Rail 661: HS2 is an uncertain bet

Futurology is a dodgy business, but there is no better time than the beginning of a New Year to try a bit of crystal ball gazing on a rather longer time scale than Mystic Wolmar’s usual efforts. The announcement of the route for High Speed 2 raises the question of what the railway might look like in 20 or 30 years time and clearly the answer depends very much on whether the line is built or not.

How things change in rail policy. Even those with less than elephantine memories will recall that as recently as 2007 a strategy paper looking at the railway 30 years ahead, Delivering a sustainable railway, ruled out a new high speed line on the grounds that ‘it would not be prudent to invest today to address capacity issues that are unlikely to materialise until two decades hence, and may not materialise at all’. It went on to say that ‘just as future growth rates are uncertain, so is the way in which people will use rail.  In future, where people have double today’s income and half today’s carbon footprint, behaviour patterns may change significantly’.

I cite this not to suggest that the Strategy Paper was necessarily correct, but merely to show that predictions are, by their very nature, insubstantial and liable to change. Within a year of the publication of that report, a rethink was already underway with the arrival of Lord Adonis in the Department for Transport and, as we all now know, the Labour Party reversed its policy and decided to strongly support the construction of HS2.

Despite its limitations, a bit of futurology will be handy at this vital time for the railways. A reader who supports the construction of HS2, David Reed, suggests there are three possible scenarios to the shape of the railways in 2030. In the first, the high speed network is abandoned, but demand for domestic travel has continued to grow and the trains are becoming hopelessly overcrowded. Moreover, as he puts  it, ‘A number of expensive and disruptive palliatives have not proved sufficient ( as with the West Coast upgrade) and we still need to build a high speed railway.’ He goes on: ‘There has been a resurgence of domestic air travel and much demand for additional runways. Because train is such a hassle and no faster than today, most leisure journeys are still by car, and the motorways are clogged with freight, leading to constant demands from the motorway lobby to build more. The Daily Mail is full of stories about clogged up Britain, how hopeless we are compared to Europe….

Under scenario two  the line to Birmingham is complete and work is underway on the extensions to Manchester and Leeds. He suggests that the line has proved extremely popular and so fast that ‘so fast that most motorists choose to use it rather than drive’. He suggests that domestic air journeys would become unthinkable and ‘the connectivity between our major centres has boosted the economy so that revenue flows back to the Government through all forms of personal and company tax’. Moreover, on the classic network the extra capacity ‘has enabled substantial improvements in commuter, intermediate and freight traffic’

Or, Mr Reed suggests, there is the third scenario that appears to be the basis of my opposition which is that ‘the high speed network has proved to be an expensive white elephant with usage far below predicted’.

Which of these is the most likely? Or, what has made the Department for Transport change from its view that rather than demand being impossible to predict, it is now convinced that unless a line is built, we would get Mr Reed’s first scenario. I am, as regular readers know, deeply sceptical of the whole business case methodology which, as another contributor, RapidAssistant, to my website put it, ‘The crux of it is that the economic arguments both for and against HS2 aren’t worth the paper they are printed on and can be manipulated to say whatever you want…..the maths are so complex and the assumptions are so ambiguous that whatever number drops out at the bottom is likely to be meaningless’.

There are a couple of general points to make.  First, the roads and airports will continue to be clogged, whatever happens with HS2. The HS2 report, produced by HS2 Ltd for the government, suggests that traffic on the M1 will only be reduced by 2 per cent with the line’s construction. Moreover, there will be virtually no impact on domestic air travel since HS2 does not cover any busy routes. Secondly, the HS2 case is based on heroic demand assumptions, which are very unlikely to be realised.

That gets to the core of my argument. The business case is really just so much mumbo-jumbo and is so dependent on forecasts of demand as to be meaningless. For example, the HS2 report admitted that if there were just a 20 per cent shortfall in their forecast numbers, the benefit cost ratio is reduced from 2.4 to below 1.5, not enough to be given the go-ahead.

So, let’s just forget the business case and see what’s left. Here, somewhat randomly, are half a dozen arguments in favour of the ‘overcrowded’ scenario: :

1. Continued economic growth

2. More demand for rail travel as incomes growth

3. Need for capacity for freight and commuter services

4. Population growth requires extra rail capacity

5. The line is essential to help the regeneration of the North

6. The line would attract people out of their cars

And here’s a few possible arguments against:

1. Transport will become more expensive in future years, damping down demand,

2. New technology, such as teleconferencing, will further reduce transport use

3. Environmental pressures, notably to reduce carbon, will become much more important factors in determining government policy.

4. Rail technology – moving block signalling for example – could greatly increase capacity on existing railways.

5. Cars will become ‘greener’ reducing the environmental advantages of rail.

6. Pressure on government spending will result in delays and possibly cancellation.

7. The usual cost overruns on megaprojects will make HS2 unaffordable.

8. Transport demand overall has increased only at the rate of population growth in recent years rather than, as in the past, faster than the rate of income growth.

9. HS2 would not help large swathes of rail travellers, such as users of the Great Western and London commuters.

My snapshot of the network in 2030 without HS2 is that it will be full of modern trains, travelling faster than those of today and the quadrupling or sextupling of sections of track to relieve capacity, along with measures such as longer trains, a better second to first class ratio and improved technology to increase the number of train paths. Secondary routes will be upgraded and large swathes of the network will be electrified. Overall transport demand will be damped down by cost and new technology. Cars will, indeed, be much greener.

OK, that is not as exciting as a new line and my bit of futurology might be wrong, but so could the counter arguments. The point is, and I have said this before, the case for HS2 is not based on a solid business model, but rather on the desire to have a prestige line to match those in Europe. The case has weak foundations based more on emotion than rational argument and carries with it enormous risk, not just the third scenario above but also the fact that so much rail investment would be sucked away from the existing network. You do not have to be anti-rail, as many of my critics have suggested, to oppose HS2 and there are a surprisingly large number of people within the industry who privately are deeply sceptical of the plan.

Mystic Wolmar’s half dozen for 2011

Okay, Mystic has been accused of playing too safe in recent years, so here’s a few to stick my neck out:

1. Network Rail will not survive in its current form, but proposals will be put forward to break its monopoly, though these will not materialise until 2012 at the earliest.

2. There will be growing dissent over the HS2 and some ministers will resign over the issue

3. The Libdems will suffer huge losses at the May local elections, as well as losing the poll on electoral reform and will withdraw from the formal coalition, instead supporting the government on a case by case basis possibly under a new leader.

