Rail industry craves certainty post-Brexit

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 16

Jim Steer, director of Greengauge 21, reflects on the recent changes at the DfT, the future of HS2 and its routes, and the need for certainty from the government.

Ten years ago, Chris Grayling was shadow transport secretary, looking at conventional high-speed rail (‘with TGV-type trains’), Maglev and a dedicated new freight line. While he moved on, his successor in the shadow role, Theresa Villiers, announced at the Conservative Party conference in 2008 a commitment to large-scale government funding of a conventional high-speed line linking London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. It would be a matter of weeks before Andrew Adonis would switch roles in government to transport minister, and he launched HS2 Ltd in January 2009. So Grayling knows about high-speed rail: he was there at its birth. 

Supporters of HS2 can, therefore, take comfort in his appointment as transport secretary, along with that of Andrew Jones as the minister with specific responsibility for HS2. They have said there will be no change in government policy on HS2. And yet, this is a very new government (with only four ministers retaining their pre-referendum posts) and with a prime minister who brings a very different style, as ministers were to discover with the last-minute call to review the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station plan. 

Smoothing out HS2’s route problems 

Meanwhile, one of the outstanding problems in the definition of HS2 – its position in South Yorkshire – has changed. While it will be for Grayling to decide this autumn, HS2 Ltd has recommended dropping its preferred route announced in January 2013. Instead of a station at Meadowhall (an out-of-town shopping centre where the M1 crosses the Don Valley) there is to be provision for connections to the existing city centre station in Sheffield: excellent news for those who see strengthened city (and city centre) economies as the right basis for land use development. And the whole route through South Yorkshire is shifted eastwards. HS2 Ltd says it has made a major saving on project cost. 

In effect, HS2 Ltd is saying that the more easterly route is better value for money: slightly quicker, and less expensive. It would, one suspects, have chosen this route in the first place were it not for its idea of a station at Meadowhall (bitterly opposed by Sheffield City Council and others). And now it has escaped the cost of providing an HS2 station in South Yorkshire: any works needed at Sheffield (Midland) station will apparently be for others to fund, since the HS2 services there will operate with ‘classic compatible trains’. 

One of several positive drivers for the change in position was a wish to accommodate Transport for the North’s aim of linking the city centres of Sheffield and Leeds with a 30-minute journey time. HS2 has spare capacity on its Phase 2 limbs – a legacy of the decision to opt for a Y-shaped network, and this looks to be a good opportunity to increase the benefits and further strengthen the HS2 investment case. 

There will be the usual local arguments about the alignment change, no doubt with the support of constituency MPs. But does the new HS2 Ltd position here signal a wider change in its thinking about the project? 

A central choice in high-speed rail design is whether to create a free-standing railway or to fashion connections with the existing ‘classic’ railway to allow through running. HS2 has been developed as the latter, but HS2 Ltd often seems to pretend otherwise, quoting the advantages in respect of the larger profile trains that are possible, for example. 

The revised preference in South Yorkshire tilts the overall concept towards through running. The case for a small separate fleet of classic compatible trains, restricted to self-contained routes – and there will be only one, London-Birmingham until 2033 – is diminished.

 In the north, all of the cities served by HS2 will have integrated city centre stations, following the shift of thinking at Sheffield and, earlier in the year, at Leeds. But overall, the challenge to ensure the highest levels of performance reliability and punctuality on HS2 gets just a little harder. Perturbation of delays on the existing network transmitted via through services on to HS2 would be unwelcome. 

Unspecified train control system 

The HS2 infrastructure includes an as yet unspecified train control system that eliminates trackside signalling. With its trains equipped with the suite of goodies that Network Rail aspires to implement through the digital rail ‘revolution’, it could make sense to prioritise digital train control systems on some of the ‘classic’ routes over which HS2 services will operate. 

Examples would be the West Coast Main Line north of Crewe, where from 2027 onwards there will be a need to accommodate an increased number of trains on already busy routes that are partially two-track, partially four-track, to Manchester and on the lengthy cross-border route though Warrington, Preston and Carlisle to Glasgow and Edinburgh. 

