High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

6  The strategic route

Route criteria

90. In 2009, HS2 Ltd developed a set of "fundamental guiding principles that would form the basis of high-speed rail in the UK".[215] These emphasise the role of high-speed, long-distance services, segregation of high-speed rail from the classic network over time but integration with classic rail and other public transport where beneficial. We have discussed earlier in this report how the particular business case methodology used led HS2 Ltd to recommend a direct London-West Midlands route, with few stations. For the avoidance of planning blight, only one route option was presented as the Government's preferred option and the Government's timetable has allowed relatively little opportunity to debate the wider objectives of high-speed rail in the UK context. Some witnesses were quite satisfied with the route as proposed and simply wanted to see the entire HS2 network in operation as soon as possible.[216] Others, such as CPRE, criticised the narrow focus of the consultation and the lack of consideration of development of the classic network[217]. Mark Barry was critical of the lack of consideration of Wales and the South-West in the process.[218] Mr Hammond was anxious that there should be no delay.[219]

91. The remit agreed with HS2 Ltd by the previous Government gave the company considerable freedom to make its own proposals for the strategic route (see Chapter 1). In particular, it was for the company to advise on the location of stations in London and the West Midlands and on whether the line should go via Heathrow or, alternatively, provide a spur into the airport. HS2 Ltd's subsequent report set out a wide range of options for the route to the West Midlands, with a clear recommendation in favour of the route subsequently adopted—with some modifications—by the present Government. None of HS2 Ltd's original shortlist of routes went via Heathrow. All three went through the Chilterns: the terms of the remit made this likely. A broader set of considerations might have suggested alternative alignments and stations.

The "classic" rail network

92. One of the main advantages of a new high-speed line is that it should free up capacity on existing lines for additional local, regional and freight services. Indeed, Centro claims that enhanced regional services would increase regional GVA by more than the HS2 effect—but the enhancements wouldn't be possible without HS2. West Coast Rail 250 endorses the view that communities along the existing WCML will benefit from this additional rail capacity.[220] West Coast Rail 250 strongly supports HS2 but wants greater clarity on the patterns of WCML services following the opening of HS2.[221] It estimates that some £7bn will be spent on basic maintenance and renewals to the WCML in the next 10 years.[222]

93. It seems, however, that some towns and cities, such as Coventry and Stoke, that currently enjoy relatively fast and frequent services to London, may end up with slower or fewer services to London. 51m provides a schedule of towns that are likely to be affected.[223] The Government argues that, whilst there may be some service losses, these places will enjoy greatly enhanced local and regional services, including a wider range of Pendolino services to the north.

94. Milton Keynes and Northampton are served by fast-line WCML services, currently provided by London Midland. Under DfT standards for services with stations over 20 minutes journey time apart, these should have no standing passengers. However, these services are substantially overcrowded now, and major growth is forecast to continue, driven by further housing expansion.[224] Although, under the HS2 proposal, there is scope for substantial improvement in the long term, there is no proposal for improvement before that time—2026. The Government should engage with Network Rail to identify whether there are affordable options, including rolling stock, infrastructure or timetable improvements, which would enable more peak-time capacity to be provided for Milton Keynes and Northampton commuters in the interim period.

95. The implications for the development of the classic rail network and service patterns on it once HS2 is in operation have not been made sufficiently clear. HS2 offers potential for many additional local and regional services on the classic network. However, a lack of information has caused concerns in cities such as Coventry and Stoke that they will lose out. We recommend that the Government, in announcing its decision on the HS2 consultation, provides a more explicit and comprehensive statement of the likely patterns of services on the classic network once HS2 is operational.

HS2 stations

96. One of the ironies of high-speed rail is that, while there can be strong opposition to a route passing though an area, most towns and cities prefer to be on the network. As we learnt in France and Germany, the lobbying for a high-speed rail station can be very fierce and local municipalities would bid, often with public funds, to have a station in their city. In Lille, this resulted in the station being located in the city centre instead of on the outskirts as proposed by SNCF. In Germany, two intermediate stops have been provided on the high-speed rail line between Frankfurt and Cologne. Lobbying has sometimes resulted in high-speed rail stations which are little used or in stations situated between towns.

