More wisdom from the Warrington sage

Pete Waterman seems to have got himself on the list of people that the broadcasters call upon when they want a “talking head” on HS2. Let’s face it most broadcasting, even news broadcasting, is more about entertainment than enlightenment and PW is certainly entertaining.

So we had the dubious pleasure of seeing PW on the BBC2 TV “Newsnight” programme on 20th July (which you can view here; PW’s contribution starts at 06:46). This time he was shown commenting on the impact that broadband might have on the case for HS2:

“Broadband doesn’t employ people. All that broadband does is make the telecommunications companies richer. What do we want to do? Do we want to employ people and distribute the wealth and bring more people into the working ethic or do we want to put everybody playing games all day long?”

As someone who spent all of his working life in the telecommunications industry, I find the assertion that the industry that provides communications facilities does not give people employment as astounding. For example, the BT Group is a FTSE100 company that employs over 90,000 people. Also to dismiss the possibilities for more efficient working and stimulating business that broadband can bring as “playing games all day long” demonstrates, to my mind, a staggering level of ignorance.

In answer to the question “What about the mounting evidence that the business case for HS2 just doesn’t add up?” he replied:

“No railway numbers add up and that’s where this argument all falls down. This is the dream, build it and they will come. You cannot analyse railways; you’ve never been able to. Since they built the first railways everybody has been doing figures. If you’re going to do figures, then don’t build your railway. So you can sit down there and you can make fifty arguments for and you can make fifty arguments against. What they never do is look at history and say that every time that we built a new railway the Country has changed for the better.”

Now I would have thought that, as a self-confessed railway enthusiast, PW would know about the “railway mania” that gripped the UK during the 19th century. What happened then was that entrepreneurs followed PW’s advice and raised cash for railway projects that didn’t make any business sense. The result was that scores of schemes didn’t get past the drawing board, many that were built rapidly went bust and a good many people lost a lot of money.

We had a further opportunity to benefit from the homespun wisdom of PW on Channel 4 News on 28th July (the video is here and the fun starts at 05:29).

“You can’t not build it; it’s as simple as that. There is no economic argument ever to build a railway. There never has been. We only have to look for what it has done for this Country. One of your people on there says he goes to China and look what it’s doing for China. We have no choice; our network is at its capacity. We are running in 2011 with a railway that was built in 1854. It’s ludicrous.”

Now, with his knowledge of railways, PW surely knows that “a railway that was built in 1854” is not an accurate or a fair depiction of the inter-city service. What he is doing here is picking up on the description “Victorian” that was used to similar effect by the Government in the consultation document. We have only recently invested over £8bn on the West Coast Main Line which is now a modern railway, using rolling stock that is under ten years old, and which operates fast enough to justify the term “high speed”. And, by the way PW, the WCML all day loading factor is below 50%, which is hardly “at its capacity”.

As for China, PW has clearly not read my blog “A not so fair wind from the East” (posted 5 May). In that blog I gave details of a press report that the top speed on that country’s main high speed lines is being reduced, that expenditure on railway construction in the coming five years has been scaled back significantly and that some planned high speed routes will be replaced with ordinary lines. Since I wrote that blog there has been a further announcement that all work on new high speed rail lines in China has been suspended. China has run up a debt of US$304bn on high speed railway projects and is, we are told, only able to service the interest without paying back any of the loans.

It is also not clear what rail travel “has done for this Country”. Department for Transport figures reveal that rail journeys account for less than 10% of the total passenger kilometres travelled in Great Britain every year. Whether we like it or not, it is road travel that fires the furnace of our economy; rail travel may be more environmentally friendly, but it is a sideshow when it comes to stimulating economic growth.

The sad thing is that PW didn’t always think like this. Only just a few years ago he didn’t rate high speed railways much at all. During an interview, given in 2007, to Andy Milne (which you can read here) his comments on high speed rail were:

“I wouldn’t do it. People want to get there cheaper not quicker. I want to keep the little lines. It would be a sad railway if we were all high speed trains and no locals.”

You see, he hasn’t always talked out of his smokebox!

Now I do appreciate that in pursuing my quarry with gusto, I have strayed somewhat outside the confines of my environmental brief. For that I am sorry, but my enthusiasm got the better of me and, anyway, I feel so much better to have got it off my chest.


17 responses to this post.

