The only way is upgrade
According to Network Rail, ‘the major increase in rail capacity the UK needs can only come from making the infrastructure we already have more productive‘.
In that case, how important is the £60+ billion new-build HS2 for meeting future demand?
- According to Network Rail, “there will be 1 billion extra annual rail journeys” by 2030.
And according to HS2 Ltd, HS2 ‘will carry 300,000 passengers per day’ when complete
(i.e., ~110 million per year).
However, HS2 is not scheduled to be complete until about 2033. But if it somehow were fully open by 2030, and carrying its target annual demand – two very big ‘ifs’ – that would still mean that 89% of the forecast ‘billion extra passengers‘ would have to be accommodated on the existing railway.
At present, flows like Birmingham to London, and Manchester to London, amount to fewer than 10 million trips per annum, combined. On a ‘two-and-a-half-billion-passenger’ railway, what would be the sense in building hundreds of kilometres of vanity infrastructure to accommodate, at best, 3 or 4 percent of the traffic?
The capital cost of increasing the capacity of existing railways with digital technology is much lower than building new lines, according to a 2014 Arup corporate article.
In practice, the best capacity uplifts would likely arise from combining ‘Digital Railway’ technologies with ‘old-school’ infrastructure improvements (such as grade separated junctions).