High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Wiliam Barter (HSR 180)


1.1  To test alternatives to High Speed 2, the DfT commissioned Atkins to prepare scenarios representing different approaches to delivering capacity and journey time benefits on the West Corridor by conventional upgrades to the West Coast Main Line (WCML). Only one scenario, designated RP2, survived financial appraisal. This, with some further enhancements, is being promoted by opponents of HS2 as an alternative to HS2, claiming that capacity increases are equivalent.

1.2  In particular, HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) have published a report "More capacity on WCML: an alternative to HS2", suggesting that options based on the DfT/Atkins "RP2" would provide at least as much additional capacity as HS2 would offer. However, the HS2AA report contains a fundamental flaw, in that it takes an invalid measure of "capacity", and fails to consider the implications of peak service levels. RP2 and variants to it suggested by HS2 Action Alliance will not match the capacity required, and that would be delivered by HS2, at the critical peak period.

1.3  Further, from the point of view of local and regional services:

—  RP2 will damage local and regional services through omission of stops at intermediate stations on the West Coast corridor South of Birmingham.

—  RP2 will rule out desirable enhancements to local and regional services on the West Coast corridor South of Birmingham.


2.1  I am a professional rail planner, with experience under British Rail in operational planning for major projects, but working since 1994 for consultancy firms or as an independent consultant. I teach Operational Planning and Railway Economics for the Institution of Railway Operators, and am a Fellow of that Institution.

2.2  Milton Keynes is forecast to grow to become a city in the same league as Newcastle or Nottingham. Its station also acts as a railhead for large parts of Buckingham and South Northamptonshire.

2.3  For London commuters, as trains operated by the current InterCity West Coast (ICWC) franchise do not stop at Milton Keynes in peak hours, the frequency of fast services to London is very limited. This is particularly acute in the evening peak when, because the commuter and InterCity peaks overlap, there is severe pressure on the available route capacity so that only 2 fast commuter trains operate per peak hour.

2.4  There are currently 11 InterCity West Coast services from Euston in the evening peak hour, using the Fast line. The two Northampton Line trains in that peak hour also use the Fast line, making a total of 12 Fast line departures.[417]

2.5  For commuters to Milton Keynes, as trains operated by the current Virgin franchise do not stop at Milton Keynes in peak hours, the opportunities to travel from locations in the West Midlands are limited.

2.6  For business travellers to Birmingham, the frequency of service is no better than hourly, as of the three Euston-Birmingham trains per hour, only one stops at Milton Keynes so as to minimise the journey time for through passengers.

2.7  There is a significant flow of traffic between Milton Keynes and stations to Harrow, and the West London Line, serving Kensington Olympia (for employment areas in Hammersmith), Clapham Junction and Croydon. However, because of limited route capacity, this service is no better than hourly, and in the morning peak hour the gap in service is as much as 72 minutes.

2.8  It is peculiarly difficult to make a journey by rail between Milton Keynes (and indeed the whole South Midlands growth area) and Yorkshire/the North East. There is no obvious good route, and services on the variety of possible routes are slow and inconvenient.


3.1  HS2 Action Alliance study

3.1.1  In assessing "capacity", HS2AA have calculated nothing more than the number of physical seats in the proposed rolling stock fleet. This would be a fair proxy for capacity in the case of a service operated at standard levels throughout the day, but not for the WCML/ICWC where both demand and service provision are significantly peaked. The capacity available to passengers is of course (but as HS2AA overlook) a function of both the numbers of seats on each train and the numbers of trains that actually run in a given time period.

3.1.2  The numbers of trains in the present service reflect peak periods by increasing frequency compared with off-peak. However, the number of peak trains is constrained by the infrastructure limitations, so that little further increase is possible without major enhancements.

3.1.3  As a significantly greater level of train frequency is already offered in the peaks than in the off-peak period, running extra trains can contribute little to peak capacity. In fact, compared with the present level of ICWC peak service, RP2's output in terms of evening peak hour trains is just ONE extra InterCity West Coast service—there would be one Birmingham and one Manchester train additionally, but offset by a actual decrease in the Liverpool and Glasgow services.[418]

3.1.4  So any additional peak capacity can arise primarily from only the extra coaches on each train plus the reconfiguration. After introduction of 11-car Pendolino sets, the trains would each have a capacity for 600 passengers, a total capacity for passengers of 6,000. Capacity of all trains could, it is claimed under HS2AA's most optimistic scenario, be increased by 106 seats to 706, by addition of a 12th coach and conversion of one First Class coach to Standard Class seating.

