Friday, 13 September 2013

HS2 'heart bypass' will sideline key cities

In a speech on 11 September, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin described HS2 as “a heart bypass for the clogged arteries of our transport system”.

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.

Table showing current and future patterns of service between London and Manchester
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.
The above diagram shows the current hourly pattern of intercity trains between London and Manchester and HS2 Ltd’s proposed service patterns after HS2 opens. There are currently three trains per hour between the two cities, operated today by Virgin Trains. HS2 Ltd proposes that these services be replaced by three HS2 services and just one West Coast intercity service per hour – leaving Stoke, Stockport and Wilmslow with fewer services to London (a 50% reduction for Stoke, 66% cut for Stockport and 100% cut for Wilmslow).

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.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

HS2 and the Wilmslow boy

It is ironic that George Osborne is taking on the role of cheerleader for the HS2 scheme. The HS2 route may curve around the wealthiest part of his Tatton constituency (the ‘Osborne bend’ as some have dubbed it), but HS2 looks set to bring a worse problem to his constituents - the axing of Wilmslow’s direct rail service to London.

Wilmslow, one of the principal towns in Mr. Osborne’s constituency, currently receives one train to London per hour.  But under plans set out by HS2 Ltd and Network Rail, it will lose its direct connection to London altogether.

Ministers now say that one of the key aims of HS2 is to free-up space on existing rail lines for extra commuter services.  As I pointed out in my last post, adding extra commuter services to the West Coast Main Line cannot be achieved without reducing existing long-distance services, and this is exactly what is proposed by HS2 Ltd and Network Rail.

The argument is that, when Manchester passengers are served by HS2 trains, most of the ‘ordinary’ intercity services between Manchester and London (currently operated by Virgin Trains) can be axed - and the spare line capacity used to run new commuter services.

There are currently three Virgin trains per hour from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly, with the following calling patterns:

xx.00  London Euston - Stoke-on-Trent – Macclesfield – Stockport - Manchester Piccadilly

xx.20  London Euston – Milton Keynes - Stoke-on-Trent – Stockport - Manchester Piccadilly

xx.40  London Euston – Crewe – Wilmslow – Stockport - Manchester Piccadilly

When the HS2 line is constructed to Manchester, three HS2 services per hour are predicted to run between London and Manchester. However, these will not call at (or indeed pass through) any of the intermediate stations listed above.

HS2 Ltd’s document giving indicative service patterns for existing services once HS2 is built shows two of the three ‘traditional’ London-Manchester intercity services being axed – the surviving service being the train calling at Stoke-on-Trent – Macclesfield – Stockport - Manchester Piccadilly.

Axing the other two London-Manchester intercity services per hour will mean that Stoke-on-Trent's services to London are halved in number, and Wilmslow left with no direct service to London.

Network Rail goes even further.  In a recent document setting out how services could be re-organised on the existing lines once HS2 is completed, it suggests that all rail services between London and Manchester could travel on the new high-speed line and thus bypass all the intermediate towns – leaving passengers in those towns, including Stoke and Wilmslow, to travel to their nearest HS2 station and change there.  This 'hub and spoke' model is shown in Network Rail's diagram:

Thursday, 29 August 2013

HS2 and the north-south divide

There's been much talk this week about HS2 freeing up capacity on existing rail lines for new services. What hasn't been made explicit, though, is that space on existing lines for new services will only materialise if some ordinary intercity services are axed when HS2 opens.

This map depicts the towns and cities that could, according to HS2 Ltd's own documents, see a downgrading or axing of their intercity services to London as a result of HS2.

To share or embed this map on your own website, click here.

Underpinning the HS2 business case is the idea that most ordinary intercity services to and from London Euston on the West Coast Main Line can be axed when HS2 is completed. Intercity services to London on the East Coast and Midland Main Lines would also be reduced in number.

For towns and cities getting no HS2 services in recompense, though, this will mean fewer direct services to London - or, in the case of many Scottish towns, none at all.

