High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Dr Sandra Tuppen (HSR 182)

This paper concentrates on Section 4 in the terms of reference, The Strategic Route.


1.1  The Government claims that its proposed Y-shaped high-speed rail (HSR) network would deliver a huge increase in rail capacity, ease overcrowding on existing railways, transform the country's economic geography and help to bridge the north-south divide.[422] It claims that no other option would match the new high-speed network in terms of capacity, connectivity and reliability.[423] However, there is evidence, on the contrary, that the capacity, connectivity and reliability of parts of the UK's north-south rail network would actually be compromised by the Government's proposed Y-shaped strategic route.

1.2  A key element of the Government's choice of strategic route is its linkage to the classic north-south rail networks, the West Coast and East Coast Main Lines (hereafter WCML and ECML). The Government's Y-shaped route linking to the WCML and ECML has major flaws, and could have a detrimental effect on the rail services of many towns and cities in the Midlands and North of England and in Scotland, leaving some areas with a worse service than before the construction of the line and less well connected to the country's major economic centres. Flaws in the strategy include:

—  the decision to funnel all north-south fast long-distance services between Scotland and London up and down one twin-track line (the "trunk" of the Y)—presenting a serious risk to service delivery and reliability;

—  the reliance on unproven technology to deliver the required 18 trains per hour on the trunk of the Y;

—  lack of spare train paths on parts of the classic rail network, meaning HS2 classic-compatible trains would be competing with existing services for train paths when on the classic network;

—  the mixing of high-speed trains with regional services and freight on the northern half of the classic network, bring reliability issues and longer journey times for many outside the core Y network;

—  potentially fewer seats on the proposed classic-compatible trains than many of the trains they would replace (550 seats on HS2 classic-compatible compared with 589 on the 11-car Pendolino it would replace); and

—  lack of "tilt-mode" on classic-compatible trains, which would run more slowly on the WCML than the Pendolinos they would replace.

1.3  The Government's chosen strategic route would be detrimental to many in the West Midlands, where under current proposals passengers would have no opportunity to join the network at Coventry or indeed (with one exception) connect with any northbound high-speed services at the proposed Birmingham Interchange station. It would also have a negative impact on towns such as Lancaster and Carlisle which would, under the current proposals, lose their fast direct services to London, and also on the busy stations at Milton Keynes and Watford, which would no longer figure on the UK's principal north-south rail route.


2.1  A key feature of the Government's strategy is that the HSR line should be linked to the classic north-south rail networks. In Phase One, the new London-West Midlands line would link to the WCML near Lichfield, permitting onward travel to Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow; in Phase Two, there would be links from the "arms" of the high-speed Y network to the WCML north of Manchester and to the ECML north of Leeds.[424] A set of specially-designed classic-compatible trains would be needed, capable of running on both the new high-speed line and, in northern England and Scotland, on the classic rail network. In addition, "captive" high-speed trains would run shuttle services solely on the new line between London and Birmingham (and to Manchester and Leeds in Phase Two).

2.2  It is important to note that these new classic-compatible trains would in most cases replace, rather than supplement, the long-distance services currently operating over the classic north-south rail network. Describing the Day 1 Phase One assumptions on which the case for HSR is modelled, and the services which would transfer to the HSR line and those which would remain, HS2 Ltd state in their 2009 Technical Appendix that "For the purpose of this exercise and for the avoidance of doubt, unless stated otherwise, this specification supercedes all existing Virgin West Coast and London Midland services to and from Euston".[425] That this is still the current strategy can be seen from a recent FOI response (FOI10/157), in which HS2 Ltd referred the enquirer to the 2009 Technical Appendix.[426] The draft tender for the next WCML franchise states that "it is likely that the first phase of High Speed 2 would fundamentally alter the nature of the InterCity West Coast franchise once operational".[427]

2.3  The Government has published the service assumptions on which its business case is based.[428] It could, of course, be argued that these are just service assumptions, used for demand modelling, and that an operator could in practice vary the stopping patterns. However, the Government's business case, on which the project is being appraised, is predicated on these precise service assumptions. Any additional stops would have a negative impact on journey times, and thus on the "Value of Time" benefits which are so critical to the Government's business case for HS2. It is therefore important, I believe, to look at the Government's modelled service assumptions and their impact. Its Day 1 scenario is for three shuttle services to run each way between London and Birmingham per hour (four in peak hours) and six or seven classic-compatible services to run over the WCML and high-speed line:

