A Birmingham commuter says…

The following guest post was written by Simon Haywood.

A few years ago, my circumstances arranged themselves such that I was living in Birmingham and working in Central London. For a period of about six months, I commuted to work on the West Coast Mainline. My experience of that time has helped shape my view of the proposed High Speed Two rail link.

My home was in Moseley – which is very close to the centre of Birmingham, and my work place was in Bloomsbury – very close to Great Ormond Street Hospital in the centre of London – and not far from Euston station. My journey comprised a trip from my home to Birmingham New Street station – then a train to London Euston, then a short journey across London.

The journey time from Birmingham New Street – on a Virgin Trains Pendolino – was then (as it is now) scheduled roughly at an hour and twenty minutes. Because I made the journey regularly I owned a season ticket that was valid for travel on any train. To take advantage of Virgin Trains’ catering service, I travelled First Class. It meant I saved time in the morning by not breakfasting at home, and again by eating my evening meal as I travelled. I guess I was exactly the sort of traveller that the proponents of HS2 have in mind.

My view was that the Virgin Trains experience was mostly excellent. The trains were reliable and fast – so fast in fact that I remember regularly arriving at Coventry from London some fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. The difficult leg of the journey was from my home to the centre of Birmingham.

There is a railway line running through Moseley, but the station has long since been closed. There is a good bus service into the centre of the city, but in the morning peak the journey could take anywhere between forty five minutes and an hour – and the terminus for the route is at Birmingham’s Bull Ring, some ten minutes walk from the railway station. Driving to the station was also not an option – both because of the traffic congestion, and the fact that there is no parking available at the station.

My total door-to-door journey time was therefore an hour from my home to Birmingham New Street, an hour and twenty minutes to get to London Euston, and then a further twenty minutes to walk to my final destination. A total of two hours and forty minutes.

However, I managed to cut forty minutes from that journey time – and make the journey viable and manageable. I cycled from my home to Birmingham New Street station. I could make the trip in fifteen minutes (giving you an idea of how close to the centre of Birmingham Moseley is) – but I always allowed myself twenty minutes. With the bike, my door-to-door journey time was two hours.

Cycling through heavy rush-hour traffic is not for everyone of course – but it’s the underlying experience that is the key. Sort out the local transport – to get travellers to and from the inter-city hubs – and you can massively reduce overall journey times for a fraction of the cost of high profile projects like HS2.

In a world with HS2, and Birmingham Curzon Street to London journey times of an hour, my door-to-door travel time using public transport would have been reduced by twenty minutes to a total of two hours and twenty minutes – still twenty minutes longer than I was achieving when I was making the journey with my bike and the existing West Coast Mainline.

Whoever the target customers of HS2 are, they are very unlikely to live in either the centre of London or the centre of Birmingham – and almost certainly not within walking distance of the HS2 station. To make their journey, they are going to have to start it at home. The same applies for the cities of Nottingham, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh – and anywhere else on the proposed route of HS2.

It’s the local transport that matters. It brings the most benefit, to the most people, for the least cost.

17 comments to “A Birmingham commuter says…”
  1. This will be a blot on the landscape, spoiling natural habitats and beautiful views, why do this when there is alrady a line. I t mightnot no be the the same route but it is there als the same it may need up dating but surely that will be cheapper and more environmentally friendly and quicker to do then building a whole new line.


  2. Tim,

    Thanks for your response. You make a couple of good points.

    You note that speeding up the long distance leg (London to Birmingham) would save time on an overall journey. You’re absolutely right of course. But my argument is that equivalent time savings could be made by speeding up the local portion of a trip – and by doing so you would bring benefits to those travelling locally as well as those travelling a long distance. I disagree with your argument that only improving the short distance journeys will not benefit the longer distance traveller.

    Of course – as you rightly say – ideally we’d get both local and inter-city improvements. My concern though is that (whatever the financial climate) there is only ever a finite amount of money – and my argument is that you’d get a much better return and benefit more people, by starting local.

  3. Thanks for putting gary straight admin,You do not have the article from the telegraph yet it shows that-
    The largest group affected sre those travelling into paddington as they will be slowed down by HS”.
    It will delay London bound trains from thames valley ,western england& south wales.This involves 500 trains a
    day, 40 million passengers a year.None of these things have been thought about, as people working on trains
    was ignored.

    • Not quite sure where I have been ” put straight ” …….

      Just read the article by the Telegraph…….

      What it fails to mention is the fact that Euston station will be getting extra platforms dedicated to HS2…..so no need to free up exisitng platforms as they are to remain as they are.

      Also no mention of Crossrail……which for those who currently travel to Paddington ( which is a terminus ) will actually be able to stay on the train and get off a lot closer to Central London or travel straight through to the other side without actually having to change to the Tube. There are plans for an interchange at Old Oak Common which serves both HS2 and Crossrail……so slowing down for this ( which I doubt tbh as trains are being designed nowadays with a much higher accelaration rate due to electric traction ) would be offset by the time gains from not having to change on to the tube at Paddington.

