You’d think, in the week that saw the Daily Mail slated for the situation it finds itself in with Ed Miliband, that newspaper editors would want to be careful about what their journalists and commentators put in their publications. It seems though that some can write whatever the hell they like with no recourse. You’ll probably guess that I am yet again speaking about Frederick Forsyth. I am always now on the lookout on a Friday for anything he might have written in his column about High Speed 2, and today we had an absolute doozy:
The case against the ill-thought out HS2 high-speed rail link from London to the Midlands and the North continues to lose friends. The authorities have tried “environmental” justification, then “economic” and then “overcrowding” and each has been proved untrue.
Now even the cities of the Midlands and the North are losing enthusiasm. Why? People travelling to do business want to arrive in the city centre. if they want to change from inter-city to branch line they want to cross two platforms, not two miles. But the numpties behind HS2 are planning that these bullet trains stop well outside the cities they are supposed to serve….To make matters worse the local services will be cut back for economic reasons even though they will be as important as ever.
Come again? I’d love to know who has told him that the stations planned for HS2 will be miles from anywhere, unconnected to any other services, like some gare des betteraves. After all, last time I checked the plan was to build a new station on the old Curzon Street site in Birmingham (almost right next to the Bullring), a new station that will be directly connected to Leeds City, and brand new platforms as part of the refurbishments of Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston. Or perhaps he means the other stations:
- Old Oak Common (interchange with Crossrail for Heathrow and Central London and GWML for the West and Wales)
- Birmingham Interchange (interchange for Birmingham International Airport)
- East Midlands Hub (interchange for services to Leicester, Nottingham and Derby)
- Meadowhall Interchange (interchange for Supertram and South Yorkshire destinations)
Nope, it can’t be those he’s talking about, as they are all fairly well connected, even though they aren’t in city centres. So I’m not entirely sure what these unconnected stations that are two miles from the city centre actually are. Additionally, how does he know what the local services will actually be once HS2 opens, given that it’s a good decade and a bit in the future until even the first section opens? Presumably he has consulted his crystal ball to learn of this.
It’s true that both the government and HS2 Ltd have been on the back foot in the media battles against the anti HS2 mob. I’ve been saying for ages that the main focus of the media campaign should have been capacity rather than speed – we need new rail capacity in this country, and any piecemeal enhancements done to the existing network to try and “create” new capacity will be both expensive and cause huge disruption (as the WCML enhancement proved). Now, fortunately, the government has seen the light and has brought the capacity issue to the fore. A new north-south intercity route will free up capacity on both the WCML and ECML so that more local and interurban passenger services can be run (which is your overcrowding justification Mr Forsyth), not to mention allowing more freight to be carried by rail, removing huge numbers of lorry journeys from the roads, as well as decreasing further the need for domestic flying (which is your environmental justification); added to this is the employment that will be generated, both in construction of the thing, and in the investment that such a project will bring in (and there’s your economic one). The disturbing thing is that there will be people that read such nonsense spouted by Mr Forsyth (and others come to that) and will think that because it’s in the newspaper it must be true. In a recent editorial, Nigel Harris made this point succinctly, pointing to the coverage the BBC gave to the IEA report that stated the project could cost as much as £80bn, and which included a number of spurious claims and (I hasten to say) fabrications (such as the HS2 spur to Liverpool that has never been proposed). While Mr Forsyth is a commentator, paid to write his opinions for publication, even commentators (never mind actual journalists) have a duty of care to their readers to ensure that what they’re writing is at least factually accurate. But then again, I’vealways thought that the anti mob would allow facts to get in the way of a good story.