The first phase of HS2, from London to Birmingham and Lichfield, is in the final stages of the Parliamentary process. With Royal Assent possible at the year-end (or more likely, in early 2017), the prospect is for construction to start next year. Thousands of jobs would be lost if the government were to falter at this late stage, and many would begin to doubt if Britain is indeed ‘open for business’. The rail industry – just as other parts of the economy – craves certainty, and hopefully it won’t have long to wait to get it.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


L Dye   05/09/2016 at 20:31

HS2 have done no surveys on the new route in South Yorkshire and have admitted that it doesn't know how many properties will be in the safeguarding zone. They also state in their brochure that they will be avoiding mining areas, which is rubbish. With this all in mind, how can they possibly know it's a cheaper option.

Robert Foulds   05/09/2016 at 21:10

I simply cannot find any significant public support for the HS2 project and given that its only support, and I mean ONLY support, comes from the fare paying business sector, then it is easy to conclude that the real reason for this mode of transportation is to provide luxury journey arrangements for the wealthy and privileged - all at the cost of the 'hard working' families who have no need for it and would not in any case be able to afford to use it. And given the reasoning for proposing the non-station route through South Yorkshire i.e. that it's cheaper to build, then this perfectly demonstrates the quality of decision making by the HS2 management. The proposal drops the Meadowhall station plans in favour of a shuttle service into the centre of Sheffield. It is utterly preposterous to avoid a 750,000 strong market i.e. north and east Sheffield + Rotherham + Barnsley simply because it is cheaper to bypass the area. This is like M&S building a store in the middle of a field, because it is cheaper than building in a city centre - what would their shareholders have to say about that. But perhaps the real reason for dropping Meadowhall, is that the wealthy and privileged simply don't want to be accompanied by the riff-raff from north and east Sheffield + Rotherham + Barnsley.

Jan Ashton   05/09/2016 at 21:16

So how will employment in Yorkshire benefit from HS2? The most recent posts advertised (competitive salaries) are based in London and Birmingham. Do you anticipate that engineers and construction workers will be employed from Yorkshire? I would be interested to find out how Wakefield (no station, merely a 24 hour depot) will benefit! How can you blithely boast that seventy percent blight of my village is a benefit! You know how the north will vote in the next election! Remember Brexit?

Jonathan Pile   05/09/2016 at 21:49

HS2 Limited have put their name to a Report which misleads the Secretary of State Chris Grayling. The False Statements made are a) HS2 Limited consulted with Local Authorities prior to deciding on new Eastern Route Proposal (NOT TRUE: Wakefield, Rotherham & Doncaster & MPs were not informed) b) New Route will result in One Billion Pounds saving (Not True : This claim is unsupported & Longer Route has had no assessment as to costs, compensations, demolitions, engineering. So at best this is a bad guess & is challenged by Rail Engineers who suggest cost neutral or even plus £400m) c) New Route will have fewer demolitions (NOT True - number of properties along the route within 60 metre safeguarding zone is estimated at 315 which is three times the 105 on old route. Yet HS2 admit in FOI request they have made this claim without any safeguarding assessment and have no idea about number of demolitions d) Less Noise than old route : (Not true - this is a guess, some 40,000 people live within 500 metres of new 58km route which exceeds 6,200 on old route noise blighted. This new route is an old plan from 2011 "East of Rotherham" which HS2 Ltd rejected in 2012.

Sandra Haith   05/09/2016 at 22:39

HS2 will only serve the few and yet every taxpayer in the country will have to pay for it. Most people don't want it and will probably never use it. It is has an obscene budget which is spiralling out of control and is around ten times higher than any European counterpart. The £54+ billion project (which is more likely to reach £80+ billion by completion) will only cut around twenty minutes from the journey time. I personally don't know anyone who is worried about saving twenty minutes and I feel sorry for those that do. It would be much more sensible to upgrade our existing network and invest in more modern tracks and trains to deal with the capacity issue. Why are hs2 making it sound as though they are solving a problem? The high speed train is still just a train. We have already got trains and believe it or not us northerners ARE able to get down to London if we so wish, albeit 20 minutes slower!

