Research Contradicts Official Claims That West Coast Mainline is “Full”

5TH December 2012 – Research carried out by HS2 Action Alliance, and verified by independent research firm CRT Viewpoint, has discovered that long distance trains leaving Euston during the week day, evening peak period (16.30 to 18.59) on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) had an average occupancy rate or load factor of just 56 percent.

This directly contradicts claims by the DfT and HS2 Ltd that the lack of capacity on the WCML is the central reason why the £32b HS2 rail line needs to be built.

As Philip Hammond (past Minister for Transport) said to the Transport Select Committee earlier this year;

“If the compelling case for additional capacity… was not there then a large part of the case for high speed rail would be undermined.”

A DfT spokesperson confirmed this weekend their view that;

“HS2 could provide a solution to a long term capacity problem that is very real now and only expected to get worse for at least the next 15 years.    the capacity problem is very real now…”


The occupancy of the trains during peak period trains to Manchester was even lower than other destinations at an average of 45%.  This further undermines the business case for second phase of HS2, which is planned to run from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.

Milton Keynes

The loadings on trains making an extra stop at Milton Keynes were significantly higher with an average loading of 107 percent.  But commuters from Milton Keynes to London will have to wait until 2026 – another 15 years for the additional capacity to be provided by HS2, despite cheaper, faster and more effective solutions being available almost immediately.

Fares cliff

The first trains after the peak ends (19.00 to 19.30) had higher loadings (67%).  This demonstrates the effect on demand of the much cheaper fares that kick in when the off peak travel begins.

Commenting on the research findings, Hilary Wharf, director, HS2 Action Alliance, said;

“With extra capacity being at the very centre of the DfT and HS2 Ltd’s argument for the need for the £32 billion project, this research shows that the business case for HS2 is fatally flawed.  Two extra carriages are planned for WCML services in 2012 which will reduce crowding further.

“We had to run our own research because the DfT refused a Freedom of Information request for the load figures.  Having seen how low they really are in the peak it is clear why they tried to hide them.”




The methodology counted passengers onto each train, on Thursday 17 and Tuesday 22 Nov 2011. A third count took place on Thursday 24th November 2011.

Over the two days 66 trains were counted. Although the sample is small, CRT Viewpoint say they believe this gives a fair reflection of mid-week loading, away from a holiday period, on two normal working days.

The loading figures are for both first and standard class carriages as counters were unable to board the trains and separate the two classes. All trains were formed of nine car Pendolino’s except the Holyhead and Wrexham services which were formed of 10 car Voyager trains

CRT conducted three audit counts on the three platform access ramps on Tuesday 22nd November 2011 in order to verify the accuracy of the counts being taken

The methodology used is no different from how many of the train companies do their counts in order to get loading figures