High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Further written evidence from 51M (HSR 109B)

This supplementary evidence is submitted to update the Committee on issues related to the "Optimised Alternative", as described in Chapter 1 of our main submission, and to respond to the supplementary evidence submitted to the Committee by DfT and HS2 Ltd this week. Given the time constraints we have provided a detailed response on the Optimised Alternative and overview responses on a number of the issues raised in the DfT and HS2 Ltd supplementary evidence. We may provide a more detailed response to the Committee on certain items of the supplementary evidence in the near future.


Neither DfT nor HS2 Ltd has made any attempt to engage with us directly on our proposed approach or the Optimised Alternative.

DfT acknowledge that they have not carried out a full analysis of 51m's alternative, despite its higher capacity and its lower capital costs than Atkins' Rail Package 2. This is somewhat surprising since it has now been in the public domain for some three months.

Below we respond to the statements made by DfT and HS2 Ltd in their supplementary evidence and the "Yes to High Speed Rail" campaign paper from William Barter, which purports to analyse the Optimised Alternative.

—  Both the DfT's supplementary evidence and the William Barter paper assert that much of the 215% additional capacity set out in the Optimised Alternative doesn't count, as any calculation of capacity increases should be based on the capacity after completion of the existing project to lengthen some of the current 52 Pendolino trains from 9 to 11 cars. This is fundamentally wrong as the HS2 Ltd business case has a 2007-08 base, from which the HS2 forecast of 102% background growth has been made, and any comparison clearly has to start from this same base, the capacity available in 2007-08.

—  In addition the DfT response asserts that the Optimised Alternative only provides around 30% more capacity than the capacity available following completion of the committed Pendolino lengthening project. However, the correct figure is 57%, as set out in Table 1.1 of Chapter 1[79] of our initial submission to the Committee.

—  The Barter paper claims that converting one first class car to standard ignores peak first class loadings. But first class passenger numbers have declined significantly in recent years, reflecting cut-backs in travel costs by both the private and public sectors, even though most first class passengers are now using discounted, advance purchase fares - in some cases lower than standard class on the same train. First class loadings are not high even in the business peaks, and numbers on the great majority of trains don't fill one first class coach, let alone four.

—  We are also accused of ignoring peak loadings generally. But the Network Rail WCML Route Utilisation Strategy[80] shows only two out of 287 trains daily with standing passengers on the route, at around 1900 in the evening, reflecting time restrictions for regulated off-peak ("saver") fares. This is an artificial peak - are "Yes to High Speed Rail" really saying that we should spend £32 billion on HS2 because of overcrowding caused by time restrictions on off-peak fares?

The Optimised Alternative fully meets forecast background growth in peak periods, with a 138% increase in standard class capacity compared with the 2007-08 base.

The Optimised Alternative is described in detail in Appendix 1 of 51m's consultation response at www.51m.co.uk. - this updates and amplifies Chapter 1 of our original submission, and includes a detailed analysis of peak capacity

51m are criticised for not costing or scoping investment in additional vehicles, depot facilities, platform lengthening and any necessary track and signalling alterations to enable 12 car operations. Similarly, we are criticised for not carrying out a cost-benefit analysis of the alternative. We would strongly argue that it is DfT's responsibility to ensure that all alternatives are properly considered before embarking on a project of the scale of HS2, and 51m do not have the technical and financial resources to undertake such work. However, it is clear from analysis of Atkins' previous work for DfT[81] that 12 car operations (except to Liverpool) would be achievable at a fraction of the cost of HS2.

DfT challenge our view that there would be no adverse impact on performance as a result of increased services in the Optimised Alternative. But we propose investment to eliminate bottlenecks such as Ledburn Junction, and this approach is supported by Atkins' previous work for DfT, which concluded:

"Even with higher levels of train frequency, the packages may enhance train performance at a network level…..these locations may more than compensate for other areas where there will be an enhanced train frequency but no infrastructure enhancements"[82]

DfT's response contains factual inaccuracies: the correct position is that (1) the illustrative service pattern for the Optimised Alternative has fewer peak hour trains than Rail Package 2 and (2) no additional trains are proposed on the Coventry - Birmingham section of the route

We are criticised for assuming that no additional platforms are necessary at Euston. However, HS2's supplementary evidence claims that the current level of service can be maintained during Euston reconstruction with only 14 platforms. Our proposal only envisages an extra two to three peak trains an hour over present levels with the current 18 platforms - on the basis of HS2's own submission, this is clearly achievable.


