It doesn’t solve anything – HS2 opponents want to cut out WCML stops

We just don’t need HS2, UKIP MEP Derek Clark writes on the Party’s website in a piece described as a ‘strong rebuttal’ of High Speed Rail proposals.

Mr Clark quotes from a letter he sent to Mr Hammond. He writes:

I pointed out that currently the fastest train, Euston to Birmingham, takes 82 minutes but stops 3 times.  Non-stop that would be around 76 minutes taking you right into Birmingham at New Street Station.  HS2 will go to a new station 10 minutes away from there.  So the claimed journey of 49 minutes to Birmingham by HS2 becomes effectively 59 minutes; £30 billion for a total saving of only 17 minutes against a non-stop on existing track.

It’s important to acknowledge the West Coast Main Line is a congested, mixed-use line and one of the busiest rail corridors in Europe. Mixed-use means it is shared by fast services, commuter services and freight traffic.

Pathways have to be made available for fast services that may leave London Euston without stopping until Stoke-on-Trent or Crewe, as well as regular semi-fast stopping services for stations such as Hemel Hempstead, Nuneaton and Lichfield, and freight demand.

This presents a complex picture and if there are train breakdowns or problems with rail infrastructure knock-on effects quickly hamper the whole network.

Now Mr Clark is suggesting that trains should not stop between London and Birmingham to enhance speed.

But what about fast services north of Birmingham? What about freight operators and what about Coventry, Rugby, Milton Keynes and Birmingham International among others?

Some critics will doubtless respond that certain services could stop and some speed through from Euston to New Street. But we don’t have the capacity!

Again, it’s worth repeating……

  • The West Coast Main Line will be full by 2024 (this is a conservative estimate)
  • Passenger levels are growing at 6% per year, despite the recession
  • Passenger levels are at their highest since the 1920s and our network has halved since

Mr Clark continues:
Much is made of HS2 being non-stop but you don’t have to be a fast train not to stop at intermediate stations.  You can do that with existing trains, they used to be called an “Express”. A frequent express service from Euston to Birmingham would need a re-jig of the existing track; widening the permanent way and re-building bridges, just like extending motorways. Even with advanced signalling that would come at far less cost than a completely new rail line.

Many critics of HS2 claim erroneously that Coventry and other towns and cities lose out. They don’t, but they certainly would with a scheme that speeds straight past them while doing nothing to deal with current capacity problems, let alone the problems we face in the future.

Many HS2 opponents talk of alternatives without providing any solutions, as if it’s enough to just say ‘do something else.’

If Mr Clark is advocating RP2 or RP2+, as it is now called, this simply doesn’t do the job. You can read a report on why RP2 fails, written by rail analyst William Barter here.

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11 Responses to It doesn’t solve anything – HS2 opponents want to cut out WCML stops

  1. William Barter says:

    Derek Clark tells me via Twitter that his vision is for the West Coast Main Line to be widened to take these non-stop trains on a new pair of tracks, whilst stopping services continue to use the existing lines. This bonkers idea has come up in the past and been dismissed, but clearly it is necessary to go through the arguments yet again. Let’s start at the Birmingham end.

    Birmingham New Street station is full. If Derek’s idea is to run a pattern of non-stop trains as well as the current service, there is nowhere in Birmingham for them to start. So we would have to do much as HS2 proposes and build a new station for them. The Curzon Street are would be a good place, it’s a touch further from the centre than New Street, but it’s adjacent to Moor St station with its suburban and regional services. It’s also in an area earmarked for regeneration, just as New Street was once (perhaps that’s why it’s called New Street?).

    Now we have to carve a widened alignment through the suburbs of Birmingham. A trip on this line looking out of the window with your eyes open will reveal the problem. This section alone would probably destroy more houses than the whole of HS2.

    Particular problems arise in Coventry. It’s difficult enough already to run through trains between the Nuneaton and Leamington lines; Derek’s bright idea will make it impossible, unless we go for flyovers, probably unbuildable on this restricted site, and with all the visual intrusion that results from “up and over”.

