Hold on, not so fast!

I have a snippet of information that I wish to share with you. It came to me over the bush telegraph that we subversives who oppose HS2 have set up using an e-mail group. It was in a report by one of our number who had attended the Age of Energy debate on sustainable transport, organised by The Daily Telegraph and Shell, which took place on 1st March 2011.

This event was in a Question Time format and the Transport Secretary, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, was a member of the panel. The report said that when he was challenged about the ultra-high 250 mph design specification for HS2 he had replied: “The reason we can’t build a high-speed rail line that goes significantly slower is that it costs exactly the same amount to build, and doesn’t deliver anything like the benefits; so when you do the cost-benefit analysis, you wouldn’t be able to justify building it”.

This then is probably the reason why HS2 Ltd has not given any real consideration to a lower speed option and that, consequently, the effect of the choice of design speed has been omitted from the sustainability appraisal; something that I complained about in my blog of 26 Mar. I said then that I thought that it was a significant omission, since it has major impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, landscape effects, cultural heritage effects and noise.

Let’s take a step back and look at this question of how fast high-speeds trains should be.

Take the West Coast Main Line (WCML) as a starting point. The Pendolino trains operated by Virgin Trains are currently limited to a maximum speed of 125 mph and can achieve a fastest journey time from London to Birmingham of 1hr 12mins. The original plans for the recent WCML upgrade included the implementation of in-cab signalling; this would have allowed the Pendolinos to reach their full potential of 140 mph, bringing the best London to Birmingham journey time down to around an hour; this is only eleven minutes longer than the journey time being claimed for HS2. Unfortunately this signalling upgrade was dropped, although Virgin is still keen to see it implemented.

The European Union has pronounced on minimum top speeds for high speed trains, in Directive 96/48/EC Appendix 1. This states that, in order to be called “high speed”, upgraded lines such as the WCML shall be equipped for speeds generally equal or greater to 200 kph, which equates to 120 mph in old money. So there’s a surprise; we already have a London-Birmingham high speed railway and it’s called the West Coast Main Line. The “high speed” tag applies to WCML even if the in-cab signalling never happens.

The same EU Directive also specifies a design speed for specially built high speed lines, like HS2. This is 250 kph, or 160 mph. This is exceeded by both the TGV in France and our own HS1, which achieve 300 kph (186 mph) in the fastest sections.

So where did the HS2 track design specification of 400 kph (250 mph) come from? The answer appears to be that from our current standpoint this appears to be a realistically achievable target that secures some “future proofing”. However this decision appears to have been taken without any consideration whether such ultra-speed trains, and the higher environmental impact that they bring, are desirable or necessary in our small, and crowded, island.

My informant also told me about another statement that Philip Hammond made at the Age of Energy debate, which apparently got a few laughs. He denied that environmentalists were against HS2, saying: “The Chiltern branch of the environmentalists is against it, the rest are not”. Oh Mr Hammond where do you get them from?

Mr Hammond, the following national environmental bodies oppose HS2 outright or have expressed serious reservations about it: CPRE, Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, Friends of the Earth, Countryside Alliance, Greenpeace, Green Party, Campaign for Better Transport, Civic Voice, Environmental Law Foundation and the Woodland Trust. None of these organisations is, to use your favourite slur, a Nimby.


25 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by ggrrllaa on April 23, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Permit me to add a few salient facts to this discussion.
    There is only ONE train per day which runs from Birmingham New Street to London Euston in 72 minutes. It does this by running non-stop, in the morning peak, when it is possible to justify having a second train running from Birmingham International also serving Coventry. To achieve 72 minute journey times through the day would require missing out all the intermediate stops. How would the users of Birmingham International and Coventry feels about that, I wonder, not to mention Rugby, Milton Keynes, and Watford Junction? Your statement that there is a train from Euston to Birmingham in 72 minutes is wrong.

    Virgin is always keen to see other people pay for improvements that they can then cash in on. Resignalling (and further rebuilding on the West Coast Main Line) for 140 mph operation would be expensive and disruptive, and would result in worse local services on the Birmingham – Coventry – Northampton and Northampton – MK – Euston routes, as these trains would have to be removed from the Fast Lines, or have the service thinned out, as the 140mph trains would catch them up more quickly. I think we should judge Virgin on what they promise as part of their new franchise bid, rather than the PR outpourings of Branson.

    If – as you state above – Hammond said that HS rail is the same price to build as conventional rail then he was wrong. As I understand it the difference in price is of the order of 10% or so. If this is indeed the case (and I admit it is only hearsay on my part) then why would you ever prefer to build a conventional speed line? If you are going to build a railway at all, then building it as a high speed line is the only sensible option. Of course you CAN build a high speed line that has lower speed sections in the middle of it, but think of the extra energy consumption you would cause. HS trains consume most energy when accelerating, not when cruising at high speed, so every time you slow them down, you are wasting energy. In those circumstances what Hammond said would be right.

    As I see it, the first step is to decide whether we need a new railway line to provide extra capacity. If we do, then it follows that it should be a high speed line. The more low-speed kinks you put in it, the slower the journey becomes, and the more energy it consumes.

    Your arguments about faster Pendolino services are just a smokescreen. It is a mixed-use railway, and the ability to speed up the existing services is heavily limited. Indeed as demand grows for more local services, the pressure would be on to slow the long-distance services down!


