Degrading practices, part 11

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 10, posted on 24 Apr 2015).

In part 10 I provided figures comparing the services available to Coventry/London rail passengers now and those foreseen by the “indicative service specification” presented to the HS2 Select Committee by Professor Andrew McNaughton, Technical Director of HS2 Ltd, on the afternoon of Wednesday 11th February 2015. I concluded that Messrs Elliott and Rukin had been justified in their claims that the foreseen post-HS2 West Coast Main Line (WCML) schedules represented a worse service for Coventry passengers.

In summary, the future plans remove one (of three) long-distance services from the peak-hour schedule and one (of three) commuter services. In addition, the average number of intermediate stops on the long-distance services increases from one to four, by no means adequately compensated by a small reduction in the average for the commuter services (from 6.7 to 6.0). As far as Coventry is concerned therefore, it appears that the Government has failed to achieve its “stated intention” that it will “ensure that all locations with services to London will have services that are broadly comparable, or improved, when HS2 arrives”, an intention that was restated to the Select Committee by the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Timothy Mould QC (see footnote 1).

There are also putative doubts about increased journey times that Coventry passengers may have to endure when HS2 Phase 1 becomes operational. As I reported in part 10, there is currently a big difference in journey times between Virgin long-distance and London Midland commuter services; a journey from London to Coventry on London Midland can take up to eighty percent longer. I attribute this to three factors:

  • The lower maximum operating speed of the rolling stock utilised for commuter services.
  • The greater number of intermediate station stops scheduled for commuter services.
  • The routeing of commuter services via the Northampton loop.

Despite journey times being an important consideration for the quality of service assessment, this matter was not addressed directly by Professor McNaughton in his Select Committee presentation. In part 6 of this blog series I raised the spectre of the possible removal of the Pendolinos from at least some of the future long-distance services. In this respect the two services scheduled to call at Coventry that are shown in Figure 6-3 of The Economic Case for HS2, PFMv4.3: Assumptions Report look particularly vulnerable since, with the exception of one other service that terminates at Northampton, they are the shortest of the proposed post-HS2 long-distance routes.

Even if the Pendolinos are retained for these two services that will call at Coventry, passengers may expect longer journey times by virtue of the additional intermediate station stops. Whatever, greater clarity regarding the journey times that may be expected is called for as it may have a significant impact upon the quality of the future service offered to Coventry passengers.

There is also the matter of the potential for overcrowding by commuters on services calling at Coventry that stop at either Milton Keynes Central or Watford Junction. As I explained in part 9, long-distance trains on this route are currently protected by overcrowding from stations where and when commuter demand is highest by boarding and disembarkation restrictions. These serve to protect Coventry passengers bound for London in the morning peak from overcrowding on the final section of their journey from commuters boarding at Milton Keynes Central or Watford Junction. Similarly, protection is offered in the afternoon peak from overcrowding out of Euston. However, as I noted in part 9, at least some, if not all, of these restrictions, and the protection for Coventry passengers that they provide, look set to be removed under the plans for WCML services following the opening of HS2 Phase 1.

It shouldn’t really be a surprise that Coventry will do so badly from HS2. Joe Rukin told the Members of the Select Committee that passenger demand after Birmingham passengers had been diverted to HS2 doesn’t necessarily justify three fast trains an hour serving Coventry (see footnote 2). What’s more, this appears to be one opinion that Messrs Rukin and Bigland share (see footnote 3).

I think that we should also take a look at Stoke-on-Trent, since I mentioned in part 1 that Joan Walley, the retiring MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, told the House of Commons that she had fears for the future of the direct London service that the city currently enjoys. The results of a similar analysis to the one that I used for Coventry are:

Long-distance services

Current stopping peak-hour services from London                                                    2

Intermediate stops factor for current peak-hour services                                           0.5

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

Intermediate stops factor for indicative peak-hour services after HS2 Phase 1         1.0

Commuter services

Current stopping peak-hour services from London                                                    1

Intermediate stops factor for current peak-hour services                                           8.0

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

Intermediate stops factor for indicative peak-hour services after HS2 Phase 1         10.0

So, on the face of it, Stoke-on-Trent looks likely to fare better than Coventry, retaining the same number of stopping services, but with some increase in journey times due to slightly more intermediate station stops being scheduled. I should caution that the intermediate stops factor for future commuter service (Figure 6-6) will probably be lower than I have calculated as three of the calling stations that I have counted are marked “not all trains stop”. However, to balance this, one of the future long-distance services that will call at Stoke-on-Trent – the one that terminates at Manchester Piccadilly – is marked on Figure 6-3 as running in “directional peak hours only”, so it will only depart Euston in the afternoon peak period and Manchester in the morning peak period; this is not a restriction that applies to the current service.

So I think that it is fair to say that, even if the Manchester and Scotland services continue to be operated by Pendolinos, the Stoke/London service will not be as good as now, once HS2 becomes operational. I will leave you to decide whether the degree to which this will apply is sufficiently slight for the Government to claim that it will be “broadly comparable” to the present service.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. Mr Mould’s restatement is recorded in paragraph 275 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 14thJanuary 2015.
  2. “… if you build HS2 and it’s doing London to Birmingham, you can’t necessarily justify those three trains an hour from London to Coventry, if people are expected to go on HS2.” (paragraph 318 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 14thJanuary 2015).
  3. “Clearly, it isn’t the three trains per hour that Coventry, essentially because it is on the way to Birmingham, enjoys today, but the question is what service is appropriate for a city of such a size and distance from London.” (Paul Bigland blog Hs2 Action Alliance & the art of telling porkies, posted on 25thFebruary 2015). For comments on Mr Bigland’s blogs refer to part 1 of my blog series.

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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