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Birmingham New Street commuters face chaos if HS2 isn’t built, warns Network Rail

Birmingham New Street commuters face chaos if HS2 isn’t built, warns Network Rail

🕔19.Sep 2013

Network Rail has renewed its campaign for HS2 by warning that failure to build a high speed track between London and Birmingham would plunge existing commuter services into chaos.

Passengers at New Street Station may be unable to get on peak hour services to the capital by the early 2020s because trains will already be full by the time they reached Birmingham, it is claimed.

In a grim assessment of what could happen if the £50 billion HS2 line from Euston to Birmingham and on to Manchester and Leeds is not built, Network Rail executive Rupert Walker predicted that the West Coast Main Line would simply grind to a halt.

Mr Walker, head of high speed development, said the 170-year-old WCML is already struggling to cope with record demand for rail journeys. The route, which runs from London to the north-west of England and Scotland, has registered a 50 per cent increase in passengers over the past 10 years.

The number of customers using Euston is growing at an average of six per cent a year, the fastest growth rate of any London station.

Mr Walker told a Greengauge 21 conference in Birmingham that HS2’s role in freeing capacity on the WCML was of more importance than the faster journey times that high speed rail would bring.

He said: “The West Coast Main Line has had major upgrades, but this is not enough. It will be full by the mid-2020s, there will be no more room, particularly for freight.

“Even if we make the trains longer and upgrade the line with the latest technology we still won’t be able to run enough trains on the tracks to meet the demand we predict in the future.”

He added that commuters travelling from Birmingham to London “will have to set their alarm clocks earlier and earlier just to get a place standing”. It was likely that some trains arriving at New Street would be unable to take on any more passengers.

The capacity issue has been largely ignored or sidelined in the HS2 debate. Critics of the project have accused Network Rail and the Department for Transport of exaggerating the WCML overcrowding issue in order to justify the cost of high speed rail.

Sir David Higgins, chief executive of Network Rail, told the conference that failure to proceed with HS2 would blight a generation of rail users, leading to vastly overcrowded trains and slower journey times. There was a need “to play catch up” following decades of under-investment in railways.

Sir David added: We have half a billion more people using trains over the past 10 years, but we don’t have any new tracks. We’ve put more and more trains on the tracks, but there is no more room.”

Lord Deighton, chairman of the HS2 Growth Task force, likened HS2 to the 2012 London Olympic Games – a huge project that was bound to attract a certain amount of public scepticism about the cost and benefits.

But he insisted the Government remained “100 per cent behind HS2” and that the new line would bring enormous benefits to the economy.

However, Lord Deighton accepted that far more had to be done to make the case for HS2.

He outlined three major benefits from HS2.

  • Better connectivity, freeing up capacity on the existing rail network.
  • Local growth and regeneration with HS2 acting as a catalyst for regeneration in cities and around high speed rail stations.
  • Job creation, particularly in the construction industry. The HS2 project is forecast to create 89,000 jobs.

Birmingham City Council chief executive Stephen Hughes put the case for HS2’s ability to close the north-south gap by stimulating growth in the Midlands and the North. Mr Hughes urged the Government to be “bold and ambitious” and press ahead with high speed rail whatever the cost-benefit analysis of the project might show.

Mr Hughes said there would always be an element of risk in any major transport programme and many of the benefits would take years to be realised.

He added: “This is part of a bigger argument about how we rebalance the economy of this country. We must not lose sight of that.”

He pointed out that government spending on transport in London is £800 per person, which is 34 per cent of total spending for England and Wales. Transport spending in the West Midlands is £225 per head.

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