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The difference in disruption

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According to the government’s Response to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee HS2 report, “upgrading the existing railway is extremely disruptive to existing rail services compared with building a new line”.

[HS2: Government Response to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, July 2015]

[…] Lord [Andrew] Adonis described the £9bn West Coast Main Line upgrade completed in 2008 as “performing open heart surgery on a moving patient”.

In July 2009, it was Andrew Adonis who announced a “£1 billion” upgrade of an existing main line — Great Western electrification. But the earlier West Coast Route Modernisation (WCRM) was primarily about renewal of worn-out assets, not an upgrade.

Altogether, Network Rail is spending £5 billion on modernising the Western route, but its renewals-to-enhancements split is not clear. The Great Western’s upgrade element must surely be higher, because there is no overhead line equipment being “renewed”.

Network Rail, 'Western Vision; the future of the Western main line

Andrew Adonis has never explained why upgrading the Great Western is “the right thing for the country”, but upgrading the West Coast line is “open heart surgery”.

Furthermore, the HS2 high speed rail scheme depends on upgrades to the existing West Coast line (for example, to strengthen power supply for ‘classic compatible’ trains).

Claims about the extent of disruption caused by upgrading the existing railway are best treated with caution. During West Coast modernisation, miles of worn running rails were replaced by new rails of heavier profile (so the track was ‘upgraded’). Had they been replaced on a like-for-like basis (i.e., renewal without upgrade), the disruption involved would have been essentially the same.

Network Rail, GW modernisation, 'Our plan'

Written by beleben

July 9, 2015 at 8:35 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

28 Responses

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  1. The media repeats frequently and oft these pathetic utterances of the ruling class. From your previous post, his Lordship could have a much weightier problem than open heart surgery.


    July 9, 2015 at 10:37 pm

  2. Comparing the West Coast and Great Western upgrades:

    On the Great Western, the upgrade to 125 mph running took place in the 1970s, which did involve significant route closures. This took place in an era when train speeds were lower, and passenger journeys were at about half the level they are now.
    Apart from the rebuilding of Reading station – which is a separate but vitally important project – the work on the Great Western is best described as Route Electrification. It is the problems NR have encountered with their new equipment being used on this project which resulted in the recent announcement regarding deferral of several other electrification schemes. The electrification work takes place at night, or at Bank Holidays for major works.

    The West Coast Route Modernisation was dealing with a route which had already been electrified, but where the aim was to raise the line speed to 125 mph for tilting trains. (Why only for tilting trains is the subject of a future essay!). This involved significant changes to the track, including increasing the number of sleepers per mile, increasing the super-elevation on curves, resignalling, and remodelling of key locations.

    So on the Great Western, very little needs to be done to the track or signalling, it is all about erecting the overhead wires. On the WCML it was a total route modernisation*, following years of prolonged under-investment.

    [* In fact because of the de-scoping of the project, certain areas were left largely untouched, such as Stafford, and Warrington – Wigan].

    The issue now is that the WCML has had as much “route modernisation” as it can bear. It is no longer possible to squeeze a step change increase in capacity out of the existing infrastructure, as was achieved in 2008. To get more capacity, you need to build additional tracks.

    The basic argument is: if the case for additional capacity has been made, then where do we build the extra tracks?

    Pro-HS2 campaigners simply point to the HS2 plans and say “just there, like this.”
    Anti-HS2 campaigners come up with all manner of schemes (“Anything but HS2”) which deliver little, and (in my view) fail to address the issue.

    Jeff Hawken

    July 10, 2015 at 7:54 am

    • It may be that ‘very little needs to be done to the Great Western track or signalling’, but Network Rail seem to have other ideas. Its Western Vision claimed GW modernisation was “£5bn investment, 13 major projects, 10 years of improvement work”, with new S&T included. The electrification was supposedly “£1 billion”, so, perhaps one fifth of the spend. What Network Rail are doing to support the aspiration for 140 mph [225 km/h] running, and operation of ~26-metre IEP carriages, isn’t clear.

      On the WCML, the fast lines are operating near their effective capacity, with the current signalling, for 60-odd kilometres out of Euston. It’s a big stretch to claim that would justify building £50+ billion of new line all the way to the north of England.


