High speed rethink is good politics but still a fantasy

THE coalition Government is learning that being in power is a very different matter to opposition. Plans have to be properly formulated and ideas have to be more than mere musings. That’s why the Conservative concept for the proposed north-south high-speed line has been changed radically from the form it took in opposition.

The news that Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, has now agreed there should be a Y-shaped route rather than an S-shaped one crossing the Pennines marks a radical u-turn – but one that is eminently sensible. The Tories were the first to support plans for a north-south line when Theresa Villiers, then the shadow Transport Secretary, announced it at their annual conference exactly two years ago. However, they subsequently got into a muddle over the route that seemed to contrast with the Labour government’s suggestion merely for the sake of looking different.

Lord Adonis, the Labour Transport Secretary, persuaded his colleagues to support the construction of a new line – despite opposition from Alistair Darling – but then formulated a very coherent scheme based on a year-long study led by Sir David Rowlands, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Transport. It suggested that the main core of the line would link London with Birmingham and then branch out to Leeds and Manchester in a Y-shape.

The Tories wanted, instead, to run the line up to Birmingham and Manchester and then across the Pennines to Leeds. While the notion of extra rail capacity through the Pennines might have been welcome, the idea of an S-shape simply did not make sense. Nor did the Tory plan of running the main high-speed line via Heathrow, rather than straight up to Birmingham, and that has already been rejected by a committee chaired by the former Conservative Transport Secretary Lord Mawhinney.

In contrast to the solid basis of Labour’s scheme, the Tory plans, despite claims to the contrary, had very much a back-of-the-envelope feel to them. They were widely derided as impractical by transport analysts and were becoming something of an embarrassment to the Tory transport team.

What Mr Hammond has done, by ditching the Villiers concept, is some clever politics which will please large swathes of the country.Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland had felt rather left out of the high-speed plans because the deviation to reach Leeds

via Manchester meant that the new trains would be at best a mere 30 minutes faster than the existing service of just over two hours between Leeds and the capital.

Given that fares on the high-speed line are expected to be higher than on conventional services, few people would have used them to travel to London. Moreover, the S-shape route through Manchester and Leeds would have added 30 minutes to the journey time to London and Scotland, making it more difficult to attract air passengers, one of the principal aims of building the high-speed line.

At the moment, however, all this is about politics. There is still a very long way to go before the first high-speed line opens, let alone reaches Yorkshire. The current plans are that the line between London and Birmingham would be built first, at a cost variously estimated at between £20bn and £34bn. Determining the precise route, and obtaining planning permission would take well into the next Parliamentary term with 2017 the likely starting date for work – though the Tories have promised they could bring that forward by a year.

With an eight-year construction period, the first trains between London and Birmingham would not operate until 2025, although these would then run on conventional lines through to Leeds and Manchester. The branches connecting these two cities with Birmingham would take another 10 years to complete.

All this assumes that the funding is available. The Tories have suggested that there could be considerable private sector investment in the scheme but this would require Government guarantees or else it would be prohibitively expensive.

Supporters of the plan, such as Jim Steer, of the transport consultancy Steer Davies Gleave, reckon that the money would come from a different pot. Writing in the current issue of Rail magazine, he said that “some transport decisions are of such national significance and scale that when the decision is taken to proceed, they cannot be done within normal departmental spend levels”.

 Mr Steer is being optimistic at a time when Ministers are cutting back on Government spending. Even though major investment wouldnot be required on the high-speed line until 2016, already compensation is having to be paid to residents on the route, money that is in desperate short supply.

 Moreover, many of these are strong Tory supporters who are mounting fierce campaigns against the plans. By altering the scheme, Mr Hammond has cleverly ensured that Yorkshire is now included in the route of a high-speed line. Now he has to make sure that the biggest engineering project the country has ever seen is actually carried out, and is not just a fantasy

  • Peter Davidson

    Government adopts blindingly obvious improvements to the planned route of HS2 (although what’s going to happen in and around Heathrow isn’t exactly clear at this stage) by linking other peripheral English Regions in a manner that allows faster transit times (and what’s the point of High Speed Rail if it isn’t fast) – cue predictably bilious and cynical response from Mr. Wolmar!

    High speed rethink is good politics but still a fantasy

    In the end it all comes down to money, the lack of which is presumably the principal driver behind the writer’s perennial scepticism regarding the roll-out of High-Speed to the rest of the UK?

    So if it is all about the money, maybe we could simplify this process?

    Can we have ours back please – a cheque for approx £4.5 billion should do nicely for starters – you know, the bit we paid into the central coffers to make HS1/St. Pancras possible in the first place!

    Make it payable to the rest of the people residing outside the relatively cosy and affluent London/SE nexus – it would allow us to start the ball rolling by using it as a down payment to begin the process of building our own High-Speed network to link us to mainland Europe – after all that’s the only way in which the logic behind High Speed Rail actually works

    Following that, maybe the peripheral English Regions can join Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in issuing a uni-lateral UDI; then we can begin to pay our taxes into central exchequers over which we can exert a meaningful degree of localised democratic influence, so instead of a bunch of Westminster based control freaks spending our money on vanity projects (Olympics anyone?), we could at least begin the serious job of investing in our collective futures?

  • Dan

    So who was responsible for the original daft Tory proposals – they should be ‘exposed’ for being foolish (or are they now Special Advisors in various ministries? or backbenchers perhaps? or even in the Ministerial Team maybe?).

    We need to know this sort of thing because it helps us be clear about how lacking in logic their next uterances will probably be.

  • RapidAssistant

    Equally Peter, if we followed your logic and say build our “own high speed network” – your £4.5bn would go a long way into improving the existing rail network in the English regions – which have been sorely neglected by Westminster. Easily enough for infill electrification schemes, redoubling, lengthening platforms, improved signalling, realignments, reopening of closed routes – I could go on – all those “big bang for (relatively) small buck” initiatives which have already made a big difference in Scotland, Wales and London.

    Do this after, of course, someone makes Network Rail more efficient at doing its job, which is where a lot of cash is currently disappearing down a black hole.

    HS2 in itself is a “vanity project” – it has always smacked to me as just “me too” because everyone else is building one, therefore so should we.

  • Peter Davidson

    @RapidAssistant: Equally Peter, if we followed your logic and say build our “own high speed network” – your £4.5bn would go a long way into improving the existing rail network in the English regions – which have been sorely neglected by Westminster.

    Agreed @RapidAssistant but you’ve missed the point here, which is that it would be our decision, taken at a much more local level and therefore boasting a greater degree of democratic legitimacy. My argument is based solely on equity and homogeneous public service delivery – we all pay into a central pot of tax revenue but it seems that the London/SE nexus repeatedly benefits to a much larger degree – when it comes to HSR, this contrast is very stark indeed.

    You only need to cast your mind back to the period when the Channel Tunnel was first being debated and decisions made – it was supposed to benefit the entire country but has it really done that or merely accelerated economic development in SE England/London at the expense of more peripheral UK Regions – I’d argue it has.

    To counteract this (malign?) development much was made of how the UK provinces would be linked up mainland Europe via its burgeoning HSR network with direct services to Paris/Brussels, which in turn would begin to facilitate seamless transfer on to other mainland European HSR services (presumably via Lille Europe?) Ten-fifteen years on, what has been the outcome?

