28 February 2010

Fast Trax 4 - where will the high speed lines go? - Cross Country routes

As a continuation of Fast Trax 3 about radial high speed routes from London we have to look at other routes which do not touch on London but are also highly important in the infrastructure of this country.

The numbered paragraphs continue from the previous blog.

11-The second high speed line which we have already proposed in our  blog Fast Trax 2 (24/2/10) is the  Southern High Speed Line (SHSL). This would run from Reading through Heathrow and Gatwick airports to Ashford to connect to the Chunnel. The case for this was outlined in the previous blog.It would benefit local traffic in Surrey, Sussex and Kent, also through traffic for freight and vehicles from Fishguard, Bristol and Birmingham, while opening up the possibility of through trains(both passenger and freight) to near mainland Europe.All this would be without funnelling the traffic round or through London and adding to the congestion there.

12-The case for high speed lines does not and should not stop with the radial routes from London. In Fast Trax 2 we mentioned the line  Birmingham- Oxford- Reading. This route continues south to Basingstoke and Southampton  making it one of the important Cross Country routes through Birmingham not only for passengers but more importantly for freight.

13-Another important route from Birmingham is the one through Cheltenham to Bristol and onwards to the South West at Plymouth.This would open up a large area of Britain, which tends to be forgotten, to high speed services for both freight and passenger traffic.

14-This Cross Country pattern is then completed with the route Birmingham - Nottingham either through Leicester or direct, as a new route, through East Midlands Parkway. This latter option is unlikely to ever be built.

15-Obviously if the CLC line were considered for electrification as part of the Trans Pennine routes (as it is at present) then the benefits could be greater than present. The resulting traffic patterns could be  (without considering other alternatives) and taking for granted that Liverpool Central would be reopened for the Transpennine traffic as well as the London traffic.
(a) L/P Lime St.- M/C Victoria- Leeds- Hull 
(b) L/P Central- M/C Piccadilly- Sheffield- Doncaster- Grimsby.

The reopening of Liverpool Central makes an additional possibilty the redirection of  the old CLC services from Warrington Central  and Manchester back into the original destination which was Liverpool Central.The line speed on the CLC line would also improve considerably to something like it was before the redirection of services into Lime Street.The subtraction of these services from L/P Lime Street would reduce the pressure on that overcrowded station while permitting improved electric services on the newly upgraded line through Huyton- St.Helens- Wigan NW to Scotland. 

16-What should be added is the Blackpool- Preston- Blackburn- Halifax- Bradford- Leeds route. This will be partly electrified with the plans already approved for the upgrading of the Blackpool- Preston line.

17-Scotland should not be forgotten either. It is illogical that Glasgow and Edinburgh are not connected with some sort of fast/high speed line. we do not feel competent to suggest alternatives which should be left to more knowledgeable Scottish correspondents. However, from a distance it seems logical that the lines Edinburgh- Dundee- Aberdeen and Glasgow- Stirling- Perth- Dundee- Aberdeen are strong candidates to be upgraded. Other options the Scots have to suggest.

It has to be remembered that HIGH SPEED does not mean the same thing in  every case. The maximum speed can be 400kph or 200kph depending on the topography or the population density. These high speed trunk lines should be four tracked so that regional and freight services can use the same corridor. That is why it is better to use present corridors to help in the alignment of the high speed lines while avoiding unnecessary duplication in construction but providing alternative ways for traffic when a line is unusable.

Fast Trax 3 - and where do the high speed lines go? - Radial routes from London

Taken that the case for high speed lines is won then the strategy for establishing all the envisaged lines has to be laid down.Here we will look at the case for radial routes from London while the case for other routes will be looked at in the next article (Fast Trax 4)

The thinking so far, and the proposals presented, have only considered the possibility of travelling from A to B along specially built lines. However, the European experience has always been that the high speed element of a line is only a benefit to reach destinations at a greater distance. For many years French TGV and German ICE trains have ventured into different parts of Switzerland without the Swiss having, designated, high speed lines. The French TGV arrives at Irun, on the Spanish border, without any prospect of the high speed line arriving at the border for some years yet. In fact it will probably run through to Bilbao, at least, when the Basque standard gauge "Y" high speed system is completed in 2016. It will thus leave a gap from Irun/Hendaye to Bordeaux before the French get around to completing their section(as yet unprogrammed) of the high speed line.