      July 10, 2015 at 9:19 am

      • The sum quoted for the GW scheme probably includes the IEP trains, as well as the provision of ETCS signalling. In-cab signalling is mandatory for any speeds in excess of 125 mph, although it is not clear (to me at least) if or when 140 mph operation will be introduced. The new overhead line equipment (OlE) being installed will be fit for 140 mph operation from the outset. However the point remains that much of the track on GW will remain unaltered, as the main line from London to Bristol Parkway is predominantly straight and level.

        Provision of ETCS on the WCML will provide very little in the way of additional capacity at the southern end of the route, particularly if anybody attempts to run at 140 mph. It might improve reliability and punctuality to some extent, which is a very worthwhile gain in its own right.

        On the WCML it is the first 50 miles / 80 kilometres where the capacity issue is most pronounced, i.e. Euston to Milton Keynes. That by itself doesn’t justify the construction of the whole HS2 network, but it provides a strong foundation for it:

        If the existing railway is forecast to become (even more) overcrowded, then you can choose to apply other measures such as pricing to force people off the railways in peak hours, or you can choose to provide some form of additional infrastructure to accommodate them (as well as taking measures such as lengthening trains etc.)

        If you choose additional infrastructure, then what and where? It will be necessary to lay additional tracks. Doing so adjacent to the existing West Coast Main Line would involve building through the very town centres which have grown up alongside the railway that serves them. So it is preferable to build in open countryside, away from the main line. A useful analogy here is to think of growth of road traffic through a town centre. If the High Street clogs to a halt, because the traffic trying to pass through the town is being brought to a halt by lorries making deliveries to the shops, and people parking outside the post office to pick up their pensions, then you can relieve the congestion in one of two ways: a) Build a bypass; or b) widen the High Street by demolishing all the shops, to allow two lanes of traffic in each direction, You often hear protesters clamouring for a bypass to be built, but nobody ever asks for the High Street to be widened by demolishing the shops and houses.

        This new railway could then take all the trains which don’t need to be on the WCML (i.e. those which do not currently serve Watford Junction or Milton Keynes). That releases capacity on the existing route for growth in suburban traffic, and freight, as well as those residual long-distance services which would continue to serve Watford and Milton Keynes as now.

        Once having decided to build a new railway, and to build it in open countryside in preference to going through town centres, it is fairly obvious that this should be built as a high speed line, to maximize the benefits.(Building a conventional railway line is not a lot cheaper than building a high speed one, but the benefits of high speed are significantly greater).

        Then it’s down to discussions about the route of the line (which HS2 have been consulting on for some time) and the location of the stations, service patterns, and so on.

        Of course, another of the drivers for the HS2 project is “political vision”. We are told that by connecting the Northern cities together better, and linking them to London better, then the “Northern Powerhouse” will be promoted. Personally I treat this justification with a healthy degree of scepticism, as it seems to lie in the realm of witchcraft, smoke and mirrors (and a soupçon of wishful thinking).

        Jeff Hawken

        July 10, 2015 at 10:40 am

      • Network Rail have forecast the existing railways will carry up to 100% more passengers by 2030, but have not given individual route figures or crowding data. But most of the expected additional passengers must be commuters into London, on lines not relieved by HS2.

        This blog finds the HS2 “released capacity” claims unconvincing, for a variety of reasons. Only the ~60 km between Euston and Ledburn sees 15 trains per hour on the West Coast fast lines, but most Euston commuters do not actually use those lines in the course of their journey. If the HS2 scheme did remove fast services from the fast lines, that would, in effect, allow them to be used as a second pair of slow lines (and allow more London commuting from south of Tring). But the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd do not plan that to happen (see Prof Andrew McNaughton’s slides).

        Resignalling both the West Coast fast and relief lines should allow 18 trains-per-hour reliably on each of the tracks and there are many ways of providing for additional Buckinghamshire commuting. If Bletchley were connected into Thameslink via Luton, the majority of Milton Keynes commuters could be taken to Farringdon (etc), without change of train. So it would be possible to have, say, 16 hourly Euston intercity to the Midlands / North, while accommodating all commuter demand to / from Milton Keynes.