    So my challenge remains valid; give us back our money so we can decide the most appropriate way to spend it!

  • It’s not just a question of the money, it’s also a question of whether the demand is really going to be there. See (in addition to what Christian has already written in various places) Chris Stokes’ article in the October Modern Railways (p.54), “Do we really need HS2?”. He says the business case for HS2 is based on some pretty heroic assumptions about likely ridership figures, and the track record for such forecasting is not good, as we see from the gross under-use of HS1.

    Maybe there could be a case in the very long run, but my worry is all this just diverts attention (and potential funding) from the much more urgent task of improving the existing network, most notably by electrification.

  • nsandersen

    > Nor did the Tory plan of running the main high-speed line via Heathrow, rather than
    > straight up to Birmingham, and that has already been rejected by a committee chaired
    > by the former Conservative Transport Secretary Lord Mawhinney.

    It seemed to make a lot of sense to Arup (who proposed the HS1 line via Stratford) – Heathrow is only well connected by train to London via the Heathrow Express cash cow) and not really in the other direction.

    But then I am one of those silly people that think Crossrail should have fewer stops in central London in particular and should link up with the Euston Road rather than trying to duplicate the Central line.

  • Peter Hooper

    Personally I think any proposal to omit a GWR station “at or near” Heathrow, as a missed opportunity to maximise modal shift from car and plane to train; and everyone knows Old Oak Common is not “at or near” Heathrow.

    I see the Arup proposal for a GWR/M25/Heathrow hub between Iver and West Drayton as most imaginative. Not every High Speed train would have to stop there, as fast through tracks would allow HS trains to avoid stopping.

    And the extra time for non-stopping trains – just over 1 minute on the London / Brum run.

    We are moving in to a world where the European High Speed Lines will be open to all commers, with HS TOC’s (domestic & International) able to make commercial decisions as to where to go and stop.

  • Peter Davidson

    @Paul Temperton: It’s not just a question of the money

    errrr……actually it is Paul – the constant thread running through every single critical piece on HS2 is ultimately bound up with funding – the subtext is blindingly obvious – in these austere times (in itself a specious argument because we’re talking about commitments to public spending seven, eight and more years from now) we simply can’t afford this vanity project/glorified white elephant etc.

    Well fine but from a provincial perception, we, who have chipped our bit into the central pot to make HS1/St. Pancras possible in the first place, would like a little bit of prid quo pro ta very much – from where I’m sitting (in Manchester) St. Pancras and HS1 makes a pretty good candidate for White Elephant of the decade!

    Attitudes like those on offer from Mr. Wolmar (sitting pretty just a short hop, skip and a jump from St. Pancras) grate like you would not believe – care to join me on the barricades at Watford Gap when the English peripheries join Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland in issuing a collective UDI?

    You’ve also glossed over the critical mass argument; linking up the UK provinces through direct services will automatically boost both the commercial/customer perception of HSR as a credible alternative to short-haul intra-European flights and the potential pool of consumers

    You’re not a shareholder in Jet2Com by any chance?

    For companies like EasyJet, RyanAir and Jet2.com to thrive, there must be a buoyant pool of potential consumers – if 80% of this target market transfers (over the next three decades or so) to HSR alternatives, I think your fears about take-up will prove groundless but for that to happen we need to have the services and remember; No Network = No Services!!!

    HSR IS the proverbial long-term aspiration, which is precisely why government intervention (on a pan-European scale) is imperative – leave it pure market forces and the idea will never see the light of day – come 2050 and a post peak-oil environment, just how do you propose travelling between Birmingham and Barcelona in a convenient and speedy manner – it’ll take a boat load of palm oil plantations to power the plane?

    Stop thinking domestic short-term (<20 yrs) and open your horizons to a comprehensive pan-European HSR network some 50 years from now – in that context HS2 makes perfect sense as just another piece in a complex jigsaw!

  • ontrainmanager

    I don’t believe that the road lobby will stand idly by and watch new billions being poured into railways without saying something. They will shout loudly, politicians will listen and if they don’t buckle, they will certainly not want to spend much more on the rest of the system than they have to. As a result, lots of potentially very worthwhile enhancements won’t happen. If much of the money for HS2 came from the private sector then fair enough. But we all know it won’t.

    It is wrong for us to think that because the French, the Germans and the Chinese have got high speed lines then we must follow suit. Our country is smaller and most large population centres are relatively close together – only Scotland (and perhaps Tyneside) would really benefit from the time saving. I also don’t believe that we are making best use of what we’ve already got or that ‘the WCML will be full’. We are running too many short trains, many of which are half-empty out of the peaks. With the limited stop nature of HS2, many wrong direction journeys would be generated just to get on the thing in the first place. If they were going to link it directly with HS1 to facilitate long distance travel into Europe, I could understand it but they’re not even proposing that!

    I would much rather that extra money was put into electrification and smaller schemes such as a railway equivalent to the M25 (Oxford-Cambridge etc) to reduce the London-centric nature of the network. There are still many sizeable towns and parts of cities poorly served by rail or not at all. We also need to invest to make rail travel more reliable, regardless of weather conditions.

    Finally, I have no doubt that HS2 would attract much of the best and the brightest railway talent away from their current jobs and again, the wider network would suffer. Perhaps it is as well the country is broke at the moment, otherwise the green light might already have been given for the project.

  • @Peter Davidson: You’re not a shareholder in Jet2Com by any chance?

    Certainly not! I thoroughly disapprove of short-haul air travel (domestic within GB, and from GB to near Europe). In fact I think it should be penalised with heavy taxes (except perhaps for Highlands & Islands etc.) rather than, in effect, subsidised as at present.

    (Last month I went from London to Aberdeen and back by train, though it cost a bit more than flying. So there.)

    @Peter Davidson: care to join me on the barricades at Watford Gap when the English peripheries join Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland in issuing a collective UDI?

    Yes, as former Director of the Campaign for the North in the 1970s, I entirely share your resentment about London’s domination. If the North of England were a separate place, the Trans-Pennine routes and Manchester-Blackpool etc. would have been electrified decades ago, and I still think that should be the priority for any investment funding that is available. (See how much better Scotland is doing for rail investment now that it has self-government in transport matters.)

  • We have often been told that the case for new high-speed infrastructure has at least as much to do with capacity as speed. One way I have seen this put is “We are going to have to build some new lines, and while we are at it, we might just as well make them high-speed ones”.

    But if that is so, should we not first exhaust all possibilities of improving existing capacity more cheaply? Everybody in the industry seems to have been traumatised by the horrors of the WCML upgrade into regarding any further major upgrades as impractical. Need this really be the case? Look at Germany, where not all the high-speed network is “Neubaustrecke” (300+ kph new build). Quite a lot of it is “Ausbaustrecke” (200+ kph upgrade of existing routes). As far as the passenger is concerned, it is all part of the same system with the same ICE trains.

    In Britain, the ECML and WCML are already 200+ kph routes and hence “high-speed lines” for all practical purposes, at least for the passenger, for whom getting from London to Manchester in 2 hours flat is quite good enough to beat the airline competition. In terms of speed, we undersell what we already have.

