Paxo stuffing, part 8

(… continued from Paxo stuffing, part 7, posted on 9 Jul 2015).

My discussion of the letter sent by Sir David Higgins to the Financial Times has reached the final two sentences.

Sir David says:

“Passengers who queue on a daily basis at Paddington and London Bridge, or those who have to stand on the West Coast Mainline are paying the price of dithering and delay by previous generations. Imagine what it will be like in twenty years’ time if we fail once again to seize the chance for change.”

I say:

I’m really not sure what Sir David thinks HS2 will do for the unfortunate commuters forced to use Paddington or London Bridge; perhaps his suggestion is that they should move house to Solihull in 2027 and use HS2 to commute instead. Sir David singles out two London termini where congestion is experienced by passengers, though commuter train overcrowding is a factor across pretty much all of the capital’s terminal stations.

The industry-standard method for assessing overcrowding is “passengers in excess of capacity” or PIXC (see footnote). Department for Transport (DfT) statistics for trains departing London in the one-hour afternoon peak on a typical autumn weekday in 2013 allow the following league table of London terminus stations to be constructed on the basis of the percentage of services with PIXC, reducing as one descends the table:

  1. Paddington
  2. Blackfriars
  3. Marylebone
  4. Waterloo
  5. Fenchurch Street
  6. St Pancras International
  7. Liverpool Street
  8. Euston
  9. Victoria
  10. King’s Cross
  11. London Bridge
  12. Moorgate

Euston, which is the only London terminus to which HS2 can conceivably offer any relief, is well down the league at eighth, with 9 per cent of services with PIXC compared with 45 per cent at Paddington. If the three-hour peak is used as the basis of the table, Euston rises to sixth equal place, but is still well below the overcrowding at Paddington (12 per cent against 47 per cent).

DfT statistics also reveal that Euston rates only sixth in the league table of the number of passengers that used it to depart London in the three-hour afternoon peak on a typical autumn weekday in 2013. It accounted for only 5.8 per cent of the passengers leaving London (26,718 out of a total of 461,889) and the busiest station, London Bridge, handled four times as many departing passengers (109,852).

London commuter traffic clearly presents a knotty problem for transport planners to contemplate. Sir David is right to point out that the situation in twenty years’ time will be a whole lot worse if past dithering continues and “we fail once again to seize the chance for change”. If he means this as an endorsement of HS2, however, I am far from reassured that this, once work has been completed, will have little more than a marginal impact on improving the lot for London commuters as a whole. It appears to me that the problem merits interventions that are targeted directly at increasing capacity on the worse-affected routes; even viewed in the most optimistic of light, HS2 is a very indirect, wrongly-targeted, ineffective and expensive way of easing the lot of a small proportion of London commuters.

During the construction work at Euston station HS2, requiring as it does extensive excavation within the throat of the station, could make matters very much worse for commuters trying to use Euston to get into and out of London.

There is also the question of the opportunity cost of HS2 and whether the £50 billion (or probably more) to be spent will effectively be money that is not available for other projects such as improving London commuter services; after all, you could make a lot of improvements to these services, and spread the benefits more widely around the London termini, if you had even a slice of £50 billion to spend.

Little has been announced about how it is proposed to fund HS2, but the newly, and very reluctantly, released June 2012 report of the Cabinet Office Major Projects Authority cautions about the impact that HS2 would have on the DfT’s budget were it to be funded only by internal resources (paragraph 7.10):

“Without a comprehensive budget in circulation it is difficult to have fully meaningful discussions on affordability. The [DfT] believes however that the costs of this project are so large, and over such a long period, that it will not be able to afford it alongside all its other likely spending commitments.”

So the problems of those “who queue on a daily basis at Paddington and London Bridge” may have been acknowledged by Sir David, but the activities of his company could make things worse for them, not better.

Footnote: A train service is deemed to be “with PIXC” when the number of passengers travelling is in excess of the capacity of that service. Capacity is deemed to be the number of standard class seats on the train for journeys of more than 20 minutes; for journeys of 20 minutes or less, an allowance for standing room is also made. The measure of PIXC is derived from the number of passengers travelling in excess of capacity on a service divided by the total number of people travelling, expressed as a percentage. The PIXC is often calculated for excess passengers and capacity totalled over all trains running during a peak period.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by LesF on July 13, 2015 at 9:21 am

    The table is not very helpful because it includes long distance and commuter traffic. While it’s more onerous to have to stand for a long distance, it’s likely that most of the standing is on shorter commuter journeys. What we really need is the passenger numbers for the long distance services alone, but of course that’s one of the things they won’t tell us because it’s “commercially confidential”.
    The table dated 2013 takes no account of the current conversion of one first class car to standard class in each 9-car Pendolino, or the effect of Crossrail when it opens, or the extra trains possible when works such as the Norton Bridge flyover are in use, or the spread of demand that will occur when the ridiculous sudden drop in fares at 19.00 each evening at Euston is cured by a sensible fare structure.
    However, I agree with the general thrust of your post that congestion is worse for commuters rather than long distance passengers.
    Yes, Sir David, we must “seize the chance for change”. We must change HS2 into something actually worth building.


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