Oxera question 3—Reliability of Conventional Services

We would reiterate that the published service plans for HS2 have major reliability risks. In contrast, the Optimised Alternative envisages investment at key locations to remove conflicting movements (Ledburn Junction) and improve segregation between InterCity and freight trains (Colwich/Stafford). The reliability impacts are set out in Chapter 4 of our original submission.[83]

Oxera question 7—Productive Time on Trains

DfT imply in their response that HS2 will reduce crowding. This may be true on average, but we have shown (Chapter 8),[84] that HS2's planned capacity on key routes (Manchester [Phase1], Preston/Glasgow and York/Newcastle) is clearly inadequate, almost certainly resulting in a higher proportion of overcrowded trains overall, with inadequate capacity on some routes balanced by massive over-capacity to Birmingham as detailed in the 51m's consultation response - Appendix 17.

Oxera question 14—Disruption Impacts

The Optimised Alternative will result in significantly less overall disruption because of the impact of HS2's major reconstruction construction at Euston (Chapter 10).[85]


HS2's evidence starts with the statement that "the Committee asked a question on the proposed 18 trains per hour service level. We are aware that this has been raised as an issue during the consultation and we have begun further work in this area". The delivery of 18 trains per hour is clearly a vital part of the HS2 business case, and we consider that it is extraordinary that HS2 Ltd and DfT had not satisfied themselves on the deliverability of the claimed capacity of HS2 prior to commencing consultation.

Question 1—When will WCML capacity be exhausted?

HS2 state that actual growth on Virgin has been around 10% per year between 2008 and 2011, and imply that this high level of growth is likely to continue. We believe this is wrong; the route upgrade was completed in 2008, with major reductions in journey time and frequency increases, so high levels of growth would certainly be expected for three or four years, particularly after years of disruption during the upgrade - but this level of growth is most unlikely to continue.

HS2 seek to dismiss pricing as a means of smoothing demand on the basis of a 2006-07 AECOM study for DfT - but it appears that this was focussed on commuter, not long distance flows, which have different characteristics.

Question 4—Implications of Evergreen 3

HS2 Ltd confirms they have not modelled the impact of Evergreen 3. This project, completed on 4th September, provides an attractive alternative to the WCML route to the West Midlands, with only slightly longer journey times and peak fares little more than half Virgin's. Evergreen 3 has been carried out at the franchisee's risk, at no cost to the taxpayer, and will certainly free up capacity on the current Virgin service, yet this significant upgrade has effectively been dismissed as irrelevant. HS2 Ltd also state that the Chiltern route is only a viable alternative for passenger travelling from London to Birmingham but this is vitally important as the first phase of HS2 is only from London to Birmingham and is the only phase upon which HS2 have produced any information or detailed analysis

Question 7—Disruption Impacts of HS2 Euston Works

We note that, in contrast to their previous evidence of July 2011 which identified that they would be able to provide the off peak service during the reconstruction, this in itself being a 40% reduction from the peak service (ref), HS2 Ltd are now saying that they expect to maintain current service levels throughout the Euston reconstruction period, except for major closures at Bank Holiday periods, despite a reduction from 18 to 14 platforms and wholesale reconstruction of the approach tracks. It seems surprising that HS2 Ltd has changed its view on this within a very short period of time and we would suggest it needs further scrutiny

Question 8—Any Capacity Problems on WCML north of Lichfield

We note HS2 Ltd's response, but would reiterate that Atkins proposed in its alternative RP2 that major capital investment north of Lichfield should be provided for the same level of additional services which HS2 Ltd now claim can be accommodated on the existing network without these works, while at the same time improving reliability.

On a detailed point, HS2 Ltd specifically claim that an additional path per hour can be provided between Stoke-on-Trent and Cheadle Hulme while still accommodating the local service "from Macclesfield to Manchester"; this in fact operates from Stoke-on-Trent to Manchester, a much more challenging problem.

Question 9—Ability to Run 18 trains per hour

We consider that this response is little more than an apparently plausible smokescreen. It remains the case that no high speed railway in the world achieves anything like 18 trains an hour, and to do so would require undeliverable precision for trains travelling over busy mixed traffic two track sections of railway and starting from as far away as Glasgow and Newcastle.

