The last time I took an early morning train on the East coast mainline, only one in four of the Standard class seats and one in ten of the First class seats were taken in the carriages where I counted. The West coast mainline was similarly little occupied when I have taken early morning trains to the north on that. I reported on journeys to Birmingham and Manchester.
This makes the tri party decision to build more capacity on these train routes all the more curious. I can think of plenty of places where we need more transport capacity now. Providing more on routes where the existing train franchisees are finding it difficult to fill the places is not a model for success or a good investment. Whilst travellers will welcome the eventual fare cuts competition between HS2 and the WCML will bring should HS2 be completed, the poor taxpayer will be left with a large bill to pay the big running losses on both lines.
We could start by looking at the chronic shortage of capacity on our major motorways. They could all do with widening and improving in many locations. We could continue by completing proper capacity on major trunk routes, like the A14, the A 303, and the A 27.
We could move on to the commuter trains into our major cities. We are short of commuter capacity into Manchester, Leeds, London and Birmingham. We need better brakes, lighter trains, better signals so we can run more trains per hour. We need longer trains and in some cases longer platforms. All these improvements could delay the need for more track, though doubtless there are some pinch points and shorter sections into city centres where more track would be a good idea, and even some where it is also possible.
There are a host of detailed local road and rail improvements needed in many towns and cities around the country, that come a lot cheaper than the prospective bill for HS2.
Your thoughts on priorities would be interesting.