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Opinion: How high speed rail will benefit Preston

Posted on - 20th September, 2011 - 11:30am | Author - | Posted in - Business, Opinion, Transport
west coast main line
HS2 or High Speed 2 as it is known is a government proposal to build a new high speed, high capacity rail line connecting the North with London. The new high speed line will initially connect London to Birmingham and join the West Coast Main Line nears Lichfield, after which it will be extended further North a few years later to include Manchester and Leeds.
For those who have already heard about HS2 it is easy to think that the new HSR network will only serve Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. However the government has stated from the outset that specialised trains know as “classic compatible” trains will leave the dedicated network at certain locations and connect onto the existing network enabling HS2 services to serve towns across the North.

Although the first phase will only reach Birmingham, and rejoin the West Coast Main Line near Lichfield, Preston will see the benefits long before the line reaches Manchester and will be an early beneficiary of new HS2 services. Under current proposals trains will leave the high speed line at a junction close to Lichfield and to join up with the West Coast Main Line in order to continue north at conventional speeds to places such as Preston on route to Glasgow, reducing present journey times by around 25 minutes.

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A lot has been made of the design speed of HS2 and indeed after completion of the first phase alone the time from Preston to London will drop to 1 hour 48, from 2 hours 14 today, even with trains travelling part of the way on the conventional network a reduction of some 25 minutes will be achieved. However journey time savings aren’t the real or main reasons why the government is proposing to build a new line.

By the mid 2020s Network Rail have stated emphatically that the WCML will be full with no prospect of operating any more trains or longer trains than the 11 car Pendolinos already planned from 2013/14. This will have a devastating impact on businesses across the North West that rely on having an efficient and effective connection to London. It is for this reason that the government with the backing of Network Rail say there is no alternative but to build a new line North, serving East and West.

After the completion of the first phase Preston will not only benefit from a journey time saving of 25 minutes but it will also benefit from an extra 2 peak trains per hour. Preston will be served by two high speed HS2 services that will join the new line at Lichfield and two West Coast services that will continue for the length of the WCML to London. Operating two separate services will give passengers choice and will drive competition between operators meaning that, despite some speculation, ticket prices for HS2 will remain at least at broadly the same level as today — and may well reduce as extra capacity becomes available.

Without HS2, however, ticket prices will continue to rise as people are priced off of the railway as capacity runs out. It is envisaged that without the construction of a new line the WCML will be subject to pre-booking arrangements much like airlines are today. Not only will this make it difficult to get to London, this could also make it difficult just to get to places such as Wigan, Glasgow or Birmingham.

It is clear that HS2 is the only option available to the government. Trying to upgrade the existing lines such as the WCML and ECML will cause years of disruption and cost almost as much as building a new line for little benefit.  HS2, whilst costly, will bring more benefits for rail users such as faster, more comfortable and less crowded trains but it will also generate a good return for the exchequer with an estimate £2.60 return for every £1 spent on the construction of a new line.

As a supporter of HS2 I have nothing to gain from its construction other than the expected benefits that the North West as a whole will gain both socially and economically. I began the YestoHS2 campaign as I was frustrated by the way that HS2 was being reported by the media and the misleading information that was being released on a daily basis by localist Anti HS2 campaigners who are against the line not because they believe it will be bad for the country but simply because they feel it will affect them.

I have no background in rail industry or the government, but with some extensive research it didn’t take me too long to realise that a lot of what was being said about the proposals by local anti HS2 protesters was incorrect and in some cases wildly misleading. It is for this reason why I will continue as an independent campaigner to ensure that HS2 goes ahead and that the myths surrounding the project are quashed. Even though I do not use the WCML very often I still feel passionately about this project, about the benefits it will bring to the North and the UK as a whole.

Image credit to Matt Buck

What do you think of the high speed rail plans? Do you support them? Or not? Let us know your views in the comments below

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