Open Ac­cess

Rail (UK) - - Contents -

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

THOMAS NICKLIN.

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.

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