High Speed Buffers (Part 4): Terminal Policies and Priorities

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In the latest part of our HS2 series, we look primarily at the options for London HS termini and/or through running. Some policy and funding issues are raised. Discussion about passenger volumes, and station and route construction issues will be covered in Parts 5 and 6.

City centre access reaffirmed as the new regional priority

The choice of a single HS2 terminus or multiple railheads is not straightforward, wherever you look. The assessment in Part 3 shows that HS regional city centre stations are the politicians’ explicitly preferred way forward, yet in many cities, there are capacity limits with the existing network which may require supplementary platforms and approach and exit tracks, if not an entirely new station. This is against a background of rapid growth in travel volume in recent years.

The feasibility of station enlargement will vary around the country. In the case of HS2, proposals to use some European-sized trains captive to HS2 adds to track and platforming pressures, as those trains can’t share British standard width track loading gauges and platforms.

HS2 announced on 7 July that it proposes Sheffield should now be served by a new HS spur linking with the Midland Main Line (MML) south of Chesterfield. Sheffield Midland would be the city centre station and would provide direct connections with the local rail and tram network – a major step forward compared to Sheffield Meadowhall, and in contrast with the continuing deficiencies of Birmingham Curzon Street, and the uncertain choice at Crewe.

Network Rail considers an additional 4tph should be feasible along this part of the MML. A possible northern link back onto HS2 towards Leeds is also being reviewed as part of the Northern Powerhouse proposition, to achieve a 30min timing between central Sheffield and central Leeds. In parallel, a revised HS2 main line close to the M18 would also reduce overall HS2 project costs (-£1bn), create a more efficient alignment towards Leeds so would be faster overall, and might also enable provision of a South Yorkshire Parkway station to replace the regional access elements of Meadowhall.

The report linked above (there’s also a more detailed options report) is worth reading as it illuminates the choices that have been considered for Sheffield, and have to be made elsewhere, between city centre access and wider regional access. There are trade-offs between greater city centre accessibility, railway alignment and speeds, costs and overall journey times. The new proposals assist the policy desire for an HS regional network in the Midlands and North, with 30min train frequencies and a ‘tube-like’ service structure between main cities, foreseen in the HS3 thinking and discussed in Part 3. There will also be greater reliance on a classic-compatible train fleet, because European-sized trains won’t be able to serve Sheffield.

Terminal capacity priorities in London

The range of access choices is similar in London, if more complex because of the scale of the capital city and the larger city region. In London there isn’t such a thing as a solo or dominant city centre station. There are multiple termini, so the capital’s options are greater. It is which combination of main line approach routes, stations and distribution networks is the best (or least worst) that must be considered.

An 11 platform 400+ metre terminus, of the sort envisaged by HS2, would be over 45,000 sq. metres in scale just for absolute basics. Even a minimal approach track throat would add many multiples of that, depending on track configuration, if you want trains entering/exiting to pass each other at reasonable speed on the station approaches, necessary for high frequency service.

Other requirements would be space for passenger handling, station facilities and servicing access, interchange with onwards transport distribution within the city, and any retail and commercial development preferences. Shall we start at 75,000 sq. metres for a full-scale terminus excluding the track throat, more probably over 100,000 sq. metres?

Cubed out?

There are now no large-scale vacant lands alongside relevant existing London termini, land values in such locations are exceedingly high, while nearby ex-goods yard sites that might have been relevant, such as Nine Elms and Kings Cross Lands, have long been claimed. There are some sites enabling lesser-scale expansion of terminus and route capacity (eg, Bishopsgate Lands for supplementary platforms at Liverpool Street terminus and 8-tracking from Bethnal Green). Many changes to railway approach track options would involve tunnelling – far from cheap, with some alignments unaffordable.

In the case of HS1 and Eurostar, the initial terminus and the final terminus both ended up revisiting the utilisation of existing stations and close-by lands. This led to a revamp of Waterloo and its approaches, and subsequently a revamp of St Pancras and its approaches. Those revisions were prior to London’s current phase of accelerated economic growth, and its consequences for travel volumes. As a separate major project, Waterloo International is now being reconfigured back to domestic usage because of commuting growth. In a previous incarnation, that area was the South Western Windsor Lines platforms, and it will be again.

