High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:07 pm on 14th April 2016.

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Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat 12:07 pm, 14th April 2016

My Lords, I start by declaring my non-pecuniary interests: I have been responsible three times in my career for the management of Euston station and three times for Old Oak Common, so I am familiar with the area, particularly as regards the things to which I shall refer.

I reiterate what the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said about taking more capacity out of the existing west coast main line being a vain hope because the estimates that Virgin Rail has published this week show that the demand will grow even faster than it thought would be the case a few years ago, and any spare capacity that is available on the west coast main line will be needed just to keep the service going in the interim before HS2 is open.

I will talk about the London end of the proposals as many other noble Lords will talk about other places and issues. First, on the rolling stock proposed for this line, HS2 initially proposed to use trains on the London to Birmingham route that are wider and higher than will fit on to any existing BR lines. It would be possible to build them to be compatible with British rolling stock but HS2 has considered this larger size. I suggest that the Bill committee probes this decision very thoroughly, or perhaps the Minister can provide assurances when he replies to the debate, because it is not sensible to build rolling stock that will not fit on to the classic lines or is not fit to be cascaded to other services later in its life.

I believe that through services to London are extremely difficult to bring about, particularly now that much stricter border controls are in operation and are likely to remain so. Instead of clinging on to the slender hope of through trains, the matter is best resolved by undertaking the building of a satisfactory link between Euston and King’s Cross and St Pancras. It is no good expecting people to go out on to the street in the rain with heavy luggage and make the journey along Euston Road; they want something much more akin to a modern airport terminal, equipped with travelators, to make the easiest possible transition between HS2 and HS1. I know that this will be expensive but, looking to the future, I think it is necessary and I hope it will be given proper evaluation.

I now turn to the biggest issue with which I am concerned and that is what happens when the railway reaches London. The first terminal in London will be Old Oak Common. It will give access to Crossrail for travel towards central London, the City and Docklands, as well as to Heathrow, and London Overground is proposing a link to Old Oak Common. I suggest that this work should proceed as quickly as possible to cater for the London market. Plenty of space is available at Old Oak Common to turn the trains around there. I call this work phase 1A. I believe it is essential to provide early cash flow and to see how Old Oak Common works out as a London station. I do not think anybody really knows, and it might prove to be a more popular destination than Euston.

My major concern is the proposed extension to Euston. I do not doubt that it is necessary to have an extension to Euston but I believe that what is now proposed is unnecessarily expensive and very disruptive. One question is: could an adequate terminal be housed within the curtilage of the existing Euston station? In my experience, this station is used much less intensively than any other London railway terminal. When it was rebuilt, it was laid out to deal with Motorail services and a lot of Royal Mail traffic. Those who know the station will know that big spaces are available between certain platforms, and they could be made available for HS2 platforms. That is one point that I believe the Bill committee must address at an early stage.

The second issue is whether some existing trains on the west coast main line could be diverted on to Crossrail. I believe it is feasible for trains from, say, Milton Keynes to go on to Crossrail, and that would alleviate the current enormous overcrowding as people arrive at Euston and transfer to the Underground. I have been told that the cost would be very large, but I have also been told that HS2 is praying in aid a great deal of the cost as a reason for not doing it, as it wants disabled access to be provided at all the stations served by Crossrail. However, this could be solved simply by having trains going from Northampton, Milton Keynes and Watford on to Crossrail, because they will pick up enough people to relieve Euston substantially.

I want to turn to the question of the link between Old Oak Common to Euston. I suggest that the committee examines an alternative approach to Euston station from around Queen’s Park; this should necessitate a much shorter tunnel between Old Oak Common and Queen’s Park. Euston would then be approached along the existing lines—there are three tracks each way into Euston, which is quite generous. This will necessitate some upgrading of the infrastructure, but will not lead to the demolition of property in Camden and will reduce much of the work around Euston. Some platform extensions will be needed south of Euston station in any case.

I would almost beg the Bill committee to recommend that a respected engineer, independent of HS2, be appointed early to examine this scheme and advise the committee. As far as I am concerned, HS2 has dismissed this scheme with what I regard as an absolutely inadequate response—it has not given any valid reasons. These issues should be settled very early in the consideration of the Bill. I say very early, because the Commons committee started, I believe, in the north and came south; it would be a good idea if the House of Lords committee started examining the London end so that any studies that are thought necessary could be put in hand so as not to delay the scheme.

Another issue that requires early attention is the impact that lorries will have on the roads around London and on road safety and air quality. I suggest that the committee immediately recommends that work be put in hand to establish how maximum use could be made of the railway both for the delivery of material and removal of spoil. I am very impressed by what Crossrail has achieved in this respect at Paddington, where most of the material that arrived dropped straight from a conveyor into railway wagons and did not find its way on to the highway at all.

Nothing that I have suggested will delay the project. I am certain that, if the areas I have highlighted are considered early and seriously, the revenue streams could be enhanced and the costs substantially reduced.