The various non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) have been in complete harmony over their opposition to the HS2 High Speed Rail project. Equally, head man Matthew Sinclair has been steadfast in advocating what is known as Rail Package 2 (RP2) as an alternative. This study, drawn up by Atkins (available HERE [.pdf]), bears inspection, as it contains significant weaknesses.
RP2 requires sixteen fast train paths per hour on the West Coast Main Line (WCML). This demands 80% of total theoretical maximum capacity. The trains will be pathed just three minutes apart, with a three minute recovery allowance between “flights” of four services. Thus the first problem: one train stopping at Watford Junction – and one is proposed – will cause the service integrity to unravel, even if there is a “recovery” slot behind it. Running at 80% of capacity – all day – is risky.
Achieving grade separation – flyover to lay persons - at Ledburn (south of Leighton Buzzard), it is conceded, will mean “significant local disruption during construction”. And that grade separation will still mean slowing trains that cross from one pair of tracks to the other – so more potential for undoing service robustness.
A further grade separation at Norton Bridge (north of Stafford) is assumed to have been carried out as part of renewals and its costings are not included. Nor is the full reinstatement of a fourth track between Rugby and Nuneaton, so there is still the potential for service disruption as passenger and freight trains compete for the same stretch of track (a more detailed look at RP2 shows other weaknesses, too).
To enable Northampton to retain a reasonable service to and from London, a uniform train fleet is assumed, which will be capable of 125mph operation, and able to tilt through curves to maintain passenger comfort. Such trains are doubly more expensive than those used at present: tilt equipment makes the vehicles several tonnes heavier, and impact resistance requirement reduces seating capacity, especially in end coaches. And the door locations make station stops slower.
This all new fleet – the need for which I do wonder if the TPA even knows, let alone endorses – will make the cost of the Northampton service far higher than at present. Maintenance costs will also be high, but it is what is not mentioned in RP2 that is most important.There is little mention of freight capacity, so how increased demand for freight paths will be met is not addressed. Nor is there any mention of the Midland or East Coast Main Lines, and how they will manage without several of their destinations being served by the second phase of HS2. What future for these routes? And to cap it all, RP2 makes no provision for any extra trains at peak times. That should make for interesting rush hours – maybe the TPA would care to explain that one away?