According to a 2013 report prepared for the government by the Atkins company, if the HS2 railway were not built, highly disruptive upgrade works would need to be carried out simultaneously on the West Coast, Midland, and East Coast Main Lines. Some of the most expensive works — new tunnels — would be on the East Coast Main Line London approach, to support twice-hourly fast services to Nottingham.
So what were Atkins’ actual forecasts of demand between London and Nottingham?
The company’s 2003 High Speed Line study for the Strategic Rail Authority showed that the forecast passenger rail volumes between London and the East Midlands (and South Yorkshire) are very small. Consider Figures 2-4 and 2-5 from the study (below).
- passenger volumes are much stronger in southern England than in the North
- the forecast traffic to and from Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, and Birmingham does not support construction of new high speed tracks.
Atkins did not even bother to show traffic on the Chiltern route, but no doubt, it would be similar in scale to the Midland Main Line. There must be enormous potential to increase throughput on all the existing lines, but especially on the Midland.
Superlatives are at the heart of people’s infatuation with megaprojects — the irresistible attraction of building the world’s tallest building or biggest cruise ship (wrote Jacques Leslie).
[The Trouble with Megaprojects, Jacques Leslie, The New Yorker, April 11, 2015]
[Bent Flyvbjerg, a management professor at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School] writes that megaproject planners are often outright dishonest, systematically overestimating benefits and underestimating costs. He cites an unusually candid comment that Willie Brown, a former speaker of the California State Assembly and mayor of San Francisco, made in a 2013 newspaper column. Referring to huge cost overruns during the construction of San Francisco’s four-and-a-half-billion-dollar Transbay Transit Center, Brown wrote, “We always knew the initial estimate was way under the real cost…. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”
Although Manchester and London are only around 300 km apart, the proposed HS2 railway between the two cities would include sections of track built for linespeeds of 400 km/h. With its £50 billion ‘budget’, rigged economic assessment, and bizarre technical specification, it would be Europe’s most meretricious megaproject.
Extracts from Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council’s response to a freedom of information request about improving the Calder Valley rail line:
According to Alisdair McGregor, Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for the Calder Valley, HS2 is ‘the biggest Green project going, because it’s about freeing up freight capacity’.
The facts are as follows:
- The busiest section of the West Coast Main Line is the section between London and Rugby.
- On that section, there are four tracks (Up Fast, Up Slow, Down Fast, and Down Slow).
- In normal service, intercity passenger trains use the Fast lines. Freight and most Commuter traffic uses the Slow lines.
- HS2 is envisaged as a passenger-only two-track railway, for use by long distance trains. As such, it does not provide increased railfreight capacity on its own track, or on the existing West Coast track.
- Currently, about half the available freight paths on the WCML are not used (i.e., wasted).
As can be seen from chief engineer Andrew McNaughton’s presentation (above), HS2’s modelling does not envisage a fall in the number of passenger services using the Slow lines. Therefore, so far as can be established, the number of additional freight paths arising from HS2 would be zero.
At the ‘Next Generation Rail’ conference in December 2014, Cheshire East council leader Michael Jones explained how the HS2 railway would help people live long, and prosper.
[NGR conference, Crewe, 4 Dec 2014]
Q: What are the benefits of a fully integrated transport system on societal concerns such as public health?
[Michael Jones]: Believe it or not, there will be a very strong link between HS2 and public health. We’re in the situation where we have women (in Cheshire East) with a life expectancy of 57. Less than 30 miles away, it’s 72. That’s one of the highest discrepancies in the country. Granted, the current life expectancy has risen from 52 in the last three years, but if we continue to focus on low employment, getting people educated and giving them wealth – all things that come with the HS2, then we can expect to see big change.
According to Les Echos, the future ‘low cost’ TGV Ouigo high speed train service between ‘Paris’ and Aquitaine might be routed via the existing main line, rather over the high speed track (being built at a cost of several billion euro) and use Massy as its northern terminus.
As with the Paris – Lyon relation, there seems to be a need to make Ouigo inconvenient for business travel, to limit migration from regular TGV.
[La SNCF dessine les contours de sa future offre de TGV low cost Ouigo vers Bordeaux, Lionel STEINMANN, Les Echos, 14 Jan 2015]
[…] Seconde interrogation, la nature de la ligne empruntée pour relier Bordeaux. Aujourd’hui, les TGV circulent sur le réseau classique à partir de Tours, pour un temps de parcours, pour les liaisons directes, un peu supérieur à 3 heures. Mais cette ligne va être doublée à partir de 2017 par une ligne 100 % TGV, le groupe Vinci ayant remporté l’appel d’offres pour la construction et l’exploitation d’une nouvelle section TGV entre Tours et Bordeaux, qui mettra Bordeaux à 2 h 05 de Paris. En 2017, la SNCF aura donc le choix entre les deux itinéraires. Et selon plusieurs experts, elle pourrait choisir de faire circuler les TGV classiques sur la nouvelle ligne et les Ouigo sur la ligne actuelle. La SNCF récrimine en effet depuis plusieurs années sur le niveau des péages qu’elle devra acquitter à Vinci pour faire circuler ses trains. Ces péages seront déjà difficiles à supporter économiquement par les TGV classiques, assure un expert, ils sont tout bonnement inenvisageables pour les TGV low cost.
If the HS2 railway were built into London’s Euston station, there would be a reduction in the number of platforms available for use by trains using the existing tracks, HS2 chief engineer Professor Andrew McNaughton told the High Speed Rail Bill Committee on 15 February 2015.
[Andrew McNaughton, 15 Feb 2015]
[…] But, [in 2026 the Euston classic platforms] are now being used for […] new services, which don’t take so long to turn around. A train from Glasgow spends 40 minutes being cleaned, victualled, watered, before it disappears off north again. So, it uses a platform for a very long time. A commuter train from Milton Keynes comes in, decants everybody, puts more people on, disappears off in five or six minutes. So, the mix of train services does affect the number of platforms you need, as well.
But as can be seen from Prof McNaughton’s slide #13 (below), HS2’s proposed re-mix of the West Coast route does not feature dedicated Fast line commuter trains terminating at Milton Keynes. All the Fast line services would run on to Northamptonshire or beyond (in some cases, well beyond).
According to the Department for Transport, most of the Fast line trains would be operated by Class 350 (or similar) units. These have a lower top speed than the Pendolino or IEP designs. So it seems likely that journey times on West Coast would tend to increase, rather than decrease.
At present, most peak London Midland Euston trains are short-length, which suggests a continuing insufficiency of rolling stock. The number of Class 350 (actual or ersatz) required to operate the Professor’s re-mix is unclear, but seems likely to be considerably in excess of what currently exists.