Mr Redwood’s Diary – Why it’s wrong to base an argument on one journey

Conservative MP John Redwood has criticised HS2 in his online diary

Conservative MP John Redwood has criticised HS2 in his online diary

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.

Moving goalposts

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.

Capacity crunch

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.

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2 Responses to Mr Redwood’s Diary – Why it’s wrong to base an argument on one journey

  1. Redwood misses a number of pretty obvious points in his piece, not least that if he was catching a train from Euston at 0723, he should have seen the morning peak flocking off trains arriving at Euston (I should know, until the end of October I was one of them), but doesn’t seem to have been looking.

    But primarily, as there is a balanced service of 3 tph each way between London and Birmingham, but the morning flow is largely towards London, trains out of London are going to be less heavily loaded. I’ll bet the 0720 from Waterloo to Wokingham doesn’t have a very big load factor, but if anyone suggested that was a reason for not adding capacity to peak trains from Wokingham to Waterloo, I hope Redwood would have something to say about it.

    But he has a point, as to how unattractive rail is for a business journey to Birmingham. Presumably Redwood is lucky enough to have a London pad, so he doesn’t find catching the 07:23 too hard. But for most of us, catching the 07:23 means a journey into London from the suburbs, then a cross-London journey on the Underground. That probably means catching a train from our home station between 06:00 and 06:30, which makes a fairly uncompetitive trip compared with road.

    And what can we do about that? Well, the first thing is to have faster trains from London to Birmingham. If we could get them to be … oh, let’s say …. about half an hour faster, that puts off getting up by that half hour. We might even run them to a new station, closer to the Birmingham central business district than New Street. Finally we could arrange for a one-change interchange with key London suburban routes, so that passengers from, say, the East and West London suburbs could access those trains directly from Crossrail instead of having to make a tube connection, and so save further time. There’s even Crossrail 2, the only way of dealing with overcrowding on the Waterloo suburban lines, which could bring people directly from SW London to interchange with our faster trains to Birmingham.

    Now, why hasn’t anyone thought of all that? They have? Redwood makes a powerful case for HS2.

    • Chris Neville-Smith says:

      Sadly, I don’t think John Redwood would be that bothered if someoneargued that commuter crowding from Wokingham doesn’t exist.

      You only have to look through the comments section on his page to see how many of his cheerleaders argue against rail building on the grounds that cars and trains are so much better. Some of his criticisms are so petty (e.g. not having guards on luggage racks, announcements to be vigilant, not having a magazine rack on the seat – come on) it seems pretty obvious that he never travel by train unless he has to, wants to talk them down, or both. (I suppose he’s sort of given support for Crossrail, but that sounds more like an easy vote-winner for local contituents than anything he cares about.)

      Not that this prevents StopHS2 endlessly quoting and retweeting Mr. Redwood. Just in case any rail passengers out there still think StopHS2 is on their side.

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