    If the most pressing problem is actually capacity, notably between London and Rugby and Birmingham (for freight as well), we ought to be looking much harder at ways of relieving the southern end of the WCML. As far as passengers are concerned, Chiltern’s Evergreen 3 project will bring quite a viable alternative London-Birmingham journey time, the more so if the line is electrified, which is one of Adrian Shooter’s medium-term aspirations. For freight, and maybe passengers too, the Great Central trackbed between Ashendon Jc and Rugby is all still there with the single exception of the missing viaduct at Brackley, and it was built for speed and to a generous loading gauge that would facilitate the transport of containers. I gather that Catesby Tunnel is in good condition. A connection with the WCML at Rugby should be quite easy to do. The line runs through a thinly-populated region so by routeing via Ashendon and avoiding Aylesbury it should be possible to minimise the NIMBY objections that are currently plaguing HS2. I don’t understand why there is not more enthusiasm for making use of this priceless asset.

    Finally, whatever solution is adopted, I remain amazed that a connection between HS2 and HS1 is regarded as only a possible option. Is it seriously proposed that the passenger from Birmingham to Paris should still get out and walk along the Euston Road, as at present?

  • Christian Wolmar

    Paul and others. Philip Hammond made clear at the Eurostar press conference yesterday that he regarded a connection between HS1 and HS2 as an essential part of the vision. This has, however, been costed at £3bn and would presumably require some demolition in London. Remember, though, all of you – this line, even just to Birmingham, will not open before 2026, and that’s with a fair wind behind it. The railway, and indeed the world, may be in a very different situation by then.
    Let me just debunk two points. One, as has been mentioned before, HS2 is not about getting people out of planes and onto trains. There are very air few journeys that would be covered by the initial phases of HS2. Secondly, it is not a green solution. The HS2 study suggests that it is about carbon neutral – whereas if the money were spent in other ways, much carbon could be saved.

  • Dan

    “I don’t understand why there is not more enthusiasm for making use of this priceless asset (the old GCR route)”

    Interesting point Paul – I’ve commented on ‘political decision making’ before – so I do wonder if it’s pretty much about no one in authority wanting to admit that the decision to close it 45 years ago was foolish – clearly no decision maker involved then is involved now but for some the bureaucratic mind set is probably inter generational – so to admit BR and Sir Humphrey made the wrong decision then would be to imply that their modern equivalents at DfT might be easily capable of making the wrong decision now?

    Just a thought.

  • @Dan: the decision to close it (Great Central) 45 years ago was foolish

    But there have beeen other reopenings in recent years. And maybe a decision to close it for the time being was not so obviously foolish in the circumstances of the early 1960s. What was certainly very foolish was not mothballing and safeguarding the whole line of route against possible future need: north of Rugby it has long since been built over. Happily that has not happened south of Rugby, give or take the odd pig sty. Even the layout of the flying junction at Ashendon is still there.

  • RapidAssistant

    Echoing ontrainmanager’s point – I speak from personal experience is that if they really want to get people off planes for long distance domestic travel – the average fares available for booking reasonably in advance need to be more competitive with air. At either end of the scale you have two opposite extremes – the absolutely crazy walk-up fares, or the ridicuously cheap ones that those who are prepared to sit fastidiously by their computer 12 weeks before the travel date waiting on the tickets being released.

    Forget those for now and consider this – a flight between Edinburgh/Glasgow and Heathrow, booked on a Friday at the moment is about £80-odd return for a travel date somewhere in mid to late November. (Remember this is British Airways – full service airline with inflight meals, flying into the main airport which is a cheap Tube ride from the centre of London). Try the same for an off-peak return on either Virgin or East Coast and you will be into a three-figure sum easily.

    If they (the TOCs) say there is no capacity to bring fares down – then it is up to the industry to provide it – simple as that!

  • David

    With regard to the comments about the GCR, I actually traveled on it in the 1960s and can quite see why it as closed; before joining my train at Nottingham Victoria, I walked around a deserted station, and very few were on board when it left for Marylebone with only a few joining on route. Domestic coal traffic – which I guess was one of the main reasons for it being constructed – had gone by this time, and I can’t recall seeing any freight at all south of Nottingham’s Weekday Cross Junction. Moreover, my father told me how he traveled on the GCR in the 1930s when ever he could; the trains were always lightly loaded, which meant he had a better chance of getting a compartment to himself!

    I recognise that time affects one’s memory, but I thought that the closure approval came with a caveat that the route was to be protected, its generous loading gauge being recognised as potentially of some use at a future date; perhaps Christian can comment on this.

  • Peter Davidson

    @Paul Temperton: But if that is so, should we not first exhaust all possibilities of improving existing capacity more cheaply?

    Many thanks Paul for your spirited defence but of course it is all about the money, which your aside reveals.

    Perhaps I need to clarify where I’m coming from?

    I share a passion for railways, along with the many readers of this fascinating on-line resource (kudos must go to Mr. Wolmar for raising the profile of rail transport issues in general) although my interest does not extend to an encyclopedic knowledge of the existing railway infrastructure. I’m also a firm advocate of much closer integration, in all spheres of human activity, across Europe, which can be entirely compatible with a more flexible decentralised geo-political structure, ie. democratically accountable governance exercised in a more responsive fashion at the appropriate level.

    This potential outcome is of course both aspirational and long term (we’re talking 50-100 years time frame here) and railways demonstrate an almost perfect synchronicity with this aim in terms of its potential to act as a pivotal catalyst driving a step change in the way we organise ourselves as societies

    • Investment in railway infrastructure is similarly long term (visionary?) in nature
    • The manner in which we connect as humans profoundly influences the form our social/economic/political interactions take

    I’m not arguing in favour of HS2 merely for its own sake but simply as an integral element of a wider pan-European policy shift towards railways as the de facto bedrock of any 21st Century (and beyond?) intra-European mass transport mechanism.

    It’s perfectly feasible, as the experience you point to in Germany demonstrates, for the existing classic network (properly invested in) to integrate with its next generation High Speed evolution. This strategy is already embedded in the original plans for HS2, with links back into the WCML and ECML implicitly envisaged but (and it’s a biggie) the principal stumbling block is connectivity – railways as medium of mass transport must be perceived in a pan-European context, not the compartmentalised mindset pervading current perceptions (self evident in the remarks from Christian Wolmar in this thread! “HS2 is not about getting people out of planes and onto trains. There are very air few journeys that would be covered by the initial phases of HS2”)

    In summary it’s crucial to deconstruct the clumsy, flawed debunking efforts in this debate – HS2 IS precisely about getting people out of planes (an action which does have the result of reducing total composite emission levels) on to trains but that strategy will only succeed effectively a) in the longer term – ie. twenty years + and b) if a seamlessly integrated pan-European rail network is fostered through the collective political willpower of European governance.

    HS2 in merely a small part of an overall jigsaw – the sooner we start, the sooner we reach that long-term goal?

  • David

    For those of you who have not already seen it, go to http://www.railnews.co.uk/ and read the special edition of Railnews Focus explaining the latest plans for HS2 (found under the heading HS2 unwrapped/etc).

    Also, a report in Monday’s ‘Derby Telegraph’ implied that Hammond had stated that the East Midlands station will be located between Derby and Nottingham; for those who don’t know the area, a suitable location for this would be Toton, just off the A52 and close to Junction 25 of the M1.