1-The first line which will be built, without doubt, is the high speed line from London to Birmingham which we have named the Chiltern High Speed Line (CHSL). Our suggestion (stated in Fast Trax- 13/2/10) for the London terminus is Paddington. When the Great Western surburban services into Paddington are transfered on to Crossrail, and if the Heathrow Express services transfer on to Crossrail (to Stansted)  then terminating platforms will be freed up (no more than 4 should be needed) for CHSL services. This is without taking into consideration that some Chiltern  services already operate from Paddington. This terminus would provide the necessary connections to Crossrail and Heathrow (through HE) as well as the West Country and South Wales.

2-We have also stated that the West Midland terminus should be a through station(not a cul-de-sac terminus) in Central Birmingham with the Grand Central idea appearing to be the best solution. From there services can be provided northwards on improved fast lines(not necessarily high speed ones).Obviously trains would continue to travel from Birmingham to Manchester and Glasgow on the WCMLHowever, if the benefits of the CHSL are to be maximalised then services north of Birmingham which subtract traffic from the WCML have to be considered. 

The obvious candidates are the services to Shrewsbury- Wrexham and Chester- North Wales coast- Holyhead. Another candidate would be extending the services from Wrexham to Chester and under the Mersey to Liverpool. These would supplement the Virgin train services to Merseyside and make unnecessary any other proposal to provide a high speed line entering from the east. Any such tunnel under the Mersey could provide a station at John Lennon Airport while use the old CLC tunnel to Liverpool Central. This tunnel still exists and has room for four tracks so would be compatible with the Merseyrail service to L/P Central low level. It could terminate at an extended station at low level or use the old street level site. The present commercial premises on the site could be rebuilt on top of the station.  

3-To achieve the high speeds from the West and South Wales we are assuming that the electrification of the GWML goes ahead together with the upgrading of the line to high speed standard. Apparently, the original construction of this line was such that higher speeds can already be achieved than those achieved at present on the present track without any upgrade. This suggests that any upgrade(bridges, tunnels, junctions, points etc.) would not necessarily be expensive - at least from London to Cardiff. The expensive element would be the electrification and vehicle purchase.

4-In our first blog(Fast Trax 13/2/10) we mentioned the line of the service  to Manchester from London. This would use the present Midland Main Line(MML) upgraded to high speed standard as far as East Midland Airport Parkway. Then a new, high speed, line would branch off to Derby and Stoke where it would join the WCML from Stoke to Manchester.This would provide an alternative to the Virgin services from Manchester to Euston while also terminating at St.Pancras with the easy one step link to Eurostar services.

5-The other part of the MML at East Midlands Parkway would branch off (on a new line ) through Nottingham, Sheffield, Wakefield(?) and on to Leeds. Here also an alternative service to London from Leeds than the East Coast ECML services to Kings Cross would be provided into St.Pancras with the easy one step link to Eurostar services.

6-The case for the ECML was never better stated than the correspondent "ian down under"who replied to the  article published 18/2/10 in the EDINBURGH EVENING NEWS
This is another example of the potential customers being more in favour of upgrading than expensive white elephants that may not be built at all but if built would only benefit the few.
The fourtracking at Welwyn would aleviate the bottleneck into London.The competition on services to Leeds would help reduce demand for extra train paths on the ECML while the Thameslink through services to south of the Thames would increase line speeds and free up terminus platforms.

7- The WCML is the busiest trunk line. However, we have already attacked the problem of capacity restraints. the CHSL would take most the West Midland traffic off the WCML. The extension of this line, or at least its services to Wrexham, Chester, North Wales and Liverpool would dampen demand on the WCML for services to these areas. The alternative of services to Manchester from London via the MML and Derby would also dampen demand for extra train paths to Manchester on the WCML. Therefore, freed up long distance capacity could be devoted to services to the rest of North West England and Scotland.

The case for upgrading the WCML has been rejected as being too expensive and disruptive.That seems to be begging the question. (It seems to echo the arguments against electrifying the line from Weaver Junction to Glasgow and Edinburgh that were put forward in the 1960s - the lines to Liverpool and Manchester were considered enough by some) Is it not more expensive and disruptive to have dedicated high speed lines carving their ways across the landscape through land and buildings alike in order to ensure their paths are straight lines. That is the only way to achieve the speeds of 350kph (220mph) plus that are being broached. Slightly lower ambitious speeds can be obtained to benefit more at a lower cost by upgrading and,subsequently, become more likely to be built. The benefits for population centres on this line would be tremendous while also facilitating the improved electric services from Scotland into Liverpool, from Wigan, and Manchester, from Preston.

