Friday 24 February 2017

HS2 - If it's the answer, what is the question?

Today the bill authorising HS2 was passed into law. As someone who has always had an interest in transportation and railways, I have very mixed feelings about the project. I have no doubt that when (if) it's built, the arguments will all be forgotten and everyone will say it's a brilliant way of travelling. Whenever there are large infrastructure projects in the UK, there is always much nashing of teeth. Yet the more I look at it, the less I see that it is the best use of £50 billion on transport infrastructure. If I was planning to spend such a huge sum, I'd start by looking at where the biggest problems are. So lets start with road congestion. What are the busiest roads in the country. For me this would be the logical place to start, check the road stats. Notice a patten?

All Roads, All Vehicles, 2014

  1. M25, London Orbital Motorway, Hillingdon
  2. M25, London Orbital Motorway, Slough
  3. M1 between J7 and J8, Hertfordshire
  4. M60, Manchester Outer Ring Road, Salford
  5. M25, London Orbital Motorway, Surrey
  6. M25, London Orbital Motorway, Surrey
  7. M25, Sarratt Road, Hertfordshire
  8. M25, London Orbital Motorway, Surrey
  9. M25, London Orbital Motorway, Buckinghamshire
  10. M25, London Orbital Motorway, Surrey
  11. M25, London Orbital Motorway, Windsor and Maidenhead
  12. M25, London Orbital Motorway, Surrey
  13. M1 between J6A and J7, Hertfordshire
  14. M60, Manchester Outer Ring Road, Bury
  15. M60, Manchester Outer Ring Road, Salford
  16. M60, Manchester Outer Ring Road, Bury
  17. A406, North Circular Road, Redbridge
  18. A406, North Circular Road, Waltham Forest
  19. M25, London Orbital Motorway, Surrey
  20. M25, London Orbital Motorway, Hertfordshire
  21. M6 between J20 and J21 spur, Warrington
  22. M6(T), M6 Toll, Warwickshire
  23. M8 between J16 and J15, Glasgow City
  24. M6 between J21 spur and J21A, Warrington
  25. M56, North Cheshire Motorway, Manchester
  26. M4 between Hillingdon boundary and J4, Hillingdon
  27. M4 between J4B / M25 and Slough boundary, Slough
  28. M60, Manchester Outer Ring Road, Stockport
  29. M61, Kearsley Spur, Bolton
  30. M60, Manchester Outer Ring Road, Salford
How many of these will see traffic allieviated by HS2?

What about busiest trains?

1. 07:00 Brighton  - Bedford
2. 07:34 Didcot Parkway - London Paddington
3. 04:22 Glasgow Central - Manchester Airport
4. 16:00 Manchester Airport - Edinburgh Waverley
5. 07:51 Heathrow  Terminal 5 - London Paddington
6. 07:32 Woking - London Waterloo
7. 07:07 Henley-On-Thames - London Paddington
8. 08:08 Sutton - St. Albans City
9. 17:46 London - Euston Crewe
10. 07:14 Alton - London Waterloo

What about the most overcrowded routes into London?

Busiest routes into London (% over capacity*)

1. Paddington 10.1%
2. Moorgate 8.0%
3. Blackfriars (via Elephant and Castle) 7.6%
4. St. Pancras 6.9%
5. Fenchurch Street 4.9%
6. Waterloo 4.6%
7. Euston 4.2%
8. Liverpool Street 3.9%
9. Marylebone 3.9%
10. King’s Cross 2.7%
11. London Bridge 1.9%
12. Victoria 1.9%

Or the worst performing rail Franchises

Top 10 worst performing operators 

  1. Govia Thameslink Railway – 81.5 per cent of trains were on time
  2. Virgin Train East Coast – 85.2 per cent
  3. Caledonian Sleeper – 86 per cent
  4. Southeastern – 86.9 per cent
  5. First TransPennine Express – 87.8 per cent
  6. London Midland - 88.1 per cent
  7. Abellio Greater Anglia – 89.3 per cent
  8. CrossCountry – 89.5 per cent
  9. Great Western Railway – 89.5 per cent
  10. South West Trains – 90.1 per cent

Or  the worst pollution?


 And what about the top ten air routes?


 What is quite shocking, to me at least is that by any measure I can see to justify a huge transport investment, there doesn't seem to be an issue with the core London to Birmingham route. It won't address road congestion, the slowest rail lines, the worst pollution or the busiest air routes.