4. Philip Hammond will have gone on to other – in his view better – things.

5. I hate to suggest this, and hope I am wrong, but some sloppiness seems to be creeping into the industry on the basis of complacency, and I suspect that the long run of years in which no passengers have been killed in rail-caused accidents will come to an end.

6. The old Eurostar platforms at Waterloo will still not find a railway use.

Oh, and one just for me, QPR will be promoted as champions.

  • Maarten Otto

    Let private investors cover the project in return for a 50 to 100 year franchise.

    If it works for the Chiltern mainline I see no reason why it shouldn’t work for a High Speed company.

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  • Me

    Whilst cars will undoubtedly become greener, it will be the price of fuel which will restrict car growth and indeed there might even be a reduction in car numbers by 2030. The problem here is the global oil market and the fact that india and china will grab their shares and some of ours too!

    On the other hand, HS2’s main benefit in my opinion is the opprtunity to get to the continent seamlessly from say Manchester or Leeds. The journey time reduction between London and Birmingham is pretty small and the only people who might really benefit are executives and only a bit.

    One scenario would be to run longer, slower, more capacious trains overnight via alternative routes such as the Settle Carlisle. Not everybody wants to travel at the speed of light (who would want to rush to Birmingham?) and a more sedate, low cost, overnight journey offering might tempt the price conscious.

  • Raif

    By cars becoming ‘greener’, do you mean simply lower carbon? Green (or more broadly sustainable) should mean a lot more than just low carbon, such as impact on the natural environment.

    Cars, whatever they are powered by, need a lot more land to transport people than trains. Car-based development needs a lot more space than Transit Oriented Development, particularly now the Govt has abolished national car parking standards in planning policy. Failing to secure modal shift to rail will mean green fields and good farmland being concreted and tarmacked over.

    Given the pressure on land in England, it’s surprising how unknown the Smart Growth agenda is here that is driving HSR in the USA.

  • Dan

    Strip away all the business case arguments about economic growth potential, regeneration opportunities etc etc and HS2 is about planning a transport system which by 2030 will offer the capacity many rail passengers and motorists would dearly welcome today. Will it be the capacity we need in 20 years’ time – that’s open to debate and no-one today can give the answer with certainty. However I don’t believe for a moment that better videoconferencing technology is going to significantly reduce our desire to travel.

    I think your argument fails to recognise that HS2 has – rightly or wrongly – emerged as more than a transport scheme. By that I mean it has cross-party support, the support of the prime minister and Treasury and access to funding beyond that which is available for general transport spending. That marks it out as a rare opportunity to secure a significant investment in Britain’s railways.

    What we should be clear about is that if HS2 doesn’t happen it does not follow that an alternative scheme(s) will go ahead. Yes we could quadruple/sextuple existing track instead but based on how much of that has been achieved during the past decade – even with record rail budgets – I don’t hold out much hope that it will prove possible to deliver a step change in network capcity this way within the same timescale as HS2.

  • Guzzibasher

    Ultimately, the Government only has one pot of money, whichever way you slice it, and it will always difficult to say which slice money spent on HS2 has come from. However, the wider railway is already suffering stealth cuts with the abolition of the successful Freight Facilities Grant, a mere £8m compared with the HS2 billions. Ironic when you consider that one of the arguments for HS2 is to allow room for more freight!

  • Chris Packham

    There are plenty of excellent transport schemes with very good business cases but at risk of being sidelined by HS2. The Manchester hub will allow more regional trains throughout northern England. Great Western, Midland Mainline, Transpennine and Cross country electrification would do much to transform the capacity, speed and environmental performance of the busiest unmodernised sections of the railway over the next 20 years. People in places like Portishead have congested car commutes to Bristol or slow, expensive buses. A paltry £30m or so would reopen the railway and transform their daily lives. A report today from the Cardiff Business Partnership outlines a transformed South Wales rail network to help the Welsh economy. Let’s have an Exeter-Newton Abbott cut-off to give Plymouth and Cornwall good journey times to the rest of the country and stop wasting money maintaining the coastal route (yes, shame, but maybe hard decisions needed there). Guzzibasher’s point about freight grants is very relevant-it’s pathetic that small sums of money which make a difference to reducing road freight are being cut while we plan billions for HS2. More sad and damaging cuts are coming to rural buses, which are getting little attention at the moment, but this year people in large villages and small towns will be left with no public transport after 6pm or from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning. Go to the country and look at the old cars people spend much of their modest incomes running. Public transport should help people manage without, or with one rather than two cars. Tourist areas like the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors may have no buses on Sundays and Bank Holidays. No good having a good rail service to get you there for a weekend break if you can’t get beyond the rail station. We need to plan and invest for a public transport network that joins up buses and trains, connecting everywhere with a population of, say, 2000+, on a single-ticket connected journey. This would really help mobility, the environment and the economy.

  • Peter Hooper

    Pity CW did not mention “Delivering a sustainable railway” was in large part based on the 2006 Eddington Transport Study which recommended road pricing for cars, expansion of airports and only limited improvements for railways; of course Eddington was better known as the CEO of British Airways from 2000 until 2005.

    Though that said and done, some of the improvements to rail bottlenecks are already underway and bringing important improvments to both passenger and freight capacity. This process should clearly continue, even if HS2 is to go ahead; also the electrification proposals designed to reduce CO2 emissions.

    As for the title of this article “HS2 is an uncertain bet”, perhaps we should wait for the outcome of the HS2 public consultation due to start this month (February) to see what the general public think.
    We’ve all read what the objectors, cynics and doubters have had to say, and most of them would not have allowed a public consultation to even take place.
    I’m not sure that the public will put up being treated worse than cattle, for much longer.

  • Isambard Brunel

    Well at least now Christian Wolmar is giving talks for anti-HS2 groups, we can be clear about where his allegiances lie, and get an insight into the editorial bias implicit in this article.
    Lets examine the flaws in Womar’s arguments against HS2 point by point:

    1. Transport will become more expensive in future years, damping down demand,
    GIven that oil prices will rise more than other energy sources like coal, gas and renewables, that will make rail travel more competitive against cars going forward.

    2. New technology, such as teleconferencing, will further reduce transport use.
    As a project manager, I can say that webconferencing is by now well accepted in the business community but will never completely replace the building of trust through face to face meetings. In the period when we have likely seen the steepest growth in web conferencing, we have also seen the highest rail use since the war.

    3. Environmental pressures, notably to reduce carbon, will become much more important factors in determining government policy.
    Which will favour electric trains – more efficienct than battery or hydrogen cars

    4. Rail technology – moving block signalling for example – could greatly increase capacity on existing railways.
    If you look at the experience of retrofitting even a limited stock of 158s with in cab signalling for the Cambrian line ERTMS trial, it’s clear that large scale retro fit of in cab signalling isnt economically viable. This will only come with new stock. Then look at how long stock operates before replacement (a la HSTs)…So it will be a very long transition to ERTMS / in cab signalling, but yes it will assist capacity in the very long term.

