Something to say? This is your platform.
Christian Wolmar may not be in the same political camp as Messrs Gove, Leadsom, Mogg or the
Sunday Telegraph, but on HS2 he is certainly sharing the same hymn sheet.
And just like them, his latest sideswipe at HS2 ( RAIL 861) ignores the actual reason for building HS2 - north-south capacity. The problem HS2 addresses is that the number of north-south tracks is not adequate to serve all requirements now, let alone in the future.
Particularly on the West Coast, dominance of fast through trains leaves other markets badly served - not just commuting to London from an area of massive housing growth, but also non-London commuting such as the West Midlands to Milton Keynes.
Intermediate flows such as Watford or Milton Keynes to Birmingham are also poor for the same reason. Although three fast trains per hour currently link Euston and Birmingham, only one per hour stops at each place - so that (for instance) rail as a feeder to Birmingham Airport is very uncompetitive. Hemel Hempstead, also acting as a railhead for St Albans, should have better services northwards, as should Rugby.
Whichever way you cut it, the need is for an extra pair of north-south tracks.
Travelling on any of our existing lines reveals the difficulty of widening them, especially in the London suburban area, while doing so would mean living within existing speed constraints.
The benefits are thus greatest if the new tracks are built as a separate high-speed line, allowing the existing lines, with their stations in population centres, to do what they are good at - serving local and inter-urban markets, and freight.
And more trains between stations means more platforms at stations. The capacity problem exists at least as much at stations, as on the lines that link them. If a significant number of extra trains is to be run, Euston will need expanding pretty much to the level it is for HS2 to handle them, while Birmingham New Street (when, in due course, it is resignalled to modern standards) probably won’t be able to handle even the number of trains it does now.
Improving the railways in the north of England is a very good idea. But whatever HS3 (or Northern Powerhouse Rail) turns out to be, it is very unlikely that a traditional transport appraisal based on generated revenue and time savings for existing travellers would be positive, as the existing volume of business is low compared with the north-south corridors.
For their justification, major improvements in the north of England will depend on benefits of economic regeneration and development - factors that are not included in the formal HS2 business case, and would take it well out of range of the snipers if they were.
Wolmar and his political alter egos go wrong firstly by implying that this investment is in any way an alternative to HS2, and secondly by overlooking that the best business case for a transNorth high-speed service will depend on sharing some HS2 infrastructure (such as the approach to Manchester). It is actually true that designing in provision for this synergy is the reason for the delay to the Phase 2B Hybrid Bill - bluntly, no HS2 means no HS3.
Wolmar et al might want to argue for a different solution to the capacity problem. But while they resolutely refuse to address it at all, their pot-shots at HS2 will inevitably miss their target. William Barter, Towcester
Virgin Trains 390127 races past Cathiron heading towards Rugby on November 11 2017, with the 1055 Manchester Piccadilly-London Euston service. Capacity constraints on the West Coast Main Line and other north-south routes makes the building of HS2 essential, says William Barter.