HS2 : the sea snake of England
Analysis of Mediarail.be - Signalling technician and railways observer

Like Sweden, Great-Britain is the only « big » countries with very few mileage of new High Speed Lines. Today the CTRL 1 comes to London from the Continent. But towards the North, there are no trains which ride over than 200km/h. The project HS2 (High Speed Two) is trying to catch up the delay, but it is facing a considerable debat between pros and cons. A little overview of the situation.

The first real british High Speed Line (HSL) was built in two times. The first section was opened 29th of september 2003 and the second section, with more difficulties, the 14th of november 2007. This HSL is a copy of french HSL, with overhead line of 25kV and protection system TVM430, to the train station of St Pancras. The advantage of this location, on the north of London, is that St Pancras is head station from Midland Railways, while the nearby station of King Cross is the head station of ECML (East Coast Main Line), towards Newcastle and Edimburg. But towards the Wales, Midland and Scottland, you must go to the very dark station of Euston, 10 minutes walk from St Pancras. Not easy with luggages….

The Midlands is caracterized by a big concentration of cities from 100.000 to 2 millions people and many regions have experienced major growth of urban sprawl. As a result the Midlands looks like the german’s region of Rhur or the italian’s Lombardia, with a string of small and big towns at every 50 kilometer.  Four cities have a real importance : Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. In this context, the railway’s network is very meshed and concentrates a large number of local and freight services.

The West Coast Main Line (WCML) is a main line of 640km joigned London to Glasgow via the Midlands and slip through this Midlands network.  This is the most important intercity rail passenger route in the UK which was entirely electrified in 25kV in 1974. Some sections allow a speed of 200km/h and the traffic reaches 75 million passenger journeys and 43% of all UK rail freight traffic . For all times, the main focus is to join Glasgow as fast as possible, today under the five hours, to compete with airliners. The first idea was to introduce a tilting train, in the 1970s, by the creation of the Advanced Passengers Train (APT), which never received any support of political authority. The backbone of express passenger services on the WCML from the 1970s to 1990s was the Mark II trains hauled by the BR class 87. At the time of privatisation, the franchise was awarded to Virgin which introduced the Alstom's Pendolino class 390. This franchise should have been renewed in october 2012 but a big mistake of the Departement of Transport (DfT) has cancelled all bids of bidders. Whatever the train services awarded, we are not in the case of a high speed train, although Virgin connects today London to Glasgow Central with a travelling time from 4h30 to 5h00.

The Pendolino class 390 ofAlstom : not a real high speed train (photo bob the lomond)

Arguments and counter-arguments
In Europe, the definition of a High Speed Train indicates a train which riding with a speed over 250 km/h without tilting system. This is the case of all HSL in France, Germany, Spain and Italy, as well as in the Benelux countries. At the beginning, the english project called HS2 was supported by a large political consensus, but the financial crisis and the grow of the sceptic political party has caused a large self withdrawal. Public opinion today is divided between the choice of a national concept and the improvement of his daily local life. Commuters have vigorously called for a hardly action to upgrade the regional traffic and do not understand why the gouvernement will spend dozens billions of £ to a project which they feel do not directly concern them. It is exactly the same argumentation presented by the opponents of the french HSL studied between Marseille and Nice (LGV PACA).

This is true that today the branding of TGV or the ICE has lost ground in the mind of many people, particularly by the fact that high speed trains does not responds to the wide array of destinations and that to connect a city at more than 1000 km, airliners stay the best way to travel, particularly with the low-cost services. Germany and France see that their motorway are not empty and that the high speed train has only ate a part of the growth of transports. The other argumentation is that the construction of HSL has left out the needs for regional and suburban traffic, except in Germany where the local traffic was improved at the same time that construction of HSL lines.

A first proposal called HS2 was presented in 2009 in UK to join major city centres served directly by HSL: London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, and by extension on existing tracks, Liverpool and Scotland. In January 2009, the Labour government established High Speed Two Limited (HS2 Ltd) to study the possibilities  of a new British high-speed line towards Birmingham and Manchester. The first conclusion was presented to the gouvernment on 11 March 2010. But the parliamentary elections of may 2010 have replaced the Labour party by a  conservative gouvernement leading by David Cameron. Which published a slightly revised line of route for public consultation based on a Y-shaped route from London to Birmingham with branches towards Leeds and Manchester. A consultation period was set to run until July 2011 and when the results were published, it revealed that over 90% of respondents to the consultation were against HSL. In January 2012 the Secretary of State for Transport announced despite all the go-ahead for HS2 which would be built in two stages, causing a large protest movement and faced with many legal challenges.

Phases 1 and 2 of the project (photo Wikipedia)

Airport connection ?
It was also expected originally a option to connect HS1 with a International interchange station at Heathrow, with a line at north of London linked the CTRL1 via a by-pass already built just out the entrance of St Pancras station. This idea was withdrawn, with consequences that the first european airport stays in his confined aerial environment without railways connections with his neighboring cities at 200 or 300km. This going completely against the overall mobility and many examples outside the UK, such as Francfort, Schipol or Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle. In December 2010, the labour government announced that a high speed connection with Heathrow Airport would be built at Old Oak Common, where High Speed 2 would have an interchange station with the Heathrow Express and Crossrail, the large suburban railway project in London, which will be the link from Heathrow to Canary Warf.

2013 : Where are we right now ?
To implement the HS2 proposals the government will introduce on behalf of HS2 Ltd two hybrid bills, one for each phase.The first phase of HS2 was launched the 16th of May 2013 with the launch of consultations on the project’s draft Environmental statement and proposed design refinements, such as more tunnels in sensitive areas. The timeline shows a introduction to the parliament at the end 2013 and to become a law by spring of 2015. The built of the phase 1 of HS2 is expected to begin after the promulgation of the first bill and is expected to be completed in 2026 ! This refers for a double track line of 225km linking Euston to Birmingham in 49 minutes instead current travelling time of 1h12 or 1h24.

The developpements concerning implantation in Birmingham have shown the impossibility to integrate the HS2 traffic into the present station of New Street. and the new station will be adjacent to Moor Street local station.  New Street and the new HS2 station could be directly linked via a people mover with a journey time of two minutes. The hybrid bill for phase 2 will be prepared for January 2015 and will consist to a V-shaped with two lines, one towards Manchester and a other towards Leeds.

The implantation in Birmingham (photo HS2)

The costs
This is the traditionnal sea snake for this kind of project. Nobody know exactly the total of the costs because it's depend for the final design of the line : how many bridges or tunnels to reassure opponents and sceptics ? The reality of the costs will appear when the construction will begin, in principle in 2018 for phase 1. According the Mail Online website, the official budget has already rocketed from £30billion in 2010 to £42.6billion in 2012, and today, he grow up to £73billion.

We see a traditionnal jostling between for and against. There are no doubt that this battle will be highlighted by typical british elements. The experience of CTRL1 - or HS1 - has shown that the wonderful gardens of the Kent were not been devastated and  that the only animal escaped from the Continent is the Eurostar TMST emu Class 373 with his design...so british ! We see also that the most opponents against the HSL are the same who criticize the...regional train. Many people forget that there are no growth of the railway without investments. Upgrade an existing line do not prevent the congestion where differents trains move with differents speeds, and we achieve a minimum of optimum results for a maximum of costs. Why have we incorporated the speed differenciation on road network, with our motorways, and not on railways ? Discriminatory policies are the future ?