FABRICANT’S CONCERNS REGARDING WEST COAST MAIN LINE SERVICES FOLLOWING OPENING OF HS2 “IT COULD BECOME A BRANCH LINE”
Michael Fabricant questioned Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, in the House of Commons regarding passenger services on the West Coast Mainline following the opening of HS2 and has since had a meeting to discuss this further.
Michael’s concerns arose from an answer Chris Grayling gave to fellow Staffordshire MP, Robert Flello, on Thursday 12th January:-
Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): Given what will be the eye-wateringly huge final costs of HS2, surely it makes sense to maximise the use of this asset, so will the Secretary of State tell us whether the line will be used 24 hours a day, seven days a week? If not, will the otherwise wasted capacity be used for freight—and if not, why not?
Chris Grayling: Of course the whole point about HS2 is that it releases capacity on the existing west coast main line for freight. As a result, I see the potential for significant increases in freight across the west coast main line area. As for timetabling, that is a matter for those who decide what is the best commercial proposition for that route, but we expect, and are planning for, very intensive use of the route across a wide variety of destinations, including Stoke-on-Trent.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): My right hon. Friend’s last answer worries me slightly. Lichfield suffers all the disadvantages of having the line go through it and no station, because it is too small. I was hoping that he would say that the freeing up of capacity would mean that the west coast main line could have more trains stopping at Lichfield Trent Valley, but is that now not going to be the case, because the line will be blocked up with freight?
Chris Grayling: No, I think there will be room for both. The benefit of HS2 is that it provides an opportunity for more commuter trains, more intermediate trains and more services to places that do not currently receive them. By taking the fast trains off the west coast main line—trains that go straight up to places such as Manchester and Liverpool—more opportunity is provided for better services in places such as Lichfield and the Trent valley, which the current mix of services makes it difficult to achieve.
“Following that exchange, I have now had a meeting with Chris Grayling and I have expressed my concern with his answer” says Michael Fabricant. “I asked him what he meant by ‘intermediate trains’ and asked whether that means that Lichfield won’t have access to fast Pendolino services.
“Chris Grayling told me that by the time HS2 comes into operation, the Pendolinos may be too old and taken out of service.
“With Pendolinos offering an 75 minute service down to Euston, I do not want to see that service diminished by no replacement fast trains. Chris assured me that the services from Lichfield won’t be any worse after HS2 starts, but I am unconvinced.
“Although the completion of HS2 is many years off and, no doubt, there will be many Transport Secretaries between then and now, I shall be monitoring the situation very closely to ensure we have fast, tilting trains serving Lichfield after the Pendolinos are taken out of action. The present ‘intermediate’ trains take around 100 minutes to get down to London from Lichfield.
“I want to see more fast services to London and the north from Lichfield once line capacity becomes freed up after the opening of HS2 – not fewer services” Michael adds.
“And it won’t just be Lichfield affected if they don’t replace the Pendolinos. All stations along the West Coast Main Line will be affected if the Government starts to treat it as a branch line.”