High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Chris Worker (HSR 20)


1.  I believe High Speed Rail (HSR) is a vital element in enhancing the capacity and performance of Britain's rail network to support socio-economic growth over the coming decades. However HS2 is the wrong approach to HSR, and is narrowing the scope of the analysis of HSR's socio-economic benefits.

2.  HSR calls for huge investment, so Britain needs to gain the maximum benefit from any such investment. HSR offers the greatest gains over long distances and where the reduction in journey-time is greatest. However rail services into London are already the fastest in Britain, and the distances between London and the closer key centres (such as Birmingham) are relatively short in HS terms. Therefore the gains HS can offer on such routes are, at best, modest.

3.  Rail journey times to mainland Europe from regional centres beyond London are so poor that rail is little used for such journeys. The challenge of getting across London (and the congestion zone around it) is probably a far more significant factor than line-speed. The emphasis for HSR should therefore be on direct travel between the regional centres of Britain and mainland Europe passing London. This is what air travel does, and is a significant part of its attraction. The socio-economic benefits of such a concept to the regions of the UK beyond London should be fully examined before HSR is ruled out. A similar analysis should also be undertaken in respect of direct freight provision. By offering a new set of routes, such an approach would increase the market share taken by rail while reducing transport's overall carbon footprint. Capacity issues in and approaching London are a separate matter, but would be eased by diverting through traffic past the capital's "congestion zone".

4.  The optimum continuation from HS1 would be north from Stratford up the Lea Valley, passing north of Hertford and across the East Coast Main Line (ECML) to a junction just west of Stevenage. These might be called the HSTrunk and Icknield Junction respectively. Icknield Jct. would be engineered to the maximum speed for negotiating point-work (approx 140mph); hence HSTrunk line speeds could be profiled for steady acceleration from Stratford to 140mph at Icknield Jct. Such a steady speed progression profile would be very energy-efficient, and would minimise track engineering costs.

5.  High Speed trains can operate on conventional electrified track up to the current ceiling of 125 mph if HS-format platforms and gauge clearances are provided. This has already been demonstrated on many Continental routes and by the use of Waterloo International. However, the main lines north and west of London have much higher line speeds than Waterloo—Ashford, and the alignment of the ECML offers considerable potential for much higher speeds. The "Waterloo crawl" should not be seen as the only outcome of mixed-mode operation of HS trains.

6.   The first function of HSTrunk would be to join the ECML near Hitchin. This would provide for direct services between mainland Europe and Doncaster, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh etc. as soon as HS platforms were built at key stations. The line could then be progressively upgraded, or new HS tracks built alongside it, to form HSNorth. This would create the sort of multi-track route SNCF has recommended. A link to Manchester could be built from a 140 mph Rossington Jct. (south of Doncaster) through the continental loading gauge Woodhead tunnel on a steady speed progression profile similar to that proposed for HS Trunk. This would give, for example, a Manchester—Paris journey time over an hour quicker than is suggested for HS2, with Stratford as the only UK stop. HS upgrades would continue north to serve Leeds, the Tees/Tyne area, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Scots might want to explore the possibility of an HS extension from Eryholme Jct (south of Darlington) to a junction near Gretna.

7.  From Icknield Jct, a Midlands line (HSMid) would join the M1 corridor near Luton, initially joining the West Coast Main Line at Roade Jct (just south of Northampton). As for HSNorth, this would provide direct services between mainland Europe and Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Crewe etc. as soon as platforms were built; HS tracks could be progressively extended. HSMid should also provide, as a minimum, a single track, bi-directional freight route between HS1 and Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT). A conventional line from the Rugby/DIRFT area to Leicester could carry both freight and HS.

8.  A third route from Icknield Jct. would initially form a spur to Luton Airport and the Midland Main Line (MML). In the longer term, HSWest could be built from Luton along the Vale of Aylesbury to the Great Western Main Line (GWML) just west of Didcot, taking advantage of the GWR's broad loading gauge to provide for services to Cardiff, Bristol and beyond. Electrification and speed enhancement of GW lines west of Didcot might thus become an HS project. As with the ECML, the superbly engineered Great Western track formations have considerable potential for higher speeds. A chord between Luton and Hitchin could provide a direct HS link between The South-west and The North, bypassing London.

