A different track

The Railfuture analysis, part 1

In my blog A friendly get-together (posted 28 Jan 2013) I reported that I had attended a presentation by Ian McDonald, Chairman of the Network Development Committee of the rail campaign group Railfuture, hosted by CPRE Warwickshire. This group describes itself on its website as:

“… an independent, voluntary group representing rail users in the UK with 20,000 affiliated and individual members. It is not funded by train companies, political parties or trade unions and uses the principle of one-member one-vote democracy.”

So that’s a refreshing change in the HS2 debate – an organisation that is independent and does not have any vested interest or represents any other organisation with vested interests. Perhaps such a rare and untainted voice deserves to be heard.

Regarding the current HS2 proposal, Railfuture “does not believe that the Government has selected a high-speed route from London to the West Midlands that is either the best solution along that specific corridor, or one that optimises the national inter-city railway system”. The organisation used its submission to the HS2 public consultation held in the spring and summer of 2011 to promote an alternative proposal.

The group sets out its basic position early on in its submission:

“Railfuture supports the view that the enhancement of the inter-city rail network’s capacity, performance and connectivity is of great importance to the national economy. In the context of a consultation about high-speed rail, speed (especially of the magnitude proposed for HS2) is of lesser importance than capacity, performance and connectivity, in developing a viable rail network addressing contemporary transport, economic and environmental needs.”

So this is emphatically not a group that is opposed to high speed rail.

The group has taken a fresh view of the requirements for a high speed rail network, observing:

  • That a design speed of 400kph should be questioned, “for its unacceptable energy use, and unnecessarily excessive targets, compared with the parallel consideration of capacity and connectivity for UK transport needs”. Railfuture proposes that the design speed should be 320kph.
  • That, “there are major conflicts inherent in the requirement to create an enhanced inter-city network, and in the additional requirement to achieve improved links to Heathrow Airport (and other regional airports)”. Railfuture clearly thinks that the ‘tail is wagging the dog’ in that, “in terms of simple passenger flows, the ‘inter-city’ component clearly dominates over the ‘airport’ component”. Railfuture also thinks that, “attempting to remedy Heathrow’s inadequate surface access with a uniaxial high-speed rail line of limited connectivity is not particularly helpful”.
  • That the proposed link to HS1 from Old Oak Common via “a [single track] tunnel, extending 6km from Old Oak Common to the North London Line” and “without a calling point at a central London terminal or location” is “excessively expensive, is operationally fragile, and most certainly very disruptive to the increasingly busy North London Line operations”. Railfuture also feels that, “calling points at outer ‘hubs’ such as Stratford or Old Oak Common appear insufficiently attractive to draw the necessary ‘critical mass’ of passengers, and undermine economically the consequent likely service frequency, compared to trains serving a central London terminal/calling point”.
  • That, “no justification has ever been offered as to why any national high-speed rail system must of necessity pass through the West Midlands en route to all communities further north”.
  • That, “early determination upon an interchange station only 10km from the proposed originating point at Euston Station has the effect of deciding the configuration of the entire subsequent national high-speed rail network”.
  • That, “the Government has selected a largely segregated/exclusive model of high-speed rail operation, with little connection to the classic network” and that, as a result, benefits will, “be significantly minimised if passengers cannot readily access these services from the classic local networks”.

These observations have led Railfuture to conclude that, “an M1-aligned route offers a far more efficient and effective solution, with a wider choice of route sections to be added later, and in particular enables a far shorter route between London and Yorkshire/North East, and is also able to serve Leicester and Nottingham far better, regardless of how any north-western route is developed”. In defence of this proposal Railfuture points out that, “the M1/M6 corridor has in recent decades comprised the primary transport corridor from London to the Midlands and the north, and then by other routes to Scotland, and it seems reasonable to infer that the same logic might apply for high-speed rail, with a London to Birmingham route deviating from an M1-aligned Anglo-Scottish spine in the Rugby area”. According to Railfuture this route offers an additional benefit in that, “the major communities aligned with the M1 corridor, such as Luton, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Leicester and Coventry, are all of a size to benefit significantly from appropriate integrated development of high-speed rail”.

The Railfuture alternative shares only one feature with the current HS2 proposal; Euston Station would be the London terminus. However, Railfuture does not envisage the hugely-expanded station planned by HS2 Ltd. Instead Railfuture favours a solution of the type that I outlined in my blog … and suggestions for how to avoid them (posted 14 Jul 2012) whereby space for high speed rail services is made at Euston by diverting commuter services onto Crossrail and the Watford-Euston service to Stratford.

In the Railfuture plans Old Oak Common, Birmingham Interchange and Birmingham Fazeley Street would no longer be stations on the high speed route northwards.

In the next handful of blogs I plan to look in more detail at specific areas of the Railfuture proposals, beginning with Heathrow Airport.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by ChrisEaglen on February 1, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Heathrow is a secondary matter and can be within Crossrail. London to Edinborough with links east and west provides the least distance/time connectivity. Node near Stevenage and across to MK Coventy and Birminngham. Simple configuration intefacing to the Network Rail is the answer.


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