8- One high speed line is already built out of London southwards i.e. St.Pancras- Stratford- Ebbsfleet- Ashford - Chunnel. 

9-Another high speed route is the one which runs East Croydon- Gatwick- Brighton but with starting points at Victoria, Blackfriars and even London Bridge.

10-From Waterloo the SWML runs to Woking with a branch continuing to Portsmouth. Another branch runs from Woking to Basingstoke and on to Southampton and Weymouth while another runs from Basingstoke to Salisbury and Exeter.
These latter third rail electrified lines serve mostly the surburban commuters round London. However, that does not mean that the lines themselves cannot be upgraded with respect to height and width so that higher capacity trains( double decker ones)  and international freight services cannot take advantage of their tracks.

The next blog will look at other alternatives.

24 February 2010

Fast Trax 2 - The case for a southern high speed alternative (SHSL)

It is all well and good that a debate is established about the need for High Speed rail services. It is another thing to look at the inherint problems and decide where to establish such lines, or where they should end up. The Heathrow debate is hotting up with the latest offering from Greengauge 21"The Heathrow Opportunity"(12/2/10).

In the previous blog (Fast Trax - 13/2/10) we mentioned briefly the need to look at rational alternatives. Greengauge 21 has not done that and is becoming imprisoned by its own proposals. It is a case of an original proposal being accepted as gospel and thereafter self perpetuating. Basically they say that Heathrow should be a rail hub with connections all over the country. Building a new hub at West Drayton is just a waste of money and a unnecessary blight for the people who live in that area. 

1-Our initial proposal was that a high speed line should be built from Reading through Heathrow to Gatwick Airport and on to Ashford to provide the connection with the Channel Tunnel. - We shall call this the Southern high speed line (SHSL). - This would provide an important connection to an existing major hub at Reading (already being updated and extended), providing the possibility of connections or extensions of services further north, west and even south. 

In the central section the all important overdue and needed high speed connection between Heathrow and Gatwick would enable the two airports to be interdependent. At Ashford the connection to the Chunnel opens up the possibility of direct services to near mainland Europe from both airports and beyond while avoiding the bottleneck of London. Also with the SOUTHEASTERN "Javelin" services to St.Pancras it has been shown that the North/North East Kent towns achieve better and more rapid connections to the capital. The same improvement in connections could be achieved along this SHSL.

The fast track line would run  Reading- Heathrow T5- Heathrow Central- Heathrow T4- Gatwick- Ashford- Channel Tunnel.Take note that the part of the line Heathrow T5-Central-T4 would need no new construction because the tunnels already exist so no disruption would be implied for the airport unless a turn were needed at the Central area to connect with the line south to T4.

2-In the electrification scheme for the GWML (Great Western) the route to Oxford from the GWML is to be electrified. It would be not very much more expensive to extend this scheme northwards to connect to the new high speed line from London to Birmingham(Chiltern high speed line - CHSL) where the two lines could intersect somewhere to the south of Banbury. This way passenger services can be provided from Birmingham to Heathrow at a lower cost than the deviatory idea from Euston (Greengauge 21´s idea is figure 3.2 illustrated on page 15 of their document). Of no less importance but perhaps greater is the linking of the electrified lines CHSL and WCML to the Channel Tunnel (through the Reading to Ashford high speed line)without going through the bottleneck of London and thus offering the possibility of freight trains direct though the Chunnel.

3-The main direction of the electrification of the GWML is to Bristol and South Wales. However, the updating is to stop at Cardiff or even Swansea.

The first consideration is that the original Great West Line was built(in the 1800s) to such a standard that without substantial track straightening higher speeds than those actually used are possible. Therefore, why not go the whole way and update the line to high speed. Another consideration is that the line Cardiff to Swansea is only two track while high speed lines should be four track, at least in this case in the most used corridor up to Swansea.

Stopping  this update at Cardiff or Swansea does not take into consideration the potential benefits of any extension to the west and especially the ports. Is it not better, therefore to continue on to Fishguard at least? Of course this would benefit local services in South West Wales but that is not the only consideration. Fishguard is a major ferry port for services to/from Ireland. If Eurotunnel were given the go-ahead then that company could offer services for cars and lorries direct from Fishguard through Reading and along the SHSL to Calais (or even onward to Lille). That would take the through Irish traffic off British roads directly on to mainland Europe. No traffic fumes would be emitted on the British part of the journey. The volume of demand would have to be looked at in detail but the potential is tremendous.

