The threat to cut the HS2 railway to a short shuttle service between Birmingham and the edge of London could mean that a journey by HS2 is slower than the existing railway.

HS2 as a shuttle (red) vs what was planned (grey)

Citing TfL research, the Mayor of London noted in an open letter to the government that stopping HS2 at Old Oak Common and asking people to switch to the Elizabeth line to get into central London would add so much time to the journey that it would be quicker to use the existing intercity service.

A trip by HS2 between Birmingham and Old Oak Common would take around 42 minutes, but the connection within London between Euston and Old Oak Common adds another 30 minutes, plus an average of 10 minutes changing at Old Oak Common.

TfL’s best case estimate of 1 hour and 22 minutes is slower than the average time of an existing Intercity service between Euston and Birmingham. It would be quite an accomplishment to build a high-speed railway, that thanks to short term attempts to shave a modest amount of money off the cost ends up being slower than the railway it’s supposed to replace.

Yes, it’s true that not everyone will specifically want to end their journey at Euston itself, but on a like-for-like journey, a cut-back HS2 would be slower than intercity services. As Euston is also a lot better connected for onward journeys, it’ll still be the preferred destination to Old Oak Common.

The wider problem though isn’t just speed. As HS2’s primary function is to increase capacity on the rail network so that more trains can fit onto the overcrowded tracks, putting the London terminus at the edge of west London will make it less desirable for many people than continuing to use Euston station.

That implies that the intercity services that should be using HS2’s new platforms at Euston will have to keep using the existing railway — and that kills off any chance of increasing capacity for commuter and regional services to the north of London.

The mess and muddle also affects the levelling up of the rest of the UK economy, not just because the various other cuts being talked about will hamper local improvements, but will reduce the incentive for London firms to move out of London. There’s some evidence that improved rail links between London and the regions encourages businesses to move back-office functions out of expensive London, so long as there’s a reliable rail connection with the head office.

This morning, the former Chair of HS2, Sir David Higgins makes the same point in The Times that improved railways across the UK drives investment and boosts local economies. A cut-back HS2 that can’t take intercity trains off slower regional rail tracks holds back investment outside London.

And there’s no doubt that something needs to be done to increase capacity on the railways as they are already straining to cope with the post-pandemic recovery in passenger numbers.

Although the pattern of travel has changed, the volume is pretty much back to where it was before the pandemic, although revenues are still lagging. The drop in revenue is because white-collar workers can opt to work from home a couple of days a week, and no longer have to fork out for expensive peak-hours season tickets. However, the volume of passengers travelling is back to pre-pandemic levels thanks to discretionary travel — the off-peak journeys which are leaving people repeatedly complaining about overcrowded trains at weekends and evenings.

To help reduce immediate overcrowding, more trains can be added as there are still fewer running than before the pandemic due to cost cutting and lack of drivers — but there comes a point, probably within the next couple of years where the railway will be overloaded and unable to carry any more people.

So despite claims by a number of politicians that people don’t use the trains that much because working from home has killed off commuting, in fact, the railways are bulging at the seams, because people want to travel.

It’s quite possible to hold a business meeting by video link, but how many people want to attend a wedding that way, or a funeral? People travel to football matches even though they could watch the match in the pub on the telly. If there’s one thing we learned from the lockdown, it was that people want to attend important events, and being told to stay at home and watch on a video link was deeply distressing.

Thankfully the lockdown is over, but we face a future where people will be allowed to travel, but thanks to the neglect of the railways, will be unable to travel.

And neglect looks likely.

There is a report in The Independent this morning that the government will confirm that Old Oak Common will remain the London terminus, with all the problems that’ll cause, and that the northern branches of HS2 will be delayed into the future so that the costs are kicked into the long grass for the next government to deal with.

As it happens, some sort of review of the HS2 railway would not be a bad thing, as yes, costs are soaring, thanks in large part to inflation in the construction industry, which is affecting all construction projects, but delays for the sake of delays don’t save money – it always costs more in the long term.

If HS2 is cut back, that would leave the UK with a high speed railway that’s slower than the existing railway, enough uncertainty to dissuade business investment in the areas blighted by the delays, and trains that are so overcrowded that people will avoid using them.


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  1. Herned says:

    It’s a terrible way to run things, but… Euston is second bottom to Paddington in terms of people walking from the station. Most people’s final destination involves a change to the tube or bus. Bond St to OOC will only take a couple of minutes more than to Euston so the time savings are still significant, the same for anywhere on the EL

    • Jake says:

      I’ve seen this comment crop up on a number of forums now.

