27. Does HS2 really need 400 metre 16 coach trains?

From the very beginning it has been assumed that the trains running on HS2 would be European gauge 16 coach trains 400 metres long. In the three years since HS2 Ltd published their first plans for the route of HS2, no one appears to have questioned whether we really need 400 metre trains. HS2 has been designed on the assumption that all stations on HS2 routes would be able to accommodate 400m trains. Very few stations on the current UK rail network can accommodate 400 metre trains. That means that longer distance HS2 trains running off the high speed lines to Newcastle, Carlisle, Lancaster and Wigan will have to be less than 400m.

We know that many European countries run their trains in very long formations. So we have accepted that we need 400 m trains.

Long trains are most suited to carrying very large numbers of people over long distances. The Eurostar trains between London and Paris or Brussels are a good example. But for shorter distances, capacity is better achieved through more frequent services. Frequent services enable the train to compete more effectively with the private car.

The prime benefit of building HS2 is to provide extra capacity on the West Coast main line, but it will also provide capacity relief on other lines out of London going north. The capacity is necessary not so much because of the large number of passengers, but the need to serve the various destinations along the West Coast Main Line with the right mix of non-stop, limited-stop and all-stations passenger services, as well as providing paths for freight to reduce the pollution on the roads.

The benefit of HS2 is that it will take all the fastest non-stop trains out of the mixed traffic inter-city routes and actually increase the capacity of those routes because the variation in train speeds will be less. But we will still need to serve all the intermediate stations on the routes bypassed by HS2.

If we take the three inter-city routes out of London that HS2 can relieve, we see that if we could insert the HS2 high speed network on top of the present network, the capacity of HS2 with 200m 8 coach trains only would be roughly the same as our present network, possibly very slightly less as we have more 9-11 coach trains on these routes than 4-5 coach trains (on the Midland main line). The capacity of HS2 in terms of number of trains is roughly the same as the total on all three lines it relieves.

In the intervening years before HS2 is built and is able to relieve the existing inter-city lines, the present network will need to be increased in capacity by up to 50% simply to prevent increasing congestion and overcrowding. So by the time HS2 is built, we will have about 2.5 times the capacity we now have. The serious question is whether rail travel is increasing at such a level that long distance travel north from London will be as much as 2.5 times the present level. Because until rail traffic exceeds 2.5 times its present level, we will not need longer than 200 metre trains on HS2. We cannot predict whether the increase in rail travel will slow down or not. That may be decades after H2 is completed, or within a few years.

If we now assume that HS2 will provide sufficient capacity with 200 metre trains for some years after it is built, how do we deal with the increase in traffic when these 200 metre trains fill up. For this we need to examine the critical destinations. The two largest UK long distance flows are London to Birmingham and London to Manchester. 400 metre trains are not possible at Birmingham New Street, but there are better options. The first is that the present London to Birmingham service also carries passengers for Rugby, Coventry and Birmingham International. By dividing the service into a non-stop London – Birmingham (HS2) and a London-Rugby, Coventry and Birmingham International service, we double capacity. For short journeys from London to the West Midlands, journey times are improved more by running direct services from London to other parts of the West Midlands (e.g Sutton Park, Walsall and Wolverhampton) than by terminating longer trains at Curzon Street with its attendant 30 minute interchange penalty. On HS2, such services could be joined and split at the proposed Birmingham Interchange station.

As we have seen at the proposed HS2 plans for Manchester, 400m trains could be accommodated at Manchester Piccadilly so where there is a capacity problem with 8 coach trains, 16 coach trains could easily be used.

Traffic between London and Leeds and Liverpool is much lower than between London and Birmingham or Manchester, so it could be a decade longer before 400m trains might be needed in those cities. For these cities, it could be profitable to build 4 coach 100m HS2 trains that could be used on Javelin type HS2 services between Birmingham (New Street) and Nottingham Midland and between Nottingham Midland and Leeds. These 4 coach trains could be coupled up with 8 coach trains to increase capacity serving stations where 12 coach trains can be accommodated but not 16 coach trains.

It does seem to me that apart from the most congested section between London and Birmingham Interchange, 400 metre trains are not really needed on HS2. Certainly capacity could be increased substantially by combining and splitting trains at Birmingham Interchange station. The only other possible application for 400 metre trains is London to Manchester where HS2 have shown capable of accommodating longer trains and possibly London to Scotland, where train could well divide and join at Carstairs.






26. HS2 will have a dedicated Further Education college to train engineers.

It is reported by the BBC that HS2 will have a new college dedicated to the training of engineers to meet the increased need for engineers in building and maintaining our high speed rail network.

