Monday, 1 August 2016

HS2 versus Great Central rebuilding south of Leicester

HS2 versus Great Central rebuilding south of Leicester

The decision to defer the Hinkley Point nuclear power station development is a wise one. Renewables are much safer and secure. One only has to see the football pitches of radioactive waste we have now, to see adding more with no remedy is a recipe for a real security weakness and hazard. HS2/3 will demand a lot more power than conventional rail. The exact same model however, incorporating Chinese funding and access to British real estate relates to HS2/3 and should also be deferred and ultimately ruled out. Contrary to Louise Ellman’s call for HS2 support citing it would provide much needed capacity, this is a wild claim and should be taken with a pinch of salt. If I may expand:

1. HS2/3 is a self contained railway, different from conventional rail. The two are not like for like and are not necessarily transferable, due to speed differences, breaking distances and available paths per ratio of distance.
2. HS2 is on average 30 miles from the well established and busy core node of the M1, West Coast and Midland Main Line corridors which do need relief. That distance and difference of operation makes HS2 irrelevant for ‘capacity creation’. It won’t take domestic freight, it has no plan for Piggyback (lorries on rails, thus transference) so who will use HS2?
3. HS2 will at best draw people from the poorer Midlands and North West to London seeking employment but even that will charge more and deliver away from the City of London by several miles and even a change for a slower train behind others passing through Crossrail. It is highly doubtful London people will want to commute away from London. Therefore we are talking premium fares for premium passengers and will there be sufficient for such to stand alone and for how many years will it require subsidy? We think of the Humber Bridge!
4. Government would do far better to limit Chinese involvement and suggest HS2 be commuted to conventional rail or scrapped in favour of a more localised channelling of any available capital funding for local rail projects. Scotland has blazed ahead with successful local rail reopenings, the Borders Railway being the latest. These can take passenger and freight and as new builds, can be shaped to have portals for growing freight flows by rail as well as integrated passenger network expansion. It is much easier to obtain funding for road schemes than rail and so much of rail is commuted to Network Rail as 'King Arbitrator', whereas what we need is for Local Authorities to be able to gain funds for rail and indeed not only a level playing field but some incentive for the English Regions to catch Scotland up. Projects like Oxford-Bedford-Cambridge, Northampton – Bedford (enables Birmingham-Northampton-Cambridge and Luton Airport-Northampton for example and links the Midland Main Line with the West Coast Main Line south of Rugby, giving end to end rail choice currently denied to both the A45-A14 and M1 respectively) and would free up road and rail capacity for much less cost than HS2.
5. To commute some of the HS2 rubble funds to rebuilding the Great Central south of the Leicester-Nuneaton line with loops to incorporate Daventry and Buckingham and a rebuild of the Grendon-Akeman Street direct line to enable a variety of destinations from the East Midlands and through running of trains such as Leicester-Marylebone, Leicester-Old Oak Common, Leicester to the Southern Region (avoids the need to change in London) and Leicester-Reading and maybe the South Coast. Sometimes to see potential we need to turn the map upside down and see the Channel/South Coast as the northern frontier, London to be bypassed and the north as the southern frontier.
6. At Leicester, freight could go via Knighton-Burton for Derby and beyond, passenger workings into Leicester and diasporered around the East Midlands. If we want to then link up with Manchester, the rebuilding of the already successfully studied by Government Multi Modal Study, the Matlock – Chinley railway, former Midland Main Line, for Derby/East Midlands – Manchester. This all takes off the West Coast Main Line and utilises lines old and new with spare capacity more. The success of Renaissance Rail by using the Hope Valley for London-Manchester trains shows the demand for a more direct East Midlands-Manchester line is there. Also by criss-crossing the M1 like this, you take away end to end journey’s freeing up capacity by choice.

7. Privatisation has fragmented the railways making them sterile and not fit for purpose, to be modal means of service for the nation. It has made getting things done more difficult and protracted and thus costly. Renationalisation has merit not least to simplify things. There are examples like East Coast whereby bringing back ‘in house’ has saved money to the exchequer and made for a good service. But we need a plan to re-rail communities over 20, 000 population including places like Dunstable and coastal resorts and this can only be done if sufficient means are put at disposal of local government and a level playing field created. The English Regions need a grass-roots incremental mechanism to inform we are reopening like Scotland, not big projects costing £billions, but smaller projects such as Northampton-Bedford-Cambridge which for 50 miles could do so much to correct what is wrong and more positively regenerate through increased and sustained footfalls and spend, traditional town centres, minus the cars, the land use conflict and parking mayhem which bedevils many towns like Bedford and Northampton and even Milton Keynes!

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