29 July 2011

HS2 In Favour and Against

The following is Trans-trax´s submission to the UK government´s consultation about HS2.


The debate about a High Speed rail link to complement and extend the present HS1 into /from St.Pancras station has turned into a slogging match between supporters of entrenched positions. When supporters of a position argue from already entrenched positions there is no debate at all.

The first question to ask is about why we see the need for a High Speed rail link (to/from anywhere). So much has been written about the need to catch up to or keep up with the Japanese, the Chinese, the French, or the Spanish in regard to High Speed rail construction that the need (or not) for such a construction has been lost. The countries, aforementioned, (with  the exception of Japan) are large and empty between their cities. Their needs are quite different from Great Britain´s.

The equivalent countries for GB to look at for the need to design and build any High Speed network are The Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland, to mention the most important. In these countries they upgrade lines constantly while introducing HS stretches of line where necessary. Economic “machismo” is no argument in favour of building a highly expensive rail network.

If one looks at the problem from a different perspective then one might come to a conclusion which convinces all the interested parties.

(a)Do we wish to promote industrialization of the country to satisfy the needs of the infrastructure industries and subsequently export?  – This is a valid argument, especially to promote skills and employment possibilities. However, we are in a global market, accepted in its day, which has strong competitors already holding a stronghold over the residual British infrastructure industry which might limit the possibilities. This argument has subsequently been weakened by the lack of government resolve in the award of the Thameslink rolling stock contract to Siemens in Germany to the detriment of Bombardier Derby.

(b) Do we wish to promote faster travel times from the outer reaches of Great Britain to the capital, London? – this is a valid argument, though it is only partial since London is not the only destination for all travellers.
We have to remember that there are many who travel long distance daily on the rail network from one point to another without ever travelling through London(and given the chance would probably prefer to travel through any other centre (or hub) than London (if given better connections).

(c) Do we wish to free up line capacity to facilitate more rail access into the capital, London, and increase the possibilities of more regional transport round and into the capital? – this is also a valid argument but only where it is needed.
One line does not necessarily satisfy the demand into London and might not necessarily be the best solution. Better line use, an increase in the number of tracks, a change in final inner city destinations for some services, among other solutions, could also provide an increase in capacity and frequency of services which is what is needed without new line construction.

(d) Do we wish to do the same as the French and the Spanish so as not to be left behind in the construction of high speed railways? – this is  not a valid argument under any circumstances. Britain´s needs are quite different from other countries´ needs so must be looked at in a more personal  way.

(e)To satisfy the demands to reduce the production of toxic gases airplane use has to be reduced while rail use increased.  – This is an invalid spurious argument provided  as a sop to environmentalists. Any change will come about(and is coming about) quite naturally.

This  will be proved  to be such when the supposed transfer of passengers from air to rail (on medium to long distance domestic routes) does not take place as a consequence of the increase in the number of people travelling. Neither the TGV from Lyon to Paris nor the AVE from Seville to Madrid have eliminated the air traffic on those routes.  

(f) The decision is already taken and cannot be changed without a loss making about face and rethink of the whole project, unacceptable politically   – This is  not  a valid argument  for such an expensive undertaking which needs ideas for the greater good to predominate.

The resulting debate about High Speed Rail should therefore, centre on the first three premises (a, b, and c). The latter three premises (d, e and f) are invalid and should not waste any more of our time. 

 In 1982 the new Spanish Socialist government made a statement that it was going to convert the whole rail system from Spanish gauge to Standard gauge. After looking at the problems involved they decided to park that idea and build, in effect, a whole new rail system .  This meant that the lines radiating from Madrid together with the most important Cross Country lines would become Standard gauge high speed lines so that the vast majority of provincial capitals and important towns would be on or near a high speed line and be able to gain access to it .

Nearly thirty years on this policy is slowly but surely coming to fruition, thanks in great part to the contributions from the European Union. They have done this with roads and are doing it with high speed rail. This has meant a giant quantitative and qualitative  leap to cover the infrastructure deficit, all of which conform to a strategy laid down thirty years ago.

I have not seen or heard of any such strategy outlined anywhere from either the present coalition government or the previous Labour one.

