High Speed Rail Phase 2a: Why the current proposals are bad for Staffordshire’s existing and future railway links

Staffordshire currently has very good train services to/from London via the West Coast Mainline (WCML) with travel times to London Euston station ranging from 77 minutes for Stafford and 85 minutes for Stoke on-Trent.

The frequency of trains to/from London is also good. Stoke-on-Trent is provided with two trains per hour (tph) and Stafford at least 1tph in each direction according to the weekday timetable that operated prior to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The current combined total of more than three express trains per hour to/from Staffordshire’s two main rail destinations will be dramatically reduced once the western arm of HS2 is fully operational. These services will be replaced by a single HS2 classic compatible express train per hour in each direction that will be shared between Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent and will terminate at Macclesfield, instead of at Manchester Piccadilly.

The existing Pendolino services to Manchester and Liverpool will no longer run to avoid providing competition to HS2 services to the same destinations. HS2 services will be operated by the franchise holder of the West Coast services (currently Avanti) when HS2 opens. It is very unlikely the operator will run express trains in competition with its flagship new service.

Worryingly, even the token HS2 classic compatible service is very vulnerable to being cut from the timetable before it starts to operate. This service was included in the original plan when HS2 schedules were based on the assumption that London Euston would have a capacity of 18tph. However, signalling limitations have reduced this capacity to 14tph.

In addition, multiple design constraints at Euston will mean that its opening to HS2 services will be delayed by at least three years. This will mean that Old Oak Common will initially operate as the London terminus of HS2, which will cut capacity to just 10tph.

The proposed location of the Phase 2a construction railhead and operational maintenance base on the Norton Bridge to Stone Railway will exacerbate the risks to the planned future HS2 service between Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent.

This line also has the dubious honour of being the only railway in the UK to have its capacity reduced by HS2, which means that Staffordshire’s local rail network will not be able to run additional services once HS2 has opened, nor gain any benefit from the promised capacity improvements created by HS2.

For further details, read the Executive Summary and Full report.

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