    5. Cars will become ‘greener’ reducing the environmental advantages of rail.
    Speaking as an electircal engineer, I would say greener cars are a policy get out fo jail card that dont actually save as much C)2 as many people think. Where will all the Lithium come from to equip the whole of uk with electrics/hybrids. Electric trains will always be more efficient than electric cars, as there are no storage losses & you dont have the weight of batteries to carry arouund, also overhead lines at 25kV reduce ohmic cables losses. Hydrogen has very poor efficiency if you look at the complete cycle. ( I could go on…)

    6. Pressure on government spending will result in delays and possibly cancellation.
    Yes there might be delays, if cash is tighter than expected during the project. However, there is no precedent I can think of in recent times for the UK government cancelling major infrastructure projects once construction work has started on site.

    7. The usual cost overruns on megaprojects will make HS2 unaffordable.
    In fact HS1 was finished on time and on -budget in sharp contrast to the sort of piecemeal upgrades Wolmar proposes, you only have to look at the disaster that was the WCML upgrade. The unaffordable argument overlooks the fact that HS2 will of course increase the competitiveness of the North-South rail market, the HS2 franchisee will have to sell tickets competitively or they wont be in business for long. If you believe what the Anti HS2 campaigners say about ticket pricing, HS2 will be a sort of high speed Orient Express catering only for the rich, with 18 car trains holding up to 1000 people nothing could be further from the truth.

    8. Transport demand overall has increased only at the rate of population growth in recent years rather than, as in the past, faster than the rate of income growth.
    Has UK population really doubled in the past 15 years ( like the numbers of rail journeys per year?) I find that very hard to believe?

    9. HS2 would not help large swathes of rail travellers, such as users of the Great Western and London commuters.
    Not true, HS2 will relieve overcrowding initially on the WCML/Chiltern corridor and with Phase 2 the EMML, which will benefit commuters on those lines. Of course HS2 isn’t all things to all people, but neither is any rail project. But starting a high capacity & high speed backbone to our rail network initially between our 2 largest cities, makes very good sense in terms of creating significant additional capacity along the busiest corridor.

  • Wonderful details! I have been looking for something such as this for some time now. Thanks for the tips!

  • JG

    We should look not to the French or Spanish model but the German model of relatively limited new stretches of new lines (Neubaustrecke) at strategic points linking existing infrastructure upgraded to the highest quality.

  • Simon

    As far as I can tell, HS2 will only benefit people living in Birmingham who want to get to London (or the other way around). Birmingham is not in the North.

    There is no connection from HS2 to HS1, is there? You won’t be able to take a direct train from Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds to Paris. In fact, I would say that it would still be quicker to take an East Coast service from Leeds or even Edinburgh to Kings Cross, and hop onto the Eurostar next door.

    I can get to Birmingham fast, or Euston fast. But then what? HS2 doesn’t link up with anything.

  • Well originally there was to be no HS2/1 connection but the Coalition govt have said they would there to be one provided it can be built at reasonable cost. The idea, once the first section to Birmingham is built, is for trains to go into Curzon Street, the Birmingham high speed station but other trains will call at the Interchange station near International and then continue on conventional lines which they will rejoin north at Lichfield. It is all on the map provided in the HS2 document. But of course no precise pattern/timetable has been worked out.
    In response to Isambard above, on point eight I wrote that overall transport demand, of which rail has only a small partg, has gone up by the rate of population growth. I havent got time to addresds all the points, but on point one, the trains will be run on electricity which has to be generated and all types of electricity looks as if they are becoming more expensive – so all transport will become dearer.

  • Simon

    The plans for the proposed link between HS1 and HS2 are even less developed than the plans for HS2 themselves. As I understand it, there’s a theoretical possibility of a single track bi-directional line over the North London line route. Even if that does happen, it hardly befits the status of an international high-speed railway.

    re: Interchange station near Birmingham International. I would guess that very few trains will stop there – for all the same reasons that very few Virgin Trains stop at Watford Junction.

    If you’re going to do a job, do it properly – and HS2 just doesn’t feel proper. I don’t understand the route. Surely Stratford International should be the “Gateway to the North”.

  • RapidAssistant

    On the energy point – Isambard’s point #1:

    Renewables such as wind/wave/hydro etc only make up a small percentage of the total power generation of this country – it will never become a majority provider. Nuclear is also wrongly painted as a “renewable” – not so as there is only a finite amount of fissile material in the earth’s crust. Uranium etc also has to be mined which in turn requires energy to extract and process. Currently this mining is done using fossil fuel-powered energy sources…so you get stuck in a chicken and egg situation – long before you get to the thorny issue on how you dispose of the waste materials……

    Fusion Power?? Remember the film Back To The Future II that predicted that by 2015 every house would have a domestic fusion generator. Well four years to go folks and it ain’t looking like it’s going to happen. Mind you said film also predicted that we’d have flying cars and trainers with power-operated laces. The only thing it got right was that we’d have big widescreen TV’s hanging on our walls.

    OK – that was just a film, but history HAS shown that predictions over where technology will go in the next couple of decades have been wildly optimistic in a lot of cases..using these as a case for building a high speed railway is equally dangerous.

  • T33

    HS2 will only benefit very few people for an extremely high cost. Both in financial and green costs.

    Longer distance services unlike their commuter equivalents can easily add additional coaches to the trains. London – Birmingham with its relatively few stops could extend the Pendolino’s from 11 to 16 or 20 coaches – similar to the Eurostars. This would only really need the addition of Platforms lengths at Euston and key stops north. With the existing frequency of trains this would absorb the majority of the excess capacity without needing new lines.

    However the overcrowding of commuter services into our city centres are a much more significant problem and need to be resolved urgently – I do not just mean London but include Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow etc. This is a much more urgent and significant threat to our economy than saving 40 minutes on the journey to Birmingham/Manchester etc.

    Workers are being forced into longer and longer commutes in more and more overcrowded trains and thus the effectiveness of these workers in the world marketplace is falling. It also encourages companies to move to cities around the world who have sorted out the commuting problem much better than us as their managers do not want to spend their lives in our overcrowded commuter system.

    Commuters are the lifeblood of our economy not the long distance travellers. We need to make sure our Rail services support these regular travellers better and ensure fast and comfortable services.

