Service cut claims from HS2 opponents just don’t stack up – part 2

Examining the ‘alternative’ to HS2

The second of William Barter’s two-part post examining the main alternative to HS2 put forward by opponents.

 Objective analysis

An objective analysis of this specification needs to consider just how much reliance can be placed upon it as an indicator of the eventual timetable. First, a full reading of the Demand and Appraisal Report, Section 2.5 in particular, shows that the specification is to be used in demand modelling and timetable development. And what happens to a specification is – it is tested for feasibility by trying to produce a timetable that embodies in actual train paths the frequencies, journey times, and station stops that it calls for; that timetable is then used for demand modelling; then you look at the outcomes and decide whether you want to change the specification. That’s an iterative process that goes on over years for any major rail project, and this case there are plenty of iterations to come over the next dozen or so years.

Phase 1, HS2

But this specification has not come from nowhere. For Phase 1, it seems to represent some serious work on what could and should be provided on the classic lines, once they are freed to focus on local and regional services rather than fast through trains with (very) limited stops en route. In the critical places where I have been able to test it by drawing up a specimen timetable (just as I did for the 51M plan) it seems feasible (just as the 51M plan didn’t). The way some parts fit together suggests it has been round the “specification – timetable – model – review” iteration before. It is also fully consistent with other independent analyses of what the WCML could and should do after HS2 – my own, published in “Modern Railways” in April 2011, that of Jonathan Tyler in the same journal, and most recently the Network Rail / Passenger focus report “Future Priorities for the West Coast Main Line” Published in January 2012.

Phase 2 routes

Nevertheless, HS2AA present as fact things that are not in any way credible as an end result, for instance that Warrington gets no services at all, classic or HS2. We cannot know exactly how Warrington will be served without knowledge of the Phase 2 routes, and it is silly to pretend to know. Equally absurd is the talk of “poor bus and rail links” to HS2 stations – as more or less vacant sites they probably won’t have much public transport now, but once they are major traffic objectives for feeder services, they will. Wherever they are, that is, which we, and HS2AA, don’t actually know.

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6 Responses to Service cut claims from HS2 opponents just don’t stack up – part 2

  1. Chris Neville-Smith says:

    Whilst I agree that this document is poorly research and alarmist (again), it does show that HS2 ltd needs to get a move on stating what sort of post-HS2 train service they expect. The post-phase 1 service plan is quite reasonable (and I’m guessing the Hybrid Bill will have some sort of reference to service specification if they want support from MPs in places like Watford or Rugby), but there are still some question marks over the service to lines affected by phase 2. Telling people that it’s only a tentative model and a future plan might be different isn’t a good enough reassurance.

    From my point of view (Durham), I have a couple of concerns with the current back-of-the-envelope plan. Firstly, there’s no HS2 service from Durham to London, only one to Birmingham New Street. I can’t see the logic in that when equally-sized catchment areas are being served elsewhere by the classic compatible trains. Obviously journey times to Scotland will be affected if trains stop at every station on route, but they are going to be going via the West Coast so that’s not an issue. Currently about half the London-Newcastle services stop at Durham, and everybody’s happy with the balance – Durham is happy with an hourly service to London (most passenger just travel on whichever train offers the cheapest ticket anyway), for shorter distances there’s the XC and TP services boosting frequency, and the few extra minutes Newcastle passengers might spend stopping at Durham isn’t an issue (and if it is, they can pick a train that doesn’t stop). It would make sense for HS2 to do the same.

    This isn’t a concern over services getting worse as such – the current plan is that roughly the same frequency of EC London-Newcastle services remains (in fact, they now all stop at Durham instead of half of them). In any case, the time saving offered to for NE-London journeys by HS2 is only modest; it’s services to Birmingham where the current journey time is ludicrously slow. But there is a concern over services getting worse to Edinburgh and beyond. The current plan is for XC services to stop at York or Newcastle instead of Edinburgh, the logic presumably being that passengers travelling from the West Midland to Edinburgh will want to go on the West Coast instead. That is a reasonable assumption, but it neglects to consider that XC services also provide a valuable supplement to services on the East Coast Mainline between Doncaster and Edinburgh. Up to Newcastle, HS2 trains would provide a similar service instead, but between Newcastle and Edinburgh there’s nothing to compensate for the loss of XC trains. I hope this gets rethought very quickly because cutting Newcastle-Edinburgh to an hourly service would be a nightmare to travel on and wouldn’t make any financial sense either.

    None of this justifies the anti-HS2 hysteria, but I wish HS2 ltd would hurry up with reassuring plans for how they intend this to affect the rest of the country.

    • gohs2 says:

      Thanks for your comments, Chris. Centro has done a lot of work to examine what we can do to utilise released capacity in the West Midlands. This will be beneficial for communities in Walsall, Wolverhampton, Sandwell & Dudley etc. But you’re absolutely right to say that on a national level communities need an understanding regarding which services will operate on WCML (and other existing lines).