HS2 as a capacity project for London has to address track and terminal capacity and platforming efficiency for its own trains, and, in conjunction with Network Rail investment on the ‘classic’ lines, be part of the capacity solution for foreseeable growth (and more than that?) on existing routes from the northern Home Counties and the Midlands.

This will be not just the WCML but also the Midland and East Coast Main Lines. The scale of challenge will be greater for the combination of HS2 and Network Rail, than for HS1 – not least as HS1 had been explicitly designed to accommodate some Kent commuter flows.

What then for a London terminus – Berlin Hauptbahnhof as an ideal design?

While in theory HS2 has a blank sheet of paper – you might hope to place a ‘very large and accessible blob’ in many locations under Central London – actually you can’t and you wouldn’t. Politics, logistics, costs and environmental impacts would militate against that.

In an ideal world, co-ordinated options which addressed capacity limitations facing the WCML, MML and ECML might have led to a design of a west-east HS2 station somewhere in the vicinity of the Marylebone/Euston Roads – let’s say near to Euston/St Pancras/King’s Cross – along with improvements to the existing main lines. That was John Prideaux’s original vision for HS1 approaching from the east (see Part 2), with a London terminus within the Kings Cross Lands allowing a later extension westwards. Combined with the Thameslink project, such a layout would be a similar orthogonal geography to Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof.

berlin
berlin2

HS2’s Chief Engineer Professor Andrew McNaughton thinks on bold lines, and considered this sort of arrangement for HS2. However there were judged to be serious construction complications and risks, not least locally being the British Library and Francis Crick Institute building vaults near to the Northern main line termini. HS2 Ltd also has to work within a Treasury-approved budget. John Prideaux’s scheme would have been above ground, Andrew McNaughton’s would have been underground.

The basic constraints faced by any underground HS station are:

  • Constructability in the event of no major excavation from the surface to open out the required space. This would be challenging – not impossible, but potentially more costly and with its own environmental impacts.
  • Multi-platforms and passageways underground, along with loading and unloading times while handling long distance trains, main-line sizes of flows and luggage, and also waiting passengers.
  • These also push operability to a significant level and would influence the number of platforms required in each direction, which feeds back into constructability.

It should be observed that if you were to accept that only some HS / intercity trains would run through to other destinations, then the number of required underground platforms reduces to 2-3 each way. The terminating trains would still have to find space above ground within or adjoining existing termini, but to a lesser extent than if no main line services ran through the city centre. The biggest single operational issue underground becomes the manageability of main line passenger volumes, boarding times, and waiting space.

Constructability remains a significant factor. However Crossrail 1 will have to accommodate similar passenger volumes and many long distance interchangees, and such factors are already allowed for there. So when you reduce the issues to the absolute basics, it is the numbers waiting for specific trains and the boarding/alighting rates for those individual trains which are the main extra factors.

As a concept, the ‘Euston Cross’ alternative scheme (also see linked Railfuture HS2-HS1 reference) included similar thinking on multiple railway connectivity. It could have followed an alignment under the Regents Canal, so avoiding the Kings Cross Lands building piles and the British Library and Francis Crick Institute, and a successor still could – but certainly not this decade! The collapse of the HS2-HS1 project has illuminated current day priorities and business cases.

Costs of an onwards through railway

A through NW-SE corridor, eg Old Oak Common-Waterloo as suggested by Ken Livingstone when Mayor, raises equivalent issues wherever you might choose to plant a through station underground within Central London. Such through corridors also incur the need for additional cost, for an onwards railway to join up with other main lines elsewhere. This will be more expensive if built to HS standards rather than conventional cross-London speeds, though if the tunnel usage were dominated by London & South East trains – where a stronger business case might exist – then you would expect most of the L&SE line specification standards to prevail.