    After Rugby, the line passes largely through open countryside, not many houses to demolish, but what do we find close beside the line? First, the canal, which would have to be diverted in many places. Then, wildlife habitats. Railway verges are much beloved of wildlife due to the lack of disturbance by human activities. Gravel pits created during construction of railways have now become habitats. Derek’s additional tracks would be beside the present line, and so by definition would plough straight through the habitats that have grown up over the last 150 years. Never mind, give them another 150 years and they should be alright again on the new boundaries.

    Now we start to get back into more developed areas, as the line passes through Leighton Buzzard, Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead. Apart from the demolished houses, Berkhamsted poses particular problems as the line twists between the castle on one side and the canal on the other. There’s no half measures here, one or the other has got to go. What has Berkhamsted Castle ever done to UKIP that they want to exact such revenge? Built by the Normans I suppose, not forgiven them yet.

    Maybe Derek thinks that he can minimise damage to developments beside the existing line by letting his new tracks hop from one side to the other. The curves would mean that the speed on the new “express” lines would be worse than the existing railway; the disruption involved in building the multiple flyovers or realigning the present line to wherever suits Derek’s bright idea defies the imagination. It’s not the sort of thing you do in a series of weekend blocks, handing back a working railway every Monday morning for a decade or so.

    If Derek is still awake as we approach Watford, he will see that there is no conceivable alternative to tunnelling into London, a longer tunnel than HS2 envisages, with all the cost that involves. Finally, what do we do with his extra trains at Euston? The station has little room for new trains, so a rebuilding pretty similar to what HS2 envisages will be necessary. What is worse is that all extra passengers will be forced through Euston, and most of them onto the Underground which is already so congested that parts of it have to be closed at peak times, as Derek’s bright idea has no equivalent to the Old Oak Common Interchange with Crossrail that will allow passengers for Docklands and the City to avoid Euston. The only saving grace is that Derek’s trains will be able to carry only a fraction of the passengers that HS2 could, as his trains will be limited to lengths of about 200 metres by platforms at Birmingham and Euston, and as they have to fit beneath existing structures at each end of the line can never use double-deck coaches.

    All in all, Derek’s light-bulb moment leads us to a railway that offers much less capacity than HS2, crowds the Underground at Euston beyond any reasonable limits, does not have the speed benefits of HS2 (and may even mean lower speeds than the existing twisting Victorian railway), destroys more property and habitats than HS2, is more disruptive in the building, and probably costs just as much if not more, as it’s alignment is forced on it by paralleling a railway that has already used the easy options. Sounds good? Vote UKIP.

  2. gohs2 says:

    Thanks for your comments, William. Sadly, it is easy for opponents to HS2 to trumpet alternatives without doing their homework. Also, there seems to be less concern from some opponents about disruption that occurs elsewhere. With this scheme, as you say, there would be huge disruption in cities including Coventry and Birmingham and demolition of streets of suburban housing. And it wouldn’t even do the job.

  3. Absolutely inspired reposte from William. Basically sums up everything I was going to say!

    Better to build HS2 and let Network Rail continue to upgrade the existing network in phases like it has its recent history. HS1 + HS2 + 140MPH Great Western! I can’t wait 😀

  4. cynic says:

    I think you have completely missed the point. UKIP are making the most of the fact that the average voter does not think HS2 is the right priority at a time of spending cuts.

    • gohs2 says:

      Rail is growing at 6% and we have overcrowding so a solution is needed. UKIP would run a shuttle from London to Birmingham without stops. How then, would Coventry, Rugby, Nuneaton, Watford and Milton Keynes fare without a service?

  5. James Avery says:

    The biggest bottleneck must surely be between Coventry and Birmingham New Street, where two tracks are shared by local and long distance, from Rugby south there are four tracks. Previous suggestions have been more along the lines of a double-decker option, rather than side-by side – expensive no doubt, but when you say that opponents have no solutions to the challenges, in many cases, these suggestions have been dismissed without further investigation, or even an outline cost to be digested.

    The easiest capacity win would be more coaches on VT (or whoever beyond 2012) Pendolini stock – yet, apparently this is not value for money for the taxpayer. Yet, somehow HS2, at a whopping £160m per mile is. There are also other simple ways to release capacity, such as re-classifying some 1st class cars, and having a tiered pricing structure like Chiltern, who will, incidentally also be providing much more capacity between Birmingham and London, also brushed over by the pro-H22 lobby.

