Lies, damn lies — and HS2 opposition

THOSE opposed to the building of a High Speed line between London, the West Midlands and north of England — with a potential extension onwards to Scotland — are apparently becoming desperate.

Distortions and exaggerations have become commonplace, but now we are moving towards the zone of serious, blatant misinformation.

A good example of one outburst which comes perilously near to this zone has been published by the BBC, in the form of a short video presented as a ‘Soap box’ item by the celebrated actor Geoffrey Palmer.

As a talented actor of long experience Mr Palmer is rightly praised, but in a presentation which is little short of disgraceful — topped and tailed with heart-rending snatches of Vaughan Williams — he has stooped to trot out the now tired rhetoric about whether the West Coast Main Line needs to be supported by a new route.

David Higgins, the chief executive of Network Rail, says it does, and indeed has warned that the challenge will be getting the West Coast to shoulder the burden until 2026, when the London–Birmingham High Speed section is due to open. It is already ‘trashed’, he has warned. Passenger figures are rising — there are almost no spare paths left now — never mind by 2026.

But Higgins must have got it wrong, according to the outstandingly foolish, selfish but well-heeled denizens of the Chilterns (most of whom would not be there had it not been for the railways built by previous generations).

Mr Palmer can barely hide his glee as he tells his audience that the claims of little spare capacity left on the WCML cannot be right, because figures recently released show that ‘long-distance’ trains leaving Euston in the evening rush hour are only about half full. So where’s the problem?

The problem, of course, is that Mr Palmer is either deliberately or inadvertently failing to take into account the fact that Virgin trains leaving London during the evening peak are not fully loaded because the fares are high at that time. Indeed, the level of the fares is discouraging demand. When peak restrictions end, the following trains are packed.

Peak hours are really about commuter services, and London Midland trains running from London Euston between 16.30 and 19.00 as far as Northampton and Birmingham are loaded to capacities well over 90 per cent. And there are no more paths, or virtually none. A further 10 per cent rise in demand will mean that the suburban services will, on average, all be overloaded — with no capacity left on board. Certainly no seats. And this could happen by 2015, or even next year.

By ignoring the suburban and regional services and choosing to quote the selective passenger figures about Virgin alone, a highly dubious picture is painted.

Let me be quite clear. Mr Palmer is not lying. Nothing he says about the statistics is actually untrue, but the oath taken by witnesses in court requires them to tell ‘the whole truth’ for a very good reason.

Mr Palmer has not told the whole truth, and the effect is profoundly misleading.

He — and those who have encouraged him to do this — should be ashamed.

26 thoughts on “Lies, damn lies — and HS2 opposition

  1. What really annoys me is that the anti campaigners know perfectly well the biggest seat capacity problem is on the commuter services. (Geoffrey Plamer might have not been aware, but he was blatantly briefed by StopHS2, HS2AA or 51m, and they most definitely do know.) And there are alternatives out there that could alleviate problems without HS2. They’re all got drawbacks, but that’s open to debate.

    Is quite clear that instead of a frank discussion on how bad the crowding on the commuter trains is and the best way forwards, they would rather treat the problem like it doesn’t exist. For people who routinely accuse the DfT, HS2 ltd and Atkins of hiding information, this is just a tad hypocritical.

  2. If I understand you correctly the root cause of the need for HS2 is peaks of demand for certain WCML services caused by some unfortunate TOC pricing structures. HS2 seems to be a rather disproportionate solution.

  3. But Sim there is always more than one solution to the problem, and a far easier option to many seems to be using a route which is in place with planned 4-track high speed running on the shortest distance between London & Birmingham, which would even with today’s technology deliver a 60-65 minute journey time.

    It may even be that the Parliamentary powers established in 1900 for that capacity still hold good, enough to spear the costs of Public Inquiries, court battles etc and deliver more opportunities in a shorter time.

