HS2 ‘released capacity’ claims are mostly bunkum
Transport secretary Chris Grayling has claimed that by “providing new routes for intercity services, HS2 will free-up space on our existing railways for new commuter, regional and freight services”.
But the available evidence suggests that
- HS2 would create new passenger capacity – on its own track – between a handful of cities, but most of that capacity would go unused
- HS2 would release very little capacity on the existing railway
- there are far more cost-effective ways to increase freight and passenger capacity.
Consider, for example, the existing railway between Birmingham New Street, Hampton-in-Arden, and Coventry. The December 2009 HS2 London – West Midlands technical appendix stated that “the Coventry Corridor [the railway between Birmingham and Coventry] is constrained by being only 2-track, and having a number of intermediate stations. Removing some of the fastest services from this route enables a better use of overall capacity to be made, particularly benefitting the local passengers.”
[Proposal from the London – West Midlands technical appendix, HS2 Ltd, 2009]
[4.3] Services on the Coventry Corridor are re-cast into a more-logical pattern, with Birmingham International and Coventry both being used as turn-back locations. (The current timetable is reliant upon a skip-stop pattern on a number of different services in order to minimize the capacity usage whilst serving the required locations at the desired frequencies. This results in a sub-optimal service pattern for local customers).
The Department for Transport has proposed reducing the existing 3-trains-per-hour New Street to London Euston intercity service to 2 trains per hour, to ‘free up regional capacity’. But those trains serve both Birmingham International (the airport station) and Coventry, and as such, provide a ‘regional service’ in the West Midlands county. (In the same way, Euston to Manchester intercity trains make stops on the Manchester approach, thereby functioning as a ‘regional service’.)
On page 61 of the June 2016 draft West Midlands and Chiltern route study, Network Rail provided a ‘Potential post HS2 service structure on [the] Coventry corridor’, based on
- running 2 intercity trains per hour between New Street and Euston, with
- four tracking between Stechford and Birmingham International.
This showed that even with HS2, plus four-tracking at a cost of “£175 – 375 million”, the Birmingham to Coventry timetable would still rely on a skip-stop pattern, and still provide a ‘sub-optimal service for local customers’.
On page 38 of the draft study, Network Rail showed an ‘unconstrained’ year-2043 service of three intercity trains per hour between New Street and Euston. Which of course, is the year-2016 frequency.