I have maintained a silence recently as I have had the feeling that people are getting a little irritated by my ramblings. However, I have felt moved to speak my mind over what has come out over the last few weeks from the anti HS2 brigade as they continue their campaign to have the project stopped by any means necessary, which often will mean publicising half-truths and occasional (almost) fabrication which is picked up and run with by the media. A few weeks ago, the Institute of Economic Affairs published a report entitled The High Speed Gravy Train: Special Interests, Transport Policy and Government Spending, which somehow came to the conclusion that the cost of constructing High Speed 2, far from being the £42bn that the government have budgeted, could end up costing as much as £80bn. This was immediately jumped upon by the media, with the story being top of many news sites and programmes (indeed, I do recall that it was the top story on BBC News’ early evening bulletin on the day it was published). Upon inspection of this so-called “report”, it becomes clear that the conclusions reached by the author, Dr Richard Wellings, are so much horse hockey (or “guff and hogwash” as Ben Ruse, the spokesman for HS2 Ltd, described it). And the reason for this is that Dr Wellings has reached the figure of £80bn by including a massive tranche of projects that, while no doubt important in High Speed 2’s connectivity, are nothing to do with HS2 itself. Amongst the projects that Dr Wellings has included under the HS2 budget are:
- Crossrail 2 station at London Euston
- London Overground station at Old Oak Common for HS2 interchange
- HS2 Heathrow spur
- People mover connection between Birmingham Interchange and Birmingham International
- Rapid transit connections to various parts of the West Midlands
- People mover connection between Birmingham Curzon Street and Birmingham New Street
- Cross-City Line platforms at Birmingham Curzon Street
- New connectivity to Midland Metro
- High Speed 2 spur to Liverpool
- Extension of Metrolink to Manchester Airport
- Improved Metrolink connectivity at Manchester Piccadilly
- Tram links to Nottingham and Derby
- Supertram extension to Meadowhall
- New pedestrian connection between Leeds and Leeds New Lane
- Various capacity improvement and electrification schemes in Yorkshire
These are included in spite of the fact that the People Mover connection at Birmingham Interchange is already included in the government’s published HS2 budget, the Manchester Airport Metrolink extension is already under construction, Meadowhall is already connected to the Supertram network, the capacity and electrification schemes in Yorkshire are under way and come under Network Rail, and a spur to Liverpool was never even considered as part of HS2. But, even more than the fact that a number of the rationales for his conclusion are bogus, is this:
It is also probable that some of the schemes will never be built for various reasons…
Which means that the banner conclusion is based on theories around things that may not actually come to pass. And yet still this was trumpeted by the media, while the rebuttal of it barely warranted a mention, being halfway down the English news section of the BBC News website.
Then of course you get such as happened yesterday when I opened the newspaper, and read the following headline in Frederick Forsyth‘s column:
Scrap the HS2 white elephant
I spoke about Mr Forsyth’s continuing opposition to HS2, and how he uses his column to push this, back in March. In that, I made it clear that in my opinion, because he lives in the Cotswolds (and the route will probably be fairly close to where he lives), he is somewhat biased in his view that the project should be abandoned. He goes further now in deciding that it will be a “white elephant”. I’ve found a good definition of white elephant:
…a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.
How it’s possible to declare something that has not been built as a white elephant is beyond me, as I would have thought it would take a number of years of use to determine whether said thing is not worth its cost. Mr Forsyth must be a soothsayer. Or else, he is particularly vicious when it comes to opposing HS2, denouncing anything released by the Government or HS2 Ltd as being the work of “official propogandists”. Never mind the propaganda put out by those opposed to the project. He warms to his theme by restating yet again the view that all the line is for is to get a few “wealthy businessmen” to Birmingham a few minutes faster and raising the suggestion both of longer trains and double deck coaches. Well, first of all, while HS2 is certainly about improving timings, making it faster to get between various major destinations (which is what everyone fixates on), the fact is that the first and major issue has always been about capacity on the existing network, which is fast running out. No amount of piecemeal capacity enhancement on the West Coast Main Line, which would be enormously disruptive and likely to cost as much, pro-rata, as just building a brand new line, is going to create the new capacity that is needed. Having the vast majority of fast trains on a separate line means that more trains for commuters can be put on the existing network, not to mention making room for more freight. Thankfully, the DfT have finally picked up on this as a the thing to push first and foremost. As for the suggestion of just making longer trains or taller trains, it’s clear that Mr Forsyth knows even less about the railways than I do, given that longer trains means again expensive and disruptive work to make the capacity for them (perhaps he should look at the work done on the Thameslink route to extend platforms), while there has only been one experiment at running double decker trains in the UK. European countries can run such trains because the loading gauge is significantly more generous than it is here. While again it is possible to increase the loading gauge, it is phenomenally disruptive, as evidenced in the case of the gauge enhancement around Southampton that ended in 2011.
