Setting the record straight

In my blog of 22 Mar I said that the maximum design speed was set down in the remit for HS2 Ltd prescribed by the Secretary of State for Transport. This was what I was told by HS2 Ltd representatives at a technical seminar held in London on 17th March this year.

On 8th April I attended a further seminar run by HS2 Ltd at Warwick, hosted by Warwickshire County Council. This time the HS2 Ltd team was headed by its Chief Engineer, Prof Andrew McNaughton, and he told me a somewhat different version of how the design speed was agreed. Subsequently I have carried out my own research on this topic and it appears that, as you would expect, Prof McNaughton’s version is the correct one.

I have discovered that the “objectives and remit” for HS2 Ltd were set down as “initial views” in a letter from the then Chairman of HS2 Ltd, Sir David Rowlands, to the then Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, on 13th February 2009 (available here). These proposals by Sir David were endorsed by Lord Adonis in a letter in response dated 9th March 2009 (available here) and they effectively became the remit for HS2 Ltd at that time.

In Sir David’s letter the “speed” objective is set out as follows:

The new line should be sufficiently high speed to optimise journey time benefits balanced with operational energy costs and achievement of maximum capacity. It is likely to be designed to at least the maximum speed for HS1. It should also have the ability to maintain high average speed, which will mean avoiding any permanent speed restrictions (e.g. sharp bends) which also impact on energy consumption and effective capacity, managing the approaches to cities (especially if shared with classic lines) and avoiding intermediate stops.

Note that there is no requirement to take account of the environmental impact when setting the speed objective, but then we would expect that, wouldn’t we?

Subject to these broad guidelines HS2 Ltd was free to set its own design speed specification and it did so, in December 2009, in the document HS2 Technical Appendix (available here), which was issued in support of the main report to Government High Speed Rail London to the West Midlands and Beyond.

The design speed is specified in section 4.2 of this document (Track) on page 12:

The project shall assume a maximum line speed of 400 kph where topographical, train performance and sustainability issues permit.

At last, a mention of sustainability! So can the train be slowed to alleviate any environmental problems that result from the high speed track design? Well unfortunately no, because in the same section it also says:

The line shall be designed to permit trains to maintain consistent high speeds.

It appears that once the 400 kph figure had been specified by HS2 Ltd it became an unquestioned tenet of the HS2 faithful and hence was not examined for suitability in the work that was carried out on the Appraisal of Sustainability.

So, strictly speaking, I was wrong to say in my blog of 22 Mar that the remit of HS2 Ltd did not “allow any questioning of the maximum design speed”. It was the HS2 Technical Appendix that had this effect, but nethertheless the impact was the same in that the design speed has not been questioned in the Appraisal of Sustainability.

I have modified the text of my blog of 22 Mar to reflect the facts as I now understand them and apologise for not getting it right the first time.

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