When we look at the infrastructure problems and needs of Great Britain they are quite different. Having been rail pioneers means many of the problems and restrictions in construction have been resolved in other systems elsewhere. Allied to that is the the fact that the area where the greatest volume of rail traffic generated does not cover this whole small island. Plymouth in the South West, Swansea in the West and Glasgow and Edinburgh (and even perhaps Aberdeen) in the North would be the outer limits of the areas for consideration of a review towards construction of new rail lines and renewal of classic ones. One must, of course, take into consideration the South and The East but these areas are of lesser importance when considering high speed rail lines because of the shorter distances involved. 

Thus it would seem logical to state the government´s intentions with regard to future improvements in the rail structure of Great Britain in a document for reference. The Route Utilization Strategies (RUS) provided by Network Rail are a beginning but not the whole picture. Since the RUS only deal with utilization they do not lay down a plan for construction.

The long and mid-distance corridors of the present rail network give us a good starting point.
1 – ECML
2  - MML
3 – WCML (including the North Wales line, Crewe to Holyhead)
4 – Chiltern Main Line
5 – GWML (both to South Wales and to Plymouth)
6 – Bristol to West Midlands to East Midlands
7 – Southampton to Reading to Birmingham
8 – Felixstowe to Nuneaton to Birmingham
9 – Transpennine routes – (a)Liverpool – Earlestown - M/C Victoria – Leeds – Hull
      (b) Liverpool – Warrington Central – M/C Piccadilly – Sheffield – Grimsby
      (c) Blackpool - Blackburn - Halifax - Leeds

Point 8 is mainly concerned with freight traffic implying a lower line speed so really does not fall within the remit of high speed lines.
Point 9 These are all regional services and even though higher line speeds would be beneficial for both passengers and freight they do not fall into the remit of high speed lines.
Thus points 1 to 7 are the really important and  interesting corridors to consider.                           

The case for a completely new line is made connecting Reading with the Channel tunnel. The arguments are laid out in my blog. http://trans-trax.blogspot.com/2010/02/fast-trax-2-case-for-southern-high.html                    
This we can call Point 10: Reading – Heathrow Airport – Gatwick Airport – Ashford – Channel Tunnel. This would connect the two London airports and provide the possibility of onward services to continental Europe without the need to travel through the bottleneck of London. It also opens the possibility of using the GWML to Swansea and even to Fishguard to offer services for Irish(as well as UK)  passenger and freight traffic through to continental Europe. This falls into line with the European Commission ideas of better transport infrastructure links as illustrated in their documents about special projects. http://ec.europa.eu/transport/infrastructure/maps/doc/ten-t_pp_axes_projects_2005.pdf   

 In addition to that new line, by using the line from Reading to Birmingham  opportunities of freight traffic being taken directly through the Chunnel is opened up  without blocking up London.

Under a series of five blogs from 13 February to 8 March 2010 under the tiles FASTRAX in my blog http://trans-trax.blogspot.com/2010/02/fast-trax.html  are posted several options for fast /high speed lines argued in detail.
Also comments on the White Paper published in March 2010 can be found in a series of four blogs between 29 March and 12 April 2010.  http://trans-trax.blogspot.com/2010/03/high-speed-rail-2-white-paper-1.html

 I will not repeat all my arguments here in detail but try to underline the salient points.

1-The present corridors must be used. Where upgrading (curve eliminating, eliminating cross overs and four tracking) is not possible then a new section of line can be built. HS trains will have to use classic lines on some sections and many sections will not get built for many years so easy connection is essential.

With regard to the proposed HS2, together with the M40 motorway, the Chiltern Line is the reference and if need be would provide an alternative route (in part) when necessary for maintenance or other reasons. Thus the need to close the whole line to Birmingham would not be necessary in such cases.

2-Line speeds. These are determined by many factors including the distance between stops. Build according to need. However, as the recent (23 July 2011)train  accident in China showed all the failsafe systems must be built in and working so as to reduce the risks of higher speeds. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14289033  In fact the Chinese government had already reduced line speeds – as the article says for safety reasons.

Previously the Chinese government had reduced speeds for different reasons as seen in this article.   http://www.rail.co/2011/04/14/china-to-slow-down-high-speed-rail/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Railco+%28rail.co%29                                                                                                   “high speed services will run at a slower speed to reduce costs for travellers”,  meaning down from 350kph to 300kph.

This is a dramatic admission which is known but never mentioned. The higher the speed the more energy is needed. To raise the line speed from 200 to 400 kph increases the energy use disproportionally (about 5 times more energy is needed).