  • Isambard Brunel

    Christian, sorry I have to disagree re Energy costs. The different energy sources have very different pressures on price, so it isnt true to say all will inflate at the same rate. Energy from renewables is generally getting cheaper per kWh as technologies develop and generators get larger, also because they aren’t exploited anywhere near to resource limitations as say Oil. The rate of oil production will peak long before Gas and Coal. Nuclear continues to be the most expensive source of electricity, due to extremely strict health & safety and huge decommissioning costs. The upshot of all this is that going forwards renewables are becoming more competitive with fossil fuels. Basically electricity will inflate less than liquid/gas/solid fuels. So unless the shift to electric cars is a lot faster than it is at present, then electric trains will become more competitive with cars. Also because the fuel makes up a bigger proportion of cost per mile for cars than for trains, where a significant proportion is the labour cost. So new electric train lines in addition to electrification of existing lines makes sense in terms of economics, energy security and environmental impact.

  • Peter Davidson

    I agree with the bit about QPR in the Premier League next year but the rest look rather dubious?

    Must admit to some confusion regarding point 3, which does of course have a bearing on HS2 because it can only go forward with political support. Yes the LibDems will lose seats in May but what does “as well as losing the poll on electoral reform” actually mean?

    The Alternative Vote is not official LibDem policy so it’s not really a case of the LibDems losing anything. What the referendum actually does is to provide an opportunity, for the electorate, to get rid of First Past the Post, providing all voters (supporting any particular party) with more choice in the privacy of the polling booth. Not sure about Mr. Wolmar but I’d have thought that was a positive outcome – for example even if you want to punish the LibDems for their alleged duplicity (in sharing power with the devil, AKA the Conservative Party), with AV you’ll have more opportunity to do just that come 2015.

    The LibDems have absolutely no interest in collapsing the Coalition arrangement early because their only credible strategy is to ride out the current economic storm, hope for better times round the corner and a return to some degree of favour with the public – whether that plan will work out, only time will tell but an early election is definitely not in their interests so highly unlikely to come to fruition – perhaps Mr.Wolmar’s powers of prediction on the rail front are equally suspect?

  • Peter Hooper

    Rather than believe some of the posts to this article about the allegedly high cost of fission nuclear power, it may be sensible for people to read up for themselves on the some of the published literature from UK independent authoritative sources.

    In terms of the comparative costs involved with different types of electricity generation, The Royal Academy of Engineering have published :-


    and The Institution of Engineering and Technology have a useful factfile covering the history, process and future developments involving nuclear decommissioning:-


    Having read these papers, I am satisfied that taking account of the costs involved with Carbon Capture and Storage for Coal / Gas power stations (or the payment of CO2 taxes) and the cost of stand-by generation for most renewables – then even taking into account decommissioning – the fact is that electricity generated by Nuclear power is one of the cheapest available NOT the most expensive.

  • Michael Weinberg

    “Longer distance services unlike their commuter equivalents can easily add additional coaches to the trains. London – Birmingham with its relatively few stops could extend the Pendolino’s from 11 to 16 or 20 coaches – similar to the Eurostars. This would only really need the addition of Platforms lengths at Euston and key stops north. With the existing frequency of trains this would absorb the majority of the excess capacity without needing new lines.”
    I’d love to see New Street adapted for 20 coach Pendolinos!

    “However the overcrowding of commuter services into our city centres are a much more significant problem and need to be resolved urgently,”

    Isn’t HS2 exactly the thing which is going to help commuters the most?
    Getting rid of the dreadful Pendolinos on the southern WCML will allow a much better commuter service into London.
    The same goes for Brum, and eventually, Manchester, Leeds tec.

  • Richard Crompton

    Fact is, the construction costs are more than the country can afford so the capital would have to come from private capital. However, who in their right mind would commit so much money on the uncertain prospectus of utilisation. For operations to produce enough revenue and operating profit just to pay the interest on the debt there would have to be a guarantee of massive public subsidy to the developers. Until the extensions to Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow etc. are complete the southern end of HS2 will simply not have the high utilisation that would remove the need for subsidy. So to reduce the need for subsidy extortionate fares result in poor passenger numbers on HS2 and the owners of the HS2 route repay the interest on their loans with public money. And even after completion, what will the loading of the HS2 be?
    An excellent lesson from history is HS1 that was recently sold for just 40% of its construction costs (£3000 million loss to the taxpayer). What percentage of its capacity is the current loading? 20% perhaps.
    Better to spend cash on Stafford bypass, four tracking between Welwyn GC & Stevenage and upgraded power supplies. That would be a wonderful poke in the eye for the ignorant civil servants who dictate technical policy and are probably pushing HS2 just because it keeps them in work.
    What was it that George Bush senior didn’t quite say? – “It’s the economics, stupid!”.

  • Rich

    In 50 or more years time, if the rest of the world has undergone a big shift to high speed rail transport (which looks extremely likely), then where does that leave us exactly? When I see the anti-HS2 opinions of Christian Wolmar et al, it all seems to be viewed through short-term spectacles. “No business case”, “it won’t benefit me” etc. If that attitude was prevailing during the early development of our railways that Mr Wolmar has written so much about, what state would we be in now? HS2 is about getting the UK in shape for future generations to compete economically, the same way the current railways we use were built by our ancestors 150 years ago, and we inherited, and have served the country so well. As far as I’m concerned it’s a complete dereliction of duty if we sit about moaning about the cost or listening to various selfish nimbys. After decades of under-investment in the railways we finally have some people who in power who are, to their credit, looking to the long-term prosperity of the country and our railways future, and what sayeth the great railway historian, who has documented their contribution to the country through the ages? “No, we need to patch up what we’ve got”.


  • Peter Hooper

    I see that Rail Professional had an article yesterday on GWR / MML electrification and IEP


  • Chris Packham

    @Rich you’re right that we have a great railway inheritance from the Victorians, which is one reason why perhaps we don’t need new high speed lines as much as other countries. Main lines were built direct to major cities rather than via every county town, helped by our easy geography unlike many countries where railways had to follow sinuous river valleys. Also, Britain is quite small, so most major cities are within 2 or 3 hours of each other, unlike France, Spain, Italy etc where high speed lines have been built to achieve this level of connectivity. We achieved 125mph intercity speeds with very little adaptation to the lines compared with what many countries have had to do. More should be done to speed up congested and slow bits. The big question about HS2 is about whether it’s essential to developing the railways to do what the country wants them to do. It’s not ‘short-termist’ to raise doubts about HS2’s business case and cost, and the ultimate ‘dereliction of duty’ would be to waste the current generous levels of rail investment on a scheme that isn’t needed, that would saddle future generations with more debt and operating subsidy obligations, reduce investment on the core network, and increase political and public opposition to rail investment generally.