    • Posted by Peter Delow on April 27, 2011 at 5:17 pm

      Thank you very much “ggrrllaa” for being the first to comment on my blog and for providing very useful input to what I hope will become a well-informed debate that will encourage others to join; your contribution is certainly a good start. I notice that your comment was submitted a few days ago and apologise for the delay in getting it upon the blog. I am new to this game and am learning what to do as I go.
      Aside from my appalling sense of direction regarding trains from Birmingham to London, I think that the main thrust of your comments about WCML is that I was allowing my readers to infer that HS2 would only be eleven minutes faster than Virgin. Well I was being a little bit guilty of that, but I made no comparison with HS2 myself. I was merely reporting on what the West Coast Main Line high speed railway was capable of achieving, albeit as you point out only once a day and only one way.
      You are fair to make the point that the fast Virgin train misses out Birmingham International, Coventry, Rugby, Milton Keynes and Watford Junction, but with the exception of Birmingham International (or a field somewhere near it) so will HS2.
      All that you have to say about constraints on faster services on WCML is a vital part of the debate about how we should upgrade our railway network, but is rather tangential to the main point that I was making in my blog, which is how fast is “high speed”.
      I am in total agreement with your comment that the first step is to decide whether we need a new railway line between London and Birmingham. The Government is telling us that this is the case, but it seems unwilling to take part in a genuine and open-minded debate on this matter.
      I also agree with you that if the case for a new line is made then it might as well be high speed, but the real point of my blog was that high speed does not necessarily mean 400 kph.
      It appears that the decision to design for 400 kph was taken behind closed doors, has never been justified in the public domain and is not up for discussion. My point, on what is after all a blog page about environmental consequences, is that the sustainability goes down as the design speed goes up. In these days and under “the greenest government ever” I would expect a proper discussion of the appropriate design speed for any new railway, bearing in mind that this can be any speed from 250 kph upwards.
      You talk about energy consumption and this is very relevant. The maximum operating speed will have, as I am sure you know, a big impact on this. In the near future I will be posting a blog about some news that came out earlier this year from China; it appears that they are reducing speeds on their high speed network on safety grounds and to reduce energy consumption to save costs.


  2. Posted by ggrrllaa on May 13, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Hello again, and thanks for the comments.

    If (and it is a big “If”) you decide to build a new line, and the cost of building it to a high speed specification is only <10% more than that of a conventional speed line then the question is how fast do you design it for. The 400 kph proposed by HS2 is faster than existing lines in use, but effectively future-proofs the line for future generations. After all, once it is built it will be there for centuries. You can always choose to run slower to reduce energy consumption and minimise noise generation, but you cannot ever run faster than the design speed of the line.

    People think that if only the route were to be designed to a lower speed then it would be able to curve away from the particular piece of land that they are interested in, conveniently ignoring the fact that inevitably this pushes the route closer to somebody else. Having studied the published maps, my view is that the HS2 designers have done a good job in threading a high speed line between the centres of population, resulting in a very small number of demolitions indeed. (I exclude Euston from this statement).

    Doubtless there is still room for some improvement in the HS2 proposals. For example I think the Northolt – West Ruislip section would be better off in tunnel rather than sticking on the surface, but of course that would push the (already astronomical) cost up even further.

    So HS2's proposal is design for 400 kph, start at 360 kph, and only increase to 400 kph in the future if it could be proven the trains were no noisier at 400 kph than the prototype at 360 kph.

    My view is that designing the route for 400 kph is probably correct, but that at the moment it is difficult to justify going much faster than 320 – 330 kph.


    • Posted by Bill Adam on May 31, 2011 at 2:28 am

      “you cannot ever run faster than the design speed of the line”

      Does anyone know that the track used by the WCML was designed(in the 9th century) for trains running at >125mph?


      • Hi Bill.
        The Pendolino trains used by Virgin Trains can run faster than the original design specification of the line because of the tilting action.

  3. Posted by Peter Delow on May 15, 2011 at 8:50 am

    Hi again ggrrllaa

    I have Googled you and see that you are a prolific pundit on HS2 and that you have a railway industry background, which explains your depth of knowledge on this issue. I also suspect that, like me, you are an engineer; anyway you have made an engineer’s defence of 400 kph by saying that this “future-proofs the line for future generations”.

    Whilst I have some sympathy for this sentiment, I’m not sure that those future generations may be as grateful for that as you seem to think. Firstly, we have no idea whether future generations will want to tear about from place to place as we do; they might be far more sensible than we are or just not have the physical or financial resources to do it. They are certainly more likely to be satisfied with a virtual presence than we are and may think that we were totally daft in actually wanting to be in any particular place to do what we think needs to be done.

    Secondly, they may not be all that grateful to us for ruining the countryside and depleting natural resources to make HS2 happen. The whole point of my blog page is to push the need for sustainable development and by that I do not mean an approach that places economic gain above environmental loss, as HS2 Ltd seem to think of it. Although you don’t get any brownie points in the Shires for quoting Tony Blair, I feel that the extract from the foreword of Securing the Future that I quoted in “The impossible dream” (14 Mar) sums up our dilemma very well. Please do go back and read that blog as it expresses the essence of what I believe we should, and shouldn’t, be doing for future generations.

    Now I’m getting all dewy-eyed, so let’s get back to the practicalities. The proposal is that a brand new transport corridor be laid down for HS2 and that it should follow a fairly direct route between London and Birmingham. This means that, for a goodly part of its construction through the Shires, HS2 will be through greenfields; and these fields just happen to be in some of the best and most tranquil countryside in lowland England. When I have heard representatives from HS2 Ltd questioned as to why this must be and why HS2 can’t use already blighted land, two reasons have been given. He first is that any detours – around the Chilterns AONB for example – will add too much time to the journey and the second is that the 400 kph design speed makes the use of the transport corridors already built unfeasible.

    What I want to see is this tested and justified in the Appraisal of Sustainability. There is clearly an economic versus environmental trade-off at work here, and the Government has a clear responsibility to investigate it fully and openly. In “Hold on, not so fast” (23 Apr) I gave the Transport Secretary’s justification of the 400 kph specification, and he is clearly only worried about the Net Benefit Ratio justification for HS2. So much for the sentiments in Securing the Future!

    I totally agree with you that curving the line around sensitive areas is a “beggar my neighbour” exercise and I used the example of Cubbington to illustrate that in “You want to go how fast?” (9 May). My point however is that the inflexibility of a 400 kph design makes this effect much, much worse.

    Finally, I am very dubious that the “promise” only to increase operating speed to 400 kph if the train noise does not get worse will be remembered when the time comes. My MP wrote to the Transport Secretary on my behalf about this to try and get a more concrete undertaking way back in November last year; so far there has been no reply.


  4. Posted by ggrrllaa on May 27, 2011 at 10:04 pm


    Assuming the Govt does decide to take this further, the chance to pin down some firm commitments will be in the Hybrid Bill stage. At that point it is possible to turn the (until that point) verbal promises from HS2 and DfT into firm legally binding commitments. So if they say a 400 kph train would only be introduced if it produced no noticeable increase in snound over a 360 kph train, that could be enshrined in law. The same could be said fo hours of operation, and many more localized parameters.