The data for the map is taken from a document published by HS2 Ltd early this year. Its appendix reveals that the £7.7 billion of 'classic line savings' in the HS2 business case are based upon the following towns and cities seeing a worsening of their intercity services to London when HS2 is completed:

West Coast Main Line

Coventry: services cut from 3 to 2 per hour
Stoke-on-Trent: cut from 2 to 1 per hour
Stockport: cut from 3 to 1 per hour
Wilmslow: all intercity services to London axed
Lancaster: cut from 1 per hour to 1 every 2 hours and journey time lengthened
Oxenholme: cut from 1 most hours to 1 every 2 hours and journey time lengthened
Penrith: no services cut, but journey time of all London services lengthened
Carlisle: no services cut, but journey time of all London services lengthened

Midland Main Line

Leicester: cut from 4 to 3 per hour
Nottingham (city centre): cut from 2 to 1 per hour
Derby: no services cut, but journey time of all London services lengthened
Chesterfield: cut from 2 to 1 per hour
Sheffield (city centre): cut from 2 to 1 per hour

East Coast Main Line

Wakefield: cut from 2 to 1 per hour
Doncaster: 77 trains per day are predicted to run by the year 2033 if HS2 is not built, but only 48 per day with HS2 operational.


In the small print of its document, HS2 Ltd suggests that all through trains from London to Dundee and Aberdeen would be axed, along with the daily train to Inverness and the service to Glasgow via Edinburgh on the East Coast line.  Passengers travelling between London and stations north of Edinburgh would have to change at Edinburgh. This would mean all of the following losing their direct service to London: Aberdeen, Stonehaven, Montrose, Arbroath, Dundee, Leuchars, Kircaldy, Inverkeithing, Haymarket, Inverness, Aviemore, Kingussie, Pitlochry, Perth, Gleneagles, Stirling and Falkirk Grahamston.

HS2 Ltd's 'Explanation of the service patterns'. The middle column shows that 26 trains would run per day between Scotland and London on the East Coast line if HS2 is not built. The right-hand column shows that only 16 ordinary intercity services would run if HS2 goes ahead, and that 'through trains to Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness are withdrawn'.

It is odd that, despite the loss of traditional intercity services being concentrated largely in the north, the Government still suggests that HS2 will help close the north-south divide!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Why Stoke-on-Trent is still one of the biggest losers from HS2

One of the abiding arguments for HS2 is that it will free up capacity on the existing rail network for more regional, commuter and freight services. But what does that mean, in practice?

In order to free up space on the busy West Coast Main Line for new services, something will have to give. HS2 Ltd proposes that most long-distance intercity services be removed from the West Coast Main Line once HS2 opens, and the freed line capacity used for new shorter-distance passenger services, principally extra commuter services between Milton Keynes and London.

HS2 Ltd’s argument is that once the new high-speed line reaches Manchester, most Manchester citizens travelling to London will opt to use HS2 instead of the traditional intercity service. The Government’s passenger demand figures show that there will simply not be enough passengers travelling from the intermediate stations between Manchester and London (Stockport, Wilmslow, Macclesfield and Stoke-on-Trent) to maintain the same number of traditional intercity services to London as today, in parallel with the new HS2 Manchester-London services. The traditional Manchester-London intercity services could therefore be reduced in number – in HS2 Ltd’s plan, from three trains per hour to one.

But this would severely comprise the intermediate towns and cities, places with no compensating HS2 service. Today, Stoke-on-Trent benefits from two fast intercity services to London per hour. In HS2 Ltd’s plan, this would be halved to one train per hour.  Stockport currently receives three trains per hour to London. In 2033, with the completion of HS2 Phase 2 between London and Manchester, this would be cut by two-thirds to one train per hour. But this is not all. In HS2 Ltd’s plan, Wilmslow would lose all its direct trains to London altogether.

Network Rail has recently published its own research on the possible re-purposing of the existing north-south rail lines once HS2 is built, and although its proposals differ in some respects from those of HS2 Ltd, it too suggests that existing intercity services between London and Manchester can be cut. It notes that HS2 Phase Two can potentially release capacity on the West Coast Main Line, through 'Inter-city services on the existing network between Handsacre [near Lichfield], Stoke-on-Trent and Manchester Piccadilly predominantly being delivered by HS2.'

That may be fine for Manchester Piccadilly passengers, but there are no plans for HS2 services to call at Stoke-on-Trent. So Network Rail’s plans, like HS2 Ltd’s, would leave Stoke marginalised.