  • Peter

    “Network Rail will not survive in its current form, but proposals will be put forward to break its monopoly, though these will not materialise until 2012 at the earliest.”

    Here’s to that. The sheer disfunctionality of this organisation is truly unbelievable.


    – Local Operations Managers who know next to nothing about signalling eg how can a 21 year old graduate with no signalling experience effectively manage a major signalling centre?
    – Complete failure to minimise and consolidate engineering possessions eg a 40 mile block with just two worksites
    – Waste of costly trained manpower eg Maintenance teams who sit around in their mess rooms early on a Sunday morning and wait until the train service is in full operation before they come out to work – result: work takes twice as long
    – Millions of pounds spent every year on a pointless annual staff satisfaction survey
    – Millions wasted on an absurdly expensive procurement system relying on “approved suppliers” that are always far more expensive than the going rate
    – Chaotic resignalling schemes that reduce operational flexibilty and are often never completed
    – Expensive publicity about safety combined with a failure to man critical locations adequately
    – Complete lack of effective liaison with train operators
    – Hugely expensive expensive centralised personnel and planning departments that make error after error
    – No effective cooperation between track engineering, signal technicians and operational management
    – No effective system of corporate governance or accountability
    – Large numbers of incompetent contractors allowed to roam about on the railway, often with a complete lack of knowledge of the area they are working in

    Its a toxic brew that is dragging our railways down.

  • Rich

    @Chris Packham. I don’t view HS2 purely in terms of shaving 20 minutes off times between UK cities, which is another tired old anti-HS2 argument. It’s about journeys between the UK and Europe. It’s about a shift to HSR across the world, decades from now. I’m rather more inclined to agree with the views of your namesake who posted on this blog:


  • Peter Davidson

    I might be wrong about this but assuming HS2 goes ahead, I can’t see the UK government of the day (of any particular complexion) letting Network Rail (or any successor) anywhere near it. HS1 isn’t managed/controlled by Network Rail and HS2 won’t be either!

    For me the single biggest flaw in the arguments advanced against HS2 (or the broader concept of rolling out HSR across the UK) is the lack of vision pervading such critiques, both in terms of time and geography.

    I agree that HSR doesn’t really work as an exclusively UK domestic project but for me, HSR is not about linking the rest of the UK to London, it’s concerned with linking the rest of the UK (including my Region – NW.England) to the rest of Europe – the very last place I’ll be travelling to on any HSR service originating from my Region is London!

    Strategic planning in these cases is necessarily long-term in nature – transport networks of this nature do not emerge overnight; planning, construction and environmental concerns dictate >10 year timescales, which combined with the significant costs involved, dictate political involvement and commitment – to pretend otherwise is misleading?

  • Chris Packham

    European traffic is marginal to justify HS2. There’s a lot of business travel from Birmingham to north west Germany which would be quite competitive by high speed rail. From Manchester only Paris/Brussels will be really competitive with air; places like Cologne and Lyon would be 4-5 hours by HSR.

  • Rich

    That’s ignoring getting to the airport, the check-in times, baggage collection times, and the fact that you can work and have access to w-fi on the train. Even at 4-5 hrs, your day would be more productive.

  • david

    Is it capacity or is it speed that is driving this ?
    And why are we starting at the South end for HST2

    If it is speed, then New Street to Euston is normally 1hr24 mins – and nearly all trains seem to have at least 3 stops. Thus is would be possible to run some direct trains – if paths could be found – without a stop in 1hr15 minutes.
    If the line from NS to Nuneaton were electrified, then some trains could run to London that way – and alleviate the congestion on the NS -Coventry link.
    The Marylebone line from Snow Hill currently takes just over 2 hours, but the summer changes will reduce this by 20% to about 1hr 35 minutes – and again this could be faster still if some services were none stop.
    In terms of capacity, between Birmingham and London there is still plenty of scope with the current set up. The Marylebone trains are usually just 3 car sets, so capacity is increased by running 6 or 9 car sets on a few services. (Or some of the now redundant WSMR stock). If this route were also electrified to both M/bone and Paddington then further improvements could accrue.
    Something I don’t know – now the Metro occupies tracks north of SH to Wolverhampton, is it possible to link from SH to the North ? If not, then this might be a project to be addressed as well.
    In other words – both the speed and capacity issues south of Birmingham could be addressed without HS2 maybe ?
    So why start with HS2 at the South end at all. I think that the logic might suggest that the links from Leeds and Manchester be developed first, simultaneously with the south of Birmingham changes suggested above. After all – it’s the towns furthest from London that might benefit most from HS2.
    I’m no expert on railway economics, but living in the midlands (Coventry) I’ve given this a fair bit of thought. Maybe the professionals would completely rubbish these ideas, but sometimes uncluttered eyes can see different solutions that tradition might overlook.

    Oh – and not providing properly to link the North with mainland Europe is surely a major errot that would be regretted for years afterwards.

    Just a thought or two!


  • Rhydgaled

    I hope you are wrong about a no vote for a fairer voting system Mr Wolmar.

    On HS2, my opposition is based on the abstraction of money for electrification/other benifitial rail projects, the lack of through stations at Euston and Birmingham in the plan (extending south from Euston would allow the line to run to Reading to releive presure on GWML capacity and possibly allow futher westward extensions at a later date, and a through station at Birmingham would mean you wouldn’t need to run seperate trains for Birmingham and places further north, making better use of capacity) and most importantly the fact that at the speeds and frequency they plan to run the trains it will not result in a reduction of transport CO2 emmissions. Really to tackle domestic aviation properly (although a cheaper and better way would just be to ban it or tax it to such an extent it is unprofitable) you would need a HighSpeed line Taunton – Bath – Reading – Euston – Rugby – Birmigham – Manchester with services extending off this onto classic lines with upgraded linespeeds to Oxford, Bristol, Plymouth/Exeter/Penzance, Liverpool, Glasgow, Swansea/Fishguard/Pembroke Dock and Holyhead to name but a few.

  • Peter Davidson

    @Chris Packham:

    I happen to disagree with your assessment of HS2

    I believe that contrary to perceived wisdom on this matter, the link between HS2 and HS1 will prove pivotal to the fortunes of both lines. Traffic to/from the European mainland and UK provincial cities will exceed all expectations and form a significant percentage of total HS2 passenger volumes.

    I also believe that the four hour threshold for rail vs air is a myth and when the Deutsche Bahn operated service between London and Frankfurt/Amsterdam begins, we’ll see that misconceived notion blown out of the water once and for all.

