Making the right choices

The Railfuture analysis, part 7

At various times during my period as a blogger I have questioned the rationale of designing HS2 for a maximum operating speed of 400kph, or reported on others who have raised this point. It seems to me to be a decision that owes more to testosterone than cerebral cortex. Judging by its submission to the HS2 public consultation, rail campaign group Railfuture agrees:

“Railfuture is concerned that a technology-driven desire to run ‘the fastest railway in the world’ appears to comprise the basic rationale behind HS2’s specified 360/400kmh operating/design speed. In the context of Great Britain’s size, there does not appear to be any overwhelming need to run trains at such high-speed. We do not believe that the HS2 proposals offer fully reasoned justification, either business or environmental, for the speeds proposed. Extreme speed of this order adds significantly to the cost of construction, demanding less curved alignments and hence heavier engineering on many sections of route. It also imports unnecessary levels of technical risk and energy use (and hence CO2 emissions), and delivers less important benefit to any journeys below about 500km.”

Railfuture contrasts plans for HS2 with what is happening in other countries that have high speed lines:

“Significantly, no other European countries are building high-speed lines capable for greater speed than 350kmh, and none actually run trains faster than 320kmh at present. China has also just abandoned plans to build any more lines capable of 400kmh running, and the new Shanghai-Beijing line built for 400kmh will run at only 300/320kmh on grounds of economy, power usage, environmental concerns, and technical costs, as well as future construction costs.”

Aside from this, Railfuture just doesn’t see the need:

“At these speeds [300/320kmh], it is easily possible to meet the basic business specification for UK high-speed rail, including a less than 1-hour London-Birmingham time and under 3-hour timing for London-Glasgow.”

But the choice of the maximum operating speed is just one of the bad policy decisions that HS2 Ltd has taken in its development of HS2. As a result we have a plan that inflicts far more environmental damage upon our fair land than is necessary. There is a view that less damaging alternatives have been dismissed far too readily by the Government on the basis of bad advice from HS2 Ltd. This is a view that I strongly subscribe to and have expressed in a number of my blogs (for example see Matters of interpretation, which was posted on 20 Mar 2012). It is also an opinion shared by Railfuture:

“Railfuture believes that the Government’s consideration of options for network development has been too limited, with minimal consideration of alternatives that might offer superior performance, and give better comprehensive rail access to Heathrow.”

There is also, I believe, great resentment at the way these decisions have been taken. Despite public consultation, the public has not been able to participate in these high-level decisions that have such a great impact. The consultation on Phase 1 was on a single route corridor and pre-determined technical characteristics, and it appears that the consultation on Phase 2 will be treated in the same way. The door has remained firmly shut on alternative proposals such as the submission by Railfuture.

This approach is challenged by the Warwickshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) in a press release published on the day of the Transport Secretary’s Phase 2 announcement to the House of Commons. CPRE Warwickshire claims that “all the established principles of public participation have been thrown aside” and accuses the Government of imposing HS2 “in an undemocratic way with the public allowed no say on its principles or alternatives”.

A quote from Mark Sullivan, Technical Secretary of CPRE Warwickshire, expands on this claim:

“The Labour Government announced a single route for Phase 1 of High Speed 2 just before it lost office, breaking all the established policies on public participation. The Coalition has compounded this by extending the principle of imposition of a single route to Phase 2, and allowing in practice only discussion of details.”

Mr Sullivan draws upon CPRE’s experience with the motorway planning process in the early 1970s:

“In 1973 the Heath Government issued a policy that all new roads should be subject to public consultation on alternative routes before a single, detailed route was announced and designed. Over the years this became consultation on principles and is still in force.”

He accuses the current and previous governments of having “disregarded this policy in pursuing HS2” and having “put the clock back to the era before public participation in planning”.

He reminds us that it was British Rail that was responsible for preparing and proposing the HS1 design, “without Government involvement until decisions had to be made”. He adds that, “There was no restriction on the scope of debate or participation” and that the route did not go to Parliament “until there was general agreement on the general route and public acceptance.”

Ministers often claim that the good people of Kent have accepted HS1 into their bosoms and have learnt to love it, without acknowledging, at the same time, the part that the very real consultation that was carried out had to play in this acceptance. This will never happen with HS2 whilst the Department for Transport, and its bondsman organisation HS2 Ltd, restrict consultation to what Mr Sullivan describes as “secret planning with some local authorities, and the airport companies, engaged in behind-the-scenes lobbying”, without genuinely listening to the views of other stakeholders.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on February 25, 2013 at 11:10 am

    This involvement of stakeholders is further minimised in the amendment to the Growth and Infrastructure Bill passing through Parliament which helps create the paving conditions.

    The HS2 will not achieve the design average speeds because of the wear and repair and energy costs.

    The statement in the TSC from HS2 was being as straight as possible, Not achieved in phase 2 on both sections. Suggest you question why the Birmingham to Leeds section is selected when the cost is possibly much greater per mile than from Stevenage to Yourk/Leeds on a spur and able to achieve higher average speed and straighter.


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