Surprising Claims from the High Speed Rail Policy Forum

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.

“…… 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)
Virgin Trains
Economist (24th August 2012)

7 comments to “Surprising Claims from the High Speed Rail Policy Forum”
  1. Gary and vance

    Let us distinguish between comments relating to HS2 services and those for classic services once HS2 is introduced.

    HS2 trains will have an operating speed well in excess of that for classic trains, which consequently require greater distances between each train to allow safe stopping. Plans to run 18 HS2 trains per hour in each direction have been challenged by HS2 Action Alliance. See section 7.4 starting on page 43 of their “Review of the consultation business case for HS2” v1.12 (17th June 2011)
    So there is an issue here which has not been resolved.

    Regarding the services on classic trains, the DfT has increased the efficiency improvements from £5.1 billion to £7.7 billion in August this year. This represents a net cut in services. The Demand and Appraisal Report was produced by consultants working for HS2 Ltd. The version published in April 2012 replaces the one published in July 2011. A review of tables A2 and A3 shows that considerable analysis has gone into producing this schedule. Why would HS2 Ltd publish it if it didn’t resemble a likely service pattern for 2026 and 2032 and why would they bother to revise it? I am aware of at least one county council which has challenged the DfT and HS2 Ltd over these reduced service schedules but they have not been able to extract any improvement to those published in this document.

    Vance, I suggest you are theorising in your post of 11th November. Where is the evidence to support your comments? The London – Holyhead service is one of Virgin’s existing routes. In tables A2 and A3 of the Demand and Appraisal Report, the current Virgin train services are listed with the abbreviation WC. The closest service listed service in tables A2 and A3 is from London to Crewe. The Demand and Appraisal report is still to be amended to take on board the additional efficiency improvements announced in August 2012. If you are going to be realistic, you will need to recognise that £7.7 billion of efficiency improvements will lead to cuts in services.

    • with inflation going up every other month surely the cost of this govenment folly gets worse and worse and should be cancelled now and the hs2aa plan be started NOW

    • Andrew,I’m not theorising,its normal to omit mention of things that are not affected I’ve been seeing it in official and journalistic comment on railway matters for 30 years+,if you put everything in it makes it hard to tell what matters and what does not.
      Cutting services dosn’t save money,that’s what Beeching and Thatcher did,a small short term gain and then find it costs billions to put right,HS2 is the replacement for some of their mistakes.
      My nearest WCML station is Lichfield Trent Valley under Thatcher and ”good old BR” we had a pathetic service of about 15 trains a day,8 south and 7 northbound with poor patronage on most of them,I don’t know the usage figures in the eighties but from observation 100,000 uses per anum would seem very optimistic,both the above and most tories think closure of these stations is the only way be efficient.Today we have over 70 services a day and last years usage figures including interchange was 900,000 anyone predicting that change 30 years ago would have been seen as a joke,usage goes up the more services offered,number of trains 5 times more,number of passengers 9 times more. When HS2 is finished the present levels could easily be doubled,both in train services provided,directly serving more destinations and passenger usage,it might be along way off but in the eighties so was getting 70 a day.

  2. Andrew,I have to agree with the points made by Gary with regard the service specification.the omission of services to North Wales is due to it being unaffected by present proposals,many other services use the WCML for part of their journey none of them are mentioned for the same reason.That the maps show the North Wales route is why I think electrification of this route will occur and I would not rule out them running onto HS2 at Haunch.
    As I said before no one can see 20 years ahead with any accuracy,look back 20 years and see what was predicted then and reality today,there are plenty of errors,the most glaring I can name is Leeds-Carlisle,compare the Government/BR forecast of 1988 with today,massive difference.

  3. Three HS trains per hour seems a better option than four per hour on the classic route,put side by side anyone whose patience was tried waiting 5/10 minutes for the HS service would be well rewarded as they overtook the three preceding departures on the classic line.3 x 1100 seats is more than 4 x 589.
    How anyone can know what franchise bids will be put forward or accepted in 2028 is beyond me so suggestions that there will be service cuts at various stations is pure speculation,I certainly don’t think North Wales will loose a direct service to London,more likely electrified using pendilinoes displaced from other services.

    • vance

      The 1100 seat HS2 trains for Manchester will not come on stream until 2032/3, i.e. at least 20 years from now.

      The service specification for classic trains on the West Coast MainLine was drawn up by consultants working for HS2 Ltd (see tables A2 and A3). It can be downloaded from HS2 Ltd’s website:
      So this is not speculation, it has come from the most official source possible.

      You can either do the work of comparing the future “classic” service with existing services or you could more easily refer to the following web page which provides most of the information on classic service changes that I referred to:

      There are no services listed in Tables A2 and A3 between Euston and Holyhead unlike the existing Virgin service which travels via Chester. It appears that in future it will be necessary to change at Crewe to reach Holyhead and Chester.

      • Andrew ……….. with reference to the service spec as per the link on HS2s website , it seems you have completely forgotton the following caveat…

        ” In addition it should be noted that this specification has been developed specifically for
        modelling purposes and any actual service specification introduced following the opening of
        HS2 would be a matter for the operator and would need to respond to prevailing patterns of
        demand at the time; as such, this should not be used to infer any final service specification.”

        Also with reference to your point about the 18 trains per hour etc in your first post, I would point out that the theoretical capacity on the current WCML is 20 trains per hour out of Euston. However the line does not go up to that amount for the simple reason of ” perturbation”……..a gap of 1 empty path every 15 minutes is deliberately built in to the timetable to allow for recovery time. From a safety perspective, it is perfectly possible now to run 20 trains per hour as current signalling arrangements allow for headways of 3 minutes.

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