    Finally, does anyone know anything about the Midland Main Line leap-frogging over the GW route for electrification? (See the caption for the photo of the EMT ‘Meridian’ at the end of this edition)

  • Bill

    @Christian Wolmar:

    Christian, you state that HS2 is not about replacing flights, and is not green. Unfortunately as far as David Cameron is concerned, HS2 is all about replacing flights and appearing to be green. The Heathrow third runway was a political hot potato and he needed to have a solution which enabled the Conservative party to win votes by abandoning it. HS2 is his solution.
    Ultra high speed trains that use three times the power of conventional rail are not low carbon, and cutting a new line in a straight line through open countryside is not green, but if you spin it right, perhaps no-one will notice…..

  • Peter Hooper

    I wonder if I can pick up a few points by CW:-

    1. “HS2 is not about getting people out of planes and onto trains”. Now I am not sure about this as I read that HST use only 1/3rd of the power required by short haul domestic flights.

    2. Yes I agree that reducing the speed of HST would reduce the power usage; however modal shift is unlikely to take place when the longer journey time becomes uncompetitive.

    3. Yes Birmingham has no flights to Heathrow. However Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh etc have many (about 50,00 / year), all of which could be replaced by HSR. Infact the only unsuitable area in the UK is Northern Ireland for obvious reasons.

    4. As for CO2 / NOX emmissions from trains and planes there is no point in looking at existing generating capacity; rather we should be looking at the projected mix when HS2 is complete. After all – the French are 80% nuclear !!

  • Peter Davidson

    Many thanks @David for posting a link to the Rail News “High Speed Extra” special feature. This provides some valuable background context to the debate.

    There is one significant factor that hardly gets any mention in discussions concerning intra-European transport. If you look carefully at the speculative image of Manchester Piccadilly Station 15 years hence, appearing on the Rail News web page, you can see an oblique reference to this potentially negative obstacle, directing passengers to “Passport Control”

    Britain’s (plus Ireland’s by geographical attachment) steadfast refusal, driven by a political rationale, to participate in the Schengen border free movement zone means that passengers to and from the British Isles are subjected to intrusive barriers not present elsewhere across Europe – even Switzerland, Norway and Iceland (currently not in the EU) lie within the Schengen area.

    A visit to Paris Gard du Nord exposes the starkly contrasting practical consequences of this policy stance – if your destination is Bruxelles-Midi, Amsterdam Centraal, Köln HBF or Liège-Guillemins, walk directly to the allotted platform, pre-booked ticket in hand and step on board but if you’re bound for London St. Pancras, a valid ticket holding passenger is confronted by a fortress like security screen, border personnel with stern expressionless faces, passport control and X ray baggage checks before they get anywhere near their seat.

    So those here who casually suggest the construction of a London station to facilitate through trains heading from UK provincial origin points to mainland European destinations might like to think again – if a service starting at Manchester Piccadilly is headed for Bruxelles Midi, a UK citizen taking advantage of the faster transit time provided by a High-Speed service is hardly likely to respond positively to the barriers mandated by Britain’s retention of its physical borders?

  • Sean Baggaley

    @Pater Davidson:

    In general, I agree with you. However, there are practical reasons for Britain’s refusal to join the Schengen zone.

    All our border crossings involve some form of complex system. That system may be a ferry, with associated ports; it can be rail, with its tunnels, or it can be air travel. We already know that aircraft don’t cope well with bombs, so deterring terrorism is a major element in airport security.

    However, the Channel Tunnel is also a complex piece of engineering, not a border crossing across open land. Set off a bomb while travelling across the Franco-Swiss border just north of Basel and it’s unlikely anyone other than the driver of the car will be killed. Set off a bomb on a cross-Channel ferry or a Eurostar and… well… it would be rather messier.

    The Channel Tunnel has already had two fires—albeit neither set deliberately—and it took a long time, and a lot of money, to repair the damage. Any bomb would likely cause at least that much damage, if not more. And there would certainly be injuries, if not deaths too. Ergo, security checks are unlikely to disappear for these services, no matter whether the UK is part of Schengen or not.

    Modern ro-ro ferries have it a little easier as they ensure drivers and other passengers are kept separated from their vehicles during the journey, so a bomb would need to be *huge* to cause so much damage that the ship couldn’t limp to the nearest port under its own power. Nevertheless, passengers to appreciate the peace of mind of knowing that they’re unlikely to be blown up, sunk, then drowned. So security checks are needed here too.

    However, most border controls are concerned with the more common problems of trafficking in people, controlled substances and animals. The latter control exists primarily to keep Rabies out of the UK, although trafficking in protected species is also an issue.

    Our Schengen-agreeing cousins have such porous borders that monitoring them well enough to prevent such trafficking is a futile effort: there just aren’t enough eyeballs to watch it all, whether you use people or CCTV.

    Joining Schengen is therefore not likely to provide any tangible benefits.


    Re. HS1’s current lack of traffic:

    One of the arguments against closing branch lines in the past was that those branches acted as ‘feeders’ to the main lines. HS1 is essentially one end of a London-Paris HS railway, but it has no ‘feeder’ traffic to bring people onto it. My worry with HS2 is that, without a suitable connection, it won’t act as a feeder to HS1. HS1 was never intended to remain as a standalone railway, isolated from the UK’s national HSR network. High Speed Rail is a holistic, *network*, solution. A single line, on its own, won’t be enough.

    * Re: costs.

    There is a gargantuan woolly mammoth in this room, not some mere elephant. It’s the reason for many, if not all, our national and regional infrastructure woes: the insane cost of building it.

    Compare the cost of rebuilding Roma Tiburtina—one of Rome’s major hubs—as well as its surrounding road network, with the projected construction costs for the tiny Surrey Canal Road station on Phase 2 of the ELLE.

    The Roma Tiburtina reconstruction is being done on a live, operational railway. The station—which is on a major junction, has 12 tracks and is Rome’s second largest—is remaining open during the entire project. Part of the works involve turning the station into Rome’s primary HSR hub. The roads above the station (which date back to the road-building boom of the 1960s and ’70s) are being rebuilt and realigned, with many removed entirely. And they’re doing this work right now.

    The total cost? €55m. (That’s £48m. at today’s exchange rate.)

    Surrey Canal Road is a poxy little two-platform station on a viaduct, on a disused railway formation with no trains running on it at all.

    The projected cost? £10m. No, that’s not a typo.

    Slapping down two platforms, (which only need to be four cars long), a pair of lifts, (even though simple ramps would suffice), some stairs, and the usual glorified bus shelters on the platforms, is going to cost more than *one fifth* of the price of a complete rebuild of a station larger, much more complex, than that at Vauxhall, with a live, operational railway running through the site, and which will serve HSR trains to boot. How the HELL is this justified?

    This is a complete and utter rip-off. There’s no polite way of saying it: we’re *literally* being robbed. I demand that the media—specialist and otherwise—start holding our politicians to account. This is beyond mere “scandal”. Before HS2 can go ahead, indeed, before *any* major project goes ahead, we have *got* to put a stop to this blatant theft of taxpayer’s money. The reasons for it must be identified. The problem must be fixed, once and for all. And the flagrant profiteering ended. Permanently.

    (More on the Roma Tiburtina work here: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=530942 —there’s also an official RFI site, in Italian only, here: http://www.rfi.it/romatiburtina.html .)

  • David

    Firstly, can I pick up on something Peter Hooper has said; he claims that there are flights from Heathrow to Leeds and Liverpool, but I have been unable to find any direct ones from my internet searches. So is he correct? I thought they had been dropped some years ago.