    The 400 kph design doesn’t affect the existing business case since only 360 kph trains (actually running at 330 kph maximum for timetabling resilience purposes) have been modelled.

    Yes a 400 kph design is significantly less flexible than (say) a 200 kph design, but dropping from 400 kph to 350 or 300 kph will make virtually no difference.

    If you are going to build 2 new lines to relieve the West Coast Main Line then they have to give a journey time at least as fast as the existing route, and the faster the journey the better the perceived benefits (or so the economists would have us believe). Taking long slow dog-legs around the Chiltern AONB costs more and delivers less. So yes, I agree, there is a trade-off between costs, benefits, and the environment.

    I guess it is up to each of us to draw our own conclusions as to whether or not HS2 has got its proposals correctly balanced between these competing elements.


    • Hi Ggrrllaa
      Thanks. As you might have guessed, I’m on the side of the environment. If we can get by without doing all this environmental and social damage, then we should and we owe it to future generations not to mess in our nest.
      We have an exisiting railway link between London and Birmingham, which is not too shabby; it just needs some further investment. The “interventions” identified by Atkins in the report to the DfT in March 2010, and identified as “Rail Package 2”, seem to address the capacity problem for many years (unless you believe Philip Hammond’s ridiculous recent assertions that WCML will be “full” in 6-10 years – that man really is suffering a credibility crisis). RP2 makes even more sense if you, like me, distrust the forward passenger demand predictions. RP2 will also be much kinder to the environment.
      The Government is so keen to have HS2 that it is refusing to acknowledge the merits of the Atkins proposals and has recently even recosted RP2 to try and reduce the obvious cost and BCR advantages compared with HS2. I was always taught to make the best of what you have before you go and buy something new. As my fellow campaigner Jerry Marshall has put it, the smart thing to do in business is to “sweat the assets”. The trouble is that governments are not very good at being frugal, even in hard times; you don’t have to look very hard to find many examples of our hard-earned money being squandered.


      • Posted by ggrrllaa on June 2, 2011 at 9:56 am

        Oh dear, don’t start me off on Rail Package 2 again!

        Firstly RP2 was a comparative proposal for Value for Money purposes put forward by Atkins at the request of DfT. It is not – and was never intended to be – a credible alternative proposal. William Barter has done an excellent piece of analysis here:
        Basically RP2 only delivers a very small extra amount of track capacity. This means that in the critical morning and evening peak periods, only a small number of additional trains can run. The proponents of RP2 have failed to realise that the vast majority of the extra capacity it delivers is in the off peak period, i.e. you run a peak pattern timetable all day long, and ignore the fact that people need to travel at particular times of day. This results in empty seats off-peak and severe overcrowding in the peak = RP2 doesn’t work.

        The other hidden impact of RP2 is that it relies upon cutting out intermediate stops in order to get faster journey times from London to Birmingham, so Milton Keynes loses ALL direct fast services to Birmingham. HS2 conversely frees up capacity on the WCML to run more services stopping at Milton Keynes, which is seen as a significant growth area.

        The existing WCML peak hour timetable is pretty full, although a small number of additional trains might be squeezed in (at the risk of slowing down some other services and potentially reducing the levels of performance). Once that has been done, the WCML will be genuinely full, and RP2 isn’t the solution. HS2 is.

      • Hi “ggrrllaa”. Firstly apologies for not responding to your last comment about RP2 until now, but the Shires Army has been out in force this past couple of weeks in Warwickshire to ensure that the HS2 Ltd roadshow has been properly welcomed into our neighbourhood. As you may appreciate, being a subversive can take up a good deal of one’s time.

        Well you gave me what I deserved for pontificating on a subject on which I have little knowledge; I should have stuck firmly to the environmental issues. I retired hurt and sought advice from a higher authority – no I don’t mean that I resorted to prayer, but I talked to HS2 Action Alliance.

        I have been reliably informed, by experts that I trust, that there are measures that can deliver appreciable improvements in peak capacity on WCML. Where I went wrong was identifying these measures as RP2, which they are not. The latest iteration of this work is at yet unpublished, but I am told that it can deliver 120% increase in standard class peak capacity, which is more than enough to cater for sensibly predicted demand up to 2043.

        Please keep an eye on the HS2 Action Alliance website for further information. I am sure that you will want to comment upon the HS2 Action Alliance proposals when you see them, but may I suggest that you do this directly as you are much more likely to get an authoritative response there than here.

        Now at risk of getting myself into deep water again, I was astounded to see just how low the all day load factor is for WCML at under 50%; this is appalling! A budget airline business wouldn’t last five minutes with load factors anywhere near as low as that. There is surely considerable scope to smooth the peaks by more intelligent load management. I would be interested to hear your views on this.

        Finally it is only a handful of years since the multi-billion pound upgrade of the WCML was completed and now the taxpayer is being told that a new railway is needed as WCML cannot cope with predicted demand. I think that the taxpayer is entitled to be a trifle miffed by this and think that, if this is true, this huge investment may have been a waste of money; as one of the people who seems to be promoting the new railway solution, what do you think?

  5. Posted by Bill Adam on May 30, 2011 at 6:58 am

    Dear Sir,

    I have given some thought to the route planning and construction of high speed rail links.

    I think the most logical way forward is to build the high speed rail lines along the fast lanes of existing motorways. There will be considerable disruption of transport along the route during construction but this is the only disadvantage to the scheme.
    The advantages are:-

    There will be no excessive use of green belt land.

    The route has been surveyed. (Cost & time saving)

    There should be little problem with planning consents (the use (transport) remains the same.)(Cost & time saving)

    Most of the ground work has been done.(Cost & time saving)

    There will be no environmental damage (can the environment in the middle of a motorway be damaged?)

    The motorway, presumably, follows routes which the transport industry needs so there will be no need to pay anyone to work out where to build the rail links.(Cost & time saving)

    If the rail link is built on a raised bed it will prevent one of the most lethal forms of motorway accident (where a LGV crosses the centre reservation and ploughs into the on-coming traffic).