In the most recent issue of Rail, Nigel Harris’s editorial is scathing about the industry and its lack of vigour in promoting HS2, and how the project needs a vocal champion, suggesting that Sir David Higgins, who was the Chief Executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority, and delivered London 2012 on time and on budget, would be an idea choice. It is certainly the case that somebody needs to be out there, bigging up HS2 to the country (notwithstanding the excellent rebuttal of the IEA report Alison Munro gave on BBC Breakfast in the face of hostile questioning from the interviewer). I’ve said before that we need new capacity on the railway network, and that HS2 is the way to go about it. I’ve also said that it is wrong to simply look at the bottom line when it comes to infrastructure projects like this, because on their own, they won’t make money. You have to look at the bigger picture, of the benefits that the infrastructure will bring to all sorts of areas of the economy, in order to see why these things should be built. And they should be built.
Now that the initial fall-out from what might be termed the “Fyra fuck-up” has begun to move onwards, we now move into the realm of “what the bloody hell do we do now?”. Fyra has started using what it started up with, loco-hauled stock behind a Bombardier TRAXX locomotive running its services between Amsterdam and Brussels along conventional lines. NS has also made requests of other high speed operators (notably Thalys and Eurostar) that it implement plans to run additional services to Amsterdam as soon as possible. But it still leaves them in a pickle, in that part of the service agreement for HSL Zuid is the running of domestic high-speed services, for which the V250 sets were procured. The Dutch government has given NS three months to come up with an alternative to the planned Fyra service before it begins to talk to private operators about taking on the concession to use HSL Zuid. Of course, NS must come up with its solution in the knowledge that it has no high speed rolling stock available for its own use. NS Hispeed, the arm of the company responsible for high speed services, directly owns two of Thalys’ Series 43000 units and four of the Class 406 sets used by Deutsche Bahn, but these are pooled with the other units in each respective fleet for specific services. So, NS would need to source rolling stock from elsewhere, with the primary requirement being that it be able to operate over three electrical systems – 25kV (on the high speed lines), 3kV (Belgian classic lines) and 1.5kV (Dutch classic lines).
In February 2013, TGV Lyria, the name given to the TGV services between France and Switzerland, began replacing the rolling stock it originally used. Its original fleet encompassed nine Series 33000 TGV sets, which are tri-voltage variants of the original PSE sets used by SNCF. Presumably these are now going spare (unless of course SNCF has already re-allocated them), and presumably these would fit the loading gauge to run between Brussels and Amsterdam (although that’s something I have no idea of), so would it not be possible, at least as an interim measure, to obtain these for a period until NS can put in place plans to purchase some new, purpose built stock for Fyra? Given that they are still in service around the TGV network, there’s no reason to assume that these sets are on their last legs, and seem to me to be ideal for the kind of services NS (through Fyra) are contracted to provide.
We’ve had news come out over the weekend that, while seemingly on the cards for a long time, has always been a touch on the debateable side, in that we have never been entirely, 100% sure that it would actually come to pass. Well it has; the Intergovernmental Commission have finally given their approval for Deutsche Bahn to operate trains through the Channel Tunnel. This means that, subject to numerous other issues being rectified, DB’s Class 407 is now cleared to operate DB’s longed for services from London to Amsterdam and Frankfurt. Of course, another element to this is that, given the technical similarity, it should mean that Eurostar also have clearance for their new Class 374 units to operate in the Tunnel. Of course, there are still issues to be dealt with before we do actually see DB trains operating from the platforms at St Pancras; the Eisenbahn-Bundesamt still have to give their approval for the Class 407 to run in multiple, which is one of the requirements required for running through the Tunnel (and which has also delayed the delivery of Eurostar’s Class 374s), while the timetable and pathing through the Tunnel will also need amending to accomodate new high speed services. Nevertheless, this is a massive step forward in linking London with many other European centres by rail. Hopefully, now that distributed traction has been cleared for use in the Tunnel, it will encourage other operators to bring plans forward that will make use of the available capacity on High Speed 1, with the added benefit that it will also show to those protesting against High Speed 2 that they don’t have anything to worry about from a high speed railway line running at full capacity.