Neil Palmer   06/09/2016 at 03:42

Sandra and others continue to roll out the tired old argument that HS2 is about cutting minutes off journey times. Admittedly this misconception is probably due to the poor way the line was initially "marketed". The main purpose is to enhance network capacity, and one of the main benefits will be the ability to better serve many stations on the current East & West Coast main lines. As for the suggestion of upgrading the existing network instead, that was tried with the West Coast and it was a total disaster with the scope being cut back, the cost escalating by billions, and massive disruption to services. You can't keep on patching & mending Victorian infrastructure forever. The cheaper and less disruptive route is a totally new line.

Ian Handley   06/09/2016 at 10:04

If the preferred route was via Meadowhall ,then that is the route that should be costed ,surveyed and engineered , The decision then should be taken ,yes or no ,by Chris Grayling , based on that work. The east/m18 I suspect has been put forward on a spurious saving of a one billion pounds guess but I think it was rerouted because Sheffield City Council had promises of Chinese investment in the city( Announced the same day as the rerouting by a Chinese representative because Sheffield now had a Hs2 station ,qoute /unqoute) The proposed link line into Sheffield is not electrified at the moment , who will pay for that and where will people leave there cars , to use the link line. The whole project is an obscene waste of taxpayers money , that could be better used elsewhere , perhaps to improve the southern train system into London , where gross overcrowding is evident or heaven forbid into the NHS or to repair local roads which are a disgrace.SCRAP HS2 Now

Gb   07/09/2016 at 01:15

Yes we need more capacity - not High Speed. The reason why the WCML is so busy is because in order to exploit the 1960s expenditure on electrification, the normally competing routes from Manchester to St Pancras and Marylebone were closed and their traffic diverted to WCML. Even Birmingham GW trains were diverted from Paddington to Euston via the WCML. The first step to increase capacity is to re-open these closed routes not build an incredibly expensive and hugely disruptive HS2, and spend at least some of the money saved on the NHS, the Police, flood defences, Education and other more deserving public services. Yes, let's have some certainty - SCRAP HS2 NOW!

Chris M   07/09/2016 at 19:27

Amusingly you can tell which posters have been sent to blitz the letters page by StopHS2 - they always trot out the same '20 minutes faster' nonsense and end their rant with SCRAP IT, often in large letters. The reality is very few (if any) of them are regular users of our mainlines or any kind of train and they simply don't see how the doubling of passenger numbers since the turn of the century has affected the rail network. Parliament has spoken decisively by voting for HS2 by a huge (10 to 1) majority - the need for it has been debated at length and the case proven - this country needs the step change in capacity that HS2 provides - effectively future proofing for at least half a century. Many anti's would have us believe that HS2 phase 1 will be some horrible imposition that will ruin our countryside, but the reality is that the two tracks on a 40ft wide formation will simply restore the number of tracks heading north from London that existed in the 1950s before the Great Central line was closed. There has been so much hyperbole by those opposed that they cannot see the benefits it will give or get the real impact in perspective. We had all this palava in the 1990s when HS1 was proposed, It's now been open a decade and no longer worries anyone in Kent. It will be the same when HS2 opens, we will quickly wonder how we did without it. Take a journey on any main railway route and you quickly see that people living close to it hardly notice the trains - they are much less annoying than a busy road.

Graham Nalty   10/09/2016 at 21:25

What this change of route shows is that HS2 is being designed for the travel market of the 1980s rather than the present century. HS2 is all about faster journey times from as many places as possible to London at the expense of improving journey times between our other cities - which are slower than to London and in much more need for faster journeys. Business cases assessments are based time saved in a way that favours routes with large flows, and coincidentally faster journey times, over those where business is lost due to slow journeys. Liverpool to London trans average about 80 mph whilst Liverpool to Nottingham trains average close to 30 mph. Sheffield may now have a direct service to London, but there will be no improvement in services to Birmingham or Newcastle. For high speed rail to be successful, it does need to serve the city centre stations of large cities. Experience in other countries shows that parkway stations outside cities do not perform well. They take business away from the cities they are meant to serve. We need the certainty that high speed rail will benefit the north in a way that narrows the north-south economic divide. HS2 in its present from does not do that and needs to be replaced by a much better scheme that properly reflect the needs of the 21st century.

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