[‘HS2 and the railway network : the case for a review‘, Tony May and Jonathan Tyler, with contributions from Richard Allsop, James Croll and Stephen Plowden, 2016]
[It] should be noted that publicity about capacity released on the West Coast Main Line [WCML] becoming available for freight is misleading. Many of the constraints on freight paths will remain, especially north of Preston, and maintaining good passenger services for places like Stoke-on-Trent and Coventry while simultaneously satisfying the outer-London commuter demand would in practice mean no increase in paths for freight south of Rugby.
On ITV’s Tonight show about high speed rail, broadcast last month, Professor May recounted some of his doubts about HS2, noting that alternatives had not been properly investigated.
[From ‘HS2 and the railway network : the case for a review‘, Tony May and Jonathan Tyler, with contributions from Richard Allsop, James Croll and Stephen Plowden, 2016]
Significant improvements to capacity could be achieved at a much lower cost and much more rapidly.
In the case for HS2 it is assumed that additional capacity is needed, particularly on the main routes north of London. However, Euston, King’s Cross and Marylebone are the three least crowded of all London termini, with a load factor on Virgin West Coast of less than 40%.
The need for additional capacity is thus based on predictions that passenger demand will continue to grow at rates similar to the recent past. Easing price restrictions would spread the load since Virgin’s most crowded trains are outside the peak. Increasing the proportion of standard-class seats and using 12 car trains could increase capacity by approximately 25%.
HS2 would undoubtedly add to capacity, but two tracks with limited provision for passing are not a resilient way of doing so. HS2 Ltd bases its prospectus on operating up to 18 trains/hour each way when the scheme is complete. This is four more than any other high-speed line has achieved, and given that it involves both “captive” trains and “classic-compatible” stock which will run from and to the existing rail network it assumes a degree of signalling sophistication and operational discipline that may be difficult to achieve.