I had a feeling something would eventually give in the saga of the Albatross. The V250 high speed EMUs that were intended to run the Fyra service along HSL Zuid, and which were to be procured by both Nederlandse Spoorwegen and NMBS/SNCB, have finally worn the patience of the Belgians to breaking point. SNCB have cancelled the contract they had to procure three V250 sets of their own, and are looking to recoup bank guarantees to the tune of €37m from AnsaldoBreda, the manfacturer. While the sets that had been delivered finally entered service in December 2012, they were withdrawn in January 2013 as a result of safety concerns due to the cold weather. At that time both NS and SNCB commissioned studies into the design, which found numerous issues with the braking system, the battery system, and a lack of protection for the underfloor cabling, and have led to the decision by SNCB. It also transpires that NS are of a similar mindset, and also want to pull out of the project. I hate to say “I told you so”, but back in 2010 I commented on the difficulties Fyra were having with the V250 as compared with the relative ease that Southeastern had introducing the Class 395. Of course, if NS also pulls out, it leaves the question of what to do about the planned Fyra services. SNCB have said that they will look to Thalys to run up to 12 trains per day between Brussels-Midi and Amsterdam Centraal, while at the same time asking Eurostar to introduce a London-Amsterdam via Brussels service from the December 2016 timetable change. Of course, that is dependent on getting the new Class 374 accepted for service. That would still leave NS in something of a hole, as they would not have the trains required for their planned high speed domestic services that they have so trumpeted over the last few years. They would certainly need to procure something else, if they were to still intend going ahead with the plan, perhaps along the lines of the Class 407. Whatever it is they do, I would certainly advise them to pay a little more attention to quality control, rather than simply looking at the bottom line of the cheapest option. Because invariably that ends up costing you the most.
I’ve made no secret of my dislike for Euston station; I believe it is the worst kind of 1960s eyesore, a bland box of concrete that bears no comparison to its Italianate and Gothic Revial neighbours, and can’t even at best be described as an example of Brutalism. As a gateway to London it does not serve up the necessary inspiration that St Pancras does, and I was therefore delighted when it became apparent that it would be replaced by something new, light and airy as part of the HS2 project. Imagine my disappointment then to learn today that the plans have been scaled back – there will now be no total rebuild of Euston, with instead what amounts to another station built for the platforms that will connect to the high speed line, which will then be connected to the existing station (much as was done with the building of Waterloo International). Of course, the complete rebuilding of the station from the ground up would have caused immense disruption for an awfully long time to what is, after all, one of the capital’s major transport hubs. Doing this will no doubt save money on the project, and it will still include a new ticket hall for the tube station, as well as a direct underground pedestrian link to Euston Square. But it still disappoints me that the full work won’t now go ahead, ditching the opportunity to create something nice in its place.
We’ve had a significant day today in the history of High Speed 2, as the High Court delivered verdicts in the numerous judicial reviews brought by various groups and bodies that have banded together in opposition to the project, for various reasons. I don’t propose to go into any significant detail about the different things that Mr Justice Ouseley ruled on, as you can look at the summaries as they’ve been published on the DfT website. The significant point to be made is that, of the ten different areas the judge had to rule on, he found in favour of the government in nine of them. Only in the ruling regarding the fairness of the consultation process over compensation payments did he rule against the government. Naturally, both sides are claiming “a great victory”, although I do find it a little hard to understand how the anti HS2 brigades can justify their relative good humour over this, as none of what the judge has said today will stop the construction. Hell, it won’t, as it stands, even delay the construction, given that, as far as compensation for property that has to be removed because it stands along the route goes, we’re still in the discussion phase as to how it will work, and the government has plenty of time to re-run the consultation, following the advice the judge has given in his ruling about what was wrong with it last time. Ofcourse it’s important that the government gets this right, but given that we’re still five years from shovels on the ground, I feel fairly sure that they will come up with a package that is acceptable to those that are affected. For those who are fundamentally opposed of course, the fact that they have lost in the action they themselves have brought is not the end of the war, merely a setback. In an interview with BBC News, Richard Houghton, speaking for the HS2 Action Alliance (a group that seems to have an inordinate number of different websites, so many in fact that I can’t decide which to link to – I’ll leave you to decide that dear reader), warns us all “not to believe the spin coming out of the DfT”, because of course his group doesn’t spin at all; according to his colleague Hilary Wharf, a director of HS2AA, the judgement is:
…a huge victory for the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are blighted by HS2.
