This capacity crisis is largely a self-inflicted problem that has come about by filling the system up with short trains. And in refusing to give the go-ahead for an order for additional carriages to lengthen the Pendolino train fleet to 11 cars, the Department for Transport is aggravating the problem.
However, the underlying cause is the high cost of vehicles, now well over £2 million, and approaching that of a standard electric or diesel-electric locomotive such as the TRAXX, and more than double that of an equivalent new steam locomotive such as the product now being offered by Swiss company DLM.
Why the high cost? This is mostly due to the decision to run at speeds of 125 mph and more. At slightly lower speeds, relatively simple vehicles such as the mark 3 hauled stock will do perfectly well, with a service life of 60 years, and a cost, new, of not more than £600,000. At these prices there is no great difficulty in lengthening trains up to the maximum that will fit into the main terminal stations, about 15 cars.
It should also not be forgotten that there is an entire spare main line between London and Manchester, much of it with the potential for four-tracking, another between London and Birmingham, and other between Leeds and Carlisle, and that is apart from the former Great Central alignment.
A steady programme of upgrading and improvement, combined with an order for locomotives and rolling stock compatible with the mark 3 fleet, which it would augment and not replace, should avert this crisis for several decades at least.