Written evidence submitted by Campaign for Better Transport London (INV0004)

Written evidence submitted by Campaign for Better Transport London (INV0004)
This inquiry is timely and welcome. This response has been agreed by the Campaign for Better Transport
London group.
Impact of “Stop-go”
The cost increases of the GWR electrification have been added to by Departmental shilly-shallying between
electrification and bi-mode. We believe the present support for bi-mode is misconceived, that bi-mode trains
have most of the disadvantages of diesel and most of the disadvantages of electric. When it is realized they
were a mistake and they are replaced by electric trains to Cardiff, Swansea will lose out.
There is a political nettle to grasp where the likes of Swansea, Shrewsbury, Chester, Blackpool and Aberdeen are
concerned. These are all destinations deserving of a relatively low frequency of service compared with the
major stations from which they branch (Cardiff, Wolverhampton, Crewe, Preston, Edinburgh). There is a case for
saying that the quickest way of delivering people to these destinations is to have them change trains at the
major station and conclude their journey on a shorter train more suited to the inferior infrastructure which
supports the final leg of the journey. Against this is the evidence that the lack of a through train is more than
just a status symbol for the town or city in question. It is an impediment to potential passengers, who will either
choose to do business elsewhere or drive to their destination. When through trains from London to Shrewsbury
and Aberystwyth ceased, through passenger numbers fell dramatically. (A limited service has been restored to
Railways are not an end in themselves but a means to building the economy. We would like to see all party
support for a broader based economy which would mean the more expensive option in this case. Electrification
to these destinations should be reinstated. We have considered whether to support short term alternatives to
electrification. We do not believe it is operationally efficient to run loco hauled trains and substitute diesel for
electric en route. An alternative to diesel for the secondary mode (e.g. batteries, hydrogen) would need to
overcome the problem of transporting unneeded heavy equipment under electric wires – one of the drawbacks
of diesel-electric bi-mode.
Another political nettle is the one that arises when it is proposed to reduce the range of through destinations on
commuter services in order to enable a higher frequency of trains to be run on existing rail infrastructure. There
was an outcry when this was proposed for the Thameslink service, and the government backed down. There are
now proposals for similar changes on South-eastern trains, removing the choice of either Charing Cross or
Cannon Street, and on the Northern line, so that all Bank branch trains would take the High Barnet branch and
all Charing Cross trains would continue towards Edgware.
In this case we believe the less popular choice should be made, and that through services should be sacrificed to
permit higher frequency, provided that there is good (ideally cross platform) interchange. There are so many
people trying to travel on London’s commuter lines disadvantaged passengers would grumble but accept it.
One bi-product of adopting this approach to the two problems would be a rebalancing of expenditure from
London and the south-east to the regions.
Is the use of Control Periods an effective means of long term planning?
Even if the Fixed Term Parliament Act had any de facto value, governments are not in office long enough to see
through any major rail infrastructure project from start to finish. Only when there is all-party support for the
principles which should underpin infrastructure development (a transport strategy) will there be a sensible
programme of works. Governments of all colours have been torn between political expediency and a reluctance
to acknowledge shortcomings in a preferred scheme for fear that revisiting authorised schemes will result in
nothing ever happening.
Upgrading of existing infrastructure versus building new.
The HS2 scheme remains deeply unpopular outside Parliament and within it critical Select Committee reports go
unanswered and members privately express concern that is no more than a vanity project. It was designed as a
High Speed Railway, the clue is in the name. Its cost could be reduced by specifying a lower maximum speed. It
is now widely accepted that the need is for capacity. This need would be best addressed, not by a railway
designed for speed and competing on the only route with two independent alternative railways already, London
to Birmingham; but by first analysing where capacity is inadequate. We would suggest that such analysis would
point firstly to commuter lines, mostly but not exclusively in the south-east, secondly to inadequate freight
provision, thirdly to long routes prone to disruption from extremes of weather for which no realistic alternative
exists, and fourthly to the cities of Northern England where slow speeds clearly inhibit commerce between
centres relatively close as the crow flies.
Freight trains in mainland Europe operate to a gauge (height and width, not distance between rails) that enables
lorries to piggy-back onto a platform on rails. A new railway would not have the problem of low bridges on so
much of the existing network, but freight is to be excluded from HS2. In many places a short railway by-pass
might be cheaper than raising low bridges.
There are numerous proposals to re-open lines closed by Beeching more than fifty years ago. Many of these
have greater merit, and lower cost per mile, than HS2. Their respective merits would be best assessed if there
were broad agreement on the principles implied above.
Private sector funding and its influence on the design of infrastructure proposals
Governments are always attracted to the notion of private sector funding to defray costs. Unfortunately, there
is an increasing tendency to redesign the scheme in order to attract the interest of the private sector.
Advocates of more new infrastructure point to the loss of expertise if a project such as Crossrail is not
immediately followed by another major scheme utilising the engineering and delivery expertise gained by work
on Crossrail. There is another expertise which has been lost. In the 1960s it was established that new tube lines
would be more efficient operating with relatively long runs between stops and providing those stops at points of
interchange. Public transport efficiency could then be further improved by relating bus routes to those tube
services, rather than seen as in competition with them. The Victoria line was planned on this basis.
Unfortunately, cost cutting limited its effectiveness. Second entrances at several stations were cut from the
scheme, with the result that some links were lost and the southern end of the trains is overloaded relative to the
northern end.
This principle was to be followed by Crossrail and the Hackney-Chelsea line, later Wimbledon-Hainault and now
called Crossrail2. Crossrail has largely remained true to the principle, fending off several attempts from the bean
counters to cut out stations in the course of its 25 year gestation. Crossrail2 has been less fortunate.
The original plan was for a north-east to south-west line stopping wherever it crossed another tube or railway
line. The Crossrail2 team continue to justify its proposal by the obvious and undisputed need to address this
north-east to south-west corridor. The Evening Standard however refers to it as a north-south line and looking
at the revised map it is easy to see why. The route has been distorted by the need to disperse more people from
Euston if HS2 is built there, and by objectives to the north of London where there is scope for development and
hence private sector contribution to the cost of Crossrail2. But this ignores the severe overcrowding that already
exists in the north-east of London. It also places emphasis on extending commuter distances further to achieve
the same end, when the focus should be on densification of places closer to London as the crow flies. The Mayor
has identified swathes of zone 3 that could and should be densified. Many of these sites are close to tube or rail
stations, but congestion is already dangerously high and it would be impossible to transport additional numbers
without additional capacity.
It is difficult to understate the advantages of interchange. A full train arriving at a busy station needs a degree of
egress to provide access for intending passengers. This is why the Barking/Gospel Oak line is so overcrowded
(and will remain so even with longer electric trains) that people travel in the opposite direction to reach a station
from which they can squeeze on to their train. The line crosses eight other lines without any interchange facility.
The Wimbledon-Hainault scheme had interchange stations at Hainault, Leytonstone Hackney Central and Essex
Road providing relief to the Central, Great Northern and Victoria line stations which are already congested and
which are needed to support densification in zone 3. A station at Leytonstone on the Crossrail2 line, with
interchange to both the Central line and the Barking/Gospel Oak overground line, would provide space for
passengers to board at Leyton, Leyton Midland Road, Wanstead Park and Woodgrange Park.
December 2017