The college is due to open in 2017.

This is excellent news, but it is very important that this is followed up by ensuring there will be long term work for the engineers trained and that they do not leave the UK for other countries.

This strengthens the case for building as much as possible of the trains that run on HS2 within the UK.

When HS2 was first announced, it was suggested that the cost of buying the trains might be reduced by buying ‘off-the-shelf’ trains based on designs that are already working in other countries. But that would mean that we would be buying our trains from outside the UK. When the Thameslink contract was awarded to a German company Siemens rather than our own workers at Bombardier at Derby, there was a big public outcry. People are concerned for their jobs and buying our trains from other countries is not the best way to keep employment in Britain.

Although buying in UIC gauge trains would give a small cash saving in initial costs, they would limit the use of the trains to the high speed rail network. By using ‘classic- compatible’ trains that can run both on the high speed lines and on the classic network, we can extend the benefits of high speed operation with through services to places off the high speed line. This will deliver very useful gains in productivity of people using their computers to work on their train journey. For example, a person traveling between London and Shrewsbury can work all the way on a through train allowing about 5 minutes each end for switching on and off. If UIC gauge trains are used for the London to Birmingham leg of the journey, then the passenger switches off 5 minutes before Birmingham and spends half an hour or more changing trains. The same passenger may not be able to work so easily in the ‘local’ train from Birmingham to Shrewsbury. But the time available to work on the train is reduced by about half and the journey is quite a bit longer. So by being able to run through trains from HS2 to the current network will not only make the productive work done of the train more effective, but also make the traveling more pleasant.

With very limited services being proposed from midlands and northern cities to the European continent, the benefits of having a ‘classic-compatible’ trains built in the UK by UK trained engineers seems overwhelming compared to the partial savings possible from buying from overseas manufacturers.

The HS2 FE college is most welcome.

25. Transport Select Committee report is ‘Right on Track’, but could go much further

The House of Commons Transport Committee report ‘High Speed Rail: on track?’ released on December 9th 2013 is an oasis of common sense in the highly polarised debate on HS2 where both sides are having difficulty in separating reason and common sense from inaccuracy and publicity seeking fiction.

The Transport Select Committee are right to say that “We support the strategic case for HS2and stand by our conclusion that HS2 is needed to provide long term increase in the capacity of the railway and that alternative proposals to increase capacity are not sufficient to accommodate long-term forecast demand.”


They also recommend that the DfT should emphasise that the cost of building HS2 is £28 billion and that cost increases have been additional measures taken to mitigate the effects on people living hear the route. This is an important point. As it is being planned this is the true budget to which HS2 are working. Cost figures of £42 billion which have been shown include a staggering 50% extra allowance made to cover any possible cost over-runs.

Against the figure of around £9 billion quoted for upgrading the West Coast Main Line, the £28 billion for HS2 is a lot of new capacity at a very reasonable price. New rail capacity is very expensive, but there is no better way than HS2 and the Transport Select Committee have understood this.

The Transport committee recommend that the incoming Chairman of HS2 Ltd., Sir David Higgins, will “report to ministers by the end of 2014 on options for speeding up HS2 so that trains run north of Birmingham on high speed routes well before 2032/3, as currently envisaged.” Very considerable amounts of money can be saved by speeding up the completion of HS2. Firstly it has been estimated that work to the value of £20 billion will be needed to be spent on the existing railway to create the capacity needed. But much of that work will be required anyway to meet the growth whilst HS2 is being built. For each year that HS2 can be speeded up, about £1 billion of upgrading work on the existing railway could cease to be needed. In addition the completion of HS2 in a shorter period will significantly reduce the cost of the whole project. Furthermore KPMG have shown that completing HS2 will raise the UK GDP significantly and that can be translated into a very large tax return for the Government.

The Transport Committee are right to call on Sir David Higgins to speed up the completion of HS2 as this generate financial benefits to the Government of anything from about £1 billion upwards for each year that HS2 is completed early.

The Transport Committee have recommended “that the Government review the appropriateness of applying its standard appraisal methodology to large projects. . .with the aim of ensuring that the appraisal . . .is not unduly based on the benefits accruing to individual travellers rather than wider society.” They also recommend “that the Government recognise the current limitations of the work undertaken by KPMG. .” There is much wrong with using appraisal methodology originally designed to justify road building for railway operation. It certainly appears to unduly favour out of town stations because access time is determined on journey times by road with no benefits of connecting rail services being counted. It also unduly favours the terminating of trains at the main centres (Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds) because the benefit of continuous on-train productive work does not figure in the calculations.

