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Chiltern electrification versus HS2

with 9 comments

Another cost-effective way of increasing north – south rail capacity would involve electrification of the Chiltern Main Line to Birmingham Snow Hill.

At present, four Heathrow Express trains run each hour from London’s Paddington station to the airport, but when Crossrail 1 becomes operational, the case for the wasteful Heathrow Express should weaken further.

The capacity freed at Paddington from discontinuing Heathrow Express could be used to run an IEP-type train to Birmingham Snow Hill, via the New North Main Line and Bicester cutoff, every 15 minutes.

As can be seen from the table below, a more intensive use of existing infrastructure has the potential to meet any foreseeable demand between London and Birmingham.

Route Train type Trains / hour
Seats / hour
Euston – Birmingham Curzon
Street (With-HS2 scenario)
HS2 captive 2 * 200-metre 3 3300
Euston – Coventry –
Birmingham New Street
(With-HS2 scenario)
11-car Pendolino 2 1178
(With-HS2 scenario)
Euston – Coventry –
Birmingham New Street
(No HS2)
260-metre IEP equivalent
(715 seats)
4 2860
Paddington – Birmingham
Snow Hill, via Bicester cutoff (No HS2)
260-metre IEP equivalent
(715 seats)
4 2860
Total (No HS2) 5720

Written by beleben

March 21, 2016 at 1:11 pm

9 Responses

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  1. Or use 4 twelve coach Pendolinos on each route every hour and benefit from some increased speed on the Chiltern curves and no reduction in speed on WCML. And save lots of money because they cost far, far less than an ICE.


    March 21, 2016 at 11:05 pm

    • Indeed, one could use Pendolinos or new-generation pendular trains on both routes. According to HS2 Ltd, 400-metre Birmingham trains would only run in the peaks, but as the analysis shows, it’s perfectly possible to provide the same (over-)capacity with the two existing lines.


      March 22, 2016 at 10:47 am

  2. […] and affordable way to cater for demand between London, Birmingham, and Manchester would be to upgrade the existing asset base — freeing up billions of pounds for education, healthcare, and clean […]

  3. Why are you assuming that Chiltern electrification will not go ahead in the same time frame as HS2 Phase 1 is built anyway? It doesn’t need Birmingham passengers to be justified. As a primarily London commuter route it has stopping trains and once the GWML is wired, it will be the only diesel primary route left into the city. The Birmingham end will be electrified for the sake of local services in Birmingham, while everything north of Banbury will need done for the sake of the Electric Spine. The remainder of the route into Marylebone is then a manageable job

    Since the Chiltern Line is limited to 100mph, is a two-track railway and has suburban services at either end there is really no justification for a 125mph train design to be used. Most likely upon electrification the entire line, including the services to Birmingham, will be run by trains similar to those ordered by ScotRail for the newly-electrified services in the Central Belt. In effect, electric versions of the Turbostars that are currently used on most services. Meanwhile, commuting demand will make it even harder to run non-stop services on these tracks, so the chance of being able to run electric 100mph trains from Paddington will be even more slim.

    On top of that, the 4tph HEx paths would be used for other services on the GWML corridor. Using them for additional >=110mph commuter EMU shuttles from Swindon/Oxford in the peak would benefit more people than any attempt to send them up the Chiltern Line.


    April 18, 2016 at 12:40 am

    • “Why are you assuming that Chiltern electrification will not go ahead in the same time frame as HS2 Phase 1 is built anyway?”

      In case you missed the news, large chunks of Network Rail’s electrification have been delayed or postponed for years. That makes further large projects in the same time frame as HS2 Phase 1, less likely.

      “Since the Chiltern Line is limited to 100mph, is a two-track railway and has suburban services at either end there is really no justification for a 125mph train design to be used.”

      Not too long ago, the West Coast Main Line was limited to 100mph, and before that, it was a less-than-100mph-two-track railway. And it has suburban services at either end. So, your point is…?


      April 18, 2016 at 5:28 pm

      • HS2 Phase 1 will open during CP7, in 2026-27. The current tranche of electrification projects is projected to end in 2022-23, with Bedford to Sheffield and Manchester to York being the major ones. In the four years which will take place before HS2 opens, why would it be impractical to electrify the Chiltern route given that it is such a priority?

        [Beleben:] If it’s “such a priority”, please provide a Network Rail or government reference stating that it will be prioritised.
        [Beleben:] At what recent point was the WCML (south of Birmingham) a primarily two-track railway? The headline speed does not matter as much as the ability for non-stop express services to co-exist alongside stopping services. There have been six tracks to Watford since the 1920s. The most recent four-tracking has been the Trent Valley Line during the WCRM.

