Degrading practices, part 6

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 5, posted on 4 Apr 2015).

Although he was far from clear in his explanation to the HS2 Select Committee (see footnote 1), what Professor Andrew McNaughton, Technical Director of HS2 Ltd, appeared to be setting out for his vision of what the West Coast Main Line (WCML) will be after HS2 Phase 1 becomes operational is very largely a railway for outer and local commuter passengers. He said:

“We take off the main line most of the long-distance non-stop services, because the purpose of HS2 is to serve cities on the long-distance network.”

He identified eleven such long-distant services scheduled currently during the WCML peak hour – these correspond to the eleven Virgin Trains services in my table of weekday WCML peak-hour services departing Euston. He said that “most of those 11” services would be replaced by alternatives, and my interpretation of what he said about the nature of those new services is that they would mostly be operated by Class 350 trains, or similar “commuter” stock, rather than the “long-distance” tilting trains used at present.

So this was the “bombshell” that I referred to at the end of my previous posting. Perhaps I should have suspected this was a possibility, but it hadn’t occurred to me before. Unfortunately, none of the Members of the Select Committee appeared to pick up this point and seek confirmation from the professor that he was, in fact, suggesting that the Pendolinos should be removed from the majority of WCML services (see footnote 2). Seeking clarification in the HS2 Ltd published documents, I found the diagram reproduced below in the document The Strategic Case for HS2 (where it is Figure 10 on page 24).

(Source: HS2 Ltd "The Strategic Case for HS2")

(Source: HS2 Ltd “The Strategic Case for HS2”)

The next but bottom bar shows the notional service mix on the WCML and HS2 lines combined when HS2 Phase 1 becomes operational. Within this bar the dark blue colour identifies three fast lane train paths for “Intercity trains”, reduced from eleven within the bar depicting the WCML services in 2009. Could it be that these three services represent the “rump” of today’s Virgin Trains service and will be the only tilting trains running on the WCML?

I have gained some assurance that I have not totally grabbed the wrong end of this particular stick by reference to a blog posted by the usually very astute Beleben. That blogger refers to “replacing current long distance trains with pseudo-commuter ones serving the ‘long-distance’ market, running beyond the normal commuter threshold (Northants)” and asks the question, “Are Class 350 trains really suitable for journeys of 300 km or more?”

If you look at the videos of the interiors of a London Midland Class 350 and a Virgin Pendolino that I have provided links to in part 2 you can provide your own answer to Beleben’s question.

However, Beleben also includes a table in the blog, attributed to an unidentified FOI response, that identifies four additional “commuter fast” services to be operated by Pendolino trains. So, not for the first time in my grappling with HS2, I am confused.

I can appreciate why, for timetabling reasons, it would be advantageous to remove the faster tilting trains from the WCML; if all trains run at similar operating speeds then the planning headways can be minimised (see footnote 3). It will also, I imagine, make it easier to timetable the classic compatible HS2 trains running on the WCML north of Handsacre junction, if they are not contending with tilting trains that have the ability to operate faster than HS2 on the heritage tracks. So it may make sense, anyway, not to run tilting trains to their full speed capability north of Lichfield.

However, aside from any increases in the number of stops on direct services to/from London that the retimetabling of the WCML may involve, it is reasonable to assume that any service that gets demoted from a tilting train will suffer an increase in journey times. Passenger comfort, as has already been argued, may also suffer, and travellers with luggage will find that the reasonable baggage stowage facilities provided on a Pendolino are missing on commuter stock – commuters are not expected to carry luggage.

So the rolling stock that will be used for each new service will be a very real issue for travellers. Whilst I understand the point made by HS2 Ltd that “timetables for the 2020s and 2030s will not be written until nearer the time”, I also agree with HS2 Ltd that “it is important to deepen our understanding of how rail services might be reshaped by HS2” (see footnote 4). One important element of this understanding is, I content, clear guidelines on the rolling stock that it is envisaged will be employed.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The relevant section of Professor McNaughton’s evidence to the Select Committee is recorded in paragraphs 166 to 173 in the transcript for the afternoon of Wednesday 11th February 2015. The slides that illustrate this section of his presentation are P4557(11) and P4557(12) in his exhibits pack.
  2. The Members’ questioning of Professor McNaughton was pretty ineffectual overall. Only one Member, Sir Peter Bottomley, made interjections during the course of the presentation (paragraphs 161, 168, 171, 180-182 and 187 of the transcript) and these were fairly superficial. At the end of the presentation Mr Bellingham asked about comparative fare levels (paragraph 192). My view of the effectiveness of the Members’ questioning of Professor McNaughton appears to be at odds with Paul Bigland’s verdict, expressed in the second of his two blogs on the matter, that they “questioned him intelligently and perceptively” – I respectfully suggest that you make up your own mind on whose view is the more credible.
  3. Paragraph 6.3.1 of The Strategic Case for HS2 cites “addressing the differential speeds of the various types of trains that use the line” as one of the ways of addressing “the challenge of delivering extra capacity”.
  4. See paragraph 61 of the Executive Summary of The Strategic Case for HS2.

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.

Important Note: The account of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee that is given in this blog is based upon an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

 

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