Neither is the Transport Committee convinced of the reliability of the KPMG figures for GDP growth generated by HS2. In practice HS2 would generate £15 billion extra GDP and this would earn the Government 39% of this in tax. This would mean that for every £1 billion invested in HS2 by the Government, they would get a return of 20% of their capital every year once HS2 is completed. When you then consider that HS2 will deliver very large benefits in transport quality and add significant new capacity as well, the figures from KPMG do not convince. And they obviously do not convince the Transport Select Committee.

The Transport Select Committee suggest that it is “essential that the benefits are spread as widely as possible. Here should go further and give more details and specific examples in order to get real action.

Firstly they suggest “prioritising rail projects which enable trains from a wider area than is currently envisaged gaining access to the high speed network (for example services from the south west to London and the north)”. I would certainly back the case for trains from Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton to Birmingham using the high speed line to go forward to London, or trains from Halifax and Bradford to Leeds going on to London on the high speed line. That would be extend the benefits of HS2 over quite a significant area, but I do not see the same value of a Plymouth to Glasgow train joining the HS2 route at Old Oak Common in place of going the more direct route via Bristol and Birmingham.

Next they suggest “building additional links between the conventional and high speed network.” This is admirable, but unless such links are specified nothing is likely to be gained. I would like to suggest that the Transport Select Committee holds another enquiry to take evidence from the professional railway operators, Greengauge 21 and Railfuture and other people with expert knowledge of the railway system to define and explore which are the best locations for links between HS2 and the existing network. There are a number of links that could and should be seriously considered including:

  • From HS2 into Birmingham New Street and beyond to Walsall, Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury.
  • From HS2 near Lichfield on to the Lichfield – Burton – Derby line so that journey times from London to Derby and to Sheffield Midland could be cut further
  • From HS2 near the location of East Midlands Parkway station on to the Midland main line to permit trains from London to run directly into Nottingham Midland station, and also Derby.
  • At the proposed Toton station so that trains from Nottingham Midland going north can access HS2 to deliver faster journey times from Nottingham to Leeds and Newcastle.
  • Near Meadowhall in Sheffield so that trains from Sheffield Midland can join HS2 for quicker journey times to Leeds and Newcastle.
  • Near Leeds city centre so that trains from London and Birmingham can access Leeds station for better rail connections to destinations near Leeds, and possibly also so that trains from London can access Bradford station via the existing network.
  • At Old Oak Common so that HS2 trains from the north can run directly to Clapham Junction, East Croydon, Gatwick Airport and Brighton.
  • From Manchester Piccadilly HS2 platforms to Manchester Victoria so that towns to the north of Manchester that do not enjoy fast links to Piccadilly will gain further benefit from HS2.
  • To Heathrow airport, and beyond to Portsmouth and Southampton via links south of Heathrow yet to be designed and built.
  • In addition to these links, there may also need to be connections between HS2 and the existing railway to give additional flexibility in serving passengers when sections of track are blocked.

The Committee’s other suggestion is “bringing forward projects to speed up journey times on the conventional network.”  Certainly journey times between major cities not to be served by HS2 links will need to be significantly speeded up to prevent these cities losing potential business because of slow links. If the effect of HS2 is only to speed up journey times between midlands and northern city centres and London, much of the potential of reducing the north-south economic via HS2 divide will be lost. Obvious examples are journeys such as Nottingham to Liverpool and generally journey times to other cities from places such as Bradford, Middlesbrough, Hull and Norwich.

What is perhaps the most significant comment in the report is that the Transport Committee “recommend that DfT, HS2 Ltd. and Network Rail work together on identifying potential “High Speed Britain” projects by the end of 2014 for inclusion in the post 2020 Control Period 6 planning round.”  Now that the Transport Committee has said this, it is very important that this is followed up by Ministers with a designated person empowered to monitor progress.

But it is essential for the success of HS2 that all the recommendations of the Transport Select Committee are followed up and action is taken on all areas they have raised.


24. HS2 Ltd. looks to UK suppliers for up to £10 billion worth of contracts.

HS2 Ltd. has given its first indication of its strong commitment to UK business by hosting its first Supply Chain Conference at Birmingham on November 5th.

At the conference which will be held at the Millenium Centre close to the site of the proposed Curzon Street HS2 station, representatives of HS2 Ltd will meet with businesses to discuss the opportunities in the planning, design and construction of HS2.

