Tory MP John Redwood is wrong to base an argument on one journey
Tory MP and former Welsh secretary John Redwood has criticised HS2 on a number of occasions and, in his recent diary piece, he has written about the train he caught to Birmingham.
Mr Redwood has much to say about the state of the railways and his concern for their management – indeed most of this piece concerns the current rail network rather than HS2 – but we’ll limit our post to his points concerning high-speed rail.
Mr Redwood’s journey
Mr Redwood begins by expressing his concern that there ‘was little sign of all this extra need for capacity,’ referring to the argument that the West Coast Main Line is filling up.
Mr Redwood was travelling on the 0723 London Euston to Birmingham New Street service.
‘The carriage I was travelling in was 17% occupied. The next door one was around one fifth occupied.’
He goes on to explain first class carriages were ‘much emptier.’
Of course, there have been many arguments from opponents of HS2 based around one train journey. But commuters at Euston and New Street, and indeed rail passengers up and down the country, tell a different story.
Rail journeys continue to increase nationally. In the West Midlands rail journeys have doubled in a decade.
The point has repeatedly been made that seat occupancy and track capacity are very different measures. However, opponents of HS2 have quoted seat occupancy freely when it has suited their argument.
Much was made of the loading of long-distance services from Euston but a veil was conveniently drawn over the busy commuter services.
So when HS2 critics pointed out 52% of seats were occupied on long distance peak-time services out of Euston they didn’t report that three out of 10 of the country’s most crowded services were London Midland commuter trains from Euston to Birmingham (all with load factors of 150% plus).
And, as Jim Steer, of Greengauge 21 wrote, it is precisely these communities (Watford, Milton Keynes etc.) which will benefit from the capacity HS2 releases on existing lines.
Mr Redwood goes on to say Network Rail were ‘keen not to release capacity figures.’ In fact, Network Rail have issued numerous documents and statements supporting the need for HS2, but these have been ignored or dismissed by opponents.
In January 2012 Network Rail concluded that local services would be lost in Stone, Rugeley and Atherstone if the need for capacity was not addressed on the West Coast Main Line. They stated that the WCML would be full by the early 2020s. Could they be any clearer?
Mr Redwood concludes by writing:
‘I can see no reason why my random day to go to Birmingham was unrepresentative.’
How can one ‘random day’ be representative of the UK rail network?
Certainly, it is not supported by the evidence of congested routes and rising demand across our network.
Finally, it is worth remembering, as fellow Tory MP Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) said, we are building a railway for the 2020s and beyond.