  1. Very pertinent comments. PW will be able to pay the fares unlike most people who will pay with a loss of local services that they need. PW is as you say a talking head,there is no substance to ” the talk “. Apart from producing records and having a liking for railways ( not unique ), what does he have by way of a constructive, logical argument?
    I agree he is annoying but in reality he is of no consequence and best ignored.


  2. Do people here do not believe that demand for rail usage is up. Just look at the local figures, rail us is going up. This is the nibmys trying to stop the railways. The present railway network will be FULL soon, so we need a new network. The people producing records are you, a broken one.


  3. Posted by roseg on August 26, 2011 at 10:26 am

    There’s a vast difference between accepting that rail usage is up and believing the figures used by the current Secretary of State for Transport and others to justify building HS2, which would not be ready ‘soon’ in any case. We need to make the best possible use of what we already have over the whole rail network, for the benefit of the greatest number of people, instead of spending a vast sum on providing a new link between London and a handful of cities when local public transport is being reduced because of Government spending cuts.


    • Hi “HS2 is right”. I’m afraid that it is you who deserve the “broken record” tag, trotting out that old line “the present network will be full soon”. You really shouldn’t believe all the politicians tell you. At the moment only about half of the seats available on the London-Birmingham route are occupied. This is bad business. If you want to be better informed on this, may I suggest that you look at “When will WCML be full?” (which you can download from the “Network Rail Forecast of WCML Growth” link at

      The problem with HS2 is not that it will provide extra capacity, but that it will provide far too much capacity. Chris Stokes, in Appendix 17 to the 51m alliance’s response to the HS2 public consultation (which you can download at, calculates that HS2 will make available 55,000 high speed seats per day, which is over ten times the current London/Birmingham passenger volume. This huge addition of seats in 2027 will inevitably mean that both HS2 and WCML will be running with many empty seats and will do so for many years to come. When this happens the 50% all day load factor achieved by WCML currently will be reduced considerable.


      • I see that you like up so called independent figures _ NOT. Have you been on a train from birmingham to London, I think not. If you want to be better informed look at this or

      • Hi again “HS2 is right”. Well I did try to raise the level of the debate by providing some figures, whether they are “independent” or not depends on how you view the sources that I have detailed below. After more than a year living with HS2 and reading all that I can find, I have come to the conclusion that there is a paucity of truly independent data.

        Regarding sources, my all-day loading factor for WCML came from the Atkins March 2010 report for the DfT (High Speed 2 Strategic Alternatives Study – Strategic Outline Case, paragraph on p. 38), which quotes 49% in 2008. I note that the Demand for Long Distance Travel report by DfT, to which you refer me, has the figure for 2008 at 56% (paragraph 5.3 on page 9). So two different figures from the DfT, but at least they are in the same ball park.

        The number of seats that HS2 will provide that I quoted was calculated by multiplying the number of trains shown on the service pattern given as figure A1 on page 59 of the DfT/HS2 Ltd document Economic Case for HS2 (February 2011) by the capacity per train (1,100 seats). The service frequency is three an hour (four peak) in each direction.

        The current passenger demand in each direction for London, Birmingham and Birmingham International has been calculated from the annual bothway figures in table 3.9 on page 47 of Network Rail’s West Coast Mail Line Route Utilisation Report (July 2011). This calculation yields a figure of slightly under 4,500 per day, per direction.

        I hope that these sources satisfy you that my conclusion that HS2 will provide a significant overcapacity of seats on London/Birmingham is valid. Where are all these bums coming from? Your response to this is invited and you might like to consider what Sir Roy McNulty said in his recent report:
        “To reduce incentives towards infrastructure solutions the Study considers that, in common with other transport sectors, there should be an end of ‘predict and provide’ in the rail sector. In its place there should be a much greater focus on making better use of existing capacity, whether that is through better timetables, pricing or behavioural options, perhaps ‘predict, manage and provide’.

        The DfT report to which you referred me is a well written document, but is based on the total fallacy that you can predict passenger demand in any meaningful way for the year 2043. Even Network Rail’s Network RUS (June 2009) admits in its Executive Summary:

        “Few things are certain when planning for the long term. The only certainty is that we don’t know what the future will hold. 30 years ago few would have predicted that the railway would be privatised, the coach market deregulated, that London’s rundown docklands would develop into a financial centre and that there would be an influx of hundreds of thousands of young workers from an expanded European Union. There will be similar uncertainties when we look forward 30 years from now.”

