Regrets for Wrexham…

We are being told that HS2 is necessary because in a number of years time the railways will run out of capacity.  Politicians imply that the overcrowded trains that commuters catch today are symptomatic of this.

However, as Joe Rukin pointed out in his evidence to the Transport Select Committee, there are artificial barriers which stop current services being used to best effects.  These barriers do not depend on a long series of engineering works: they are things that could be done today.

As Joe said in his evidence:

“For example, there are practices in place which restrict capacity due to the effects of privatisation and the franchises. For example, Wrexham and Shropshire currently run five trains a day to Marylebone, which go through Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Coventry. They are not allowed to stop there because of the franchise agreement with Virgin.”

Unfortunately, these things will not be able to be done next week: the Wrexham, Shropshire, Marylebone Railway (WSMR) will run its last train on Friday evening.

Christian Wolmar wrote in his blog yesterday: “Wrexham & Shropshire was a great little service, a kind of throwback to the best of British Rail but it never made any money and was hampered by the ridiculous constraints such as not being allowed to offer a full service at Wolverhampton or stop at Coventry. “

If politicians were serious about the experience of travellers, they could have allowed the WSMR trains stop at more stations, and carry more passengers.  Without these artificial constraints, who knows whether the service could have continued?

The decisions of people who say the trains will run out of capacity tomorrow prevent the full use of current capacity today.

6 comments to “Regrets for Wrexham…”
  1. Not really. I don’t think the ability to squeeze in a few trains between London and north Wales which are routed all around the houses indicates there is lots of untapped rail capacity now, let alone in 15 years time. Arguably WSMR’s demise shows that people won’t use public transport when it’s slow and journey times are uncompetitive against travelling by car.

    While not wanting to belittle what WSMR achieved, the passenger satisfaction results need to be seen in context. This is a company which since December has run six trains a day on a route it has chosen with trains it has specified. I’m guessing that getting a high score in these circumstances is going to be easier than if you’re a Virgin or Southeastern with a complex network of services which are specified by the DfT.

    In terms of HS2 Land I would argue HS2 is an opportunity to make more of the NUCKLE plans being worked up by Coventry and Warwickshire councils and ensure commitments for significantly enhanced local rail services are bolted into whatever plans the government takes forward.

  2. What it has to do with HS2 is that it is justified on the premise that there is no capacity left on the existing lines. The WSMR example show that argument is, like most of the arguments made for HS2, complete rubbish. Regulation, billed as ‘competition’ in this case has artificially held capacity down.

    In the last survey from Passenger Focus, WSMR came top, with a 99% satisfaction rating, the highest EVER in the history of their survey. See

    The other thing this does is hit ‘HS2 Land’, with Banbury & Leamington losing services. It also is a blow to the hopes to build a station in Kenilworth. As WSMR weren’t allowed to stop at Coventry, they wanted to stop in Kenilworth once a station was built as they currently (well until the end of today at least) go through the town.

  3. interesting article and a great shame about the company. No idea what the relevance to hs2 is though. At the moment there are several towns on the west coast mainline that used to have a service but dont anymore. This is not due to lack of competition it is due to lack of capacity. In fact the extra capacity released by hs2 means that we could have more competition and more open access on the existing network and maybe even therefore lower prices !

    the other side of the story is called cherry picking and is why there are such restrictions. the registered ie not open access operators have to operate to a schedule and operate trains per their franchise.if open access operators are allowed to stop anywhere they choose they could pick all the most profitable stations.

    it will be very interesting to see if another wcml operator who now also runs a service to Wrexham will continue to run that service. I dont think it would be very prudent on their part to do so not with negotiations ongoingfor the relet of the franchise !

    • I have to agree with the comments in relation to WSMR that it is not terribly trelevant to HS2 but I still have not seen the evidence that the £billions that are to be spent on HS2 are a sensible use of our rapidly dwindling resources. It has been suggested that a more rapid link between “The North” and “The South” is not only what people want but that it will greatly improve the way of life and the fortunes of both areas – why will it? If it takes 4 hours to get from say Newcastle to London who will benefit from a reduction in time? I can see the argument for increasing the capacity of the existing rail corridors if they are currently grossly overcrowded but why this “Jeremy Clarkson” attitude that nothing is any good unless it can travel at close to the speed of sound whilst causing untold grief to everyone who is not actually inside “the capsule”?

      • there is another report from the railways today showint that passenger numbers are still increasing despite the increases in broadband and mobile and satellite technology. after the much vaunted west coast upgrade there are several stations either which no longer have a service or a less frequent one. this is due to lack of capacity. the wcml may not be at full capacity all day every day but all the predictions are that by 2025 it will be so forward planning is required and hs2 is the solution to improve capacity.

        in the new so called eureka east coast timetable, we may well run down the street naked shouting but it probably wont be euraka we will be shouting as apparently stevenage and peterborough will not have as many inter-city connections. this is due to lack of capacity. the capacity relief of hs2 for points north of leeds would help this situation.

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