    With future traffic increasingly going by rail the lanes used by the rail link will be redundant as motorways.

    yours faithfully

    Bill Adam


    • Posted by ggrrllaa on June 2, 2011 at 9:44 am

      I believe HS2 did study the motorways, specifically the M1 and the M40. The problem is that the curvature of a motorway designed for road vehicles at 70 mph is far too great for even a medium speed railway, let alone a high speed line. That means your railway is either heavily speed restricted (and therefore slower and unattractive to passengers) or the line could only ever pass close to the motorway, rather than actually shadowing it. Because of the curvature issue the line might be several kilometres from the motorway in places.

      Using the pillars of a raised railway to stop a crashing HGV sounds like either a need to vastly over-engineer the railway elevated section (at huge cost) or an invitation to carnage, with the raised section being toppled by a road vehicle, bringing a train down on the motorway. No thanks!


  6. Posted by ggrrllaa on June 11, 2011 at 11:26 am

    The main weakness in the HS2AA analysis is that they have not understood the difference between track capacity and seating capacity of the trains. If you are running a metro-style service, where all trains are exactly the same and have an identical stopping pattern, then seating capacity is a good proxy for track capacity. However in the case of the West Coast Main Line we are talking about a mixed-traffic railway, with passenger trains running at 100 mph or 125 mph, with some intermediate stops at Watford Junction and Milton Keynes on the Fast Lines, and with local passenger services mixing it with freights on the Slow Lines.
    If you take the (northbound or “Down”) non-stop Pendolino as your base case (i.e. consuming 1 path) then stopping a train at Watford Junction or MK will consume about 3 paths. Running a 100 mph train will consume 3 – 4 paths (depending on how far you send it before crossing onto the Slow Lines). Crossing such a train onto the Slow Lines then consumes a path on that line too. It also consumes a path on the Up Fast Line (although building a flyover at Ledburn would overcome this specific issue).
    You will see that none of this relates in any way to the seating capacity of the trains involved. The growth in demand for long-distance travel can be catered for to a limited degree by lengthening the existing trains, and I am all in favour of this taking place. The next step would be to replace the 100 mph trains serving Northampton and Milton Keynes with 125 mph trains, which would consume less capacity. I’m in favour of this too, probably in 8 – 10 years time. However once you have done those things you have then run out of options. You will have lengthened the existing trains and put additional trains into the timetable, and then you are stuffed.

    Once this point is reached – and estimates from HS2, DfT and Network Rail (independently) are that this will be by the mid 2020s, you can either ration the supply by pricing people off the railways or invest in further infrastructure to meet the demand.

    Raising prices on what is already one of the highest-priced railways in Europe is not a happy prospect. I believe the nation should be investing in further railway infrastructure, and the (to me) obvious answer is a new high speed line.

    HS2AA seem to have misunderstood the nature of the problem, then set up their own version of the question in order to provide a convenient answer “proving” that there is no need for HS2, and that RP2 (or derivatives thereof) can “solve” their version of the problem.

    RP2 delivers very little extra capacity at the time it is most needed, and relies upon running an intensive peak-hour service all day from 06:00 – 22:00 to justify the inflated capacity claims. No other railway in the UK does this (nor indeed anywhere in Europe that I can think of), and no respected railway operators (as opposed to railway historians or railway lawyers) believe such a level of service would be deliverable.


    • Hi “ggrrllaa”. Well you obviously prefer to deal with the monkey, rather than the organ grinder! I really feel that you should take your comments directly to HS2AA, preferably after you have read the latest proposals, and particularly as you are accusing the folks there of a fairly fundamental error. However since you have posted your comments here I really feel that I have to take up the cudgels on behalf of HS2AA.

      Firstly it is really necessary to look critically at the demand forecasts. I went to a presentation by a DfT forecasting guru last year and he began by saying that forecasting passenger demand was not just a question of placing a ruler on a piece of graph paper and drawing a straight line. He then displayed a forecast demand graph on the screen that showed, em, a straight line thrusting forward for the best part of a generation. Excuse me being sceptical, but demand just doesn’t work like that.

      Then there is the question of all those empty seats off peak, a point that I raised with you that you have studiously ignored in your post. It would be extreme folly to splash out on a new railway on the basis of such a flimsy demand case. Especially when they are cutting fundamental services, the powers that be owe it to all of us to be frugal with our money, and if proposals are on the table that can possibly solve WCML capacity problems for minimal outlay, then they must be taken seriously and properly investigated. The problem is, I fear, that these proposals are being rubbished by a government that wants HS2 for political reasons.

      As for the latest HS2AA proposals, which you appear to be so keen to criticise that you have attacked them before they have seen the light of day, I understand that they largely rely on extending train sets and replacing surplus first class carriages. As you know I don’t claim expertise in this area, but I fail to see how your arguments about train paths are at all relevant to this scenario. HS2AA is proposing some small timetable changes, but will support these proposals with a detailed train paths diagram.

      The only infrastructure improvement that HS2AA is proposing at present is to sort out Ledburn, but this is a comparatively low cost item and badly needs doing. The remaining infrastructure improvements identified in RP2 can, HS2AA says, be left for thirty years and implemented if needed.

      The other question that I posed and that you have neglected to address, is why so soon after £8bn, or so, has been spent on WCML are we being told that a further £30bn, at today’s prices, is needed to sort out WCML problems? Don’t you think that the poor taxpayer is entitled to be somewhat sceptical?


    • Hi again “ggrrllaa”. I am now in a position to give a much more authoritative response to your comment, as I have been contacted by Chris Stokes who has given me a message to pass on. I am sure that you are aware that Chris has held a number of senior positions in the railway industry and is a former Executive Director of the Strategic Rail Authority.

      Chris tells me that he is puzzled why you should say that that HS2’s opponents, of which he is one, don’t understand the difference between track capacity and seating capacity of trains, because of course they do, and the total capacity of a route is a function of both, together with the detail of the timetable.