        The problems with ‘deciding to build a new railway, and building it as a high speed line to maximize the benefits’ lie with Britain’s economic geography, and the supply and demand mismatch. For example, at the moment, there are around 3 million rail journeys between Manchester and London annually, but the HS2 service could supply well in excess of 23 million seats (based on 1,100 seats *3 trains / hour *14 hours / day *250 days, in each direction).


        July 10, 2015 at 5:02 pm

      • The “Andrew McNaughton” train service slides you reference are derived from “The Economic Case for HS2 PFM v4.3 Assumptions Report” of 2013. Perhaps the key message in this context is Para 5.1.3 which states in bold: “These assumptions are designed only for the purpose of providing an indicative reference case for the appraisal of HS2. It should be noted that no decisions have yet been taken about any train service requirements – or which stock will operate them – in any of the relevant franchises, and therefore these service patterns should be considered as _indicative_.” So you can’t say that anybody or any department “…do not plan that to happen” as the fact is the case is still open and undecided.

        For more details on Network Rail’s 2030 assumptions, take a look at:

        You claim that most of the additional passengers will be on routes not relieved by HS2. That is a claim you could make about any rail infrastructure project, since no individual project is going to yield a 50% national capacity increase. So on that (flawed) logic, we should abandon all rail infrastructure projects.

        Filling up the Midland Main Line Thameslink commuter services with commuters from the Milton Keynes area is an act of madness. Firstly you would have to build a new railway through a densely populated area in order to connect the two lines. Secondly commuters moving house tend to choose their location to give them the easiest commute possible, so it will be no surprise to find that most people in the Milton Keynes conurbation want to commute into Euston, for good reasons. Giving them a slower service into Thameslink would be of little or no benefit to them. The same goes for Crossrail. What they want is a fast service getting them to Euston in 30 minutes, then decent onward connections from there by whatever means.

        You severely underestimate the problems caused by the large flows of commuter traffic, and the growth of traffic seen from Milton Keynes, where further expansion is planned in the next few years. Similar expansion is taking place at Northampton.

        Your point about the 16 tph only applying as far as Ledburn is technically correct, but misunderstands the consequences. There are no 125mph trains running on the Slow Lines out of Euston that could potentially cross to the Fast Lines at Ledburn. Therefore the capacity used south of Ledburn is effectively sterilized north of Ledburn, until at least Milton Keynes where selected services stop, and the trains can be re-spaced.

        Your calculations on capacity on the Manchester to London route are exaggerated, although I can’t fault the maths.

        Firstly, the number of seats on each train is a contentious issue. The figure of 1100 was chosen to overcome some peculiarities in the “crowding” algorithm of the model used when HS2 first started modelling demand, and has stuck at that figure ever since. To get 550 seats in a 200m train you are talking Ryanair levels of seat pitch, whereas most configurations in Europe are around the 450 mark.

        Secondly, it isn’t possible to remove carriages from an individual 200m set in the off-peak and put them back in the peak, so inevitably there will be empty seats moving around in off-peak periods, just like now. It will be for the commercial departments to yield manage the sale of the empty seats to maximize utilization.

        Thirdly, in the off-peak periods it will be possible to run with only one 200m set instead of two, so the number of seats per train can be reduced when they are not required (but only by halving the seating capacity). Incidentally an 11-car Pendolino conveys 589 seats. I’ll let you ponder on that, but don’t forget there will still be Manchester – Stoke – Euston “Classic” services operated once HS2 has opened. Yes, if you build a new line then the new capacity comes in big chunks, but there comes a time when incremental increases are no longer enough. We’ve done the incremental increases on the West Coast Main Line, and extracted practically all it can give by way of capacity. Prevarication is the thief of time; we need to get on with building HS2.

        Jeff Hawken

        July 10, 2015 at 6:46 pm

      • Measures to enhance capacity need to be affordable and cost-effective. Arguing for HS2 on the basis of its benefits for Milton Keynes commuting is problematic, because of the huge and disproportionate costs.

        Milton Keynes is, it seems, not even in the top 20 boroughs for ‘into-London’ commuting. A commuter fast Thameslink service from MK (Bletchley) into the Midland Main Line could offer similar end-to-end journey times to the existing WCML fast trains, because Euston is not the endpoint for most commuters — and interchange there is not particularly good.

