Redeploying HS2 funding to improve resilience
The storm damage at Dawlish (February 2014), unscheduled disruption at Kings Cross (December 2014), and landslip at Harbury (January / February 2015) have brought the lack of resilience on Britain’s railway network to the attention of the media. Passengers inconvenienced by the Harbury landslip were voxpopped by BBC Midlands Today, but of course they are not the only customers affected. Diversion of Southampton railfreight during the repair is only possible because half of the West Coast Main Line’s “own” goods paths are wasted.
Lack of resilience is also a fundamental weakness of the government’s HS2 concept. Its Old Oak Common to Bickenhill stretch would, in effect, constitute a 150-kilometre-long single point of failure. In a disruption event, the HS2 captive train fleet would be completely unable to operate on alternative routes. Like the ill-fated ‘Regional Eurostars’, even the so-called classic compatible trains might well be severely gauge-limited off the new-build trackage.
If the HS2 project were cancelled, there would be the opportunity to improve the resilience and maintainability of the classic network, with more alternative routes. For example, a restored Stratford –- Honeybourne Avon Rail Link would permit continued traffic on the Chiltern corridor during planned or unplanned disruption. It would also allow regular freight and intercity traffic north of Oxford to be separated, thereby increasing capacity.
As well as better infrastructure monitoring and management, there needs to be better arrangements for handling disruption, and more efficient possessions. In many cases, “more efficient possessions” would actually mean “longer possessions”. With diversionary routes, it should be regularly possible to shut down a main line from perhaps 8pm on a Friday evening through to 6am on a Monday morning, with minimal disruption to most passengers.