Written evidence from Paul Atkins (HSR
The HS2 concept, particularly in its fullest form,
appears to leave many questions unanswered:
1. To what extent is HS2 required?
1.1 While there is no doubt that rail passenger
demand is rising across the UK, and on the London to West Midlands
corridor in particular, some of the forecasts of patronage which
would specifically transfer to HS2 if constructed are debateable
(Local Transport Today No.567 dated 25 March).
1.2 The concept of HS2 as a continental-loading
gauge line with Phase 1 stations only at London Euston, London
Old Oak Common, Birmingham International and Birmingham Curzon
Street limits its use to just passengers who wish to travel between
London and Birmingham.
1.2.1 Curzon Street is not a particularly central
location for Birmingham and has no interchange with local transport
services to act as feeders to it.
1.2.2 There would be an interim phase where longer
distance high speed trains from cities in Scotland and the North
of England could use the tracks of HS2 Phase 1 for part of their
journey but would have to be built to UK loading gauge for those
parts of their journeys over tracks of the current network. This
will lead to a series of issues about new rolling stock which
will either be unusable during this interim phase or not making
use of the wider gauge in later phases if the new routes are to
provide increased passenger capacity rather than just a high speed
diversionary route for existing capacity.
1.2.3 Serious concerns have already arisen about
finding any acceptable (in a political rather than environmental
or geographic sense) route for HS2particularly at the southern
end through the Chilterns and into London.
1.3 It is also debateable as to whether higher
speeds, in excess of 125mph, are capable of significantly reducing
journey times between the major conurbations of England between
London, the West and East Midlands, Lancashire and Yorkshire where
the passenger capacity issues are predicted to arise. A high speed
rail line over the distances between London and the West Midlands
to Scotland and Tyneside would produce significant time savings,
but not necessarily sufficient passenger demand to justify new
1.3.1 Operation of trains much over 90 mph, and
certainly over 125 mph significantly increases electric power
or diesel fuel consumption.
1.3.2 Straight forward electrification of those
core longer-distance routes which are still operated by diesel
trains will show some significant time savings as well as general
operational cost reductions. Other cost effective measures could
enhance the speed and train-capacity of existing routes by way
of new signalling systems, grade-separated junctions and efficient
scheduling of fast, semi-fast and slow trains to optimise track
capacity to ensure that higher speeds can be maintained for longer
periods rather than increasing the maximum speed.
1.3.3 Deliberate lengthening of journey times
since privatisation to ensure punctuality, add extra station stops
and reduce fuel consumption has masked that many journey times
between major conurbations (excluding the West Coast Main Line)
are longer now than in the early 1980s. Just one example is the
extra 23 minutes it now takes between Swansea and London compared
to when the current High Speed Trains were introduced over 30
1.3.4 It should also be noted that commercial
decisions were taken to boost patronage on the new domestic services
along HS1 between London and Ashford, which is still well below
its forecast level, by increasing journey times on the parallel
conventional servicesin some cases so that they are now
longer than they were before their electrification over 50 years
2. Are there other alternatives to HS2?
2.1 The motivation for HS2 appears to have come
from predictions that, despite radical upgrades in recent years,
the West Coast Main Line will not be able to cater for expected
passenger growth. Removing the longer distance trains would give
additional capacity for semi-fast and local trains.
2.2 While the new and enhanced West Coast Main
Line timetable has proved very successful in creating modal shift
from cars and planes by filling the extra capacity provided at
peak periods (morning / afternoon on weekdays and Friday / Sunday
afternoons at weekends), there are a lot of empty seats still
to fill at off-peak periods.
2.2.1 Wherever possible, extra passenger capacity
should come from lengthening existing trains rather than operating
2.2.2 It is difficult to make good business cases
for many of the recent possible orders for new trains because
so much of the stock will not be fully utilised except at peak
periods. British Rail and its predecessors would rarely replace
all the rolling stock required for a route at the same time (as
happens now) but retain and refurbish older stock for use only
during those peaks (morning / afternoon or weekends).