In the November 2015 HS2 review of connectivity between HS2 and HS1, on continuing through running towards Stratford or beyond, a double-track line at HS standards without any extra station facilities was priced at £2.8-6.0 billion (2011 prices). The specification included high costs for step-plate junctions with existing railways such as HS1, including lengthy closures of existing railways while those junctions were engineered, and possible three-figure £m compensation costs to existing train operators.

This puts a high price on having multiple termini (or one terminus, and one through running station). Sufficient passenger volumes to justify through tunnels might have to wait until the middle of the 21st century to make a business case.

A basic view, for the first two or three HS decades, is why not spend on better connectivity by other means within London (which needs such lines anyhow), rather than by forcing an intercity line to do a cross-London distribution job? It is arguably better in the medium term to focus on distinct types of services more likely to sustain a business case, eg cross-London commuter operations closer to Crossrail/Thameslink styles, at least one of which might be able to serve an HS2 London station. London 2050 Part 3 Tracks to the Future and London 2050 Part 4 Towards Maximum Rail Capacity already reference such matters.

Simpler terminal options

HS2’s approach alignment from the Chilterns has basically pointed to:

  • Old Oak Common (a West London Stratford-style option), where railway land did provide some opportunity though almost all is now designated for other railway operational or development priorities.
  • Paddington, as it is also relatively close to the OOC interchange.
  • Euston, because it is a terminus where most of its intercity trains get diverted to HS2 platforms, so offers scope for a station revamp.

Let’s look at these simpler options.

OOC as a temporary terminus?

The onwards distribution links from Old Oak Common (primary Crossrail 1/Elizabeth Line, and secondly Overground) would be inadequate for a long term permanent terminus, once an HS2 Phase 2 full service began from around 2033. However an HS2 Phases 1 and 2a station might get by for several years on a 5 or 6-platform basis if it had to be a temporary terminus because of construction complications at Euston. TfL is looking at this pragmatically, in terms of impact on Crossrail and Overground passenger volumes. It is a challenge but not a show-stopper.

A temporary OOC terminus might happen as a temporary or urgent solution because of political considerations, even if no official organisation had explicitly planned for it. The new London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is actively considering it as a short term relief for Euston construction impacts. He is being assisted by the new Deputy Mayor (Transport), Val Shawcross, who is the former London Assembly Transport Committee chair. Many Camden area objectors to Euston HS2 terminus plans also support a pause at OOC, and some would like it to be permanent.

The OOC HS station was originally designed for 6 platforms, and HS2 Phases 1 and 2a require only 6 platforms at Euston, with a relatively unpressured platform occupation rate. 10tph for HS2 Phases 1 and 2a equals an average of 1.7 trains per platform per hour, a low utilisation when you consider that the 3tph Birmingham services would spend 50-55 minutes on their journey – a duration less than many commuter trains – and then remain there for about 25 minutes, based on the draft timetabling for Euston HS.

overgroundTfL’s preferred ‘Option C’ Overground stations at Old Oak Common, showing their positioning and a Crossrail/GW station, in relation to a 6-platform HS2 OOC station.

HS2 Ltd is planning to remove the provision for segregation of international passengers at OOC, which had been intended in the original designs for the middle pair of platforms, serving the HS2-HS1 link. There is now some HS2 optioneering about OOC having 6 UK platforms, or alternatively a slightly narrower station box with only 4 platforms and 2 non-stopping tracks.

Paddington approaches

What about Paddington as an option for a permanent terminus? Crossrail 1 will remove many suburban trains from the station from December 2019, while the GW Main Line still has a partial broad gauge legacy which might be a possible attribute helping European-sized trains.

However, approaching Paddington would in practice require a separate HS2 tunnel from OOC. HS trains would need to avoid the busy GW, Crossrail and depot tracks past Ladbroke Grove/Portobello. Network Rail already has plans for grade separation and 5-tracking near Ladbroke Grove during Control Period 6, towards Paddington, to accommodate 24 GW tph in future on the fast lines by the mid 2020s.

