Degrading practices, part 10

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 9, posted on 20 Apr 2015).

I have finally reached the point in my treatise where I feel that we have achieved sufficient enlightenment to return to the issue raised before the HS2 Select Committee by prominent Coventry resident Joe Elliott and Stop HS2 campaigner Joe Rukin in January this year, and which I reported in part 1 of this series. Both of these gentlemen expressed fears that direct services between Coventry and London on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) would be degraded once HS2 Phase 1 becomes operational.

Details of the current peak-hour services from Euston to Coventry are given in the table that I introduced in part 4 of this blog series. What Mr Elliott called a “fantastic service” is provided by Virgin Pendolinos that run, with the exception of early morning and late evening, three times an hour in each direction, mostly with a single intermediate stop at either Rugby, Milton Keynes Central or Watford Junction, and achieving a scheduled journey time that is one minute less than an hour (see footnote 1). In addition, Coventry passengers are protected from overcrowding by commuters on the London-Milton Keynes section of the route by the peak-time boarding and disembarking restrictions that I have already mentioned (see part 8 and part 9 of this blog series).

It is also currently possible to travel between Euston and Coventry on services provided by London Midland – three trains operate in each direction for the greater part of the day. However, this is not the service of choice for Coventry passengers, as the scheduled journey time varies from 100 to 107 minutes, forty minutes, or more, longer than by Virgin. So if you just miss your Virgin train, you are likely to get to your destination faster by waiting for the next one rather than hopping on a London Midland train that is ready to depart. This accounts for Joe Elliott referring to there being three services an hour, an excusable inexactitude; Joe Rukin was more correct in saying that there are currently three fast services an hour (see footnote 2).

However, I think that one other claim made by Joe Rukin, although not incorrect, requires some qualification. Joe said that the original plans for HS2 reduced the fast train service “down to one an hour”, a claim that was also made by Mr Elliott. In fact, from the very first published report on HS2 the peak-hour long-distance service through Coventry has been proposed to be two an hour, reduced to one only in off-peak periods (see footnote 3). Nevertheless, Joe Rukin was right that there appear to have been second thoughts about resorting to only one hourly service off-peak.

We also need to be aware that HS2 will offer an alternative route to and from London for some current users of Coventry station. The proposed Birmingham Interchange parkway station will be approximately 14 km (9 miles), as the crow flies, from Coventry Station. Since the best journey time to London from the new station will be 32 minutes less than from the existing WCML Birmingham International we can expect the capture area for car travellers using the new station to extend further than applies to the current Birmingham International station. Although perhaps not in the best interests of greenhouse gas emission reductions, it will become feasible for some Coventry travellers to spend some of the half-hour saved on their train journey in a longer car journey to the station and switch from Coventry to Birmingham Interchange. This is only likely to be a realistic option for those living on the western side of Coventry, and will, I suspect, leave many residents of the Coventry area, or those travelling from London to that area, with little option but to stick with the WCML and Coventry station.

There will also be another possible route, which is to use HS2 between London and Birmingham Interchange and to use the WCML between Coventry and Birmingham International. Mr Elliott did not view this as a particularly attractive option, pointing out that, even on a Virgin Pendolino, it takes 12-13 minutes between the two WCML railway stations to which must be added the time to interchange between the WCML and HS2 stations (see footnote 4).

So, if most Coventry travellers heading to or arriving from London are unlikely to find HS2 an attractive alternative to the WCML, what does Professor McNaughton’s indicative service plans promise? Applying a similar analysis as I used for the London-Milton Keynes-Northampton rail corridor in part 9 yields the following characteristics of the indicative service plan for long-distance services:

Current stopping peak-hour services from London                                                    3

Intermediate stops factor for current peak-hour services                                           1.0

Indicative stopping services after HS2 Phase 1 (Figure 6-3)                                      2

Intermediate stops factor for indicative peak-hour services after HS2 Phase 1         4.0

And for the “commuter” services, currently operated by London Midland:

Current stopping peak-hour services from London                                                    3

Intermediate stops factor for current peak-hour services                                           6.7

Indicative stopping services after HS2 Phase 1 (Figure 6-6)                                      2

Intermediate stops factor for indicative peak-hour services after HS2 Phase 1         6.0

I don’t know what you think, but it looks to me that Messrs Elliott and Rukin were right to claim that the services on the WCML rail link between Coventry and Euston will be degraded once HS2 Phase 1 becomes operational.

(To be continued …)


  1. Whilst all three services leaving Euston between 17:00 and 17:59 on a weekday are scheduled to take 59 minutes, some other off-peak services are scheduled to take up to five minutes longer.
  2. Mr Elliott’s comments on the existing service may be found in paragraph 118 of the transcript for the morning of Wednesday 14th February 2015. Mr Rukin’s are recorded in paragraph 318 of the same transcript.
  3. See the sixth and seventh train paths from the left of the Appendix B diagram in the December 2010 document High Speed Rail London to the West Midlands and Beyond: HS2 Technical Appendix.
  4. Mr Elliott’s comments on travelling from Coventry to catch HS2 may be found in paragraph 204 of the transcript for the morning of Wednesday 14th February 2015.

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.



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by LesF on April 24, 2015 at 10:17 am

    Doesn’t make much sense to reduce Coventry’s rail services to London by a third when passenger numbers at Coventry have doubled in the last few years and are forecast to double again in the next 15-20 years. (Source: Office of Rail Regulation.)


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