    Regarding the comments by Peter Davidson and Sean Baggaley about international services, there is a whole raft of rules and regulations which have to be taken into account, and I must admit I don’t know how they all hang together; as an example, no one has mentioned the Channel Tunnel Act, but isn’t this the legislation which is responsible for Temple Mills Depot (and North Pole before it) being “fenced in”? And aren’t dedicated trains required for Channel Tunnel services?

    “Problems” arising from operating international trains to/from the Provinces must not be insurmountable. I’m sure fellow grumpys who post here will remember the plans for the North of London Eurostars in the early 1990s, and how “eps” signs appeared over waiting rooms on stations at which it was proposed to stop these services (I’m pretty sure there was one on platform 5 at Crewe, over a door near to the bottom of the steps which went down from the overbridge behind the station entrance); I think passengers would have been scanned by some form of portable scanner, and then escorted to their train after it had arrived, but I don’t know when or where passport checks would have been carried out.

    Rolling stock for international services could be a problem. I traveled throughout Europe for work for about twenty years, and – based upon my personal observations – I believe that demand is insufficient for 375m long trains from the Provinces, even on the routes with the greatest demand; moreover, if DB are able to prove later this month that it is safe to operate shorter trains through the Channel Tunnel, then I believe it would still be difficult to fill a much shorter train from Northern England/the Midlands to the Continent, even with a 100% modal shift from air to rail.

    I must admit I’m confused about the approval of rolling stock for Channel Tunnel operation. In the “good old days”, an inter-governmental commission approved rolling stock for use through the fixed link, and there have recently been proposals published (by this body) to change the “rules”; the fact that the Siemens trains which Eurostar want to purchase don’t meet the current rules has caused them problems from Alstom and the French Government, but I wonder if both would have been so vocal if the AGV had been selected!

    However, Siemens’ new ICE derivative has been designed for international services, so will it not conform to the latest TSIs? And if we look at paragraph 61 of Chapter 5 of the Channel Tunnel (Safety) Order 2007, does this not give trains which are compliant with the relevant TSIs automatic rights of passage through the fixed link? Its worded in a negative way, but if rolling stock not fully compliant requires approval from the Intergovernmental Commission, does not this imply that those which are can operate without any extra approvals?

    Any one know?

  • Ian Raymond

    David , you are right; Neither Liverpool nor Leeds have direct flights to Heathrow. Leeds does have a link to Gatwick, but it’s been some time since Liverpool had flights to any London airport (VLM pulled out of it’s Liverpool-London City link, I believe citing the competition with the now-improved WCML)
    A bit off-topic, but may be of interest to some: the CAA publishes via its website details of passenger numbers on all domestic and international routes on a monthly basis, yet the (let’s be honest, publicly accountable) rail industry provides precious little other than total carriage numbers, bleating ‘commercial confidentiality’. If it’s good enough for the airlines, it should be good enough for the railways… But then, as a statistical anorak I would say that!

  • Peter Hooper

    Whilst David & Ian are correct about the present situation of Liverpool (LPL) and Leeds/Bradford (LBA), this has not always been the case – as until recently they both had air-links to London Heathrow (LHR) &/or London City (LCY). According to one report in November 2006, there were 10 daily flights between LPL and LHR at that time.

    The withdrawl of the London flights may not be simply the result of the WCML up-grade, as the present recession has undoubtedly played a major part with all airlines re-evaluating their present routes.

    Furthermore, with the co-alition government imposing financial restraint over the next 4 years, it now seems entirely plausable that at the end of the 4 years, if unrestrained, domestic air traffic on several routes will be re-introduced.

    And the owners/ managers of LPL and LBA are known to be keen to re-establish their lost air links to London, as they consider these links to be an essential part of their long term business case – and have publically said so.

    Surely, rather than contradict the need for HSR in the UK, the cases of LPL & LBA actually re-infore the need for HS1 to be extended to LHR, and HS2 to be built not just to UK major population centres, but also regional airports ??

    My understanding is that at LHR alone, there are 50,000 domestic flights and 50,000 near continent flights that can (and in my opinion should) be converted to HSR.

    Let’s not forget that within the last week, International TOCs have put forward plans to link Frankfurt, Cologne and Amsterdam with London by HSR, all the signs are that the 21st Century will be the age of the HST.

    Whether we embrace or reject this change is not a short term decision; rather what is decided now ,may decide the future transport links for the next 100 years.

  • Ian Raymond

    Sorry David, but Liverpool (LJLA) has only recently had flights to London City, it has certainly not within memory (if ever? not sure) had a route to Heathrow, so I think the report you’ve picked up is highly inaccurate. I believe the VLM service ‘peaked’ at 4 or 5 flights each day each way to City. Arguably, had Liverpool’s air link been to Heahrow it might have been still in place thanks to providing a link to a good international hub – the city’s link to Schiphol seems to be doing rather well for that reason.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-HS; but we need to make sure we argue from accurate facts. I think personally there’s a number of facts that rail needs to overcome to ensure it reduces current domestic aviation journeys and ‘prevents’ a resurrection of old air links:
    1. Cost – if its cheaper to fly people will. (unfortunately the fare rises on rail make this seem a likely future scenario)
    2. Comfort – If people are going to be jammed into the gunwhales on a train they might as well use air – at least they experience the cramped conditions and horrible seating for a shorter time. (Recent British designs do nothing to overcome this).
    3. Connectivity – does the journey help them get from A to B more conveniently (or, to be accurate, do they *perceive* the journey helps them to get there more conveniently?)


  • Peter Davidson

    @Peter Hooper: Whether we embrace or reject this change is not a short term decision; rather what is decided now, may decide the future transport links for the next 100 years.


    HS2 is merely one small piece (from a narrow UK perspective) in a much wider debate about the fundamental nature of the mass transport system we (and by that I mean European society collectively, not just Britain) want for the coming decades and years – just 50 years from now (and some of us will still be here to witness it) the world will be a very different place, in terms of its energy landscape – where it comes from, demand vs supply, and how it is used.

    I’d like to think the right decisions taken now (and that means pressing ahead with HS2 and other High Speed lines as a part of a comprehensive pan-European integrated network) will lay the foundations for a more sustainable future for the next generation(s).

    Mindsets simply have to change; within a rapidly changing global environment (the world becomes a more uncertain place as pressure upon finite resources increases), which in large part the entire concept of closer European integration is a direct response to, the compartmentalised strategy, predicated on the basis of old style Nation States, is past its sell-by date, rapidly becoming no longer fit for purpose.

    I know these ideas might sound a bit “heavy” for a discussion about railways but when you start talking about decisions impacting over a 100 year timescale, they have to fit into a wider ranging, overtly political, context.

    I do take issue with @Sean Baggaley over the impact of Schengen on UK transport strategy. Over the top security culture (see the lead article on this site for yet another glaring example) essentially “Piggybacks” on UK border policy – remove the borders and this will immediately expose the requirement for such blanket security measures to greater public scrutiny and yes, there are many more sophisticated methods available to maintain security than the ‘blunderbuss’ approach represented by universal X-ray baggage checks.