      For most Londonders, and indeed non-Londoners going into London, the Elizabeth Line is useless. Sure it’s improved transport for the relatively few destinations that it serves in relatively small tracts of East and West London, and is great for getting to Heathrow; but it’s completely redundant for anyone going North, North West, South, South West.

      Euston on the otherhand is a fantastically connected station. It has two branches of the Northern line, the Victoria line (with cross-platform interchange to the Bakerloo at OC), Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith & City, Overground, etc. That provides you with pretty much 100% coverage of Central London and huge swathes of the middle and outer suburbs too. It’s also walkable to St Pancras for the HS1 and Eurostar services.

      The Elizabeth Line covers a pretty narrow tranche of Central, nowhere near as wide an array of destinations as Euston. If OOC was such a fantastic perfect terminus for London then they’d also close Paddington and just terminate all the GWML trains there too. Except no one is proposing doing that because OOC is a poorly-connected wasteland deep in the suburbs.

      There is no purpose to, or need for, an Aston-Acton line. Other than for people from Birmingham city centre who need to get to Heathrow or Canary Wharf; the rest of us Brummies would get no benefit from the train to OOC. The trains will be empty as everyone continues to cram onto the WCML which will be faster.

      The UK will be a laughing stock if we can’t even get our first proper high-speed line into our capital city. Probably a pretty good metaphor though for what this country has become after 13 years of managed decline.

    • John Airey says:

      For HS2 to terminate at OOC more EL trains are needed. Even then I don’t think the frequency can be increased so it’s just a bump up from 9 to 11 carriages.

      Not looked at the plans but hoping that the exits and entrances at OOC are in the middle because passengers tend to use just the ends of the EL trains.

    • John Airey says:

      Jake, you’re assuming that inter city services will continue on the WCML. They shouldn’t, the whole idea was to take them off the WCML (and MML and ECML) but that’s apparently gone by the wayside for now.

    • MilesT says:


      While OOC is not that well connected itself (I think the plans could be changed to improve this for modest costs, e.g. dedicated pedestrian routes with travelators to all the nearby lines), the Elizabeth line does have a good set of connections to other lines (yes it is one additional change to some compared to Euston).

      Some of the connections via the Elizabeth are not available from Euston, e.g. Thameslink, which will do a good job for North and South London, also Jubilee, Bakerloo, DLR, District (Wimbleware & East to Upminster), some Overgrounds.

      The two that Euston has that the Elizabeth does not have directly (apart from Watford DC Overground) is Metropolitan and Victoria. Both of which need one additional change at Bond Street to access–a bit of a lengthy change but not that bad for most.

    • ChrisC says:

      Jake so Lizzie is “completely redundant for anyone going North, North West, South, South West” is it?

      On that basis Thameslink is complettly redundant for anyone wanting to go east – west!

      The point is both opened up new destinations and TOGETHER they opened up even more.

      Change from Lizzie at Farrindon to Thameslink and north/south routes open up. Use Thameslink to St Pancras and you get links to the North East and Scotland from KIng’s Cross. Go south to London Bridge and Kent and Sussex become your oyster.

      And of course the reverse is also true opening up easier links to LHR and Reading from the North and South.

      Change at Liverpool St or Stratford and Essex and East Anglia open up to you.

  2. Barrington Ptolemy says:

    Would an OOC terminus mean that all HS2 trains run Birmingham to OOC, or could you still get e.g. Manchester to OOC (running high speed for half the distance)?

    • Herned says:

      Yes or no, depending on how stupid they are. The government has “paused” the link to the existing line north of Birmingham

  3. MilesT says:

    Just for comparison–Birmingham (Curzon) to OOC and then on to Paddington (for Marylebone) will still be a bit quicker than Birmingham direct to Marylebone (which varies between 2-2.5 hours). That’s without factoring in the time needed to get to Curzon instead of New Street/Snow Hill

    Marylebone can be a cheaper option than Euston.

    • Tom R says:

      Moor St to Marylebone used to be 1h35m to 2h depending on service, marginally over 2h on some late nights and late weekend services. I notice it’s now timetabled about 15 mins slower since I used to use the service more often a few years back. Not sure why. It’s also usually half the cost of WCML & less crowded.

  4. CityLover says:

    The price (of tickets) for using the service which will also probably be prohibitive for most people if the journey time isn’t significantly quicker.

    • John Airey says:

      And somehow my comment ended up in the wrong place. This wasn’t to be a premium line, this was to take traffic off the existing lines so ticket prices remain the same.

  5. Keith says:

    The sensible option would be to keep to having HS2 go from London to Manchester (or vice-versa), but open it in stages to allow for some revenue to start coming in before the line is fully complete.