Space at Paddington for 11 HS terminal platforms abutting a Grade 1 structure, plus the Paddington canalside developments and the sub-surface Crossrail station on either side, would be immensely challenging for the existing built environment, if not impossible. The GW’s final surface approach curvature is a ‘no-no’ especially with new 400m HS platforms, as the HS2 design preference is for a straight alignment.

paddington

So any Paddington HS terminus would point to an underground station, at high cost, possibly aligned west-east, without having solved onwards distribution within Central London. Even with Crossrail, Paddington is also further in time from much of Central London, compared to Euston.

Euston – what’s not to like?

Isn’t it simple? Since HS2 is really WCML tracks 5 and 6 – at least for HS2 Phases 1 and 2a – why not use Euston? This follows a maxim of least disruption to established travel patterns (which tends to be a safe option), though it is also a normative railway attitude of always doing what you always did, so always getting what you always got. You might not get best future outcomes, though it could be pragmatic.

Euston is there, and is an under-used London terminus with low rates of platform re-occupation by trains, with less frequent ‘turnover’ than at King’s Cross, St Pancras or Paddington. At least another four main line platforms could be created within Euston’s outdated 1960s internal 18-platform footprint, which was geared to mail, parcels and Motorail as well as passenger services. The areas between current platforms 2 and 3 on the eastern side, and between platforms 15 and 18 on the western side, offer good possibilities. This would follow the past precedents of revamping Waterloo and St Pancras.

So in theory part of the existing Euston should be capable of being handed over to HS2 with no loss of operational capacity for the WCML. The complexities arising from that are to do with the impact on approach tracks, and the complex sequencing of works. Euston terminus is like an iceberg, with large amounts of non-public servicing levels within the main station box. You can’t alter Euston without large-scale consequences internally as well as for the surrounding district.

Network Rail now says it needs 18 platforms at Euston before HS2 opens, 13 after, so that ultimately there would be a revised and expanded Euston offering 13 classic and 11 HS platforms, the latter encroaching over Melton Street towards Coburg Street, with loss of local housing, businesses and retail.

portalArea designated within red line for Euston station works, including land take. Base local map reproduced from HS2 material under Open Government scheme

The present WCML timetable is designed, arguably wastefully, around Euston’s platforms providing much of the recovery margin for long distance intercity services. There is an extra recovery margin built in for the Pendolino fleet, as current train utilisation is seen as a pressure on availability for maintenance. It is not the minimum turnaround times but the average and the maxima, which matter here. This causes Euston to be an expensive Central London ‘parking lot’, the more expensive if you were to seek to rebuild it and replicate that spare parking capacity in situ.

dwellExtract from JRC analysis of minimum train dwell times at London intercity termini

fastlinesEuston scheduled dwell times for trains departing on Fast Lines, Monday 18 July 2016

Value for Money (VfM) analyses would point to a better financial solution being to buy, if needed, an extra train or two for maintenance, and avoid the £xxx millions whole-life amortisation costs of an unnecessarily large rebuild of Euston terminus. It should be possible to identify other investment solutions for such gremlins, as well as for the existing ‘throat’ approaches which are now partly dependent on single-lead tracks in that throat which in turn inhibit platform re-occupation.

Euston’s onwards distribution potential

Crossrail 2 would in any case have to serve King’s Cross and St Pancras to help relieve the Victoria Line. So routeing CR2 via Euston is a significant but marginal variation to that overall project, yet achieves a fundamental change in Central London distribution capacity and provides an ‘Albert Line’ relief to the Victoria Line – if we rename Crossrail 2 as another royal railway!

Diversion of WCML inner suburban stopping trains to Crossrail 1, at about 6tph, would release additional track approach and platform capacity. That’s a morning peak hourly capacity worth roundly 5,000 passengers inbound and 1,500 outbound (potentially 6,500 fewer passengers inconvenienced hourly by a Euston rebuild), although currently that is not part of HS2’s scheme.

WCML-Crossrail 1 had been allied with the HS2 scheme until 2014, but has been dropped to avoid HS2 project costs, and foreseen high Network Rail costs including provision for full step-free access throughout the WCML inner network. TfL might possibly pick up most of the tab if its budgets ever again permit that in future. Alternatively it becomes one of those failed schemes for future histories.