3.1.5  There would thus in this evening peak hour be one completely additional train, and 11 current trains lengthened. The extra capacity resulting is:
 11 x 106 =1,166
+ 1 x 706 = 706
= Total of 1,862

3.1.6  This is an increase of just 28.4% in the evening peak hour, rather than the increase claimed by HS2AA for their proposal over the 2013 "Do minimum" case of just over 100%.[419]

3.1.7  The full benefit deriving from both seats on trains and numbers of trains can only be achieved outside the peaks, when of course the need for extra capacity is minimal. It follows from this that the lower load factors claimed by HS2AA for their proposals are largely a result of capacity being provided off-peak when it will hardly be used, rather than contributing much of significance at the times of day when extra capacity is actually needed.

3.2.  InterCity West Coast—assessment of capacity requirements

3.3  I now go on to calculate how evening peak hour capacity out of Euston would build up over the years, starting with committed schemes for train lengthening, then comparing RP2, the HS2AA proposals, and HS2.My analysis concentrates on ICWC trains leaving London Euston in the evening peak hour (17:00 to 17:59). This represents the period of both high-value business and greatest demand, so is when the greatest single portion of benefits are generated. This is taken as being a more valid representation of reality than the all-day average implied by HS2AA's analysis.

3.4  Scenarios considered are:

—  RP2—suggested conventional upgrade to WCML as set out in the February 2011 update to the High Speed 2 Strategic Alternatives Study (DfT/Atkins), featuring 11-car operation and infrastructure changes to accommodate additional trains. For this purpose, RP2 and RP2a are identical.

—  RP2HS2AA—additional scenario proposed by High Speed 2 Action Alliance, based on 12-car trains and conversion of one First Class coach to Standard Class.

—  HS2 + ICWC - the sum of capacity on HS2 and ICWC trains, ie the overall capacity on the West Coast Corridor served by HS2 and the West Coast Main Line (WCML). HS2 capacity is of course zero before 2026. The basis of the calculation is 11 trains per peak hour, as set out in the Technical Appendix to the 2009 set of reports by HS2 Ltd.

3.4.1  These capacities are then compared with a Capacity Target. I do not have an actual base figure for the 2008 evening peak hour to apply this growth to, so have taken the 2008 capacity as being equal to the demand, a reasonable starting point for peak services. The best interpretation of this line, therefore, is to take it as representing the growth in capacity required to maintain the balance with demand at its 2008 level.

3.4.2  The 2008 base capacity, with 11 ICWC departures, each with 442 seats, is the starting point for all scenarios. I am aware that one of the 11 trains is in fact formed of 2 x 5-car Voyager (492 seats), but have assumed Pendolinos throughout as this is a likely future scenario within the next franchise, and for simplicity.

3.4.3  The 2013 step based on conversion of all evening peak hour trains to 11-car sets is also common to all options other than HS2.

3.4.4  Key events in the evolution of capacity for RP2 are then:

—  2026—one additional evening peak 11-car departure.[420] This service might be introduced earlier than 2026 but schemes to enable this have not been developed to the point of being able to assume this.

3.4.5  Key events in the evolution of capacity for RP2/HS2AA are then:

—  2018—introduction of 12-car trains with reduced First Class accommodation. This date is purely nominal, since as far as I know no timescales have been determined, but it is likely that enabling works would be completed before 2026.

—  2026—one additional evening peak departure, as for RP2, but of 12-car formation with reduced First Class.

3.4.6  Key assumptions in the evolution of capacity for HS2+ICWC are then:

—  Capacity for HS2, introduced in 2026, is based on 4 x Captive departures to Birmingham, each with 1100 seats, and 7 x Classic Compatible departures, each with 550 seats, made up of 2 x Liverpool, 1 x Glasgow, 1 x Preston and 3 x Manchester.

—  Opening of Phase 2 is assumed in 2033.

—  On opening of Phase 2, I have not assumed any extra trains, but simply that the Manchester trains will be converted to Captive with higher seating capacity. There will of course be extra trains, but as the implication is that these will be to Leeds they are regarded as not relevant to this WC comparison. Heathrow and HS1 services are also outside this comparison.

—  Other means of increasing capacity through the operating concept may exist—eg running two Classic Compatible sets coupled to Manchester then split for Liverpool and Glasgow, but have not been assumed.

—  It is currently unknown how many residual trains there will be after 2026. My assumption is six per evening peak hour—this is four serving Milton Keynes as suggested in my April 2011 article in Modern Railways, plus two others—simply a plausible working assumption to populate this analysis, and slightly less than now on the expectation that capacity will be absorbed by extra stops compared with now.

3.4.7  The 2008 capacity has been uplifted by the weighted average of the forecast growth from 2008 to 2033 for the key WC locations of Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool given in the Demand and Appraisal Report, which represents growth of approximately 150%. This equates to an annual growth rate of 3.8%, is in line with the range of growth rates identified by Network Rail in the WCML Route Utilisation Strategy to 2025.