Not spinning the one victory they got out of today for all they’re worth there then. Richard Westcott, the BBC’s transport correspondent, made the suggestion that all the antis can do is to undertake The Birds strategy – keep pecking and pecking until the government gets fed up or decides that HS2 isn’t worth the hassle. The problem with this strategy is that HS2 is now embedded as major policy for both the Conservatives and Labour, meaning that dropping it will be politically very damaging. And once it gets to the stage of being shovel ready, then it can’t be dropped, because that would be suicidal. There will be appeals, certainly. Indeed, the 51m group of local authorities have been given leave to appeal on two counts. But the government will press ahead with HS2. And it will be built.
While I may come down hard on the Daily Express for the often total bollocks it has a tendency to print sometimes, particularly from some of its columnists, I will say that, on some matters, Frederick Forsyth does write things that strike a chord with me, especially when he comments either on foreign affairs, intelligence matters or the armed forces, all of which in his two careers as a journalist and a thriller writer he has had experience of and researched extensively. However, when he writes about things he seems to know little of, it is fair that he tends to fall into the same trap of all the other columnists that try commenting on important national matters with their opinion and little else to fall back on. Obviously, the main headline from his column on the 8th February was enough to first attract my attention, and then, upon reading the piece, my ire.
On the fast track to a total disaster
Mr Forsyth has been vocal in his opposition to High Speed 2, putting forward many arguments as to why it should not be built, mainly regurgitating the same old stories that the “No2HS2” grouping tend to put forward as the significant reasons not to go ahead with it. This particular piece came out the week that the government announced its planned route for Phase 2, the “Y” branches to Leeds and Manchester. The last line of the opening paragraph is an indication of where Mr Forsyth’s interests lie:
Often there are pieces about Mr Forsyth’s country living, so it isn’t a stretch to think that he may well live along the route of Phase 1, which is why he is as aggressive in his writing as he is. According to the piece from the newspaper, the government are mounting a “wild propaganda campaign that no one seems to be questioning”, except him of course. The problem is, his questioning appears to be taking entirely the wrong course – he questions the government’s claim that HS2 will create 100,000 jobs, suggesting that at most it will create 2,000. But here he is looking at the workforce that will be involved in actually building the line itself. True, but there will then be the jobs created in the supplying of materials to build the line, and supplying the equipment that will build the line. There will be significantly more than the 2,000 he suggests in actually building HS2. Then he somewhat sarcastically mentions the government’s enterprise zones – these are areas the government has designated for greater investment through improved planning rules and infrastructure. Forsyth points out that the trains intended for HS2 won’t stop at any of them and “certainly won’t carry freight”. True and true, but freight will be carried on the existing network, and one of the major points for building the line is to provide capacity. By taking a large number of fast, intercity trains off the West Coast Main Line, then there will be more space for both the slower, interurban and commuter trains that carry the workers into the centres of London, Birmingham and Manchester, and there will be more space for the slow, heavy freight trains, a significant number of which use the WCML for some part of their journey. He then points out that on his train journey into Marylebone (35 minutes) all the “hard-nosed businessmen” are tapping away on their laptops/tablets/mobile devices, which evidently means that businessmen don’t need to travel anymore. So why do they still insist on doing that? Mr Forsyth points to the experience the Dutch have had with HSL Zuid, suggesting that everyone prefers using the existing rail network, which runs parallel for part of the route with trains “at half the price”. I’ve had a look at the Nederlandse Spoorwegen website and done a search for a return journey from Amsterdam to Rotterdam; using a regular NS Intercity service costs €28.00, while using the Fyra service costs €32.60. The additional cost is due to the supplement for using the high speed line, similar to the one Southeastern puts on its high speed services. Mr Forsyth also makes a comment that East Coast can “only fill a third of its seats” and is “losing fortunes”, things he suggests are “hard nosed facts”, before stating that he has simply “read this” somewhere, not stating where.
