The High Speed Rail Policy Forum was launched on November 6th. Afterwards, Westbourne
Communications made some surprising claims for HS2. Some of their points which are worthy of attention are as follows:
“HS2 will bring a vast increase in capacity and high frequency services….”
According to the service specification, 1100 seat trains will only be run at peak hours within the dedicated HS2 network. At other times and on routes which continue on classic rail, 550 seat trains will be used. Bearing in mind that over half of the Virgin Pendolino fleet is in the course of providing 589 seat trains by lengthening from 9 to 11 carriages, many HS2 trains will have less capacity than the existing 11 carriage Pendolino fleet. There will be a few classic compatible trains (about 8% of the total fleet) which are 260 metres long rather than 200 metres. Their seating capacity has not been advised.
Glasgow will have one HS2 train per hour (in each direction) which can be hardly called high frequency. Manchester currently has four trains per hour to Euston in the morning peak hour and four in the peak hour from London on Thursdays and Fridays. In future, Manchester will have no more than three HS2 trains per hour to and from London. So this city will have a less frequent service.
The current schedule for HS2 lists 17 trains per hour in each direction on the stretch between Birmingham Interchange and the Heathrow area, without listing any connections to HS1 (European services). As HS2 Ltd has not yet explained how 18 trains can safely be run per hour in each direction, there is little opportunity for providing any improvements to frequency in the future.
“A vision for low fares that makes HS2 accessible to a broad-base of passengers”
The cost of a train ticket from Ashford to London on HS1 is 20% more expensive than that on a classic rail train. A small survey of rail ticket prices in five European countries indicated that the price premium for high speed rail tickets compared to classic rail tickets varied between 13% and 206%. So it is very difficult to understand how “low” fares can be provided on HS2. The chair of the Public Accounts Committee also expects a price premium on HS2 tickets.
“……..in Brazil, for example, a tender is about to be launched for a new high-speed line in which the operator will be selected first and tasked among other things with specifying what infrastructure will need to be built.”
It was surprising that Brazil has been used as an example and it is hard to see how it helps make the case for HS2. The Brazilian government made three previous (unsuccessful) attempts to attract bidders for its proposed high speed rail network, the last one being in 2011. On previous occasions, companies with experience in building high speed lines thought the government’s estimates of the building costs were far too low and the ridership predictions were wildly optimistic. To make the project more attractive this time, the government has decided that a good chunk of the risk of cost overruns, low demand and sharp currency movements should be borne by the taxpayer rather than all being carried by the successful bidder which was the previous expectation.
“……..with a train with over a thousand seats leaving the station every 4 minutes.”
As mentioned above, the 1100 seat trains only run during peak hours and not throughout the day. Furthermore the classic compatible trains do not have an 1100 seat capacity and there are 6 of these at peak hours (phase 2). Where 200 metre trains are used, these will have a lesser seating capacity
than the 11 car Pendolino trains currently in use. So even at peak hours, the 1100 seat capacity trains will leave Euston on average every 6 minute 40 seconds, not every 4 minutes.
“This is in addition to the capacity and services on the existing network.”
It might be inferred that the service on the existing service remains unchanged. The DfT’s most recently revised HS2 Economic Case (August 2012) advises that there will £7.7 billion of efficiency improvements on classic rail when HS2 is introduced. This is a significant increase compared to the previous figure of £5.1 billion both of these representing cuts in services on classic rail. It is already expected that the following stations will have a reduced service once HS2 is introduced: Coventry, Wilmslow, Stockport, Stoke-on-Trent, Leicester, Chesterfield, Wakefield and Warrington (HS2 phase 2). Further research has also indicated that Northampton will be adversely affected in the same way and that Chester and Holyhead will lose their direct services to Euston. 16 stations will experience slower journey times. In a number of cases, services and capacity will be reduced.
Demand and Appraisal Report HS2 London – West Midlands (April 2012)
Economic Case for HS2 (January and August 2012)
Review of the Technical Specification for High Speed Rail in the UK (January 2012)
Economist (24th August 2012)