97. HS2 Ltd has proposed that there should no intermediate stations between Old Oak Common and Birmingham International. Intermediate stations on Phase II of the Y network have not yet been proposed; the consultation said only that there would be stations in South Yorkshire and the East Midlands.[225] Various towns and cities, including Milton Keynes, Stoke, and cities in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire have proposed that there should be stations; Manchester Airports Group has advocated a station at Manchester Airport. Most witnesses favour city centre stations since they are already served by public transport and would reinforce urban regeneration.[226] Some groups, such as CPRE, are opposed to out-of-town parkway stations, which they believe would undermine urban regeneration;[227] they have raised particular objections to the proposed Birmingham Interchange station which would be in the green belt.[228]

98. Greengauge 21 has questioned the need for a HS2 station at Old Oak Common and, based on a recent study by Network Rail, proposed alternative arrangements for the London end of HS2. These involve the same route but no HS2 station at Old Oak Common, a diversion of some WCML trains onto Crossrail and some HS2 trains continuing to Stratford International, thus reducing the number of platforms required at Euston. A smaller station, for WCML services, would be built at Old Oak Common to provide interchange with Crossrail. According to Greengauge 21 this would enable HS2 to be completed more quickly and at less cost and provide greater benefits, and better use of existing and committed infrastructure.[229] This proposal, coming late in the day from a principal proponent of high-speed rail, and member of the HS2 strategic challenge panel, suggests that more than one option for the London end of the line may be worth considering. Insufficient attention has been paid to the economic justifications for the siting of high-speed rail termini. It should be noted that most travellers going to Euston for business purposes will still have onward journeys to make to either the City or the West End. If that is so, then the Government should reassess whether terminating at either Old Oak Common or another station on the Crossrail network might not be a more effective solution given concerns about the capacity of Euston.

Heathrow and HS1


99. We and our predecessor committee[230] received extensive evidence on the value of Heathrow to the UK economy and the importance of good access to Heathrow from the UK regions in relation to their economic development prospects. Mr Hammond emphasised the unique role of Heathrow and the importance of fast access to it and from it:

the reality is that for most people outside the UK they think about the UK through the prism of Heathrow. That is how they arrive. The question is not, "Where is it?" The question is, "How long does it take for me to get there from Heathrow?"[231]

100. The importance of access to airports was reinforced by our visit to France and Germany where the benefits of linking high-speed rail networks to the principal airports were emphasised. Cities such as Lyon which were previously remote from international gateways had particularly benefitted. Various witnesses have criticised the Government's proposal for a spur or loop via Heathrow instead of a direct connection and the fact that this would not be provided until Phase II (2032) at the earliest.[232] The alignment of a spur or loop was not part of the Government's consultation on HS2. Heathrow Hub Ltd argues that the Government's current proposal prioritises time-savings over additional stops or improved connectivity, particularly to Heathrow and HS1.[233] The Heathrow Hub route, it claims, is superior for Heathrow, provides a major new transport interchange for London[234] and would be less environmentally-damaging to the Chilterns. The Heathrow Hub route was supported by the Conservative Party in opposition but dropped by the Coalition Government after the Mawhinney Report—a high-level review which recommended a Heathrow spur (and terminating the line at Old Oak Common instead of Euston).[235] It is still supported by the Conservative Transport Group.[236]

101. HS2 Ltd explained that they had reviewed the option of taking the main HS2 route via Heathrow in the initial stages of planning HS2. They had rejected it because of the time penalty it would impose on passengers not wishing to access Heathrow and because of higher construction costs.[237] Heathrow Hub Ltd contends, however, that HS2 Ltd failed to evaluate its proposal correctly and that it would be less costly than HS2 plus a Heathrow spur or loop, cross the Chilterns at a narrower point and would not involve significant passenger delay.[238] The Heathrow Hub proposals would also have allowed greater use of existing transport corridors such as the M40.

102. It seems that the Government is considering further options for rail access to Heathrow. According to the Sunday Times,[239] Mr Hammond recently initiated an investigation into a scheme to link HS2, Crossrail and GWML in a station at Heathrow. HS2 Ltd told us that he has asked them to investigate "southward connections" from Heathrow.[240] And recent press reports indicate that Ministers are now considering a high-speed rail link between Heathrow and Gatwick airports.[241]

103. Whatever arrangements are finally decided upon for Heathrow, our witnesses were clear that any impact on demand for runway capacity would be very small[242] and that any slots that became available as a result of a reduction in flights from within the UK would be reallocated very quickly.[243] As such, HS2 was not seen as a substitute for more runway capacity at Heathrow.[244] The airport operator stated that, without the potential to increase runway capacity at Heathrow, there was a limited commercial case for the aviation industry to contribute towards a HS2 connection.[245]

104. We are concerned that a Heathrow spur or loop, in addition to a main HS2 line, may prove more costly than a single line via Heathrow and that the proposed 2 trains per hour would not provide Heathrow with a sufficiently frequent service. Moreover, no direct HS2 Heathrow connection is planned until 2032 at earliest and the route was not part of the public consultation. We note elsewhere the questions that have been raised about the need for a HS2 station at Old Oak Common. We recommend that the Government set out more clearly for comparison the costs and benefits of routing HS2 via Heathrow (and of making it the principal interchange to the west of London) so that there can be a better understanding of the pros and cons of different options. We also recommend that the Government makes a clear statement about the status of possible complementary schemes such as those which would link Heathrow to GWML from the west or to Gatwick. It is unacceptable for debate on such major decisions to be conducted through a series of nods and winks in the press.


