We’ve seen in the last few weeks how Stop HS2 have resorted to blatant deceit in their desperate attempts to breathe life back into their failing campaign, with a fabrication about major locations such as Runcorn, Preston and Wolverhampton losing all direct services to London. Whilst this fantasy has been well and truly scotched, one striking observation is that those anti-HS2 groups with some pretensions to respectability did not try to pick it up and run with it. Apart from the facts of the matter, as set out in Prof McNaughton’s presentation to the HS2 Hybrid Bill Select Committee, if even HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) won’t touch a scare story, we can be pretty certain that “scare story” is a bit of an understatement. And something tells me that this Amersham-based organisation is more than a little wary of the risk of being associated with Joe Rukin’s antics these days.
But even if HS2AA aren’t quite bosom buddies with Stop HS2 any more, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be hanging their head in shame, having form on this issue themselves!
Last year, a number of different local newspapers ran stories, identical apart from the name of the location in question, that their main town or city had a better train service in steam days than it would be left with after HS2. These identikit stories came from HS2AA, courtesy of their Director of Local Campaigns Peter Chegwyn. And of course one of these shock horror (insert name of location) stories featured Coventry.
Now, what is instantly clear is that Mr Chegwyn hadn’t done anything so basic as to check out what service Coventry did have in steam days. In 1957/8 (that is, the last year of a full service before the WCML was disrupted by electrification works), Coventry enjoyed a grand total of just eight express trains per day to London, of which even the best needed more than 1½ hours for a journey that now takes a couple of minutes over the hour. Nothing whatsoever, however crudely twisted, supports any suggestion that Coventry would revert to that level of service after implementation of HS2.
That it can only have come from the campaigners’ dirty tricks box is the kindest thing I can find to say. As tactics go, it’s not a bad one of course, as the instinctive response that Coventry would indeed have as good a service as in steam days hardly sounds very good.
But, as we now know, Professor McNaughton’s presentation clearly showed two limited-stop trains per hour to London. That’s as many trains in four hours as HS2AA imply it would have in a day. Clearly, it isn’t the three trains per hour that Coventry, essentially because it is on the way to Birmingham, enjoys today, but the question is what service is appropriate for a city of such a size and distance from London. And two trains per hour is the same as Bristol has now from its city centre station, Temple Meads.
As for speed, no doubt those trains will make one or two extra stops, at worst adding less than 10 minutes to the journey time, so again HS2AA’s comparison with steam fails. The average speed from Coventry to London, even with those extra stops, would be higher than from Bristol Temple Meads today.
But apart from contributing traffic to justify the service level, those extra stops, at major residential and employment centres such as Milton Keynes, are the up side for Coventry. It works in reverse as well. Birmingham should be a very convenient airport for the major business and residential area of Milton Keynes, but only one of the three Virgin Euston – Birmingham trains per hour calls at Milton Keynes. So on the way put you probably have either a lot of wasted time before your flight or a good chance of missing it, whilst on your return you risk waiting 59 minutes for a train home. But even if there might be only two fast trains per hour after HS2, when both stop at Milton Keynes the service effectively doubles, and a half-hourly service makes a pretty fair airport link.
Once the West Coast Main Line has these currently-neglected flows as its prime markets, the service between these major locations improves radically, for the benefit of workers, shoppers and leisure travellers alike. But that doesn’t make for cheap headlines.