Table 1

Trains per hour RouteCalling at Rail line
(4 in peak hours)
London-Birmingham Curzon St Old Oak Common (OOC), Birmingham Interchange, Birmingham Curzon St HS2
3London-Manchester Piccadilly OOC, Stockport, with 1 per hour calling also at Wilmslow HS2 + WCML
2London-Liverpool Lime St OOC, Stafford, Crewe, Runcorn (1 per hour)
OOC, Warrington (1 per hour)
1London-Glasgow Central OOC, Warrington, Wigan and PrestonHS2 + WCML
1 (peak only)London-Preston OOC, Warrington, WiganHS2 + WCML

2.4  The Government proposes that, aside from the three London-Birmingham Curzon St shuttle services, all the above trains would pass non-stop through the Birmingham Interchange Station. Having no stop at Birmingham seems odd if the intention is to improve inter-urban connectivity. However, if a Birmingham Interchange stop were to be included on long-distance services between London and the North, a time-penalty of about six minutes would need to be added per train[429] and the business case "Value of Time" benefits would have to be revised down accordingly, potentially weakening the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) significantly.

2.5  The same is true for stations on the northern WCML at which the Government proposes no classic-compatible high-speed rail services would stop. Stations omitted from the HSR service include Lancaster, Carlisle, Oxenholme and Penrith. Adding stops at these stations would mean that an improved London-Glasgow journey time would not be achievable, and that the business case benefits would have to be revised down to take account of longer end-to-end journey times. The improved journey times for London-Glasgow come at the expense of connectivity for other northern towns such as Carlisle and Lancaster.

2.6  On completion of Phase Two, the Government assumes it will be able to run all of the following on the Y network, some of which would also run onto the WCML and ECML classic lines:

Table 2

Trains per hour,
Y route
Route Calling atRail line
3 (4 in peak hours)London-Birmingham Curzon St Old Oak Common (OOC), Birmingham Interchange, Birmingham Curzon St HS2
3 (4 in peak hours)London-Manchester OOC, Manchester outskirts, Manchester HS2
3London-LeedsOOC, Birmingham Interchange (1 per hour)
OOC only (1 per hour)
OOC, East Midlands HS2 station, South Yorks HS2 station (1 per hour)
1London-South Yorks HS2 station OOC, East Mids HS2 stationHS2
2Birmingham Curzon St-Manchester Manchester outskirtsHS2
2Birmingham Curzon St-Leeds East Mids, South YorksHS2
2London-Liverpool Lime St OOC, Stafford, Crewe, Runcorn (1 per hour)
OOC, Warrington (1 per hour)
1 (2 in peak hours)London-Glasgow Central Wigan and PrestonHS2 + WCML
2London-NewcastleYork, Darlington HS2 + ECML
1Birmingham Curzon St-Newcastle East Mids, South Yorks, York, Darlington HS2 + ECML

2.7  Some double-counting seems to be in evidence in the Government's HSR Consultation document, where the Government appears to claim that the new high-speed line would allow 14 or more extra trains (larger and longer with up to 1,100 passengers) to be run per hour, and also that transferring long-distance services to the high-speed line would free up capacity on the classic lines for new regional services.[430] The 14 or more trains extra trains per hour that would run on the high-speed line cannot both be new services and transferees from the classic lines whose paths would be taken by new local services.


3.1  The transfer of the bulk of the UK's north-south long distance rail traffic from the classic lines to the high-speed line for part of its journey presents strategic risks. Funnelling almost all the north-south long-distance services that currently operate over the WCML and ECML down the "trunk" of the Y is a highly risky strategy. It is proposed that HS2 is a twin-track line, not 4-tracked, so if one train fails on the trunk of the Y, or there is overhead line damage, the potential for disruption to what will have become the country's main north-south rail route is enormous. If the southern portions of the WCML and ECML are given over to local rail services, it will not be feasible to divert long distance trains back onto the classic network in case of a failure on the trunk of the Y, and in any case the "captive" high-speed trains would not be capable of running on the classic network.

3.2  In order to maintain sufficient services following the diversion of long-distance services to the new high-speed line, the Government proposes that, in Phase Two, 18 trains per hour would run at peak times, in each direction, along the trunk of the Y. However, the HS2 Technical Appendix states that the 18-train-per-hour scenario is reliant on "anticipated improvements in train control systems and train braking technology".[431] Although these technological developments are not yet proven, the Government's choice of a Y shaped strategic network is reliant on them for delivery of sufficient services to meet demand for long-distance services.[432] There appears to be no provision in the Government's strategy for the failure of such technological advances to materialise. This seems a highly risky strategy to pursue.