        According to the 7 August 2014 government “Tring Crossrail” announcement, Hertfordshire commuters could save “up to 15 minutes” by not having to change at Euston, and initial analysis suggests 40% of passengers travelling into London from these locations finish their journeys within 1 kilometre of a Crossrail station, compared to just 10% within 1 km of Euston. The endpoint of MK commuters’ journeys is likely to be much the same.

        Population density around Luton and Milton Keynes (The Guardian, 2011)

        As can be seen from the map, establishing a connection between the Marston Vale and Midland lines would not involve building in a ‘heavily populated area’.


        July 12, 2015 at 10:31 am

      • “Arguing for HS2 on the basis of its benefits for Milton Keynes commuting is problematic, because of the huge and disproportionate costs.”
        You are mis-quoting me there. I don’t argue for HS2 solely on the basis of benefits to Milton Keynes, but – as explained (at some length) in my post – the congestion on the southern end of the WCML is the starting point for the overall project. There are many other beneficiaries, as I am sure you are aware.

        Providing new transport infrastructure – whatever the travel mode – is always expensive, and the resultant additional capacity tends to come in big chunks – possibly more than can be used at the time of project completion. That may be no bad thing, whereas failing to invest and causing transport sclerosis certainly is.

        “Milton Keynes is, it seems, not even in the top 20 boroughs for ‘into-London’ commuting.”
        You don’t give any source to back up that assertion. The 2015 report by Savills linked below ranks Milton Keynes as 9th out of 20.

        “According to the 7 August 2014 government “Tring Crossrail” announcement, Hertfordshire commuters could save “up to 15 minutes” by not having to change at Euston, and initial analysis suggests 40% of passengers travelling into London from these locations finish their journeys within 1 kilometre of a Crossrail station, compared to just 10% within 1 km of Euston.The endpoint of MK commuters’ journeys is likely to be much the same.”

        OK, lets examine that a little further. Firstly, let’s consider the difference in raw journey times. A train from Tring to Euston will pass through Wembley Central at speed, and reach Euston in 8 – 9 minutes. A train from Tring wishing to access Crossrail will have to slow down at Wembley, pass underneath the main lines, then around a very sharp (slow) curve to join the Dudding Hill line, continue to Acton Wells area, and then around another sharp (slow) curve to reach the Old Oak Common Crossrail platforms. So at the time the Euston train reaches Euston, the Crossrail train will only have reached Old Oak Common. Then after a pause for another couple of minutes for passengers to alight or board, it can join the queue of up to 24 tph through the Crossrail core. Now, anybody whose journey from (stations to) Tring ends in the west end of London, close to Paddington or Bond Street Crossrail stations, then they may well see an overall advantage of up to 15 minutes as claimed (with the emphasis on “up to” meaning anything between 1 and 15 minutes). However for most people Euston is an ideal interchange, as it has tube connections into both branches of the Northern Line and the Victoria Line on a North – South axis, and Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, and Circle Lines on an East – West axis, as well as a bus station on the doorstep. Of course, the corollary of 40% of commuters finishing their journey within 1 km of a Crossrail station is that 60% of commuters (otherwise known as “the majority”) do not. Euston is not a destination in its own right for most people, but merely a transport interchange, so the 10% figure quoted is neither surprising nor particularly significant. It will be interesting to see if any justification can be made for the Crossrail – WCML link. In my view the case is pretty weak.

        As explained previously, the Thameslink service density on the MML is likely to preclude adding further trains from Milton Keynes via your imaginary link. The journey times would be unacceptably increased, and the commuters would simply overcrowd the remaining WCML services in preference to your slow diversion. Take a look on Google Earth and see how you might construct such a link, particularly if it is to be relatively straight. Then add in the need for a grade separated junction at each end. It’s not as easy as you make out.

        Jeff Hawken

        July 12, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      • In Commuting in London (July 2014) Milton Keynes does not seem to feature in the top twenty local authorities for London commuting.

        Thameslink is supposed to offer a potential 24-trains-per-hour through the core section to northern destinations. It seems perfectly possible to increase the proportion of Thameslink trains running from the core, onto the Midland.

        Bletchley Thameslink trains running via a grade-separated connection off the Marston Vale line would take longer to reach the capital, but that would be largely or completely offset by better connectivity at St Pancras, Farringdon, “City Thameslink”, and Blackfriars.