  • Chris Packham

    @Peter Davidson-I think you’re right, seamless high speed rail to Europe will attract quite alot of new traffic. I’d love to go direct from Birmingham to Paris or Koln, and be one change away from almost anywhere in Europe.
    The air/train time trade-off depends alot on the type of journey. For a leisure trip a 6 hour train journey can be fun and part of the holiday, but for a day business trip 4 hours each way on the train is quite long, even with wifi. We’ll get more evidence of this soon, when there’s continuous high speed rail from London, Amsterdam etc to Andalucia it’ll be interesting to see how popular it is for long journeys.

  • Chris Packham, Peter Davidson. Not according to the HS2 report itself, which expresses doubts about filling more than one train per day on the B’ham Paris route. The market is quite small and the journey would still, with faffing around London, take around 3 hours. Better than the plane, I agree, but with one or two trains per day, timings may put people off.

  • Peter Hooper

    I’m not sure about CW’s comment about trains from Brum to Paris, because who says that trains cannot pick up and put down at other stations ?

    I suspect that some trains to / from London will continue to run fast into / out of St Pancras.

    However Brum operators may wish to stop at Stratford (East London) for Crossrail & Jubilee Line plus a West London stop for Crossrail and Heathrow; without going into St Pancras.

    I read the HS2 report, and whilst I would still prefer a fast cross London HSL, the fact is that the proposed NLL route from just North of St Pancras to OOC is timed at just over 7 minutes.

  • Peter Davidson

    Christian / Chris / Peter

    Re; HS2 report – please see my earlier remark; “contrary to perceived wisdom”

    I know I’ve mentioned this before and no one has ever come back to me with an answer (I’ve looked for it myself without success) so I’ll try again – when the passenger forecast models for HS1 were made back in the late 80s/early 90s (the very same forecasts now used by anti-HS2 groups to denigrate the business case for HS2) did they include (or not) projections of traffic from provincial Eurostar services – you know, those services that never materialised?

    This information is pivotal to the current debate.

    I believe that the advent of direct High Speed services from UK provincial cities to the near continent will initiate a process of significant modal shift.

    Every single day of the year, dozens of RyanAir, EasyJet, Jet2Com, FlyBe, et al operated aircraft take off from Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, East Midlands, Robin Hood (Doncaster), Leeds/Bradford destined for myriad mainland European locations.

    A significant percentage of this daily traffic is the prime target market for HS2; all of the above companies seem to be thriving, sustained by buoyant demand for low cost, convenient transport links to the near continent.

    I recently visited Frankfurt (for business). I’d have much preferred to make the journey by train, even if it did take a little bit longer over all. Suffice to say that from Manchester to Frankfurt, the timings of trains, rather than cost, was a determining factor in forcing me to utilise Lufthansa instead of Virgin/Eurostar/DB. Had the nascent direct service between London St Pancras and Frankfurt Hbf been in operation, I’d have certainly made the trip by train rather than plane.

    If we envisage a scenario fifteen years from now with HS2 in-situ, travel originating from many UK provincial cities to any number of European destinations, either direct or via Lille Europe as a one stop transfer hub, will be credible. This senior executive from Eurostar certainly seems enthusiastic about the prospect?

  • Simon

    But there is no direct link with HS2 from UK Northern cities to the continent. Is there?

    Yes, people have talked about the need for one, and others have even talked about what that link should be. Those behind HS2 have “committed” to one. But, it’s not actually part of the published plan, is it? At the moment, the trains stop at Euston.

    Even the ideas for an HS2/HS1 link that do exist, allow for very few paths – and at nothing like “high speed”. HS2 will not link the UK to the continent. It will link the North to Euston.

  • David

    Peter Davidson is quite correct in saying that every single day dozens of passengers fly by budget airlines from the airports he lists to a myriad of mainland European destinations; moreover, he is quite correct in claiming that these companies are apparently thriving, being sustained by the demand for low cost, convenient links to the continent.

    But he is wrong to describe their destinations as “near continent”; Milan, Rome, Riga, Venice, cannot be described as “near”, and other destinations – like the Canary Islands, Crete, Turkey and Egypt – are totally unsuitable for rail. Couple this with the number of seats provided by these airlines (Ryanair’s fleet is composed of Boeing 737s which seat approx 180) and the service pattern (not all services are daily), means, I believe, that it is wrong to claim that this market is a prime target for HS2. The “fragmented” market grown by budget airlines is just not suitable for TGV type trains seating hundreds of passengers.

    The original forecasts for Channel Tunnel traffic are often ridiculed for being far to optimistic (although they were, I believe, pretty accurate in estimating the market shares rail would win of the London – Brussels/Paris flows). Lets not forget they were made round about 1987, and at that time Paris was very much a destination of choice for people who wanted to celebrate something special; moreover, Amsterdam was an attractive destination for stag week-ends, etc. But in the last quarter of 1989 something totally unforseable in 1987 happened; the Iron Curtain disappeared. Then, in the mid 1990s, budget airlines like Ryanair and easyJet appeared; and stayed. There had been attempts before to establish budget airlines – companies like Laker, Court, Channel – but none were successful; and back in the late 1980s it was reasonable to assume that future attempts would also fail.

    So by 2000, the combination of budget airlines flying to Rome and Venice and the opening-up of destinations such as Prague and Budapest meant Paris had competition for the special week-end and Amsterdam for stag or hen parties; if anyone had suggested back in the mid 1980s that within twenty years the Baltic states would be independent and members of the EU, and that cities such as Riga and Tallinn would be likely venues for a “p**s-up”, their sanity would have been questioned!

    So I’m afraid I have difficulty in accepting that there is a market for international trains from destinations north of London. Possibly, there is demand for a morning and an evening train to and from Paris, but only if it ran as a portion train, one from Leeds and the other from Manchester, joining together at the Birmingham Parkway station (this being the station for the West Midlands area); I don’t think there is demand at all for a train service to Brussels, and certainly not to Amsterdam or into Germany. Then, of course, if you go beyond Paris, where do you go to? Would there be demand for another portion train (from Leeds and Manchester, joining at Birmingham), stopping at St Pancras to serve the London market and then going via Stratford, Ebbsfleet and Ashford to Lille, Disneyland, Macon, Lyon, Avignon, Marseilles and Nice, in so doing providing a service with a single change of train to Geneva, Turin, Milan, Barcelona and many of the other destinations in provincial France served by the likes of Ryanair? Such a service couldn’t compete on time, but it might be attractive to some travelers (in particular older ones – like me! – who like to enjoy the scenery and aren’t constrained by annual leave entitlements to get to our holiday destinations as quickly as possible).

    So I’m afraid all I can see is a demand for three train pairs a day at most; and under no circumstances whatsoever can this be used as justification for either HS2 or a connection between it and HS1.