4.1  It is not clear how, on the northern half of the WCML, the classic-compatible services will co-exist with semi-fast inter-urban services when there are already capacity constraints on the line, for example in the Carlisle area. Network Rail describes the area around Carlisle as one with "minimal or no capacity for growth" and a "Key timetable constraint that determines the timetable elsewhere on the route".[433] Yet it is proposed that a stopping service between Penrith, Carlisle, and Preston should operate in addition to the HS2 classic-compatible service, in order to enable those passengers to change, as is proposed, onto the HS2 train at Preston.[434]


5.1  Long-distance "captive" services between London and Birmingham (Phase One) and London and Manchester and London and Leeds (Phase Two) could utilise larger trains, with up to 1,100 seats if two 200m trains were coupled together. However, for most destinations on the northern WCML, only a single 200m classic-compatible set could be used without extensive platform lengthening. HS2 Ltd therefore assumes a capacity of 550 seats per train for trains running onto the WCML.[435] From April 2012, 11-car Pendolinos are expected to come into service on the WCML, raising capacity from 439 to 589 seats.[436] For stations on the WCML, other than Birmingham in Phase One, and Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds in Phase Two, which could accommodate double-length trains, this potentially means a lower seating capacity than will be available on the 11-car Pendolino, for which investment in platform lengthening will by then have been made.

5.2  HS2 Ltd notes, of their proposed London-Glasgow classic-compatible services: "In modelling these services we identified high levels of demand resulting in some severe crowding during the peak. In reality there would be a number of ways in which to deal with this, which could include a reconfiguration of the timetable or minor upgrades to the route. These options would require further detailed analysis and planning but for simplicity we have modelled 400m-long trains on this route". This contradicts their statement that only 200m classic-compatible HSR trains could operate on the WCML. The fact that 400m-long trains would not be able to stop at WCML stations without major upgrade work (and that platform lengthening to allow 400m trains is unlikely to be feasible at Glasgow Central) does not appear to have been taken into account.


6.1  The Government claims its strategy of joining the high-speed line to the existing network offers the benefit of improved journey times to certain destinations outside the core Y network, by enabling long-distance classic-compatible trains to travel at high speed on the new line and at regular speeds on the classic network.[437] However, there is a flaw. As HS2 Ltd states, classic-compatible trains "would not be able to exploit the maximum classic line speeds on certain sections of the WCML north of Lichfield, as they would not be fitted with tilting equipment. So, over certain WCML route sections, there would be some time lost against today's services."[438]

6.2  In other words, passengers whose journeys include a stretch on the new high-speed line would benefit from faster journeys on that segment of their journey. For long-distance passengers travelling north of Lichfield (or Manchester in Phase Two), this benefit would be partly negated by the fact that the classic-compatible train would travel slower than the Pendolino on the WCML. Those passengers whose journey takes place on a classic-compatible train entirely on the WCML, for instance between Preston and Glasgow, potentially face a slower journey than at present—and on a smaller train than the 11-car Pendolino.

6.3  HS2 Ltd, in response to FOI 10/169, included the following statement from their engineers: "We did some journey time analysis comparing the journey times from Lichfield (as a proxy for the point at which the HS2 route would rejoin the West Coast Main Line) to Glasgow Central. We compared a 125 mph tilting Pendolino with a 110 mph non-tilting Pendolino, to measure the worst case with the existing infrastructure. The difference between these two runs was just over 13 minutes (ie nowhere near the 30 minutes quoted) ... So with some minor modification to the existing infrastructure (little more than changing speed signs) it should be possible to reduce the 13 minute deficit to around six or seven minutes, primarily by increasing the 110 mph limit for non-tilting trains to 125 mph on the straighter sections." HS2 Ltd state that "As the whole-route journey times demonstrate, for London journeys the limited time lost is far outweighed by the savings achieved on HS2." [439] Not everyone using HS2 will be travelling to and from London, however.

6.4  A major factor in the claimed time-savings for certain passengers using stations beyond the "Y" is the fact that that many stations hitherto served by fast trains on the WCML would lose their fast direct services. To achieve a four-hour London-Glasgow journey in Phase One—in the face of a 13-minute deficit on the Lichfield to Glasgow stretch—and a 3.5 hour journey in Phase Two, the London-Glasgow trains would no longer call at Lancaster, Carlisle, Penrith or Oxenholme.[440] HS2 Ltd envisages southbound passengers from these stations taking a Pendolino, which would "connect into and out of" the HS2 service at Preston, enabling passengers, if they choose, to change onto the faster HS2 service to London.[441]

6.5  In order for a southbound semi-fast Pendolino to connect into and out of the HS2 service at Preston, it would need to arrive before and leave after the HS2 service from Glasgow. HS2 Ltd set out its assumed journey times in Appendix 2 of the Technical Appendix. Although HS2 Ltd state, in FOI 10/157 cited above, that this is a train service specification for demand modelling and not a timetable proposition as such, these are the service patterns and journey times assumed for the consultation and underpinning the business case calculations. Passengers from Carlisle, it is assumed by HS2 Ltd, would on Day 1 have an end-to-end journey time to London Euston of 3 hours 44 minutes on the direct "semi-fast" Pendolino (compared to 3 hours 12 minutes today). If they changed at Preston onto the HS2 train, they would have a 3 hour 8 minute journey. A similar increase in direct journey times to London is envisaged on Day 1 for passengers from Oxenholme, Penrith and Lancaster. It is regrettable that the potentially negative impacts of the proposals on some northern towns and cities have not been made explicit in the 2011 consultation documents, and can only be found in archived documents from 2009.