    Stage 1 could then be split into sub-sections, as follows…
    1a. Old Oak Common to Birmingham
    1b. Euston to Birmingham
    1c. Euston to Manchester

    The full Manchester to London should be done, as enough time and money was spent procrastinating before the go-ahead for HS2 was given. Amusingly and rather awkwardly for the Conservatives their autumn conference takes place next week in… Manchester.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the attempts to save money by changing the plans for the redesigned Euston station will have actually cost more money in the long run.

    • John Airey says:

      The plan was to move the Inter City services onto the HS2 lines, this wasn’t to be a premium service. It was to be the main route to Birmingham. But it’s being damaged bit by bit.

    • John Airey says:

      Yes, Euston needs rebuilding anyway (woefully inadequate for the passenger numbers it sees now) and you’re right. Delay just increases the cost but then it ends up in a different budget cycle.

  6. GordonP says:

    The Elizabeth Line benefits from direct connections to Stratford (busiest station in the UK during COVID) and Canary Wharf, an important financial centre. TfL published usage of 150 million passengers for the Elizabeth Line in it’s first year. Not exactly useless.

    I use the various lines of the tube network extensively and
    while going north to Euston would be tempting, Old Oak Common benefits from faster HS2 journey times when compared with Euston. (all of 4 minutes according to the HS2 site so a bit marginal but quicker nevertheless). The HS2 line is planned to do a loop from Euston before leaving London from the west in the same direction as the Elizabeth line and Old Oak Common makes a shorter connection to most points in London and would be my likely option if both are available and I wanted to use HS2.

    Given the shorter overall journey times my personal guess is more than half HS2 passengers will use Old Oak Common and less than half from Euston.

    Still the major benefits would be beyond Birmingham to Manchester and beyond….

    • Raj says:

      What on earth are you talking about?
      I live in Surbiton , like over a million people in south west London I have no access to the Elizabeth line, the same is true for people in south & south east London like Croydon and Bromley. We do not have access to the Elizabeth line, so OOC is a useless terminus, Euston & St Pancras area is fantastic terminus that serves everyone well.

    • ChrisC says:

      Raj both Croydon and Bromley have access to Lizzie line.

      East Croydon gets you to Farringdon via Thameslink. West Croydon to Whitechappel via the overground.

      Bromley gets access via Blackfriars and then Thameslink

  7. William says:

    Sunak can slash and burn on behalf of the 40% income tax bracket, but quite soon it will no longer be up to him.

  8. Jeff Travers says:

    Old Oak Common is being caricatured by IanVisits (and many other commentators who should know better)… as a minor suburban station with enormous transfer penalties to most London destinations. But the opposite is true.

    1 Old Oak Common will be the second biggest station in the country when it comes into use as the terminus for Phase 1. It will include Great Western and Elizabeth Line interchanges and also TfL are creating new stations on several existing lines in its close vicinity.

    2 HS2’s metropolitan area chief engineer described Old Oak Common as the best connected location in Europe.

    3 In a study of transfer times to London destinations we carried out for Sir Keir Starmer comparing Old Oak Common and Euston… Old Oak Common eill provide a faster overall journey time than Euston to all destinations other than Euston and a few tube stations on the Northern and Victoria line north of Euston. For example it will be far quicker to get to the City (eg Liverpool Street) and W1 (eg Tottenhsm Court Road) via Old Oak Common than Euston.

    4 Sir Keir Starmer (when he appeared as witness to the HS2 House of Commons Select Committee provided a powerful and coherent argument for Old Oak Common being the London Terminus for HS2) Most of Sir Keir’s predictions (on which he based his argument) have come true and his argument appears to be even more relevant today.

    5 Under HS2’s current plans, Old Oak Common will be the London terminus for HS2 for almost the next twenty years.

    • MWR says:

      Pretty much agree on how great OOC connectivity will be apart from the fact that I’d rarely want to travel to a Midlands destination from London so remain condemned to go to Euston anyway to use the existing WCML. If only there was a plan to go from OOC to Manchester and it’s fast East-West connections.

  9. Aled says:

    If I had a choice between an OoC terminus with crossrail connections to Heathrow, the West end, the city and an extension to Ebbsfleet to meet hs1 – I would probably prefer that than a £5bn station at Euston. I personally would never use Euston despite living in London and having to traverse that direction. There is nothing at Euston station that I couldn’t access faster using Crossrail (albeit from West London). People coming South will want the above things – few of which are easier to access from Euston

    I would hazard a bet that a cost benefit analysis would prefer OoC with that that extra line, with an absolute beastly property development to be initiated at hs2 Euston instead

  10. MWR says:

    Checkout the proposed integration with HS2 on the link from Liverpool via Manchester airport, Piccadilly and on into Yorkshire as part of improvement East-West. OK, it’s going to be scrapped, but sorting out the Piccadilly to Crewe link (before Crewe to Midlands link) as part of HS2 would have been a great indicator for investment in the North – as well as begging for the Midlands link to eventually be constructed.