9.  Developments described in paras 6 to 8 should be subject to rigorous market and economic benefit testing against journey times already achieved; 200mph should not be the presumed target for all cases.

10.  Stratford International (enlarged) should be the principal station for long-distance traffic passing London. This would minimise journey times for the longest distance travellers. Links between Stratford, The City and Canary Wharf/Docklands are already good and could readily be improved. Most of the benefits of Crossrail identified in the HS2 consultation would apply equally to Stratford.

11.  A chord north of Stratford would make St Pancras International the central London terminus for trains from the Midlands and North. Such trains would stop briefly before returning, or continuing onto HS1.

12.  The advantages of completing Crossrail to Continental rather than British specifications should be considered. If this were adopted, trains from HS1 could join Crossrail at Stratford, serve central London, and terminate at Heathrow. This could provide a link to the electrified GWML in the shorter term.

13.  An HS line could be built from Ashford to Gatwick (HSSouth) mainly alongside the (dead straight) Ashford-Redhill line. Services from Waterloo International could then be re-started via Gatwick. Links could be progressively extended to the west-facing main lines at Guildford, Farnborough etc.

14.  As aviation fuel costs rise, the demand to shorten flights between N. America and Europe will increase. Manchester, Birmingham, Luton, Heathrow and Gatwick airports could take advantage of this trend if they had good HSR services direct to mainland Europe. Without such HS links, Paris will probably become the entry point of choice, and British business opportunities would be lost.

15.  In terms of funding, I believe building London—Birmingham is far too big to be a single phase of work, and the long-term debt burden accrued would hold back further progress. Each phase should be small enough for realistic funding over a few years, and should be put to work earning revenue from mixed—mode services before the next phase begins. Stratford —ECML is a realistic first phase, Icknield Jct—Luton a second, Icknield Jct—WCML a third, and so on. It is unfortunate that at least ECML —Stratford could not be constructed in time for the Olympic Games.

16.  The strong Continental links of this proposal would offer greater potential than HS2 to attract funding from the EU. Stations beyond HS railheads might be part-funded by local, regional and devolved financing initiatives, thus broadening financial engagement.

17.  Great Britain's HS routes should be an integral part of the Trans European Network, able to send trains deep into Europe and host trains from there. We should embrace the idea of seeing, for example, German and Spanish HS trains in Cardiff and Exeter, or Scottish HS trains gliding to a halt in Rome and Budapest. Of course short-haul trains between London and the regions could operate between these, but the basis of operation must be Trans—European. HS2 lacks that vision, and is basically a stand-alone "middle-England shuttle" with a link to HS1 as a retro-fitted afterthought. Its revenue and economic performance could end up reflecting that poverty of vision.

18.  Future economic growth will depend heavily on efficient, sustainable movement of products and consumables across the EU. The rising cost of diesel fuel and climate change concerns will increasingly put Britain at a disadvantage both internally and across Europe unless provision is made for switching to sustainable long-distance freight transport on land. Freight route development should be integrated with HS provision, both for conventional traffic and for transporting HGVs "piggyback". The latter is common across North America, and is increasingly used in Europe, eg the Gotthard Base Tunnel and the Channel Tunnel itself. There should be a number of "piggyback" depots across Britain; indeed Great Britain might lead the way in opening up longer distance routes across Europe. This would have significant road safety benefits by reducing the number of tired long-distance HGV drivers on British roads.

19.  After much deliberation, HS1 was mainly built along existing transport corridors, thus achieving a good financial case and reducing environmental and 'blight' costs. The great railway engineers of the past followed the lie of the land wherever possible, thus minimising gradient and engineering challenges and the financial, human and environmental cost of cutting through landscape features. We should not lightly supersede these principles. In addition, wherever practical, land use and structures for HSR should incorporate electricity generation (wind, micro-hydro etc) landscape and nature conservation benefits.

May 2011

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011