No ceiling on ignorance
Consultants “have drawn up blueprints for double-deckers up to 400 metres long, carrying more than 1,000 passengers”, on the “£32 billion HS2 high speed rail network set to be approved this week”, reported the Guardian (8 January 2012).
The decision by the transport secretary, Justine Greening, to go ahead with the first phase of the HS2 network from London to Birmingham is expected as early as Tuesday.
Greening told the Sunday Times she was excited by the idea of “continental-style double-decker trains that immediately give you more seats and more space”. The trains could have glass viewing ceilings and meeting areas.
Supporters of high speed rail say tackling the limited capacity offered by existing lines is crucial.
The operator of the South West Trains and East Midlands Trains franchises said contracts which set out strict timetables added significantly to the multibillion-pound costs that the government was trying to reduce.
Brian Souter, Stagecoach’s chief executive, said train operators should be judged on passenger satisfaction and be given free rein on services.
“We have got to look at a much looser arrangement. Use a passenger satisfaction measure as the trigger for default. Let people do what they want so long as passenger satisfaction remains high,” he said. Souter added that franchise owners were allowed to reduce services when privatisation was introduced in the mid-1990s.
Stagecoach’s finance director, Martin Griffiths, added that empty off-peak trains had been a common sight during the downturn. “In the middle of this recession we were carrying around fresh air. It was crazy, absolutely crazy,” he said.
Politicians are very susceptible to spin and nonsense such as ‘high speed trains with glass ceilings’, ‘more space’, etc. A few years ago, John Redwood MP started proposing that British commuter trains be fitted with rubber wheels, ‘like the Paris metro’. Obviously, trains on the SNCF Transilien network don’t have rubber wheels, and nor do those of any other commuter railway.
High speed trains have small windows to meet crashworthiness requirements. In fact, on some Japanese bullet trains, the windows aren’t much bigger than aircraft portholes.
All operators of new high speed rail stock in Europe – except SNCF – seem to have selected single deck designs (including Russian Railways, whose structure gauge is considerably larger than that planned for HS2), for reasons of ambiance and marketability. As with commercial aircraft, the cost of furnishable space in a high speed train is likely to rule out meeting areas (which would be more financially feasible in a conventional speed train).