Fishguard-to-Rosslare ferry by the quayside
©Rudi Winter and licensed for reuse under
the Creative Commons Licence.                                   

At present Stena Line offers 3 services per day Rosslare-Fishguard. Moreover, Stena Line offers 4 services weekly Cork-Swansea where a number of vehicles also travel through Britain on to mainland Europe (either through the Chunnel or through other ports such as Harwich). Without doubt what would be of greater interest and a direct target for through Eurotunnel services are the ferries from Ireland to France (from Cork 1 weekly while from Rosslare 8 weekly to Roscoff and Cherbourg). What also has to be mentioned is the probable additional effect on the ferries Rosslare-Pembroke(2 services per day)and the       possible knock-on effect on ferry services Dublin/Dun Laoghaire - Holyhead. It can be seen, then, that such direct Eurotunnel (or any other company) services along the GWML and SHSL would reduce the volume of traffic on British roads and the toxic gasses in the air. 

4-To extend this idea further Eurotunnel services could also be offered from a site near Bristol(Almondsbury) where the M4 and M5 motorways cross. This would provide services for traffic from the rest of South Wales,Bristol and South West England and even eastwards to Swindon. Also another site for Eurotunnel services to Europe could be offered from the West Midlands either in the region of Bristol International airport or Wolverhampton, where the M6 and M54 motorways connect. That way as well as serving the local conurbation, traffic from the north and/or East Midlands  would also be taken off the roads when going to Europe. Thus the crowded South East England bottleneck would be aleviated. These services from the West Midlands would travel south to Reading and then along the SHSL to the Chunnel. In these ways it can be seen the potential for taking off the roads of Britain tremendous volumes of cars and heavy traffic with all that implies in cleaner air and less crowded roads.This would be most notable effect in the crowded South East bottleneck. But that is the endgame - is it not?

The time taken for journeys from Fishguard to Lille would  be under 6 hours, from Bristol to Lille under four hours and from the West Midlands to Lille (though Reading) under 5 hours. These times are conservative estimates based on present rail timetables on non(as yet) upgraded lines. Therefore, with implementation of the SHSL, in addition to the other line upgrades, the time saving could be substantially greater. The faster the times, the more attractive the service becomes.

5-The SHSL can also be used for regional services such as the SOUTHEASTERN services from St.Pancras to North East Kent. The intermediate stations and stopping pattern could be 
Reading - Maidenhead- HeathrowT5- Heathrow Central- Heathrow T4- Feltham- Esher- Dorking- Gatwick- Tonbridge- Ashford- North East Kent.
(A direct line from Feltham to Esher and Dorking might not be the best route and could suffer modification - the rest of the line is the most direct and potentially beneficial).

These would replace Heathrow - Gatwick coaches (up to 6 per hour) also Railair coaches to Reading (3 per hour), Woking (2 per hour) and Feltham (10 buses per hour) That means a lot of heavy vehicles occupying road space with each belching out diesel fumes. The gain, even in the Heathrow area alone, would be enormous.

6- The implications for Airtrack: Airtrack will have to be re-looked at. This is important anyway as there are objections to the services - especially on the Bracknell line to Reading. Most of the objections refer to the extra rail traffic on the line causing more and longer level crossing closures. However, that is only part of the case.

The report (Review of Business Case for AirTrack Scheme Proposals (Assignment Number 2004/00229)) prepared by  Ove Arup & Partners for the Strategic Rail Authority in July 2005 stated
"The AirTrack services that we have appraised would provide two trains per hour from each of Guildford,
Reading and Waterloo to Heathrow Terminal 5. To provide sufficient capacity the introduction of these
AirTrack services would necessitate the withdrawal of three trains from Reading to Waterloo in the
morning peak period, two trains from Waterloo to Reading in the morning peak period, and 5 trains from
Waterloo to Reading in the evening peak period. To compensate for the withdrawn services, additional
stops to those assumed in the OBC would be required on some AirTrack services between Reading and
Terminal 5."

Obviously,then, the benefits of Airtrack are not as great as they are being sold. Since only 2 stops are proposed to Reading - at Bracknell and Wokingham - with SHSL from Reading to Heathrow the need for this Aitrack service is called into doubt. As we can see  the service on the SHSL would be faster with only 1intermediate stop at Maidenhead. Moreover, the service would be better because the service would stop at T5 - T1,2,3 -T4 on its way to Gatwick and Ashford. 

