Making the most out of HS2

Eager to capitalise on the additional capacity benefits HS2 will bestow, Network Rail has released a document outlining its latest thinking and future plans. Details are a bit sketchy at the moment but a clearer picture should emerge in due course.

Better Connections – Options for the Integration of High Speed 2 says over 100 towns and cities will benefit from quicker and more frequent journeys once Phase Two (to Leeds and Manchester)  is completed in 2032. (Phase One – from London to Birmingham – is scheduled for 2026).

Network Rail is keen to stress that HS2 should not be seen as a stand alone operation, and has to be integrated with the rest of the network if its benefits are to be maximised.

Capacity is at the heart of the argument: Passenger journeys have increased by nearly 50% over the last decade, and more than one million additional trains are run every year. The busiest parts of the network are at capacity during peak times and some of the biggest stations are busier than Heathrow Airport.

An additional 400m passenger journeys are expected by 2020, with the West Coast Main Line (WCML) likely to clog up by the mid 2020s. “In the peak,  passengers may not even be able to board a train on some routes,” it gloomily predicts.

HS2 is heralded as the saviour: It will provide much needed capacity and free up other parts of the system as well. Although Phase One completion will provide some relief, the main benefits will only accrue after the final stage becomes operational.

Taking 2032 as the starting point, Network Rail outlines three possible options: (1) minimum, (2) incremental, and (3) integrated connectivity. The first approach would leave services more or less at 2032 (pre HS2) levels. HS2 and existing main line services would co-exist and run in parallel. There would be some relief, but the full benefits would not be enjoyed. The second approach would withdraw WCML and ECML main line trains and replace them with HS2 services, and the third approach would take this one step further by combining it with an integrated ‘hub and spoke’ network to improve end on connections.

Network Rail believes that passenger transfer to HS2 will be determined by a range of factors, including journey time reductions and good interchange facilities. It also assumes HS2 fare levels will be around the same “on average” as existing routes (and does not appear to envisage levying premium rates as is the case with HS1).

HS2 will free up complete train paths on both the WCML and ECML. On the Midland Main Line (MML) the effect is less clear cut, though some long distance passenger transfers from Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield are expected at Meadowhall and/or at the planned East Midlands hub at Toton.

The effects for passenger services on these three main lines would be twofold: Extra calling points could be put in, and/or services extended to serve other destinations. The appendix looks at a wide range of possible scenarios. On the ECML, for example, the capacity released could be utilised for introducing new services from London to Middlesbrough, Scarborough, Harrogate, Lincoln and several other places which no longer enjoy direct links.

However, the document also acknowledges that completion of the high speed line will release very little if any capacity, either north of Manchester (on the WCML) or Leeds (on the ECML), which classic HS2 classic services will still need to use in order to serve Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle.

Freight gets a mention too, but mainly as an afterthought.

Network Rail consulted around 30 local, regional and industrial stakeholders while drafting this report – mainly the county, borough, district and city councils along the three main lines. More details should emerge when the LTPP (Long Term Planning Process) is completed in 2015/6.

628/Aug 13

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