        It is surely not surprising that the predictions in the DfT report are disputed. One of these is that without HS2 the all day load factor for WCML will rise from 56% in 2008 to 76% in 2043 (paragraph 5.3 on page 9). Chris Stokes calculates the 2043 WCML load factor to be 53%, if his proposed upgrades are implemented (figure 2 on page 17-7 of Appendix 17 to the 51m consultation response). Personally, I would be quite happy with a WCML factor of 76%, provided that demand management was used to smooth out the peaks; this would still be less than the budget airlines achieve (typically over 80%).
        Finally, no I don’t use the WCML; I use the Chiltern Line, boarding at Leamington Spa. This service will be upgraded next month to chop 15 minutes off the Birmingham-London journey time and is cheaper than Virgin Trains. There is plenty of scope to increase the number of seats available, but this service has been largely ignored in the rush to promote HS2. BTW the Chiltern Line upgrade cost the taxpayer nothing.

  4. With regards to capacity please have a look at the second website or the Atkins strategic alternatives study. Or even better reference the comments from the head of the anti hs2 people stating that there are no alternatives better than Hs2

    You say that the Chiltern Line upgrade has cost the Tax Payer nothing, very wrong I think, again look at the Guardian report on the 2nd March 2011. The Chiltern line upgrade has over run by approx 250m as stated in the article. So this extra 250m came from fresh air then and who paid for the upgrade anyway?


    • Come on “HS2 is right”; you are going to have to do better than that. I have asked you to comment on the overcapacity that HS2 will provide and you accused me of using figures that weren’t from an independent source. So I have told you exactly where the figures can be found and they are all DfT or Network Rail sources. So how about responding to the point yourself, rather than just referring me to Greengauge21 or the Atkins work?

      I don’t understand your reference to “the comments from the head of the anti-HS2 people”; you will have to be more specific if you want me to respond.

      And while you are at it, I have another matter for you to ponder. I accept that HS2 would free capacity on WCML; that is obvious. What it will probably do is cream off most of the premium fare users of current WCML services at Birmingham and Birmingham International. What will this do to passengers who still need to use the Birmingham-London line from other intermediate stations, e.g. Coventry? If capacity is to be “freed” doesn’t this imply fewer trains running on Birmingham-London and through Coventry? Also table 9 on page 41 of the DfT/HS2 Ltd document “Economic Case for HS2” (February 2011) identifies a “classic line cost saving from released capacity” of £2.3bn; this is presumably reduced subsidy. So how will the classic WCML services fare with lower fares revenues and decreased subsidy, and who will pay for the new services that will take advantage of the “released capacity”?

      Finally, you appear to have misread the Guardian article on the Chiltern Line. The £250m quoted is the total cost of the project, not a cost overrun. My understanding is that there is no question of public funds being requested by Chiltern Railways.

      So answers please ““HS2 is right”; time to put up or shut up.


      • I, too have read most of the articles regarding the issue of capacity forecasting and agree they are estimates, but unlike you, in my opinion I have read these with an open mind and unbiased view. I believe the best forecasting’s have been from the DFT and Greengauge21, the latter being an independent transport body.

        Without going into specific figures, which you seem intent on doing, all the figures quoted state that rail demand is increasing. Do you not agree with this and together with the rail demand the population in this country is also increasing therefore I feel, in my personal view, the stated figures are all under estimates.

        You have stated that you use Chiltern line and not the WCML, that is you choice and your right, however the upgrade has come via the government, and where do the government get this from the tax payer, so in a very roundabout way, the Chiltern line has or will be upgrading thanks to we the tax payer.

      • Oh dear “HS2 is right”; you do seem to have a strange view of the world.

        Firstly, you describe Greengauge21 as “an independent transport body”. On its own website this organisation states “Since summer 2008, a large part of Greengauge 21’s work has been supported and funded by an HSR Public Interest Group which includes city councils, regional development agencies, transport authorities and rail organisations.” There is nothing wrong with that, particularly as it is not seeking to hide the fact that it is being paid to put out pro-HS2 information. However, it does rather disqualify the organisation from claiming independent status (which it hasn’t).

        You claim that you have “an open mind and an unbiased view” yet you are not prepared to comment on the figures that I have presented to you and realise what they mean to the case for HS2. This appears to me to be indicative of a closed mind, not an open one.