      On the subject of train capacity, Chris says:

      Currently, Pendolinos have 9 cars, 4 first and 5 standard, with a total of 439 seats (145 first, 294 standard). Some, but bizarrely not all, are being lengthened to 11 cars, with 589 seats (145 first, 444 standard). Next, it’s quite clear that there is now too much first class capacity – first class is very sparsely loaded, as both the private and public sectors have drastically cut down on first class travel. So convert (conservatively) one first class car to standard in each 11 car train, and you have 618 seats (99 first, 519 standard). But it doesn’t stop there: except for Liverpool Lime Street, where there are major physical constraints, the route can accommodate 12 car trains with only minimal infrastructure expenditure – and that gives you 693 seats (99 first, 594 standard) – that’s an increase of 102% in standard class capacity without using any more track capacity. This is a bit more than catering for growth in long distance demand ‘to a limited degree’! Beyond that, as you ggrrllaa say yourself, further capacity can be delivered by new rolling stock for the fast Milton Keynes/Northampton trains, which unlike the great majority of WCML InterCity services have a loading crisis now.

      And some more trains can be operated with infrastructure investment at a small number of pinchpoints – at Ledburn Junction south of Milton Keynes, between Rugby and Nuneaton and in the Stafford area. This allows reliable operation of twelve InterCity trains an hour in peak periods, while safeguarding capacity for increased freight movements in the future. Overall, the peak standard class capacity on the route can be increased by 138% with this alternative, well above the 102% ‘background growth’ forecast by DfT – and WCML InterCity services do not on average have high load factors to start with – about 50% compared with 70% on SNCF’s TGVs.

      Finally Chris says:

      One of the main conclusions of the recent McNulty report is that an important factor in the poor financial performance of the British rail industry is the lower level of train utilisation in this country, with on average fewer passengers using each train. The report therefore recommends that “There should be a move away from ‘predict and provide’ to ‘predict, manage and provide’, with a much better focus on making better use of existing system capacity”. HS2 represents a move in completely the opposite direction.”


  7. Posted by ggrrllaa on June 15, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    Well my confusion comes from the fact that the figures being quoted by Anti-HS2 / pro-RP2 campaigners deal exclusively with trying to increase the number of seats on trains, whilst conveniently ignoring the track capacity issues i.e. stopping patterns and service robustness and reliability. Even then the figures quoted for increased capacity seem to relate only to the total increase in Pendolino seating by expansion to 12 cars. However if not all Pendolinos can be expanded to that length, and some of the trains are not Pendolinos anyway, and you can only manage a small increse in the number of trains running in peak periods, then your “increased capacity” (i.e. extra seats) is obviously being carted around empty on other parts of the network.

    Let’s do some maths:

    WCML fast line headway is 3 minutes, so in any hour there are 20 theoretical pathways.
    The International Union of Railways (UIC) recommends a capacity utilisation of no greater than 75 % in peak hours in order to ensure a robust and reliable railway, i.e. one which can cope with some late running of trains with the delays being absorbed rather than magnified.

    So, evening peak from London Euston, departures 17:00 – 17:59, considering the critical section from Euston to Hanslope Junction (where the Northampton loop diverges to the North of Milton Keynes).
    17:00 Manchester, first stop Stoke, 1 path.
    17:03 Birmingham, first stop Rugby, 1 path.
    17:07 Liverpool, first stop Stafford, 1 path.
    17:10 Holyhead, first stop Milton Keynes, 2 2/3rds paths.
    17:13 Northampton / Birmingham, first stop Leighton Buzzard, crossing at Ledburn, 2 paths
    17:20 Manchester, first stop Stoke, 1 path.
    17:23 Wolverhampton, first stop Watford Junction, 2 2/3rds paths.
    17:30 Glasgow, first stop Warrington, 1 path.
    17:33 Liverpool, first stop Rugby, 1 path.
    17:40 Manchester, first stop Crewe, 1 path.
    17:43 Birmingham, first stop Milton Keynes, 2 2/3rds path
    17:46 Northampton / Birmingham, first stop Leighton Buzzard, crossing at Ledburn, 2 paths
    17:57 Glasgow, first stop Tamworth, 1 path.

    If you add that lot up, you will see that in that peak hour 20 paths are used. In fact there is an element of double counting in these figures, since by flighting the slower trains crossing at Ledburn (17:13 and 17:46) just behind trains calling at Milton Keynes (17:10 and 17:40), essentially the same path is being used by 2 different trains in different geographical locations. So the path utilisation of the two Northampton services effectively drops to zero, and the paths consumed total drops to 16 out of 20.

    So the WCML is already exceeding the international recommended standards in terms of capacity utilisation, and only manages by dint of some very clever timetabling which means the Northampton services run in the shadow of Milton Keynes stops made by preceding trains.

    Putting a flyover in at Ledburn does nothing to solve this. That only helps remove the conflict on the southbound (Up) fast line. You still need the northbound path to run the train.

    By replacing the 100 mph coaches on the Northampton train with 125 mph vehicles you could reach Ledburn earlier, but still you don’t make any capacity gains.

    The only thing you might do is to put two 125 mph services in the place of each single 100 mph Northampton train, three minutes apart. One could run across at Ledburn (assuming either a flyover or a suitable new path) and serve Leighton Buzzard etc. as now whilst the other could run non-stop to Milton Keynes (but no further).

    Apart from that, there is only scope to add ONE additional train to this peak hour timetable, at 17:37 ex Euston.

    So you will understand that meeting the demand for more long-distance peak hour calls at Milton Keynes or Watford Junction could never be accommodated with the existing infrastructure, which is being well and truly sweated, operating beyond its notional capacity.

    Adding more seats to the existing pattern of trains will take you so far, and lengthening of Pendolinos is already in progress. However once you have exhausted that option, the only remaining way of getting more traffic flowing on the WCML is to remove the Milton Keynes and Watford Junction stops altogether. That – to some extent – is what RP2 does.

    Alternatively, for a genuine increase in track capacity, which enables more services to call at Watford and MK on the WCML, you need look no further than HS2.


    • Dear “ggrrllaa”

      I copied your comment that was posted on 16th June to Chris Stokes and have had some comments back from him, as below.

      ggrrllaa (16th June) quotes a WCML headway of 3 minutes, giving a theoretical 20 trains an hour, and then applies the UIC recommendation of 75% capacity utilisation. This is flawed – the UIC recommendation applies to the “technical” headway, which for the WCML fast lines is c1.5 minutes for an InterCity train at full speed – in simple terms the time it takes for the signal to clear to green after a train has gone by. You can stand on an intermediate station and time this! The 3 minutes is a sensible planning headway for the route. By the way, the technical headway for the WCML is shorter than for a high speed line, which has much longer braking distances.

