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Vanity over utility

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On a visit to the Midlands to promote HS2 to the ‘business community’, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond was questioned by a reporter from the Express and Star. Mr Hammond told the newspaper that Black Country and Staffordshire residents should not expect extra local investment on the back of HS2:

“I don’t operate in a world where people only support a piece of national infrastructure if there’s something in it for them.”

HS2 has been promoted on the basis that it (i) produces time savings for travellers between London and the West Midlands, and that (ii) these time savings have a high economic value. But because HS2 would end at a dead-end station on the edge of Birmingham city centre (at Curzon Street), there is no provision for any HS2 services to serve the Black Country – whose population is larger than that of Birmingham itself.

At present, the Pendolino services between London Euston and Birmingham New Street generally take around 82 minutes (though some take less) – compared with 49 minutes expected from a future HS2 between London Euston and Birmingham Curzon Street. So for there to be a net time saving with HS2, any penalty for accessing or leaving Curzon Street must not exceed 33 minutes.

Over shorter distances (the norm in Britain), normal speed (“classic”) point-to-point trains have the capability to equal or better high speed rail in convenience. This capability also applies to journey times, as is well illustrated by the case of Wolverhampton and Sandwell’s Pendolino services to and from London. From these towns, like many other places in the West Midlands, there is no benefit from HS2, because the extra access time (to or from the high speed station) wipes out the nominal 33 minute saving. Accessing HS2 would involve a change of train, and indeed a change of station (in Birmingham or Bickenhill), followed by a wait for the next connecting service.

HS2 is not so much about speeding up journeys between London and ‘the West Midlands’, as it is about speeding up journeys between London and ‘points within an isochrone surrounding Curzon Street’. But these issues are sidestepped in Centro’s brochure “How HS2 will transform the West Midlands: the Black Country“, and its map doesn’t even show the Black Country at all. The brochure concentrates on the notion that HS2 benefits the Black Country by ‘freeing up capacity on the local rail network’, enabling more conventional services to run. It lists ‘increased services’ to and from various West Midlands towns, and various public transport improvements, including electrification of some local lines.

Whatever. Philip Hammond has now clarified that there is no intention of funding local transport improvements on the back of HS2. And

  • the only West Midlands railway where HS2 would ‘free up’ capacity is the Birmingham – Coventry – Rugby line, as it’s part of the WCML loop used by trains to London
  • but the usefulness of HS2 for decongesting the Birmingham to Coventry line is unclear, with Centro indicating that they want that line enlarged to four tracks regardless.

The local service upgrades proposed in Centro’s brochure are conjectural, not part of (or dependent upon) the HS2 project, and not included in HS2 costings. If councillors on the West Midlands Independent Transport Authority were unaware that funding for metropolitan transport improvements was in competition for funds with HS2, Mr Hammond has now sent a clear message.

Centro brochure 'How HS2 will transform the West Midlands: The Black Country'
The Black Country doesn’t rate a mention on the map used by Centro to illustrate how HS2 benefits the Black Country

In its brochure, Centro seem to have abandoned the pretence that the Curzon Street terminus could offer good connections with “classic” (conventional) rail services. Instead, Centro emphasise Bickenhill HS2 station as ‘the preferred interchange’, with passengers using a people mover to get to and from the classic/WCML station at Birmingham International. But, as with Curzon Street, Bickenhill HS2 is extremely unsatisfactory as an interchange point, with HS2 Ltd assuming that access to it would be mainly by car, not transit. As for the overall interchange time between Birmingham International and Bickenhill HS2, that doesn’t seem to be modelled in any public documents.

2 Responses

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  1. […] Wolverhampton, rely on unfunded regional rail enhancements. But transport secretary Philip Hammond isn’t minded to fund such improvements on the back of high speed rail. Advertisement […]

  2. […] he was transport secretary, Philip Hammond said, “I don’t operate in a world where people only support a piece of national infrastructure if […]


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