Don’t Fall for the Capacity Fib

 HS2’s backers have been fibbing, saying the main reason HS2 must be built is that the West Coast Main Line will shortly be “full”. There’s only one problem with this argument – it isn’t supported by the facts.

Capacity Fib 1: The West Coast Main Line is going to be “full”

The Department for Transport’s own figures state West Coast Main Line intercity trains are on average just 32% full and about 50% full in peak hours. Network Rail data shows that on Mondays to Thursdays only 2 out of 294 daily InterCity trains to and from Euston had standing passengers. These figures were collated before the majority of trains on this route were lengthened to 11 cars, giving 150 more standard class seats per train.

These are capacity figures which other routes serving London or our other major cities can only dream of-yet they are being used to justify spending £50 billion on HS2.

Capacity Fib 2: We can’t do anything to get more passengers on our existing lines

51M, the group of local authorities opposed to HS2, worked with rail experts to come up with the “Optimised Alternative” -a solution which involves switching one first class carriage to standard class, lengthening trains and making three limited scale improvements to the West Coast Main Line.

The Optimised Alternative would treble capacity (compared to 2008), easily enough to cope with even the most aggressive forecasts of future demand growth at a fraction of the cost of HS2.

Capacity Fib 3: Improving existing lines would be more disruptive than building HS2

Supporters of HS2 claim that the Optimised Alternative will cause major disruption because of the infrastructure work required. This simply isn’t true – work is only required at three locations (Ledburn and Colwich Junctions and between Rugby and Nuneaton).

By contrast it is HS2 which will cause years of disruption. At Euston, HS2 means a permanent reduction in the number of approach tracks (from 6 to 4) and platforms (from 18 to 13/14).

It’s not just at Euston there will be disruption – building HS2 would also require interventions across the rail network at Camden (London Overground), Old Oak Common (Great Western), Streethay (West Coast Main Line), Crewe (West Coast Main Line), Manchester Piccadilly (West Coast Main Line), Church Fenton (East Coast Main Line), Meadowhall (Midland Main Line), Golborne (West Coast Main Line), Carstairs (West Coast Main Line), and Preston (West Coast Main Line)

Capacity Fib 4: HS2 is needed to deal with London commuter overcrowding

As claims of a capacity crisis become ever more fanciful HS2’s backers have come up with the novel idea that we need to build a train linking London to Leeds and Manchester to help commuters in…. Milton Keynes.

But simply allowing passengers from London to use Virgin Intercity trains to get off at Milton Keynes (which they are not currently able to do during peak hours) would dramatically reduce overall levels of overcrowding in the evening peak period and could happen right now.  More long term, spending £260m on a flyover at Ledburn Junction (about the cost of two miles of HS2 track) would allow a doubling in peak capacity on this section of the line.

So the inconvenient truth is that the capacity arguments for HS2 just don’t stack up.

If you need more information about capacity download our  Capacity On A Page briefing or HS2AA Capacity Report.