I am also slightly bemused that given that there are two main line rail routes, offering decent services from London to Birmingham. One already runs from London Euston to Birmingham. The current journey time is 1 hour and 28 minutes. You can also travel from London Marylebone to Birmingham in 1 hour and 46 minutes. This is the only rail mainline that has no plans to be modernised and electrified. Isn't it bizarre that we are seeking to build a completely new rail line, when there is one that is still running with Diesel trains? The time from London to Birmingham  will come down to 49 minutes by HS2. Now clearly this is a huge benefit for travellers who want a quick Journey time, but does that mean it is worth the money? A modernisation of the Chiltern route surely should have been done first?

One thing that strikes me looking at the most congested roads is that they are by and large orbital ring roads on the edges of big cities. 12 of the top 20 congested roads are on the M25 and four are on the M60 ring road in Manchester. Back in the 1960's the Beeching report destroyed the network of rail branch lines that provided orbital routes. if you want to travel from London to Birmingham, there are rail routes that are a practical alternative. If you want to get from Hatfield to Watford, a distance of 10.3 miles, the road journey time is 26 minutes.  To travel by train, you have a journey of 1 hour and 21 minutes with three changes. Why do I pick this exampe? Because it was a route that did have a rail line, which was closed by Beeching. There are hiundreds of examples of such routes that were closed.

Much of the worst stretch of the M25 is around Heathrow. Any journey to Heathrow by train from just about anywhere (apart from Central London) involves a journey into London and one or two changes. The main rail service is from Paddington, which is perhaps the worst connected Terminus apart from Fenchurch St.  I find it amazing that there are no proposals at all for an outer London Orbital railway. Such a line connecting Heathrow with the outer suburbs would have a massive impact on road congestion and economic activity. I don't know the traffic flows around Manchester. but I am sure that similar opportunities exist.

Diesel trains at Marylebone
The silly thing is that much of the infrastructure to put an outer London Orbital rail route is in place and simply needs a bit of joining up. Heathrow could easily be joined up with Brent Cross and North West London by a relatively cheap update to a lightly used freight only line running from Cricklewood to Acton. There are freight lines and disused lines that offer the opportunity (with a few gaps being filled) to link this with the Barnet branch of the Northern Line. Campaigners have dubbed this the "Brent Cross railway". Given the huge number of homes being built in Mill Hill East, Colindale, West Hendon and Brent Cross, this seems to me a complete no brainer. There are similar schemes being proposed all over London and the rest of the country.  A few examples I know of  are lines such as the Woodhead Route from Sheffield to Manchester. Why this was ever closed is beyond me. This was one of the first mainline railways to be electrified in the UK. Another example is the Oxford-Cambridge varsity line. In 2014, the Scottish government reopened the Borders railway. This has been a disaster. The reason? They massively underestimated the demand for the service and it has been plagued with overcrowded services.

Another example of a successful reopening is the Corby branch on the Midland mainline. This was reopened in 2009 and has seen large annual increases. It is now scheduled for electrification in 2019.

The point for me, that seems to have been missed is that these sort of schemes are relatively low cost and deliver huge benefits. How many such schemes could be delivered for the cost of HS2? The Borders Railway has carried over a million passengers. The Corby Spur carried over a quarter of a million passengers last year.

Oddly the two rail routes that the government predicts to have the biggest growth are London to Newcastle and Edinburgh. Neither of these will directly benefit from HS2. The more I look, the less I see a case for making HS2 the priority.  I am convinced that the government has pushed this because they can understand a grand scheme. Just suppose that instead of spending the £50 billion on one big scheme, they'd used it to fund say 100 small schemes of between £100 Million and £3 billion, removing bottlenecks, reopening disused branch lines, resuming passenger services on freight only lines, electrifying busy routes which are currently relying on diesel technology. Which would benefit more people, reduce pollution more and improve interchanges with airports?  The government has told us that HS2 is the answer, but I really don't think they've laid out what the question is. I don't see a huge clamour of people saying "the two existing mainline services between Birmingham and London just don't cut the mustard". I do see a huge amount of dissatisfaction with London commuter services. I know from personal experience that I would not use public transport from Mill Hill to Heathrow. We all know about poor air quality on London streets. It seems bonkers that passengers will still be arriving at Marylebone and breathing diesel particles from diesel particles when HS2 opens. That is Great Britain today. Everything is spin, smoke and mirrors.

Britain’s top 10 polluters 13MayPollutedCitiesWEB

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