2.3 Ticket sales data and travel diaries for
London and the "Outer" Home Counties suggest that there
is significant demand for orbital services around London which
cannot be met by the existing rail network so that travellers,
if not forced to use a car, journey into London and then out againadding
to the pressure on the existing radial services.
2.3.1 The current journey times, frequencies,
fares and train capacity of many cross-country links (such as
Cambridge to Birmingham via Peterborough and Leicester) are so
much less attractive than travelling via London that potential
passengers are drawn towards contributing to the congestion rather
than alleviating it. These options should be reviewed and made
2.3.2 Studies are already underway, albeit with
low priority, to reinstate the rail route from Oxford to Cambridge
via Milton Keynes and Bedford. In addition to various suggested
local services, the greatest effect on the national network (to
draw passengers away from routing via London) would come from
a fast service linking Bristol, Bath, Chippenham, Swindon, Oxford,
Bicester, Milton Keynes, Bedford, Biggleswade, Letchworth, Cambridge
and principal stations to Norwich. Much greater priority should
be given to completing the necessary studies of the various options
and properly costing them with a view to early implementation.
2.3.3 This route would be complemented by the
reinstatement of another short length of disused former rail route
between Bourne End and High Wycombe, thus permitting the introduction
of an orbital service linking Reading, Maidenhead, High Wycombe,
Aylesbury, Milton Keynes, Bedford, Biggleswade, Letchworth and
2.3.4 A new Bedford Parkway station, located
at the existing Elstow Park & Ride site near the A6 / B530
junction and the intersection of the MML and the Bletchley-Bedford
Line, would permit connections between the new through East-West
route and Thameslink services without the former having to divert
and reverse into the current Bedford Station.
2.3.5 An extension of some Thameslink services
beyond Bedford to Wellingborough, Kettering and Corby (replacing
some MML services) would provide good connections between these
growing settlements and destinations on the new East-West route.
2.3.6 The reinstatement of another "missing
link" between Northampton and Leicester (either Northampton-Market
Harborough or Rugby-Wigston) Wellingborough would allow the operation
of other direct cross-country services between the East Midlands
(Nottingham, Loughborough, Leicester, Market Harborough/Rugby,
Northampton) and Milton Keynes then also continuing to Oxford,
Bristol and Reading as shown in 2.3.2 and 2.3.3. A half-hourly
frequency on each leg of the services proposed into Milton Keynes
would seem appropriate.
2.3.7 Each of 2.3.2, 2.3.3 and 2.3.6 will open
up direct rail travel opportunities between numerous major settlements
through Milton Keynes and Northampton which are only possible
at present by tortuous routes through London or Birmingham. As
well as creating modal shift in its own right, this will reduce
demand on several routes into London and Birmingham where capacity
is becoming a serious problem. In each case the infrastructure
can be provided at a fraction of the cost of driving a new high
speed line through the Chilterns between London and Birmingham.
3. Additional capacity between London, Lancashire,
Yorkshire and Scotland
3.1 The necessity for Phase 1 of HS2, as a completely
new high speed line, appears to be based on needing to free up
capacity for the increasing demand for outer suburban services
on a number of existing routes out of London by diverting longer
distance express services onto the new non-stop route between
London and Birmingham.
3.1.1 While good in theory, this concept ignores
the significant amount of passenger traffic which joins longer
distance express services towards "The North" at outer
suburban stations such as Milton Keynes (WCML), Luton or Bedford
(MML) and Stevenage or Peterborough (ECML), which would not be
served by the HS2 proposals.
3.1.2 Indeed, the HS2 proposals are likely to
accentuate the existing capacity issues by causing cause more
passenger traffic to use the suburban lines into London or Birmingham
to catch the HS2 services rather than travel against the peak
flow join the current express services at an outer suburban station.
3.1.3 The orbital services proposed in 2.3 would
have a greater effect in dispersing that part of the passenger
traffic from most of the significant conurbations to the north
west of London which does not have to actually pass through London
and would do so in a more attractive manner and at much lower
3.2.1 Freight traffic from the Channel Tunnel
for the West Midlands could be diverted via Banbury, especially
once that route is electrified, and for the North West via the
same route then Coventry to rejoin the WCML at Nuneaton.
