As a report is released laying out the disruption that would be caused to the rail network by not going ahead with the HS2 project, but instead upgrading the West Coast Main Line (WCML), Midland Main Line (MML) and East Coast Main Line (ECML), the desperation of opponents has brought forth another alternative scheme that is not going anywhere, and has no chance of being built.
A southbound coal train on the Great Central south of Rugby. Photo taken in 1958
“Railway line shut by Beeching 'can save us £36bn': Critics put forward alternative route using track closed in the 1960s” proclaims the Mail, going wrong from the start as Richard Beeching did not shut any rail lines. He merely made recommendations, and left the Government of the day to make the decisions. So what of this alternative – the long closed Great Central (GC) line?
Mail hack Arthur Martin gets the GC closure totally wrong: for starters, it had nothing to do with Beeching, whose report was published in 1963. Run-down of the GC started in 1958. By the time of Beeching’s report, its through daytime express services had been taken off (1960), Sunday services had ended (1962) and local services were withdrawn the following year.
The Mail also erroneously claims that the GC offered a London to Leeds service, which it did not: the line served Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester. And something else the Mail doesn’t tell its readers is that the GC was designed for a top speed of just 75mph, although in practice, speeds of 90mph were regularly achieved. Not much of an alternative to HS2.
It gets worse: much of the line has, in the intervening 47 years, been built over or used for other purposes: for instance, an extension to the Nottingham tram system will use the formation south of the city. The line beyond Sheffield, through the Woodhead tunnel, was closed more than 30 years ago and, again, much of it has been built over (the tunnel is now used to carry high frequency power cables).
The site of Nottingham’s Victoria station had a shopping centre built on it. Viaducts and bridges have fallen into serious disrepair or have been demolished. Tunnels would need rebuilding. Any budget for re-using the alignment would have to treat it as a new build, not a reopening. And the opponents to HS2 in the Chilterns would be simply replaced by those in towns like Brackley.
All of this would mean that the supposed £6bn price tag can be taken with a very large piece of salt. Moreover, the lines into which the GC formerly fed – those leading into London’s Marylebone terminus – are now close to capacity, especially at peak periods (unless some capacity enhancing demolition along the route is proposed). The exercise has not been thought through. It’s a dead duck.
And, as Andrew Gilligan is also involved in its promotion, that is no surprise.