The weakest link

The Railfuture analysis, part 5

In this blog I am continuing the discussion about interconnecting HS2 and HS1 that I began in Good idea, but …  (posted 13 Feb 2013).

In its February 2011 consultation document High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future the Government sets out (in paragraph 5.7) its proposed way of realising the interconnection:

“A single-track link to HS1 would be provided from Old Oak Common, heading east in tunnel alongside the tunnel into Euston before diverting off to join the North London Line at surface level. One line of the North London line would be upgraded through Camden to accommodate the larger high speed trains, and an existing link onto HS1 would be used for services to and from Kent and the Continent. Three trains per hour could operate in each direction between HS2 and HS1. HS2 Ltd is working with Network Rail and Transport for London to ensure that such a level of HS2 services would not affect the operation of the North London Line.”

Now let’s be clear about one thing; this really is a “cheap and nasty” solution to which HS2 Ltd has been driven by engineering difficulties and the very weak business case for the link that I referred to in my blog Good idea, but …. Are they really serious? Two high speed rail networks are to be interconnected by a link of single track railway and a section of track shared with London commuter services, and all – although the extract above does not make this clear – at conventional speeds. Railfuture’s view of this proposal, made in response to the public consultation, is that it is “excessively expensive, is operationally fragile, and most certainly very disruptive to the increasingly busy North London Line operations”.

Despite the best efforts of Railfuture, and I suspect others, we were told, in paragraph 4.45 of the January 2012 document High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future – Decisions and Next Steps that:

“The Government supports a direct link via a new tunnel and the existing North London Line. This will be capable of carrying three trains per hour in each direction – equivalent to at least the service frequency currently offered by Eurostar out of St Pancras. This would provide sufficient capacity for international services from HS2 for the foreseeable future. The journey time from leaving the main HS2 line at Old Oak Common and joining HS1 immediately to the north of St Pancras station would be 10 minutes.”

In paragraph 3.35 of High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future we are promised “through-services to run from Birmingham and other destinations to the Continent from the opening of the line”. Significantly, all we are offered in High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future – Decisions and Next Steps is a “direct link” between HS2 and HS1 (see also paragraph 4.43). The precise meaning of words is always important in documents written by civil servants, as is the omission of words. Whilst no attempt has been made in this document to explain just what international services will be offered to HS2 passengers, my interpretation, on the basis of the words used and the analysis that I presented in Good idea, but …, is that passengers will not be able to board at, say, Birmingham, and get off that train in, say, Paris. What I believe is that international passengers on HS2 will be required to travel on normal domestic services and to clear border controls at Old Oak Common; international services will, I think, only run to and from Old Oak Common. So it looks like there will be no “through-services” to and from Birmingham, then.

There are possible signs that the Government is even cooling on this limited offering. In a written Commons answer (Hansard, 17th Jan 2013: Column 928W) to Stephen Timms MP, Transport Minister, Simon Burns MP, advised:

“The expected demand for international passengers wishing to travel to/from regional UK cities directly to/from the continent was last assessed in September 2010 for which forecasts were produced for the year 2031. While there remains a strategic case for linking HS2 with HS1 and the channel tunnel, the analysis has shown that even in 2031 the expected international market is relatively small compared to the domestic market. My officials are continuing to work with HS2 Ltd to identify the best approach for providing the link.”

In its submission to the HS2 public consultation Railfuture shares Mr Burns’ apparent lack of faith in the business viability of direct international services from the UK regions to and from the Continent and puts the blame fairly and squarely on the focus of these services on Old Oak Common, rather than having “a calling point at a central London terminal or location”. For Railfuture the central London terminal of choice is St Pancras:

“Railfuture believes that St Pancras comprises the only appropriate and viable central London terminal to sustain such European services, with current Eurostar international services based entirely at this location since 2007, and DB (German Railways) from 2013.”

I have to agree with Railfuture. It seems a very strange logic to have established St Pancras as the London terminal for international rail services and to have carried out a truly brilliant rejuvenation of the Victorian station, only to decide that St Pancras should be totally omitted from the plans to provide high speed international services to the Midlands and the North.

It is obvious however that Railfuture has not thought too deeply about how to bring St Pancras into its plans:

“This would accord well with an M1-aligned domestic high speed line, focussed upon Euston and entering London via the Midland Main Line corridor; European services would simply continue along the Midland Main Line to St Pancras or via a new tunnel alignment as suggested above, before reversing and continuing to Europe. We recognise the complex political, security, and other factors behind introducing such services in the short term however. An alternative option for significant improvements in connectivity could be to reverse some HS2 trains at St Pancras and run on to Kent destinations served by HS1 either by 300m trains, or by splitting 400m trains. These are highlighted to demonstrate the possibilities, rather than as advocacy of definite or specific solutions, and to stimulate further investigation and assessment of desirable and possible outcomes, with serious detailed study undertaken, before expensive and possibly unnecessary construction is undertaken.”

It would be wrong, before moving on from this topic, not to mention the proposal that has been reported recently from Dick Keegan, a former director of projects at British Rail with more than 50 years’ experience in the railway industry, that the London terminus for HS2 should be at Stratford International station, rather than at Euston. Since the original idea behind this East London station was, as I understand it, to act as a by-pass to St Pancras for international trains serving other destinations in Britain, perhaps Mr Keegan is right to remind us. However, Stratford is about as far east of Euston as Old Oak Common is west, and so Mr Keegan is rather leaving unanswered the question of how best to cater for the vast majority of passengers who wish to get to and from the heart of the Capital by high speed rail.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on February 17, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Perhaps the objecitve of the bidirectional route from the West to the East is to enable the large gauge and other freight to cross London. A very slow and rail interuptive situation currently. Omitted words. There was also a need for a third Crossrail link and this was represented in the symbol. Leaving the third link to Crossrail can be achieved from the conflicts between Network Rail and others needs. There is the need to fan out the North of London services using Javelin type trains as happens now in Kent filling HS1 train paths with local fast and slower journies within Kent to London. The Y network as £30B to £60B depending on what tunnelling is included and route alignment is perhaps not the better configuration. However what may be possible would be to have the planners to determine how much the UK can afford for higher speed and largere gauge rail in the next decade. Leaving Crossrail out of that analysis results in the following options £10B for connect to HS1, to reach Stevenage and Milton Keynes fast and with large gauge joining ECML and WCML southern sections for extra capacity. Say £40B to reach Manchester and Leeds or alternatively to link London to Edinburgh along the East Coast. £70B to extend the HS2 Y to Edinburgh. £80B to add a Leeds to Manchester link to the HS2 Y network, or £100B to add the London to Leeds direct link to the extended HS2 Y routes with the Penine cross Link and the Leeds to Edinburgh route. Better to determine what the UK can afford to spend and where the next link or links would be beneficial. One approach not covered to date is to have 100Km multiple radials from Birmingham. Such a plan would not have the phase 1 included because it has little catchment for commuter fares. This latter approach uses the HS2 phase 2 route north but would first benefit from the London Stevenage to Milton Keynes high and larger gauge section. No need for phase 1 HS2 through rural Buckinghamshire.


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