      In my experience , the press have always had an anti rail agenda ( Daily Mail is the worse for this ) – no doubt influenced by the bad old days of British Rail and its militant unionised workforce. It was only a few weeks ago that the Telegraph was taken to task for reporting inaccuracies …..


      • Gary – “The Telegraph” were taken to task? I think HS2 wrote them a letter – or did more happen other than that?

        I happen to disagree with HS2 statement in their letter that Phil Hammond has “consulted” up and down the route. And as for a consultation – well with Government as Judge, Jury, and Arbitrator – I would say they are just following due process.And not doing that very well either! Launching their consultation in Birmingham with only pro Hs2 business allowed in – hasn’t really got the people on the route thinking they are really taking anything they say seriously. And if they think for a minute we are going to listen to their silly noise box….!

        Hopefully though – when the nation wakes up and realises that its going to cost each family in Britain some £1000, against which the purported benefits of £44 billion don’t actually have any basis at all, and a quarter of the population are going to have their local train services reduced (see telegraph article posted today on this site – hey Nick – no longer an “Inaccuracy” the source was HS2 themselves!!!) and of course all the conserative donors and big business people start to withdraw funding – well we might see the fall of HS2 ! The tides are turning..

        • Nelly – I was simply highlighting the fact that our media tend to report the rail industry in a way that its somewhat divorced from reality.

          One thing I cant understand ( unless I m missing it somewhere ) is why the stopHS2 campaigners dont seem to be pushing for a public inquiry ????. Like I have said elsewhere, these are rare in the rail industry and usually happen post event. But they have been extremely beneficial in making recommendations when they have been held.

          Surely a full public inquiry rather than what amounts to a roadshow just now would really give a clear indication of HS2 serving the national interest or not???.

          Im in the pro camp – though I dont have a vested interest in this, so I m not going to lose any sleep if HS2 ultimatley doesnt happen. Yes, its a lot of money, as projects of this nature are……but we are already undertaking a couple of similar rail undertakings in Thameslink and Crossrail at a major expense, which as far as I m concerned dovetail nicely. I d also make the point that comparing us with countries such as Holland is somewhat wide of the mark ….we run more trains in Kent than the combined Dutch , Belgium and Portugese networks put together. The UK as a whole has something like 25000 services a day , so its very intense and suffers from overcrowding in certain areas.

  4. On the Interchange station, this would actually be 7000 spaces (http://highspeedrail.dft.gov.uk/library/documents/route-engineering-report). However there are currently about 31,000 spaces for the NEC and existing railway station and more for the Airport (I believe 50,000 in total?). It is not as if there is nothing there now. Highway improvements are proposed for the vicinity to handle local traffic impacts.

    I agree that there is a tension between national benefits and local impacts of HS2. It appears to me so far that those near the stations tend to think it is a good idea, those along the route away from the stations tend to think it is a bad idea. This is understandable.

    However as this is a national consultation we need to find out what the country as a whole thinks. A poll published last Monday in the free Metro paper indicated 47% in favour of HS2, 9% against – and 44% undecided. In the end the Secretary of State and ultimately Parliament will have to take an overall view on whether this is in the national interest or not – and I think it is.

  5. HS2 will not solve anything Tim.The government have kept things hidden and are very clever in the way they put thingswhich they want the majority to believe.Having read lots of information i do not.The demand for hs2 has been highly inflated.HS1 is underused and expensive as will HS2 unless heavily subsidised by the taxpayer.They say that they want to reduce air travel(there are no flights between bham and london)but bham airport want the rain to fill surplus capacity.They want to reduce car travel yet they plan a I0,000 capacity car park.They have highly inflated demand.I do not believe that HS2 would attract 1,000 + every 4 mins 19 hours a day.So many trains to park for 5hours a night.So i believe they would run empty most of the day ,using vast amounts of fuel.having destroyed a vast swathe of countryside,and communities. for a few minutes.Jobs should be created in the smaller cities so that people dont have to travel so far,and would be less stressed.

    • Nothing has been hidden, see

      Demand projections for HS2 are based on past demand growth and that the structure of the economy is changing (more office based in town and city centres etc). We have to plan for the future as carrying on with piecemeal short-term improvements will cost more in the long run. There has been modal shift from road to rail in recent years and the evidence does suggest there is considerably more scope for this – and rightly so in my view.

      Modal shift from air would come into play if the full ‘Y’ network is built including services to Scotland and Continental Europe. London-Birmingham is about freeing up capacity on the existing railway.

      I think the demand for HS1 has been stunted by the growth in low cost airlines but long-distance rail improvements and other factors are affecting this – the West Coast Main Line upgrade (with journey time reduction) significantly reduced air travel between London and Manchester, and HS2 should do the same for Anglo-Scottish and hopefully Anglo-European journeys. Anyway, the case for HS2 is really built on domestic journeys, this is not a fair comparison with traffic through the Channel Tunnel.

      Yes there would be car traffic to the Interchange station, at a local level, but on a national level there is scope for scale modal shift – from road to both HS2 and particularly to classic rail. How this is taken advantage of depends on how the whole transport system is developed in conjunction with HS2.

      The Washwood Heath depot and other locations for stabling would provide plenty of room to hold the trains.