Commercial director Beth West said: “HS2 is a multi-billion pound project to build Britain’s new high speed rail network, the supply chain conference offers businesses the chance to prepare themselves for the opportunities which will be generated by this exciting project.”

This initiative by HS2 Ltd. is to be widely applauded g for its foresight and its long term commitment to British industry.

23. HS2 needs compromise , not confrontation

The claims of those who oppose HS2 and those who support HS2 are getting bigger and bolder. But at the same time they are getting less believable, doing neither side any good.

There is no way any sane Government would allow the costs of HS2 to reach anywhere near the £70 – 80 billion pounds that is being suggested by opponents of HS2. Neither are we ever likely to get a £15 billion pound annual return from a £33 billion pound project.

So are we at a stalemate?

Does the Government hope that it can use the power of Government to bully and bulldoze an unpopular HS2 route through the Chilterns against the opposition. This is certainly possible.

Or do those opposing HS2 hope that the cross party support for HS2 will become more fragile and that the next general election realizes a party or coalition that no longer supports HS2. This is not impossible.

So what is the way forward?

Surely we need a compromise. Could HS2 Ltd. and the DfT, get together with representatives of the Chiltern groups that are now opposing HS2 to agree a compromise route rather than continue the continual dogfight we see in the press almost every day.

Many supporters of HS2 claim that when HS2 is built, there will be no excessive noise and loss of amenity and point to the success of HS1. HS1 is a success because the highly unpopular routes presented by BR were changed in favour of the present route which follows existing transport corridors.

With HS2 we have a highly unpopular route which not only attracts opposition from people living along the route, but also from lobby groups opposing HS2 on value-for-money grounds. This route was chosen specifically so as to drive HS2 in as straight a line as possible and to be able to run at the very highest possible speeds. As we now hear from Ministers that the justification for HS2 is not speed but capacity, is it not time to re-visit the choice of route with an open mind and a will to agree a popular compromise that would minimise opposition?

Just as the unpopular BR proposed routes for HS1 were changed by Michael Heseltine in favour of the route we now know as HS1, is it now not time to seriously reconsider the route for HS2 between London and Birmingham, and if both sides (opponents of HS2 and HS2 Ltd.) can agree on an alternative route, then route should not be taken even if it means that a lot of preparation work has to be discarded.

A route without the opposition that the present HS2 route attracts will always be much quicker to build.

22. If it appears to be too good to be true. . .it won’t be, and certainly not for HS2

The theme of this blog has to be the recent report on the benefits of HS2 written by KMPG.

But I would first like to dwell on a report by Dr Richard Wellings for the Institute of Economic Affairs which suggested that HS2 would cost £80 billion. For those who oppose HS2, this was surely too good to be true. And it was. It contained no new information that would reliably suggest that the cost of HS2 would increase substantially, just listed a number of add on projects that could assist HS2 in delivering greater benefits and which can be justified by the benefits they create without HS2. I can do no better than refer anyone interested in why this report is irrelevant to anything connected with HS2 than to refer you to these three blogs:





They say it all. Now to KMPG..

The report is a very complex analysis of the benefits of increased productivity through better transport connections. That being said, transport improvements can increase productivity, but in my own experience of running a business, attracting customers is the greatest source of business growth. Effective marketing can overcome the barriers of poor transport links. If a customer wants a product enough, that customer will overcome the barriers to get it. Cutting costs through improved transport is by comparison of marginal benefit.

A return of £15 billion per annum increase in GDP on a project that will cost £32.7 billion is a staggering 46% return on investment every year. Even if the cost rises to the latest projection of £42.6 billion, the return on investment is 35%. These figures could well be higher as there will be many benefits from HS2 that have not been captured by this analysis, including the additional benefits to business if HS2 were better connected to the existing rail network and from the export of rail building skills following from a successful completion of HS2.

There can be very few business models that can create such a high ongoing annual return on investment. It is just not credible to even imagine that a high speed rail network, with many flaws of poor connectivity in its present plans, could achieve this. If there were any truth in these figures, we would need to completely change the way that the country is governed financially.

But the idea that HS2 will generate economic benefits of £15 billion, or even half that figure, just simply is impossible to believe without a wealth of new evidence, not theory, to confirm it.

If we take the East Midlands where I live, I would expect to see a big increase in productivity if HS2 trains called at Derby and Nottingham station over the proposed plans for a joint station at Toton with connecting services. Most business is done in city centres, and companies looking to re-locate or expand to new areas generally prefer locations with good service industries such as a found in the centres of large cities.

The KPMG report does not prove that HS2 will deliver the benefits it claims.

