Worcestershire Campaign to Protect Rural England

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Expensive but Not Much Faster

The Government's proposal to build a new railway line to carry high-speed trains (HSTs) between London and Birmingham at a cost of £17 billion is generating much debate and, in some cases, protest. (If the line is extended to Manchester and Leeds, then the cost will be over £30 billions).

It might be argued that, since Worcestershire is not on the route of the proposed line (HS2), we need not concern ourselves with it. Never the less, most of us are taxpayers in one form or another and therefore entitled to consider whether there is likely to be much benefit from the £1,000 or so per person which this will cost us.

Both CPRE National and CPRE West Midlands have responded to the Government’s consultation process. The following is a re-drafting of some of the points made in these responses. The Government is concerned that the current railway network between London and the Midlands is nearing the limit of its capacity for passenger and freight services and considers that further growth can be met only by constructing a new line between London and Birmingham. We accept the nature of the problem but are not convinced that another transport link between London and Birmingham is the only or best solution.

The Government wants this new line to be used by high-speed trains, which is at first sight a reasonable proposal. These are defined as trains capable of reaching speeds of between 125 and 250 mph. It favours the 250 mph option, which in practice will probably be reduced to about 220 mph for operational safety reasons.
As a general point, there is far less benefit from and need for HSTs in England than on the continent. Both France and Spain are four times the size of England, while Germany and Poland are well over twice the size. Hence time saved by HSTs between European cities is far greater than in England. Even so, the majority of
HSTs in Europe, such as the TGV operate at a maximum speed of160 to 200 mph.

A drawback of using the 250 mph options that the track must be straight, so it is more difficult to find a route that avoids private properties and protected landscapes.

We would prefer the lower European option, which would be cheaper, use less energy, and enable the line to take a less damaging route across Warwickshire and
the Chilterns. It has been claimed that, with the 250mph train, the duration of the London to Birmingham journey will be reduced from 84 in 49 minutes, i.e. by 35 minutes. This claim is deceptive. The current service between Euston and New Street stops three times. Each stop lengthens the journey by four minutes. The HST will not stop enroute.

Further, current plans indicate that the Birmingham station fourth HST will be east of the city, near the airport, whereas New Street is in the city centre. This
shortens the HST journey by about six minutes. Therefore, only 17 of the 35 minutes saved will be genuinely due to the high speed. This confirms the point made in the previous paragraph regarding the limited time benefit of HSR due to the relatively short distances between English cities.

Because the HS2 station, which I will call Parkway for convenience, will be outside Birmingham, a link to the city centre will be provided by modernising the old Curzon Street station, which was the first city centre station but was closed to passenger traffic in 1893. Unfortunately, there is currently no rail link between it and New Street station, which is likely to be the station most used by travellers coming into Birmingham.

How a smooth connection will be provided is uncertain but it would seem that the time wasted in travelling from New Street to Parkway might cancel out
the time saved by the HST. This, of course, applies also to passengers from London and Manchester intending to visit central Birmingham. Alternatively, many people might decide to drive to the Parkway station, where there is planned to be a car-park for up to 7,000 vehicles. This will occupy a large area of
Green Belt (my estimate is at least 60 acres) and cause increased congestion on roads such as the M42and A45.

There will still be a need to run conventional trains between Birmingham and London on the existing routes in order to provide a service for those towns that HS2 bypasses, such as Coventry, Rugby, Milton Keynes and Watford. Such towns will not want to see a reduction in frequency and speed of the service. Further, because travel on HS2 is likely to cost more than by conventional rail, many people in London and Birmingham may prefer to travel on the current line if they judge that the extra cost does not justify the time saved(if there is any).

HS2 will appeal mostly to businessmen living to the east of Birmingham, such as in Sutton Coldfield and Solihull, who will be tempted to take a day-trip to London (rather than conduct business by telephone or video conference) and will be able to pass the cost on to their employers. This is contrary to the proclaimed aim of successive governments to reduce the need to travel. Support for HS2 has been evident from Birmingham Airport, which sees itself as becoming the 'fourth London Airport' on the grounds that the travel time from Heathrow to Birmingham will be the same as to Stansted. This claim could lead to renewed pressure for an expansion of services and runways at the airport.

From the Worcestershire perspective, apart from those people living in the northeast of the county close to the M42, there is unlikely to be any advantage in using HS2 to London as the present rail service through Worcester to Paddington is faster. A more likely consequence is that the cost of HS2 will drain resources that might have been used to improve existing rail services for the benefit of a much larger number of people.

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