Railways: capacity and connectivity (HS2)

Given this week is going to see even more high-profile HS2 media activity, I may as well weigh in again on the subject.

Perhaps, importantly, it is worth starting with the purpose of railways.  The railways are a high capacity form of mass transit covering several different roles:

– urban/suburban/commuter services – highest frequency, high capacity, many stops, the lifeblood of the conurbations and journey to work areas; absolutely crucial to regional economic health

– inter-regional – often the forgotten limb, services that connect small and medium-sized towns with each other and with regional cities – not so frequent but crucial for connectivity

– intercity – the fast, frequent services connecting major towns and cities; absolutely crucial for jobs, businesses and the economic wellbeing of those places

– freight – always neglected, an increasingly vital role in moving goods and products around in very high volumes, can take huge numbers of lorries off our roads and motorways and absolutely vital that the growth railfreight is seeing is supported and developed.

What I hope to illustrate is that the railways play a critical role in moving people and things around the country in a number of different ways.  The two crucial elements to this are:

– the capacity that the railways provide to satisfy the demand for travel;

– the connectivity required to connect people and goods with work, leisure, markets and so on.

The role of HS2 is to provide a major new north-south rail line that will create a vast new amount of capacity for intercity passengers.  This will then release capacity on the current railways to provide more space for commuter, regional and freight services.

Having experienced the £9bn upgrade of the West Coast Main Line in the early 2000s – and not looking forward to the ongoing route modernisations coming up, including the 2 week shutdown at Watford Junction next August, there needs to be a clearer appreciation of the fact that upgrading lines does not create significant new capacity, it does not do it without disruption and it is not cheap.  It is a sub-optimal solution in fact.

This week we see the revised business case for HS2 released along with detail of the level of disruption, cost and futility required to upgrade the current north-south rail lines.  It is clear that the Government is now starting to fight back although you wonder why it has taken this long and with this much grief before we see this level of kickback.  However it is telling that the opponents of HS2 come up with very little now and are really seeking to continue spreading both fear and misinformation.  There was also the weird idea -someone flying a very poor kite – of looking at the Great Central railway; this has been appropriately knocked back as a plain silly piece of speculating/dreaming/buffoonery perhaps – read up on this at Zelo Street

So where are we on HS2? Well the Paving Bill goes through Parliament at the end of this week.  No difficulties are anticipated here. The major piece of work is the forthcoming Hybrid Bill, anticipated in the second half of November – then we will see a lot of detail, a lot of work and a lot more interest…

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