A subsequent Airtrack service could have a stopping pattern Heathrow T5- Heathrow Central- Heathrow T4- Feltham- Twickenham- Richmond- Clapham Junction- Waterloo (maybe even starting at Reading with an intermediate stop at Maidenhead). BAA envisaged only 2 services per hour (mainly due to lack of train paths) but we are sure that the resulting demand from the stopping places south of the Thames, particularly at Clapham Junct. and Waterloo, could well rival the Heathrow Express service from Paddington.

The case for the Airtrack service to Guildford is also called into question. If there were a regional stopping service on the SHSL stopping at Feltham, Esher and Dorking then the case for Guildford fails. We are then left only with the proposal for HE trains to run from T5 to Staines. This only benefits the BAA owned HE and Airtrack systems. The connection from T5 to Staines (with the disruption of the new chord at Staines) would be unnecessary. BAA could be compensated with the aforesaid extra services to Waterloo. Also what can be looked at is the extension of the HE services through Crossrail to connect at Liverpool Street and merge with the Stansted serices of Stansted Express thus becoming the Heathrow-Stansted Express. This would have a knock-on effect of freeing up platforms at both Paddington and Liverpool Street mainline stations for more long distance services. Also passengers along the Crossrail route up to Stansted airport would be better served without having to travel on the Underground to Paddington. Everyone turns out to be a winner.

To conclude, the southern alternative, SHSL, must be considered. It would benefit both Greater London and the rest of the country. Rapid rail services attract passengers as we have already seen with the WCML and ECML upgrades. The ill-informed narrow-minded viewpoints of politicians and self serving pressure groups have to be shown to be wrong. Better alternatives do exist.

13 February 2010

Fast Trax

The debate in the UK about HS2 is already beginning since the Department for Transport is leaking details of the proposals even before the publication of the white paper in March.

The insistence on the "necessity" of High Speed lines, the "economic benefits" and the "greenness" of such rail transport makes for a public campaign to convince people that HS rail is inevitable. That together with the remit to design a policy, and a line defined in detail down to "fifty centimetres" all within 11 months means that development on such a line to the West Midlands has been accelerated, building on previous work done. The alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear. Civil servants (and politicians) do not like to have to revise plans and decisions already made. This means that now we are starting to receive the politicians´ arguments to convince us of decisions already made. Always look out for the the same arguments repeated in the media to the detriment of other convincing arguments equally, or more so. The principal points can be looked at in more detail.

1-Choice of line:The West Coast Mainline (WCML) is successful and even more so since its upgrade was finished at the end of 2008. However, the faster the commuter trains run into London the more the commuters want to live away from the capital. The predictions are that WCML will become saturated before 2025 but especially so in the corridor Rugby-Euston. That is the main reason why the proposed line will use the Chiltern Railways corridor (through or near Leamington Spa) to the West Midlands being direct and underexploited. The nimbys are already on the march objecting to the (unpublished as yet) proposals. However, it should be pointed out that the new line can use the same corridor(in its greater part) as the Chiltern line and/or M40 so would not make a tremendous impact on the environment. The biggest effect would be the sight of the gantries for the overhead electric transmission to the engines.

2-London terminus: An area "next to Euston" has already been mentioned, even "between Euston and St. Pancras". We presume the herrendously expensive British Library would not be affected so it means a lot of householders are in the firing line (and they talk about not publishing details so as not to cause planning blight - how cynical can you get?) This is a blatant attempt to colour the debate. It ignores that Chiltern already run services into Paddington station from the Chiltern line. It ignores that Crossrail will free up train paths into/out of Paddinton and free up platforms. It ignores the fact that the Heathrow Express runs into Paddington rubbishing the case for a station on the Great Western Mainline (GWML) near (not at) Heathrow airport.
Trains can run out of Paddington much more easily (and therefore cheaply) than from Euston. Another point why this choice has been made is that a connexion can be made from the Euston area to HS1 near Kings Cross relatively easily. It clearly ignores other options. These will be looked at some other time.

