Wednesday, 28 December 2011

On HS2 and Euston

The decision to go ahead with the first phase of HS2 from Euston to Birmingham has been postponed pending a decision to build an extra tunnel in the Chilterns. At about the same time we saw a decision to proceed with a link from Oxford to Bletchley to create a route from Oxford to Milton Keynes. I see these facts as being somewhat related, as much of the grass roots opposition to the railway in Buckinghamshire seems to be around a "there's nothing in it for us" mentality. So we may well see a station where the HS2 route crosses the Oxford to Bletchley route north of Aylesbury.

What other changes may we see when approval is eventually given? I had considered something a little radical. HS2 would go somewhere other than Euston from Old Oak Common on its way to Central London. Nowhere.

There is strong opposition from within Camden to HS2's route into Euston as it requires the demolition of 236 properties in the borough (the opposition in the Chilterns is somewhat more vocal than that in Camden). We would need a rebuild of Euston station for the second time in 45 years - total cost of extension £4bn.

Before anyone thinks I'm suddenly opposed to HS2, er - no. But we may be able to divert cash to better medium term use. In the long term, if and when the programme has been seen to be successful, we may want to finish the job. (This is the same model as was used with the M1. The section from J2 in Hendon south to the terminus at the North Circular was completed in 1977, 18 years after the opening of the first section north from Watford. But I digress.)

So what can we do with £4bn? Let's assume we keep it in the transport budget for now, and attempt to alleviate some of the bottlenecks associated with HS2 as it would now exist, terminating at Old Oak Common. And we'll look at the arguments around taking HS2 to Euston in the first place.

"Old Oak Common cannot cope with the traffic HS2 would generate, and it's inconvenient for Londoners."

It depends. If you only build an interchange to Crossrail, then yes. But the Central Line, Bakerloo Line, North London Line and West London Line are all within a distance that you can move people by rapid transit system. The top estimate given for this work, including necessary road improvements, is £600m (see$file/110825%20A%20Vision%20for%20Park%20Royal%20City%20International_low%20res.pdf).

"Euston needs to be rebuilt anyway. It's ugly and it's almost full."

Image courtesy London Tookit. I can't deny that Euston is ugly.

Euston being ugly isn't a justification for spending £4bn. It will remain almost full, even if you divert four trains per hour on to Crossrail, unless you build a 24 trains per hour tunnel from Euston to Waterloo. As Waterloo will remain almost full unless you build a 24 trains per hour tunnel from Waterloo to Euston. But how much would this cost? suggests the entire cost of tunneling for Crossrail is £1.5bn. We need (say) a kilometre each side of Euston and Waterloo so 6km or thereabouts, as opposed to 22km for Crossrail, so put a cost at £375m. Add £930m for three stations at Euston, Tottenham Court Road and Waterloo (

"We want to restore the Euston Arch."

(Picture courtesy the Euston Arch trust)

The Euston Arch used to sit in Euston station. It was demolished in the 1960s and dumped in the River Lea. Most of the original arch still exists, but the way it was demolished gives doubt as to how much could be used in rebuilding.

The cost of rebuilding the arch was estimated at £10m on the Euston Arch web site. Given the plan to place the arch close to the Euston Road - well away from the station - this project has no dependency on the rebuild, or otherwise, of the station. Given the relatively small budget involved, this argument should be discounted.

"Because HS2 is going to Euston, we need to move capacity on to Crossrail."

There is spare capacity on the western end of Crossrail. Euston would undoubtedly be too full with HS2 as well as its current capacity. So we end up with a cause and effect - some or all of the Euston slow trains from Tring must go on to Crossrail via a tunnel (presumably) between Old Oak Common and Willesden Junction.

The original case for Crossrail extended out to Aylesbury, and remember that track already exists between Old Oak Common and the Chiltern Main Line at Northolt. There would be significant electrification costs involved taking Crossrail as far as Aylesbury, but taking electrification only as far as High Wycombe would cost £3m per mile for electrification (27 miles, £81m) plus possibly some extra track to allow a reliable 4 trains per hour service (say £100m maximum, as Swindon to Kemble at less than 15 miles is estimated to cost £40m). Add £30m for track renewal. This gives Wycombe four direct trains an hour to the City and Canary Wharf - which might start to appeal to people in the Chilterns.

"Euston can't cope with the traffic HS2 would generate."

Probably true given that peak hour tube trains are already full. But the resolution, a Thameslink-like tunnel from Euston to Waterloo, and/or a revised Chelsea to Hackney line passing through Euston, is not included in the current budget. See above for costing of the former.

"There's no interchange between HS1 and HS2 if you don't take HS2 to Euston."

But the current plans don't have one either, merely a link between Euston and Euston Square. I've heard suggestions including a tunnel under the British Library (whose basements at 23m are as deep as the Victoria Line, so this doesn't feel very practical), but the plan is that you catch a Northern or Victoria Line train for one stop between the two High Speed links. The time to travel from Old Oak Common to St Pancras by Crossrail and Northern Line, changing at Tottenham Court Road, would be about 12 minutes: not prohibitive by any means. And we really do need to remember that far less than half the traffic on HS2 would be heading for the continent by Eurostar: we need to add in Heathrow (20 minutes from Old Oak Common, much quicker than from Euston, but already catered for in the current plans by HS2 stopping at Old Oak Common), Liverpool Street (11 minutes from Old Oak Common, slightly quicker than from Euston), etc.

If I add all the figures above up, I've spent just over £2bn out of a budget of £4bn. That's excluding the cost of tunneling from Old Oak Common to Willesden Junction which I haven't recouped. So I can be justified in spending a little more in London, and giving the rest of the money to be spent up north (Skipton to Colne reopening perhaps for a start, costed at £81m in 2008). I'm particularly frustrated about the privately funded Northern Line extension from Kennington to Battersea, which avoids the obvious interchange with the Northern Line and National Rail at Vauxhall (Russian for "station" - but I digress again) as it is too busy. Surely £100m of my remaining funds would solve this?

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