  2. I’m quite inclined to agree, Chris, as I think the service on classic lines post-HS2 is basically a good news story. But it is 14 years away even for Phase 1, and 17 years for Phase 2, so being definbitive now would be wrong. Who would have thought in 1995 that LM would be proposing 110 mph running, or that Transpennine would have almost trebled patronage on the Manchester – Scotland route?

    The emerging specification should be seen as a minimum at worst. Two key drivers of service levels still stand between this early specification and an eventual timetable:

    • What stakeholders such as local authorities who engage constructively will be able to obtain or alter, depending on how they see the balance of needs for their constituents between long-distance and local or interurban services;

    • What opportunities a commercial train operator will find to enhance whatever the DfT eventually specifies – and TOCs with a regional focus like London Midland and First Transpennine have done extremely well in that respect during their current tenures.

    • Chris Neville-Smith says:

      Whilst I agree that it’s too early to have a definitive timetable, there’s still work to be done now on the “at worst” scenarios. Is an hourly service from Newcastle-Edinburgh really the worst-case scenario envisaged by HS2 ltd? Can we really not rule out cutting services from the current 2tph at this point? There’s already demand to justify the current service, so surely we can use that to envisage a post-HS2 service. I worry that the longer we dither on this, the more rubbish HS2AA et al are going to spout over “service cuts paying for HS2”.

      BTW, whilst I have your attention, if you haven’t seen this already on Nick Kingley’s blog I’m currently in a 22-post argument with Beleben who seems quite insistent that you can transfer all London-Birmingham services to the Chiltern line with only a fraction of the four-tracking that Atkins reckons you needed in Scenario C. Since the practicalities of these alternatives is right up your street, any chance of giving us your opinion on this idea, like you did for six-tracking the WCML and a London-MK commuter line? I’m doing what I can, but I’m having to deal with “zombie arguments” (that’s arguments that you shoot down again and again, but keep getting up and carrying on like before).

      • I think the best guarantee of service levels between Edinburgh and Newcastle after HS2 is exactly what you say – the demand is there for the present service. If for any reason franchise specifications don’t reflect it, where there is capacity, demand and a gap in the franchised provision, an open access operator is going to pick up on it.

        Turning to Chiltern, to determine the amount of 4-tracking required, one would have to do some serious timetable graphing, which I suspect Atkins have, but that Beleben neither has nor can. If he has, let’s see it.

        But I think there are more fundamental problems with increasing use of the Chiltern line. Marylebone is probably London’s least accessible terminus, nearly as remote as Paddington but with only the one tube line to link it to the West End, requiring a change of lines to reach the city or Docklands. It’s also one of the smallest, is probably impossible to expand, and depends heavily even now on multiple occupation of platforms to deal with the present service. As growth continues, and train lengths increase, that is going to become more difficult even without additional trains.

        The same problem also affects Neasden Junction – to economise on paths over the point of conflict between Up trains from/via Wembley and Down trains to Aylesbury, two or three sets of stock have to be worked in from Wembley as one train, and split in the platforms. Add extra trains to the impact of normal growth, and grade-separation at Neasden becomes necessary.

        Beleben may try to argue that Paddington should become the terminus for Birmingham trains once again, and indeed after Crossrail its geographical remoteness is mitigated. But there are two problems – first that I don’t think there will be the platform capacity, given enhanced services after GW electrification, to deal with Birmingham trains, and secondly that finding paths from the Birmingham line across the Relief lines between Old Oak and Paddington is probably unrealistic, even if only the currently-planned part of the Crossrail service extends beyond the terminating point at Westbourne Park. Add WCML suburbans to the Crossrail services, or enhanced services to Heathrow, and you can forget that one completely!

      • Chris Neville-Smith says:

        To be fair, Beleben has sort-of considered the Paddington issue. As far as I can tell, the plan is to build a new terminus at Old Oak Common and send everyone in on Crossrail. This is part of a scheme where you’d run London-Birmingham trains from Old Oak Common to Snow Hill, with stations at both ends extended to accommodate 16-car trains. At least, I think that’s the idea – actually getting the specifics of any of these schemes is like getting blood out of a stone.

        Whilst this might solve the Marylebone/Paddington issue, I can see this creating new problems. The only onward journey to London City Centre will be on Crossrail (you might be able to connect up the Overground line, but that’s not really an alternative for city centre-bound travellers), and the thought of fitting the bulk of a 16-car intercity train onto a 12-car Crossrail train doesn’t strike me as terribly practical. That contrasts with Euston which has five conceivable routes into different bits of central London (two Northern Line branches southbound, the Victoria Line southbound and the circle/H&C/Met line either Eastbound or Westbound).

        Or am I missing something?

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