    Consider the St. Gotthard Base Tunnel, which when it opens in 2017, will be the world’s longest example of underground transport engineering. The tunnel will host High Speed Rail services transiting through Switzerland – are you honestly suggesting that passengers boarding in Frankfurt, Stuttgart or Munchen for a journey to Milano, Bologna or Roma will be subject to blanket X-ray baggage checks simply because the train passes through a tunnel which may or may not represent a potential terrorist threat site – I don’t think so!

  • David

    I think you’ve got the wrong person, Ian; I’m the one who questioned the existence of Liverpool-Heathrow flights!

    And I guess it depends as to what you mean by memory; there were certainly flights between Liverpool and Heathrow in the 1960s, operated by Starways (which later became a part of British Eagle). But of course that was before the Beatles, so Liverpool’s airport went by the simple name of Speke. I believe over time others have tried to make a success of flights between these two airports, but none seem to have been successful; as Virgin only operates one service each hour between these two cities, perhaps the demand is small for rail and air services from this part of North West England to London.

    Does anyone know what is comprised within the number of flights mentioned by Peter Hooper? Nearly 1000 domestic flights a week from Heathrow seems a lot to me, although I can see how the number of flights suitable for conversion to rail would build up substantially if all London airports (and Luton) were taken into account.

    Finally, if you look in Hansard you will find that Lord Berkeley has argued that the Channel Tunnel is just another long European rail tunnel, and should not be treated differently to any others. However, there is a clear difference between the Swiss Alpine base tunnels and the one under the English Channel; if the Swiss base tunnels are blocked, alternative routes are available, but if the Channel Tunnel is closed for any reason, its back to ferries or planes. I don’t accept that this, by itself, is sufficient to impose the draconian security which is in place, but it is possible to see how it can be argued that some type of checks are therefore necessary.

  • Ian Raymond

    Sorry David, my mis-type (or just brain fade) – apologies! Yes it was someone else mentioning 10 flights a day to LHR. Certainly in the late 80’s there were none; Liverpool’s rebirth of links to London came with Easyjet flying to Luton in the 90’s. That link was scuppered when Luton raised their charges and the city had none until VLM began their London City offering.

    On domestic flights when looking at the stats it pays to be careful – many are now operated by the more fuel efficient turbo-props such as Dash 8s or equivalents (some with 50 seats or less). So even if there are 1,000 domestic flights a week, not all may be of such huge passenger numbers.

    However, to give some idea of the scale, in 2009 annual figures the CAA stats show 909,000 pax LHR-Manchester, 475,000 pax LHR-Newcastle, 1.3m pax LHR-Edinburgh, 1.1m pax LHR-Glasgow and 641,000 pax LHR-Aberdeen.


  • “With regard to the comments about the GCR, I actually traveled on it in the 1960s and can quite see why it as closed; before joining my train at Nottingham Victoria, I walked around a deserted station, and very few were on board when it left for Marylebone with only a few joining on route.” (David)

    — Yes, at that time it was easy to say that the GCR was surplus to immediate requirements because the MML had spare capacity to Nottingham and beyond. Maybe it still does, but in suggesting the reopening of the GCR between Rugby and a junction with the Chiltern line at Ashendon, I am not talking about Nottingham and the MML, I’m talking about relieving the WMCL between London and Rugby, which we’re told in the present day (not 1960s) is where capacity is tight, whether for freight or passenger traffic.

  • @Ian Raymond: “in 2009 annual figures the CAA stats show 909,000 pax LHR-Manchester, 475,000 pax LHR-Newcastle, 1.3m pax LHR-Edinburgh, 1.1m pax LHR-Glasgow and 641,000 pax LHR-Aberdeen.”

    Do we know how many of those are purely local journeys and how many are interlining at Heathrow? If mainly the latter, they will presumably go on doing so, HS2 or not.

    I find it hard to believe that many people still fly just between Manchester and London, given the Pendolino journey time and frequency now. If they do, they probably live in Wilmslow or Altrincham and have business in Slough or Reading, so would probably stick with the plane whatever rail service is provided.

  • @David: “does anyone know anything about the Midland Main Line leap-frogging over the GW route for electrification?”

    Iain Coucher said something to this effect back in June, see my blog entry here:

    I think in some ways the Midland has the better case, but I would suggest it needs to be total route modernisation, not just electrification. Since the MML is another north-south spine, this is another way in which more north-south capacity could be found without needing to build HS2.

    However, depending on what we hear on 20 October, all this discussion is a waste of time if the Treasury decrees that there is going to be no railway investment of any kind.

  • Ian Raymond

    Paul – no there’s no indication as to how many of these journeys are just a to b and how many are connecting off another flight (CAA statistics are remarkably detailed but not *that* detailed….) Common sense and gut instinct would suggest at least 50% are prob. in transit.

    That being said I do know a fair few people who fly regularly from Manchester to London – possibly more could be in this market if a budget airline muscled in (After all, just watch any of the fly-on-the-wall documentaries and marvel at the travellers at Luton wailing ‘But how can I get to Edinburgh?’ when they arrive 3 hours late for their flight, as if Scotland’s across the Atlantic Ocean)

    I must be honest. I normally fly when I go to Aberdeen or Inverness (from Manchester) these days, unless I can get a booking on the Sleeper – ANYTHING to avoid travelling with the constant underfloor drone for hours on end on the Voyagers / Sprinters / etc.!)

  • Peter Hooper
  • RapidAssistant

    Following on from Ian’s point – yes its true that probably the majority of Scotland-Heathrow passengers are transiting, but equally look at how much the market has opened up due to “low-cost” flights – before Ryanair/easyJet came along there was only BA out of Heathrow/Gatwick/City and British Midland out of Heathrow. In addition to those flights now we have a plethora of choice out of Stansted and Luton. So that suggests there must be a lot, lot more people travelling, so it makes it impossible to make a valid comparison to BR days on the rail/air balance.

    Yes it is true perhaps BA has cut the number of Scotland-Heathrow shuttles significantly to try and stem losses its making on domestic flights, and the company probably looks upon them more as a neccesary evil these days merely to feed its (profitable) international network – and selling the spare capacity close to cost to make up the numbers…..but as I say fair comparisons are different these days due to the change in travel patterns since British Rail’s demise.

    I still get raised eyebrows from people when I say “I’m taking the train to London (from Glasgow)” – and they respond “aren’t you flying??” – as though it is as routine as taking a bus…..15-16 years ago that simply wouldn’t have been the case – a domestic flight in those days would have started at three-figure money, never mind turning up on the day and buying a ticket!

  • RapidAssistant

    @Peter – on IEP – totally agree with the scrapping of the project, and all this guff about ‘saving jobs in the North’ – for what is basically going to be a final assembly operation with parts from Japan being screwed together by British workers who will be dumped as soon as the project is finished.

    What annoys me about the whole IEP debacle is that here we go again with more reinventing of the wheel – the industry has already spent the last decade ironing out teething problems with new designs such as the Pendolino, Voyager, Deriso, Coradia etc etc – compared to BR days when every new class of locomotive, coach or multiple unit built on what was already learned with its predecessor(s).

    Nigel Harris’ point in a recent RAIL editorial was maybe offbeat, but the logic was there – build a new fleet of HST coaches with only basic modifications to bring them up to modern standards. After all, people have been talking about re-bogeying the ones from the Ireland that have recently been retired.