105. The Government has accepted that there should be a link between HS2 and HS1, via a new tunnel an upgraded North London line, to allow for direct high-speed rail services to Europe. Direct rail services from beyond London, using the classic lines, had been envisaged when the Channel Tunnel was opened but demand proved insufficient. It remains to be seen what level of demand there will be in future and what service frequency can be justified. HS2 Ltd is currently planning on the basis of 2 trains to Europe per hour.

106. TfL has raised concerns about HS2 trains using the North London line because of operational difficulties and delays that could arise, affecting both local and high-speed rail services. Given the cost of providing the link (around £1bn) and the limited service that may result, the business case is not strong.

107. The London end of the HS2 network is the most complex and expensive part of the scheme. Various options were suggested during the earlier stages of project development and we note that significantly different arrangements are still being proposed, including from members of the HS2 strategic challenge panel. Some of these involve a lesser role for Old Oak Common, a new role for the redundant Stratford International and alternative ways of linking HS2 to HS1. Another option could be to terminate HS2 at Old Oak Common, with passengers transferring to central London via Crossrail, thus avoiding significant capital costs of building the line between Old Oak Common and Euston, and tube capacity improvements at Euston. The Government's principal rail consultant, Atkins, has also made suggestions for improving integration with the classic network. If the Government decides to proceed with HS2, it must explain in detail not just why it favours a particular scheme but why that scheme is better than alternative solutions, including those put forward by the Government's own advisers. There must be a greater degree of consensus on these issues—many of which are technical—before Parliament is asked to consider a hybrid bill.

Phasing and interim arrangements

108. A number of witnesses raised concerns about problems that may arise in the phasing of the project. Network Rail,[246] Centro,[247] Lord Berkeley[248] and others expressed concerns about possible congestion on the WCML north of Lichfield in the period between opening Phase I and Phase II. Lord Berkeley was particularly concerned about the probable lack of paths for freight trains. HS2 Ltd, however, claims that it has analysed the situation in some detail and is confident that there will not be a problem.[249]

109. Leeds City Region and others are concerned that, whereas Manchester and Glasgow would receive high-speed services from the start, Leeds and the north east would not be similarly served until the completion of Phase II.[250] They have recommended that a link be provided from HS2 to the Birmingham-Derby line and the Midland Main Line in Phase I to allow trains to Leeds from 2026.[251]

110. The Scottish Government and other Scottish witnesses were keen that Scotland should be fully integrated into the high-speed rail network, with a line between England and Scotland. Under the current proposals, HS2 services would run, via the classic network, to Glasgow via the WCML on completion of Phase I and to Edinburgh via Birmingham, Leeds and the ECML on completion of Phase II. Mr Hammond confirmed that he made a commitment to Scottish Ministers to work with them on a dedicated high-speed line to Scotland "once [he] had got the hybrid bill into Parliament".[252] It was suggested by some witnesses the route should be built southwards from Scotland. Under the devolution settlement, it would be for the Scottish Government to fund any infrastructure costs within Scotland and for the UK Government to fund those in England.[253]

111. For reasons of cost, financing and management, the HS2 network should be built in phases. Despite pleas from some in Scotland and the north of England to build southwards from the north, it seems clear that construction should start with the London-West Midlands phase as this is where capacity needs are greatest. There is no reason, in principle, however, why the Scottish Government should not start preparatory work on a Scottish high-speed line, if it so wishes. We are concerned, however, about capacity to the north of Lichfield, in the interim period between Phases I and II, and about the lack of HS2 services to Leeds and beyond until 2032. We recommend that these aspects be considered further, including the possibility of a connection between HS2 and the Birmingham-Derby line and Midland Main Line in Phase I to provide access from the north east.

Technical feasibility of HS2

112. Scepticism has been expressed by many witnesses about the feasibility of running 18 trains per hour (tph), at speeds of 225 mph,[254] and whether the 2-track London-West Midlands section would have the capacity to adequately serve the WCML, Midland Main Line and East Coast Main Line destinations once the Y network is completed.[255]

113. No high-speed route in the world currently runs more than 13 tph.[256] The factors that may impinge on HS2's capacity to achieve 18 tph include the design of station terminals and their approaches, the dovetailing of services at junctions, the practicality of rapid boarding at intermediate stations and the impact of potential delays on those sections of the classic network that would be used by HS2 trains.[257] Professor McNaughton of HS2 Ltd assured us, however, that existing technology would permit the reliable operation 18 tph, and even 21 or 22 tph, at 225 mph.[258] HS2 Ltd also stated that "only limited, foreseeable, development" would be needed for the proposed speed of 250 mph to be attained. HS2 Ltd also stated that the calculations regarding 18 tph had been reviewed, at least provisionally, by independent experts.[259]