      Also, ggrrllaa’s list of evening peak paths is slightly flawed, as for example the 1713 Euston – Northampton train uses capacity that would otherwise be lost by the Milton Keynes stop of the 1710 from Euston. If Ledburn junction is grade separated and high performance trains are used on the fast commuter services (already planned for ECML with IEPs on fast Cambridge trains), then it’s possible to operate 16 trains an hour in peak periods (12 InterCity and 4 commuter) keeping all day InterCity stops at Watford and Milton Keynes, and 3 minute planning headways – a detailed, “proved” timetable has been developed on this basis.


  8. The actual reduction cost between a high speed and conventional speed line is 9%, but the benefits of constructing a conventional line diminish by some 30%.

    The government thinking behind the 250mph route is to future proof the line, however the government will only consider 250mph running if the trains are no louder and consume no more energy than those that can currently travel at 225mph. 225mph will be the world standard long before HS2 is built, already lines are being built to see 220mph running.
    The UK is a highly mobile society and
    trying suppress that mobility will only lead to economic decline. Studies have suggested that the internet despite what critics have been saying is actually increasing our desire to travel long distance. It stands to reason that if you can do business with some in Paris as easily as you can with someone 10 miles you will do, however at some point you will want to meet face to face. Advanced internet and mobile technology (which has been around for the best part of a decade) has not stopped the 6% growth in long distance rail demand that we have seen over the last 10 years.

    There is an argument being put forward that HS2 will actually save a lot more countryside than it will ever destroy, a statement that many critic will find hard to stomach. However the West Midlands and North West has much more to offer in terms of brown fields sites for new housing where as the unstoppable growth of the south is eating into the very countryside that critics of HS2 are trying to protect. The track for the entire HS2 Y network with access road, and services will require less then 12sqr km of land which is less than the site for Heathrow with land either side of the route being re-planted.

    As for Chris Stokes I have a hard time believing anything he has to say after I found out from Jerry Marshal that the Chris along with the HS2AA worked hand in hand to produce their anti HS2 report along with the headline grabbing £1000 per household claim. I’m not sure anyone should trust a person that works with a biased local anti group and then tries to call it a national argument and uses such simplistic economic analysis. For example his claim does not take into account tax paid by business, alone could pay for 2 full HS2 networks to be built every year.

    Chris Stokes also tried to mislead the public by stating that Manchester would see no more capacity than “TODAY”. However he based this on an assumption on 11 car Pendolinos and only 3 services per hour. However Manchester will see 3 550 seat high speed services an hour with an additional 11 car Pendolino an hour from day 1, pre Y extension, which is an much greater increase in seating capacity that Manchester has today.

    One point on Pendolinos, they weigh 100 tonnes more than the equivalent 11 car AGV which is capable of 217mph in regular service which at 186mph uses the same energy per seat as a Pendolino at 125mph. RP2 calls for 90 11 car Pendolinos whereas the same services can be achieved by less than 60 high speed sets, with the 1100 seat Birmingham services working in multiple so will be a lot more efficient than running individual service. 1 multiple HS set whilst representing the equivalent of 2 individual sets still only represents 1 train path per hour, so the 3 Birmingham services will actually be the equivalent of 6 WCML services.

    As for 140mph running this would require ERTMS at great cost and for very littler return, perhaps 4 or 5 minutes due to the fact that 140mph is only achievable on the straightest sections of the WCML which as most people know is by no means a straight track.

    RP2 which Jerry Marshal (lives 100m from route) seems to think will serve all our needs for decades makes absolutely no allowance for freight which will go a long way to reducing our transport CO2, he also thinks it can provide faster services and more stopping service, quite how Jerry thinks his magic package and provide these services is quite beyond most sensible people, he also claims his plan can provide more freight, somehow. RP2 will mean that the WCML will be running at 80% path capacity through the day without a break and also makes no allowanced for peak service. RP2 also only covers the WCML where as the Y network extension resolved capacity issues facing the ECML and MML.

    The case for HS2 is very complex and does not just boil down to speed or even just capacity. It is a complete shift in the way we will travel across Britain and how our goods will be transported in the future. It is frustrating that critics have decided to use such narrow vision coupled with local interest to make up their minds on the subject and then have pushed their often misleading view point on unsuspecting resident members of the public.

    I am often patronisingly told to “do my research” something I have actually been doing for month. I would say that those currently against should read the government documentation, perhaps all of it many hundreds of pages like I have done. They will soon see that HS2 is no some rash decision but or ill thought out plan but a proposal that the Dft and HS2 Ldt have spent a lot of time meticulously planning from refining the route to the nearest 5 meters to building a comprehensive and complex business case. I not sure how the likes of HS2AA and StopHS2 can say that their few pages of data produced with bias very quickly somehow proves that a robust and conservative business case is wrong, it doesn’t seem right.


    • Hi Chris
      Thanks for commenting under your real name (you are the real Chris Howe, I presume?); this gives me the opportunity to advise the casual reader that you are the founder of the “Yes to HS2” campaign and website (http://www.yestohs2.co.uk).

      One point that I would like to make to you is that I had doubts about approving your comment for posting, as the tone is very aggressive and your comments about personalities are, in my opinion, on the wrong side of what is acceptable. My hope is that people who comment on this blog page will attack the arguments with vigour, but that we will retain respect for each other and our right to hold our own opinions on HS2.

      You make one environmental point that I wish to address – remember that the environment is what this blog page is about. Your point is that HS2 will allow housing development to be taken away from the crowded South East and moved to the Midlands and the North West, where more brown field sites are available. I don’t by the way find this “hard to stomach” as you suggest; it is a perfectly reasonable assumption, although, like other pro-HS2 arguments, it doesn’t stand up well to close analysis.

      My initial response is that you should not say this too loud in case the people who live in the Midlands and North West might hear you; they will probably not be too keen on having to cope with a housing overspill from the South East.

      The plain truth is that, unless we change our political system somewhat, people will continue to live where they want to and, for the majority of those who can afford the choice, this seems to be somewhere in the countryside but near to a good transport link to their employment. Now I recognise that this is my own view of things and I am prepared to consider contrary views, but if it is the case then it impinges on your argument.