3-West Midlands terminus:There is talk about the terminus being at Birmingham International airport, New Street, Snow Hill, Moor Steet or even Curzon Street.
Well for starters this terminus should not be built as a terminus(though we will continue to use the term) but as a through station to facilitate the line´s extension elsewhere (presumably northwards) in which case it will connect to the classic lines before any HS line northwards is built. Remember that HS is conceived so that only the height and width of the vehicles are the impediments for travelling on the classic lines when these lines have low bridges and narrow tunnels etc.

One stop that has been mentioned is Birmingham International but it is way outside the city. It can be used as a stopping station on the way but not as a terminus. It has been said that it should be a "Parkway" which attracts one to catch the train - this is self defeating since the whole object is to get people out of their cars and to use public transport which they will only do when they can catch the public transport to where it goes (i.e.the city centre where they usually cannot park their cars easily). Also any ideas about Birmingham International being the alternative to Heathrow are as fanciful as are those that suppose that the London Oxford airport can rationally be an alternative to Heathrow. Like it or not Birmingham is as much a regional airport as Bristol or Inverness with as many or more and better connections but not an alternative to Heathrow.

New Street station is overcrowded at present. It is welcome news that the station is going to be redeveloped but will this solve the inadequacy problems? The best idea seems to be the Birmingham Grand Central station which would use the old Curzon Street sight joining with Moor Street station to provide 17 platforms. The problem is the fact that the council has already sold the site. Can it be bought back? Probably an inflated price would now have to be paid in compensation.

4-Heathrow Hub: Firstly let us make clear that there will be no new station at Heathrow airport. It would be north of the M4 on the GWML - way outside the airport boundaries neither present nor future even with a third runway.

The best bets are that the proposed new station would be situated at or near the present Hayes and Harlington station on the GWML. This would be after Airport Junction on the GWML towards Paddington so that Heathrow Express(HE) trains could stop there transporting passengers to/from the terminals. If there were direct trains from South Wales and the West into Heathrow then a new chord would have to be built at Airport Junction for trains to turn westwards on to the GWML.

An alternative would be at or near West Drayton station so trains could take the loop south past the reservoirs and into terminal 5. Then the problem of transfers would exist in Heathrow between the different terminals making another(at least one more) change necessary to get to terminal 4. A new chord would also be necessary where the loop crosses the GWML for trains going to/arriving from the west.

Neither of these options offers a good or realistically economic solution of access.The HE is in place and can offer a rapid service to Paddington from where all trains to the West and South Wales arrive/leave. Also if the HS trains to the West Midlands leave from /arrive at Paddington then a simple rapid connection is offered by HE.

A lot has been written about the blight caused by a third runway at Heathrow but nothing has been mentioned about the blight of a massive new station on the GWML within a largely residential area. Not only would it occupy an inordinate amount of land for new tracks and platforms but also the noise levels would increase tremendously. Through non-stopping trains are noisy but quite bearable as constant sounds. Accelerating and braking trains cause an inordinate amount of noise happening incessantly as all expresses as well as local trains would stop there.

It seems that the original idea about HS2 running through the "Heathrow" hub is losing ground since it would add an inordinate amount of time to any journey from Central London to the West Midlands annulling the benefits of high speed. An alternative on offer are direct trains from Heathrow northwards in addition to the ones from Central London. This seems pie in the sky as present because of the problems of building a high speed line from Heathrow to connect to HS2 (where would it go without affecting too much property?).

A connection to HS1, through St.Pancras or not, is proposed without specifying where it would go. This ignores a solution southwards through Gatwick airport to Ashford which would serve that airport for exactly the same reasons as Heathrow (to provide an alternative to flights for cities on the near Continent). It would also provide rapid transport for passengers in Sussex and Kent to the airports and subsequently on to Reading without them having to travel through Central London thus aleviating pressure on the capital´s transport system.

5-Later developments:The general consensus is that HS2 should subsequently go to Manchester - this being the city with most passenger journeys from London. The DfT seems to incline for this option with an extension to Leeds. Greengauge21, however, proposes two lines - one on each side of the Pennines to Glasgow and Edinburgh. This solution sounds a better mid-term option.

The problem with the one line and two line options is that they would replicate the mistakes of the High Speed Road proposals of the 1950s. These led to Britain ending up with the M1 and M6 which are grossly overloaded after grossly underestimating the potential demand for such highways. When Britain´s trunk roads (A1-A6 in England) were established in the 1930s the planners had a better strategic view and understanding of the needs.The rail planners of the 21st century should have a similar strategic view. If traffic is funelled on to one line then bottlenecks will eventually be created. What is the solution?

