Network Rail betray their prejudice in favour of HS2

Despite not disputing either the capacity the 51m solution provides, nor materially the costs (which are a fraction of HS2), they fail to conclude that it is a better more cost-effective approach than HS2. Network Rail focus particularly on the disruption that it would cause, ignoring the fact that it would be insignificant compared to that from HS2’s 8 year rebuild of Euston- aptly described by one expert as ”like open heart surgery on a conscious patient.

Key issues with Network Rail (NR) reviewof 51m alternative solution

The 51m solution lengthens trains to 12-car with less first class (3 first, 9 standard class cars) – this delivers a 181% increase in standard class capacity (over 2007/8 base) on long distance (Virgin) services (in conjunction with other committed or implemented changes).  It also addresses 6 pinch points on WCML, lifting the increase in standard class capacity to 215% ie to more than tripling capacity.

Independence: NR is not independent, being a pre-declared HS2 supporter and receiving much of its funding either directly or indirectly from government.

Disruption:  NR makes great play of the 51m solution causing disruption.  But the level of disruption would be insignificant compared the total rebuilding of Euston over 8 years that HS2 requires – which has been described as ‘open heart surgery on a conscious patient’

Misrepresentations: NR failed to clarify any issueswith 51m.  This resulted in a number of serious misunderstandings of the 51m proposal – leading to misplaced criticisms.

Capacity: NR don’t dispute that 51m proposal basically works but does not acknowledge the full increase in capacity – ie the over tripling (the 215% increase) – only the 181% increase.  NR then crucially fails to mention this greatly exceeds DfT forecasts – the 100% increase (ie doubling) in demand by 2043 (again over the 2007/8 base).

Instead NR uses other demand forecasts (to 2026 and 2035) that they say are from WCML RUS (but the RUS only gives forecasts to 2024/25).  NR do not use DfT or HS2 Ltd forecasts.

NR bizarrely conclude that the ‘main driver’ for new capacity is ‘overcrowding on the suburban services at the southern end of the route’! (section 2.4, page 17).  But DfT and HS2 Ltd say HS2 is to provide capacity for long distance services, and freeing up capacity is a bonus. Surely no-one would build a new high speed railway to the north and Scotland just to deliver more capacity for commuters from Watford?  Unsurprisingly the 51m solution is focused on the long distance problem.

NR claim the 51m solution for the fast lines does not resolve Milton Keynes and Northampton to Euston commuter problem, despite doubling the peak fast line service.  NR says commuters would move from the slow line trains to the new fast line services.  But this ignores reality: people don’t use the slow line for long distance commuting now –preferring to stand rather than take the slow services.

Costs: NR’s main issue is with costs, not with costed items but additional items, particularly:

  •  New platforms are needed at Euston
  •  Platform lengthening is needed at many other stations – with the option of selective door opening dismissed despite Pendolinos having it (ie can stop at shorter platforms without safety risk).

Even if these extra costs apply, HS2 is still massively more expensive, as 51m’s infrastructure cost would still be about £2.5bn (compared with £17bn for phase I of HS2 with no benefits until 2026 – and the main additional benefit of reduced journey time is grossly over-valued).

Reliability and freight capacity: NR misrepresents the effect of 51m’s solution.  The removal of six pinch points better segregates fast and slow traffic –increasing reliability for both fast and slow traffic, and increasing not only long distance capacity but local passenger and freight capacity – all contrary to NR’s statements.

Conclusion: the NR review – contrary to its clear intention – establishes that there is a need to consider the 51m solution properly.  It is clearly more viable and cost effective than HS2.

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