On Tuesday 21st January 2020, I led a parliamentary debate on High Speed One (HS1) rolling stock to discuss the need for new rolling stock on the High Speed line.
Since HS1 started under Southeastern in 2009, it has carried more than 100 million passengers. The passenger satisfaction over that period has been higher than 90%. It has been calculated that it has delivered a £1 billion boost to the Kent tourism economy, and that it indirectly supports up to 72,000 jobs. Clearly, one of the main reasons for that is the speed of the service. The journey from Ashford to London is now 38 minutes. It used to be routinely 81 minutes, so that is a significant difference.
The problem now is the service has become too popular for its own good. Overcrowding is a serious and growing problem. The operator has tried to compensate by changing the number of carriages on the most popular peak-time services and improving the repairs and maintenance programme so that more of the rolling stock is available at any one time, but this is not enough.
Essentially we need more rolling stock on the line. Passenger numbers have grown by an average of 11.7% every year since 2010, and there is no evidence that this increase in demand is going to slow down in the near future. Indeed with major housing developments planned not only in Ashford but in other places along the line, we can expect the opposite.
The need for extra train services, and longer trains more often, is clear. On current projections 31 high speed services a day will be full to capacity by 2025, meaning that no passenger will be able to board even to stand all the way. Another 25 a day will have standing room only.
I called this debate so Ministers first of all acknowledge that this problem is real, and then commit to devising a solution which will allow passengers to continue to enjoy the benefits of high-speed rail. We need decisions very soon.