Capacity on the London Birmingham corridor

In the evidence that Philip Hammond gave to the Select Committee enquiry into High Speed 2 he stated that the business case of HS2 depended on the need for additional capacity on the London-Birmingham corridor. He claimed that the only way to achieve that is to build a new railway line (which might as well be a high speed one). Express coach was not mentioned once.

Let’s explore the capacity argument a little. The current HS2 plans are based on a maximum of 4 trains per hour¬†(see section¬†2.3.4), each of which can be up to 400 meters long with seating for 1,100 people (see section 3.2). The proposed capacity per hour is therefore 4,400. The number of trains will no doubt increase as the line extends further north in the future, but this provides a useful base-line for the additional capacity that is required.

Interestingly a single lane of the existing dual three-lane M40 motorway (or on the M6/M1 motorways) running directly from Birmingham into London could carry 63,000 people using today’s express coach technology which is fifteen times as many people as proposed by High Speed 2 above. The capacity requirement of HS2 could be achieved using a single 87 seater coach per minute.

In practice such a lane would be very under-utilised and it may be appropriate to also make this lane available to taxis, other coach services and any other vehicles with 3 or more occupants. Given that there is likely to still be available capacity then it may be desirable to allow vehicles with only one or two occupants to use the lane on payment of a dynamic fee which would vary with demand. Such an express toll lane system is being developed in Los Angeles as part of their Metro Expresslanes project on El Monte Busway and Harbor Transitway which is used by the Silver Line (a bus rapid-transit line). The fee income can be used to maintain the route and make public transport fares more attractive.

This proposed M40 service would build on the success of the current Oxford-London coach services which operates along part of the corridor. Vehicles could optionally call at and new and existing intermediate coachway stations associated with the key settlements along the route, such as the Thornhil Park and Ride site serving Oxford, and the new High Wycombe coachway interchange which is in the planning stage. The M1 route would be able to call at recently completed Milton Keynes Coachway interchange and at other new coachway stations.

There would be no huge interchange at the end of these corridors as would be the case with HS2 – vehicles would start from a variety of places around and within Birmingham and elsewhere and mesh with local transport including the underground and bus services within London.

Here is Philip Hammond’s response to a question about the need for HS2. In fairness to the Secretary for State, I am including his response in it’s entirety.

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New report into why people use coach and how to improve it

Passenger Focus published Coach passenger needs and experiences earlier this year which reported on why people used express coach, what they like about it had how it could be enhanced. Overall express coach was seen very favorable by users, many of whom were unsurprisingly motivated by cheaper fares compared to rail but many also mentioned that other benefits included that they were guaranteed a good quality seat in quiet and stress free environment compared to the train. Many users said that had previously used trains but moved over to coach at the recommendation of friends or by chance. The on-board wi-fi was a big plus for some. Users preferred coach stations to roadside stops saying that roadside stops lacked information, shelter and reassurance and they were worried that the coach might not actually stop for them.

Recommendations:

  • Promote coach travel better
  • Improve journey times
  • Improve coach station
  • Better roadside stops with real-time information and shelters
  • More thought about concerns for luggage being lost/stolen
  • One place to compare and book tickets
  • More visible staff and police presence
  • Enhance the onboard experience
  • Improve the complaints process

Modern express coach with onboard wifi