Mr Forsyth should come out and say that he doesn’t want High Speed 2 running through his garden, and that that is his primary objection, rather than try to clothe it in attempted arguments that make no sense whatsoever. The fact of the matter is that High Speed 2, as with all infrastructure projects, will not in itself be profitable. The idea is to improve the capacity of the railway network to enable it to move more people and more goods to get to the places that they need to be. More people than ever are using the railways, and more goods are being transported on them; the railways are bucking the trend of the financial situation we find ourselves in. Tinkering around the edges with longer trains and longer platforms on the existing network won’t solves the fundamental problem that it is full to bursting (although Mr Forsyth’s comment about East Coast suggests he’d like to junk that too). Perhaps Mr Forsyth might like to do a little reading before the next time he decides to write about this issue – I’d suggest that he looks at the testimonies of the people that live in and around High Speed 1. That too was going to be a disaster; a metal scar carving through the Garden of England, which would cause windows to smash and cows to fall over every time a train passed. Except none of that has happened. HS1 was built with its environment in mind. While not invisible, it blends in where it runs at grade, while its structures (perhaps most notably the Medway Viaduct) are the modern equivilents of Brunel’s engineering solutions on the Great Western. I have no doubt that the structures on HS2 will be even better, the 21st century equivilents of Box Tunnel. Mr Forsyth should be honest with us and admit that he is a NIMBY, and that his objections are based not on “facts” but on his own prejudices. And, if he was a journalist worth his salt, he would do some reading and have some discussions with the other side before committing pen to paper next time. Over to you Nigel Harris…
While it may be true that, with the current incumbent of the White House as a relatively vocal advocate, the advancement of passenger rail in the United States is growing, there is no doubt still a long way to go. A major example of this is the continuing disconnection of the city of Las Vegas – a city of half a million people (with close to 2 million living in the urban area), in which the only rail service is the 4 mile long Las Vegas Monorail that connects a number of major hotels along The Strip. While there is a plan to extend this to serve McCarran International Airport, this means that it will still primarily be for customers coming into the city to get to one of the hotels. Of course, this is not such a bad thing, as this is one of the major elements of the city’s economy. But, it still means that it relies on air travel to get people to the city in the first place, no matter where they originate from.
Las Vegas is around 270 miles from Los Angeles, which in flying time is probably about an hour, while driving takes anything up to four hours. In terms of distance within the United States as a whole, this is not huge, but it is still a massive inconvenience to have to drive all that way and for that long (even if the American roads system is supposed to be one of the great adventures one can have without fear of being shot), while we are all aware of the disadvantages of short haul flying. Which is why not one, but two groups have come up with plans for passenger rail services to Sin City, which would be the first since Amtrak withdrew the Desert Wind in 1997. DesertXpress (since renamed as XpressWest) originated as a privately funded plan to link the city with Southern California using a new build high speed line – initially intended to terminate at Victorville, later proposals were for the terminus to be extended to Palmdale to interchange directly with the California High Speed Rail network, making DesertXpress almost an appendix to the publically funded high speed network in the Golden State. This proposal has been expanded further (causing the the rebranding) to take in a number of other states in the west of the country. The core element though remains the route to Las Vegas, which would be around 90 minutes from Victorville (and probably a little under two hours from Palmdale). Palmdale would, once the CHSR is constructed, be less than an hour from Union Station in Los Angeles, making a journey time of approaching an hour less than driving (even with an interchange). Of course, that is for the future, with XpressWest not expected to start running trains until 2016, and CHSR not expected until the late 2020s. Which is where Las Vegas Railway Express has been able to step in – planning a service it calls X-Train, this will run on conventional track through an agreement with Union Pacific. Starting from Fullerton, where it will interchange with Metrolink, it will terminate at the Plaza Hotel, which is the former location of Las Vegas Union Pacific Station. It is estimated that the new service, intended to launch in January 2014, will take around 5 hours end to end, a result of the poor state of trackage and the way the network is owned and administered. The intention though is to provide a much better level of service than is experienced either on Amtrak trains or airlines, which presumably is intended to make up for the timetable. Of course, it would be better if the length of time taken for the journey was less, but if people decide to take the train to Las Vegas, and find that they like it enough that they don’t notice the time, then it’s possible, just possible that when XpressWest gets going, it will start with a bang.
