Capacity, again

Now that the HS2 cost is being scrutinised very carefully, once again proponents of HS2 have brought out the argument that it is needed for capacity. This is not a new rationale, but gets dusted off every so often, when the other arguments for HS2 are shown false.

However HS2 is a long way from being the only way of increasing capacity. When HS2 was first announced, HS2 Ltd suggested alternative packages of rail improvements, such as RP2. This was subsequently developed into the 51M optimised alternative that was discussed at the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill.

Even the Office of Rail Regulation thinks that there is more capacity on existing railways. In a press release issued yesterday, ORR Chief Executive, Richard Price said:

“Although we are unable to grant access right now, we are putting pressure on Network Rail both to improve its performance and to carry out improvements on the West Coast Main Line so that the question of new services from London to Blackpool and Shrewsbury can be looked at again as soon as possible.”

Even if the proponents of HS2 were right, and the taxpayer should fund a new railway line, it doesn’t have to be high speed. The reality is that long-distance journeys are not the journeys which most rail travels make: HS2 will leave short-distance commuters left suffering crush-hour conditions as the HS2 business model demands £7.7bn worth of cuts to existing rail services.

Looking back to the 2010, the HS2 command paper said that a conventional speed line would give the same capacity benefit as a high speed line, for a lower cost. Then the High Speed Two Limited argument was because the benefits of a new railway came from faster journeys, and conventional speed railways wouldn’t be as fast as a high speed railway, it had to be high speed. In effect they said “we ought to build a high speed line because it goes fast, and it only costs a little bit more”.

However, with the recent price increase, even a small reduction in costs could be a huge sum. HS2 Ltd claim a new conventional speed line is marginally cheaper to build, but if it costs just 10% less to build a conventional speed line, this equates to spending nearly £5 billion less than the proposed HS2 line. As a percentage this might be quite a small amount of the HS2 budget, but in absolute terms it would be a huge saving to the taxpayer, as well as a significant reduction in environmental damage.

Stop HS2 does not think it is necessary to build a new railway. But the people who want a new railway, need to show that not only is it better to build a new railway than to make the kinds of improvements the ORR expect, but they also need to show that a high speed railway is better value rather than a conventional speed railway.

And so far, the case for any new railway simply has not been made.

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6 comments on “Capacity, again
  1. Is LordMandleson the spokesman for Labour on hs2 I do hope so .he as set the cat among the pigeons with his views on the govenments train set .The problem is will his comments make the current shower even more eager to put this project forward just for the hell of it no matter at what cost to the tax payer or our countryside .The PM must by now he and his merry men are on there own pushing this project through and will be costing his party votes at the next election I do hope he as the sense to put a stop to hs2 soon and save us any more money being spent on this project for the rich

    • @J.davis: Is LordMandleson the spokesman for Labour on hs2 I do hope so

      The answer to your question is NO – that role falls to Maria Eagle, the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport.

      The Dark Lord, A.K.A. Peter Mandleson no longer holds any significant role within the Labour Party although he clearly continues to wield a degree of influence in some quarters. Since Ed Miliband’s election as party leader, Mandleson has become increasingly peripheral – his viewpoint on HS2 is unlikely to carry much weight in shaping Labour Party transport strategy.

  2. Not necessarily the case that this HS2 one track each way to the WEST is the only new line. The railway services from one track each way is not as significant as the pro-HS2 people believe. The GWR FGW incident this week demonstrates one type of unreliablity on single lines, engineering work over-runs are another. The doubling of tracks with such long tunnels will be even more costly. There are bottlenecks on the WCML MML ECML which if reduced and bypassed can add the train paths required, especially where there are current one track each way sections. Phase 1 of HS2 offers very little in the next decade, another M1, M25 widening. There is currently some over demands in peaks on ECML not relieved by HS2. This pro v against is not a complete structured approach. The Optimised Alternative also was too WCML focussed.

    From the SRA to today there was no significant new tracks investement by Railtrack and Network Rail simply some diesel to electrical power migrations. The HS2 offering in phase 1 was poorly planned in railway terms. It was proven in the lack of locations for viable stations to be insufficient for local and intercity travel. When extended to a British expansion South West, Southern, Scottish regions the HS2 technical and operational specifications are unaffordable. It is akin to pretending drag racing is tomorrows car travel. HS2 phase 1 is costly and of little direct benefit to commuters. It is a good political concept because the jam tomorrow whilst also of signficant cost is bearable instead of the implementation of the road/motorway lanes and tunnels and rail bottleneck reliefs required. The great shame is for DFT to entrap all in the diversion when Network Rail needs the capabilities of the HS2 engineering to deliver. WCML stoppages during upgrades was because of the signalling changes which now made would be less troublesome next time in a decade. Some junctions were remodelled but no new diversions and split junctions.

  3. Stop HS2 does not think it is necessary to build a new railway. But the people who want a new railway, need to show that not only is it better to build a new railway than to make the kinds of improvements the ORR expect, but they also need to show that a high speed railway is better value rather than a conventional speed railway.

    A well argued synopsis Penny but those who support the case for HS2 would counter, claiming that this is exactly what they have been saying for the last two to three years – only a new line can deliver the long term capacity benefits required.

    The article linked by the following URL explains this viewpoint – why not allow your readers to see both sides of the argument?
    http://blog.railnews.co.uk/?p=169#more-169

    • The Stop HS2 website is here to publish the views of the Stop HS2 campaign. There is nothing to stop anyone reading this website from going and looking at other points of view.

      • There is nothing to stop anyone reading this website from going and looking at other points of view.

        I agree Penny but it does help to delivery some balance if readers here can see the counter argument directly linked. Many thanks for allowing my comment to appear.

        You’ve argued the case about capacity very passionately, I equally passionately believe that your argument is flawed

        You have also repeatedly claimed that the case for HS2 has not been put. Supporters of the project would claim, equally vociferously that the case has been put (many, many times) – the article in Railnews reiterates some of these arguments – it’s simply that the anti-HS2 community in general have no interest in even acknowledging such viewpoints – in fact it suits their purpose to repeatedly claim that the argument has not been put in order to maintain a question mark, when in fact there is no such question mark.

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