Instead HS2 is making a £25m contribution towards part of the WCML-Crossrail 1 link design, to assist the costs of three Crossrail reversing sidings on the remainder of the ex-NNML route west of OOC, along with passive provision there for an extension to the WCML.

Will a Crossrail-WCML scheme be replaced by a Chiltern link?

Meanwhile, the new draft West Midlands & Chiltern Route Study (see pages 42 and 70) recognises there are options for running a variety of Chiltern services to OOC, as capacity pressure grows at Marylebone during the 2020s. The draft route study is looking at a option for a terminus at OOC, and it notes that:

“interchange time between services from the Chiltern Route and Crossrail are critical in terms of attractiveness for passengers. The analysis has shown that commuters travelling to the City and Canary Wharf will use the new route, as this will be quicker than using the Jubilee line via London Marylebone and Baker Street.”

It would be tight, though maybe feasible, to realign the Acton-Northolt curve across Old Oak Lane and stay north of the GW and Crossrail tracks in order to access its own terminal platforms possibly just north of the main GW and Crossrail station. Or would a platform near Old Oak Lane and the proposed Overground station be adequate? The extract from the HS2 AP2 plan below (July 2015) makes the issue clear, with the Crossrail reversing sidings shown as a separate curve passing under the planned up GW relief line flyover.

oocExtract from HS2 AP2 plan for Old Oak Common west end, showing the NNML links. Base local map reproduced from HS2 material under Open Government scheme

Importantly, how could a Chiltern-OOC line then be designed west of this location to cross (and minimise conflict with) the onward route of a Crossrail-WCML line? Would any Chiltern train have to terminate at North Acton? – a poor man’s interchange then with OOC. One future alternative might be consideration of a through Crossrail service. This is not explicitly mentioned in the draft study, but stopping service options are shown from OOC to Gerrards Cross or High Wycombe. There are longer distance options as well.

Whether this means that, if a Chiltern link to OOC were supported, there might ultimately be a hard choice to make between a through Chiltern-Crossrail 1 service and a WCML option, will need to be assessed in future. You couldn’t re-allocate the same Crossrail train slots twice over. As and when Crossrail 1 moves to 30tph, it is doubtful that the Crossrail operator would accept three routes splitting at OOC.

Pragmatism rules

Back to the main proposition. Euston makes passenger sense for existing WCML users, both intercity and commuter passengers – the ‘play safe’ argument… Any future Crossrail 3 or Thameslink 2, as mooted above, might or might not come near Euston and then head towards the WCML, to ‘tunnelise’ future generations of commuter trains. However that would be in addition to Crossrail 2, so clearly CR3 or TL2’s time isn’t yet, with a national funding fight still for CR2 before any other main line tunnel scheme could be allowed to raise its head.

Consequently, investment in a combined Euston, for both HS and WCML passengers, has made sense to the railway promoters, in terms of both ‘realpolitik’ and ‘railpolitik’. Euston is also near the other Northern railway termini, so not too much of a shock to MML and ECML users if and when their expresses were reorganised with HS2 Phase 2.

Euston – do we have a problem?

Yes there are big problems with Euston. There are seven main ones:

  • Policy and budgetary concerns about who leads on which project element, and how funding is organised and delivered in definable timescales.
  • Capacity pressures on the main lines and on Euston’s tubes.
  • Lack of connectivity with Crossrail 1.
  • Inaccessibility as it is distant from Southern main line termini, and hard to reach from East London, East Anglia and much of Kent.
  • Land take and community impact issues, for the extra HS track approaches and station tracks, and the new western land acquisition alongside the present railway, and the fit (or not) with the Euston Area Plan.
  • Reconstruction issues throughout Euston and the Camden approaches, and their surroundings, and the large scale complexities arising with multiple construction phases and transitional operational arrangements, potentially over the best part of two decades. Even London Bridge and its approaches will have only experienced 4-5 years of works. The local political impacts of a two-generation continuous period of rail works haven’t been assimilated, yet, in a modern London.
  • An economic growth conundrum for London, that the economic stimulus of HS2 could be regarded as ending on the northern edge of Central London, at Euston, just as the WCML does, so limiting the onwards economic benefits. Euston does not have the latent development capacity in the surrounding lands that was achievable with the Kings Cross St Pancras lands. This is implicit in the preceding five problems as well. The reconstruction topic could lead to economic downsides locally if the Euston area were subjected to rebuilding impacts until the mid-2030s, which is the currently expected outcome.

