As a regular user of both the West Coast mainline and Paddington station I am increasingly worried about the impacts of the High Speed Rail. Underneath the grand statements and infinite promises being made by Phillip Hammond are a series of admissions that show this line will make many people’s journeys longer and less convenient.
We have been looking at the proposed business case, or lack of one, for the High Speed Rail line from London to Birmingham. We have analysed the plans and projected benefits for HS2 and found them severely flawed, see Chris Stokes' article for the Wall Street Journal for a round up of the key points. The government’s case falls down.
One area where the project did seem to work was that it would deliver quicker journeys. Only marginally quicker to Birmingham, the journey time would be reduced by 30 minutes at a cost per family of £600 – a price you will pay even if you never use the line. Incredibly though, in an article for The Sunday Telegraph Andrew Gilligan has revealed that many areas are set to see a slower service. He expects the new train will disrupt existing train lines and so slow down the journeys of more rail users than it speeds up.
We’ve highlighted other ways of getting the capacity we need, and reducing overcrowding, at a much lower cost and without disruption other journeys in the same way. Chris Stokes, rail expert and author of our Report into High Speed Rail has highlighted that as the new and expensive trains will share a section of the line with existing trains there could be considerable delays in timetables as the trains share the line.
But Andrew Gilligan has looked at the issue in detail and found that government documents show certain current routes will be badly affected. The routes he points to are in the West Midlands and North West, London area stopping services, and trains leaving Paddington. He writes that:
“We can reveal that up to 750 trains every day to places not on the new high-speed line are likely to be slowed down, or scrapped, according to HS2 documents... Almost 40 million passenger journeys a year will be affected, with no HS2 alternative available to them – and that's on current figures.
The services to be slowed and cut fall into three groups. The first are the existing fast trains from London to the West Midlands and North West, which will be "recast with reduced frequency".
The annexes to the HS2 prospectus, published last year, state that the current 120 fast trains a day between London and Birmingham on the existing line (60 in each direction) will be reduced to about 40. Passengers to Birmingham will at least have a high-speed alternative, albeit at premium fares. But travellers to other destinations on the current line will not.
Coventry, for instance, will lose two-thirds of its fast trains to London and those that remain will be slowed down by 10 minutes. The existing Manchester and Liverpool services will be cut too, by about 50 trains. Stoke-on-Trent will lose half its London service, which will also be slower. Wolverhampton, Tamworth, Nuneaton and several other places will suffer a similar fate.
According to MOIRA, the rail industry traffic database, Coventry alone is the fourth busiest intercity destination from Euston, with 976,000 passengers making the trip last year. The number of passengers travelling between the smaller Midlands cities and London is collectively a million a year greater than the number travelling from Birmingham to London.
Yet cannibalised transport links will almost certainly worsen the serious economic inequalities that already exist between regional hubs such as Birmingham and their much less prosperous satellite cities.
The second group of passengers affected will be in the London area. Here, the prospectus says, the local stopping service to Watford could be "removed" or diverted to help free up platform space at Euston for high-speed rail. Though scarcely as glamorous as Mr Hammond's shiny new line, this service alone runs 130 trains a day and carries five million passengers a year, twice as many as currently travel from Euston to Birmingham.
The largest group affected, however, is in a completely different part of the country. According to the HS2 prospectus, trains coming into Paddington will be slowed down to stop at a new HS2 interchange at Old Oak Common, just west of London.
The idea is to improve the connectivity of the new route – but this alone will slow down the London-bound rail services of around a fifth of the country, including the whole of the Thames Valley, western England and South Wales. About 500 trains a day currently run in and out of Paddington, carrying more than 29 million passengers
Click here to read more from Andrew Gilligan
These figures are shocking. The train line will impact on existing busy train routes and slow down other journeys. It’s a worrying knock on effect for this extremely expensive project. It was bad enough to imagine that hard pressed taxpayers in many parts of the country would be saddled with the bill without needing high speed rail. The potential for the train to slow down so many other critical routes suggests this investment could be an even worse deal than we thought.