    You say that New St is full – yet, given the right engineering, any station can be expanded. This may sound contradictory given above complaint about cost, but HS2 as currently proposed is not an integrated transport proposal, as it will serve two new Birmingham stations, which are not directly connected to the rest of the network. That is simply not done in mainland Europe – perhaps with the sole exception of Florence.

    Again, I have not seen a detailed breakdown of the extra costs involved, but connecting at an enlarged New St would enable HS2 to serve Wolverhampton.

    I don’t think UKIP have got this one right, but I always get concerned when the three big parties are united on something – it doesn’t mean for one minute that a proposal is not without serious flaws.

    • gohs2 says:

      Yes, we agree and support the four-tracking you refer to, as well. Moving onto our statement that alternatives don’t stack up – we don’t believe they do. AGAHST has supported versions of RP2 which does not meet capacity demands. I’m afraid this is why many critics of HS2 stick to complaining this is just about saving a few minutes for businessmen when, in the West Midlands, it is about providing capacity. I agree about VT adding carriages, but this is already being done. VT has added a new evening service to Manchester and 11-carriage trains will be added where available (extended from current nine). However, HS2 opponents have made their calculations from 2008 meaning they are adding carriages that were already promised. We will need the measures you suggest anyway. But we need to build for the longer term.
      We certainly don’t ignore Chiltern, but the line from Moor St to Marylebone will not cope with rail growing at 6% per year. It is also important not to forget freight demands which are also rising considerably. It is true that New Street is full and there is no room for more platforms. At the end of phase one WCML trains from the north (Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow etc.) will be able to access HS2 in Staffordshire using hybrid trains.
      It’s possible HS2 will serve more locations and I’m sure you’re aware Stoke is keen. Finally, most people travel at the peak and first class is busy. Removing first class reduces revenue. We don’t say there isn’t work to be done, but we support HS2.

  6. James Avery says:

    Fair points, but it still doesn’t explain why this needs to cost £160m per mile. Project Evergreen may have had a different scope, but the whole thing was £250m. Chiltern could certainly combine more DMUs, and dare I mention raising some bridges and bringing in doubler deckers, again, common in numerous other countries.

    I know the biggest problem is creating capacity for the first few miles out of London, but if this is so expensive (and the Alptransit tunnels are only marginally more expensive than HS2 per mile), then surely the cost per mile should fall dramatically once outside the M25, and £34bn should provide a fast link to at least Newcastle, if not Edinburgh.

    • Jonathan Morton says:

      As a point of comparison, the Kehärata commuter line, which has a flying junction with the main line and significant tunnelling, costs about €60M per mile, and the Länsimetro project which is *entirely* in tunnel is projected to cost about €83M per mile. Both projects are already underway.

      Meanwhile, HS1 cost £87M per mile to build. That’s higher than those two Finnish projects, but it also includes a lot of tunnelling and is a high-speed line, and is not obviously unreasonable in context. It should be comparable or pessimistic compared to HS2 in those respects.

      So yes, HS2’s £160M per mile cost does look rather high.

  7. I honestly would not bother rebutting this. His comments are obviously completely uninformed. Its obvious they will try to get votes from people who are against HS2, but if they don’t try I suppose it will be the BNP (not that there is a lot of difference, in my view).

    • gohs2 says:

      Thanks for your comments Ian,
      Yes they’re ill-informed to suggest we should cut out Watford, MK, Coventry etc and run a non-stop Brum-London shuttle, but what is concerning is that groups such as StopHS2 have spoken at UKIP events. So, yes, we know UKIP’s views on this are ill-informed but if the main group opposing HS2 is happy to stand alongside them (and repeatedly tweet their activity/events) then it’s important we point out the problems this ridiculous policy would cause for communities along the WCML.
      StopHS2 and other opponents have ignored this issue probably because they would like the extra support/resources UKIP might bring, while choosing to throw a veil over these bizarre policy ideas.

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