Today MPs will debate the HS2 bill in parliament for what is almost certainly the final time. Yet after hundreds of hours of debate and deliberation over more than five years by both MPs and peers, the plan for High Speed Rail 2 into London remains fundamentally flawed.
Irrespective of the merits of the entire project, the fact is that millions of people travelling into Euston Station over the next 20 years will face a completely unacceptable degree of disruption, while residents, businesses and anyone passing through Camden will have to put up with traffic congestion and construction noise of an unprecedented level. However, even though the ink may soon be dry on the legislative act, it is not too late for the government to address these issues.
First, there is Euston Station itself. Anyone who has stepped off a train at Euston knows just how urgent the redesign of the station is. Yet rather than treat HS2 as an opportunity for a full redesign, creating a world-class station, HS2 platforms will instead be bolted on to the side of the existing terminus, leaving the current station to decay further.
That’s one reason why many residents in Camden, supported by the mayor of London, have been arguing that HS2 should temporarily terminate at Old Oak Common (about five miles to the west of Euston) where there will already be a stop and where passengers will easily be able to transfer onto Crossrail and underground services to complete their journeys.
Arrival of Crossrail 2
There’s another compelling reason to delay HS2 services into Euston – the likely arrival of Crossrail 2 into the station. On the current timetable, HS2 will be operating into Euston from 2026, four years before Crossrail 2 services are expected to start – subject to parliament approving the new scheme. We know from TfL that Crossrail 2 will significantly reduce crowding, by up to 25 per cent on the already overstretched Northern and Victoria line services during peak periods.
So it makes perfect sense to delay the start of HS2 services until Crossrail 2 is fully up and running.
A commitment to a redevelopment of Euston, with agencies working together to integrate the different schemes, could mitigate at least some of the disruption inevitably resulting from such massive construction works. For example, Crossrail 2’s station entrances, vent shafts and construction sites could be incorporated as part of the Euston station works, sparing Somers Town in Camden from much of the potential impact.
These changes would require no new legislation – Old Oak Common could be designated as a temporary terminus under the current bill and, since Crossrail 2 legislation has not yet come before parliament, integration with Euston could be provided for in the future bill and fully debated.
The disruption caused by two decades of construction, however, will be defined not only by how planners redesign Euston Terminus.
It will also be about ensuring that building materials are brought in and removed by rail rather than road.
Delaying the start of HS2 operations into Euston would help free up additional rail capacity which could then be used for spoil removal by contractors.
But HS2 Limited and the government also need to be more ambitious about using such spare rail capacity to get the maximum possible amount of construction materials and spoil in and out of Euston and its approaches in order to free up the roads in and around Camden. The shortest journey for an HGV carrying spoil from Camden to the nearest landfill in Watford will be 26 miles. Yet one train of 15 railway wagons could move as much spoil as 124 HGVs. Up to five such trains could be loaded and run in a period of 24 hours without interfering with passenger services.
Yet the government’s current estimate is that just 28 per cent of excavated material and 17 per cent of imported construction materials in the Euston area will be moved by rail. This is will cause unacceptable levels of road traffic congestion and pollution. Improvements like these are not just about benefiting people living or working in Camden.
This is about improving the experience of the millions of commuters transiting through Euston Station each year. And it’s about ensuring that road congestion problems in Camden are mitigated and do not fan out, causing tailbacks and delays for many miles around. These are issues which concern all Londoners.
The London mayor is backing common sense solutions like these. Now it’s time for ministers to do the same.