Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

High Speed 2 – Some Assumptions

Posted in Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure, Lord Adonis by Chairman Pip on 12 March 2010

Following yesterday’s announcement by Lord Adonis on the government’s preferred proposal for High Speed 2, I’ve given some careful thought to various aspects, based on my reading of the documentation that has been released. I even sat down last night to put these on paper to ensure that my thoughts did not get jumbled up (as sometimes happens) in the mess of other stuff whirling around in my head. I’ve given thought and come up with a set of what I’m calling “assumptions” for wont of a better term; items that I believe will need to be addressed before any long term committment (and by that I mean building the thing) is even considered.

Rolling stock – High Speed 2 will seemingly follow the standard model used on both the TGV network in France and ICE network in Germany, in that there will be built a brand new, genuine high speed line (very long and straight) that will feature trains capable of speeds that (so the government claims) will be up to 250mph (400km/h); this line(s) will then connect to the existing network to allow through running to destinations not served directly by High Speed 2. Because of the wider loading gauge on ordinary European railways, the TGV and ICE trains can operate on the “classic lines” of their networks without modification. However, the British network operates to a narrower loading gauge, which will not fit such large trains. Indeed, the Class 373 units used by Eurostar, although part of the TGV family, are narrower than the trains used domestically in France because of the need to operate part of the way on the ordinary network in Kent. In addition, in order to maintain the existing speeds on the West Coast Main Line, any rolling stock that is procured will need to be able to tilt, just as the Class 390 does now. What will the rolling stock then entail for High Speed 2? It is claimed that the trains will be 400m long, similar to Eurostar’s Class 373s, which operate in 20 car formations. But will these be trains that are 20 cars long in total, or (as happens in France and Germany) pairs of shorter units coupled together? This second option would certainly allow greater flexibility to operate outside peak times. What about the problem of tilting? Here perhaps the mini-shinkansen concept is one to consider – build a main body of stock just for the high speed line(s), and additional stock that can run at the same speeds but fits the British loading gauge and operate one unit of each coupled together, splitting the two at a point before a pair of destinations. What is obvious however is that it will not likely be possible to merely select an off-the-shelf TGV or ICE design, as other high speed operators over the world have done.

Eurostar and Pendolino

The mini-shinkansen concept in Britain? This could involve a Eurostar type train and a Pendolino type train coupled together

Expansion – Lord Adonis has stated that the ‘Y’ shaped initial stage will form the ‘core’ of Britain’s high speed network. However, will there be a second round of building after High Speed 2 reaches Leeds and Manchester? Great Britain is not like France, Germany or Spain geographically – not only is it smaller than the geographical areas of the other three, but it is also narrower, and its major centres are not so spread out. As a consequence, beyond possibly building a “High Speed 3” to the South-West, it does not seem to me likely that there will be any expansion of new build line on from what has been announced. So what then? It is unlikely that the major population centres that would not be served direct by High Speed 2, such as Merseyside, Tyneside and the Central Belt, would look favourably on a high speed rail service that saw their centres served by trains that ran at half the speed of Manchester and Leeds (125mph as opposed to 250mph). This would require the existing main lines (the West Coast Main Line and the East Coast Main Line) to undergo upgrades, probably seeing the incorporation of some form of in-cab signalling, like the TVM system used on the TGV network, which by law trains that operate on UK railways above 125mph are required to have. By increasing the service speeds on the classic lines to 155mph (250 km/h), the time required to get from London is reduced that much further.

If High Speed 2 is not to expand beyond its "core" route, the existing main lines must be upgraded to allow for higher speeds

Interconnector – It is a given that High Speed 2 cannot exist in isolation, and must be connected to the rest of the European high speed network, which in practice means a connection to High Speed 1 and thence to the Channel Tunnel. Had St Pancras been chosen as the London terminus of High Speed 2, this would not be a problem, as trains could simply come in and then pull out. However, it is Euston that has been selected, so the problem of connecting the two has to be solved another way. In the Île-de-France region, two of the main TGV lines, LGV Nord and LGV Sud-Est, are connected without going through the centre of Paris by means of a third line, LGV Interconnexion Est, upon which is the TGV station serving Charles de Gaulle Airport, which means that air passengers coming from the south do not need to change in Paris. Building a similar interconnector line across the top of London to link High Speed 1 (before it gets to St Pancras) and High Speed 2 (before it gets to Euston) would seem to be the obvious answer. This would have the benefit of providing Luton Airport with high speed access, and at the same time connecting Thameslink with the high speed network, as they plan to do with Crossrail.

The problem of HeathrowHeathrow Airport is a massive bone of contention in regards to High Speed 2, given the main parties’ conflicitng policies over the idea of a third runway. The government support building a third runway, and so the proposal for Heathrow access is the construction of a major new station at Old Oak Common where High Speed 2 would interchange with Crossrail, which would provide high frequency trains direct into the airport at Heathrow Central. The Conservatives oppose the building of a third runway, instead seeing High Speed 2 as replacing it. As a consequence, they want to connect Heathrow directly to the line. Now, I personally am of the opinion that the removal of short haul flights through the use of high speed rail is the right idea, and does work (for example, there are no longer any flights between Paris and Brussels, owing to the frequency and speed of high speed rail services between the two cities). Nevertheless, Heathrow is too far a detour to make for High Speed 2, given that the plan for the line is to serve the north. The Heathrow Hub proposal that the Conservatives support would seem to be dependent on airport expansion anyway, given that otherwise, to build an underground station within the existing airport would mean tunnelling underneath it directly (Heathrow Hub is based on the idea of a Terminal 6 built on the northern edge of the existing boundary close to the M4 and the Great Western Main Line). Fundamentally, it seems that Heathrow will not fit into the plans for High Speed 2 unless the airport is expanded substantially. This is where the linking of existing lines to the new build lines may come in. The Great Western Main Line should not be left out of any upgrading work to increase its speed first and foremost. So, why is there no proposal to connect it to High Speed 2 directly? This would allow trains to the South-West from the north, as occurs now, but at much higher speeds, again reducing the amount of time taken to travel. As part of the connection, the Heathrow Hub could then be incorporated as part of another small interconnector type line. Given that Heathrow is already reasonably well connected to London by rail (the Piccadilly Line, Heathrow Express and Crossrail will all run, not to mention the Heathrow Airtrack proposal intended to run from south of the river), I don’t believe connecting London and Heathrow directly using High Speed 2 is a good use of resources.

Y-shape or curve? – The Tories seem to have come up with a counter proposal that involves a single line rather than the Y-shape that is the government’s preferred option. This involves a single line from London to Leeds via Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester, with an inbuilt connection to High Speed 1 (though they don’t say how this will be accomplished). I personally do not believe this is the way to go, as again it limits any potential expansion. Of course, there is much call for cross-country connections, but unless such an extensive network as was proposed by Greengauge 21, which would see two long north-south corridors, connected by several shorter east-west corridors, were to be planned, surely it is better to at least have these two arteries, that connect Manchester, Leeds, the East Midlands, Birmingham and London, than simply having one line missing out large swathes of central England.

Greengauge 21 high speed network

The Greengauge 21 proposal calls for an extensive high speed network, beyond the initial core scope of High Speed 2

 

These are just a few of the items that I’ve come up with; no doubt there are many more that people should chew over. In terms of political consensus, the only thing that all parties seem to be able to agree on is that the country needs to expand its rail capacity, and that should be through new high speed rail. Based on all three parties’ transport spokesmen being interviewed last night on Newsnight, there seems to be very little else that they can agree on. High Speed 2, for all their big talk, is tenuous and probably will be for some time to come.

My Little Idea

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