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Unreason at the core

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In the 2014 ‘Rebalancing Britain‘ report, HS2 chairman David Higgins wrote of “the clear importance of the Manchester market”. According to the Department for Transport, there were about 3¼ million rail journeys between London and Manchester in 2013 / 2014, and 48 trains per day in each direction.

Northern markets, David Higgins 'Rebalancing Britain' report for the Department for Transport, 2014

Northern markets, David Higgins ‘Rebalancing Britain’ report for the Department for Transport, 2014

Assuming 589-seat Pendolino trains, and 360-days-per-year operation, would give an annual quantum of (589 * 48 * 2 * 360 =) 20,355,840 seats. For Monday-through-Friday, the figure would be ~14,136,000.

So, on a 7-day or a 5-day measure, less than a quarter of the ‘Manchester to London intercity seat capacity’ was actually used for journeys between Manchester and London.

The percentages for other end to end journeys, such as London to Birmingham and London to Leeds, are not that different. To get better loadings, intercity trains tend to make stops en route, enabling them to tap into commuter traffic (e.g. Macclesfield to Manchester).

In the HS2 scheme, there would be a much higher dependence on ‘end to end’ traffic, with intermediate destinations tending to be either badly served (e.g. Nottingham, Coventry), or not served at all.

But as is plain to see from the ‘Northern markets’ graphic (above), the volume of big-city to big-city demand is not very large.

The ‘capacity case’ for HS2 does not withstand scrutiny because (i) the vast majority of rail demand is for short distance travel, (ii) capacity on the existing tracks can be increased substantially, at much lower cost.

For example, Manchester-to-London and Birmingham-to-London capacity on the existing West Coast Main Line could be increased by over 50%, without resignalling, or platform lengthening. That uplift would come from recasting the timetable, and using space-efficient carriages.

On page 5 of his ‘Rebalancing’ report, David Higgins wrote, “The biggest danger in any major project is losing sight of why you are doing it in the first place. Why is it worth the effort, not to mention the cost? What is the problem that it is the answer to? What is the core purpose you are trying to achieve?”

The big chart of ‘with- and without-HS2’ journey times – on page 4 of the report – would suggest that the rationale of HS2 was more about ‘reducing journey times’, than increasing capacity.

DfT / David Higgins 'Rebalancing Britain' 2014 report, page 4 and top of page 5

DfT / David Higgins ‘Rebalancing Britain’ 2014 report, page 4 and top of page 5

But how many journeys would it speed up?

There are ~1,500 million journeys on ‘national rail’, each year. Would speeding up 3¼ million of them between Manchester and London — or 1¾ million between Leeds and London — justify an outlay of “£55.7 billion”?

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Written by beleben

October 11, 2017 at 11:31 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

One Response

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  1. This excellent article should be sent to all the relevant parliamentary committees and ideally to all MPs before even more of our money is thrown away

    John

    October 12, 2017 at 1:05 pm


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