3.2.2 Freight traffic from ports such as Felixtowe
to the West Midlands and the North West can be routed via Peterborough
once issues of electrification and enhancing the loading gauge
for containers has been resolved.
3.2.3 Investment in such projects will also free
up track capacity on congested routes in the London area in a
much more cost-effective manner.
3.3 Extra capacity between London and Birmingham
already exists via Banbury and could easily be enhanced by electrification
of the route, upgraded signalling and short lengths of quadruple
track at appropriate station locations to permit faster trains
to overtake slower ones.
3.3.1 The already planned upgrades of the lines
between Leamington Spa and Coventry and between Coventry and Nuneaton
would complement this scheme.
3.3.2 Such a service could terminate at either
Birmingham New Street or Birmingham Moor Street / Snow Hill or
continue to other destinations in the West Midlands. There is
platform capacity available at Moor Street and would be at Snow
Hill if the trams were moved into the street as part of the Five
Ways extension project.
3.3.3 A new connection would be required in the
Wembley area to bring such services into London Euston.
3.4 The West Coast Main Line has, only recently,
been extensively modernised. Track capacity beyond Rugby should
not be an issue as the line is now quadruple track to Crewe and
then mostly so as far as Preston.
3.4.1 Reducing the number of short passenger
trains (such as by combining the Birmingham-Scotland and Manchester-Scotland
trains at Preston) and rationalising the station stopping patterns
should free up more paths between Preston, Carlisle, Carstairs
and Edinburgh / Glasgow for both additional freight services and
125 mph limited stop WCML express services between London and
3.5 The East Coast Main Line, which was originally
built with high speeds in mind, is approaching capacity for most
of its length south of Doncaster. It is only quadruple track as
far as Huntingdon, with the exception of only double track through
Welwyn Tunnels and Viaduct and then some lengths of triple track
between Huntingdon and Peterborough.
3.5.1 Potential traffic to Peterborough itself
and the intermediate stations of Grantham, Newark and Retford
before Doncaster as well as stations on the secondary routes to
Lincoln, Grimsby, Selby and Hull is constricted by the number
of trains which can be operated because of the double track formation
and the mixture of express and stopping trains.
3.5.2 125 mph limited stop ECML express services
between London and Scotland should continue using this route as
it has the greatest potential for maintaining high speeds. They
should comprise of the maximum permitted number of carriages.
3.5.3 Semi-fast services, calling at the intermediate
stations between Peterborough and Doncaster, whether provided
by the ECML franchisee or Open Access operators, should also comprise
of longer trains to optimise path utilisation. These can be created
by coupling up two shorter trains from two separate outer destinations
at locations such as Doncaster or Newark for the journey through
3.5.4 Freight services from East Anglia (principally
Felixtowe) to the North Midlands cannot follow the most direct
route along the East Coast Main Line between Peterborough and
Doncaster because of these capacity issues. The most likely scenario
is for them to continue from Stamford to Leicester and then use
the Midland Main Line once enhancements have been made (see 3.2.2).
The original route built primarily for these freight movements
(from Ely to Lincoln and Doncaster) is now subject to a lengthy
diversion via Peterborough following closure of the direct link
between March and Spalding. This route also requires freight trains
to cross the ECML at flat junctions north of Peterborough. There
are also increasing concerns about the length of time the level
crossing gates in Lincoln city centre are shut against road traffic.
4. So where can the growth be accommodated?
4.1 Instead of building a completely new railway
from London to "The North", why not fully upgrade and
electrify the Midland Main Line? From London, it passes through
the substantial conurbations of Luton, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham
and Sheffield before joining the ECML at York. Leeds and the West
Yorkshire conurbations are not far from it. There are long sections
which either are quadruple tracked but not intensively utilised
or were quadruple tracked and the formation still exists next
to the remaining tracks.
