Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

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Posted in Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure, Lord Adonis, Philip Hammond, Politics, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 21 December 2010

Thus it is that the Roads Man has finally put in place the concrete proposals of the route of Stage 1 of the construction of High Speed 2. HS2 Ltd has produced a series of reports with minor adjustments to the main section of the route between London and Birmingham – a slight curve here, a lowering of the trackbed there, a tunnel here and there. But the broad shape of it is pretty much of a muchness. But, there were two significant elements that caught my eye. The first was the direct link to Heathrow, which will be a spur off the main line, and which is something I’m not convinced about, unless it forms part of a much larger network connecting the west of the country. Greengauge 21 made a proposal prior to HS2 Ltd’s initial report under the previous government that called for an extensive network formed around two north/south trunk routes. Part of this had Heathrow next to a triangular junction that allowed trains to serve it both from London and the north, which then could go on towards the West and Wales. Is there any reason that this could not be included in the proposal? The Heathrow Spur is not intended to be built until Stage 2 of the high speed line is built to Manchester and Leeds, so surely there is time to examine proposals for it to be directly linked either to any future High Speed 3, or at least to an enhanced and electrified Great Western Main Line, which could then allow the South-West to be incorporated directly into the high speed network. Given that there is the intention for “mini-shinkansen” type services using trains that will run on both High Speed 2 and the existing network, there will be enough scope in terms of rolling stock for a connection to be operated.

The other element that caight my attention was the proposal for a direct link between High Speed 2 and High Speed 1, using the North London Line. This would see the route diverge from the main line at Old Oak Common and go in tunnel to connect with the NLL, which trains would use to reach the HS1 portals at St Pancras. There are a number of options proposed, but whichever is chosen, it is certainly a step in the right direction to properly connecting High Speed 2 to the rest of the European network. However, my concern would be the potential impact it may have on running services on the North London Line, which is a major commuter route. We have already had high speed services operating on commuter routes in this country, during the period that Eurostar operated from Waterloo. I would be wary of making that a permanent arrangement again. If it is possible to provide a seperate alignment for the high speed services along this route that means commuter trains wouldn’t be affected, then so be it. But commuters on the North London Line suffer enough as it is with overcrowding. It may be worth, again as part of the future expansion beyond Stage 2, looking at a genuine high speed connection, a la LGV Interconnexion Est, that maybe even bypasses Old Oak Common altogether and skirts the top edge of London and around to connect between St Pancras and Stratford.

The last thing, and my almighty bugbear, is the question of rolling stock. While he was taking questions following his statement to the House of Commons, he mentioned that it would likely be at least 2020 before rolling stock designs were considered. Fine and dandy. But we know that through services will be run to Manchester and Leeds from High Speed 2 once Stage 1 is complete, and that these will have to be run on the West Coast Main Line. As I’ve said before, and will continue to say, the initial proposal that time lost from running trains at 110mph on the WCML will be made up through the speeds run on HS2 is a cop-out. We currently have trains that can run on the WCML at 125mph, and this is the minimum speed that should be aimed for once HS2 opens for the through services. And for that, the “classic compatible” trains planned will need to be able to tilt. As we are looking at a decade until buying the trains becomes a factor, then there is plenty of time to make the case to ensure this is included as part of the design spec. But included it must be.

DfT – Proposed high speed rail strategy for consultation

To make the most of through services, the planned "classic compatible" trains must be able to tilt

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