Degrading practices, part 13

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 12, posted on 2 May 2015).

Although I have to admit that it’s taken a while to get here – at least any detractors won’t be able to claim that I have not been thorough – I have finally reached the point where, in this posting and the one that will follow, I can wrap up this investigation into the quality of the services to and from London that will probably be on offer to passengers using the current West Coast Main Line (WCML) after HS2 Phase 1 comes into service.

What remains to be done is to see if the table that I introduced in part 12 supports the claim made by Joe Rukin in his Stop HS2 blog posted on 13th February 2015 . To remind you, Joe’s claim is that thirty-four named West Coast Main Line (WCML) stations, as listed in my table, “could see slower, reduced or no services at all to London if HS2 goes ahead”.

Actually, that can be regarded as three claims, so I will take them separately.

Firstly, there is the question of whether passengers using the identified stations could suffer slower services. In order to answer that point I think that it is best to classify the thirty-four stations into groups that face a similar scenario.

The first such group, containing exactly one-half (17) of Joe’s list, is those stations that are currently only served by long-distance WCML trains, and this would still be the case after HS2 is operational; Chester is an example of such a station. Without exception, the “intermediate stops factor” is a higher number after HS2 is operational, indicating that journey times, on average, would be increased; the degree of the increase being marginal at some stations and significant at others.

The second group contains six stations currently served by both long-distance and commuter WCML services, and this would remain the case after HS2 is operational – one such station is Nuneaton. Again, in every case, the “intermediate stops factor” would increase for the WCML long-distance services after HS2 is operational. The picture regarding commuter services is more variable, with two stations gaining in average journey time, three stations losing out and one unchanged.

The third group contains five stations currently served by WCML long-distance services, two of which are also served by commuter services. The post-HS2 indicative schedules show some WCML trains continuing to serve these stations, but with more intermediate stops. In addition, one or more HS2 classic-compatible train paths would serve these stations. So whilst a faster service would be available to passengers taking HS2, WCML passengers would suffer a slower service than is offered now. It is reasonable to assume that the slower WCML services, in competition with the faster HS2, will be made competitive by undercutting HS2 fares – so reduced HS2 journey times will be available to passengers using these stations at a price premium and generally less frequently than now.

There is also a fourth group of three stations (Wilmslow, Runcorn and Warrington Bank Quay) where the current WCML direct long-distance services would no longer run, but would be replaced by HS2 classic-compatible trains. At two of these stations the number of stopping services in the peak hour would be unchanged, but Warrington would suffer a reduction from three to one service. So passengers using these three stations will enjoy reduced journey times, but will lose out on choice and may have to pay more.

Finally there is a group of three stations that are on Joe’s list (Telford Central, Shrewsbury and Blackpool North) that enjoy a limited, off-peak direct service to/from London. No future plans for these services are given in The Economic Case for HS2, PFMv4.3: Assumptions Report, so it is not possible to reach any conclusions about possible changes to journey times.

Overall then, the plans for the WCML after HS2 comes into operation, as set out in The Economic Case for HS2, PFMv4.3: Assumptions Report, would increase journey times on at least some direct London services provided at twenty-eight of the thirty-four stations listed by Joe Rukin in his Stop HS2 blog. I suggest that this is reasonable justification for his claim that the stations that he has identified “could see slower” London services if HS2 goes ahead.

Over recent years enhancements have been introduced to the WCML aimed at improving the quality of service by reducing journey times. Of these, the most significant was surely the introduction into service of the Pendolinos. However, compared to these previous enhancements HS2 Phase 1 offers a revolutionary improvement in journey times. Unfortunately, this revolution in convenience will only be offered to about one-third of passengers currently using the WCML to travel to and from London (see part 4). Worse than that, many of these who cannot share in the HS2 revolution will be expected to suffer increases in their journey times as the planned consequence of the introduction of HS2. This renders the promotion of HS2 a highly-divisive policy, and Joe Rukin is, in my view, right to raise this as an issue.

(To be concluded …)

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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