I was able to do some more spot checks on the capacity issue on railways to Manchester when going to conference.
I caught a later train than I usually do to go to Manchester. The 7.20 you might have thought would be one of the busiest, getting you into Manchester in good time for a 10 o clock meeting. When we left Euston over half the seats in the Standard class carriage and 70% of the seats in the 1st class carriage where I counted were empty. The proportion empty rose at Milton Keynes, the first stop on the route, and stayed that way for the rest of the journey. That was despite the Conservative conference which must have created some extra demand.
The other carriages on the train seemed similarly populated to the ones where I counted. Coming home on the 9.15pm most seats in Standard were empty, with around 90% of the first class seats empty in a carriage where I counted. Tickets were checked both before getting onto the platform on the way to Manchester, and again on the train just as we pulled out of Euston. Tickets were not checked on the way back.
When I try and get on a commuter train at Reading or Wokingham during the morning peak we have a real capacity problem. I went to a reception with the train operating companies at conference, and talked to them about the priorities I draw from these experiences. We need to boost capacity on popular routes at popular times. The main capacity problems seem to be on commuter routes into major cities. Once again I did not experience any capacity problem on trains out of Euston, or back to Euston.
It will be interesting to see if Labour’s reshuffle heralds a change of their view on HS2. The new Shadow Transport Secretary is not such a keen advocate, and I hear the Shadow Treasury team do think they would like to get their hands on the £50bn in the books for HS2. The fact that it will all be borrowed would not put them off proposing spending it in some different way if they do decide as a matter of Shadow policy to ditch the grand project a Labour government started.