Setting out my stall, part 2

(… continued from Setting out my stall, part 1, posted on 26 Dec 2013).

My talk at Coventry University continued with me looking at the extent that HS2 Phase 1 could relieve overcrowding on the three services on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) that I had identified as requiring priority; these are suburban commuter trains, long-distance commuter trains, and expanding freight services.

I said that the problem is that HS2 offers no direct relief to any of these priority services; it is a long-distance express train that I characterised as a “WCML by-pass”, and it will carry, or so we are told, no freight. The service that it will offer won’t even directly replace any train paths on the WCML. I showed, using Network Rail figures, that more than 60% of passenger journeys to and from London on the WCML cannot transfer to HS2 Phase 1 services, not even with the “classic compatible” trains running. I quoted Jim Steer of Greengauge 21 to demonstrate how HS2 could bring indirect relief to at least the long-distance commuter services, but only at the expense of fast trains on the WCML:

“… the best way to free up capacity for commuters in the fast growing Milton Keynes-Northampton corridor is to take Virgin Train services off the line and free it up for more commuter services and for more freight services.” (source)

I went on to claim that, worse than just being an indirect, and I would claim inefficient, way of tackling overcrowding on the WCML, HS2 Phase 1 appears to over-provision capacity between London and Birmingham, something that I demonstrated with a simple calculation.

Finally on the subject of capacity, I reminded my audience that there is already a WCML by-pass, called the Chiltern Line. This line represents excellent opportunities to upgrade capacity and service levels, but has been almost totally ignored in the HS2 plans.

I then moved on to suggest that the HS2 design had poor resilience, due to the network topography and it having only two tracks over most of the route. I also ventured that expected delays to classic compatible services running on the WCML could prejudice throughput on the HS2 high speed tracks. I also demonstrated, using the Government’s own service pattern assumptions, that HS2 could exhibit train path congestion as early as the opening date of Phase 2.

For my penultimate topic I gave some consideration to how international services might operate on HS2. I explained, based on the argument that I developed in my blog Good idea, but … (posted 13 Feb 2013) why I did not think that we would see direct international services from stations north of London; instead I expected that passengers would be required to disembark at Old Oak Common for border checks and to change to an international train.

Finally, I shared some thoughts with my audience on the environmental consequences of HS2. I showed, using changes in trackbed height to illustrate my point, that I did not agree with the Government that it was doing as much as it can to alleviate the environmental damage that HS2 would cause; I expressed the view that reducing cost appeared to be the main driver behind the design development. As you might have expected, I also used the example of the damage that would be caused to ancient woodland, using South Cubbington Wood as my illustration.

My final dart aimed at the heart of HS2, by way of a postscript, was to show the headline and accompanying photograph from an article that had appeared in the December 2013 issue of the IET’s own Engineering and Technology Magazine. This article reported that the Central Japan Railway Company has decided to build a 500kph maglev line between Tokyo and Nagoya using its own, not government, money. The route will avoid the populated coastal plain and 86% of the route will run underground, so environmental impacts will be minimised. The plans are that the line will open in 2027, only one year after the scheduled in-service date for HS2 Phase 1. This news prompted me to pose the question:

“Will HS2 be yesterday’s technology in 2026?”

There followed a very stimulating discussion with the audience. This included representatives of the Warwickshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and of Railfuture – both knowing far more about railways than me. I was relieved that nobody took issue with the views that I had expressed.

The only disappointment with the evening was that the number attending was on the low side – somewhere between thirty and forty, whereas I understand that Mr Coombes attracted perhaps twice this number. I will stick with my excuse of the timing being just before Christmas.

I would like to thank all of those who did come along, and hope that it was worth their time.

PS: A pdf version of my presentation is available here.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Thankyou for the talk Peter. It was good to meet you. Keep up the good work. However bleak the outlook may be, there could be a shift of opinion in the new year when the public realise how much better HS2 can be when sensibly routed.


  2. Posted by chriseaglen on December 31, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Certainly the one track each way route will be out of date on opening. A motorway from Scotland to the south coast with a duplex railway alongside may be built in phases along the east side of England but not the wishbone Y through rural areas. Short termism is hs2 as Lord Rees warns against. Happier New Year for 2014. Best wishes Chris Eaglen


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