Independent report

Review of strategic alternatives to High Speed Two

A report by Network Rail on proposals to upgrade the existing rail network as alternative strategies to HS2.


Review of strategic alternatives to High Speed Two

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Executive summary

The government’s consultation on high speed rail proposed that a new line, called High Speed 2 (HS2), should be built initially between London and the West Midlands, to be extended to Manchester, the East Midlands and Yorkshire in a further phase of work. The new line would provide additional capacity as long distance services transfer from existing routes.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has asked Network Rail to review two proposals (produced by consultants for 51M1 and the DfT) that suggest alternative strategies to HS2, both of which aim to provide additional capacity on the West Coast Main Line (WCML). The DfT has also asked Network Rail to review a high level proposal of an alternative option that aims to provide additional capacity on the Midland Main Line (MML) and the East Coast Main Line (ECML).

The work undertaken to review the proposals has considered the outputs, feasibility, deliverability and costs of the interventions suggested on the WCML. The proposals both clearly provide benefits to some flows on the route, although this is at a cost to particular locations through loss of capacity or connectivity. The key issues identified are as follows:

  • neither proposal would provide sufficient capacity to meet forecast demand on the suburban commuter services at the south end of the WCML
  • the intensive off-peak service pattern in the alternative strategy produced for the DfT would mean that freight growth could not be accommodated
  • both proposals would likely necessitate remodelling at London Euston station
  • both proposals would result in long periods of disruption along the route while the infrastructure interventions are constructed
  • the high utilisation of the fast lines in both proposals would negatively impact on route performance
  • both service specifications increase long distance high speed (LDHS) connectivity on some flows, however this is at the expense of other intermediate flows, where connectivity severely worsens. In some cases this results in leaving stations without a train service.

The assessment of the proposals produced for the DfT to provide additional capacity on the ECML and the MML has also concluded that it is not a suitable long-term strategy for the corridors in question for the following reasons:

  • it is considered that neither route option could deliver the stated outputs with the infrastructure that is proposed
  • in some cases considerably more infrastructure could be required, such as terminal station remodelling or the building of additional running lines
  • both routes would undergo a lengthy and disruptive programme of significant infrastructure upgrades
  • the ECML proposition leaves no clear way to solve the capacity gap that is forecast on services from the outer suburban area.

Network Rail’s assessment of the proposals has concluded that these incremental infrastructure and rolling stock enhancements are not the right solution to the overall capacity problem on the WCML. Whilst such improvements could provide some relief from overcrowding on certain services, they leave other issues unresolved and, as they fail to provide sufficient capacity for commuters at the south end of the WCML, do not solve the main capacity constraint that is the primary driver for intervention on the route.

There is a heavy disruption impact to deliver the enhancement projects in all three proposals, as each of the infrastructure interventions required to provide the proposed outputs necessarily affects the operational railway. This is on routes which are more popular and are being used more intensively than ever before.

Network Rail aims to provide a ‘seven day railway’ for its customers, minimising disruption, particularly on key interurban routes. When part of a route has to be closed diversionary routes are used where possible and if not, passenger journeys are transferred to buses. Freight traffic is even more difficult to accommodate elsewhere.

The cumulative impact of these separate schemes on current services (not including the growth expected in other markets that these outputs do not provide for) would be very significant, involving a sustained period of regular disruption on the WCML (and MML and ECML) similar to that required for the West Coast Route Modernisation (WCRM).

For some markets the proposals make the situation worse than today on the WCML, such as removing the capacity for freight growth in the strategy produced for DfT, leaving some stations without a train service (such as Stone and Atherstone) or the reduction in train service for stations south of Tring in 51M.

The cost estimates for the infrastructure interventions included in the proposals are broadly realistic, but the scope which has been priced is less than what would be required to deliver the proposed outputs (for example at London Euston station or for platform extensions), meaning the estimates are insufficient. The cost of disruption has also been underestimated.

The proposed interventions deliver considerably fewer benefits than a new line, particularly with regard to reduced journey times between urban centres and the ability to use the resultant freed capacity on the classic network to develop new markets and provide for continuing freight growth. So whilst some of the proposed enhancements may offer limited and short term opportunities for improving capacity on some areas of the route, the requirement for a new line to relieve capacity in the longer term remains and therefore would have to be delivered, in addition to these proposals, in any case.

Background documents

  • High speed rail: Investing in Britain’s future consultation, 28 February 2011
Published 10 January 2012