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Standing room only – HS2 is the only way to meet soaring demand

Standing room only – HS2 is the only way to meet soaring demand

🕔17.Sep 2013

Director General of Centro Geoff Inskip hammers home the case for more capacity: HS2 is the only option to meet the huge growth of rail users.

With a growing population and continuing soaring demand for rail it’s imperative we provide more capacity to ensure we can compete as a global economy. We are convinced that HS2 is the only way to do this.

There are those who claim there is no overcrowding on our rail network and no need to provide the boost that HS2 will deliver. But in making that argument they are choosing to ignore evidence and the experiences of tens of thousands of commuters on a daily basis.

Let’s take a look at a few facts: There are now 1.3bn passengers using our railways – that’s more than at any time since the 1920s. If that seems surprising, it is even more remarkable in that (post-Beeching) we have only half the miles of track we had back then.

It is often argued that overcrowding is an issue for London and the South East but not elsewhere. Again, this is simply not true. We have seen rail journeys double in a decade in the West Midlands, with consistent growth of around five per cent year on year.

In August the Office for Rail Regulation (ORR) reported a 14 per cent rise in rail journeys in one year in the West Midlands.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) reported that Coventry and Birmingham are currently in the top four UK cities for rail growth.

So it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Network Rail is consistent in its warning that the West Coast Main Line will be full by the early 2020s.

Rail is an overwhelming success story, especially as this phenomenal growth has played out against the backdrop of recession.

Of course the flip side of this success is the challenge of meeting rising demand on a network dating back to the 1830s.

Critics believe we can expand the West Coast Main Line to meet demand, but it was only a few years back that £9bn was spent upgrading the West Coast Main Line – the busiest section of railway in Europe.

It was necessary, but it wasn’t all good news for our region. Hidden behind the headlines bemoaning delays and poor performance local services were lost in our region as a high frequency timetable was brought in to serve the major cities.

This will continue to be the case as demand rises. Network Rail has reported services will be lost at Stone and Rugeley in Staffordshire and Atherstone in Warwickshire if we do not build HS2. And it would put an end to any chance of local services expanding – something our growth plans are crying out for.

With HS2 the picture is very different indeed.

HS2 will connect eight of our ten major cities, slashing journey times, providing huge economic benefits and creating tens of thousands of jobs. It will provide us with connections to the European high speed rail network, allowing us to travel between Birmingham and Paris or Brussels, for example.

But critically it will also release capacity on our existing network providing new local, regional and freight services and maintaining those which may otherwise face being cut.

We’ve recently published research that demonstrates HS2 will deliver 50,000 jobs and an economic boost of £4bn per year to the West Midlands.

What was overlooked by many was the fact that the regions will benefit the most. The West Midlands – located right at the heart of the Y network – benefits more than any other region.

If it’s all about capacity, it has also been argued, why don’t we build a conventional line?

The simple answer is that we should build to the best specification possible and that building a conventional line would only save around ten per cent of the cost while delivering much less return.

‘It only shaves a few minutes’ from journey times is another criticism often made by opponents. The journey from London to Birmingham is nearly halved from around 84 minutes to a fastest time of 45 minutes.

We are equally excited about our links with the North. Birmingham-Manchester is an extremely busy route. HS2 not only boosts capacity here, it also cuts journeys from 1h 30m to 41m. Similarly Birmingham-Leeds is slashed from around two hours to 57m.

But the real step-change for our region is the positive effect HS2 delivers right across our increasingly busy transport network.

The capacity released on our existing lines offers a great opportunity to increase services throughout our region, in Walsall, Coventry and Wolverhampton for example.

Our challenge is to ensure we have the best possible regional network, maximising the benefits of HS2 with swift links to the Metro and rail network, bus routes and cycle routes.

It may not capture the imagination of columnists or captivate the headline writers but the argument for building HS2 is simple really: it’s all about capacity.


Geoff Inskip writes ahead of his appearance at the Greenguage 21’s Autumn Conference, ‘HS2: the wider network, the wider benefits’ on Thursday, 19 September 2013 Birmingham.

Cover Image (Right): Which?

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