FOR the UK to stand any chance of hitting its greenhouse gas targets on time, rail needs to double its capacity in the next 30 years. This simply cannot be done by any amount of existing route capacity enhancement, and it is fantasy to think otherwise.
I’m rolling my eyes now, but anyone who seriously believes that we can tackle climate change by fitting overhead live wires on motorways and pantographs on lorries is equally disconnected from reality. What happens at simple junctions, let alone Spaghetti Junction? Imagine the dewire-ments… and the costs!
There are only two answers to decarbonising and doubling rail capacity: a rolling programme of electrification (on railways, not roads) and building HS2 in full.
The Eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds – HS2E – isn’t an optional extra. HS2E is the core of the project and is key to all the benefits. It is fantasy to suggest otherwise.
HS2E is the only way to achieve the doubling of capacity on the network as a whole. Moving the fast trains from the West Coast, East Coast and Midland Main Lines to HS2W and HS2E (which relieves not one, but two of those trunk routes) is what enables and then turbo-charges capacity enhancement on the rest of the network.
Firstly, and most simply, it decongests those three principal trunk routes by removing hundreds of trains and creating lots of space for other passenger and freight traffic.
Secondly, the fact that it’s the fast trains that will switch to HS2 turbo-charges this benefit because 125mph trains are very greedy on space – they need many miles to stop and require lots of clear track in front of them.
This restricts not only how many trains you can run, but also what sort of other (slower) trains you can slot between them.
Put all the WCML, MML and ECML fast trains onto HS2W to Manchester, and HS2E to Leeds, and you have three suddenly very quiet main lines on which you can run an intense 100mph stopping train service to many more intermediate stations, along with lots more freight.
Scrap HS2E and here are just some of the increased local and inter-urban major service benefits that would be lost:
- On the Midland Main Line between St Pancras and Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield;
- On the East Coast Main Line between King’s Cross and Peterborough, Grantham, Newark, Doncaster, Leeds and York;
- On the CrossCountry route between Birmingham, Derby, Sheffield, Leeds and York;
- On all connecting and secondary lines that serve these routes and thereby rely on their capacity.
Building HS2E is by far the fastest, most cost-effective way to enable and deliver all these benefits to hundreds of stations and millions of people.
More widely, a frequently heard and utterly ludicrous complaint is that Wales derives ‘no benefits whatsoever from HS2’ because ‘not a single inch of track is in Wales’, and yet the Welsh people are ‘forced to pay for it’. Rubbish. Here’s just one clear benefit. Capacity release enabled by HS2 at Birmingham New Street, for example, has a hugely beneficial impact on key services to Aberystwyth alone.
It will enable more frequent services right across central Wales and its intermediate stations, and they might actually run on time, too, rather than being perpetually delayed (as at present) by waiting outside Wolverhampton to find their way through the congestion which HS2 would eliminate.
No new infrastructure means no new released capacity benefits for hundreds of stations and millions of people – including in Wales. It’s that simple.
Therefore, scrapping HS2E would be political suicide for Boris Johnson personally, for the MPs of the ‘red wall’, and for the Conservative government itself.
More importantly, millions of people will be denied the life chances, jobs and wider benefits they both deserve and need.
Nigel Harris is managing editor of RAIL magazine. See www.railmagazine.com for further details.
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