Service cut claims from HS2 opponents just don’t stack up

Rail analyst William Barter – still waiting to hear from HS2AA

Rail analyst William Barter posted early in September on the Go-HS2 blog outlining his concerns about alternatives proposed by HS2 opponents.

HS2 opponents HS2AA responded on September 24 with a rebuttal on their blog. Unfortunately HS2AA didn’t go into any more detail than the short statement they posted. They haven’t commented since, despite repeated requests.

In the first of a two-part post William examines the claims made by opponents that HS2 would bring a deterioration in service for ‘many towns and cities.’ Indeed opponents have made these claims for Coventry and Birmingham, but they just don’t stack up as we will see….

William writes…..

Criticism from HS2AA

High Speed 2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) have been kind enough to accuse me of “inaccuracy” over my recent analysis of the 51M “optimised alternative” to HS2 for the west Coast Main Line. This analysis concluded that the service schematic published by 51M either implies cuts to Coventry – Birmingham local services, or that it would be impossible to translate into a timetable. As HS2AA have failed to identify any flaw in my analysis, I hope they won’t mind too much if I subject some of their work to a bit of scrutiny.

On 26th September, HS2AA put out a press release claiming that HS2 would lead to a significant deterioration in services for many towns and cities across the country. This suggestion was based on the April 2012 Demand and Appraisal Report compiled for HS2 Ltd by a consortium of consultants, which presents a specification for train services on classic lines once Phase 1 and then Phase 2 of HS2 are implemented.

So, how do HS2AA’s claims about the implications of this specification stack up? They very neatly present a table stating what they claim are the effects on InterCity trains (without defining “InterCity”, a point which may prove important in a moment). How far down the table do we have to look before we find an “inaccuracy”?

Coventry service (post HS2)

Well, the very first line actually, where they claim that Coventry’s service post HS2 will be one train per hour. But read the specification itself, and you will find that Coventry’s trains to London via the direct “old main line” route rather are shown as, every hour:

  • One train that starts at Liverpool, runs via Birmingham, and after Coventry calls at Rugby, Milton Keynes and Watford;
  • Another that starts at Walsall, and calls only at New Street, International, Coventry, Rugby, Milton Keynes and Watford;
  • And a third that starts from New Street, runs fast to International, then calls at all stations to Coventry. But after Coventry, it calls at Rugby and Milton Keynes only.

I make that three trains per hour, via the direct route and not the detour round Northampton, with either two or three stops on the way. How do HS2AA manage to claim there’s only one? It’s that undefined “InterCity” label. Purely to link the trains to current franchises in the demand model, the first is labelled West Coast and the other two as London Midland. Never mind that the scope of “West Coast” and “London Midland” franchises will be redefined to put it mildly post-HS2, and that we might not even have franchising at all in 2026. Never mind that they all take the same route, and that the third train actually makes fewer calls between Coventry and London than the first. That technicality gives HS2AA the excuse to pretend that two of them don’t exist. I can’t imagine what their motives are.

Birmingham New Street and HS2

And of course the same (accidental, I am sure) inaccuracy copies down to the next two lines, where HS2AA claim that Birmingham New Street and International will also have just one train per hour. Even if we discount the one that makes stops between International and Coventry, it’s still two per hour, as well as the HS2 services from Curzon Street and Interchange that HS2AA deign to mention as an afterthought.

But what don’t HS2AA mention? The good bits of course, again for motives that I cannot fathom. They seem unconcerned that, for instance, analysis of those same trains also shows that:

  • Coventry gets three direct trains per hour to Milton Keynes (currently just one), giving a realistic commuter service to take people to that major employment centre;
  • Walsall gets a through train to London, calling only at principal intermediate stations;
  • As do Hampton in Arden, Berkswell, Tile Hill and Canley, direct instead via the Northampton loop as now;
  • Rugby gets three trains per hour direct to London – actually four once one via the Trent Valley is added – in place of just one today;
  • And Milton Keynes gets not only the three listed above but another four via the Trent Valley fast to London, compared with its three Virgin Trains services per hour today.

And we’re only three lines down their table!

To be continued….

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3 Responses to Service cut claims from HS2 opponents just don’t stack up

  1. Chris Neville-Smith says:

    And whilst we’re on the subject of Coventry and Birmingham International, Beleben has just announced (as part of his solution to divert all Ldn-Bhm trains via the Chiltern line, see the comments of njak’s latest post) that you safely cut service to these to stations to 1tph because there’s not enough demand for any more. That’s suitably ironic.

    Will StopHS2, 51m and HS2AA stand up for the people of Coventry and shout this down? I think we should be told.

  2. heenan73 says:

    I think you are really quite unreasonable in your expectations: Truth is always the first casualty of nimbyism, and always will be. If you look at HS2 as an exercise in capacity – which it primarily is, despite the unfortunate name – then it’s very hard to imagine how even the most appalling operator could squeeze fewer trains on the track.

    And you’re right, the term ‘intercity’ may well need redefinition, as many current intercity travellers will presumably use the new line, with its promise of faster, direct services from major conurbations (what Intercity was invented for, as I recall), allowing an improved service on the ‘old’ line to towns excluded from HS2.

    We’ve just seen many LM services accelerate to 110 miles/hr., and with the reconfigured service, there will be scope for more fast services, more than compensating for an extra stop or two which will likely be required. This, of course, will be made possible by the removal of long distance expresses from the ‘old’ lines, and perhaps, in time, even faster trains. Not that the Nimbys WANT fast trains from their local stations, I’m sure. Heaven forbid!

    • Chris Neville-Smith says:

      “Not that the Nimbys WANT fast trains from their local stations, I’m sure. Heaven forbid!”

      To be fair, one weakness of the current HS2 route is the lack of rail benefits for people near the line. For most people, the nearest station will be on the Chiltern Line rather than the West Coast Main Line, which will be largely unaffected by the presence or absence of HS2, at least not directly. (Of course, if 51m manage to persuade the country that any rail investment more than £2-3bn is a waste of money and Network Rail responds by sending extra mainline trains down the Chiltern Line without building any new track, then they’re in trouble.)

      Having said that, I doubt it makes any difference. I’ve seen plenty of antis use a poor rail service as an excuse not to travel, and plenty of antis promising rail passengers a better service if only they’d implement their scheme, but I’ve seen little or no sign of antis actually showing interest of using trains themselves, either now or with an improved service.

      The daft thing is that had Cheryl Gillan insisted on some sort of HS2 service to Amersham/Aylesbury (either a stop on the line itself or a connection to the local line) whilst she was in government, she would probably have got it. It’s not fair to brand the entire population along the route of the line as nimbys, but the big losers from this campaign are the rail commuters who might have gained service similar to SouthEastern High Speed. They now almost certainly won’t.

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