    And HS2 supporters take note – everyone thusfar has mostly been talking about the line itself, not the trains which will run on it. Common sense would dictate that the design would be based around what has been learned with the Class 373 given that it is essentially a TGV adapted for the British loading gauge – assuming that HS2 had to connect onto the classic lines (which seems likely). Otherwise there are plenty of off-the-peg designs which could be used.

    But, in the unlikely event that HS2 happens, expect a similar shambles that we’ve seen already on IEP.

  • Dan

    Very good thread this – some quality discussion

    Just on a few points: re border controls and tunnel security – this must surely have been sorted out with the ‘North of London’ Eurostars – the ones that were shorter in length to fit ECML and WCML platforms and ended up being hired to GNER for White Roses services (and indeed for the regional sleepers that ended up sold to Via Rail Canada). I recall reading SNCF now use these regional Eurostars on domestic services. OK the plan was probably hatched in the security climate post IRA but pre 9/11 – but there was never any suggestion we’d be part of a schengen style border control. Railways must have had a plan to deal with this then?

    Rapid’s point on short haul budget flights – yes – you price it right and create the market it seems – I assume the whole weekend euro city break holiday (or stag weekend) market was created by these flights, really. It would probably be amarket many of these cities could do without really (esp the stag parts of it) – not sure how the recession effects it – but HS rail, priced right, could create similar markets I have no doubt. No one (apart from business execs) would have ever thought about flying UK regions / scotland / London back in the 70s and 80s would they – as Rapid says.

    Haven’t Eurostar just said they will be ordering more sets – presume this is to the UK loading gauge and they are coming off the peg?

    Irish Mk 3s: surely inthe current financial climate it is pretty crazy NOT to buy these and put them through total refurb. You’d then buy yourself at least 15 years time with them, and no doubt a few Class 67s are about to haul them. Can anyone outline why one would not do this?

  • Peter Hooper
  • Peter Davidson

    I’ve been thinking about the Schengen issue , Britain’s non-participation and the impact it could have on the development of HSR across Europe and specifically how this cleavage will affect HSR services to and from the UK.

    In term of services entering the UK, there are presently only two regular HSR links operating across the UK border. Paris Gard du Nord to St. Pancras and Bruxelles Midi to St.Pancras – with a single intermediate stop on both of these services; Lille Europe.

    When you board the current services at any entry point, Bruxelles Midi, Lille Europe or Paris Gard du Nord, you have to pass through significant physical barriers, including immigration and security checks (the security element piggy backs on the mandatory immigration aspect).

    Therefore at present, there is negligible intermediary traffic, ie. I’d have thought there were virtually zero passengers boarding at either Bruxelles Midi or Paris Gard du Nord disembarking at Lille Europe, ie. still within the Schengen Free Movement Area. So the potentially negative nature of physical border controls has, at present, exerted virtually no commercial pressure on the current regular Eurostar service?

    Now consider the situation ten or twenty years from now.

    Less than a week from now the ICE3 train referred to above by @Peter Hooper will complete its test run from Frankfurt to London. If the service does eventually begin, two or three years from now, the routing in terms of station calls will almost certainly be as follows:

    Frankfurt Hbf
    Frankfurt Flughafen Hbf
    Köln Hbf
    Bruxelles Midi
    Lille Europe
    Stratford International
    London St Pancras

    So five intermediate stops still within the Schengen zone for rail travellers to embark/disembark?

    This development, which will of course increase exponentially as the HSR network increases its spread, opens up a potential conflict between the UK requirement to maintain border integrity, obliged by its non-participation in Schengen, and commercial pressures – are passengers boarding at Frankfurt and getting off at Köln, Liège, Bruxelles or Lille really going to put up with negotiating fortress like perimeters in place simply to maintain Britain’s physical borders – somehow I think pressure will begin to mount for a different way of tackling this issue and that necessarily opens up potential pressure on Britain remaining outside Schengen?

    Does anyone know how Eurostar manage the border issue when they operate the Saturday summer service direct between Avignon and St. Pancras – this might give a clue to how this vexed issue will be approached?

  • David

    In message 37, Dan asked about arrangements made for North of London Eurostars; I’ve covered some of this in message 23 (third paragraph). I don’t know if anyone can add anything more.

    Regarding Peter Davidson’s comment regarding passengers traveling between Bruxelles and Lille (message 39); whenever I’ve traveled by Eurostar to/from Bruxelles, there have always been some passengers going from Lille to Bruxelles, or else returning. On the outward journey, there is an open platform at Lille, and passengers just get-on in the same way as they would board any other TGV; however, for the return journey, they pass through the same security/passport checks as passengers for the UK. Moreover, Eurostars have in the past carried passengers between Paris and Calais Fretun (not sure they still do); they also went through security/passport checks at Paris Nord – even though they weren’t leaving France!

    This isn’t really a problem, for French nationals (and visitors to France) are required to carry identification with them at all times whilst in France; for the French, it’s an identity card, for visitors, a passport. Consequently, any French national traveling from Paris to Calais by Eurostar would have their identity card with them, and any Belgian (or a person of any other nationality traveling from Bruxelles to Lille) would have their passport with them.

    I don’t know if you know, but there aren’t any passport checks when you leave a Eurostar in Bruxelles; Schengen rules apply, and the French passport check at St Pancras is adequate as you’ve entered Belgium via France.

    I traveled to Italy by rail in summer, 2006, taking the through TGV from Paris to Milano (an back by the same route). The mid-afternoon train to Milano was shown on the destination board at Paris Lyon as two trains, each with its own identification number; the second train only went as far as Chambery. At the platform, there was a standard TGV-R nearest the buffer stop (the Chambery train), and coupled in front was a three-voltage TGV-R for Milano. There was a line of French border police across the platform between the two sets, and they checked the tickets and passports/identity cards of everyone boarding the TGV going through to Milano; and this included those only going as far as Modane – which, of course, is in France! On the way back, entry to the TGV’s platform at Milano was blocked by Italian police, and they also checked all passports and tickets – and this train runs as an Italian domestic service through Torino to the French border!

    I haven’t been to Switzerland by rail for about eight years, and passport checks were the norm when crossing to/from France at that time; it was carried out on the train on the Paris Lyon – Bern – Zurich service, but there were separate platforms for French trains at Geneve and Basel, each entered through passport checks. Moreover, there was also a customs check on the Paris – Zurich train; in some instances, passengers were required to open their luggage, and some passengers must have upset the Swiss border agency staff for they escorted them off the train at its first stop in Switzerland!

    These are some of my recent experiences; obviously, border controls aren’t dead – even in the Schengen area. I’m sure these can easily be transferred to services through the Channel Tunnel to cover passport and custom checks (the latter could even be done at St Pancras, I guess, on trains coming into the UK), but security is the problem; at Bruxelles at present, Eurostars use what is effectively a separate station at Midi – there’s even a gate across the tracks at the end of the platforms! – and some changes will be necessary to accommodate ICEs traveling from Germany to the UK (the same Schengen rules as apply to Eurostars would cover ICEs going the other way). But for the other stations suggested by Peter Davidson, some changes would be necessary if the existing security rules continue to apply, and I guess these could be similar to those at Lille (a separate check-in/waiting area/border check and temporary screens closing-off the platform being used by a UK-bound Eurostar); domestic and international passengers from Lille eastwards would be handled as now, and those traveling westwards as far as Lille would be handled as are Eurostar’s Bruxelles – Lille passengers.