Another factor affecting speeds is the turning circle. At 200 kph about 1.8 km. are needed to make a 90 degree turn while at double the speed (400 kph.) this turn increases dramatically (fourfold) to 7.2 km. Such planned (or faster) high speeds in this overcrowded island are ridiculous and bordering on the environmentally criminal. 

The line speeds are also affected by planned stops with the associated accelerating / breaking sections where high speeds need not be planned for. So the conclusion is, build what is needed only where it is needed, which means out in the country at maximum speeds of no more than 320kph. (200 mph.)

3-Stopping points: Taking passengers to and from where they want to go does not necessarily mean London.                                                                                                                                               
If we use HS2 as an example then connectivity is the essential point to keep in mind. Should trains that go to Birmingham terminate there? Why should they not continue to Manchester, or Leeds or Glasgow? If that is the case then it is ridiculous to build an out of town “Parkway Station”. The station which can be of service to all Birmingham passengers is at the airport. It avoids massive construction costs in central Birmingham which would only need a shuttle service. This is already provided by regional and intercity services to central Birmingham stopping at the airport. (In fact a shuttle running from Birmingham New Street via the airport to Coventry would serve both cities). A different “Parkway” station would have no connections and need people to use their cars to reach it – surely a self defeating proposition in reducing carbon emissions while trying to get people to use public transport. Turning Birmingham airport into a true transport interchange would be much less costly and easier.

The trains need to stop where people want to get on and off. Fewer stops mean fewer passengers which mean economic losses. As I have said connectivity is essential but also convenience.

On the extension to Leeds this would mean stops at East Midlands Airport Parkway, Nottingham if the line is built that way, Sheffield, possibly Wakefield, and on to Leeds. Here the EM Airport Parkway is a special case. It already exists to serve the airport. It can also provide a service for Leicester and Derby (and Nottingham if need be). Wakefield might be needed for the many towns south of Leeds.

On the extension to Manchester the only intermediate stop of which I have heard is the airport. How this fits into the airport layout I do not know but I consider it a possibility for strategic reasons. Also the entry into Manchester (Piccadilly?) itself, is not clear even though I have heard of adjacent land to the station being used for new platforms.

The extension to Glasgow presents its own needs. The plan, as outlined, means the line joins the WCML near Lichfield. Then the present stopping pattern is designed to serve the whole North-West on the WCML from Warrington to Carlisle before continuing on to Glasgow (non-stop). To increase capacity the sections from Crewe to Carnforth that are not four tracked would need to be so converted. This section is relatively straight so the stopping pattern can be maintained with only a few minor adjustments to increase line speed. Maybe this would mean alternating the stopping patterns between Warrington/Wigan, and Lancaster/Carnforth, while maintaining Preston.

The line becomes more sinuous from Carnforth to Carlisle meaning a whole new double track set to complement the existing line. The choice of stops at Oxenholme and Penrith would be subject to traffic figures, both probably being relegated to other intercity services, while Carlisle would be a certain stop.

4-Building new extensions: As I have just mentioned about the stretch of the WCML through Cumbria a new line will eventually be needed to increase line speeds to anything approaching 320kph. From Carlisle to Glasgow the line is also sinuous but the terrain is less cluttered with towns. A new line should be built to complement the present WCML but running as straight into Glasgow as is feasible. These two projects could cut travel times from Glasgow to Carlisle and North-West England dramatically, increasing line speeds and making the mode of travel more appealing to potential customers. 

The ECML is another question, and easier if we start from Edinburgh southwards. At present the line hugs the coast. A new line would be built straight from Waverley station to Newcastle Airport station bypassing the Northumberland National Park thus saving considerable time on the coast route. Possibly, passing stops could be provided at stations on route for regional services so as not to obstruct the high speed services while providing better rail services for the region.

As at Birmingham a stop at the airport, with a shuttle into the city centre, might well be the best solution for Tynesiders thus facilitating the continuance of the line southwards bypassing central Newcastle. The airport station could then be turned into a transport interchange.

The sector from Newcastle to Darlington is also sinuous and would need a new line to run with the ECML. A stop in Darlington would serve Teesiders before continuing on to York. From Darlington the present line is two-tracked as far as Northallerton thus needing to be four-tracked (with a couple of by-passes ) but then becomes four-tracked as far as York so not needing any great improvements.