Neither the KPMG report or that by Richard Wellings do its author any credit and neither can be regarded as relevant to any sensible discussion on HS2.

21. Even with 200 mph trains, can HS2 reach Derby and Nottingham faster than the MML

HS2 Ltd has proposed a joint hub station on HS2 to serve both Nottingham and Derby. Whilst this can have advantages for anyone who has a car and lives on the Derby side of Nottingham or the Nottingham side of Derby for travelling to London, this is no help to the person who wants to get from London to Derby or Nottingham to do business there or spend money as a tourist. This will not bring to the East Midlands the economic benefits that high speed rail is capable of delivering unless high speed trains can call at Derby an Nottingham city centre stations, even if as few as one train an hour in each direction.

It has been suggested that Derby and Nottingham could be served from HS2 at Toton by connecting trains from Toton to both Derby and Nottingham.

The first possible suggestion is that Nottingham to Derby trains are routed via Toton. A reasonable assumption is that the Derby to Toton journey will take the same as Derby to Attenborough and that Nottingham to Toton will takes as long as Nottingham to Long Eaton. Assuming a 3 minute stop at Toton to allow for reversal, the journey times between Derby and Nottingham will be increased from 23 to 29 minutes to 37 to 41 minutes, typically about 13 minutes longer. As this represents an increase in 50% of the journey time between Derby and Nottingham, this is unlikely to have a positive business case. With electrification, journey times will be quicker, but the proportional increase in journey time via Toton might well be greater.

A second possible option, that has not yet been considered, would be to route the Nottingham to Toton services via a new south facing curve at Trowell. This could provide a connection to Toton from Nottingham station avoiding any conflict with trains on the busy Nottingham – Beeston – Attenborough corridor. If we assume that the journey time between Nottingham and Toton will be about the same as Nottingham and Langley Mill (the distance is lightly longer, but the curve for Toton at Trowell will have a much lower speed limit). This would give very similar timings between Derby and Nottingham via Toton as via the current route, still 10 minutes slower than direct journeys between Derby and Nottingham.
Another option for Nottingham would be to re-route the Liverpool to Norwich services via Toton to serve the high speed station. However this is likely to add to the journey times for long distance travelers and the only passengers who would benefit with connecting into HS2 at Toton would be those form Chesterfield or Nottingham who would be better served by a new Nottingham to Chesterfield stopping service. Taking the existing Nottingham to Leeds service via Toton may not be beneficial either.

The best solution to connect Toton with Nottingham and Derby would be additional services every hour or half hour from Nottingham via Toton to Chesterfield and from Derby via Toton to Mansfield. It is quite likely that the largest traffic would be from Mansfield and Sutton in Ashfield to Toton because journeys for destinations beyond Nottingham would be considerably speeded up. It is sensible to assume that these trains may be timed to connect with HS2 trains with minimum waiting.

Looking to the future and the electrification of the Midland Main Line, it is expected that journey times from London to Derby will be 84 minutes and to Nottingham 87 minutes. Nottingham is actually closer to London than Derby but because Nottingham is the end of the service, the journey time contains an extra 4 ‘recovery’ minutes.

For a journey from London to Derby or Nottingham via HS2 at Toton, the times will be|;
London to Toton – 62 minutes
Minimum connection time applied to ticket buying software – 15 minutes. This will be very reasonable as HS2 trains may be 400 m long and passengers may expect to walk with their luggage for up to 200m and then cross over platforms using 2 lifts or sets of stairs.
Waiting time to get on train – 5 minutes. This gives 20 minutes from the high speed train stopping and the connecting train leaving. This is the same as currently quoted for the interval between trains at Leeds on a London to Bradford service.
Toton to Nottingham or Derby 18 – 20 minutes.
The total journey time, assuming a good connection at Toton will be 100 – 102 minutes, typically about 15 minutes longer city centre to city centre via HS2. If, as has been suggested.

However, I have heard it said that there may be difficulties with the Toton station site and that this would require a major reorganization of existing train services. According to the report ‘HS2 Regional Economic Impacts’ there are intended to be 7 high speed trains each hour calling at Toton. It would be very difficult to provide even half the number of local trains to call at Toton without causing congestion on the local lines.
It is of course possible that the DfT may specify much slower trains from Nottingham and Derby to London to give HS2 services a false competitive edge. This would be a retrograde step which would harm the East Midlands economy.

The best solution is to route HS2 via Derby and to build a spur from HS2 on to lines connecting with Nottingham from both directions. Whilst such a spur would add cost, the cash value of time savings benefits to over a million annual passengers between Nottingham and London are more than likely justify those costs.