Jerry’s imagination failure
Birmingham Chamber’s Jerry Blackett can’t imagine how “we” would manage without HS2.
['HS2 is on track to make millions of friends in the north', The Guardian, Monday 9 September 2013]
[...] I can’t imagine how we will manage without HS2. Since the mid-1990s the number of rail journeys in Britain has doubled to 1.5bn. There is ever more pressure on our mixed-use railway, where inter-city trains share tracks with commuter and freight services – and as more trains run, the constraints of our Victorian railways start to show.
Fast trains can’t overtake slow ones so there are three choices: either cut the slow; slow the inter-cities; or turf freight off the rails and on to the roads. Without HS2, those compromises will have to be faced as demand grows.
But Mr Blackett didn’t explain who the “we” is/are. Most people in Britain make very few long distance journeys by rail, and of the ’1.5 billion’ journeys made on national rail each year, only around 30 million, or 2 per cent, are on West Coast intercity. The vast majority of rail journeys are short distance, and the vast majority of capacity issues relate to travel in and around London (largely on the ex-Eastern and Southern regions).
Fast trains can overtake slow ones; it happens hundreds of times every day at locations like Birmingham International, Dawlish Warren… and on Japan’s Shinkansen (etc). Certainly, line capacity is theoretically maximised by an arrangement in which all trains had identical stopping and performance characteristics, but that is generally not achievable, or cost-effective, outside of low-speed urban metro systems.
However, the West Coast Main Line is largely four-track (and with alternative routes for freight available) which means that separation of slow and fast passenger trains is achievable where it matters. Furthermore, the existence of the alternative Chiltern route between London and the West Midlands means that WCML long distance capacity utilisation between London and North West England could be optimised. Whereas in the HS2 concept, capacity optimisation is inherently limited by the inbuilt wasted capacity north of Birmingham, resulting from its forked Y configuration.
Another fault built into HS2 are the dead end stations in Leeds, Manchester, and Birmingham, meaning that journeys from Wolverhampton, Bradford, Bolton [etc] to London would require a change of train (and in the case of Birmingham and Leeds, a change of station).