4.1.1 The Network Rail RUS for electrification
confirmed that the MML had the most positive business case for
investment of any line in the UK; ironically it was prioritised
after the GWML purely because of complicated issues of cascading
rolling stock. Completion of the MML electrification results in
most of the Cross Country network north of Birmingham also being
electrified. The most significant outstanding links being between
Birmingham and Derby and between Leeds and York.
4.2 At each identified location for a station
on the high speed section, it will need to be determined whether
it would be more appropriate to have a city centre or a "parkway"
site. In either case, there needs to be good interchange with
local rail services and other local public transport as well as
adequate car parking.
4.2.1 The likely station locations along the
upgraded line, which would not necessarily be used by all services,
Luton-Airport? / Town?
should it be at East Midlands Airport, Trent Junction or on the
Erewash Valley Line near Ilkeston?
a "parkway" option on the Barrow Hill Line near Woodhouse
would not have sufficient public transport links to other parts
of the South Yorkshire Conurbation.
the Sheffield-York and Wakefield-Goole lines cross and near the
A1 / A645 junction.
4.2.2 Platforms at other intermediate stations
would only be provided on the tracks for conventional services.
4.3 Admittedly, there would be congestion issues
with the Thameslink services south of Lutonparticularly
in the peak hours when the increased numbers of semi-fast Thameslink
services have to use the "fast line" platforms at St.
Albansand at London St. Pancras, where the existing MML
platforms are almost fully utilised, even though there is spare
capacity at those for the HS1 domestic services on "the other
side" of the Eurostar platforms. Options for enhancing the
capacity of this section of about 30 miles will have to be considered.
4.3.1 However, an almost high speed railway can
be created by separating out a pair of tracks for the higher speed
(125 mph) trains north of Luton from a pair for slower trains.
Conflicting movements across the high speed tracks can be avoided
by constructing grade separated junctions at all key locations.
4.3.2 Unless relatively expensive widening of
the overall railway formation was undertaken, two track sections
shared between existing and proposed services would remain between:
Kettering and Wigston (ca
Alfreton (ca 3 miles).
Chesterfield and Dore (ca
Sheffield and Brightside (ca
Meadowhall and Masborough
Swinton and Moorthorpe (ca
Moorthorpe and Burton Salmon
(ca 11 miles).
Milford North and Church Fenton (ca 4 miles).
4.3.3 Within these lengths there may already
be wider formations, to support separate higher speed tracks,
where freight loops etc have been located in the past. North of
the junction for Leeds at Moorthorpe, there will be less of an
issue about track capacity, except around the Ferrybridge power
4.3.4 Existing services which could also use
sections of these higher speed tracks, if not calling at other
intermediate stations, include:
East Midland services from
London to Derby or Nottingham between London and Trent Junction.
East Midland services from
London to Sheffield and Leeds, including new extensions from Leeds
to Carlisle and Glasgow, between London and Moorthorpe Junction.
Cross Country services from
the South Coast, South West and Birmingham to Leeds or Tyneside
between Clay Cross and Moorthorpe Junction or York.
East Coast services from London
to Leeds between London and Moorthorpe Junction.
East Coast services from London
to Tyneside between London and York.
Grand Central services from
London to Teeside and Wearside between London and York.
Grand Central services from
London to the West Riding between London and Moorthorpe Junction.
4.3.5 This would free up capacity along the ECML
between Huntingdon, Peterborough, Doncaster and York, which is
both shorter than the MML and already engineered for high speeds,
for more non-stop services between London, Tyneside, Edinburgh
and other Scottish destinations.
5. The East Coast Main Line north of York
5.1 Whether higher speed trains from London via
the North East to Scotland are routed via the current ECML or
an upgraded MML, they will converge on York to follow the existing
5.1.1 The ECML increases from two tracks to four
at Colton Junction (ca 5.5 miles south of York) while the upgraded
MML does so at Church Fenton (some 5 miles further south). Northwards
from York, the ECML is already quadruple track as far as Northallerton
(ca 30 miles).