    A proper strategy would have delivered a 125mph upgrade instead of a ‘basics brand’ 100mph one, so that the WCML at present could have had longer clear blockades, and gauge enhancement. enabling access to bi-level rolling stock and a major boost to train capacity without increasing train lengths.

    • Yup. Been looked at. Called Rail Package 3. Will cost at least £8bn, for much less benefits, and massive disruption to the Chiltern Line whilst it’s being done.

      By all means have a public debate on it, but it’s not the cheap solution you think it is.

  4. There is no denying that London Midland trains are crowded at peak times as are many other commuter services into and out of London. According to data from the DfT there were more standing passengers on trains to/from Waterloo, Liverpool Street and Paddington than Euston during peak hours in 2011. However Project 110 which is due to be fully implemented by May 2014 will provide greater capacity at peak times as well as faster (110 mph) trains for London Midland rail travellers. The additional trains will provide 10% more capacity from Northampton to London at morning peaks and 20% more capacity for the evening peaks.

    Northampton is a busy station with 2.5 million passengers in the last year. Currently there are 54 trains each way between Northampton and Euston per day. The ”Demand and Appraisal Report HS2 London – West Midlands” published in April 2012 (and available from the HS2 Ltd website) outlines the anticipated schedule for classic trains on the WCML after the introduction of HS2. Rather than providing additional trains for Northampton, this schedule indicates that there will be only 42 trains each way between Northampton and Euston per day. So this will be a reduction of 12 trains per day in each direction post HS2 compared to today and an even greater reduction compared to the Project 110 schedule.

    Some will say the Demand and Appraisal Report only provides an indicative schedule. In which case why did HS2 Ltd bother to publish it and why was it updated only 9 months after the previous version was published?

    I communicated with the councillor responsible for transport at Northamptonshire County Council on the subject of Northampton’s train services post HS2. His response contained the following views:
    “I am well aware that the service level for Northampton contained in the published proposals for HS2 falls short of both the reasonable aspirations of the town and the importance which ministers have attached to serving the area post-HS2. This is something of which all county councillors have been made aware in the reports we have considered on the subject. I have made this point myself to ministers on several occasions, and along with my officers have repeatedly made the point to officials from both the Department for Transport and HS2 Limited. While they have acknowledged that their published proposals are not really fit for purpose, I have been disappointed that no better proposals have been forthcoming”.

    There are other stations on this route which will experience a less frequent commuter service post HS2 compared to today. These reductions in train services include:
    • Hemel Hempstead 15%
    • Berkhamsted 14%

    The bad news does not stop there. I can currently list another ten stations each handling one million or more passengers per year which will have a reduction in services post HS2. Since the Demand and Appraisal Report was last published, the DfT has revised the HS2 business case. In doing so, it has increased the “efficiency improvements” (service cuts) from £5.1 billion to £7.7 billion i.e. by approximately 50%. So there will be even more cuts to services on classic rail than those already listed. This does not tie in well with DfT claims about freeing up capacity on classic rail which could enable extra trains to be run.

    Would Mr Harris be happier if Geoffrey Palmer had included the above information as well?

    • Since you seem to be regurgitating the latest press release from StopHS2, I assume you are referring the the Demand and Appraisal report. This was an ultra-tentative proposal used to get some idea of the business case for HS2, nothing more. Nothing is set in stone, and this is all up for negotiation.

      But even if this was the final service pattern, you’ve missed one important factor: the availability of seats. At the moment, all regional services are routed through Northampton because it’s simply not possible to send them any other way. The up side is the Northampton currently gets an artificially high number of trains stopping there. The downside is that all of these trains contain lots of passengers travelling elsewhere.

      So should this service plan go through exactly as per the demand an appraisal report, Northampton may get a modest reduction in services, but you can expect those services to be much much less crowded. Anyone who currently travels on LM services along the Northampton line will almost certain switch to another service missing the Northampton branch completely (either another LM service or a WC service that now actually stops somewhere before London). And fewer passengers will join ther service on the way to London because there will be a much wider variety of alternative services to board (and not just the very occasional stop from a Virgin train as we have now). So it’s unfounded to assert that this change will lead to more crowding.