    If we look at the destinations served by the budget airlines, it is possible to serve many of them by rail with one or two easy changes from many of Britain’s provincial centres by the introduction of just a few trains using existing infrastructure (but some new rolling stock would be required). Remember how there were, in the early days of Eurostar, some feeder services? One (formed of a short HST) ran from Manchester via the West Midlands and the WCML to Waterloo, and a service (operated by a class 158, I think) ran from Bristol. So why not have a train following the route of the Manchester feeder north of Willesden, then via the North London line and the connection to HS1, going forward to Stratford, Ebbsfleet, and Ashford; the second train could run from Bristol along the GW main line to Acton, then on to the North London line and terminating in the HS1 domestic platforms St Pancras (which I think would be possible without any changes to the track layout on the St Pancras approach).

    These trains would provide easy connections on to the existing Eurostar services, and with changes at either Lille or Brussels many destinations could be reached by making two easy changes; no more walking down the Euston Road or taking a taxi from Paddington. Moreover, they would also improve domestic connectivity with Kent and (via Stratford) with Essex and East London/Docklands.

    Then, we need one – possibly two – new Eurostar services (which could be worked by some of the existing train sets). One should run to the south of France and could be an extension of the existing Disneyland service; it should stop at Macon (for Geneva and northern Italy), Lyon, and Avignon, and if possible its final destination should be Nice. Connections should be provided from this service into Spain.

    The possible second train should be over the LGV Est; this should run at least as far as Strasbourg (an important EU centre), and if possible through to Basel. Strasbourg should be seen both as a destination in its own right, and also as a connection point for Germany, Luxembourg, and Austria; Basel would serve Switzerland, parts of western Austria, and also provide an alternative route through to Milan (possibly even further into Italy).

    There is no reason why these trains couldn’t be introduced quickly. There would be problems regarding Channel Tunnel security (but remember these had been overcome for the North of London Eurostars), and the Channel Tunnel Act does specifically provide for passport checks on trains; all that is required is the will.

    But would they be commercially viable? Surely they would only require a fraction of the market advocates of international services from British provincial centres claim exists, so why aren’t they running already?

    And as they’re not, it makes me (and I’m sure fellow HS2 sceptics) believe that an international market suitable for rail doesn’t exist, and we therefore concur with the conclusions comprised within the HS2 report.

  • Peter Hooper

    I think it is worth remembering the DB and Eurostar announcements re the purchase of Siemens Valero D and e320 trainsets. My understanding is that both these trains are built to the European loading guage and as such can only operate on the HS1 & HS2 lines.

    The DB order is for Valero D’s configured as 200m long trains, which to comply with Chunnel safety rules re the 400m distance between safety cross tunnels, will be linked to a second identical train, thus forming a 400m train in the Chunnel.
    Though outside the Chunnel the 400m train can be split into separate 200m trains heading for different destinations.

    But the Eurostar order is for 400m Valero e320 trainsets that cannot be split in half, though this order may be revised if the present Chunnel safety rules are altered to allow the DB Valero D configuration.

    While both Valero D and e320 trainsets are restricted to the new High speed Lines, the existing Eurostar Class 373 trainsets will be extensively refurbished to allow continued use on the Classic lines (they were specially built to the smaller kinematic envelope required for use into Waterloo International).

    These are definitely interesting times; at the end of an midlands newspaper article scanned and published recently by an anti-HS2 group, was the claim that the formal HS2 consultation will start on 28th February.

  • Peter Davidson


    I did say “significant percentage”

    Of course there will always be some destinations, such as the Canary Islands, or even the Balearics for that matter, which remain more viable destinations by air.

    It remains to be seen how the advent of credible direct links will impact upon consumer choices but I find it instructive that hard headed businesses, such as Deutsche Bahn (DB) and Eurostar have chosen to make long term investment decisions involving many hundred millions of €/£

    Where exactly do you think DB and Eurostar are going to utilise these new trainsets – they’re hardly likely to want them sitting around doing nothing – I think they’ll be making every effort to maximse return on their not inconsiderable investment?

    What’s more something tells me that, contrary to your implied lack of demand, these commercial companies have carried out detailed and rigorous market research and concluded that there is potentially robust demand for the kind of services I’m predicting.

    Eurostar have ordered ten Siemens built Velaro trainsets for operation on new service offerings, to additional destinations, some of which will be outside the mythical four hour threshold. This will free up the existing fleet of hybrid trains (which I understand will undergo complete refurbishment) to operate Classic Compatible services, out of Manchester and other origin points?

    Clearly Eurostar believe there is a potentially huge market out there – given that they have considerably more resources and expertise at their disposal in this field than you, I’m minded to go with their projections for the future rather than yours?

  • Rhydgaled

    Even a few trains a day makes it stupid not to have a HS2 to HS1 link, but does not make the case for HS2 itself, as I have said it is very hard to make an enviromental case for it. Electrify the GWML and get our NOL Eurostar sets back from SNCF when their lease expires and Bristol and Birmingham would be within 4 hours of Brussels on existing infrastructure. The trains would stop at Reading (for the Bristol train), Rugby (for the Birmingham train), Stratford International (making all destontations served by the Javelin (I always forget the class number) units within 1 change), Lille (making Paris within 1 change) and Brussels (making Amsterdam and other Thalys destonations also within 1 change).

  • RapidAssistant

    If the Dutch experience is anything to go by based on what was reported here 5 days ago:


    The same potential pitfalls could befall HS2 – short distances, lack of passengers and punitive access charges……

  • David

    Regarding Peter Davidson’s response in post 40.

    Firstly, I agree DB and Eurostar will (should?) have carried out considerable research before acquiring their new Channel Tunnel compatible trains and will require a return on their investment; but are they not being procured for train services to and from London only? Moreover, nothing about train services north of London was mentioned in the leaflets DB were handing out at St Pancras on the occasion of the ICE3’s visit as a future possibility (and the DB guy with whom I spoke didn’t think it had even been considered at this stage).

    Study of airline timetables clearly shows there is demand for travel between London’s airports and many near-Continental destinations not presently served by direct rail services, and it will have been this demand which has been used by DB and Eurostar as justification for their investment; the possibility of a high speed line north of London being built during the lifetime of this rolling stock will not have been a part of their evaluation process.

    So if Peter is of the view that there is a market for high speed services from London to a myriad of continental destinations, I agree with him 100%; but I do not agree that there is sufficient demand from the areas served by the airports he specifically mentioned in post 36 to justify international services, from the English provinces apart from those I suggested in post 38 at the most.

