A wet suburban station

The Railfuture analysis, part 3

Now, apart from considerations that it would be a jolly good idea to smarten up a very run down area of West London, Old Oak Common station appears to have been “invented” by HS2 Ltd as a convenient location to interconnect HS2, Crossrail, Heathrow Express and Great Western Main Line services. So the vision is that a new station will emerge, serving these four routes, on the site of the Old Oak Common railway depot, not far from the forbidding façade of HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs.

Whilst this HS2 Ltd proposal was adopted by the first Coalition ministers to be appointed to the Department for Transport, they must have taken some persuading. In a graphic illustration of principles being held in opposition having to be ditched when government responsibilities beckon, Theresa Villiers MP famously told the then Transport Minister, Sadiq Khan MP, that, “… the idea that some kind of ‘Wormwood Scrubs international’ station is the best rail solution for Heathrow is just not credible” (Hansard, 11th Mar 2010: Column 451).

Despite expressing that view, during her spell as Transport Minister Ms Villiers saw her government adopt a proposal that envisaged Old Oak Common as the “rail solution” for Heathrow up to 2033, with no certainty of what improved connection would follow.

Even after he became Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond did not appear to be entirely convinced about Old Oak Common. Speaking to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee in July 2010 he said (Q48 in the transcript):

“There has to be a connection which feels right to airline travellers, which will encourage as it were interlining between air and train. That cannot be lug your heavy bags down a couple of escalators, along 600 metres of corridor and then change trains at a wet, suburban station somewhere in north west London. That is not an option. It is also clear that there could be options that involved a transfer point that was remote from the airport itself, provided the seamlessness of the service was of a type that airline passengers would find acceptable.”

I find that quote a trifle ambiguous – well no, to be truthful I find it very ambiguous – but the “wet, suburban station somewhere in north west London” that he refers to is surely Old Oak Common. He said that changing trains “is not an option”, but he signed off a consultation document that contains the following proposal (in paragraph 3.20 on page 67):

“Given likely levels of passenger demand following the opening of the proposed London to West Midlands line, the Government considers that as part of the initial phase a link to the airport via an inter-connection with the Heathrow Express at Old Oak Common would be the most appropriate solution.”

Railfuture, in its submission to the HS2 public consultation expresses its own doubts about the suitability of Old Oak Common as a gateway for Heathrow:

“The connection between HS2 and Heathrow services at Old Oak Common, proposed for the initial phase of development, does not comprise an especially direct or convenient link that will attract many short-haul airline passengers making interlining connections.”

There is also the inconvenient fact that Old Oak Common lies almost due west of Euston Station; about 8 km distant, as the crow flies. On the face of it, turning sharp left after leaving Euston does not seem to be the best way to start a high speed journey “to the north”.

Railfuture sees Heathrow (both through the Old Oak Common interchange and any future high speed spur link) as, “exert[ing] a massive ‘gravitational pull’ on the alignment of HS2, drawing it westwards from other possible alignments and rendering unavoidable the proposed Chiltern alignment”.

Railfuture clearly sees the inclusion of Old Oak Common in the HS2 plans as a big mistake:

“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. Railfuture considers that these different requirements, for airport interchange and suburban distribution, should have been considered separately, and in doing so generate far superior solutions in both respects. Moreover, these local issues should never have been allowed to exert such a dominant influence over national network development, even before the consultation process began.”

According to Railfuture, once you put Old Oak Common into the HS2 plans, “Birmingham and the West Midlands comprise the logical next destination, before splitting to east and west of the Pennines”. Railfuture thinks that this is a bad basis for a national high speed network, in that it neglects “the more fundamental priorities of an optimised intercity railway”.

In the next blog I will look at Railfuture’s verdict on the plans to interconnect HS2 and HS1.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on February 9, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Many people have to go by road to a station and Old Oak Common is poor to access by road. The use of Hornsey as a station with a Crossrail connection could have been used. The land ownership of Old Oak Common needs to be considered as some sites remianed with BRB. A Crossrail north south section with connections to the East West Crossrail stage 1 would make sense with a Station near Iver to intercept the motorway traffic and Great West rail route and Crossrail stage 1 will suffice. No need for the direct connection to HS2Y to be to the west of London. Better to have a new route for the North going north as early as possible to relieve the ECML and WCML. .

    Reply

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