Scepticism about the claimed capacity is supported by a recent paper "Rules for High Speed Line Capacity" by Piers Connor, an independent rail industry consultant, who concludes that 12 trains per hour is the practical maximum.[86] This conclusion is also consistent with the evidence to the Committee of Pierre Messulam of SNCF, a company recognised as a world leader in high speed operation. Separately, as set out in Chapter 4 of our initial submission, Greengauge 21 and Network Rail have previously published assessments indicating a maximum capacity of 14 trains per hour. HS2 appears completely isolated in it view that 18 trains per hour can be realistically achieved.

Question 15—Fare Competition

HS2 Ltd's response does not deal with the impact of price competition on existing routes. Yet from Birmingham to London, the key route for the first phase of HS2, it is already the case that three operators (Virgin, Chiltern and London Midland) offer between them eight trains an hour, with journey times ranging from 1 hour 24 minutes (Virgin), 1hour 30 minutes (Chiltern) to 2 hours 14 minutes (London Midland) and different fare levels with Chiltern and London Midland being approximately half WCML fares. Yet the potentially major financial impact of this competition has not been modelled: HS2 Ltd state "more work would be needed in all these areas if the Government decides to proceed with the scheme following the public consultation".


51m has recently received partial replies to a number of requests under the Environmental Information Regulations/Freedom of Information Act requests, albeit significantly later than the statutory deadline, and too late for incorporation in our consultation response.

Our questions covered a number of areas:

—  Capacity and load factors to Manchester prior to the opening of Phase 2 in 2033.

—  Capacity to Preston and Glasgow, together with related infrastructure enhancements.

—  Capacity to York and Newcastle.

The answers in all cases were unsatisfactory; use of continued conventional services was cited as meeting capacity needs, but it is clear that this would not be adequate to meet HS2 Ltd's growth forecasts, and no information was provided on projected load factors. Additional services were postulated on existing congested mixed traffic routes such as York to Newcastle without any proper analysis of whether this was realistic and deliverable. It is also apparent from HS2 Ltd's response to question 15 in their Supplementary Evidence that no analysis has been carried out of the pricing policy needed to encourage use of conventional services, nor of the impact of this on HS2 revenue forecasts.

HS2 Ltd declined to respond to the following questions, on the surprising grounds that the answers would represent environmental information which was still in the course of completion:

—  Services to Edinburgh (none are shown in the published documentation).

—  Services diverted from Euston to Heathrow and mainland Europe.

HS2 Ltd stated "we do not hold this information" in relation to questions on:

—  The cost benefit case for the "Y" network as a result of operation of Heathrow and mainland Europe services and the consequential reduction in capacity to Euston.

—  Details of planned service reductions on the existing West Coast, East Coast and Midland Main Lines when HS2 is implemented. This is particularly concerning given that HS2 Ltd have included a £5.4 billion NPV saving from these reductions in the business case for HS2.

51m is extremely concerned and surprised with the inadequate responses to these important questions.


We would also draw the Committee's attention to the latest National Passenger Survey[87] carried out by Passenger Focus. This shows that Virgin Trains has the second highest satisfaction score for all franchised operators (just behind Merseyrail) in relation to crowding ("sufficient room for passengers to sit/stand"), indicating that overcrowding on the West Coast route is a less serious problem than on many other parts of the rail network - yet construction of HS2, at a cost of £32 billion, is certain to constrain potential investment on other routes with much more acute capacity problems.


Neither DfT nor HS2 Ltd has demonstrated any significant flaw in the Optimised Alternative, which potentially offers a faster, more flexible means of providing additional capacity, at much less cost. However, it is clear that Government has, as yet, not been prepared to evaluate this alternative objectively.

7 September 2011

79   http://www.51m.co.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/ch1.pdf Back

80   http://www.networkrail.co.uk/browse%20documents/rus%20documents/route%20utilisation%20strategies/west%20coast%20main%20line/westcoastmainlinerus.pdf page 48 Back

81   Rail Interventions Report March 2010 Appendix C pages 35-39 http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/rail/pi/highspeedrail/alternativestudy/pdf/railintervention.pdf Back

82   http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/rail/pi/highspeedrail/alternativestudy/pdf/railintervention.pdf Appendix B Section 1.1.1 page 16 Back

83   http://www.51m.co.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/ch4.pdf Back

84   http://www.51m.co.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/ch8.pdf Back

85   http://www.51m.co.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/ch10.pdf Back

86   http://www.railway-technical.com/Infopaper%203%20High%20Speed%20Line%20Capacity%20v3.pdf Back

87   http://www.passengerfocus.org.uk/research/nps/content.asp Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011