114. We note that HS2 Ltd's conclusion has made assumptions about providing adequate "throat" infrastructure at Euston to permit conflict-free access in and out of the platforms, very high-speed turnouts and sufficient parallel platforms Old Oak Common. The details behind these assumptions are not clear, at this stage. The external reviews were published by HS2 Ltd on its website on 26 October 2011.[260]

115. HS2 Ltd's evidence refers to the scope for operational delay to spread from the classic railway onto the high-speed line (which would have the effect of reducing practical capacity) but implies that, in Phase II, the problem would be reduced as "a higher proportion of train services would still start on [the] existing railway".[261] In fact the proportion of trains coming onto the new line from the existing railway would still be 55%. HS2 Ltd does not cover the impact on capacity of speed restrictions or maintenance operations which are required from time to time on all railways. HS2 Ltd says that it will not allow for four tracks as this would significantly increase costs and there will be no future requirement for four tracks. Should such a demand arise, it seems that a new high-speed rail line would be the preferred option.[262] Indeed, this is what proponents of high-speed rail, such as Greengauge 21, advocate.[263]

116. Operating 18 trains per hour on a high-speed rail line has not been attempted elsewhere. This frequency and train speeds of 225 mph or more are risk factors for the project. Failure to deliver this frequency would also affect the business case. We recommend that the Government publishes full details of the technical basis for its assertion that 18 trains per hour, or more, are feasible.

117. We also question whether the system is being designed with sufficient margin for expansion. If 18 trains per hour are required from the opening of Phase II, it is surely conceivable that further services may be desirable at some point after that. Apart from the ability to increase the number of trains formed of double sets, the current proposal does not appear to provide for this possibility. The Government argues that there are no circumstances in which four tracks would be needed and it is not providing for that eventuality. It appears that, should additional capacity be required, a new high-speed line, probably linking London, Stansted, Yorkshire and the north east, would be its preferred option.

215   Ev 262 Back

216   For example, Ev w45 and Ev w195. Back

217   Ev 191 Back

218   Q 398 Back

219   Q 533 Back

220   See para 39.  Back

221   Q 407 Back

222   Email from Tony Page, WCR250 Co-ordinator, 12 September 2011 Back

223   Ev 154 Back

224   Ev w61 Milton Keynes Council Back

225   HS2 Consultation, February 2011, p 63 Back

226   Birmingham City Council has backed the proposals for a HS2 station at Curzon Street (ev w 173); other witnesses have criticised the proposed location for being poorly connected to the existing city centre (ev w62),  Back

227   Ev 191 Back

228   Ev w393 Back

229   Ev 138 Back

230   Transport Committee, The future of aviation, First Report of Session 2009-2010, HC 125, 7 December 2009, pp 24-30 Back

231   Q 529 Back

232   Ev w242 Bow Group Back

233   Ev 195 Back

234   Q 376 Back

235   DfT, High Speed Rail Access to Heathrow: A Report to the Secretary of State for Transport by Rt Hon the Lord Mawhinney Kt, July 2010 Back

236   Conservative Transport Group, Response to HS2 consultation, July 2011 Back

237   Q 448  Back

238   Ev 195 Back

239   The Sunday Times, 4 September 2011, p 14  Back

240   Q 449 Back

241   The Times, 8 October 2011 Back

242   Ev w480 Back

243   Q 396 Allan Gregory  Back

244   Q 391 Back

245   Qq 388-390 Allan Gregory  Back

246   Ev 292 Back

247   Ev 140 Back

248   Q 64 Back

249   Ev 267 Back

250   Ev 172 Back

251   Ev 132 Back

252   Q 537 Back

253   Q 539 Back

254   Ev w17 and correspondence from Dr Paul Thornton to the Committee  Back

255   Ev w1, w364 and w371 Back

256   Qq 83-84 Pierre Messulam  Back

257   See also Piers Connor, Rules for High Speed Line Capacity, Railway Technical Web Pages, Infopaper No. 3 http://www.railway-technical.com/Infopaper%203%20High%20Speed%20Line%20Capacity%20v3.pdf Back

258   Ev 267, Qq 439-440 Professor McNaughton stated that 29 tph would be theoretically possible.  Back

259   Ev 286 Back

260   Letter from Sir Brian Briscoe, HS2 Ltd, to Mrs Ellman, 26 October 2011. See also comments from Councillor Martin Tett, 51m in letter to Mrs Ellman, 31 October 2011. Back

261   Ev 272 Back

262   Ev 267 Back

263   Greengauge 21, Fast Forward: A high-speed rail strategy for Britain, September 2009  Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011