      The problem with HS2 is the dearth of access points (I think that the technical term is “stations”). Of the four that will be constructed in the initial London-Birmingham phase only one, the Birmingham Interchange near the existing Birmingham International Station, would appear to offer people the chance to commute from outside the South East and live in a countryside setting. Even when Manchester and Leeds are connected up, it is likely that there will only be a couple or so more parkway stations available for commuters, but we can’t discuss those at present as the details are not available.

      The Birmingham Interchange station, its car parks and new access roads will be constructed on green field land, which is also green belt (see 8.17.4 of AoS, volume 1); so this would not be a good start to saving green field sites. There is brown field land available within reach of this station site, but most of this is in run-down areas of Birmingham which are unlikely to attractive to the passengers that are able to afford the season ticket costs to commute to London. There are however a lot of potential green field sites around this area, which might be used for any housing expansion and would suit the high-flying HS2 passengers better.

      The “countryside that critics of HS2 are trying to protect” is, in many cases, safe from housing development by virtue of local protection designations, e.g. the Chilterns AONB and ancient woodlands, but is not of course protected from HS2. Even if your prediction that green field land will be saved from housing by HS2 proves to be true, it would be a very poor bargain for the loss to HS2 of such valuable environments.

      Finally, what you are proposing is to encourage commuting over 150 km plus distances and I have heard the Transport Secretary talk in glowing terms about this prospect also. I’m not sure that this fits in too well with our Climate Change Act commitments or the Department for Transports own Alternatives to Travel campaign, which I talked about in my blog “Am I in the right place?” of 10 Mar.


    • Hi again Chris

      In your comment that was posted on 16th June you had a bit of a go at Jerry Marshall. I thought it only fair to give Jerry the right of reply and e-mailed your comment to him. I have received the following responses from Jerry, which I am posting in the interests of fair play.

      In response to your comments on the Internet and possible effects on the desire to travel, Jerry says:

      “Skype Premium – allowing high quality multiple person video conferencing – was only launched a few months ago. We are only now beginning to get to the broadband speed and software that will cut growth in business travel.”

      On your criticism of Chris Stokes, Jerry says:

      “Chris Stokes is one of many rail experts and transport economics that recognise the economic, environmental and technical flaws in the HS2 case and have advised actions groups and organisations opposed to HS2.”

      I would add to this on my own behalf that Chris Stokes has been opposed to the HS2 proposals since before most action groups were up and running. He is a recognised expert and very much his own man. I cannot see that his choice to express his anti-HS2 views by working “hand in hand” with HS2 Action Alliance in any way diminishes the value of what he has to say.

      On your criticism of RP2, Jerry says:

      “Although RP2 is better than HS2 in meeting HS2’s forecast background rail growth, providing 151% increase in capacity and leaving trains less crowded that HS2 (51% load factor compared with 58%), RP2 is certainly far from perfect. The optimised train paths that have been developed, based on 12 car sets (excluding Liverpool) and substituting one first carriage for standard, provide a 138% increase in standard class PEAK hours capacity, leaving spare paths for freight. This is without any significant infrastructure work. Including Ledburn junction also doubles fast commuter train capacity to Milton Keynes and Northampton. This cannot wait until 2026. A similar approach can be taken on the MML and ECML. It is important to remember that the Evergreen 3 project brings Chiltern times down to just 6 minutes slower than the WCML, which will inevitably absorb yet more capacity.”

      On your accusation that “critics have decided to use such narrow vision coupled with local interest to make up their minds on the subject and then have pushed their often misleading view point on unsuspecting resident members of the public”, Jerry says:

      “On the contrary, it is shocking that the DfT has repeated used misleading figures, extended forecasts, unrealistic comparitors, and wrong assumptions to shore up a case that would otherwise have collapsed. Someone has to blow the whistle and look to overall national interest and improving travel for the many not just the few.”

      And finally on your praise of the Government’s documentation, Jerry comments:

      “It should also be noted that HS2AA’s meticulous fully cross referenced response the HS2 business case has peer reviewed by a leading independent consultancy. It should come as no surprise that so many organisations – from the Tax Payers Alliance to the Green Party – are now opposing HS2.”

      As a postscript to the above I wish to take the opportunity to make a comment of my own about your statement that the government “will only consider 250mph running if the trains are no louder”. In November last year I asked my MP to ask for confirmation on this point from the Transport Secretary, since at that time only verbal undertakings had been given on this matter. This month (yes nearly six months later) I received the Transport Secretary’s response, via my MP.

      He says “Any decision on future train speeds would have to be taken in the context of future developments in train design” and that is the only assurance that he gives on this topic. If your statement is correct, why didn’t the Transport Secretary say that, instead of resorting to obscuration?


    • Hi Chris

      I copied your comment which was posted on 16th June to Chris Stokes and have had the following response.

      Of course I’ve talked to other opponents of HS2 – I imagine Chris has talked to other supporters, too! The £1000 cost per household is simple arithmetic which makes the point that HS2 is a very expensive project – it does seem to me to be perfectly reasonable to challenge whether it’s value for money.

      On Manchester capacity, I note Chris accepts that Manchester would only have 3×550 seat high speed trains in Phase 1, plus one slower “classic” train, primarily running to serve intermediate stations. That’s broadly a 33% increase in total capacity, including the classic service. But HS2 forecast a tripling of demand and reduced overcrowding – it simply doesn’t add up.

      Finally, I too have spent a great deal of time going through the HS2 documentation. It has many serious flaws and raises lots of questions; for example, the case for the full “Y” assumes 18 trains an hour at peak periods, yet SNCF’s Rail Strategy and Regulation Director confirmed to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee on 21st June that this is impossible.”


  9. Posted by Wilf66 on June 18, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Hi Chris H. I, too, have read the many pages of documentation produces by HS2 but I have come to a completely different conclusion. HS2 is being touted to the public on a business case based on two flawed assumptions.
    1) Passenger demand will continue to grow along the WCML at the same rate that it has in the last few years. The very period in which the last round of improvements were completed. All increases in capacity result in an increase in demand – ask any road planner – so it is not surprising that completing the WCML upgrade resulted in an uplift in passengers. That does not mean that the increase will sustain.
    2) There will be some kind of intrinsic economic benefit in moving people from one place to another, over and above the obvious one of charging them for privalege. Experience from high speed rail nodes in other parts of Europe does not back this up and even HS2’s own case suggests that any economic benefits will be centred in London though they explicitly state that they are unable to model any impact on job creation as this is too small to count.

