HS2 could free up space for faster more frequent trains

Passengers on Britain’s busiest rail route could benefit from faster, more frequent trains, less crowding and better connections if the first phase of the proposed high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham goes ahead as planned.

Those are the conclusions of a report published today by Network Rail and Passenger Focus, which sets out the improved level of service passengers on the West Coast Main Line could experience thanks to the extra capacity and 125mph trains which would become available if long-distance services migrate to High Speed 2.

One of the biggest groups to benefit would be commuters travelling between Northampton, Milton Keynes, Watford Junction and London, where the worst overcrowding is forecast in the coming years as demand for rail continues to grow. Initial analysis suggests as many as twelve trains per hour could operate on this section of the route in the busiest peak hours.

Other key beneficiaries would be passengers travelling between the major towns and cities of the West Midlands and between London and destinations in the Trent Valley, as well as companies that rely on moving goods by rail freight. There are also likely to be opportunities to improve connectivity between the south end of the route and towns and cities further the north.

More than 5,000 current passengers and almost 1,000 potential new rail users were surveyed by Passenger Focus, highlighting the key priorities for the capacity which would be released if a new rail line such as HS2 is built.

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Anthony Smith, Passenger Focus chief executive said, “Passengers know that with more people using the West Coast Main Line it is only a matter of time before capacity runs out. If a new line was to free up this much-needed route passengers, especially commuters, have signalled they want to be able to get seat as well as more direct services.”

Passengers clearly stated first and foremost they want to be able get a seat. Direct services were also high up the list of priorities for both current passenger and non-users. In the additional comments section punctuality and reliability also featured.

Network Rail used these survey results to produce nine overarching goals or ‘outputs’ – such as shorter journey times between London and the Trent Valley or additional direct services between major towns and cities in the West Midlands – which could form the building blocks of a future WCML timetable.

Paul Plummer, Network Rail group strategy director, said: “The West Coast Main Line is Britain’s busiest and most economically vital rail artery – but by 2024 it will be full, with no more space to accommodate the continued predicted growth in demand. HS2 would not only transform travel between our major cities, it is also the best way to solve the capacity crunch facing passengers and businesses on the West Coast Main Line.

“This joint study with Passenger Focus means we now know what commuters, business and leisure travellers and freight companies want from their railway, so we can work with our customers and government to help plan for a future West Coast Main Line which best meets the their needs and supports rather than stifles economic growth.”

In the majority of cases Network Rail has concluded that the outputs identified in the study could be delivered when the proposed new line between London and Birmingham opens. The second stage of this study will develop a more detailed understanding of any trade-offs between outputs in order to provide the best overall level service on the West Coast Main Line in the future.