      However, as you seem to think that a 10% increase in capacity is going to solve the problem on a service with a 160% load factor (bearing in mind that another 2½ years of growth at 4% will cancel out this benefit), I’m not that convinced you care that a solution works as long as it sounds good in a StopHS2 press release.

      “In doing so, it has increased the “efficiency improvements” (service cuts) from £5.1 billion to £7.7 billion i.e. by approximately 50%. So there will be even more cuts to services on classic rail than those already listed.”

      Or, alternatively, the deductions come from 1) moving certain services from the WCML (so that the cost of running these services moves from WCML operation costs to HS2 operational costs), and 2) it’s cheaper to run the same number of trains on six tracks instead of four. That does not fit in with StopHS2’s preferred line that this 7.7bn savings equal 7.7bn of cuts, but StopHS2 does seem to be very particular about which facts are and aren’t permitted in the HS2 debate.

  5. If I can paraphrase, you say the problem that Geoffrey Palmer ignored/glossed over is to do with peaks and troughs caused by the prices of particular services. This is especially acute on Fridays.
    You go on to say that the main capacity ‘crunch’ is to do with local commuter services to the North West of London competing with long distances services.
    I hope my paraphrasing is fair and if it is, I’m not sure how HS2 is the most appropriate answer to either problem.
    A more sensible pricing plan could be introduced to smooth out demand without much fuss and I can’t see how a problem that is focused in one part of one region needs a new national HSR.
    It may be that I’m missing something here, but I think your response highlights a looming problem, that if HS2 is a vital requirement, then there needs to be a lot more work done to explain what the real problem is.

    • There is already a pricing plan. It is more expensive to travel at afternoon peck than off-peak. The crowding is still horrendous,

      Unless you plan to increase the price of peak season tickets even further, there’s not much you can do. If that is your plan, and you wish to tell the good people of Milton Keynes that they now have the travel home at 7 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. for the greater good (or pay for an even more cripplingly expensive season tcket than the one they have now), be my guest. Just don’t expect them to roll out the red carpet for you.

  6. I presume I qualify as a HS2 opponent to the current scheme. Its because I’m not at all sure of the justification for this new line. Firstly I am surprised by the great increase in Rail travel, – delighted but surprised. Is it becuase people are having to travel further to find work ? Is it because taxes on air travel and cars are forcing people onto trains ? Is it because car parking in towns and cities is becoming horrendously expensive ? I’m not sure. The next question is where is all the future passengers coming from ? I think the big increase in the future will be business tarvellers flying to and from China, India, Brazil and Europe. If that is true then rail should be concentrating on transporting people to and from airports and for journeys to Europe, trying to provide an alternative. Maybe there is a big demand for people travelling from the rest of the UK to do business in London. If so then the City of London is more accessible from Stratford than Euston. From a personal point of view, I think that London is ‘full’ and that all businesses should be encouraged to go to places like Manchester and Liverpool as the BBC has done. This may be a for/against reason for HS2. In an electronic age we don’t really need to move people around the country. Will travel drop off as incomes are hit ? There are so many unanswered questions about HS2, that I think we need a huge debate before the first sod is turned.

    • Oddly the busiest time on WCML is Friday evening when large numbers travel for leisure purposes, with another peak on Sunday!

      HS2 Is simply WCML2 and like the CTRL should have been marketed as such!

  7. A further update. The growth in Rail travel over the last 10 years seems to be nearly all Business travel around the London area and possibly because of the penalties put on Business Car ownership and use. (It might also be Parking and London Congestion charges). The big question is – Will this increase in Rail travel continue and if so should all Network Rails investment be in and around London rather than the new HS2 network ?

  8. Sim Harris hits the nail on the head when he says that “the whole truth” should be told about this subject as much as about any other.