        July 12, 2015 at 8:15 pm

      • The “Commuting in London” document you link unfortunately does not break down the demand by local authority area by mode of transport. I note that two other local authorities south of Milton Keynes, served by the WCML, do make the list, so my comments on released capacity on the WCML improving residual services can apply to them also.

        Of course the peak demand for commuting into London is at pretty much the same time on all routes radiating from London. So if you want to use some of the capacity of Thameslink to serve Bletchley / Milton Keynes, whose services will you withdraw to make room for them?

        A through Thameslink train from MK via your proposed link would need to reverse at Bletchley, so adding another 3 – 4 minutes to the already extended journey time. You could catch a fast train from Milton Keynes to Euston and walk to Kings Cross / St Pancras and still arrive before your imaginary service.

        So let’s imagine this link got built. It might support 2 trains per hour in the peak, one tph off-peak. So another 20 years down the line, patronage continues to increase on the WCML, and the paths released by your Thameslink trains have been used up. The railway is full again. What do you do next?

        Incremental steps of this nature are not the solution. They merely serve to postpone the time when the solution has to be found.

        Jeff Hawken

        July 12, 2015 at 11:34 pm

      • So let’s imagine this link got built. It might support 2 trains per hour in the peak, one tph off-peak. So another 20 years down the line, patronage continues to increase on the WCML, and the paths released by your Thameslink trains have been used up. The railway is full again. What do you do next?

        Incremental steps of this nature are not the solution. They merely serve to postpone the time when the solution has to be found.

        Well, it might support a lot more than 2 trains per hour in the peak, if Luton-terminating trains were extended northwards, and some ‘Kings Cross’ paths were reassigned; there seems to be no immediate operational requirement to re-route trains from Cambridge, etc, into Thameslink.

        Apparently, Chiltern Railways are planning to run 66-minute journeys to Oxford from Marylebone (about 13 minutes slower than via Reading). So there might well be many Milton Keynes commuters who would be prepared to drive to Bletchley and ride Thameslink to Farringdon, or wherever.

        ‘Incremental steps’ to address increased patronage tend to be the norm, rather than the exception. No-one has explained why an all-new line to Leeds and Manchester helps with increased London commuting from Southend, Woking, Brighton, etc.


        July 13, 2015 at 4:42 pm

      • “Well, it might support a lot more than 2 trains per hour in the peak, if Luton-terminating trains were extended northwards, and some ‘Kings Cross’ paths were reassigned; there seems to be no immediate operational requirement to re-route trains from Cambridge, etc, into Thameslink.”

        You still haven’t explained how these extra trains will fit on the Midland Main Line. Just supposing they did actually fill up with commuters from MK and Bletchley, what are the good folks of Luton and stations south thereof supposed to do when their train turns up full of folks who used to commute on the WCML?

        “Apparently, Chiltern Railways are planning to run 66-minute journeys to Oxford from Marylebone (about 13 minutes slower than via Reading). So there might well be many Milton Keynes commuters who would be prepared to drive to Bletchley and ride Thameslink to Farringdon, or wherever.”

        The Chiltern Railways initiative is a very interesting one. Although they do eventually intend to run from the existing Oxford station, once further track work has been completed, they are launching the service in October this year from “Oxford Parkway”, which is a new station on the north east outskirts of Oxford, handy for the ring road. The key business train departs at 07:24, arriving Marylebone at 08:20. People who currently drive into Central Oxford can instead. The comparative GW service is 07:34 from Oxford, arriving Paddington at 08:31. So the journey times are nearly identical. However for people travelling into Central London, Marylebone is better situated than Paddington. So the end-to-end journey time is likely to be shorter. I expect this to be a big success. Conversely your proposal to divert passengers via Luton to Thameslink increases journey times by about 50%. (It takes about 30 minutes from Luton for St Pancras, the same as from Milton Keynes to Euston. Even with a fast link, the journey from Milton Keynes to Luton is going to add at least a further 15 minutes). That would not be a big success.

