Chiltern Mainline is great news but it doesn’t solve the UK’s rail capacity problems

Capacity is the key issue

Chiltern Mainline is good news for rail users in our region, but it would be wrong to view it as the answer to all of our problems. As soon as the new service was launched there was a predictable frenzy of blogging and tweeting from HS2 opponents.

Who needs HS2? they chorused, pointing to the new, faster Birmingham to London service. In their haste to make capital they’ve missed a number of important points.

The Chiltern service takes around 90 minutes to reach Marylebone. Competition and comfort is good news, but there are existing services from Birmingham New Street making the trip in around 80 minutes.  So this is really about choice and alternatives.

Supporters of HS2 have been accused of moving from a time-saving to a capacity argument. Martin Tett, the leader of Buckinghamshire Council, even said supporters had now ditched both of the above to put forward a ‘national interest’ argument.

This simply isn’t true. Go-HS2 has made the capacity argument right from day one and we’ll continue to do so. Opponents of HS2 still fail to address the capacity issue and that is concerning. They have mentioned a number of alternatives, most notably Rail Package Two (RP2), but in recent weeks RP2 seems to have spawned a number of further alternatives.

These have been looked at in detail by industry expert William Barter. He has concluded that RP2 fails because it cannot provide the capacity we need at the times we need it. In short there aren’t enough seats at peak time. You can read why here.

It’s not as complex as it sounds, but capacity doesn’t make for a great news story and misses out to more emotive issues. So it’s helpful to consider these facts….

  • The Association of Train Operating Companies reports 6% increase per annum in passenger numbers, despite the recession
  • Passenger numbers are at their highest since the 1920s (and there’s a lot less track)

Demand continues to rise and we ignore it at our peril.

Of course, Adrian Shooter CBE, chairman of Chiltern Railways, is a huge supporter of HS2 and argued recently in Railnews that it is vital high speed rail is built to meet the UK’s capacity needs. So the chairman of Chiltern backs HS2.

But this isn’t the only issue HS2 opponents have confused……

Groups opposed to HS2 have been keen to make an environmental case, but many have contradicted themselves in asking if transport budgets could be better directed towards road-building.

Similarly, many have said Moor Street/Curzon Street stations are too far from New Street. This is not true and they have conveniently stepped away from this argument this week to extol the benefits of travelling with Chiltern from Moor Street!

Critics have also suggested that time saving is irrelevant, but they have been quick to seize upon the 30 minutes saved by Chiltern Mainline.

We will be consistent: Expect to hear more about capacity!


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