Alan Marshall’s buddy Sim Harris has offered his tuppenceworth on the topic of West Coast rail capacity, on the Railnews blog.
THOSE opposed to the building of a High Speed line between London, the West Midlands and north of England — with a potential extension onwards to Scotland — are apparently becoming desperate.
Distortions and exaggerations have become commonplace, but now we are moving towards the zone of serious, blatant misinformation.
A good example of one outburst which comes perilously near to this zone has been published by the BBC, in the form of a short video presented as a ‘Soap box’ item by the celebrated actor Geoffrey Palmer.
As a talented actor of long experience Mr Palmer is rightly praised, but in a presentation which is little short of disgraceful — topped and tailed with heart-rending snatches of Vaughan Williams — he has stooped to trot out the now tired rhetoric about whether the West Coast Main Line needs to be supported by a new route.
David Higgins, the chief executive of Network Rail, says it does, and indeed has warned that the challenge will be getting the West Coast to shoulder the burden until 2026, when the London–Birmingham High Speed section is due to open. It is already ‘trashed’, he has warned. Passenger figures are rising — there are almost no spare paths left now — never mind by 2026.
But Higgins must have got it wrong, according to the outstandingly foolish, selfish but well-heeled denizens of the Chilterns (most of whom would not be there had it not been for the railways built by previous generations).
Mr Palmer can barely hide his glee as he tells his audience that the claims of little spare capacity left on the WCML cannot be right, because figures recently released show that ‘long-distance’ trains leaving Euston in the evening rush hour are only about half full. So where’s the problem?
The problem, of course, is that Mr Palmer is either deliberately or inadvertently failing to take into account the fact that Virgin trains leaving London during the evening peak are not fully loaded because the fares are high at that time. Indeed, the level of the fares is discouraging demand. When peak restrictions end, the following trains are packed.
Peak hours are really about commuter services, and London Midland trains running from London Euston between 16.30 and 19.00 as far as Northampton and Birmingham are loaded to capacities well over 90 per cent. And there are no more paths, or virtually none. A further 10 per cent rise in demand will mean that the suburban services will, on average, all be overloaded — with no capacity left on board. Certainly no seats. And this could happen by 2015, or even next year.
By ignoring the suburban and regional services and choosing to quote the selective passenger figures about Virgin alone, a highly dubious picture is painted.
Let me be quite clear. Mr Palmer is not lying. Nothing he says about the statistics is actually untrue, but the oath taken by witnesses in court requires them to tell ‘the whole truth’ for a very good reason.
Mr Palmer has not told the whole truth, and the effect is profoundly misleading.
He — and those who have encouraged him to do this — should be ashamed.
I don’t think Mr Harris should be lecturing people on misinformation and truth-telling in the closing sentences of a load of old nonsense like that. Peak hour fares on West Coast aren’t that much different to those on other railways out of London. So it’s little wonder that the Department for Transport’s high speed rail zealots fought to keep secret the fact that half the seats on Euston ICWC peak services are empty. And however high fares are, they’re evidently not high enough to cover the costs of the West Coast operation. Without subsidies like the Network Grant, neither the Virgin Trains or London Midland services would run.
The capacity of London Midland peak trains has nothing to do with HS2, and everything to do with path utilisation. LM is inefficiently run — as shown by the recent driver shortage debacle — and has insufficient (and inappropriate) rolling stock to make use of available paths.
Before becoming chief executive of Network Rail, David Higgins appears to have taken little interest in Britain’s railway industry. His belief that the West Coast Line is being ‘trashed’ compared with previous eras, is poppycock. The line took a heavier pounding four decades ago, when badly sprung Class 86 locomotives hauled the trains.