        “‘Incremental steps’ to address increased patronage tend to be the norm, rather than the exception. No-one has explained why an all-new line to Leeds and Manchester helps with increased London commuting from Southend, Woking, Brighton, etc.”
        HS2 does nothing to help capacity to the places you list – as I am sure you are aware. Numerically, incremental changes are always going to outnumber the big step-change projects. But there comes a time when you have run out of sensible incremental steps. Maybe only once in a generation we have to do something bigger.

        Jeff Hawken

        July 13, 2015 at 5:43 pm

      • Network Rail’s Market Study does not really support your view that ‘peak commuting into London is pretty much the same on all routes’. Demand tends to be higher on the lines into Victoria, Waterloo, etc.

        Some Oxford residents might find Water Eaton and Marylebone more convenient for their London commute. In much the same way, some MK residents might find Bletchley, and Farringdon / “City Thameslink” / Blackfriars, more convenient for their commute. In-vehicle journey time is but one factor. More traffic could probably be accommodated on the Midland, because on weekdays between 8am and 9am, there are only about twenty trains on the two Up lines into St Pancras high and low level.


        July 14, 2015 at 11:32 am

      • Once again you have changed my words and then tried to prove them wrong.
        What I actually said was:
        “Of course the peak demand for commuting into London is at pretty much the same time on all routes radiating from London.”
        The key word here is “TIME”. The point I was making was that commuters travelling to or from Paddington, Marylebone, Euston, St Pancras, Kings Cross etc. are doing so at approximately the same time on every route because their arrival and departure times are determined by their working hours. So – in this example – there isn’t a step down from Peak to Off-Peak patterns on the Midland Main Line earlier than on the West Coast Main Line, so there isn’t and easily-consumable capacity just waiting to be used.

        Residents of the MK conurbation already have the option of driving across to Luton and joining Thameslink there. I guess some of them already do that.

        Timetabling the ML is also very complicated. St Pancras High Level only has 4 platforms to deal with all the East Midlands Trains services to / from Corby, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and beyond. The Low Level platforms have to fit into the Thameslink service pattern, which is already hard-wired into the 2018 timetable to such an extent that recent Open Access bidders for paths on the East Coast Main Line were surprised to learn that the paths they wanted could not be provided without complete reconstruction of the timetable all the way to Brighton. I think the ORR is still deliberating on that one. So there isn’t a lot of flexibility to swap paths around, or shoe-horn in anything extra.

        Jeff Hawken

        July 14, 2015 at 2:23 pm

      • Apologies. Your post did indeed say “Of course the peak demand for commuting into London is at pretty much the same time on all routes radiating from London”, which has a different meaning. This blog does not intend to misrepresent anyone’s position, and there is a general right of reply.


        July 14, 2015 at 8:41 pm

      • No problem. It is good to debate these issues – and also to respect that other people hold genuinely-held viewpoints which differ from your own. Thanks for facilitating that.

        Jeff Hawken

        July 14, 2015 at 8:51 pm

  3. Did I not read somewhere that the Tring – Old Oak Common link was considered to be essential so that some LM commuter services could be diverted away from Euston, where the number of operating platforms have to be reduced whilst the HS2 station is added …


    July 12, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    • Proponents of the Crossrail to WCML link have indeed claimed it is “vital” to enable the reconstruction of Euston station to take place. On examination, the evidence doesn’t hold up (in my opinion). Firstly, the number of trains that would be diverted would be only 2 or 3 per hour, maybe 4 at most. So that’s not going to make a huge difference at Euston. Secondly, the timing is wrong. If this had been part of the original Crossrail scheme, and was being delivered in 2018, it might have been of some benefit. But reconstruction of Euston has to start well before such a link could be open for traffic, so it simply makes no sense.

      Jeff Hawken

      July 12, 2015 at 5:37 pm

      • Just remembered where I read about linking Tring to Old Oak Common. It was less than a year ago (7 August 2014) –

        Plans would see faster rail services for Hertfordshire passengers and pave the way for a more ambitious redevelopment of Euston station.

        In a move that would boost ambitious plans to redevelop Euston station for HS2, a feasibility study will look at how passengers from key commuter towns such as Tring, Hemel Hempstead, Harrow and Watford could save up to 15 minutes on their journey times via a new rail link between Old Oak Common and the West Coast Main Line.

        Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:

        “We are investing record amounts to build a world-class railway, so it is vital we seize every opportunity to make the most of these once in a generation schemes. That is why I have asked HS2 Limited to work closely with the Crossrail sponsors to look at extending Crossrail services to key destinations in Hertfordshire. Not only would this be a huge boost to passengers and the local economy, it would also provide flexibility when building HS2 into Euston, making sure we create a lasting legacy for the station.”

        The proposed changes would see Crossrail services extended to the county, providing direct journeys into the City and the West End. It would mean passengers would no longer have to change at Euston, making it easier to get on with the massive job of rebuilding the station so it matches the standard of Kings Cross and St Pancras.

        Stations that could be serviced by Crossrail include Tring, Hemel Hempstead, Watford Junction, Berkhamstead and Harrow and Wealdstone. Any changes will not affect the timetable or planned service pattern for the existing Crossrail scheme which is scheduled to be fully operational by 2019.

        Initial analysis suggests 40% of passengers travelling into London from these locations finish their journeys within 1 kilometre of a Crossrail station, compared to just 10% within 1km of Euston. The link would have the added benefit of reducing congestion at the station, specifically for passengers using the southbound Northern and Victoria lines.

        Any idea what happened?


        July 13, 2015 at 3:13 pm

      • ‘Vacillation’ happened, or seems to have.


        July 13, 2015 at 4:27 pm

  4. Proponents of HS2 frequently advise that the WCML is full. They fail to tell you that the section of HS2 between London and Birmingham will be full as soon as Phase Two is operational. The UIC (International Union of Railways) advises that it is safe to run just 16 trains per hour at 350 kph. HS2 ltd plan to run 16 trains per hour on this section from 2033.

    Such a schedule has no slack periods where any lateness can be recovered. So the 8 classic compatible trains per hour which start their journeys in places such as Scotland, Newcastle, Preston and Liverpool will be subject to all the vagaries/delays of the existing network before joining dedicated HS2 track. Any significant lateness could well delay many other HS2 trains because there will be no recovery gaps.

    By contrast the WCML serves about 28 passenger trains per hour at peak times at its southerly end, but that is through the use of fast and slow lines in both directions. There are recovery periods which allow lateness to be caught up more easily.

    The other consequence of this section of HS2 being full from 2033 is that there will be no opportunity for additional trains to be run in future, e.g. to additional destinations. While the WCML has been able to expand its usage over more than 150 years, HS2 with its likely cost in excess of £50 billion will be full in terms of train paths after just 7 years.


    July 12, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    • I refer you to the work undertaken by HS2 Ltd prior to public consultation, which established that the specified capacity of the HS2 route of a maximum of 18 trains per hour was both safe and feasible. I don’t know where the UIC figure you quote comes from – can you provide a link?

      Firstly timetabling and secondly operating the HS2 network will indeed be both interesting and challenging. It does call for unprecedented levels of punctuality in presentation. However with Centralized Train Control it will be possible to advise individual trains to speed up or slow down as required to generate a spare path to accommodate a late-running train.

      There remains some limited scope for increasing the geographical coverage of HS2 in future years, by adding second sets to some of the Classic Compatible trains, and dividing en route (i.e. before the 400 metre combined train length becomes too long for the platforms of the current network). For example, if Crewe to Chester (or further to Holyhead) was electrified in future, then a second Classic Compatible set could be attached to one of the Euston to Liverpool trains, and split at the new Crewe station. Once that option is exhausted (and it adds potentially quite a lot of scope) then it becomes a commercial choice as to whether it is better to serve additional locations, or strengthen services to locations already well-served but where the market is strong. One for the future, methinks.

      Jeff Hawken

      July 12, 2015 at 5:52 pm

      • The link you requested is here:

        Click to access Final-Report-Appendices-B-J.pdf

        See section 2.4, Figure 2.

        Note also the following statement in section 2.4
        “The UIC recommends using no more than 75% of design capacity during peak hours and 60% over an entire day.”

        Your responses have not convinced me.


        July 13, 2015 at 10:37 am

      • Well you could try reading the relevant sections in the HS2 report to Government from 2012:
        Or you could try the 2011 Operations Concept report prepared by Systra, which shows many of the calculations in greater detail. If you Google “Operations Concept Study Technical Note: HS2 Capacity” it should be the first document.
        You will note that the 75% UIC recommendation is respected in all cases.