        Suburban services present no problems when they can run on a separate pair of tracks to express services, and on the Chiltern line there has never been enough four-tracking to make these possible.

        [Comment] Your evidence that on the Chiltern line there has never been enough four-tracking to make these possible, is where?

        The four-tracking that does exist is the Metropolitan Line, which ends at Rickmansworth. Your express services to relieve the WCML would have to compete for track space with stopping services unless you want to spend lots and lots of money building another pair of tracks out to the M25 and beyond.

        [Beleben:] They would have to “compete for track space with stopping services” just like Chiltern Railways intercity trains do now, and just like Birmingham New Street – London Euston intercity trains do now. (And, as this blog has pointed out, GWR Bicester_route four-tracking extended from London terminals to the M25, and beyond.)


        April 20, 2016 at 1:43 am

    • The ‘Chiltern Main Line’ as we now recognise it is a purpose built high-speed railway barely 100 years old, built jointly by GC and GW to the same standards as the West of England cut-off, and the planned but never built (thanks to Herr Schickelgruber’s interventions) high speed route to the Plymouth. This was planned, with Parliamentary Powers (and land – which is largely still available) for a 4-track railway that could be used by trains running directly via the proposed Channel Tunnel to Berne Gauge clearances through to Sheffield and Manchester. It was built with NO level crossings, NO curves tighter than 1 mile radius, NO gradients steeper than 10 yards in 1 mile, and every main junction grade separated with high speed alignments. the main reason that the Southern section was built was to deliver a fast main route avoiding the interim ‘shared’ route with the Metropolitan Railway, which enabled the GC to develop their traffic (and revenues) from London-Sheffield-Manchester/Hull traffic.

      A huge advantage of the GC/GW route is its flexibility as a strategic contingency and diversionary facility. Trains can run at speed between Birmingham and London to either Paddington or Marylebone, and if the 4 track 100+ mph route (currently a backwater 1 track and 25mph line) was restored, and the signalling upgraded to at least the current 125mph standards (a cost paring was the 100mph limit to avoid the step cost for higher speeds) a choice of 2 London stations. With a tilting Voyager, and a concession to run up to 125mph, a London-Birmingham journey of 55-60 minutes would be deliverable now, as a demonstration trip.

      However the neatest detail comes with 2 key connections both grade separated.

      First where the GC crosses the LNWR route North of Wembley Central, and a 2-way junction can be built whilst maintaining both routes during the works – Euston to Birmingham via Banbury and Milton Keynes to Wembley Stadium and Marylebone. With this key connection, the WCML can have 2 tracks closed for long blockades, and through services sent via Banbury-Coventry-Nuneaton with minimal time penalties.

      Second would be a combined set of connections, at West Hampstead. GC to NLL where they cross just before West Hampstead (NLL), then GC to Midland ML through the car park of the retail park at W Hampstead – this providing a route to HS1 and St Pancras, plus a second route on to the NLL via the Maiden Lane ‘junction’ complex.

      A further improved connection could deliver Watford Junction to St Albans City, and effectively a choice of 12 tracks on the London-Midlands rail corridor to mix & match the services.


      May 1, 2017 at 10:04 am

    • In 1962 – with jointed track and semaphore signalling the GC/GW was cleared for 100+ mph running, and WAS the main fast route from London to Birmingham. In 1968 the deliberate action to reduce capacity on the corridor, and (artificially) justify the WCML electrification with increased traffic was delivered by practically closing the route.

      The original route has grade separated main junctions, high speed curves, shallow gradients, plus the land/parliamentary powers (and land) to build a 4-track main line, to Berne Gauge clearances, eliminating the massive cost and political fall out of the HS2 land grab.


      May 1, 2017 at 3:09 pm

  4. The high standard of the GCR alignment can be seen at Chetwode, Bucks where a 30 degree change of alignment has a 3.5km radius curve which would be capable of speeds up to 280kph, possibly 300kph. It so happens that HS2 Ltd chose to follow this part of the GCR but its 400kph design speed necessitates a 9km radius curve. This requires over 5km of new alignment which in one place is around 230m wide. The actual tracks are 120m closer to the village but the wide land take moves the boundary even closer.
    The 2011 HS2 consultation “fact sheet” states that the minimum width for the tracks and associated paraphernalia is 22m. This is portrayed as being about half the width of a 6 lane motorway. However, the reality is that the deep cuttings and high embankments (complete with false cuttings to mitigate some of the noise from the very high speed trains) means that the width of the HS2 alignment considerably exceeds that of a motorway in many places. And they still have the gall to continue to claim it only costs 9% more to construct a line for 400kph compared to 200kph.


    May 1, 2017 at 8:52 pm

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