        I agree with you that rail demand is increasing. All the indications are that this is largely due to rail claiming a larger share of a fairly static overall market for long distance travel (the so called “modal shift” mechanism). The question is whether this can continue and whether the demand curve will continue as a straight line (as predicted by DfT) or will tail off from this straight line to give a “knee” shape (which is more usual in such curves).

        You may be interested in the view on why there has been a marked growth in recent years in the demand for rail travel expressed by Mark Wardman, Professor of Transport Demand Analysis at the University of Leeds in his 2006 paper “Demand for Rail Travel and the Effects of External Factors” (

        “… there is evidence of an otherwise unaccounted for stimulus to demand resulting from privatisation. It is here concluded that it is better to isolate this and regard it as a temporary phenomenon rather than allowing its effect to be built into forecasts in perpetuity.”

        In other words, the professor is saying that you shouldn’t assume that growth will continue in a straight line. By the way, I hope that this source is “independent” enough for you.

        Incidentally, you are the first person that I have heard describe the DfT demand predictions as “over estimates”; now you really are flying a kite there, particularly as you seem to base this statement on nothing more than your “personal view”.

        Finally, your view of the way in which the Chiltern Line upgrade has been financed remains totally wide of the mark. The finance will have been raised by Chiltern Railways on the commercial money markets (or from their own retained profits). This is what is termed “private sector finance” and has nothing whatsoever to do with the taxpayer. If you claim this then you might just as well claim that if I go to my bank and remortgage my house to raise money, then that money is coming from the taxpayer (which it isn’t).

  5. Yes I still believe that Greengauge21 are independent if you care to read their website they have no vested interest and is not seeking to be part of any direct beneficiary. Unlike most of the so called independent experts called out by the anti HS2 appear to live within the proposed route, so are they independent or a transport body which appear to be open from the start? Therefore I believe a Greengauge21 which is open from the start. Even the report you stated appears to be written by a transport body.

    I am not an expert on the rail demand and appear to have read all the same document as you. I am reading the new document and adding this to my general knowledge of HS2. You have stated that I have a closed mind but I currently live close to the WCML and you appear to live in a small village. I know what living close to the railway is like. So I am reading the document with an open and unbiased view. However, can you say the same? Its appear you had read the same documents with a closed mind and based you view on the impact the proposed line will have your live village.
    Yes I am the first to agree I have based my personal views on the DFT demands prediction but I currently use the WMCL, Chiltern line and even drive to London sometimes. So my views are based on using the entire transport networks, you have stated that you do not use the WCML. My personal view is based on using all of the transport systems between London and Birmingham.

    The Chiltern line upgrade financed, Network rail will reimburse Chiltern in stages and will eventually take ownership of the line. So where does Network rail get most of their monies from ???? the taxpayer.


    • Well really “HS2 is right”, you seem to have divided the world into those guys who wear white hats, who you call the “independents”, and those of us with black hats, who you term as having “vested interests”. Apparently, anything that a guy with a white hat says you accept without question and the black hats just tell lies all the time. Aren’t you prepared to work things out for yourself?

      Last week I put a simple calculation to you that showed that, when it opens, HS2 will provide a London/Birmingham capacity that is over ten times the current passenger demand. When you dismissed this as not being from an independent source, I demonstrated to you how the calculation was done and that the figures had come from Atkins, DfT and Network Rail, all of which I think you would classify as independent. So I ensured that you were in a position to check for yourself what I was claiming. At that time I asked you again for your comments on the desirability of this, which you have refused to provide.

      Do you not think that this is an important question? Do you not think that I, and others like me, have the right to ask questions like this? Am I disbarred from asking such questions because of where I live?

      We are not all prepared to jump off a cliff if a man with a white hat on asks us to, even if you may be.


      • No you are not disbarred from asking question but I don’t think you can read. If you look at my comments” I also stated that I have based my view on using all the routes today and I have seen how the demand has increased over the last few years. So I have based MY view on the information given from road shows, DFT, Network rail and Personal views. You from your own words “you don’t use the WCML” so how can you comment on that? Also I live on the proposed route. It appears that you have made you up and will not change you very limited views. Also how old is the WCML and what was its design life, if you use you very limited knowledge even this would not have been built. I will not be commenting again as unlike you I have work to do.