5.1.2 York station is likely to be included as
a stop on all but the fastest-timed trains. The track layout around
York Station, between Holgate Junction and Skelton Bridge Junction,
will need to be remodelled to separate out a pair of higher speed
tracks and platforms from conventional services.
5.2 From Northallerton the ECML splits into two
double track lines to serve Newcastle via Darlington and Durham
5.2.1 It may be more commercially attractive
and cost-effective to switch the roles of these two routes so
that the current main line via Darlington is used for freight
and local passenger services (which could then be augmented) while
the direct route to Teeside is upgraded as a higher speed line.
This concept may require the reinstatement of the south-facing
junction at Darlington off the Middlesborough line.
5.2.2 In the vicinity of Eaglescliffe, south
of Stockton, the upgraded route (ca 15 miles) would run parallel
to the tracks for conventional services between Darlington, Middlesborough
and Hartlepool and a "parkway" interchange station for
Teeside could be located here.
5.2.3 In the Stockton area, there may still be
enough railway-owned land to contract separate higher speed tracks
through the urban area, or it may be preferable to reinstate the
disused formation to the west of the town.
5.2.4 From either course, the higher speed route
would then follow the lightly used Stillington Line to Ferryhill
(ca 15.5 miles) and then the disused Leamside Line to Pelaw Junction
(ca 21 miles), just short of Newcastle. The track layout approaching
Newcastle, by both the High Level Bridge and the King Edward Bridge,
would need to be revised to optimise speed, capacity and operational
5.2.5 North of York, the higher speed line would
have stations at:
of Eaglescliffe near the A66 / A135 junction.
Sunderland and Washington near the A1231.
Newcastle upon Tyne.
5.3 North of Newcastle towards Edinburgh, neither
speed nor route capacity are significant constraints on enhancing
longer distance services at present although substantial improvements
to local services between Newcastle and Morpeth would require
further investment in infrastructure to maintain that capacity.
5.3.1 Reconstruction of the more exposed sections
of the electric overhead equipment to improve their robustness
would enhance the reliability of the system.
6.1 The proposed concept of HS2 will not address
the very real issues of capacity at the southern end of the WCML
(particularly from Milton Keynes and Northampton) or much of the
6.2 Political concerns and objections to any
route of HS2 through the Chilterns will delay construction and,
if built, substantially add to the costs.
6.3 Capacity on a number of the radial rail routes
into London can be freed up for other purposes by diverting significant
demand onto an orbital route (built on currently disused railway
formations) taking passengers directly to known major traffic
attractors. This will also contribute to modal shift, away from
the car, for these journeys around the congested Home Counties.
6.4 Other than London to Tyneside and Scotland,
there are few end-to-end journeys of sufficient length and traffic
demand to really benefit from the time savings which would accrue
from the construction of a high speed railway.
6.5 The recent modernisation of the WCML has
showed what time savings and modal shift can be achieved by this
method. It also highlights that the expensive infrastructure and
rolling stock provided has generated an increased peak against
off-peak demand which is difficult to accommodate in a cost-effective
6.6 North of Rugby there is now sufficient capacity
on the WCML to grow the demand for long-distance, limited-stop
rail services, as an alternative to domestic air travel, between
London or the West Midlands and Glasgow.
6.7 Capacity on the ECML between Peterborough
and Doncaster is a much more serious issue as the double track
formation will be difficult to widen. As a route originally engineered
for high speeds, it should be retained for long-distance, limited-stop
services between London, Tyneside, Edinburgh and Eastern Scotland
and more effective services to intermediate towns on the route.
6.8 The complete modernisation and electrification
of the Midland Main Line with a pair of segregated higher speed
(125 mph) tracks should be cost-effective since the formation
for quadruple tracks already exists for much of its length. Serving
many substantial conurbations along or near its route, this project
will pull some existing traffic off the overcrowded ECML as well
as giving the overall capacity to encourage modal shift for middle
6.9 Between York and Newcastle, the combined
requirements of the ECML and MML for a higher speed formation
can be accommodated by further upgrading of existing four track
sections and reinstating disused lines.
6.10 Overall a much more effective and affordable
30 March 2011