Link between HS1 and HS2 is key to switching UK travellers from plane to train

A direct link between HS1 and HS2 services has been identified as a key driver in shifting British air travellers from plane to train. High Speed Rail Group (HSRG) has said that shifting UK travellers from air to rail can be achieved by more long-distance rail services, utilising HS2’s capacity, attracting more international travellers and properly linking up HS1 and HS2. In its new report How to win air travellers to rail, HSRG outlines its action plan for accelerating the massive modal shift to rail that will be necessary to achieve net zero by 2050.

The key is strengthening the country’s high speed rail network to slash train journey times and provide a viable alternative to the 16,700 people who travel daily by plane in the UK.  Targeting domestic flights specifically, HSRG says that all air travellers within the UK could be accommodated by 20 high speed trains per day each way. This largely hangs on HS2 becoming operational, but HSRG is being pro-active in its mission to precipitate this modal shift, and has set out a four point action plan to achieve it. Step 1: Provide more limited-stop, long-distance rail services at competitive prices

Flights between London and Scotland account for more than half (57%) of domestic flights, but HSRG says rail can compete with this by offering more point-to-point services with fewer stops at a cheaper rate. It is currently being tested by Lumo, which is taking on the UK’s busiest air route – London to Edinburgh – with a train that doesn’t stop between Newcastle and Stevenage and can be booked in advance for under GBP20. This could be replicated with other Scottish cities like Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen.

This type of service could also be implemented on other cross country rail services; HSRG suggests connecting Cardiff and Bristol with Darlington, Newcastle and Edinburgh, avoiding intermediate stations on congested parts of the rail network to speed up journey times. However, it accepts that the rail network will need significant upgrades before this becomes feasible. Step 2: Use HS2 capacity to turbocharge modal shift

HS2 will provide quicker journeys and more capacity for limited-stop services, and will cut journey times between London and Scotland by an hour by having trains running at 360km/h compared to the current 200km/h. HSRG says that this capacity can be piggy backed upon by following the recommendations of the Union Connectivity Review and complementing HS2 with further upgrades. This could see rail take 75% of travellers between England and Scotland.

The HS2 route between Birmingham and Nottingham can also be capitalised upon by improving connectivity on the north-east – south-west axis. It could speed up journey times outside the south-east by up to 90 minutes. Step 3: Maximise HS1 to move international travellers to rail

HSRG believes there is capacity to do more with the international services offered by Eurostar and HS1 through Kent. The high speed rail network on the continent is constantly expanding and by connecting the UK’s network to it more efficiently the scope for more international rail travel is huge. Cities within 1000km such as Berlin, Vienna, Hamburg, Nice, Geneva, Barcelona and more could become single-day travel destinations.

Step 4: Properly connect up HS1 and HS2 HS1’s London terminus is St. Pancras International and HS2’s London terminus will be Euston.

These stations are less than 1km apart, but this is an off-putting interchange for travellers coming from the North and wanting to reach Europe. HSRE suggests a “proper transfer facility […] that provides a seamless ‘between two terminals’ connection suitable for all travellers”. This could be a people mover or a shuttle bus.

HSRE also points out that once HS2 is operational, extra capacity will be freed up on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) for new services. It believes there is an opportunity to create a new “Javelin-style service” that takes the WCML route straight to border controls at St. Pancras International and then onwards to Europe on HS1.

As an example, it highlights that there are already 2,900 daily passengers flying from Birmingham and Manchester to Amsterdam, who could be tempted to switch to rail if this service was implemented. Conclusion There is significant scope to attract air travellers to rail through expansion and integration of the UK’s high speed rail network, both within the country and connecting it more efficiently to the European high speed network.

By following these steps, major progress can be made in the dual quests for net zero and to level up the country. HSRG board director and author of the report Jim Steer says: “Our report makes clear the potential for rail, and high speed rail in particular, to provide an attractive and lower carbon alternative to flying. “By considering pre-HS2 and post-HS2 timescales and the geographies that are within-Britain and between Britain and the continent of Europe, it becomes increasingly clear the essential role high speed rail will play in facilitating this shift.

“Imagine being able to start a journey in Manchester or Birmingham, and through the proper integration of high speed rail services, being able to make a journey to Amsterdam: today this is an airline market of 2.1 million passengers per annum.

Imagine the convenience of rail and the significant carbon savings to be made.”

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