The case for a high speed line to the West Midlands is obvious. What happens after that is not so obvious. If the WCML is overloaded then the best way to aleviate the problem is to subtract traffic (and future potential traffic) from that line. Opening HS2 to Birmingham along the Chiltern line (or M40 corridor) does not mean Virgin will not run trains from Euston to Birmingham. It means more trains on more routes. Real competition will exist (as in the 19th and early 20th centuries).

The route to Manchester should be looked at in the same light. The best option is to use the next main candidate for electrification - the Midland Main Line (MML). From St.Pancras to East Midlands Airport Parkway the current corridor can be used/upgraded/duplicated as is deemed necessary. From the Airport Parkway one branch can be constructed as new to Derby, Stoke and on to Manchester joining the present WCML at Stoke. The other branch would also have to be of new contruction through Nottingham, Sheffield, Wakefield(?) and on to Leeds. This second branch would also satisfy demands for a link to Leeds and subtract potential traffic from the ECML. Both the Manchester and Leeds branches would provide East Midland trains with the possibility of competing with Virgin and East Coast respectively.

Both the WCML and the ECML would benefit by having train paths freed up for better services further north up to Scotland. Also the costs of construction would be reduced substantially making the economic case more attractive.

But are we abandoning the idea of high speed travel?: Not at all.

High speed does not mean the same thing to everyone. Anything over the present 200 kph(125 mph) is high speed. HS1 has a top speed of 300 kph (187mph) which is a 50% improvement. If you prefer the rounded up figure of 200 mph(that is 320 kph) it is not a bad figure to obtain in this small island. Some are mentioning top speeds of 400 kph(250 mph) or even more. Here, however, we are entering into the world of fantasy. Not all speeds are maximum ones on high speed lines - and this assumes that entire lines are dedicated to high speed.

Look at the figures provided by HS2 Ltd. itself. If the speed is increased from 200 to 400 kph then (a) the stopping distance is increased 6-fold from 2km to 12km. (b) the minimum radius of a turning circle at that speed to go from e.g. northwards to eastwards (e.g.from Birmingham to Manchester to Leeds) increases 4-fold from 1.8km. at 200 kph to 7.2km at 400 kph. These are just not sustainable figures in this small island. Even the electricity consumption necessary to power the units on the line at such speeds from 200 to 400 kph increases from 4Megawatts (MW) to 20 MW - a 5-fold increase (and we are talking about a "green"!! technology - From where does the power come??). The only genuinely positive figure is the gradient can be increased from 1% to 3% which is hardly surprising as any sprinter would tell you in comparison to a jogger when you attack a hill.

These turning circles and stopping distances (without the rest) are just not possible in this small crowded island unless you want to slice through the landscape and destroy inumerable homes and areas of outstanding beauty. The result is that you can only have continuous high speed if you do not stop at intermediate stations. Thus you aim for the big markets, West Midlands, Manchester, (West Yorks), and Scotland. The traffic obtained can only then justify the multibillion pound investment made on exclusive lines. That is one of those self justifying arguments.This ignores the fact that we all want high speed services. However, more frequent stopping patterns reduce the time gained and show up the fallacy of the arguments presented to date for only exclusively dedicated high speed lines.

Britain is not the USA, China, France or Spain. These are large countries with great wide spaces between population centres. It is more akin to the Benelux countries, Germany and Switzerland with concentrated populations in narrower corridors. These latter countries tend to get it right - improving the infrasructure while respecting the environment and maintaining a 24/7 service without tremendous interruptions during the improvements. Britain´s trains will be able to use High Speed and Classic line interchangeably. Thus this possibility must be maximalised providing the greater benefit for the greater number, not just the few.

Conclusion:Britain needs to upgrade lines where possible, eliminate barriers to movements (i.e. highten bridges and widen tunnels where necessary),to four-track or even six-track lines to provide the necessary envisaged (or more) line capacity and build only where necessary only as an adjunct to the classic trunk lines. Also construction should be implemented in new corridors where a strategic change can be introduced in flow patterns (about which we have only scratched the surface with regard to the direction of the London-Manchester HS services).

When it comes down to the nitty gritty we have to be realistic. The present infrastructure has to be upgraded constantly. Alternatives have to be built when and where needed. Reopening of old rights of way have to be considered. But all should be done with an ongoing strategic idea of what is wanted. Let us think things through and arrive at considered solutions not politically expedient ones.