  6. Posted by ggrrllaa on September 6, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Time for me to enter the fray …

    The seating capacity figures being quoted are wrong. As was explained to me when I asked this question at one of the HS2 consultation events, it is important to understand how the fleet of trains would be made up. Each train would be 200 metres long. Trains would either be built to UK gauge so they can run on the existing railway in addition to HS2, or would be built to Continental gauge which might include double-deckers. Such trains would be confined to the HS2 network. The single-deck UK gauge trains would convey fewer passengers than the double deck Continental gauge trains. So if you say 450 seats for a UK gauge 200m train and 550 seats for a double deck train then the range of capacity per service is from 450 to 1100 seats. HS2 publicity states trains can convey UP TO 1100 seats, but people have been jumping straight to the number 1100 and ignoring the words “Up To”.

    According to HS2’s technical appendix (available here: ) they propose replacing the existing 3 Euston – Birmingham Virgin services with 3 Euston – Birmingham HS2 services plus 1 Euston – Birmingham – Liverpool Virgin service.HS2 would start with all services being 200 metre single sets. In future as demand increases HS2 can add further sest to specific services or change the type of vehicles on the train. So this is an incremental increase in seating capacity in line with foreseen demand, and not a huge capacity overkill as you have suggested.

    Yes, Coventry is likely to get fewer fast trains to London – but how many does it actually need? Currently it gets 3 per hour because it happens to lie between Britain’s capital and it’s second city. I suspect HS2 may have undersold it by providing only 1 fast train per hour, but objectively it is difficult to envisage providing much more just for Coventry. If the demand is there, I’m sure the residual train operator(s) will rush to provide it.

    I assume the cost savings quoted in HS2’s business case regaring the existing rail services refer to reduction in services to Liverpool and Manchester as well as Birmingham – see Technical Appendix referenced above for details.

    Hope that sheds a little light …


    • Hi “ggrrllaa”. Well it all depends on what you mean by “capacity” doesn’t it. I used the ultimate capacity and you have pointed out that the initial capacity, in terms of seats actually moving between London and Birmingham, will be about half of that as 200 metre long train sets will be used. Fair enough, let’s do it your way.

      I ignored WCML seats in my calculations, so the number of trains per day is around 55 in each direction. Birmingham-London trains will not need to be classic compatible and so your 550 seat figure seems the one to use. So 30,000 seats per day will be available, in each direction. So, doing it your way, it’s only six times the current WCML demand (well actually nearer seven) and that excludes the WCML capacity.

      We can argue whether this should be six or twelve times, but whichever it’s a hell of a lot of overprovision.

      You have hit the nail on the head in your description of the dilemma that Coventry will face. Frequency of service is important (ranked third in the Passenger Focus survey). The passenger demand from Coventry cannot, as you say, justify three trains an hour, so HS2 will mean the frequency of Coventry-London services will be reduced, probably to one train an hour. The good folks of that city might justifiably be a trifle miffed at having a worse train service to the Capital just so that the Birmingham passengers get a shorter journey time.


      • Posted by ggrrllaa on September 16, 2011 at 6:56 pm

        Well surely the most logical way of approaching this is to say:
        Hourly fast train capacity to Birmingham pre-HS2 will be 3 x 11-car Pendolinos
        = 3 x 600 = 1800 seats.
        Hourly fast train capacity to Birmingham post-HS2 will be 3x 200m HS2 trains + 1 x 11-car Pendolino = (3 x 550) + 600 = 2250 seats per hour.
        So the average hourly increase in seats is 450 seats, or 25%. Given the ongoing growth in rail traffic – even now at a time of recession – does it seem unreasonable that HS2 should be providing that level of additional seating capacity compared with the pre-HS2 classic network? If I were them I would be worried it was an underestimate!

      • Hi “ggrrllaa”. The problem with your logic is that you are ignoring the impact of passengers who board or alight WCML at the intermediate stations, Coventry, Rugby, Milton Keynes and Watford Junction. These travellers occupy seats on the current WCML London-Birmingham service, but will not be able to use the HS2 trains. The tables on page 47 of the Network Rail’s WCML RUS (July 2011) indicate that this occupancy is around two-thirds of London-Birmingham traffic.

        As I said in one of my comments to “HS2 is right” the annual bothway figures in the RUS for passengers London-Birmingham New Street plus London-Birmingham International translate to a little under 4,500 per day (one way), which is just over eight HS2 trains worth out of about fifty that will run during the day.

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