Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Andrew Adonis – You Choose

Posted in High Speed, Infrastructure, Lord Adonis by Chairman Pip on 23 December 2009

In October, true high speed rail celebrated its 45th anniversary. For it was in October 1964 that the Tōkaidō Shinkansen opened in Japan. Fifteen years later, the other country most associated with high speed rail inaugurated its first service when the LGV Sud-East was opened in France. The Shinkansen and TGV networks are undoubtedly the most famous in the world, and represent the choice that Andrew Adonis has to make. Not only will the HS2 report lay out the recommended route, but it will also make a recommendation on the vexed issue of whether the new line should be connected to High Speed 1. To explain, Japan’s ordinary railway network has a gauge of 1067mm, compared to the standard gauge used by the Shinkansen. Because of this difference in gauge, the entire network had to be built from scratch, including the routes into city centres. By contrast, the rail network in France has always been standard gauge, so when building the TGV lines, it was possible to simply link the long straight stretches with the existing routes into existing major stations. Now, you might think that there is no choice at all here; the British rail network is also standard gauge, and it certainly makes more sense to run trains direct into city centres by existing routes. But, pretty much everyone that has passed opinion on High Speed 2 has said that it needs to be connected to High Speed 1 to allow through running to and from the Channel Tunnel. And this is where loading gauge comes into the equation. The loading gauge in Britain is significantly less than the rest of Europe, to the extent that TGV trains used domestically in France would be unable to operate on British lines except HS1 (which is built to continental standards). So, if the TGV option were to be taken, it would still involve significant work to upgrade the existing lines into city centres to accomodate the trains. If this work were not to be done, then any operators wanting to operate trains from mainland Europe to Britain would need trains built to British loading gauge standards, and it’s unlikely that an operator would be that desperate. So we come back to the decision that Lord Adonis needs to make. Whichever way he goes, it’s going to be expensive. If only a previous government had had a degree of vision and signalled the ECML and WCML for 140mph, we would not even be having this discussion. Because it’s entirely possible that work to increase the loading gauge of these two would have been done at the same time, which would have allowed a true high speed line to simply be a link between these two and High Speed 1. Because, in all fairness, the distances involved in Great Britain are small enough not to need the kind of high speed rail used in Japan and France, which are much bigger. But that’s another story.


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