Making the capacity case for HS2
4 December 2013 • Author(s): Rupert Walker, Head of High-Speed Rail Development, Network Rail
Britain’s railways are booming. Last year, more than 1.5 billion journeys were made by train and the network moved around 100 million tonnes of goods. But railways do much more than just move people and freight; they connect homes and workplaces, businesses with markets, they create jobs, stimulate trade and support the growth of a balanced economy.
Passenger demand in Britain has increased by 50% over the last decade and this growth is forecast to continue. By 2020 another 400 million journeys are forecast every year. This growth in demand is hugely positive, but the truth is our Victorian railway was never built for this number of trains. We run more on our network each day than Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Norway combined and as a result the busiest parts of the network are full at the busiest times of day. Just like a busy motorway, even the smallest of delays can have a big knock-on impact. Performance is at an all-time high but we can’t just keep adding more trains without significantly compromising punctuality.
Nowhere is that trade-off currently more evident than on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) – Britain’s most economically vital rail corridor. It is the busiest mixed-traffic railway in Europe, carrying a quarter of all Britain’s rail freight and hundreds of millions of passengers each year. Twelve operators use the line, with different trains stopping at different stations, at different frequencies and other lines joining it at regular intervals. Train paths are as precious as airport take-off or landing slots and its terminus, London Euston, handles more passengers every day than Gatwick.