Sent for an early bath

The Railfuture analysis, part 9

In this blog I will continue the consideration of the alternative route proposal made by rail campaign group Railfuture in its submission to the HS2 public consultation. In my blog Heading off in the right direction (posted 1 Mar 2013) I promised that I will look at the reasons that the Government has given for rejecting the M1/M6 alignment that Railfuture is promoting, and what counter-arguments Railfuture has to make.

Railfuture claims in its submission that there was an “early determination” that HS2 should follow the route through the Chilterns, and that the Government has been deaf to any alternatives since. The evidence certainly seems to support this view. The description of the route selection process employed by HS2 Ltd that is given in section 3.5 of the December 2009 document High Speed Rail London to the West Midlands and Beyond reveals that the route following the M1 corridor did not make it on to the shortlist (identified as “Stage Three”).

The reasons for rejection are set out in the High Speed Rail Command Paper, Cm 7827.

The first of these is given in paragraph 6.33:

“Following close to existing motorway alignments could provide an opportunity to reduce some of the potential impacts of a new high speed rail line. However, because high speed rail requires shallower curves than either conventional rail or motorways, it would not be possible for a new line to follow many existing routes without requiring either frequent speed restrictions which would undermine the core benefit of high speed rail or, alternatively, blighting significant ‘islands’ of countryside by isolating them between the curves of the road alignment and the necessarily straighter railway.”

However, this objection is based upon the HS2 Ltd testosterone-fuelled concept of a railway designed for speeds up to 400kph. As reported in my blog Making the right choices (posted 25 Feb 2013), Railfuture does not see this as a desirable design choice and are proposing a design speed of up to 320kph, which is just slightly higher than was specified for HS1. Railfuture tells us that at this preferred design speed “the required deviations from the motorway alignment would be greatly reduced”.

Also in paragraph 6.33 of Cm 7827, the Government identifies its second objection to a route along the M1 corridor; the alignment “would be less direct, resulting in longer journey times”.

Railfuture has an answer to this point also:

“An M1/M6 high-speed route from London to the West Midlands is approximately 7km longer than the HS2 route. It is also conceded that the exit route from London following the M1 is significantly more tortuous than that along the Central Line corridor. This might require speed restrictions of circa 200kph, rising to 250kph in the Watford area, and cost another 2 minutes in journey time relative to present HS2 proposals.

“However, in a comparative assessment, the additional journey time accruing from stopping at the Old Oak Common interchange should also be taken into account, as it will add around 5 minutes to all HS2 journey times. On this basis, a London to Birmingham journey via the ‘less direct’ M1/M6 route would be possibly even faster than via HS2.”

The Government’s third objection to the M1 alignment expressed in paragraph 6.33 of Cm 7827 is that it involves “the need for significantly more demolition than other routes, including of residential properties, unless substantial and expensive tunnelling was undertaken to reduce the impacts on major towns such as Luton and Dunstable”. Railfuture does not accept this point at all, commenting that it “appears to stem from a belief that such a route requires to be tunnelled for the full length from a point in West London, after serving Old Oak Common” – of course Railfuture has not included the West London station in its plans.

The comparative figures estimated by Railfuture, which I reported in my blog Heading off in the right direction, show that the M1 route, as proposed by Railfuture, requires substantially less tunnelling than the London-West Midlands route through the Chilterns that has been adopted by the Government. Railfuture justifies its claimed 10km of tunnelling as follows:

“The presence of the Luton/Dunstable conurbation is noted, but this would require a tunnel of only 4km well beneath the urban settlement. In other areas, 3km of tunnelling would be required at Mill Hill, and 3km to pass under the Hampstead Ridge between West Hampstead and Chalk Farm/Primrose Hill, at the top of the broad incline down to Euston terminus.”

The final objection to the M1 alignment made in paragraph 6.33 of Cm 7827 is that a railway on this alignment “would be much too far to the east for a link to an at-airport station at Heathrow to be remotely feasible”. This is undoubtedly true, but for the reasons that I reported in my blog A pointless diversion (posted 5 Feb 2013), Railfuture does not see such a link as a necessary feature of a high speed link northwards. Since even the Government has now put any idea of realising such a link from HS2 in abeyance, pending the outcome of the aviation review by the Davies Commission, any credence that this objection may have enjoyed now appears to have evaporated.

Having considered all the Government’s objections, Railfuture’s conclusion is:

“Railfuture has had the opportunity to review detailed route alignment diagrams, and in the light of this, considers all of the reasons to reject an M1/M6 highspeed route from London to the West Midlands were inappropriate.”

What a pity that the Government has been so keen to dismiss the Railfuture proposals on such flimsy pretexts and, according to the Chairman of Railfuture’s Network Development Committee Ian McDonald, “has failed to respond to the Railfuture proposal, despite the level of analysis that was put into it”.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Stephen Plowden on March 5, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    To justify any any high-speed link you would have to compare it with the upgrades and train lengthening which Chris Stokes has suggested in his work for 51M. Since his scheme provides all the capacity necessary to accommodate the implausibly high official demand forecasts, and since it could be built at a fraction of the cost of HS2, much more quickly, and with little or no environmental damage, I do not believe any high-speed line would survive that comparison.

    If HS2 does go ahead, the present plan, possibly with some very minor modifications, would allow the terminus to be at Old Oak Common, which would save the worst of the damage in London.


  2. Posted by chriseaglen on March 5, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    There are tool available today for making high resolution slices of the topography and the ground level intrusions that were not available to CTRL HS1 which can assist produce the least cut and fill and tunneling requirements. There is circa 50km for M1 and 40km of the A1/A1M where some parallel aligning is possible. Having driven the M1 and M40 and other routes there is not a ready to use corridor but sections can accomodate a railway. What is interesting is that the M4 offer such a westward opportunity.

    I do believe that selecting the alignments is the key to the process of planning and this was rushed on an assumption clouded in a number of ‘options’. Do not believe an search for the better corridor was dilligent for the wider north south corridors. Suggest if HS2 wanted to readdress this shortcut because of the poor Birmingham to Leeds proposal there could be other options not even in the HS2 range of options partcularly heading north from London for the inital section and dividing near Stevenage.


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