HS2 opponents’ Euston capacity claims are misleading

Euston capacity claims from HS2 opponents are incorrect

Euston capacity claims from HS2 opponents are incorrect

Capacity claims

HS2 opponents claimed last week that trains leaving Euston were only half-full.

There are Virgin Train services leaving Euston that are 52% occupied, but to suggest this represents all peak-services on the West Coast Main Line is selective and misleading.

For example, this doesn’t take into account London Midland commuter services operating at 94% of capacity with growth of 4% per year.

WCML growth

It also makes no effort to address or even recognise growth. Virgin Trains has seen average annual growth over the past three years of 10%. Despite the operation of 11-car trains even long distance services will be full by the end of the decade.

It is for the commuters of Northampton and MK (and many others) that the capacity relief that HS2 would provide is so desperately needed. By the end of the decade, even with incremental improvements suggested by 51M, we will be turning people away.

The reason that HS2 will be built from London to Birmingham (phase one) is to reduce congestion on the southern section of the West Coast Main Line, where it is busiest.

So to ignore many of the services using this section of line is selective and creates a false picture.

Peak demand

There are other factors to consider, such as pricing structures which have spread peak demand  – (Greengauge 21 wrote this response to these latest capacity claims from HS2 opponents).

The news release from 51M had received little coverage until long-time HS2 critic Andrew Gilligan ran an opinion piece in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday. Mr Gilligan has written numerous critical pieces about HS2 and one has to wonder why he doesn’t speak to supporters if only to stimulate debate (or check details).

Yesterday’s article was titled:

‘Passenger numbers ‘blow apart’ case for HS2 line’

and previous pieces from Mr Gilligan in the Telegraph include:

‘Benefits of HS2 were exaggerated, report claims…’

‘New Tory rebellion over HS2’

‘High speed rail at risk of derailment…’

51M claims

The 51M group of councils, led by Bucks CC chief executive Martin Tett, which put out the news release. also tweeted numerous times that trains leaving Euston were only half-full.

But what is significant about those London Midland commuter services is the fact that it is these trains – to stations such as Milton Keynes and Watford – that will benefit from the released capacity HS2 brings on the West Coast Main Line.

As the leader of Bucks CC and 51M Mr Tett represents many of these commuters.

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5 Responses to HS2 opponents’ Euston capacity claims are misleading

  1. Chris Neville-Smith says:

    The obvious question I have for 51m is that if they’re so convinced that it is regional services and not intercity services which are overcrowded, why are they backing a plan for the WCML that has an extra 1tph to Manchester, but no extra regional services, and no extra calling points at Watford or Milton Keynes? (Oh, and one extra stop per hour to Rugby off-peak. Great.)

    If they really cared about overcrowding on regional services, one would have thought they’d have wanted the extra train path for another regional service.

    • Chris Neville-Smith says:

      Oh, and whilst we’re on the subject of Buckinghamshire County Council, did anyone else notice today that according to the 2011 Census, Buckinghamshire is the county with the most cars per household, and the highest percentage of households with four or cars? Some districts in Bucks are higher than others, but all are way above the national average.

      As it’s quite a safe bet that higher car ownership probably correlates with less use of public transport, and therefore Bucks CC has the least to gain from promoting the cause of travel by train or bus, why on earth is Martin Tett trying to pass himself off as champion of rail passengers who knows what’s best for them?

  2. Firstly, the whole point about the capacity claims is that Virgin Trains have been offering a so called “peak” service by grossly inflating prices, and doing so to a point that many formerly off peak services are now classed as peak.

    This creates a false picture of a network which might be extremely busy, but trains which are not. How many other peak time services are operating like this, anywhere in the world?

    As for Northampton and southwards – well the most logical way to boost capacity on these routes would be to maximise service patterns and train lengths first. If “south of Rugby” is the biggest problem, then support Chiltern in their plans to re-open the Great Central, perhaps even as far as Leicester.

    Frankly, I think the four car claim is a bit of a red herring. Sometimes households have more cars because they have more young adults living there. The link between car ownership and usage of other modes is certainly not indirectly proportional – otherwise there would be no Dutch people owning cars, when the facts show car ownership rates there are virtually identical to the UK.

    • Chris Neville-Smith says:

      Most of continental Europe uses a system of Fully-Flexible/Semi-Flexible/Non-Flexible tickets. Fully-Floxible is equivalent to Anytime, and Non-Flexible is equivalent to Advance. I don’t think there’s an equivalent to our Off-Peak (i.e. a time-restricted flexible fare), but there certainly is the concept of managing demand through pricing. They only thing they might not do is have such a difference between peak and off-peak prices, but there again, I’m not aware of any country that attempts to squeeze as many passengers on to so few tracks as the UK.

      IMHO, the current model used for pricing of Anytime tickets is flawed, but is does go to show what we’re up against. The people travelling on the peak trains at the moment are the hard core who doggedly stick to peak trains in spite of a pricing system that screams “Go away, use another train”. Within that, you’ve got fluctuations from daily averages. Friday trains already have more standing, and there’s a big difference with school holidays and the run-up to Christmas. There’s only so much an average tells you.

      On the regional trains front, maximising service patterns and trains lengths is a perfectly reasonable idea with only one problem: we’ve done that already. The busiest regional afternoon peak trains with standing for more than 20 minutes are already 12 carriages long. A Great Central line would make little or no difference to regional passenger demand because the only WCML population centre is would serve is Rugby, on a fairly roundabout route. You could potentially divert freight this way and use the freed up capacity on the WCML for more regional services, but new railways aren’t cheap, HS or not.

      However, your suggestions are still an big improvement on 51m’s line, which is to ignore it. And that brings me back to my original point. The crowding on LM services is in the 2008 WCML RUS strategy document, and as 51m goes through every document looking for details to nit-pick, there’s absolutely no way they could have missed this fact. Given that there’s at least two viable options they could have suggested, I wonder why they don’t. 51m is welcome to give an explanation. I’m afraid my current suspicion is that they want the public to remain ignorant of the issue so they can carry on trotting out the “£33bgn to save 20 minutes to Birmingham” line, rather than have a frank debate on what to do about the overcrowding where it matter the most.

      Finally, on the issue of four-car family, of course there are households with four adults in them, but 5.3% of households in South Bucks? That’s stretching the imagination. Of course this alone doesn’t prove an anti-car bias in Buckinghamshire, but when this is combined with a persistent refusal to acknowledge shortcomings in the 51m plan exist, the shocking level of ignorance frequently shown for rail travel, the number of times people say how much better it is to drive or fly, the lack of support shown for any rail projects that do involve upgrading the existing network, the frequently portrayal of all long-distance rail travellers as fat cats, the willingness to blame crowding on rail commuters not getting up earlier, the absence of concern over the destruction and noise inflicting by a possible third Heathrow runway, and – yes – the number of anti-HS2 tweeters who use a picture of a shiny car as their profile image … putting all these together, I don’t believe for a second Bucks CC has the interests of any rail passengers at heart.

  3. Pingback: Mr Redwood’s Diary – Why it’s wrong to base an argument on one journey | Go-HS2

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