One of the arguments used in favour of High Speed Two is that it will release additional capacity on the West Coast Mainline (WCML). What is less well publicised is the Department for Transport (DfT) wishes to reduce its support for “classic” rail once HS2 is built.
Northampton is a busy station on the WCML with 2.5 million passengers in the last year. That represents a 13% increase on the previous year. Between London and Northampton, only Euston, Milton Keynes and Watford Junction stations handle more rail passengers. Currently there are 54 trains each way between Northampton and Euston per day, and some of these at peak times are sufficiently full that some passengers have to stand for part of their journeys.
The ”Demand and Appraisal Report HS2 London – West Midlands” published earlier this year outlines the anticipated schedule for classic trains on the WCML after the introduction of HS2. Rather than providing additional trains for Northampton, this schedule indicates that there will be only 42 trains each way between Northampton and Euston per day. So this will be a reduction of 12 trains per day in each direction. See Tables A2 and A3: www.hs2.org.uk/assets/x/85308
Demand for travel between Northampton and London is likely to increase between now and 2026 when HS2 is scheduled to start operation. So trains will become even more crowded rather than less crowded and with a reduced frequency there will be longer to wait between trains.
Northampton will not be alone in experiencing a reduced service once HS2 is introduced. Coventry, Wilmslow, Stockport, Leicester, Chesterfield, Wakefield, Stoke-on-Trent and Warrington (HS2 phase 2) are some of the other towns and cities that will receive a less frequent service to and from London after the introduction of HS2. Some journey times will also be lengthened.
The picture could be even worse than this as the DfT has increased the amount it expects to save from “efficiency improvements” when it provided an updated economic case for HS2 in August. The savings have increased from £5.1 billion to £7.7 billion. The Demand and Appraisal Report I referred to earlier was produced prior to these additional savings being planned.
A response from the councillor responsible for transport at Northamptonshire County Council on the subject of Northampton’s future train services contained the following views:
“I am well aware that the service level for Northampton contained in the published proposals for HS2 falls short of both the reasonable aspirations of the town and the importance which ministers have attached to serving the area post-HS2. This is something of which all county councillors have been made aware in the reports we have considered on the subject. I have made this point myself to ministers on several occasions, and along with my officers have repeatedly made the point to officials from both the Department for Transport and HS2 Limited. While they have acknowledged that their published proposals are not really fit for purpose, I have been disappointed that no better proposals have been forthcoming”.
“Not really fit for purpose” is a pretty damning criticism. So the freeing up of capacity on classic rail post HS2 does not always mean that the service will be improved.