There will be more discussion on most of these topics in Parts 5 and 6. For the present, we’ll look at the policy and budgetary concerns which arise. This leads on from the starting discussion in this Part 4, about the changes proposed for Sheffield and elsewhere. There are important policy implications about the responsibilities and relationships between HS2 Ltd, Network Rail and Government.

The growing need for a practical alliance as partners between HS2 Ltd and Network Rail will be discussed in relation to the HS2 scheme changes and political priorities now evident for the Midlands and North. We shall see that London – and particularly Euston terminus – is increasingly an odd one out in policy and budget priorities.

Which infrastructure sponsor should lead the delivery of capacity?

As an instrument of economic growth, and as a wholly new railway specification, there is some merit in disaggregating HS2 planning and related funding from Network Rail. So far, HS2 Ltd’s support for European-sized captive trains has also pointed tactically to HS2 Ltd being the lead planner for its own track approaches and major terminal sites across England, on behalf of its shareholder, which is the Government.

Through procurement, HS2 is also its own agency to lead the supply of HS2 capacity. HS2 Ltd is keeping to a tight level of commitments: “keep as far as possible within our own ‘red line’” is an oversimplified summary of its stance, as illustrated in numerous Select Committee discussions.

Network Rail’s focus is primarily about managing the classic railway and its future needs. However it includes, as part of that, the HS1 route and the existing large range of British intercity lines, and their expansion and upgrading. So NR actually has a very large engagement with high speed rail, and a considerable skill-set there. It also has to facilitate HS2’s plans and priorities where these interface with the classic railway.

Emerging examples outside London

Interestingly, the case of Sheffield set out above shows that there is an emerging greater reliance by HS2 Ltd and the Government on Network Rail being a genuine partner rather than mere supplier to a customer/specifier, in terms of the shaping of the future Midlands and North railway network to underpin national and regional economic imperatives.

A Phase 2a to Crewe will accentuate that, as HS2 Ltd and hence the Government will be wholly dependent on Network Rail delivering viable solutions for rapid onwards direct HS train access towards Manchester, Liverpool, the North West and Scotland. Network Rail will have to take this in hand alongside effective regional capacity solutions which also accommodate freight flows and the growing volume of regional passenger services.

HS2 has effectively been ruled out as the delivery lead within cities in Scotland and Northern England, where the project analysis is explicit already that only ‘classic-compatible’ trains are justified at Glasgow Central, Edinburgh Waverley, Carlisle and Newcastle stations. The economics of a very high speed railway across the Cheviots or Lauderdale hills plus separate termini in the Lowland cities are unrealistic.

If the economic growth case makes Network Rail a valid organisation for achieving increased transport supply, because its skill sets will be the most relevant, there is also a strong case for Network Rail to be the primary instrument for capacity expansion. Network Rail is well placed to be the lead for city centre stations and termini, and their approaches, because capacity increments are best managed as a whole on route corridors. The policy logic points to Network Rail being the correct organisation to have total planning and delivery responsibility for the ‘last mile’ to the buffers, for both HS2 and the ‘classic’ railway, within a single ‘red line’.

That should be obvious for northern city centres where there is an inevitable overlap between upgrades of the existing railway such as Trans-Pennine Electrification, HS2 plans and HS3 ambitions. It would be inefficient and potentially chaotic and costly, to have multiple overlapping project sponsors and delivery agencies. There can be efficiency also in defining a shared requirement during relevant planning timescales for onwards distribution (tube, bus, rail, taxi/über, walking, cycling in the case of London) within city centres and for other principal access corridors.