South of York a new section would be built to Selby to join the line there and four-track it all the way to Doncaster. There would need to be some straightening of the line down to the next stop at Peterborough (especially to Grantham). Peterborough to London Kings Cross would be the final stretch with works needed at Welwyn to unblock the bottleneck by four-tracking.
In such a way the line speeds and capacity on the ECML can be increased to compliment the WCML.

5-Other considerations: Direct services from London to Liverpool  can use HS2  as far as Birmingham then connect to the present WCML to run through Crewe (for South Cheshire/North Staffs.), Runcorn(for North Cheshire and South Merseyside) and on to Liverpool Lime Street. This would enable sufficient passengers to be carried to make a frequent service viable.

Holyhead, North Wales and Chester would follow a similar pattern from London to Birmingham and Crewe where they would branch off on to a newly electrified line to Chester and Holyhead.

Similarly, other services from London could run through to Wolverhampton, terminating there. Thus no, or very few, services would terminate at Birmingham avoiding the need for a completely new station.

The Crosscountry routes would be (a) from the south – Southampton to Birmingham and      (b) from Bristol to Birmingham, to EM Airport Parkway  and on to Leeds, opening up the possibility of connecting to York (on a newly electrified fill-in section) and thus northwards.
With more lines and sections opened up to high speeds (or at least higher speeds) then the permutations of possible services become numerous.

6-The London Termini: As already mentioned the ECML would run into Kings Cross as at present. The difficulty lies in the fast HS2 line from Birmingham.

The proposal is to run the trains into Euston with a stop at Old Oak Common. To put things into perspective I should mention the study done by ATKINS some years ago for the DfT about improving long distance services from the Midlands, the North West and Scotland. There were several proposals but the important ones concerned using both Euston and Paddington stations as London termini. It has not been put into practice but should be considered. Further to that a different service pattern was designed and presented in the report by HS2 Ltd. but only for the HS services.

ATKINS´ suggestions would provide direct access to Paddington. Thus there would be a direct connection to the Heathrow Express (HE) and Crossrail facilitating easy access to Heathrow and across London. To increase the number of platforms available all the stopping trains from Paddington to Reading could/would be transferred on to Crossrail.  It should be taken into consideration that the HE trains could go via (the inner London stations of)Crossrail and out to Stansted airport. This would mean combining the service with Stansted Express thus reducing the strain on London Underground.

Running all the HS services into a renewed and extended Euston would provide easier access to St.Pancras International (and its services to continental Europe). The possibility of diverting services from Euston on to other lines is limited to the DC services(London Overground) from Watford Junction to Euston. The need, therefore, to expand Euston would be unavoidable and costly. Also at Euston there is no connection to Crossrail so cross London travel would be onerous and access to the airports would require difficult transport changes.

Old Oak Common, which is on railway land near Willesden Junction, is not central, would only be necessary to connect to Crossrail, and being an extra stop would increase journey time.
My conclusion, therefore is that if Euston was considered for expansion then Paddington can be considered for expansion for the same reason. Paddington would offer direct access to Crossrail and HE (thus Heathrow), direct access to London Underground while the distance to St.Pancras International is slightly more than from Euston but just as easy/difficult.

The question is what land is to be used? If the expanded footprint of Euston included a lot of residential property (and very expensive at that) then the same consideration can be given to Paddington. Expanding Paddington station from its western edge in Eastbourne Terrace to as far as the central tree-lined boulevard of Westbourne Terrace would about double its size. The platforms built there would be used by GWML services while the “old” platforms would be for the HS2 services to Birmingham and northwards.

Out of the station the lines curve to run parallel to Westway (A404) which could provide room for more tracks out to Old Oak Common  where there exists land. From there a tenuous connection to the line out to South Ruislip already exists, running parallel to the Circle Underground Line. From South Ruislip HS2 could become HS2 proper, either sharing  part of the  line with Chiltern Main Line services or on its own from there to Birmingham. This solution would involve property purchase as at Euston (but probably cheaper) but no tunnelling, and no extra station at Old Oak Common so keeping the costs within limits.

If the UK means anything then these megaprojects of prime strategic importance must be UK planned, UK financed, UK built and thus UK owned. Without any disrespect to the different countries and regions, including London (Borisland??) then it is essential such projects are in the hands of the UK government (or its appointed agencies). They should not be open to the possibility of being held to ransom by partial or minor interests.