    In summary, please do not treat anyone who holds an anti-HS2 view as someone who has neither read the documentation nor thought deeply about the case, both from an economic and environmental perspective. The documentation on both sides has been put together to try to prove a point but just because it supports your point of view or otherwise doen not prove its validity, you need to make up your own mind, using your own rational judgement and look at everything with an open mind.


  10. Posted by ggrrllaa on June 20, 2011 at 7:51 pm


    You have pointed out that the purpose of this blog is primarily to deal with the environmental impact of the HS2 route. I can only apologise that this has become infected with our discussion on the (lack of) merits of RP2 or RP2+.
    Eventually HS2 people will have to stand up in front of a QC and submit themselves to rigorous cross examination of their proposals. For that reason they have to be entirely accurate about anything they put in the public domain. (Perhaps that is why they cost so much!). Remember the subtle difference that it is the DfT who are the proposers / cheerleaders of the HS2 scheme, whereas HS2 Ltd are supposed to be providing an objective balanced proposal.
    The (less well-funded) anti-HS2 groups think themselves immune from this obligation of impartial accuracy, and so the facts they present are uniformly partisan, and often carefully chosen to suit the case they are trying to makre, regardless of the logic. Emotionally, you can understand why they would do that. Objectively, it is a very dodgy and ultimately unproductive tactic.
    In his response above Jerry stated:
    “On the contrary, it is shocking that the DfT has repeated used misleading figures, extended forecasts, unrealistic comparitors, and wrong assumptions to shore up a case that would otherwise have collapsed. Someone has to blow the whistle and look to overall national interest and improving travel for the many not just the few.”
    Simply replace “DfT” by “HS2AA” in the above statement, and you are much nearer the truth.


    • Dear “ggrrllaa”

      I’m afraid that I find your analysis of the relative positions of DfT, HS2 Ltd and the anti lobby to be very naïve. I also cannot subscribe to your apparent view that anything that comes out of Marsham Street or Victoria Street must be the absolute truth and not subject to question. We live in a democracy (well now I’m being naïve) and any proposal by Government to spend many billions of pounds must surely be subjected to the closest scrutiny and any of us has the right to question the details of such a proposal.

      It is not just a question of the “facts” of the matter; goodness knows that there are many views about what the actual facts are (as in the famous phrase about lies, damn lies and statistics). No it is also the gloss that is applied when presenting information and, worst of all, some of the sound bites that are designed to give an impression which is not always the whole truth.

      In my innocence I was frankly shocked by the bias of the Consultation document High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future. What members of the public need to inform them properly so that they can make their response to the public consultation are the plain facts, not pages of crude propaganda. Take for example the eighty paragraphs of “evidence” provided in support of question 1. Now this question asks about the case for enhancing the capacity and performance of the existing inter-city rail network; there is no mention of high speed rail in the question. However, the author of the document is so keen to ram high speed rail down our throats that it is mentioned in thirty-four of the eighty paragraphs of evidence, usually in glowing terms. This is an unsophisticated attempt to place the opinion in the respondent’s mind that HS2 is the only way forward for the inter-city network, without properly considering the alternatives.

      I can assure you that I, for one, do not feel “immune from this obligation of impartial accuracy”. I am working hard at being accurate and am prepared to correct any mistakes or withdraw any statements which are shown to be untrue. When I found out that some information that I had included in good faith in one of my early blogs was not correct, I posted an apology (setting the record straight, 18 Apr) and amended the original blog.

      I fear that what you are complaining about is not accuracy however, but having the temerity to question what we are being told by DfT and HS2 Ltd; there I am not prepared to back down. During my own investigations into the environmental impacts of HS2, for example, I have found a number of matters where the position taken by HS2 Ltd can, and should, be questioned. These include such important topics as whether HS2 is sustainable development, whether investment (or subsidy) in railways represents a “fair” use of government resources, whether the design speed choice should be subject to public scrutiny, whether the Government should be encouraging long-distance travel and particularly long-distance commuting, whether the methods being employed to assess the noise nuisance are appropriate (with more to come on this topic) and whether the proposed noise mitigation will work.

      You are entitled to hold your own views about the HS2 Action Alliance. Personally, I have found the detailed work published on its website to be helpful. Like the information published by the Government, there is no obligation on the intelligent reader to accept what HS2 Action Alliance says. However I am sure that the truly intelligent reader will at least want to hear what it has to say.


  11. Posted by ggrrllaa on June 26, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    You make some very fair points, and I accept your gentle chastising in good humour!

    Some things in this debate will be factual and others will be rather more subjective. Yes, we must challenge both sides of the argument. It is more a question as to how much belief and weighting we (as individuals) put on the respective arguments put forward. I tend to put more weight on those well-researched and thoroughly documented pieces of work produced by HS2 / DfT than the less well-researched evidence of the anti-HS2 groups, which (of course) are working to an agenda which is essentially to destroy the HS2 proposal rather than to analyse the problem and find a solution to it. Throw in a good helping of scare tactics and xenophobia and you end up with the stories that it is all the fault of Europe / the Chinese / vested interests.
    I would exempt the RP2 debate from this rather broad brush accusation of mine, as I do appreciate that the people behind that work are approaching it in a sensible and professional manner. I just don’t agree with their conclusions, that’s all!

    As regards RP2 I gather that Jerry has used an unfeasibly low service level dating from 2008 for his base service level against which to measure his claim of 138% capacity increase under RP2+. Also he keeps quoting only standard seating capacity rather than overall train capacity, as if somehow the expensive (high revenue-yielding) seats don’t count. Finally he ignores the fact that a number of the improvements (extending trains to 11 cars) are already committed and in progress. And if Chris Stokes read my full response he would have seen I already accounted for the re-use of train paths south of Ledburn.
    The West Coast service struggles to maintain the existing levels of service reliability and punctuality. Adding more trains to the route will simply overload it. I am really looking forward to the publication by HS2AA / Chris Stokes / TPA of the proposed timetable that Chris and Jerry hint at. Will they submit it for independent analysis for robustness and operability, I wonder?


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