Degrading practices, part 5

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 4, posted on 31 Mar 2015).

In part 4 of this blog series I calculated that as many as 35% of West Coast Main Line (WCML) passengers could be offered the HS2 alternative once Phase 1 is operational. The corollary of this is that around 65% of current WCML passengers will not be able to access HS2 services from their usual station, and will have no alternative but to stick with the WCML. How this majority of passengers will fare, post HS2 coming into service, is therefore an important consideration.

The October 2013 document The Strategic Case for HS2 identifies a number of “high level principles” to be employed in “making best use of the released capacity that HS2 delivers” for the WCML (see footnote 1). These principles include:

  • an aim that all places with a direct London service today retain a broadly comparable or better service after HS2 opens;
  • to provide additional commuter capacity where it is most needed;
  • and, to provide capacity for the growing railfreight sector.

To be frank, I find it bizarre that a new railway that has easing a capacity “crisis” on the heritage network (specifically for WCML commuters) as its prime raison d’être, or so the politicians tell us, will not serve any of the most badly-affected stations directly, or even serve anywhere near them. Similarly, the aspiration to provide railfreight capacity is not tackled head-on, as we have been told on a number of occasions that there are no plans to run freight trains on HS2.

If you check the table listing weekday WCML peak-hour services departing Euston that I introduced in part 2, and compare with the “served by HS2 Phase 1” column in the table that I introduced in part 4, you will see that the HS2 Phase 1 indicative service pattern only replaces one of the 23 peak-hour train paths directly. HS2 only offers relief to the WCML by removing passengers from some routes, thereby freeing seats on the WCML. This rather blunt tool requires a wholesale reworking of the WCML timetables to convert empty seats to freed, or reallocated, train paths. This reworking tends, almost inevitably, to require a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” approach, and there are likely to be losers as well as winners. This may mean that the first of the three principles that I have listed above becomes mutually exclusive to the other two.

I also have the nagging doubt that HS2 Phase 1 may constitute the over-provision of seat capacity on at least one route, London-Birmingham. My calculation (see footnote 2) is that, assuming no growth from 2009/10 passenger levels and that all London passengers using either of the two WCML Birmingham stations transfer to HS2, the occupancy averaged over the day will be around 15%. So, to be viable, the HS2 London/Birmingham service will need to attract at least twice this number of users from when it opens.

It fell to Professor Andrew McNaughton, Technical Director of HS2 Ltd, in giving his presentation on railway capacity to the HS2 Select Committee, to show how well the reuse of capacity on the WCML released by HS2 Phase 1 could satisfy the high level principles. However, the first suggestion that he made for the reorganisation of WCML services was, as far as I was concerned, a bit of a bombshell, but I will explain what that was in my next posting.

Footnotes:

  1. The aims are listed out in paragraph 4.2.6 of the document The Strategic Case for HS2.
  2. I have assumed that three trains per hour run in each direction, amounting to 744 trains per week. If only 200 metre trains (550 seats) are employed, this provides about 21 million seats a year (744x52x550). The 2009/11 flows to/from Birmingham (New Street 2.32 million, International 0.8 million) total 3.1 million passengers. Occupancy on this basis is therefore (3.1/21)x100%.

PS: Whilst I have tried very hard to get my facts, and interpretations that follow, right, I am very conscious that I am not a railway buff, but that some of my readers are. If I get anything in this current series wrong, please let me know.

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