You may be aware that I travel around the country a lot. As a consequence, I am on trains a significant amount, and don’t always have a book with me. So, I have a tendency to head for the closest WH Smith and purchase the latest issue of one of the railway periodicals. Between Christmas and New Year I was in Nottingham for a week – on my journey up I procured the latest issue of Rail Express, and was reading through it when I came upon an article about Thameslink that, off the top of my head, was reassurance that the rolling stock procurement contract would finally go through early in 2013. However, this article referred to “Class 700”, which intrigued me somewhat. Bear in mind that, in spite of the stuff I write about, my knowledge is still limited, but I was always under the impression that, in the TOPS classification system used to classify rolling stock on the British network, EMUs were given numbers between 300 and 599 – those that run off 25kV AC from overhead wires run from 300 to 399, while those that use direct current between 650 and 850V from a third rail have numbers from 400 to 499 (for the Southern Region), and 500 to 599 for elsewhere. Which is what confused me, as clearly the number 700 doesn’t come between 300 and 599. Something that confused me further was the fact that, even though the rolling stock procurement for Crossrail is only at the ITT stage, Crossrail has registered its planned rolling stock as Class 345. Naturally then, given I am an inquisitive sort of chap, I made mention of this on Twitter, while using my super duper new smartphone to conduct various web searches trying to find out more. Yesterday I got a reply from a chap called “Sparky” who works in the rail industry and who told me that yes, Class 700 does seem to be the official classification, which is used in internal discussions for the Desiro City units planned for Thameslink. So, I then did a little more digging and found Railway Group Standard GM/RT2453 “Registration, Identification and Data to be Displayed on Rail Vehicles”, published in September 2011, which sets out the information that has to be shown on all rail vehicles, and updates GM/RT2210 (June 1995) by expanding the number ranges for registering multiple unit sets. In this it seems AC multiple units will not only be in the 300 series (though there remain a significant amount of vacant numbers), but also in the 700 series, thus explaining the Thameslink scenario. However, on reading this, I took note of something else – the 800 series is reserved for “high speed multiple units”, which the document classes as operating at speeds above 190km/h (approx 118 mph). Presumably, under this then, Virgin’s Pendolinos and Super Voyagers, East Midlands Trains’ Meridians and Southeastern’s Javelins would all have been given 800 numbers had they entered service now rather than when they did. But, something else that came to mind was the classification of brand new high speed trains, by which of course I mean trains intended to operate on the UK’s high speed lines. While these lines will of course not be part of the National Rail network, and some rolling stock will not be interoperable, their movements would still need to be tracked around the high speed network. I have asked the DfT under Freedom of Information whether the new rolling stock intended for High Speed 1 would be required to have TOPS numbers, which they say is a matter for Network Rail (who are not bound by FOI, and do not seem to have a mechanism for the general public to make enquires such as this). As a consequence, it is still not clear whether Eurostar’s new trains, or indeed Deutsche Bahn’s Velaro D units, would be given TOPS numbers at all. The DB trains are classified as Class 407 in Germany, and, as there hasn’t been a Class 407 in Great Britain, it could for simplicity fit there (even though it isn’t a Southern Region, DC powered third rail type); however, the Eurostar trains have been called “e320”, but can’t become “Class 320”, as there already is one. It can be quite maddening when you have these questions rattling around in your head, and yet there is no obvious way to get an answer. Having said that, these are not as if they have the answer “42” and, consequently, there is no problem if they aren’t answered right this second, as there will be an answer and it will come out. I guess one just has to be patient.