passenger loadings on the WCML. He pointed out that FOI requests about passenger loadings on the GWL had been granted, but not for the WCML. Justine Greening said she’d look into why the two cases were handled differently.
She’s now looked into it. And decided not to release the figures because of “commercial confidentiality”.
However, in 2009, it was reported (the loading figures are across the whole day, not just peak hours)
“…Meanwhile, however, the number of train kilometres was 27% up on the previous year – thanks to the extra Birmingham-Glasgow services but also following the introduction of Virgin’s “Very High Frequency” timetable. As a consequence of these changes, average train load fell by almost 17% to just under 150 – a load factor of 35% on a 423-seat Pendolino tilting train.”
Of course means that Justine is quite happy to commit the country to spending at least £17 billion, but unwilling to show that there is any need to spend the money.
How can the public be sure that building the proposed HS2 line is the right way to spend billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, if the data that the entire case is built on is kept secret?
Methodology of the HS2AA research:
The methodology counted passengers onto each train, on Thursday 17 and Tuesday 22 Nov 2011. A third count took place on Thursday 24th November 2011.
Over the two days 66 trains were counted. Although the sample is small, CRT Viewpoint say they believe this gives a fair reflection of mid-week loading, away from a holiday period, on two normal working days.
The loading figures are for both first and standard class carriages as counters were unable to board the trains and separate the two classes. All trains were formed of nine car Pendolino’s except the Holyhead and Wrexham services which were formed of 10 car Voyager trains.
CRT conducted three audit counts on the three platform access ramps on Tuesday 22nd November 2011 in order to verify the accuracy of the counts being taken
The methodology used is no different from how many of the train companies do their counts in order to get loading figures.