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Thursday 31 March 2011

TPA And HS2 – The Seat Numbers Game

Anyone who has been following the arguments put forward by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) in their efforts to stop the Government’s proposed high speed rail link (aka HS2) going ahead will know that the TPA sets great store by the number of seats their own proposals will offer to rail travellers, and especially commuters bound for Northampton.

Indeed, in their latest “research note” on the subject, the claim is made that their approach would “allow commuter capacity to Milton Keynes and Northampton to be doubled”. They also talk of overcrowding on “fast” services, which gives a hint of how their argument is constructed.

The TPA is urging the adoption of Rail Package 2 (RP2) from the Atkins report for the DfT, which I’ve looked at previously. RP2 includes four trains an hour from Euston to Northampton – but no extra services at peak times – with each train offering a maximum of 589 seats, which means an hourly total of 2,356.

Now, between 1700 and 1800 hours on weekdays – the main peak period – the present timetable has just two trains routed via the Fast line to Leighton Buzzard, Milton Keynes and Northampton, offering 1,512 seats in total. This appears to show a significant improvement with RP2, until the whole operation is considered.

Because the reason for only two services using the Fast lines is that this is the limit of current capacity with the 100mph trains used: there are other Northampton services, which use the Slow lines, the difference in journey time adding another 10 to 15 minutes. To compare like with like, the capacity of these trains must be added.

Thus there are two further trains to consider: their seating capacity is 1,330. That gives a total over the four trains of 2,842, so RP2 will actually give 486 less seats to Northampton between 1700 and 1800 on weekdays. On top of that, there are at present two further trains running as far as Milton Keynes, with 1,064 seats, yet there is no sign of these in the RP2 timetable.

And there is worse news for Northampton commuters: the tilting trains needed for RP2 will have far less ability to take standing passengers than the trains currently working the commuter service. Moreover, any overloading will cause the tilt equipment to stop working, thus slowing the service and damaging the integrity of the timetable.

That’s a timetable that I’ve already shown to be unworkable. Now it can be seen that commuters will face a severe cut in the number of peak hour seats to Milton Keynes and Northampton. And on top of all that, the new train fleet needed for RP2 will cost significantly more to maintain than that at present in use.

This is something else the TPA is not telling you. It’s all starting to add up, isn’t it?

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