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Notes from the WCML upgrade

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In its discussion of generated journeys, HS2 Ltd’s document ‘Demand for Long Distance Travel‘ mentions some of the economic effects of the long “upgrade” of the West Coast Main Line.

The quotes

Why would there be new trips as a result of HS2?
Quicker journey times and increased frequencies enable passengers to make trips that would otherwise have been impractical or unattractive. With the reductions in journey time anticipated from HS2, passengers would be able to get to more places within reasonable travel times than they could before. Overall, we estimate that these new opportunities would lead to an extra 33,000 trips a day being made on HS2 by 2043. Of these new trips 59% would be for leisure and 37% for business.

This increase in demand can be compared with the increase experienced when the WCML was upgraded.

Case Study: West Coast Main Line Upgrade

The WCML runs from London to Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. The first stage of the upgraded line opened in September 2004 and the upgrade of the whole line was completed in December 2008. This included signalling, track and rolling stock improvements to allow higher speed trains and more trains to be run. This reduced journey times along the route by an average of 34 minutes. Note 1

As a result of the upgrade, an increase in the number of passengers on the route was experienced compared to other routes which had not been upgraded in the same period. For example, between 2006 and 2009 this resulted in 36% more passenger journeys (relative to 13% across the East Coast Mainline between London, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh) and 38% more passenger‐kilometres (relative to 15% across East Coast Mainline services).Note 2

The notes

(1) The 34 minute average journey time saving reported from the WCML upgrade is similar to that claimed for a future HS2 phase one and ‘classic compatible’ service between the capital and provincial conurbations (e.g. Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool). For example, HS2 is claimed to speed up journeys to the West Midlands by 33 minutes. This opens up the possibility of looking into whether speeding up intercity train journeys to the capital has had the effect of increasing aggregate productivity and economic activity in those cities. No-one appears to have done this, but the results from such an evaluation could make for some interesting reading.

(2) Upgrading the West Coast Main Line resulted in travel volume rising faster than on lines not upgraded during the same period. So as with new-build lines, the process of upgrading lines has the potential to bring about generated journeys, which depending on the circumstances, may not be a desirable outcome in sustainability terms. This has implications for decision-making in the domains of type and scale of transport investment.


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