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Harper promises review of HS2 London passenger distribution model

Peter Stonham
25 April 2023
Mark Harper: am a very big supporter of modelling things, but you have to be clear about the assumptions behind those models so that you have confidence in them
Mark Harper: am a very big supporter of modelling things, but you have to be clear about the assumptions behind those models so that you have confidence in them

Delay of the completion of HS2 link into Euston will mean further investigation of how to best understand and cater for future demand pattern for London originating and arriving passengers on the line from Birmingham Mark Harper has pledged. Much of the questioning of the Transport Secretary before the Transport Committee last week related to the future of HS2 and in particular, plans for its London terminal and the changing travel patterns for users.

Committee member, Greg Smith, had questioned the opportunity cost of HS2 plans compared to regional rail improvements. Referring to the London terminal, he said that according to most of the modelling, Old Oak Common would not be the end point for a significant number of passengers who would want to go either to the centre of London or, probably, to Heathrow. He asked the cost of remodelling Old Oak, stations around Old Oak and interchanges between the Elizabeth line and the Great Western line, and suggested it might be cheaper to make other improvements, for example, relating to the Chiltern line to relieve pressure on Marylebone, by connecting it to Paddington, which he said would relieve London-Birmingham journeys.

Harper said, he had asked his officials, as part of the Euston work, to look very closely “at the modelling of how we expect the services to operate, and check that what we expect passengers to do and where we expect them to terminate their journeys are current and up to date”. He added, “then, I will see whether there are other decisions that need to be taken in the interim until Euston is open”.

“I want to make sure that we use up-to-date data about where we expect passengers to finish their journeys and go on to, and to check that the capacity is in place to allow them to continue those journeys in a sensible and efficient way. Obviously, if there need to be changes to the rail network, whether in the number of available trains or lines, we will look to make sensible decisions to enable passengers to get around.”

There was an existing model, but the minister said he had asked officials to take him through the detail. “Having come into this job a number of months ago, I want to test the assumptions; that is always sensible with models. I am a very big supporter of modelling things, but you have to be clear about the assumptions behind those models so that you have confidence in them.”

“I spend a lot of my time on this project talking about, effectively, the design of infrastructure. I want to go through the modelling for what the operational railway is going to look like, because that will be one of the important things that drives some of the decision making for Euston. For example, I have been and had a look myself at the Euston site, and had a look at the complexities around that and the things that we need to deliver operationally for passengers.

“It is very important if you are in my job to think, “What are we doing this for?” It’s ultimately for the passenger experience, and the ability of passengers to get between the high-speed network, the existing network and the underground network, and I want to look at what the operational rail service is like. That will be really important for me as I am looking at the remodelling of Euston, and the decisions that I have to take both on that station and on the rest of the railway network.”

Harper said he wanted to satisfy himself that he was comfortable with all the assumptions that had been made, and whether they were up to date.

Greg Smith reminded Harper that they had worked together a lot during the pandemic on another form of modelling. “It would be fascinating to see the dynamic models of those passenger numbers starting to come through and being shared with the Committee.”

The minister said he was happy to be open about it, because there were decisions to be made. ‘I am very clear that I want to understand — as we are taking decisions on Euston and on the operational side of HS2 and what we then do, which are the consequential decisions for the rest of the rail network, such as how that works and the capacity we free up — that we are making the best possible decisions with the most up-to-date data’.

There had been a lot of change in passenger behaviour and the sorts of journey people are taking. “In shorthand, we have seen a big recovery in leisure travel on the railways, but obviously a significant reduction in commuter traffic. I want to make sure that’s all been accurately reflected in the most up-to-date modelling.”

Also appearing before the committee, DfT Permanent Secretary, Dame Bernadette Kelly, added “this will be a critical input as we look at what a redesign of Euston station now needs to look like, which is why the Secretary of State has asked us to do that work’.” The pandemic had changed patterns of demand, “such as what we are seeing now with the Elizabeth line and the very high levels of demand. There is also an interesting input into how we might anticipate future passenger numbers to operate.”

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