THE GREAT CENTRAL LINE IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO HS2

THE IDEA of using the former Great Central Railway as an alternative to HS2 makes absolutely no sense.

For a start it would involve the same sort of ‘nimby’ objections as HS2.  A few years ago, the line was proposed for reopening as part of a new freight route.

But there were massive objections from people living near the line in places such as Rugby, Leicester and Nottingham.

The Great Central route had one advantage over the rest of Britain’s railways – it was built to a larger structure gauge than other routes, hence its possible attraction now to supermarkets and hauliers wanting to shift more goods from road to rail.

Otherwise, the GC route has considerable disadvantages for passenger services. Continue reading

Lessons of ageing infrastructure from our American cousins

THERE ARE great similarities between America’s North East Corridor –connecting Washington DC, New York and Boston – and Britain’s West Coast Main Line. Both link a series of major cities. Both are struggling to cope with growing demand. Both have to handle express, regional and commuter passenger services plus a variety of freight trains. And both are reliant on ageing infrastructure.

With recent warnings from David Higgins – Network Rail’s chief executive, soon to take over as chairman of HS2 Ltd – that routes such as the WCML cannot continue to rely on Victorian infrastructure, rail operators and engineers in Britain might do well to take note of the enforced railroad chaos north of New York City that has been producing headlines in America since last week.

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Towns and cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow will benefit right from the start of HS2

SOMETHING that greatly concerns me about many media reports is that HS2 is so often referred to as “a new high speed line from London to Birmingham by 2026, and to Manchester and Leeds by 2033.” The Economist is the latest I have seen reporting exactly this in its current edition.  The BBC’s web site also currently shows a map of phase one with HS2 going only to Birmingham.

But this is all very misleading, as many towns and cities along the West Coast Main Line north of Birmingham – including Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow – will benefit from stage one of HS2, enjoying journey time reductions from and to London of around 25/30 minutes on today’s schedules, with up to eight trains every hour going beyond Birmingham. Continue reading

WCML ‘MODERNISATION’ – MUCH STILL TO DO

IT has been a fond claim of politicians in both the earlier Labour government and more recently among Coalition Ministers that £9 billion was spent improving the West Coast Main Line after privatisation – the phrase ‘upgrade’ has often been used, even though the original investment programme was long ago ‘de-scoped’ to be a ‘route modernisation’ with many upgrade elements eliminated.  In fact, even some modernisation elements were deferred to keep the cost down.

The result of the £9 billion engineering works, extending over more than a decade, was only to bring the level of speeds and journey times on the West Coast route up to those enjoyed by the Great Western and East Coast main lines where speeds up to 125mph, and average journeys of over 100mph, first applied more than 30 years — and sometimes still do, despite extra stops and recovery time added to schedules since provatisation. Continue reading

Big rise in passenger numbers – could digital technology be the cause?

IT is a popular claim by HS2’s ardent critics – most notably, of late, by former Cabinet Minister Cheryl Gillan, who is MP for Chesham and Amersham, writing in The Daily Telegraph – that the plan for HS2 is 30 years too late, and its need has been overtaken by rapid developments in communications technologies.

But rail operating expert William Barter and Chris Howe of the HS2-NorthWest campaign group have now suggested that the real situation is quite the opposite – that actually the rapid developments in digital communications are leading to ever-increasing rail passenger journeys. Continue reading

WHERE IS HS2’S CHAMPION NOW?

A WEEK AGO HS2 Ltd and the Government were full of the news that former London Olympics boss Lord Deighton had been appointed to “ensure HS2 strikes gold for GB growth.”  He is leading a taskforce “to maximise the economic benefits – including job creation – generated by the crucial scheme,” said the Department for Transport.

Since then the high speed rail project has been under growing attack, resulting today in major criticism by Lord Peter Mandelson, after a huge £14.6 billion contingency fund was added to the budget, as well as £7.5 billion for rolling stock that in the past would have been financed by a train operator – that is, until the DfT has got involved controversially in rolling stock procurement for the Intercity Express and Thameslink projects.

But as the criticism has mounted, what has HS2’s new champion – who is also Commercial Secretary to the Treasury – been doing to talk up the project? Continue reading

HS2’s uphill media battle

I NEVER cease to be amazed by the media’s apparently hostile reports about the HS2 scheme.

On 5 June the proposal to restore the Stonebridge Railway and enable many Midlands’ passengers to get directly to Birmingham Airport and the planned HS2 Birmingham Interchange station was published coincidental with distribution of Railnews edition 196.

That morning – as co-author of the report with quantity surveyor Michael Byng – I did a lengthy interview about the project with BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire. I was then interviewed briefly during the lunchtime edition of the BBC-TV Midlands Today programme, and a lengthier interview was recorded for use later in the day.

But Midlands Today carried no more in later editions — perhaps because supportive comments about how our plan would improve links with HS2 were starting to be made.  Continue reading

Plan for Whitacre link gains wide support

THE report that I have co-authored with quantity surveyor and construction economist Michel Byng — in which we propose restoration of the former Stonebridge Railway between Hampton-in-Arden and Whitacre Junction in Warwickshire to serve the HS2 Birmingham Interchange, the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham Airport and the M42 business corridor — has caused quite a stir.

And, despite some of the comments left on the Railnews website, most of the reaction has been extremely positive — from MPs, the City of Coventry, the Black Country, and even organisations representing small businesses and the tourism and travel industry. Continue reading