HS2 opponents say the WCML isn’t crowded – who are they kidding?

Capacity crunch

Opponents of HS2 have taken to claiming there is no problem with crowding on the West Coast Main Line. They even go as far as to claim peak-time trains leaving Euston are half empty.

So why does HS2 opponent Jerry Marshall say he can add 215% capacity to existing lines if there isn’t a problem?

The argument that the WCML isn’t congested doesn’t stack up in the first place, but sadly this ‘research’ has got some column inches.

We have written to regional newspapers (please see below) and trust they will publish our response. What is particularly concerning is that HS2 opponents have spent less than 8 hours counting passenger numbers at one station.

How can this compare with industry-wide figures which are published quarterly providing statistics for the UK?

If groups supporting HS2 had published such a limited sample we would have been rightly criticised, but the claims of opponents do not receive sufficient scrutiny.

If there isn’t a problem with overcrowding on trains why has London Midland added 2,300 seats to ‘address overcrowding’ (click here)?

And why is Virgin Trains experiencing the levels of passengers in 2011 that HS2 Ltd predicted for 2021?

Beyond the attention-grabbing ‘half-empty’ statements the report goes on to note that first class carriages were not fully occupied. Mr Marshall would ‘reconfigure’ these, he says.

HS2 opponents have frequently poured scorn on demand predictions, so how can they predict how many first class carriages will be needed or would they do away with them altogether?

It’s important to remember that first class carriages provide a great deal of revenue. It seems curious, and again inconsistent, that a group which says it wants less burden on the taxpayer would reduce this revenue stream for operators.

Letter to the Editor:

Dear Sir,

Groups protesting against HS2 claim there is no problem with overcrowding on the West Coast Main Line, but this is not true.

Rail is growing at six per cent per year and we now have the highest number of rail passengers since the 1920s. It is worth noting we have half the rail network we had back then.

London Midland has recently added another 2,300 seats a day, stating the move would go ‘a considerable way to addressing overcrowding.’ Virgin Trains is already carrying as many passengers in 2011 as HS2 Ltd had projected for 2021.

So, if we don’t have a capacity problem, as HS2 opponents claim, why are operators adding services? And why do we frequently hear and see images of overcrowding in the media?

Rail freight is also growing at a considerable rate – container traffic has grown by 56% in the last eight years.

The figures reported by HS2 Action Alliance are based on a very small sample and cannot be credibly compared with quarterly figures published by the industry which clearly show escalating demand. HS2 Action Alliance counted passengers on three days at peak time, adding up to less than eight hours of study.

We need HS2 in the West Midlands to bring jobs and opportunities and much-needed capacity to ensure our local, regional and freight services are not squeezed out.

Yours etc.


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7 Responses to HS2 opponents say the WCML isn’t crowded – who are they kidding?

  1. James Avery says:

    You have rightly had a go at what appears to be a very flimsy method of sampling, but you have not provided alternative figures yourself, namely:

    1) If you dispute the claim, as made in Jerry Marshall’s sample, that only 51% of Virgin seats are occupied during the peak time rush north from Euston, what is your figure for this period?
    2) Do you accept that the biggest rush actually occurs after this peak period, when fares fall sharply?
    3) You also state that First Class gives a higher yield per passenger, that is indeed beyond dispute. However, First Class carriages are only 3 abreast, and seats are deeper. It is not uncommon to see these seats virtually unoccupied, when standard is rammed, at many different periods. FGW get by with 2 to 2 1/2 First class cars on a shorter (7-8 usable cars) HST set, so it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that Virgin could do likewise, as they indeed tried out for a period.

    Chiltern have introduced a three tier walk-up fares policy, based on return to the West Mids for £75 (peak) – £50 (mid) – £25 (off peak). They also did away with 1st class many years ago, I understand the new business offering is a simple case of the older sets they are leasing coming that way, so they charge a simple £20 premium for the privilege.

    With or without HS2, there is surely still plenty of opportunity to spread the load around a bit, and to do so in a way which brings a much faster return than a new line?

    With regards to longer trains, I get very cynical when I hear that Virgin Trains wanted to deploy more 11-car trains, but were told by the DfT that this was ‘not good value’ for the taxpayer (and £145m per mile is). I would like to see some analysis on what the current maximum train length is for each of the stations either currently on the WCML, or which might be served by HS2. Even if some are restricted, longer trains can have selective door opening, as is well established elsewhere.

    Obviously, New St is a big problem – I would imagine it would be very difficult to get more than 11 cars there, but we need to see this for the others. This is important, whatever the side of the argument you come from – as longer platforms are needed both for longer conventional trains, and for the possibility of 2x 200m trains on HS2.

    What other technical challenges do these longer trains pose? The Pendolini are powered in each car, so there isn’t a limit in terms of motor capacity, but what are the limits in terms of overhead power?

    Unfortunately, just as the anti-HS2 lobby can easily trumpet the ‘save our precious countryside’ argument, the pro-lobby is dependent far too much on dubious economic claims, and much too little on the technical side.

  2. James Avery says:

    I should of course add that there already are very detailed maps of the chosen route, but this in itself is essentially saying that is a done deal, no opportunity to look at alternatives or make improvements.

    Meanwhile, the ‘Y’ has been costed, yet we know very little about the proposed route and stations. If your argument is all about capacity, should you not be looking at additional stations along the route – speed can still be maintained anyway using a French style through station model.

    • gohs2 says:

      Yes, James as you doubtless know Stoke is keen for a north Staffordshire stop. No reason why stops such as this couldn’t be accommodated, perhaps with limited services.

      • James Avery says:

        The problem is, we are given a report suggesting a done deal, exactly as is, then expected to buy a very outline prospectus for the rest of the project with no detail.

        Would you like to come round and buy my house? On the ground floor, you can take everything as it is, down to the last mug in my kitchen. I tell you there are two bedrooms on the next floor, and I’m not saying anything about the floor above that.

        As it stands, the line ends below Rugely, therefore providing zero capacity relief north of Rugby – infact, if it increases demand, it could create MORE of a bottleneck.

  3. James Avery says:

    Also, if this is about releasing capacity on the Trent Valley line too, why does it stop south of Rugely? Surely it should continue at least to Colwich, where the line branches to Stafford and Manchester?

  4. Graeme Mulvaney says:

    Wouldn’t it have been in the HS2 proposals interest to predict 2021 peak time passenger numbers that were likely to be hit before the project was approved – I use the trains a lot and haven’t noticed a significant increase in peak time traffic.

    HS2 may relieve congestion on the uncongested parts of the WCML, but we all know that the real capacity problems are at Euston, between Coventry and Birmingham and particularly through New st station – HS2 won’t resolve any of these issues – passengers arriving at New st/Coventry will still need to catch a train to BHX and with another connection to the HS2 terminal, along the same lines that hold up London trains today.

    If the midlands economy needs improved connections with London to grow then why are you in favour of inflicting seven years of reduced capacity in Euston on us? How much harm will that do to jobs, investment and growth in the region? – if your answer is “very little” then how can you justify the claim that a faster service will deliver any benefits to the region?

    • gohs2 says:

      There are many anecdotes about capacity and trains not being any busier, but ATOC quote numbers rising at 6%pa so this clearly isn’t the case. Virgin Trains has seen passengers double to 31m in 5 years. It’s not just a West Coast issue. London Midland has increased seats in the West Midlands in the past month.
      HS2 opponents published a report in which they claimed trains were ‘half-full’ This turned out to be seven hours counting trains at Euston. Of course there will be shifts in numbers and local demand at holiday times etc., but rail is experiencing continued growth.

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