    Firstly the WCML is said to be at capacity which is not completely true. The WCML from Euston to Rugby is near or at capacity, the rest still has capacity for growth.

    Secondly, you reach a stage in a debate when entrenched positions dictate your reasoning. You should never be a prisoner of your conclusions. Unfortunately that is the case in so many discussions – epecially where politicians are involved. So many times they opt for a position and are then committed to it so will not back down. Bad for the debate and bad for the country.

    Yesterday Sunday 12th Jan. there was an extensive article in the Spanish daily “El Pais” commenting on the new connection between Barcelona and the French system at Figueres on the border. The main point of the article was to question the mad rush to biuld AVE lines which will never ever make a profit, nor are justified socially. This is just part of a general comment about macro vanity projects which have never had any cost/benefit analysis done on them. The local politicians push for them, the state concedes favours and Brussels foots the bill (80%) without any control over the expenditure.

    Beware politicians, civil servants, who do not want to have to repeat the whole processes, and consultants who have to justify their existence and thus their fees.

    With the WCML there are two facts to note:
    1-the lack of capacity on the route Euston – Rugby in the near future and
    2-the desire for faster times on these trunk lines.

    The first can be done by
    (a) building HS2 (or something very similar) (b)upgrading the Chiltern line corridor
    (c) reopen the Grand Central line at a higher standard or
    (d) do nothing.
    Those are the four choices and should be the focus of the debate.

    The second point about speed dictates the need or not for further HS lines. Track layouts and gradients limit speeds. However, tracks can always be upgraded but stopping options could reduce maximum necessary speeds. It is not a question of all or nothing , it is about what can be done for the greater good for the greater number.

  9. The article is saying that ICWC trains are half-empty in the peak, because the fares are ‘too high’. But the current fares don’t cover the costs. After Network Grant etc, ICWC is a net recipient of public funds. Is Railnews suggesting that the subsidy should be increased? If so, by how much?

    The claim that there are ‘no more paths, or virtually none’, is also less than forthright. Railnews must be aware of how Project 110 and F2N can create additional capacity on the southern WCML. Another three paths could be freed by switching West Midlands intercity trains to Chiltern.

    • Beleben, we’ve been over this one before. You are quite happy to sell this as a cheap and easy solution, but every time I ask your for details of:

      * how much four-tracking you think would be needed to keep local services,
      *how much you think it will cost (the current estimates run into £8bn), and
      *a proposed service plan for how you intend to co-ordinate the fast services with the local services on the remaining two-track sections,

      you don’t answer the question. Never mind, perhaps we’ll have more joy this time, with the editors of Railnews as our witnesses.

      • Mr Neville-Smith has already been told that:

        * the net increase in fast trains per hour on Chiltern would be two, not three (because there already is one).

        * stations on the Bicester cut off were built with separate through tracks

        * the central section of the Chiltern Line had not carried ‘local services’ for 30+ years. Apart from Kings Sutton, the village stations were all closed down.

        Obviously, removing Southampton – Midlands railfreight to the OWW (Cotswold) route would provide further paths.

        • So I take it the answer’s no, you’re still not going to answer the question. Just a repeat of the argument for how much spare capacity there is between Banbury and Leamington (which would cut nothing off the bill of Rail Package 3 because it never propose four-tacking that section in the first place).

          Tell you what Mr. B. As you’re clearly not going to do a service plan no matter how many times I ask, I think I’ll have a go this weekend. You never explain your schemes terribly clearly, but I take it you are proposing: 1) Four-tracking Sanderton-Seer Green and Tylesley-Dorridge but nowhere else, 2) adding passing loops at every station to allow fast trains to overtake stopping trains, 3) Routing trains to Paddinton instead of Marylebone (as per RP2-5) and 4) two extra services similar to the existing hourly Moor St – London services, one of which will be routed via Coventry (yes, Coventry, you are having your London service cut to 1 tph you lucky lucky people). Correct me if you want something different, or I will go with this model. Can’t say fairer than that?

