That’s an interesting choice of metaphor. In a heart bypass, arteries from elsewhere in the body are grafted onto the clogged coronary arteries. They provide a diversionary route for the blood, enabling it to bypass the blockages and flow freely from the heart to the vital organs of the body.
In one way, it is a good description of HS2. Trains will travel smoothly from London to Birmingham and Manchester on the new high-speed line, avoiding the “clogged arteries” of the West Coast Main Line.
Where the analogy comes a bit unstuck is with the blockages. Instead of lumps of athersclerotic plaque along its length, the West Coast Main Line has railway stations.
Running trains between London, Birmingham and Manchester on the new HS2 line instead of the West Coast Main Line may certainly suggest a bypass, but what it will bypass are the towns and cities that are currently served en route. To follow McLoughlin’s analogy, those towns have the misfortune to be located in the detritus-strewn diseased artery, not in its replacement.
The new HS2 line between London and Birmingham will bypass Milton Keynes and Coventry (towns served today by Virgin’s London-Birmingham service). Nor will the HS2 line to Manchester pass through Stoke-on-Trent, Macclesfield, Wilmslow and Stockport, at present served by Virgin’s London-Manchester trains. All these towns will indeed be bypassed.
A key point that many commentators have missed is that today’s intercity rail timetable will not be maintained in parallel with the new HS2 services. Government ministers have made it clear that once HS2 opens, most north-south long-distance rail services will be provided by HS2. One of the main planks of the Government’s case for HS2 is that once the West Coast Main Line has been freed of most of its intercity services, there will be space on the line for additional commuter and regional services. Additional capacity, the current favourite reason for HS2.
|Rail services between London and Manchester. On the left are the services currently operating during a period of one hour. On the right is HS2 Ltd's proposed service pattern after HS2 opens.|
Our recent blog post on HS2 and the north-south divide revealed details of all of the towns and cities which are predicted by HS2 Ltd to face cuts to their intercity services to London. I suspect those places might not be so keen on the “HS2 as heart bypass” analogy. The West Coast Main Line might be less congested once intercity trains use HS2 instead, but, for cities like Stoke, HS2’s new artery is likely to take most of the lifeblood too.
Of course the point about a heart bypass is that it is usually required pretty soon after diagnosis of the dire condition, yet HS2 won’t be completed until 2033. If, as Patrick McLoughlin suggests, our rail network is already “clogged”, we surely need to find a solution that can be applied quickly, not leave that vital organ on life support for 20 years. Not a bypass, but a simple, affordable coronary stent, perhaps.