    However, if Channel Tunnel security arrangements were dropped and passport checks were carried out on trains, thereby allowing international trains to carry domestic passengers, the whole economics would change, and trains between the north of England and near Continental destinations may become a possibility; but what would the ‘Daily Mail’ have to say about the abolition of “Fortress Britain”?

    Regarding the existing Eurostar fleet, so far as I am aware all that has been talked about is a refurbish/overhaul; nothing has been said about making them suitable for use on Britain’s 25kv AC network. When built, the “Three Capitals” trains were designed only to operate on 750v DC in the UK, and there are differences between them and the “North of London” sets (additional to the latter being shorter); certainly, once the lease of the North of London sets to SNCF terminates, they could be used for services on the British 25kv AC network, but so far as I am aware this has not been considered at all by Eurostar.

  • Peter Davidson


    I don’t know too much about DB’s future plans but Eurostar have been more open about their strategies

    Eurostar have purchased ten train sets, which are European interoperability compliant so they’ll only be able to function on lines built to that standard, which in the UK is currently HS1 and hopefully HS2 up to Birmingham.

    However that leaves the current fleet of hybrid compatible trains (I’ve seem someone refer to them as 373s?) – Eurostar operates 27 of these trains and they’ve said these will be completely refurbished, presumably when the new Velaro sets start coming on stream allowing Euostar to take them out of service without compromising fleet numbers. Not sure when the first Siemens built trainsets are due for delivery but I wouldn’t have thought until at least 2013, although it might be tempting for Eurostar to start new services in time for the London Olympics?

    Eurostar have indicated that they are actively considering direct services to Geneva, Lyon and Amsterdam. Lyon and Amsterdam could be incorporated into the existing timetable without too much additional strain on fleet resources, Lyon via CDG/Marne La Vallée and Amsterdam via Bruxsel, which are already destinations for Eurostar.

    If you take the words of the senior Eurostar executive (see my link to YouTube video in post 36) at face value (presumably he was authorised to publicly state future company strategy) Birmingham definitely figures as an origin point for them. I repeat that it doesn’t make sense to run High Speed services just between Birmingham and London so I’m convinced most High Speed services out of Birmingham will go further afield

    Returning to the 27 class 373s – these will be able to operate as Classic Compatible services and the plan (as far as I understand it) is to offer routes to Manchester (and presumably Leeds also) utilising HS2, from day one of its opening, which will require hybrid trains, like the 373.

    We must therefore assume that Eurostar are party to strategic planning for HS2, indeed they must be an integral part of it (but they cannot say that in public at this juncture) – I think you only need to see the YouTube video I linked to and you can infer such a conclusion from the remarks made?

    I happen to believe that services from all UK provincial cities will prove very successful, perhaps not immediately but over time (perhaps two years) consumers will experience the convenience of direct services and they’ll come back, again and again.

    I agree with your point about security arrangements and I’ve also posted on that topic. If HS2 does go ahead the addition of Birmingham, plus new services just from London will begin to exert increasing commercial pressure on UK authorities to rewrite the rule book on how Britain’s border integrity is maintained – see my comments in another thread on this site

    Relaxation of over the top security and border integrity measures would have a profoundly positive impact on passenger experience all round, providing a stark contrast to the now stifling and intrusive practices required for air travel. If paying passengers could turn up with pre-booked ticket in hand and board a train destined for Paris, Bruxsel, Lyon, Geneva or Amsterdam (or via Lille Europe, many other destinations) in a matter of minutes this would not only improve general customer experience but also help to reduce overall door to door transit times, driving even greater modal shift from short haul air to HSR?

  • Peter Hooper

    @ David and @ Peter Davidson

    I posted Eurostar trains as Class 373


    ” The train design is able to cope with five different standards of overhead catenary: domestic catenary in each of Belgium, France and the United Kingdom; fixed-height catenary for the LGV lines and the taller catenary used within the Channel Tunnel.
    The Eurotunnel catenary is much higher as the tunnel is designed to accommodate the double-deck car-carrying trains and roll-on roll-off heavy goods vehicle trains.
    The train driver is required to lower and then raise the pantograph during the change from each catenary system”.

  • David

    I’ve listened to the video clip linked by Peter Davidson a few times, and although it mentions the possibility of passengers travelling by high speed trains to the Continent, all I hear the Eurostar executive saying specifically about his company and HS2 is that they would be interested in operating services on it WITHIN the UK (its at about 1 min 25 secs from the beginning).

    As I pointed out earlier, the 27 class 373s (the “Three Capitals” Eurostars) Peter refers to in post 44 are not suitable for operation on the British 25kv AC network; I have not seen any references to them being modified during their refurbishment at Hellemmes so that they are capable of operating off the first phase of HS2 through to Manchester or Leeds (and I think it very unlikely as well as they will be nearing the end of their life by the time HS2 is built, if it goes to the programme presently suggested). Moreover, is not one of the reasons given for purchasing new trains from Siemens because of the difficulty in making the existing fleet suitable for operation on other new high speed lines, the Dutch one being specifically mentioned?

  • Peter Davidson


    So what you’re effectively saying David is HSR services are viable from London but not from anywhere else in the UK – I find that a sad conclusion to reach.

    If you’re right HS2 doesn’t make sense as a stand alone domestic project – it does as part of a wider pan-European HSR network

    I’ve listened again to the video and he does use the word WITHIN the UK – whether or not this means what you think it does or whether I’m correct is open to interpretation

  • George

    You forgot the fourth possibility:

    HS2 is built at great cost, and is well received by the public (if slightly underused a la HS1). However, owing to the great cost of HS2, and talks of HS3, 4 and 5 which never end up materialising, the rest of the railway network is left in stasis and becomes even more of an underinvested, undervalued shadow of its former self, with continuing stories of overcrowding and slow journey times.

    For my two pennys worth, this is the most likely option, but is also oddly enough probably the best. Whilst quadrupling of track, electrification, better signalling and a generally better approach via plenty of small schemnes to improve line speed are all nice things and are all acheivable (see Chiltern’s Evergreen projects), they will also never take off on a big scale across the industry. Governments will not invest in lots of sensible small schemes and will need a big showpiece like HS2, so it becomes the only viable option for investment in the rail network and thus the only one we can support, despite its disadvantages.

  • The Virgin west coast services are already quick. It’s not as if we don’t have fast trains in the UK.

    If under-capacity does become a much more serious issue, coach travel will take up the slack while we have a rethink.

  • Pat

    Excuse me for being thick, but can someone explain how a nonstop train service between Birmingham and London will free up capacity on the WCML? Is it because there will be more seats for people boarding at the intermediate stations or is it because fewer trains will be needed?