On the same route, Macclesfield and Stockport will also see a reduction in services, as they too receive no HS2 services in place of the lost intercity trains. Network Rail’s proposals also suggest that Wilmslow would see service cuts too, because, as they say: Euston to …Manchester via Wilmslow…services will run on the dedicated HS2 line.
Wilmslow, like Stoke, Macclesfield and Stockport, will receive no HS2 service in compensation for the loss of existing rail services.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Network Rail report overlooks cuts required to operate HS2

The projected cost of the HS2 high-speed rail scheme continues to rise inexorably. In June, the Transport Secretary informed MPs that construction costs had jumped from £33 billion to £42 billion - with the trains themselves costing a further £7.5 billion. Even as Patrick McLoughlin announced the rise in Parliament, those figures were continuing their upward climb, since his calculations were based on 2011 prices.

A few weeks later, London Mayor Boris Johnson suggested that construction costs would probably top £70 billion.  Today, the Institute of Economic Affairs announced that HS2 could cost the taxpayer more than £80 billion.

While construction costs of HS2 have occupied many commentators, the likely cost of running services on the new line has not been scrutinised in much detail – even, it seems, by Network Rail. In their recent report proposing new services for the existing rail lines once HS2 is built, Network Rail makes no mention of the need - laid down by HS2 Ltd itself - to find £7.7 billion of savings to support the operation of HS2. Yet this is a key element of the economic case for HS2.

HS2 Ltd, in attempting to assess the likely economic benefits of the high-speed rail scheme over its first 60 years of operation, suggests that running costs of £22.2 billion will be set against £32.9 billion of revenue. A comfortable margin, it might seem. However, behind the £22.2 billion figure lies a rather larger number.

HS2 calculates that the actual cost of operating HS2 would be £29.9 billion over that period. They have then reduced the headline figure to £22.2 billion by assuming that savings of £7.7 billion will be achieved through a reduction in the number of long-distance services operating on the existing network. In their economic case, these savings offset part of the cost of operating HS2.

Without this transfer of what is in fact the Government subsidy from services on the existing lines to HS2, the cost of operating HS2 would come very close to the revenue that it is supposed to generate (£29.9bn of costs versus £32.9 billion of revenues over the period in question). And while it might be possible to predict operating costs reasonably accurately, HS2 Ltd's revenue figures rely on a vast number of new rail journeys being generated by the building of HS2 - by no means a certain outcome.

How does HS2 Ltd propose that the Government finds this £7.7 billion of savings?  The answer lies in its rather dry document setting out proposed service patterns on HS2 and the existing rail network.  It shows that, once HS2 services are operating between London and Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds, traditional intercity services between those cities would be reduced in number – leaving intermediate stations with a poorer service.  Many towns and cities, including Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent, Doncaster, Chesterfield and Wakefield, would face a reduction in the number of intercity services to London.

In place of those intercity services, HS2 Ltd proposes that some extra commuter services be introduced, for example between Milton Keynes and London Euston, and into Birmingham city centre from the surrounding area.

Such a change in service patterns would enable a reduction in ‘train kilometres’ on the West Coast, East Coast and Midland Main Lines combined of more than 24 million kms per year – a figure that translates into £7.7 billion of savings over the 60-year appraisal period.

Although these ‘classic line’ savings of £7.7 billion are a fundamental part of the HS2 economic case, Network Rail seems oblivious to them. Its new document Better Connections: Options for the integration of High Speed 2 sets out an array of options for services on the existing network once HS2 opens - which not only would do nothing to bring about the required savings but could increase costs.

Network Rail has failed to address the question of how all these new services would be funded, and has failed to explain how they would find the £7.7 billion needed to part-finance the operation of HS2 if the reductions in traditional long-distance services proposed by HS2 Ltd are not made. In a week when rail travellers learned that once again they face inflation-busting fare increases, we can probably guess who will be left to pick up the bill.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Debunking Network Rail's claim that HS2 will help more than 100 towns and cities

A few days ago Network Rail issued a report outlining how services on the existing rail network could be re-configured once HS2 is completed. Their press release proclaimed:

‘Over 100 towns and cities on Britain’s existing railway lines could benefit from quicker, more frequent journeys and better connections when HS2 phase two is complete.’

