16 Feb 2012

HS2 - exactly what is not required

Google maps
80% of Britain's population lives within an area south of Leeds-Manchester and east of the Welsh border. Most of the rest is concentrated into two outliers, the Newcastle-Sunderland and Edinburgh-Glasgow conurbations.

The largest conurbation in Britain is Greater London, which can be defined in various ways, such as the area inside the M25. However, as an economic area, it can be considered to take in Reading, Oxford, Luton, Cambridge, Southend and Brighton. The second conurbation is that centred on Birmingham, whilst the third takes in Liverpool, Manchester, and arguably, Leeds. In between the conurbations are numerous towns with populations of between 100,000 and 250,000, roughly 30 miles apart. Since 1960, the tendency has been for these places to spread and join up, so that, for example, it could be argued that London and Birmingham are on the way to becoming a single conurbation. Also since 1960, the predominant forms of residential and commercial development have been on the assumption that they will have access by private car. Thus, in order to get to work and maintain their job opportunties, as well as to perform regular household tasks like shopping, people have been obliged to run one, and often more, cars per household, leading to very high levels of car ownership and use.

Such a pattern of development gives rise to a particular pattern of travel, with a myriad of different journeys being made, many of which would be very difficult to serve by public transport in any form. Nevertheless, people are continuing to live and work in towns and their travel habits could be catered for by public transport if the services were available. What is needed here is a system that provides the maximum journey opportunities. A high speed line between major centres, not stopping en route, is exactly what is not required. The right configuration is not a trunk but a net. Much of this could be achieved by reinstating lines closed under Beeching, with good connections where the routes cross.

If there is a case for high speed rail at all, it is to serve the outlying centres of Tyne and Wear, and the Scottish lowland belt. To maximise the benefit, construction should start from Scotland, where the obstacles are fewest, the potential benefits greatest, and where the routes could be brought into revenue-earning use long before 2026.

One has to wonder what kind of planning methodology was used to generate this proposal?


  1. I always look into things that start quoting statistics, and this could be argued that statistics could be being used incorrectly. For although 80% of the UK population do fall within the area stated, only a further 3% to 4% live with England outside the area. Compare that with about 9% in the West Midlands. As such the argument put is saying that high speed rail should not serve an area of England that has a population between 2.5 and 3 times that of the area suggested here. Although much of the about 10% of the UK population that lives in Scotland does live in the southern belt it will still struggle to bring the population up to a comparable area of that of the proposed Phase 1 (not including London).
    It is likely that the planning methodology that was used to generate this proposal was similar to that which brought us our Motorway Network, i.e. allow local "traffic" to be relieved from having to use the same network as long distance "traffic". This causes frustrations for both types of traveler, as such once a local network is overloaded a trunk route (e.g. Motorway, bypass, HS2, etc.) is proposed to relieve it.

  2. Graham, it is not clear exactly what you are trying to say. If you would like to edit and re-post, it would be helpful.

    The point I was making is that most of the population of England live in the area shown in the lower map, where they are concentrated into the main conurbations and towns and cities with populations of between 100,000 and 250,000, distributed around 25 miles apart.

    This distribution gives rises to a multiplicity of different traffic flows rather than concentration along a single axis. I would suggest that the appropriate transport system is a network allowing many different journey opportunities rather than a single trunk route.

    1. The first part of my post was trying to say that your original post was implying that most of the remaining 20% of the UK population lives in the lowlands of Scotland and the upper part of England, however 6% of the population of the UK (which is included within your 20%) lives in Wales & Northern Ireland. Which may still mean that there is over 10% of the UK population in the area you suggest for the next High-speed line, this is not a densely populated as the rest of the UK. Therefore it is unlikely to have a large enough population base to provide the passenger numbers required for a high speed line.
      My second point was trying to say that although there is a need for a good network of short lines in England. There is also now a need for a good truck route. In the same way that I want to be able to drive on local roads to get to nearby places, but if I wanted to travel a longer distance such roads are slow and busy with traffic travelling to local places. Therefore I want to be able to travel on Motorways for my long distance travel. In the same way people travelling to Manchester from London do not want to travel on or be held up by commuter trains and likewise commuters do not want passengers with lots of luggage filling up their trains or their trains being held up to be overtaken by long distance trains.
      An interconnected network as you suggested is what we have already and works well when it is not heavily trafficked, but we need to provide a trunk system for the routes where the traffic is heaviest (much like our motorways for our cars) Now whether HS2 is the best way to go about that is up for debate, but I do think that we need to do something to separate our local trains from our longer distance trains to make the network better for all.

  3. The second point, after speeding up journeys is to relieve the existing main lines of the inter-city trains thus providing many more trains within your greater greater London. This will reduce over crowding on the local trains, alow more people to travel by train and so reduce traffic on the roads.

  4. If the aim is to speed up travel in greater Greater London then high speeds are irrelevant since there is little time to be saved in running fast over quite short distances.