Wider adoption of ‘classic-compatible’ HS trains would allow Network Rail a further basis to argue for overall project control and funding for approach tracks and city centre stations, with budgets apportioned more equitably between different capacity pressures without extra resources required for GC-only gauge trains, and to optimise usage of the ‘classic’ infrastructure.

London terminal planning becoming the odd one out?

Let’s see what the situation is in and around London, at the HS2/Network Rail interfaces. Of course Network Rail is having to bear the costs and solutions for the existing main lines in London and the Home Counties, e.g. Old Oak Common, funded by HS2 Ltd, and at and beyond the junctions in the Midlands and the North where HS2 trains rejoin the classic lines.

However, in the case of Euston with the latest ‘AP3’ scheme, there is a physical and financial ‘Berlin Wall’ between the HS2 railway and the classic West Coast Main Line, even though HS2 overlaps with the existing railway corridor. HS2 expenditures start during Control Period 5 (2014-19) and continue through CP6 to CP7. HS2 Ltd has formal agreements with Network Rail to pay for relevant on-network investments, but HS2 is limiting the main spend at Euston to its part of the terminus and its own track approaches, and to re-align the WCML tracks to help make room for the HS tracks and long platforms. (The HS platforms would extend under a rebuilt Hampstead Road bridge.)

Importantly, Network Rail doesn’t have any sources of funding to hand, to redesign let alone rebuild its part of the existing Euston terminus. Network Rail’s budget crisis, which became visible in 2015 with subsequent official reviews, and led to Sir Peter Hendy being appointed Chairman of Network Rail, has led to a situation where NR doesn’t even have enough funds to pay for all proposed projects still in CP5, and it is looking to sell major assets to find the missing £1.8 billion.

A situation has arisen where the ‘classic’ railway is short of funds. Yet at Euston it will continue to be the infrastructure used by most commuters and business passengers, while only the HS2 side of the station has assured funding, for its own project elements. This points to a rich man, poor man comparison, which cannot be the right policy outcome for the busier ‘classic’ railway, and where the ‘classic’ passengers will be subjected to years of construction inconvenience yet are not guaranteed to gain from an improved station at the end of the process.

To have one of the most complex terminal and approach track projects this century split in design, transitional works, and delivery responsibilities between two main line entities, looks like a recipe for confusion, unnecessarily high costs for administration, planning and construction, and risks of timescales getting out of sync. There will be quite enough complexity having to integrate the station works and temporary passenger flows and other facilities with the surrounding cityscape, the local community and with Transport for London.

A single directing mind?

It would make sense for there to be a single ‘red line’ for the whole Euston terminus and its approaches – possibly as far as at OOC/Willesden Junction – so that all options for approach capacities, and platform occupation rates, were capable of being optimised – and with a single directing mind. It would help if there were a single Euston capacity budget established to accommodate the required spend and upgrades on existing ‘classic’ railway and new tracks, including Digital Railway opportunities, not just HS2 in partial isolation.

HS2’s desire for specialised European-gauge terminal infrastructure at Euston, which until full Phase 2 in the mid 2030s will be of use only for 3tph to/from Birmingham, and a maximum of 9tph with the whole of HS2 built, starts to look like a financially questionable element of the project.

Capacity pressure points, and current funding gaps, are also foreseeable at other London termini, which are part of the larger aggregation of existing routes from the northern Home Counties and the Midlands. At St Pancras there is only marginal scope to increase MML trains per hour unless the Digital Railway can magick new frequencies with faster platform turnaround and dwell times (faster than HS2 is cautiously planning for its new railway), or unless platform 5, or 5 plus 6, were re-allocated from Eurostar and access reconfigured for domestic use.

On ECML, 4-tracking the Welwyn Viaduct and 6-car limitations down the tube to Moorgate remain the mystery graveyard for ECML capacity expansion. Those are schemes where no one has yet demonstrated financial appetite for large scale expenditures. In the next few years, marginal capacity increases are to be leveraged on Welwyn Viaduct with use of 110 mph trains on limited-stop commuter services, which will be closer in point-to-point timing to standard 125 mph intercity operations.