The good news was duly published in several regional papers, including the Yorkshire Evening Post and Northern Echo, seemingly without any scrutiny of this extraordinary statement.
In fact, Network Rail’s own report makes no such claim. The statement that ‘over 100 towns and cities’ could benefit appears in the accompanying press release only. The report itself reveals that this is a triumph of spin over reality.

It is true that more than 100 localities are named in Network Rail’s report, in a list of options for new services on the existing network, but the report makes it quite clear that these are competing options that cannot all be implemented.

The report, entitled Better Connections: Options for the integration of High Speed 2, looks at how capacity on the existing lines could be re-used once Phase 2 of HS2 is completed, and high-speed services are running from London and Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.  On the assumption that many long-distance rail passengers will switch from using existing intercity services to HS2, Network Rail sets out three different options for service provision on the existing or ‘classic’ north-south rail lines – the West Coast, East Coast and Midland Main Lines.

The ‘Do Minimum’ Approach

In this situation most current services would remain, with intercity services on the existing lines providing passengers with an alternative to HS2. However, Network Rail states that there would be a significant disadvantage of this approach. Maintaining existing intercity services in parallel with HS2 services to the same cities means that no space would be freed up on the existing lines for the additional commuter, cross-country, inter-regional and freight services it believes will be needed by 2032.

The Incremental Approach

In this scenario there would be a reduction in the number of traditional intercity services running on the West Coast and East Coast Main Lines. Routes served by HS2, such as London-Manchester, London-Newcastle and London-Edinburgh, would be served primarily by HS2 instead.  Network Rail argues that reducing the number of ordinary intercity services on those routes would free up capacity on the lines for new direct services between places that are currently not connected, or provide additional inter-regional, commuter and freight services.

The Hub and Spoke Approach

In this radical scenario, long-distance passengers would take a train to their nearest HS2 hub station (such as Crewe) and change there onto an HS2 service. Removing ordinary long-distance services from the existing north-south lines almost entirely would provide even more opportunities for new passenger and freight services.

Having laid out these three alternatives, Network Rail then assesses how any capacity freed up on existing lines could be re-used.  For example, with HS2 providing London-Newcastle and London-Edinburgh services, most East Coast intercity services between those cities could be removed and the freed line capacity re-used for new services, such as:  
  • London-Hull (via Selby)
  • London-Middlesbrough or Sunderland
  • Newcastle-Edinburgh
  • Birmingham -Newcastle (via Hartlepool and Sunderland)
  • Liverpool –Newcastle (via Hartlepool and Sunderland)
  • London – Cleethorpes (via Lincoln or Scunthorpe)
  • London – Saltburn (via Yarm)
  • London – Sheffield (via Retford)
  • London-Scarborough
  • London – Skegness (via Grantham)
  • London – Nottingham (via Grantham)
  • London – Harrogate (via York)
  • London – Bradford Interchange
Network Rail also lists the intermediate stations that could be served by each of the suggested new  services on the existing lines. Adding these up, one gets a figure of 118 towns and cities.

However, it is simply not correct to conclude from this projection that ‘more than 100’ localities will see improved services.  For one thing, Network Rail notes, against its list of intermediate stations, that ‘Services could call at one or more of these intermediate calling points’, not at all of them. In a footnote, Network Rail adds that ‘further work will be undertaken on the impacts of calling patterns on journey times and operations’, so it is clear that providing stopping services to all of the destinations named is not likely to be feasible.

Secondly, and more importantly, it is quite clear that the options given for new services on the existing lines are a set of alternatives. At the top of the table of possible new services, Network Rail gives the following warning:

‘It should be noted that not all journey opportunities may be delivered together. These offer different options for the potential use of capacity released.’

What their press release might perhaps have said is:

We have drawn up a list of over 100 towns and cities on Britain’s existing railway lines, and a lucky few of these will benefit from improved services.

But that is not much of a news story.

Friday, 9 August 2013

New High Speed Rail UK blog launched

HS2, the Government's proposed high-speed rail line between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, has been mired in controversy since the route of the first phase was announced in 2010.

Concerns about the rising costs and doubts as to whether it can meet its economic and environmental goals have been growing over the last few months, and the debate is only like to grow louder as the Government's High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill continues its passage through Parliament and a Hybrid Bill for Phase 1 is deposited there later this year.

In this new blog we hope to address some of the issues, look at examples from overseas and undertake some forensic examinations of the official documents and figures.