3.4.8  The assumed growth rate would have to be reduced to 2.3% per annum in order to bring the target and the RP2/HS2AA figures into line in 2033. The actual annual growth rate for franchised long-distance operators since 2002/3 is about 5.5% (National Rail Trends).

3.4.9  The following chart displays the findings from this analysis:

3.5  RP2—disadvantages for local/regional rail services

3.5.1  Under RP2, the present 12 fast line trains in the evening peak hour would become 16, of which two would enhance the fast service to Leighton Buzzard, Milton Keynes and Northampton. So for Northampton line commuters, there would be 11 evening peak hour trains instead of the present 9. This is good in itself, but no more than would be possible after HS2 without further investment. The argument for RP2 is simply that this benefit would be available in a shorter timescale than HS2.

3.5.2  In fact, I believe it would be possible to run additional commuter services now, in the form of a shuttle service between Euston and Milton Keynes. This would avoid the issue of the crossing move by using the Fast line all the way, and would match ICWC running times by running non-stop to Milton Keynes, using Voyager sets displaced from Chester services by the pending electrification.

3.5.3  But beyond RP2, there is no realistic scope for further enhancing service levels for commuters on the West Coast Main Line. So RP2 rules out, for ever, the following improvements that are clearly desirable now and would be possible after HS2:

—  Enhancing the Milton Keynes—Birmingham service from 1 train per hour to 2.

—  Half-hourly frequency for the Milton Keynes-Kensington-Clapham Junction-Croydon service.

—  Reasonable rail options to connect Milton Keynes/Bucks/Beds/Northants and Yorkshire/North East.

—  Improved frequencies for other Euston local and commuting services.

—  Commuting services to Milton Keynes from the West Midlands.

3.5.4  Worse than that, RP2, working as it does within constrained capacity, attempts to improve journey times by omitting intermediate stops. In the following respects, the service at stations between London and Birmingham would become worse under RP2:

—  Milton Keynes-Coventry/Birmingham: Services only run via Northampton, with extended journey time.

—  Coventry-London: Reduced to two direct trains per hour instead of three as alternate Birmingham-Euston trains would not stop.

—  Birmingham International-London: reduced to two direct trains per hour instead of 3 as alternate Birmingham-Euston trains would not stop.

3.6  HS2—benefits for local/regional rail services, ruled out by HS2

3.6.1  In its April 2011 edition, the journal "Modern Railways" published my article reviewing possible enhancements to the train service at Milton Keynes after HS2. A copy of this article is attached for your information.

3.6.2  Key opportunities from that analysis that would be enabled by HS2 are:

—  Enhancing the Milton Keynes-Birmingham service from one train per hour to two. Although the bulk of through London-Birmingham traffic would transfer to HS2, I am confident that there would be sufficient residual and intermediate business to support two trains per hour between Euston and Birmingham via Milton Keynes, where both would stop. This would also enhance the service at Watford and Rugby.

—  Commuting services to Milton Keynes from the West Midlands would also be improved in both frequency and speed by this service pattern.

—  Half-hourly frequency for the Milton Keynes-Kensington-Clapham Junction-Croydon service, as called for by today's traffic levels.

—  Improved frequencies for other Euston local and commuting services. As well as the two additional fast Northampton line services stopping at Milton Keynes that would be enabled by both RP2 and HS2, HS2 leaves capacity for a general uplift of about 50% in semi-fast and stopping suburban services on the Watford/Milton Keynes/Northampton line.

—  With Phase 2 of HS2, Milton Keynes and Yorkshire/North East would linked by a journey with just one change of trains—at the Birmingham Interchange.

3.6.3  Subject to its own business case, it would also become possible for South Northants to have its own station, at Blisworth, close to both the A43 and M1, and currently ruled out by the frequency of through trains at the site.

May 2011

417   Other Watford and Northampton line suburban trains depart on the Slow line. Back

418   There would also be two more Northampton line commuter trains, but these are outside the direct comparison with HS2 services, and could operate after HS2 anyway so are common to both alternatives. Back

419   My calculation from HS2AA figures-HS2AA themselves make their comparison with the current train length of nine coaches, even though they accept that a proportion of the fleet is committed to be lengthened to 11 cars, and themselves refer to that as the "Do Minimum" scenario. By doing this they are able to present a headline capacity increase of 165%, of which much derives from a committed scheme. Back

420   Additional suburban (Northampton line) departures are also proposed, but are not part of ICWC services, and could equally be delivered after HS2. In fact, I believe such services could be operated anyway, but accept that this requires more detailed investigation. Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011