However intercity service levels (franchised and open access) are also being increased in the next few years period, with the ORR considering that an average 7½ paths per hour will be realistic by 2021. Currently in the morning inbound commuting peak hours, the ECML squeezes in 8-9 London-bound intercity trains per hour in the arrival period from 08:45 to 10:00. This is only possible because the GTR services are then rapidly reducing from peak to offpeak service levels. General increases in peak shoulder commuting volumes will make this less viable as the years go on.

Overall it is Network Rail which arguably should have the total oversight for maximising line capacities to the northern main line termini, with desired service levels specified by the various train operators and HS2 Ltd, and by TfL in the Greater London area.

Meanwhile the WCML ‘Capacity Plus’ study (currently embargoed from publication) is reportedly pointing to only 2 genuinely additional passenger trains per hour being achieved as a consequence of HS2 – which is pretty small beer, though other existing stopping patterns and train lengths might vary. The released WCML capacity for freight might also be questioned in those circumstances. We noted in Part 2 that the DfT republished HS2 Ltd’s interpretation of a future WCML service pattern, in its November 2015 technical demand updates for HS2 and WCML, so gave that implicit support.

ORR with a partial rescue?

The present situation arising at Euston is directly at odds with the Office of Rail and Road’s new policy of national railway regulation at route level, for the 2018 Period Review. ORR has recently stated the obvious, and issued a warning that there will be hard choices to make about project priorities generally across the railway, in its introductory consultation on PR18 (Periodic Review 18, looking ahead to the 2019-2024 Control Period 6). There are also some emerging regulatory issues about how ORR will oversee Network Rail, with some implications for how the HS2 project might need to start being aligned with current railway oversight:

Throughout this period of change we need to remain focused on what the network needs to deliver over time and how much this will cost. As a result of the Hendy review, there has been a significant change of several billion pounds to planned enhancement work, some of which has now moved from control period 5 (CP5, 2014-2019). There are now around £9.5bn of enhancements planned for control period 6 (CP6, likely to be 2019 to 2024). When combined with planned asset sales – which would reduce future income streams (e.g. from property rents) over CP6 – and uncertainty about the performance and efficiency levels that Network Rail can achieve by the end of CP5, this may imply some tough choices. [LR emphasis]

We propose to regulate at a route-level, supporting both the changes being made by Network Rail and a greater focus by routes on the needs of their customers. [LR emphasis] This includes making greater use of reputational incentives by formally and transparently recognising the achievement of route management teams in delivering improvements.

Alongside this shift towards routes, we propose to adopt a tailored approach to the regulation of Network Rail’s system operator role: its timetabling, capacity management, analysis and long-term planning functions. This would support it in making improvements to achieve better use of the network and also protect the ability of train operators to move passengers and freight across route boundaries. This could facilitate further traffic and revenue growth within the current network, improving overall value for money…

Finally, we set out some options for a more flexible approach to investment in the network, which would allow governments to choose from a menu of options for the regulatory treatment of enhancements. This will: support those governments wanting a more direct role in the monitoring and delivery of improvement projects; allow routes and local funders to take a larger role, within the funding constraints; and support alternative funding models, including private funding. We will also be available to those governments and other funders who want us to play an active role in the scrutiny of projects.

Network Rail’s Transformation Plan, published on 29th July 2016, presses forward the importance of Route-based management structures, along with ORR regulatory oversight. It also sets out a series of priorities for getting Network Rail ‘back on track’, able to deliver greater reliability and higher capacity across the national network.

Next step?

In conclusion, the fundamental requirement for timely and significant increases in WCML capacity and on other corridors to London northern termini appears to be at risk, partly through Network Rail funding shortfalls and partly through a failure to define a single directing mind and budget for the last few miles of track into Euston. Re-alignment of budgets and responsibilities for PR18, for the Euston approaches and terminus, could be a useful start.

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Written by Jonathan Roberts