Private fears in public places, part 3

(… continued from Private fears in public places, part 2, posted on 16 Jun 2017).

In his Modern Railways article HS2’s Conventional Compatible Conundrum the magazine’s Industry and Technology Editor, Roger Ford, quotes in full a response provided by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Transport (DfT), to a written answer tabled by the “indefatigable” Lord Berkeley (see footnote 1). Although the response is rather long, I shall follow Mr Ford’s example in quoting it in full, and also include the original question for good measure.

Lord Berkeley (Labour): To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon on 9 March (HL5562), what assessment they have made of advice from SNCF quoted in the March edition of Railway Gazette International that operating above 320 km/h incurs significantly higher track maintenance costs.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: HS2 Ltd has collaborated with several high speed rail Infrastructure Managers, including SNCF, to ascertain the implications of running trains at 360km/h.

Using recommendations based on experiences of managing High Speed Lines in Europe, HS2 Ltd intends to incorporate specific components in the track design which will improve the system performance whilst utilising an Infrastructure Management System that determines asset performance and condition at all times.

The combination of these factors and the use of innovative maintenance activities, that go beyond current best practice, should reduce the maintenance implications of running at these speeds.

Mr Ford’s reactions to this apparent show of characteristic DfT hubris is to remark, with obvious irony, that “HS2 is going to show SNCF how high-speed infrastructure should be built and maintained”. He also picks up on the reference to “good old innovation”, which he describes as “the last refuge of a bullshitter”.

He also points out that the “the pre-qualification technical summary for the new fleet … notes that the anticipated maximum speed (360km/h) exceeds the technical scope of the relevant locomotives and passenger rolling stock (LOC&PAS) Technical Specification for Interoperability, which is 350km/h” (see footnote 2). This means, Mr Ford tells us that “TSI-compliant equipment will not meet the HS2 specification” and he foresees potential difficult contract negotiations resulting.

The reference to higher energy costs in the SNCF comment about the disadvantages of operating at the higher speed of 360km/h that I quoted in part 2 is also picked up by Mr Ford. He points out that “running at 360km/h rather than 300km/h increases power consumption of a 200m-long train by around 3 Mega-Watts, or 70%”. A fairer comparison, since the journey time is less at the higher speed, is provided by a table that compares the energy required to travel 100 km at different speeds (see footnote 3), but even this shows that 38 per cent more energy is required at 360km/h than at 300km/h.

Mr Ford accuses the DfT of avoiding this issue of increased energy costs in the written answer that I quoted at the head of this posting: that’s a bit unfair since Lord Berkeley asked about track maintenance, not energy, costs, but I would agree with Mr Ford that energy consumption is an issue that the DfT/HS2 Ltd has signally failed to address, in general.

Mr Ford describes the rigid adherence to 360km/h by DfT/HS2 ltd as “a shibboleth rather than a rational technical and commercial choice” (see footnote 4) and I feel that there is an element of that, particularly amongst senior technical personnel, who appear to want to hold on to the accolade of building the fastest railway in Europe. I also feel, however, that another written answer that he quotes in his article reveals perhaps the strongest motiving factor which is that any savings to be made from lowering the maximum linespeed “are more than offset by the significant loss in revenue and user benefits” (see footnote 5). It seems that even a modest loss in user benefits will be significant, since the business case is so highly geared to the value of passenger time savings.

One other issue that Mr Ford crams into his article is the requirement that HS2 conventional compatible very high speed trains (“CCVHSTs”) should fit within the classic UK loading gauge, rather than the larger GC gauge. He opines that “putting the traction power needed for 360km/h into the national network loading gauge is going to be a mite difficult” (see footnote 6).

I must say that after reading Mr Ford’s article it is clear to me that two simple steps could allow a whole cart-load of cash to be saved. Firstly, drop the linespeed to 320km/h, as he suggests, and secondly make the decision only to buy CCVHSTs for HS2 an all-time one. Since we are leaving the European Union anyway, why be shackled by European standards for our national infrastructure? Just think how much money could be saved by dropping the requirement for HS2 to be engineered to GC gauge.

Good eh? But then those clever chaps behind HSUK have already thought of both of those wheezes (see footnote 7).

All in all, I think that Mr Ford has produced a terrific article, and we are promised more of the same next month. I can’t wait – it might even be worth splashing out on a copy of the magazine.


  1. See House of Lords Department for Transport written question HL6073, answered on 23rdMarch 2017.
  2. See Section 6.2 in document reference HS2-HS2-RR-SPE-00000006, Pre-Qualification Technical Summary, HS2 Ltd, 21stApril 2017.
  3. See Table 2 on page 10 of the report Carbon Impacts of HS2: Factors affecting carbon impacts of HSR, Systra for Greengauge21, 28thNovember 2011.
  4. A shibboleth is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important”.
  5. See House of Lords Department for Transport written question HL5185, answered on 14thFebruary 2017.
  6. I reported another problem associated with CCVHST design, low-noise pantograph realisation, in my blog Checking the shopping list (posted 23 May 2017).
  7. At least I think that a reduced linespeed is proposed, but I haven’t been able to find confirmation of this in the HSUK promotional material.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by LesF on June 21, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Re note 7, HSUK is designed to run at 360km/h, the same as HS2, in order to be comparable. However, the vastly superior connectivity of HSUK means that it will give much better average reduction in journey time than HS2 even if the speed is reduced. Quote from HSUK website – document library – High Speed to Almost Nowhere – P79
    “Even at 200 km/h (125 MPH), the maximum speed at which existing main lines operate, HSUK would offer an average journey time reduction over 4 times greater than that of HS2.”


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