HS2 Questions

Examining the issues around the proposed High Speed 2 route

Is HS2 the best way to get the capacity we need – is WCML full?

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There are alternatives to a new railway eg improving the existing railways, that DfT themselves evaluated as part of the March 2010 work[1] on HS2. One was called Rail Package 2 (RP2) which is uprating the existing WCML.  The 2010 work shows:

  • RP2 could provide all the capacity DfT say is needed and has less crowding than HS2
  • RP2 is at least 5 times cheaper than HS2 (£2bn net cost, not £11.9bn –DfT’s 2010 figs)
  • RP2 could be delivered more quickly (starting whenever required, not waiting to 2026)
  • RP2 is a risk free incremental approach (it’s not all or nothing)
  • RP2 is better value for money (50% better NBR than HS2, on DfT’s figures).

Uprating the existing infrastructure can provide capacity earlier than HS2 and in sufficient volume[2] to more than meet even the capacity requirements forecast by DfT to 2043.  This is demonstrated by the upgrade package being less crowded than HS2 ie having a 51% load factor (the ratio of passengers to seats) compared to 58% on HS2, and 57% in 2008. 

In the Feb 2011 consultation materials DfT seek to conceal the superiority of improving the existing infrastructure by assessing a package of changes[3] that are far from the best and which create unnecessary capacity.  However, when the upgrade to WCML was separately analysed in the 2010 published materials, it was clear that it had a 50% better net benefit ratio (3.63, compared to 2.4 for HS2) – as well as lower loading, so less crowding. But its potential was misleadingly presented in the 2010 White paper, both on capacity and NBR[4].

Uprating the WCML is cheaper, better value for money than HS2 and can be delivered earlier and in stages, avoiding crowding and the risk from needing to forecast over many years.

When an appropriate approach to demand forecasting is taken, the forecast increases in demand are modest ie substantially less than the 2%/a now being forecast.  They may then even be addressed by commercially viable solutions such as longer trains and reducing the provision of first class, or arise as a side effect of addressing urgent problems such as the need to provide additional commuting capacity for Milton Keynes and Northampton.  Measures that separate fast and slow traffic on the railway create additional capacity for both.  In the assessment of upgrading options the benefits of additional commuting and freight paths were not even identified.

Much is said about WCML being full. What is true is that more commuting capacity from Milton Keynes and Northampton is needed now. This is addressed as part of RP2 and waiting until 2026 is not a solution. It is also true that Friday WCML services from Euston see enormous queues stretching across the concourse.  But this is mainly a regulated pricing issue (ie when the first saver becomes available) not due to a real shortage in capacity.

The full London to Manchester and Leeds scheme (Phase 2) is not capable of running all the services it is claimed to, and has insufficient capacity for key flows onto the classic network.  The 18 services/hour are insufficient to provide services to Heathrow and HS1 at peak times, as well as the identified service pattern, so some of the benefits claimed cannot be deliverable.


[1] HS2 Strategic Alternatives Study – Strategic Outline Business Case, March 2010 (Atkins for DfT)

[2] RP2 provides at least 135% more capacity and this could be increased to over 170%, see HS2AA ‘More capacity on WCML: an alternative to HS2’

[3] Package is for the Y network and covers WCML, ECML, MML

[4] Discussed at Section 3.3 of HS2AA report ‘More capacity on WCML: an alternative to HS2’

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Written by hs2questions

April 1, 2011 at 9:15 am

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