        Jeff Hawken

        July 13, 2015 at 11:08 am

      • No-one has managed to run 18 high speed trains per hour on one track. Because there was, in essence, no literature supportive of that intensity of operation, HS2 Ltd had to go out and commission their own.


        July 13, 2015 at 12:54 pm

  5. It is interesting to try following a detailed discussion involving someone who claims great knowledge: Jeff Hawken – “I joined the WCRM project in 2003, and was part of the Clients Agent team responsible for reigning in the costs and re-defining the outputs, whilst simultaneously renegotiating the Track Access Contract with Virgin”.

    Jeff does refer to ‘difficulties’ with the GW electrification but does not clarify just how bad it is – perhaps a listen to this would be illuminating:

    File on 4 – Off Track: Network Rail

    HOPS and other issues are clearly catastrophic for the project.

    While he does show some scepticism around politicals and their rhetoric – “vision” “vital” “powerhouse” etc Jeff uses similar terms when opining on HS2’s importance and what it will achieve.

    NR is clearly in a mess, unable to progress basic improvements and pulled in all directions trying to connect up to other rail ops as Crossrail and increasingly with HS2, not knowing how or where HS2 will connect to WCML at Crewe or Lichfield etc etc but having to plan for all possibilities.

    Of course a standalone line as HS2 is less disruptive in build phase to existing services (perhaps) but all 10,000 miles have to be renewed and upgraded whether or not HS2 goes ahead. The chaos of the existing UK rail operation means that NR has to adapt to whatever trains DfT specifies.

    All in all, HS2 is, as it was conceived, a distraction for the people.


    July 14, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    • Well we are straying a little from the original thread here but – with Beleben’s indulgence – it’s probably worth it.
      The GWML electrification is entirely dependent upon the performance of the High Output system, which was supposed to be able to insert piles at the rate of about 1 km per 6-hour night shift. Unfortunately the piling turned out to be more difficult than NR anticipated – not least because of their lack of accurate records as regards the exact location of many of the signalling and telecommunications cables alongside the line. A cut in the signalling cable might not even be noticed until the train was due to move off site at the end of the shift – which is how come there have been late handbacks, and intermittent signalling failures causing delays.
      A second piling train has been moved from the Midland Main Line to the GWML to try to catch up to the original schedule – hence the recent announcement of delays to completion of MML electrification works, which have been put on hold.

      Yes, I agree that NR is in quite a mess right now. In the areas where I had contact with them, I found them top-heavy with project managers and engineers, and very short of skilled operators and operations planners. The enforced return of NR to Government ownership last September has brought NR’s vast debt back onto the Government’s balance sheet, so inevitably NR has come under close scrutiny. This has got the Free Market ideologues circling, and planting opinion pieces in The Times suggesting the only way forward is for NR to be broken up. Sir Richard Branson is another proponent of this, justifying it with false statistics and rhetoric.

      I don’t believe that running a national railway can be left to market forces alone. It requires a certain level of centralized planning under state control in order to finance and operate the infrastructure.

      HS2 Ltd was set up independently from Network Rail precisely so that NR did not get distracted from the day job of running the existing railway. Indeed under the regime of Ian Coucher at NR there was positive hostility towards HS2, which was seen as somebody else invading their territory. Corporate egos were feeling bruised. After the ejection of Coucher, NR adopted a friendlier approach towards HS2, and indeed has taken over some significant chunks of the project.

      The connection at Lichfield and the consequential changes to the existing NR layout as far north as Colwich were agreed between HS2 and NR some time ago. The twin issues at Crewe are the desire to open HS2 to Crewe as soon as possible, combined with the resurrection of the Crewe Hub project. The proposal for a replacement Crewe station to the south of the existing one predates HS2, but has been revived with the idea of making it an HS2 interchange station. This project is now being led by NR, but the engineer in charge is ex-HS2, so can assure a sensible interface between the two projects.

      Apologies if occasionally my terminology comes across as a bit “corporate mouthpiece.” I am far from that, although the many hours I spent as HS2 Public Consultation events trying to explain what it was all about has probably ingrained the message in my mind a little too firmly!

      Jeff Hawken

      July 14, 2015 at 2:00 pm

  6. […] Part one […]

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