The Anonymous Widower

Reflections on My Journey to Scotland

In my Modern Railways for October, which I bought in Doncaster, there was an heretic article by Chris Stokes, asking if we really needed HS2 or the High Speed Line to the North, which would go to just Birmingham at first. He described it as a vanity project.

Twelve months ago, I was a sceptic on whether we needed a High Speed Line to the North, mainly because I didn’t think it would do anything for anybody in East Anglia where I lived. If I needed to get to the North, I wanted a fast line from somewhere I could drive to easily like Peterborough.

But when it was announced that the route would be to Birmingham in the last days of the disastrous NuLabor experiment, I warmed to it a bit, although I did think it needed to go via Heathrow.  I also thought very much that it was a Nimby’s charter.

But Chris’s article has now turned me back to very much a sceptic.  Competition being what it is, his argument, that unless you virtually close down the West Coast and Chiltern Birmingham services, no-one will pay a premium to go from London to the Midland’s premier city.  My son incidentally always goes by Virgin and has never thought about using Chiltern, as Euston is on the same Underground Line as where he lives.

Chris also argues, that the amount of First Class traffic will decrease due to austerity, good housekeeping and modern technology removing the need to travel. Some years ago, I installed a Management Information System in a company, which was web-friendly and even allowed the computer-phobic CEO to find out how the company was doing from any computer in the world.  But also, the modern traveller will become First Class smart and book it when and where they need it.  So if you think there is a premium market that saves a few minutes, forget it!

Put simply, a lawyer say going to Birmingham from London for the day, will choose his route and class dependent on what is best for his needs.  Hopefully, when I move to London, it will be in walking distance of Canonbury.  Who’s to say that in 2015, someone isn’t running an express to say Milton Keynes, Coventry and Birmingham from Stratford and East London on the North London Line and possibly the Primrose Hill Tunnel?

So what will happen to lines to the North, if we don’t build HS2 on schedule? We’ll get the usual whining, we always get when the investment is cut, but let’s look at the reality of what will happen!

We now have two good and pretty reliable and fast train lines from London to the North of England and Scotland.  I was told on my trip to to Inverness that it should be possible to be some minutes under four hours from Edinburgh to London.  This compares with a fastest journey now of  about four hours twenty minutes, although Operation Peppercorn is aiming for the magic four hours flat for the fastest trains with a stop at Newcastle. Glasgow to London by comparison is now about four hours and twenty minutes. Many of my Scottish friends say this is fast enough to mean they won’t bother to fly to London, as airport checks and delays are getting worse and they can use phones and laptops on the trains.

If there is a problem with the two stiles of a possible ladder reaching up the United Kingdom, is that some of the interfaces to other lines are poor.  But the basics and some of the rungs of the ladder are already in place.

There are a succession of large stations on both lines, such as Peterborough, Crewe, Doncaster, York and Newcastle, which can be developed into easy change stations to other places.  As I said earlier, Doncaster isn’t bad and I think Peterborough is going to be developed and hopefully linked to the nearby shopping centre, but a lot of work needs to be done.

As I rode out of Edinburgh towards Inverness, I was impressed to see that electrification has started to link Edinburgh and Glasgow.  As it is trains now run every fifteen minutes and most take just fifty to link Scotland’s two capitals.  I suspect that this will become a very important link between the two fast lines, not only because of level cross-platform interchange from the South to local trains, but also because full electrification would allow fast direct trains from Glasgow to York and Edinburgh to Liverpool.  Taking the first journey, my road atlas estimates that at four hours ten minutes, which compares with about four hours by train now with two changes and two different companies. I estimate that something like a Pendelino could do this journey direct with perhaps just a stop at Newcastle in about three hours fofty-five minutes. Who would back against, Peppercorn 2, squeezing more minutes out of the East Coast Line.

A similar situation could exist between Newcastle, York and Doncaster in the East and Manchester, Liverpool and Preston in the West, by expanding and electrifying the TransPennine network. Edinburgh to Sheffield is a journey that uses either a direct diesel service or a change to TranPennine at Newcastle. If TransPennine was a level change at Newcastle from one fast electric to another, there would be a much better service.

London too has a strong link across, although as I said Euston is not a welcoming station, but when you’ve got three world-class stations in Kings Cross, St. Pancras and Euston, as you will have, an innovative transport solution along Euston Road could surely be achieved.  For a start let’s have a proper walking route a hundred metres or so north of Euston Road, with cafes and shops.  But I’m certain that people should be encouraged to take the Metropolitan Line rather than the Victoria or Northern.  Perhaps we need a moving walkway!  Euston is supposed to be being developed and also be a terminal for HS2.  If the latter does happen, there will be a lot of grief and opposition in that area of London. That development, whether it incorporates HS2 or not, will divert rail passengers to other routes, such as Chiltern for Birmingham and East Coast for Scotland.

There is also another link that might be brought into use, especially if Euston has to be partially closed to traffic, whilst it is rebuilt.  That is the link to Manchester out of St. Pancras, which was used reasonably successfully as Operation Rio during the West Coast Main Line upgrade.  I’ve always argued that this should have stayed in place, as it interfaces well with the A14 at Wellingborough for those going from East Anglia to the North Midlands,Sheffield and ultimately Manchester.

So what’s missing?

As I found going to Scunthorpe, it’s not what’s missing in this case, but what’s still here; Pacers. All of these links to the two stiles of the ladder must be upgraded to the standard of the diesel trains, I used in Scotland.  And where possible, they should link easily to the fast services.  I think that this will happen, but in some ways it depends on a strong electrification program to release suitable diesel units.

The real problem though is the lack of a full East-West route between say Peterborough and Birmingham or perhaps Milton Keynes and Stevenage or Cambridge.  The Peterborough to Nuneaton route is being upgraded for frieght and passenger trains between the two towns take seventy-five minutes.  So it would look like that route could be another rung in the ladder. The other route is the possible Oxford-Cambridge Line, which could be built, if funds were made avaialable.

I believe strongly that the two route ladder offers  advantages over just building a speculative line from South to North, which would cost several times the amount needed to build the two route ladder.

For example, as electrification progresses, subsidiary lines like Birmingham to Bristol could be further improved, so that more and more people had less than two hour access to the main network. More rungs could be opened up, by any company that feel there was a niche to be filled.

So should HS2 be built?  I think that one day it might be built, so we must safeguard the route, so that at some future date it could be added as another part of the network.

If Beeching made one big mistake it was not in making sure that abandoned rail lines were able to be rebuilt. How many lines hastily abandoned in the 1960s are needed now? But perhaps it would mean knocking down a hundred or so houses and a Tesco’s!

October 1, 2010 - Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , , , ,


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