Examining the 51M ‘alternative’ to HS2 in the West Midlands – part one

Rail Operations and Planning Consultant William Barter

HS2: Looking at the ‘alternative’

The 51M alternative to HS2 is examined in the following guest post from rail analyst William Barter.

What “alternative” to HS2 in the West Midlands?

51M have presented a diagram said to be an “Illustrative Service pattern” for the WCML as an alternative to HS2. It is important that this is scrutinised, as if HS2 were not to go ahead, something on these lines would have to be implemented by default. Unfortunately, what is shown on the 51M diagram for the Rugby – Coventry – Birmingham corridor does not stand up to scrutiny.

Coventry service

As far as the “Virgin” (as we may call them for the sake of simplicity) services go, there are three trains per hour as now, leaving Euston at the same times as now, that is, 03, 23, and 43 minutes past each hour. They run as now to Coventry, but then over one of the most congested routes on the network and into one of the most congested stations, appear to arrive 5 or 6 minutes earlier than current published timings, at xx02, xx21 and xx42. Published arrival times tend to be a couple of minutes later than “working” times, and we don’t know whether 51M are going by published or working times, but if it’s working times, then that’s still 3 or 4 minutes better than now, with no apparent action to enable this. And if there’s any demand forecasting following from this diagram, then public times should be the comparison.

Then they want to add two regional services, from Euston via Northampton to Birmingham, leaving Coventry at 18 and 40 minutes past the hour, and arriving in Birmingham at xx38 and xx00 respectively. No stops are shown for these trains other than at Coventry and Birmingham International, and running so close in front of the “Virgins” they couldn’t stop anyway without delaying them. But the present London Midland services do make selected stops between Coventry and Birmingham, so are these 51M regional trains meant to replace them, or are they in addition to them? If the former, local stations will see their services cut, and if the latter, somehow two extra trains per hour need to be pathed along the Coventry – Birmingham corridor and into New Street, which could be a tall order.

Heavily used

The corridor is already heavily used, and suffers from the capacity loss that follows from mixing through and stopping trains. If we look at the Birmingham-bound service as it is today, from an off-peak standard hour into the evening peak it looks quite full, but there are a couple of opportunities in there.

The xx09 path from Birmingham International could start back at Coventry, and this is what is planned when the second Cross Country service in each hour is diverted to run via Coventry. There needs to be some scope for freight movements, particularly between Coventry and Stechford, and there is a bit of white space where a freight train could be fitted, for instance following the xx02 Virgin from Coventry, or preceding it and recessing at Birmingham International, and keeping ahead of the semi-fast London Midland train that leaves Coventry at xx11.

51M plan

But for now, let’s take 51M at face value. As the “Virgin” trains in their plan will be much as now, let’s drop the two regional services in and see what happens.

This leads to trouble. In each hour one of the new trains wipes out a London Midland approaching Birmingham International, and the second wipes out another approaching Stechford. This is the sort of thing that can be sorted out by having multiple track, such as the suggested Beechwood – Stechford quadrupling, but 51M have said that this is not required for their plan. They can’t have it both ways, either it is needed, all £900 million of it for two trains per hour, or local services have to be cut out.

To be continued……

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3 Responses to Examining the 51M ‘alternative’ to HS2 in the West Midlands – part one

  1. chriseaglen says:

    This is making the case to have a 4 track larger loading gauge route alongside the WCML and within the Route 4, 5 and 6 HS2 corridor.

    Why not promote the better corridor rather than a limited labelled concept as HS2.

    The 51M proposal will be similar to some of the new franchise aims.

    An ingrated doubling to track capacities in the proximity of WCML is the better railway solution than the highest speed limited and costly route 3. Focus on route 3 is detrimental to the national interest. Surely the markets and needs are in central England not centrl Buckinghamshire.

    Reappraisal of 51M, new franchise and the DFT HS2 needs along the M1 corridor changed to re-examine the Willesden Watford Milton Keynes sections would benefit the nation now SE aiport change delays are in place.

  2. Stephen Lawrence says:

    I’m tempted on to the same tracks as chriseaglen – the goal should be a step change for both passenger AND freight – so capacity and loading gauge. Present HSR proposals still leave the UK without a continental gauge freight route.

  3. Pingback: Don’t be fooled by the failed 51M “alternative” | hs2northwest

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