6.6  The pro-HSR lobby group Greengauge 21, in their 2009 paper Fast Forward: A High-Speed Rail Strategy for Britain, highlighted some points that should be considered when planning a new HSR line linked with the classic network: "First, there is going to be a need for interoperable rolling stock, to be able to run over the West Coast Main Line without losing the journey time advantages that the Pendolino fleet offers. This almost certainly means there is a need for a trainset capable of operating at 320 km/h over new high-speed lines and at 200km/h+ in tilt mode."[442] By opting for ultra-high speed (400km/h max) on the HSR line, rather than the more moderate 320km/h, HS2 Ltd has seemingly ruled out the possibility of using tilting trains, and therefore journey times on the WCML are worse after the introduction of HS2.

6.7  HS2 Ltd acknowledges that some passengers could experience longer or less frequent services—particularly "those on the Great Western Main Line who would have an extra stop at Old Oak Common or from some stations on the WCML"—and that some services could see increased crowding with more passengers using rail and Underground services to connect to high speed services. However, they believe that these impacts and the disbenefits they generate are outweighed by the large benefits to be gained by HS2.[443] However, the people receiving the benefits and disbenefits are not one and the same: the Government's current strategic route would see Manchester and Glasgow passengers benefitting from faster journeys at the expense of other northern towns and cities, and Birmingham at the expense of Coventry and other West Midlands towns.


7.1  HS2 Ltd states that the core rationale for considering a new high-speed line is the shortfall in capacity.[444] A major question is whether the UK actually needs all the additional capacity that HS2 would provide. However voluble the proponents of HS2 may be, the fact remains that HS2 Ltd itself is inclined to caution on the benefits of such a project. "The case for high speed rail rests in part on its relative merits when compared against other options... There may be other options for increasing capacity and lowering journey times on the London-West Midlands corridor".[445] Given the amount of public expenditure involved, and the flaws in the Government's strategic Y shaped route outlined above, I would welcome a detailed feasibility study into the Government's proposals for HS2 and an independent assessment of the alternatives before the proposal is taken further.

June 2011

422   High-Speed Rail: Investing in Britain's Future. Consultation, Feb. 2011, pp 7-9. Back

423   Consultation, p 12. Back

424   Consultation, p 29. Precise connecting points between the Y and classic lines will be announced later in 2011. Back

425   HS2 Technical Appendix, Dec. 2009, p 4. Back

426   http://hs2.org.uk/assets/x/77815 Back

427   InterCity West Coast Franchise: Draft Invitation to Tender, May 2011, p 29.

428   Economic Case for HS2, pp 58-61. Back

429   HS2 Technical Appendix, p 5. Back

430   Consultation, p 13. Back

431   HS2 Technical Appendix, p 6. Back

432   Economic Case for HS2, p 61. Back

433   West Coast Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy, Draft, Dec. 2010, p 33. Back

434   HS2 Technical Appendix, p 12. Back

435   HS2 Technical Appendix, p 6. Back

436   Network Rail's RUS 2014 baseline assumes four new 11-car Pendolino 390s, and 31 existing 9-car sets lengthened to 11 cars, have been introduced by then. Back

437   Eg London to Liverpool, 1 hour 37 minutes; London to Glasgow, 3 hours 30 minutes (Consultation, p 20). Back

438   High Speed Rail: London to the West Midlands and Beyond. A Report to Government by High Speed Two Limited, Dec. 2009, p 148. Back

439   High Speed Rail … A Report to Government, p 148. Back

440   In the current modelling, HS2 trains between London and Glasgow would call, during Phase One operation, at Warrington, Wigan and Preston, and after the Y was constructed, at Wigan and Preston only. Back

441   HS2 Technical Appendix, p 12. Back

442   Fast Forward: A High-Speed Rail Strategy for Britain, p 39. Back

443   High Speed Rail … A Report to Government, p 175. Back

444   High Speed Rail … A Report to Government, p 13. Back

445   High Speed Rail … A Report to Government, p 33. Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011