Today’s “Research Note” from the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) attacking the proposed high speed rail project (aka HS2) contains the usual TPA list, this time of places that, it alleges, will be worse off if HS2 goes ahead. So let’s look at the list put forward and see how it stacks up.
Once again, the TPA takes the purely illustrative service level shown in the HS2 documentation for non-HS2 services, and assumes it to be cast in stone. So their talk of journey time penalties is speculation. Also, they assume no connection between Birmingham’s New Street station and the HS2 one – so that’s more speculation.
Midland Main Line
Here we encounter the biggest and most blatant whopper in the TPA exercise: the assumption that this route, from London’s St Pancras terminus to the East Midlands and Sheffield, will be electrified in the near future and enjoy the benefits of journey time reductions and more line capacity, but only if HS2 does not go ahead.
Maybe the TPA could tell Network Rail (NR) about their miraculous discovery: NR’s press release on the current electrification programme, released yesterday, does not mention any new electrification for that route. Once again, the TPA is engaging in speculation, and doubly so by suggesting that electrification versus HS2 is some kind of zero sum game.
East Coast Main Line
Here the TPA has difficulty making its mind up. For Doncaster and Wakefield we are told “service frequency and journey times likely to deteriorate” on completion of HS2. But for York – reached by passing through Doncaster – we get “no capacity increase” because two services an hour are now routed via HS2. The idea that there may still be a fast service from York via Doncaster is not considered. Once again, this is speculation.
And, of course, no evidence is cited to back up the claim on journey time. It’s tired stuff, which resorts once more to using the illustrative character of the HS2 documentation as fact, as it states that this “shows no high speed trains north of Newcastle”. So is the TPA seriously suggesting that the lack of a line on a diagram prevents trains working north of Newcastle?This is truly desperate stuff. And no proposals to increase capacity are outlined or costed for the latter two routes. Time for the TPA to put up or shut up.
With regards to the ECML, there is still very likely to be 6 High Speed Long Distance paths per hour available from King's Cross - which means that there is every likelihood that fast paths will still be available up the East Coast. Indeed, there will still be a significant demand for long-distance through services to Aberdeen, Hull and many of the smaller stations that aren't intended for HS2 to call (Durham, Doncaster, Berwick, Wakefield...)
In addition, the current planned route for HS2 means that any ECML TOC could easily compete with HS2 for long-distance flows - with newer rolling stock, express trains from King's Cross can get to Newcastle in 2:45 or less (previous timetables did KGX-YRK-NCL in 2:38), which is very competitive against the planned 2:37 for HS2 services.
My personal thoughts are that, for English ECML destinations with the exception of Leeds, the classic route may offer better value-for-money for the whole of HS2, as it would release classic-compatible HS2 stock (which will be quite expensive) for other services (perhaps to Edinburgh via the WCML, or to serve Nottingham). That's not to say York/Newcastle shouldn't be linked to HS2 - the ability to save an hour on the journey times to Birmingham would transform regional economies, and a direct link to Heathrow would be useful.
With the addition of new tracks through Holgate in York, the Hitchin and Doncaster flyovers, and a strategic freight network away from the main line of the ECML, there will be spare capacity for additional services.
Where there may be some capacity changes would be Cross-country services, but again, I would imagine that the main plan would be to rationalise to a single service per hour via Leeds - continuing to offer through services to the South and South West of England. (Germany quite happily run traditional IC services parallel to ICE lines, if that approach provides journey opportunities which would be made difficult by enforcing a change onto ICE routes.)
Again, the MML is still going to have a strong market for limited stop services, particularly from Nottingham, Derby and Leicester, where the city centres will be poorly served by HS2 (that's unless additional classic-compatible sets are purchased to allow the service to run in to Nottingham/Sheffield, which may make some sense)
The remarks about electrification of the MML seem silly - in fact electrification of the MML would help - for example to provide some semblance of service resilience if there was a problem with HS2. The French use this approach all the time - LGV blocked - use the classic line to move TGVs around the problem. While this would only be possible with classic-compatible sets, it would mean some sort of HS2 service would still be possible (e.g., if the S. Yorks - Leeds HS2 branch were blocked, you could still run a classic-compatible train up as far as the East Midlands, then run into Leeds classic line)
Finally, the WCML. Time penalties. Pendolinos accelerate so well, that a 4 minute time penalty is what is usually incurred by an extra stop. So London - WM services will be 4 minutes slower if they called at MKC and one of WFJ or RUG. For most of the journeys envisaged in the proposal document, you are talking about time penalties of perhaps 4-12 minutes on the longer distance intercity services. That is, if you don't want to take HS2. Except that will be countered by the fact that if you live in one of the smaller towns where HS2 won't call, you will be likely to receive a more frequent pendolino service than now, which may be a few minutes slower, but will provide for London and intermediate stations (something which the current timetable struggles to do - MK to Preston or Liverpool anyone?)
The only big losers are Coventry and Stoke, which without the Manchester/Birmingham - London passengers don't really warrant the 3tph or 2tph service they currently get. But we're not talking about an effect like TGV had here - there will still be hourly or half-hourly intercity services, and probably more regional express services, because as cross-country's "Operation Princess" has proven, there is a large suppressed demand for express regional services in the UK. Quite unlike France.
As to Birmingham - the proposed station will be:
- Next door to Moor Street, for frequent direct connections to Solihull, Warwick, Leamington Spa, Stratford, Smethwick, Stourbridge, Kidderminster, Worcester and Hereford. Oh, and there'd be no good reason why some XC services from Oxford and points south couldn't go into Moor Street.
- Connected to the Midland Metro extension, for Wednesbury and Wolverhampton, providing a mechanised link to New Street
- Next to one of Birmingham's major local bus interchanges (on Moor St)
- Less than 10 minutes walk from New Street and Corporation Street for almost all other Rail and Bus services.
Oh and if you wanted connections to Wolves, Telford and other points north west, you can go Moor St - Smethwick Galton Br (every 10 minutes) and connect to the Wolverhampton line there.
I should also say that Fazeley St is better located for road access than New St.
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