Degrading practices, part 12

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 11, posted on 28 Apr 2015).

In his blog that was posted on the Stop HS2 website on 13th February 2015, Joe Rukin lists thirty-four West Coast Main Line (WCML) stations that he claims “could see slower, reduced or no services at all to London if HS2 goes ahead”. Now the operative word here, surely, is “could”, since Joe provides no examples to back up his claim.

Always willing to gather the evidence, I have prepared yet another table that compares the “now” and “after Phase 1 HS2” scenarios for each of the thirty-four WCML stations identified by Joe. Details of the services that will run after Phase 1 of HS2 is operational are as given in the document The Economic Case for HS2, PFMv4.3: Assumptions Report – as I have been at pains to point out in this blog series, these service plans should be treated with caution as they are indicative and are intended “for transport modelling purposes only”. Aside from this caveat, all columns but the final (right-hand) one of the table contain objective data that can be referred back to published timetables or HS2 Ltd documents.

In the final column I have tried to make an “assessment” of how the qualities of the before and after services compare, in the range spanning “- -” (significantly worse after HS2) to “+ +” (significantly better after HS2). This is far less certain ground, as it requires a subjective view to be taken, and your view and my view of the impact of the same set of circumstances may be different. Nevertheless, I regard it as essential to attempt this assessment, however imperfect it may be, as being helpful to the reader wishing to make sense of the large quantity of data in the table to form an overview.

In view of the uncertainty about whether Pendolinos will be withdrawn from some WCML services (see footnote 1) I have ignored the possibility of increased journey times that would result from such a policy in my assessment, so my ratings may prove to be overestimating the quality of post-HS2 services.

I have judged the quality of the service in each case on the basis of the “intermediate stops factor”, which I regard as indicative of journey times, and the frequency of the services scheduled to call at each station. A quick check of the four “intermediate stops factor” columns in my table will reveal that average journey times on services that are shown as running only on the WCML tracks in the indicative service plan will be, with only four exceptions, longer after HS2 is operational. The difficulty in deciding when other service improvements indicated in the table, such as upping the number of calling services, are sufficient to offset the quality degradation brought about by journeys taking longer is problematic. How can you decide how the average passenger will react to such a trade off?

The situation at Stafford is a case in point. This station currently enjoys two direct fast services from London in the afternoon peak hour. Reviewing the timetable for the service over the whole day reveals that the service pattern is one bidirectional service per hour, between Euston and Liverpool Lime Street, that runs non-stop London/Stafford for most of the day, boosted by a second Liverpool service that runs only in peak hours in the direction of main traffic flow, i.e. towards London in the morning and outward from London in the evening. This second service has at least one intermediate stop.

The equivalent WCML replacement services indicated for the after HS2 scenario would run to a broadly similar pattern. However, the hourly, day-long service would be provided by a stop on the London/North Wales service; the directional peak-hours only service is shown Figure 6-3 of The Economic Case for HS2, PFMv4.3: Assumptions Report as being provided by a stop on the London/Crewe service.

Whilst the indicative plans thereby retain the frequency of WCML long-distances services for Stafford, the two replacement services are shown on Figure 6-3 as each having five intermediate station stops on the London/Stafford sector. This will reduce the quality of the service by virtue of increasing journey times; my table shows an increase in the “intermediate stops factor” from 0.5 currently to 5.0 post HS2. I have been provided (see footnote 2) with a reasoned argument that, all other things being equal, a single intermediate stop adds around four minutes to the journey time, and this is supported by the current timetables (see footnote 3). So, an intermediate stops factor increase of 4.5 stops equates to an average journey time increase of 18 minutes, equivalent to a 24% increase on the current best time.

My table also shows that the post-HS2 position for passengers choosing to use the hourly commuter service to travel to and from London will be broadly unchanged, so the overall quality of service offered to passengers on classic WCML services once HS2 is operational will be indisputably worse – the only area of contention is whether a single or double minus grade would be appropriate.

However, an assessment is not that straightforward because Stafford would also be favoured with a single hourly HS2 call by one of the classic-compatible London/Liverpool Lime Street services; this train would offer, HS2 Ltd claims, a 22-minute time saving on the Stafford/London sector, equivalent to 29% saving on the current best journey time (see footnote 4).

So will this single offering be able to redress the balance in the eyes of passengers and overcome, or surpass, the quality reduction that will be evident in the classic service offering at Stafford? That sounds like a call on the judgement of Solomon to me. My own feeble advocacy powers lead me to incline towards voting for a draw, and I have, somewhat pusillanimously, plumped for a “0” in the assessment column, but I would not argue with representations that a “+” or a “-“ would have been more appropriate. It really depends just how much weight you give to the various factors, and someone really keen on high-speed travel, might even try to put forward the case that “+ +” was the right verdict, but I might be more inclined to argue with that viewpoint.

(To be continued …)


  1. See part 6 of this blog series. Also note that the Beleben blog Quantum of Desiro (posted 21 Apr 2015) makes the claim that “most of the Fast line trains [on the WCML post HS2] would be operated by Class 350 (or similar) units” and that, as a result, “it seems likely that journey times on West Coast would tend to increase, rather than decrease”.
  2. I gratefully acknowledge calculations justifying this figure provided by e-mail by Michael Woodhouse.
  3. The 17:07 Virgin service from Euston, with no intermediate stops to Stafford, is timetabled to arrive in 75 minutes. The 17:33 service stops at Rugby on the way to Stafford and has a timetabled journey time of 79 minutes.
  4. Refer to Figure 4.7 in the document 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.




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