          • HS2 Ltd – with 1400+ staff and a budget running into tens of millions of pounds – haven’t produced a timetable for the West Coast Main Line post-HS2. In fact, they haven’t even produced a timetable for HS2 itself.

            All HS2 Ltd have is an illustrative service pattern for their high speed line – one which illustrates the fact that, south of Birmingham, HS2 would not have the paths available to run trains onto HS1.

            While north of Birmingham, on both Y forks, 9 of 18 HS2 paths would go unused.

            However much Mr Neville-Smith dislikes it, the fact is that the Chiltern Line has large amounts of spare capacity, and the costs of using it as the main line to the West Midlands are very small.

  10. Just exactly what is the “whole truth” that Geoffrey Palmer should have told? You rather leave that hanging out there, don’t you? Rather unfair of you, isn’t it? What is the “whole truth” that Geoffrey Palmer should have told, you mind reader you.

    (I cannot really improve on “By ignoring the suburban and regional services and choosing to quote the selective passenger figures about Virgin alone, a highly dubious picture is painted.” SH)

  11. Problem is Mr Palmer failed to mention London Midland and Overground trains also leave Euston most of which can be packed to the rafters and need HS2 to divert Virgin trains in order to create extra capacity for more services and even services which serve stations like Watford Junction that have lost services due to lack of spare capacity!

  12. Mr Palmer also left out freight traffic which is continuing to grow and so will need more and more paths and has the benefit of reducing road congestion something one would think the 4×4 brigade would welcome !

  13. What a load of rubbish this Government speak. Because it claims the WC route is busy we will have to build a new railway from some where close to London to somewhere close to Birmingham. Why not up grade the St Pancras route to Birmingham via Bedford, Leicester and Nuneaton to 250 kph instead of spending unknown £billions on a line that does not serve any major populatation centres. When the have done that they could then re-instate the old Midland line to Manchester via Derby and the Central Line via Nottingham to Sheffield and the north East.

  14. Okey-dokey, now that we are taking comments again, I can advise you that I have tried to add two extra fast Marylebone to Moor Street trains during the afternoon peak.

    And guess what? I couldn’t do it. At a push, I think that with four-tracking as far as Seer Green it would be possible to squeeze in a second fast service immediately behind the semi-fast (the one whose first stop is High Wycombe), but I can’t for the life of me think where you can put the third train per hour.

    It doesn’t matter how many clever tricks you pull between Banbury and Leamington; it’s invariably the area around High Wycombe where the conflicting train paths get unstuck. Even holding a stopping train at a station to allow a fast one to overtake doesn’t look workable. By the time you’ve held up the stopping train by three minutes, it’s already in the way of another train path.

    I’m quite happy to stick my working out online in case anyone else thinks they might have more luck, and I will do on request. Until then, the point is that I’m the only person who has attempted to find spare capacity on the Chiltern Line where it’s needed, and I couldn’t do it.

    So claiming “the Chiltern Line has large amounts of spare capacity” isn’t standing up to scrutiny, and prefacing it with “The fact is” does not change your opinion into fact. (And, for the billionth time, using spare capacity between Leamington and Banbury does not help you between London and Bicester. You might as well argue spare capacity between Inverness and Thurso solves the problem between London and Brighton.)

    So … do you or do you not have a proposed service pattern yet?

    • If you fourtrack the whole length of the Chiltern Line and electrify it, how would that change service patterns? Do not faster acceleration from stops and greater line speeds mean more capacity?

      • Crucial difference of four-tracking is that you can run fast trains on one pair of lines and slow trains on the other pair. Try plotting a graph of service patterns on the current two-track Chiltern line and you’ll see how much of a problem mixed fast and slow services are.

        I think the chance of getting any noticeable speed improvements from electrification alone is round about zero. The non-electrified Chiltern line has a maximum speed of 100mph. On the two-track sections of the electrified ECML, I very rarely see the speed top 110.

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