… and they’re taking me on to Crewe

In one of her most popular songs, the “Queen of the Music Hall” Marie Lloyd laments getting on the wrong train, one bound for Crewe rather than Birmingham. If Sir David Higgins has his way, by 2027 anyone boarding a high speed train at Euston will be liable to make the same mistake.

In the Phase 2 consultation document High speed rail: Investing in Britain’s future it is proposed that Crewe is by-passed by the HS2 tracks heading to Manchester, as the diagram below, taken from that document, illustrates.

Crewe connectivity proposal for public consultation (Source: HS2 Ltd)

Crewe connectivity proposal for public consultation (Source: HS2 Ltd)

If this proposal prevails, Crewe, Runcorn, Liverpool and Warrington will be served by HS2 classic compatible trains and passengers from other locations such as Chester, Stockport, Shrewsbury, Stoke and North Wales will be required to travel to Crewe to interchange onto HS2 classic compatible services.

However, the consultation document also advises that:

“HS2 Ltd also developed an option which converted Crewe into a high speed station. This could bring significant benefits to passengers wanting to use Crewe station whilst still providing a connection to the existing railway to allow services still able to run on to Liverpool and the North West. Some local stakeholders also believe that it would lead to significant regeneration of the surrounding area. Building a dedicated high speed facility in Crewe would require significant remodelling of the existing station and railway lines; and an additional station on the Y network would need to demonstrate value for money for the investment that is required.”

In his report HS2 Plus Sir David Higgins, Chairman of HS2 Ltd, proposes that there should be a “new regional transport hub at Crewe”, which appears to be the very same high speed station that was suggested as an option in the Phase 2 consultation document. However, Sir David has failed to demonstrate, or even consider, in HS2 Plus whether this transport hub will indeed provide value for money for the additional investment required. Instead, his justification is typically opinionated:

“Although final decisions must await the outcome of the recent consultation, I believe it is the right strategic answer for the long term and, by combining road and rail services in one interchange, it would also act as a real agent of change in that region.”

Despite the caveat expressed in the first eleven words of that paragraph, it would not be unreasonable, I think, to accuse Sir David of risking prejudicing the outcome of the Phase 2 public consultation by announcing his preference for a particular route configuration at this stage. Certainly Joe Rukin, Campaign Manager of Stop HS2, thinks so. During the oral evidence that he gave to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) inquiry HS2 and the environment he commented (see footnote 1):

“[Sir David] seems to have completely thrown due process out of the window, hasn’t he? We have had the phase 2 consultation. It is not due to report until the end of the year. He has completely pre-empted it, saying that things will be quicker, in terms of getting to Crewe when obviously there was a lobby at Stoke and all those sorts of things.”

The Transport Secretary appears to have stopped just short of compounding this putative transgression by commissioning further work on the proposal, thus delaying the final decision. However, his enthusiasm for the proposal is obvious from what he said to the House of Commons in presenting his statement on the Higgins report, describing it as “welcome”.

The Prime Minister doesn’t appear to be too prissy about due process either. In an intervention that is all too typical of the man, an article in the Stoke newspaper The Sentinel reports that he spoke of the benefits of bringing the high-speed railway to Crewe on the BBC North-West Tonight news programme. The article adds that “Mr Cameron’s language … suggests the Crewe option is already a ‘done deal’, as many suspect”.

With all due deference to the people of Stoke-on-Trent, I think that it makes a lot of sense to make Crewe a HS2 hub station, provided that a business case can be made. Bringing the opening date for the connection forward also corrects a rather glaring error with the logic of the current HS2 plan. As I reported in my blog A dose of common sense, part 2 (posted 23 Oct 2013) this issue has been raised by Lord Berkeley, Chairman of the Rail Freight Group, who, in his own words, has “been going on about [it] for some time”. Put simply, by proposing to run classic compatible services on the existing tracks between Lichfield and Crewe, whilst maintaining classic services, HS2 Ltd has created a bottleneck that will actually make congestion worse until HS2 Phase 2 becomes operational. This faux pas will have most impact on the freight services that are championed by Lord Berkeley.

That there is a problem with freight service provision north of Lichfield was confirmed by no less a person than Jim Steer, founder and director of Greengauge 21, during the oral evidence that he gave to the EAC HS2 inquiry. Referring to the tracks northwards from Lichfield to Crewe, he said (see footnote 1):

“That happens to be a part of the network that is fairly constrained and until that is complete or something else is done, there is a limit on the amount of rail freight that could be added to the network with HS2.”

Unsurprisingly, Sir David does not own up to this in HS2 Plus. Perhaps we should keep it as our secret in order to avoid him too much embarrassment.

So Sir David’s plan to accelerate part of Phase 2 to interconnect a high speed hub at Crewe to London by 2027 might be a good idea, but is it achievable?

Possibly. Sir David’s presentation at the Manchester launch included two slides of timeplans for Phase 2 (see footnote 2). The first shows the original schedule for Phase 2, starting on site in the first quarter of 2021 and finishing in December 2033. The second shows Sir David’s speeded up plan, starting at the same time, but with completion of the Manchester leg in March 2030 and the Leeds leg three months later. On this same plan construction work on “Crewe station and approaches” is shown completed by the middle of 2025. Although no testing and commissioning or completion date for Crewe is shown on the timeplan, completion in 2027 seems consistent with what is shown.

It is clear that HS2 Ltd will need to do its homework on timeplans, costs/ benefits and budgets to make its case for Crewe in 2027 if it is to turn a welcome idea into a serious proposal. It would appear that HS2 Ltd hasn’t looked too deeply into the details as yet. In the radio interview that I mentioned in my blog Just tell us the basis of your calculation (posted 9 Apr 2014), James Naughtie asked Sir David “how much would [the proposal for Crewe] put onto the bill in the first instance?” and the reply was typically evasive:

“Well that wouldn’t be part of Phase 1. It would be bringing forward parts of Phase 2 and that budget is covered in that second stage.”

This translates, I think, into plain English as, “I don’t know”.

In the chorus of Marie Lloyd’s song, she asks a railway porter to “send [her] back to London as quickly as [he] can”. Well, of course, that’s what HS2 is all about; getting the people who live around Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, and other places lucky enough to have good connections to HS2, to London as rapidly as possible. Comedian Jim Davidson got to the heart of the matter in one of his jokes on The Wright Stuff in January 2014:

“As much as I love Birmingham and the people in it, what are you going to do with that extra half-hour when you get there?”

That completes my review of HS2 Plus.

Footnotes:

  1. The comments of both Mr Rukin and Mr Steer may be found under Q18 in the official transcript of the oral evidence session held on Tuesday 18th March 2014 published by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee. There is also a video of the session.
  2. See slide nos 11 and 12 in the presentation.
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One response to this post.

  1. Thanks for this Peter. You have exposed one of the fatal flaws in HS2; that it’s designed as a largely segregated railway that, instead of reinforcing the network, would actually compete with it and make services worse for a large proportion of the people it’s supposed to serve. The term “releasing capacity on the existing network for more services” does not tally with the plan to save over £8bn by CUTTING existing services. It’s a testament to the ingenuity of DfT that they have led MP’s like sheep to vote for such an inadequate plan. And David Higgins plan to improve the links between HS2 and the network would be, as Cheryl Gillan would say, like putting lipstick on a pig.

    Reply

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