    So processes already exist for passengers which could be rolled-out through Europe if ever trains regularly go beyond Bruxelles or Paris; now all we need are some suitable trains!

  • Christian Wolmar

    I agree Dan, best thread on the site so far. Fascinating and lots of information, thanks to all of you. I am off to the Chiltern Society annual general meeting tomorrow to talk about HS2. Obviously, they are very anti, but I think it is more than Nimbyism. Will report back.

  • Rhydgaled

    @Peter Hooper:

    3. Yes Birmingham has no flights to Heathrow. However Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh etc have many (about 50,00 / year), all of which could be replaced by HSR. Infact the only unsuitable area in the UK is Northern Ireland for obvious reasons.
    The problem is the HighSpeed line is only going as far as Birmingham, unless a very large sum of money can be found to build HS lines very quickly it will be some time before those flights can be competed with by HSR. 250mph is too fast a target speed, considering how much power trains at that speed use. A 202mph line from London to Manchester via Birmingham using 202mph (INTERCITY 325) trains (looking exactly like the Eurostars) would probablly do. However, unless a 125/140mph line that doesn’t require tilt is built to Scotland from the end of the HighSpeed line in Manchester through services might not be fast enough. As for Leeds, I think a better idea might be to build a 140mph link from the already 140mph ECML to Leeds, then across to Preston, and another such link from Liverpool to York via Manchester and Leeds.

    Another problem is that if greenhouse gas emmsions don’t start falling very soon we (and much of the rest of life on Earth) could well be doomed by the time HighSpeed 2 is open anyway (we probally won’t be extinct yet, but it’ll be too late to save ourselves).

  • Rhydgaled

    As for the route of HighSpeed 2 (which I don’t support at all unless it goes far enough to take out that London – Scotland domestic air travel), the idea of using much more of the existing Great Central route sounds much better to me than an all new route. However, can additional tracks (and platforms) be laid between High Wycombe and London, and between Rugby and Birmingham, to avoid these constraining overall capacity?

    As for the Heathrow connection argument, the other route which sees high levels of domestic air travel is from Plymouth (and south west thereof). My idea would make the London station a through station, north for Manchester and Scotland, south for Heathrow (running roughly parrel to the GWML). The line could then (much later, if we manage to save life on Earth) be extended west from Heathrow to Plymouth.

    Overall, my opinion is electrification (and some upgrades to 140mph), green electricity generation (wind, hydro, solar, tidal, wave etc. (not nucular, that’s not renewable)) and re-opening classic lines to give more pepole the choice of traveling by rail are much more important than any new HighSpeed line is.

  • Peter Davidson


    You seem to have missed the point (and you’ll not be the first or last either, sadly)

    So I’ll repeat it again one more time – HS2 is just one small piece in a much larger jigsaw

    You’re looking at High Speed Rail in a compartmentalised, entirely domestic perspective – High Speed Rail is NOT a domestic project – perceived in that fashion there is no point in truly High Speed Rail beyond London. We (the rest of the UK) might as well secede from London/SE England right now!

    Second, building the lines to allow for 400km/h maximum speeds is essentially a means of future proofing the infrastructure – advances in technology will enable greater speeds for the same/lesser energy input but technology alone cannot buck the laws of physics, which demand a maximum curvature of line to allow 400km/h – in practical terms, when HS2 begins service the trains will not run at 400km/h (probably 320km/h – see recent Eurostar Siemens train set order) but future generations almost certainly will!

    Financial constraints alone preclude the big bang strategy you’ll (grudgingly?) accept as justification for current HS2 strategy. Extending High Speed Rail can only be approached incrementally. We can’t eat the elephant all at once!

    The first section of HS2 will actually reach as far as Lichfield before rejoining the classic network. This will allow a hybrid train set to begin running an High Speed link running 75% on true high speed lines from day one of HS2 entering service. This will mean (if the planners have the vision) a direct High Speed service from Manchester (or even Liverpool and Leeds/Nottingham) to Paris/Brussels, calling at Lille Europe. That connectivity will link the populations of most of NW.England, Yorkshire and the East Midlands, together with the West Midlands (via Birmingham) into the burgeoning pan-European High Speed revolution.

    From up here (in Manchester) that outcome looks like a good deal so let’s get on with it! – the piecemeal array of investments you list won’t achieve the desired connectivity so they fall well short of what’s required

  • Michael Weinberg

    Have just returned from a visit to Switzerland. Route was a bit circuitous due to French strikes.
    Usual passport control at St. Pancras. Nothing at Brussells. Then Brussells to Luxembourg, Luxembourg to Koblenz, Koblenz to Zurich via Basel, with no checks whatsoever!
    Returning from Chur to Cologne, no checks at all. Then Cologne to Brussells with usual passport control before Eurostar to London.

  • No matter what the arguments or the politics, be in no doubt this line must be built. It is not just about attracting air passengers as Mr Wolmar suggests, it is about adding capacity to our current system where we have virtually run out!

    This is the 21st century; 186mph is standard for intercity travel in several countries and these routes provide far superior technology to that employed on conventional rail routes. This argument shouldn’t be anything of the sort. The Victorians didn’t ask if they needed a railway when they’d been invented, they knew it was essential for increased economic activity and did it. The equivalent now is rebuilding/adding to our network with faster, better railways. These high speed routes will not be seen as special projects even 20 years from now – just standard railways far superior to the first generation of railways in the 19th and 20th century.

    For heavens sake let’s get on and build them, bringing our cities and jobs even closer together and with it better economic and social advantages. High speed should mean Intercity, it should be standard and the idea that it takes 4 1/2 hours to go nearly 400 miles from London to the Scottish Central Belt in the 21st century is ridiculous, the quality of the track and ride has gotten worse with all the recent investment too, not better. So bring it on asap!

  • Dan

    Yes, this (not very expertly written I admit) article shows what it is all about:

  • David

    DB are handing out leaflets today at St Pancras as part of their ICE3 presentation.

    In summary, they are proposing to operate services from 2013 using their new class 407 ICEs. There will be three services a day (according to the DB leaflet in the morning, at midday, and in the evening), and each will be formed of two sets running between London and Brussels; at Brussels, they will split/join, one set serving Cologne and Frankfurt, the other serving Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Maximum speed is shown as 320kph, and travel times from London are shown as three hours to Rotterdam, four to Cologne and Amsterdam, and five hours to Frankfurt.

    Regarding fares, DB states that advance purchase fares between London and Cologne currently start from 49 Euros; I must admit I wasn’t aware of such a fare, which I believe is less than the cheapest Eurostar fare to Brussels (or Paris).

  • Peter Davidson

    Today’s events at St. Pancras demonstrate some valuable pointers to the potential future offered by High Speed Rail:
    • That connectivity is pivotal in determining commercial viability
    • New service offerings will emerge as a direct consequence of network availability (the flip side of that rule is No Network = No Service!)
    • The four hour journey time threshold for rail vs. air is an industry myth
    • Technology will advance, offering increased customer experience, reliability, safety, performance, etc.
    • Competition will improve value for money so comparisons with domestic fare structures are invalid
    and finally of course
    • There will be winners and losers in the HSR revolution – with some European regions excluded due to their lack of connectivity to the burgeoning network – I don’t want my region (NW.England) to be amongst the have nots!

  • Dan

    David – I think the fare details are here