  11. Tom R says:

    I thought it was ridiculous from the outset that HS2 was not going to be connected to HS1 for a truly integrated high speed network linking in with Europe too. Imagine being able to take a train from Birmingham or the north all the way to Paris, Brussels etc with no changes (you could easily have 2 separate parts of the train for domestic Vs cleared international travel). And that in tandem could cut some more air routes as well working towards the pledge of lower emissions. But instead even with Euston in play that would still have required a change and clearing passport control in London eliminating any time saving. At the very least 2nd best case scenario it could’ve routed via LHR to connect BHX and points north with LHR. It’s a PITA to get to Heathrow from the Midlands by train and BHX doesn’t have the long haul connectivity of LHR (or MAN) to certain parts of the world. The whole thing has been a farce from the start, let alone the shambles it is now.

  12. NG says:

    Can’t have that – it might let FOREIGNERS in – or us out, for that matter – & it’s to do with “Europe” which all good tories hate, yes?
    Meanwhile, Rish! goes everywhere by private jet & simply doesn’t care. When he is, hopefully, kicked out of office, he’s still got all those nice comfy millions to fall back on …
    P.S. Let us not forget that the original London & Birmingham Railway – opened 1846, was late ( Kislby Tunnel ) & way over budget, for the same reason.
    Imagine, if now, to get to Brum by train, we all had to use road-coaches to get past Kilsby?
    Ye – it’s that stupid & shortsighted

  13. Alex Mckenna says:

    “The Thick of It” comes to mind, as more of a documentary of government workings rather than a comedy. This lot have added Incompetence to their other “virtues” – selfishness, greed, ignorance and dishonesty.

  14. Richard says:

    The fastest trains from Stoke on Trent get to Euston in 1hr 27min. It’s absolutely laughable that HS2 could end up taking nearly as long to get there from Birmingham.

  15. MT says:

    I still hold the view HS3 should have been built first. It would have been built at a fraction of the cost and would have further strengthened the case for HS2.

    Starting HS2 first was ambitious and the cost overruns now mean there is no appetite (or money) to start another rail line (or finish HS2!).

  16. David Winter says:

    IMHO, the role of HS2 should now become fully classic-compatible, and ONLY serve Crewe-OOC. No need for Curzon St. Extra Brum capacity can be obtained through the Chiltern routes. So let’s stop spending on the Brum spur, but focus on Crewe first. This will release the WCML capacity between Crewe and Euston for regional, commuter and freight services. Again, IMHO Curzon St is a furphy.

  17. Tim says:

    The whole HS2 was a bad idea in the first place and the execution of it is appalling.

    With the vast sums involved for the minimal journey improvement, it would have been far better to upgrade existing lines. Use could have been made of the surviving sections of the former Great Central if additional capacity was needed.

    The current Chiltern Line into Marylebone could also have been upgraded. Potential the original dream for Marylebone could have finally been realised! All of this could have been integrated into the current network, improving journey times for all, not just the limited few who may benefit from faster journeys between major stations.

    Bear in mind that the off-peak travellers aren’t necessarily interested in speed. Many look for the cheapest tickets, even if that means using slower services.

    For example, the quickest service now between London and Birmingham is on Avanti. However, they are expensive and the newly refurbished trains are extremely uncomfortable. Travel by London Midland or Chiltern may take up to twice as long, but it’s cheaper and you don’t arrive with a numb bum!

    HS2 was always a vanity project with little justification and we are now all going to be paying the price.

    • ianVisits says:

      Reusing the old Great Central line has been ruled out by everyone who has ever taken a serious look at it – as for using Marylebone as a terminus, if Euston can barely cope, how on earth could tiny Marylebone with just one tube line cope?

  18. Ray White says:

    It’s as simple as this. If you want to go to London you either go by car or train. You don’t expect the road to end at the M25, and neither you don’t expect the station to be on the outskirts of the city, no matter how well it’s connected. You want to end up in London, not on the edge of it. Any other arrangement is a nonsense, a pathetic fudge, a sign of weakness and a total lack of vision by the powers that be. If they find this all ‘too difficult’ than perhaps those who govern a country like ours, one built on the work of those such as George Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, should go elsewhere.

  19. Billy says:

    Nothing for South West Londoners the same as the EL.
    There’s a line that goes from East Croydon through Balham and Clapham Junction that passes a few matres from OOC, but no plans for it to interchange there, huge missed opportunity for SW London and beyond! Everyone still has to go via Central London still.

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