HS2 Questions

Examining the issues around the proposed High Speed 2 route

Will the HS2 alternative of upgrading existing railways create major disruption?

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The proposed ‘Rail Package 2’ upgrade to the West Coast Main Line (WCML) increases capacity by over 135% by removing seven bottlenecks and by introducing more services and longer trains. This can be achieved with modest disturbance, as they involve relieving specific pinch-points rather than rather than replacing all the track and signalling as occurred in the last WCML Route Modernisation upgrade, so often quoted by the Government.

Furthermore, one of the advantages of upgrading existing lines is that capacity can be increased incrementally to meet the uncertain growth in demand. The long distance domestic travel market is saturated. The special reasons for rail’s growth – service improvements, airline style pricing, improvements allowing passengers to use their time more usefully – have largely run their course. And the HS2 forecast is overstated by 29% just by using at out of date version of the Passenger Demand Forecast Handbook.

If demand growth does turn out to be more limited, longer trains and replacing some first class accommodation with standard class may provide all the capacity needed[1] without disruption and quite possibly would not require a subsidy. The majority of the work needed to take the longer trains is already taking place. 

By comparison, HS2 will cause considerably worse disruption to existing services:

  • Euston Station will be completely rebuilt over a seven to eight year programme
  • GWML services, due to construction of Old Oak Common station
  • Chiltern services due to works between Northolt and West Ruislip

The potential disruption at Euston is obliquely acknowledged in the consultation documents:

 “…the major redevelopment project necessary at Euston station, lasting between seven and eight years…”[2]

And also in the consultation document for the next West Coast franchise:

“…it is likely that major construction work will be needed at Euston station to enable the new high speed rail lines to be incorporated into the revamped station building. The phasing of any such works will only be decided after the consultation, but the new franchisee would need to be prepared for the possibility of some disruption to both services and the station concourse interchange during the next franchise”[3]

The construction of HS2, billed as Britain’s biggest infrastructure project, will cause years of chaos along the whole line as construction work splits communities, creates road holdups and diversions and as schools and other facilities are cut off from the communities they serve. The idea that HS2 is the less disruptive way to improve rail capacity is a myth.


[1] See HS2AA ‘More capacity on WCML: an alternative to HS2’, March 2011

[2] High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future February 2011. page 54, para. 2.68

[3] InterCity West Coast Consultation Document January 2011. Page 39

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Written by hs2questions

April 4, 2011 at 11:29 am

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