7-What is not considered: As stated in the previous section the London terminal for HS2 would be Paddington. The easy, fast connection to Heathrow airport exists from that station, so no HS2 spur into Heathrow is needed thus eliminating an expensive addition for only a small number of connecting passengers. Even if the number of connecting  passengers increases the capacity on Crossrail and HE is more than sufficient to absorb the demand. However, if the idea of the HS2 spur is to provide the possibilities of running direct rail services from Heathrow to continental Europe then I repeat what I wrote in the section on strategy about new lines under point 10.                                                                                                                                     “Point 10: Reading – Heathrow Airport – Gatwick Airport – Ashford – Channel Tunnel. This would connect the two London airports and provide the possibility of onward services to continental Europe without the need to travel through the bottleneck of London. “                     As a result of this strategy both of London´s biggest airports could provide through running trains to near continental Europe (e.g. Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne and even Frankfurt).

As a consequence of that I have not considered a connection from Old Oak Common through Camden Road(on the London Overground) to St.Pancras and HS1. This has still not been clarified as to how it is to be done. Apart from the technical problems of connection there are going to be considerable changes from the present situation. Deutsche Bundesbahn (DB) running services into St.Pancras from 2012 will increase competition considerably. DB has already started freight services along HS1. Eurostar is experiencing record numbers of passengers and is already planning on increasing services from St.Pancras (to the Alps and even sleeper services).  Are not the numbers using the line HS1 going to increase substantially?  

The idea of direct services from the British regions was stillborn before HS1 was up and running. The rolling stock for sleeper services, from the regions, was sold off and is now plying its trade in Canada. The main problem to consider is border control. The UK does not have ID cards so the UK(and Ireland) is not part of the Schengen agreement for free movement of Europeans across borders, and the absence of border controls between member states. Subsequently, border controls exist at UK ports of entry. This situation should only change if or when the UK decides to adopt ID cards. In that case the problem exists of how to set up controls for exit/ entry to the UK at stations outside London where there is a mixture of passengers(some travelling abroad and others not). This results in the idea of HS services from the regions through to Europe being unlikely in the near future, which subsequently means a connection between HS2 and St.Pancras International is surplus to requirements at the moment.   

No mention in detail has been given to GWML services. I have indicated the salient blogs where I have gone into this, and I have mentioned it briefly in this document. However, the GWML is not affected by HS2 more than I have mentioned here already.

I have also not considered the reduction in air traffic from the regions. While I, personally, am convinced that the real need is to reduce pollution from cars and other road traffic, I will mention here some thoughts on the question of air traffic. It is essential in an island like Great Britain to maintain air links where rail is not an option. Thus connections from London must be maintained, or at very least facilitated, with Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the outer reaches of Great Britain which certainly will mean Inverness, Dundee and Aberdeen, even, perhaps, Plymouth and Newquay. This goes without question so should not be questioned. Another thing is to try to eliminate the air traffic from the airports of Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh  (without talking about the smaller airports).

There will always be a demand for these services, as I stated in the introductory comments (point (e)). Neither Lyon nor Seville airports have closed but still maintain an acceptable number of daily flights to the hubs of Paris and Madrid Barajas

The interconnecting traffic through Heathrow (and Gatwick) will still fly and such it should be so that the flights can be maintained from those airports to a variety of destinations and not depend, solely, on London based traffic. The alternative is a loss of passengers thus reducing the ability to generate services to many destinations. This in its turn produces a downward spiral effect of reduction of interest, reduction of passengers , reduction of destinations. Is this not already happening in comparison to Paris Charles-de-Gaulle and Frankfurt Main? When London´s airports are prohibited from expanding, but already bursting at the seams, I do not understand how more passengers are encouraged to travel through those airports by promoting a high speed rail link. It is contradictory. Much better is to promote usage of the larger regional airports as hubs to alleviate the pressure on London´s.

CONCLUSION: HS2 can and should be built as part of an overall strategy. It should be designed for the needs of the greater number in this overcrowded island. Grandiose projects promoted by architects, engineers, property owners, pompous politicians and other interested parties must be avoided. Unstarted projects can be ripped up and rethought. Some “out-of-the-box” thinking is needed. The benefits to be gained should not be only financial; wise spending can produce greater gains. Rolling projects can help reduce costs. Change where change is needed as I have pointed out but go ahead with the project, now.