How important to the concept of a UK high-speed north-south line are direct services from stations north of London to continental Europe, via a direct rail link between HS2 and HS1?
When prominent HS2 flag bearer Geoff Inskip, Chief Executive of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive or Centro as it is usually known, was asked by Karen Lumley MP during the Committee Stage of the HS2 paving bill, “Do you think it is crucial that HS2 and HS1 are linked together?” (see footnote 1), he replied “absolutely” and “totally”. He went on to explain:
“It is really important that we get direct services into Europe. At the moment, the link between HS1 and HS2 needs to be future-proofed as well, to make sure that we get double-tracking in there. It must not compete with other services along that particular path. I know that people will ask whether there is the demand to go into mainland Europe, but I think that once you provide the service, overnight it will be a massive success. Therefore we have an issue with providing it and providing it quickly.”
In his written statement to the House of Commons on the Higgins Review, the Transport Secretary stated that he “intended to take the necessary steps to remove the [HS1-HS2] link from the [Phase 1 hybrid] Bill and withdraw the safeguarding of this section of the route as soon as possible”. So it would appear that Phase 1 legislation will go ahead without any provision for interconnecting HS2 with HS1. In the same statement, however, Mr McLoughlin advises that he will “also commission a study into ways to improve connections to the continent that could be implemented once the initial stages of HS2 are complete”.
Where you may think that this is taking the future of direct services from HS2 stations north of London to continental Europe depends on your outlook on life. If you take the “glass half empty” approach, you will agree with the Daily Telegraph in an article published on the same day as Sir David Higgins launched his report, that:
“Plans for a direct high speed line between the North of England and Europe have been scrapped by the Government on the advice of the HS2 boss.”
According to the Daily Telegraph view of the future, “passengers heading from Manchester and Leeds to Brussels and Paris, would travel from London Euston to St Pancras on the London Underground or by foot”.
However, if you are HS2 cheerleader Sir Richard Leese CBE Kt, Leader of Manchester City Council (MCC), the glass is definitely half full and, according to his The Leader’s Blog posting on the MCC website the cancellation is an opportunity to seek an improvement in the offering:
“Just one other thing I’ll mention here. David Higgins has said that the current proposal to link HS2 with HS1 and through that to mainland Europe is inadequate and should be reviewed. That review and the suggested comprehensive private sector funded redevelopment of Euston Station are very much to be welcome”.
My view is that Sir Richard is being unduly optimistic. It appears to me that Sir David Higgins holds the view that it is perfectly acceptable for passengers to interchange between Euston and St Pancras stations. He told the Daily Telegraph that options to the cancelled link were “as simple as being able to get between the two stations either by tube or by walking, as you do in Paris, or a very expensive high speed connection from further outside London to the North”. In his HS2 Plus report he points out that “the HS2 platforms at Euston will be a short distance from those at HS1, and one stop on the Underground” or “the equivalent of transferring from one terminal to another at Heathrow”.
It is also obvious from HS2 Plus that Sir David is concerned about the train path congestion that would result if his brand new HS2 tracks were also required to accommodate through international services, something that I pointed out in my blog Good idea, but … (posted 13 Feb 2013). He admits that a HS1-HS2 through link would “use up HS2 capacity that could be better used on services to more areas, such as North Wales”. It is good to have his endorsement of my comments in this respect.
It would also appear that the Transport Secretary has been persuaded by Sir David’s remarks. During the questions that followed his statement to the House of Commons on Monday 24th March, Mark Reckless MP asked him whether he would “consider installing a travelator to get people quickly and easily between St Pancras and Euston” (see footnote 2). Mr McLoughlin replied:
“My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the need to have a good link between Euston and St Pancras. Sir David says in his report, and has said to me, that that can be done at a much more efficient rate than what is currently planned under the High Speed 1-High Speed 2 link, which will now be removed from the Bill.”
It is clear that Geoff Inskip’s Centro does not share the optimism exhibited by Sir Richard Leese. An article on The Transport Network website describes the Department for Transport and Centro as “at loggerheads” over the scrapping of the link and reports that Centro is “set to petition” the hybrid Bill and is “calling for the Government to commit to having a fully segregated tunnel linking HS1 to HS2 to enable direct services from Birmingham to Europe without having to change between Euston and St Pancras”, amongst a number of other issues that it has with the HS2 proposal (see footnote 3).
If all this wasn’t enough angst, a blog on the Stop HS2 website raises the intriguing prospect that the UK risks being found to be in breach of European Union Law if it fails to provide an “interoperable” rail link between HS1 and HS2.
Did I hear the resounding clang of yet another wheel falling off the HS2 train?
- This exchange is identified as Q52 in the transcript of the proceedings of the Public Bill Committee deliberating on the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill for the morning of Tuesday 9th July 2013.
- Refer to column 38 of the House of Commons Official Report for Monday 24th March 2014.
- Refer to a paper written by the Chief Executive and tabled at the meeting of Centro’s Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) held on 31st March 2014 “to seek the ITA’s approval to deposit in Parliament a petition against the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill in accordance with the requirements of Section 239 the Local Government Act (LGA) 1972”.
PS: My attention has been drawn to the proposal on the King’s Cross Environment website for a maglev connection between Euston and St Pancras posted, of course, on 1st April. Perhaps this is a solution that is more in keeping with the general design philosophy behind HS2.
PPS: Some days after I had completed this blog a contribution on the same topic appeared on the International Railway Journal website written by no less a person than Lord Berkeley, the Chairman of the Rail Freight Group. Lord Berkeley does not appear to share Sir Richard Leese’s optimistic view of the prospects for a HS1-HS2 link, and moves the discussion on by claiming that the Government is seeking “to prevent the House of Commons HS2 Select Committee from discussing any future alternative link”. In his view, this will mean that “HS2 passengers wanting to go to Paris will still be trudging along Euston Road to St Pancras 50 years from now”.