      Saving 30 mins each way (1 hour per return journey) is not ‘a few minutes’ and this produces considerable benefits for individuals and the economy, as this would be multiplied across the many thousands who will use HS2 per year.

      There is no reason why jobs could not be created in the smaller cities as well – people do work in Birmingham and live in surrounding areas and vice versa. Benefits will spread outwards. Be careful what you wish for though – if surrounding areas were to have similar numbers of jobs to Birmingham, they would become more like Birmingham including all the developments and increased road traffic…

    • Elaine – your posts dont make any sense.

      HS1 is not at capacity…..lets not forget this has only recently been opened. If it reached capacity straight away , then there would be demands for another one!!! Deutche Bahn have aspirations to run ICE trains from Germany to London – indeed one turned up on a demo run a few weeks ago. Also there are plans to run intermodal freight trains at night through the tunnel. Lets also not forget that HS1 was part of a bigger project which included the Channel Tunnel and re modelling of an underused St Pancras station , which has now freed up platform capacity at Waterloo ( the busiest station in the UK ). Lets also not forget that London is hosting the Olympics next year – for which car travel to the Olympic area is banned, which means using rail – in this case HS1. The legacy case for the Olympic games cannot be understated, and proof of that is here in Manchester. We held the Commonwealth games in 2002, which has been a catalyst for a major ongoing regeneration for East Manchester.

      You state again there are no flights between Birmingham and London……and I told you why on a previous thread.!! HS2 is a line which will benefit the whole of the UK once complete.

      You also say you believe that trains would run empty most of the day …..using vast amounts of fuel. How can they use fuel ??? They will be electric trains…..which …er….dont use fuel!!!

      As I suggested earlier Elaine, you need to do some research…..as of yet , you havent actually said anything which you can actually qualify.

      • Gary, electric trains cannot break the laws of physics. They use fuel – it is consumed in power stations. Our Government currently has no plans to convert the nation to entirely renewable electricity generation, if it did then this would be better investment than HS2.

        • Admin – that is not how Elaines point comes across!!

          And i would point out that there are renewable energy sources like solar , tidal and wind power schemes popping up on a regular basis nowadays. UK Coal for example are planning to install wind turbines on former colliery sites, and there is a mega plan to build offshore wind farms in the north sea. Not sure if there is indeed a plan to convert the nation to an entirely renewable energy country , but rest assured it will happen as oil and coal wont last for ever.

          I would also point out that the current Pendolino fleet run by Virgin trains up and down the West Coast mainline use regenerative braking, in effect , feeding electric back into the grid. Its quoted that because of this alone, 1 in every 7 Virgin trains actually runs for free in terms of cost of energy used.

    • Elaine-” Park and Ride”- cars and trains can complement each other-they need not always compete.
      People can to mix and match to suit their needs.

  6. We do need a balance between speeding up local and long distance journeys, which I believe HS2 should form a part of. It will not solve everything, but the Government is not suggesting it will.

    The author’s bus route from Moseley into Birmingham City Centre already has significant sections of bus lanes and other bus priority measures (I know because I use it every day), and there is a limit to what can be done to speed up bus journeys without annoying residents, shopkeepers (parking etc) and motorists (still a statutory duty to keep the traffic moving) etc – we live in a democracy. The reopening of the Camp Hill rail line (serving that corridor) to local passengers is still being pursued and would help – HS2 would not prevent this.

    Even if local journeys to/from the stations were not speeded up, HS2 would significantly speed up overall door to door long distance journeys – in this case, by 30 mins each way, which is an hour off your day – that has got to be significant regardless of how long the rest of the journey takes, which to me is a separate issue anyway.

    There is money to improve journey times and capacity for local and long distance transport at the same time – HS2 London-Birmingham would cost about the same as Crossrail which has not stopped other improvements taking place. Only improving short distance journeys will not improve conditions for people travelling longer distances, and people will continue to make a variety of journeys (short and long) whether we like it or not.

  7. What would stop you from cycling to Curzon Street – it’s only ten mins walk up the road from New Street. Therefore all time savings of HS2 would be in addition to the time saving achieved from cycling to New Street. People will always find ways to shave times off their connecting journey – there’s nothing about HS2 to stop that happening.

  8. Not so in Manchester – where the ” big bang ” of Metrolink tram services interconnect with both Piccadilly and Victoria stations. Seems to be a lot of HS2 opponents oblivious to the facts of whats happening in urban areas…..just this week Boris Johnson opened a link which in effect nearly brings about the rail equivalent of the M25. So to say that transport planners are overlooking this is simply untrue. Lets also not forget that the vast majority of rail journeys start or end at a big station which has other transport links………..and to state the obvious, all journeys start at home whether you live in the centre, suburbs, or out in the sticks. Public transport might not be a best fit for everyone………but the reality is that we simply must offer a decent alternative to the car.

  9. You make an excellent point and one that I can relate to myself. Back in the 1980s my journey to work consisted of 1 mile bike ride to station, 35 mins on train, and 3 mile bike ride from station to work. Of course back then I could take my bike on the train. Such a commute would not be possible now. Getting to and from the station is often the limiting factor and overlooked by transport planners.

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