Reducing costs - not increasing capacity

While the Government’s announcement of further substantial investment in the railway system — including electrification of the route through Kenilworth — is very much to be welcomed, it is disingenuous of Joe Rukin to suggest (your front page report,July 20) this will be ‘more beneficial to more people than HS2.’

Passengers and rail freight on the West Coast Main Line continue to increase — passenger numbers have already doubled since 1997 — but there was nothing in last week’s announcement to add further capacity to that route. Much of the rail investment proposed by the Government last week is more about reducing costs than increasing capacity.

Readers should note that the rail investment committed by the Government only covers the period up to 2019 — whereas HS2 deals with the situation expected beyond 2025 — and I would ask readers to bear in mind the following.

The last time the Olympic Games were held in this country was 1948 when 996 million passenger journeys were made on a railway network that embraced around 19,300 route miles. Thereafter many railway lines and stations were closed, and rail use declined to a low point of just 602 million journeys in 1982.

But last year, 1,355 million passenger journeys were made on a network now comprising only 9,800 route miles. Therefore, compared to 1948, 40 per cent more passengers were carried on only half the route mileage. This is an incredible improvement in the productivity of the rail network, but also explains why there are many calls now for more capacity to cope with future demand. If the trend continues at the rate recorded in previous years (six per cent per annum), even during the current double dip recession, some 1,400 million trips will be made this year — the highest ever. And that number could reach well over 1,600 million by 2015, and 2,250 million by 2020 … if the network has the capacity to cope with so many people! The north-south axis — linking eight of Britain’s largest city regions (and around 25 per cent of our total population, which is expected to grow to record levels, especially in the cities, by 2027) — remains the most problematic area today. It is where the need is greatest for new capacity, and it is HS2 that will provide this by relieving the existing network to operate more commuter and regional passenger services, and more and larger freight trains. - Alan Marshall, Inchbrook Road, Kenilworth

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