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.
For example, the GC station in Nottingham is now the Victoria shopping centre, and another part of the route has been incorporated into the city’s tram system.
While it might somehow be made to serve Nottingham, and could pass through Sheffield, it goes nowhere near the West Midlands, which is the UK’s primary manufacturing centre with rapidly growing exports and economic growth.
And the GC route is a tortuous way of getting to Manchester, the city that vies with Birmingham to the claim of being England’s second city. Nor does it provide a direct link to Liverpool.
That is probably why the Great Central — the last main railway before HS1 to be built into London, in 1899, and the first to be closed, in 1966 — never made money, because there were better, more direct and more popular railway routes operated by the London & North Western and the Midland Railways from the likes of Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Leicester.
But even if all these obstacles were of no consequence, there is one overriding reason why the Great Central could not function as an alternative to HS2. What would happen to high speed trains from the north when they reached Aylesbury?
Would they have to form an orderly queue behind Chiltern and Metropolitan Line trains calling at local stations to Marylebone or Baker Street? Following a Chiltern train from Aylesbury taking 57 minutes to reach Marylebone would hardly amount to a high speed service.
In reality there is no spare capacity on the remaining GC line into London. Either Chiltern and Metropolitan services would have to be decimated, or a new high speed line built alongside the existing tracks, passing through many of those same places that have already lodged objections to HS2 – Stoke Mandeville, Wendover, Great Missenden, Amersham, Chalfont & Latimer.
What would Cheryl Gillan, local MP and strong opponent of HS2 passing through the Chilterns, say to that?
And where would the London terminus be located? I don’t think there is any room at either Marylebone or Baker Street for up to another 16 trains, 400-metres long and carrying up to 1,100 people in and out London every hour.
Unlike the suggestion that the Great Central line could function as an alternative, HS2’s plans have been carefully thought through to provide the greatest overall uplift in north-south rail network capacity, benefiting most of Britain’s significant city regions, with the minimum of interference to the existing railway and the environment.