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HS2 chaos is one broken cable away

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Hundreds of delegates struggled to get home from the Labour party conference in Liverpool as trains to London were disrupted for a period on 26 September.

A ‘broken signal cable’ at Wembley meant no trains could operate between Watford and London Euston, with the knock-on effects emanating up to the Midlands and the North West.

Of course, signal cables are not the only items of railway equipment that can get broken or damaged. Trains can fail, rails can crack, and overhead power lines can be put out of action by balloons, trampolines, birds, malfunctioning pantographs, etc.

The amount of disruption which then ensues depends on various factors, such as where the fault happens, how well-prepared the operator is, and how much traffic depends on the route being open. Even on lightly trafficked routes, the disruption can be massive, if the operator is not well-prepared. In 2014, more than 1,200 Eurostar passengers were stranded for hours overnight near Lille on trains following an overhead cable problem, and were only able to complete their journey when diesel locos turned up to tow the stricken trains to their destinations.

A single broken cable on HS2 could throw rail services to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield into chaos (map: wikipedia)

If you were designing a railway network for resilience, you probably wouldn’t want to use the same line to link a country’s capital to its second, third and fourth largest metropolitan areas, and load it with 18 trains an hour, running at 360 km/h. But the government’s proposed HS2 railway would (supposedly) do just that.

Channelling all premier intercity traffic to and from the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire onto a single pair of tracks between Water Orton and London would bring chaos one broken cable, or cracked rail, away.

In the event of such HS2 disruption, say 25 km out of London, the legacy West Coast Main Line would be of very limited help. The government’s intention is reconfigure the WMCL for more commuter services, and reduce the capacity at Euston from 18 to 13 platforms. The idea that the WCML could be instantly switched back into a full-service intercity railway when HS2 is disrupted, is a fantasy.

Implementing HS2 means reducing West Coast Main Line intercity capacity, and reducing classic platforms at Euston from 18 to 13

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Written by beleben

September 28, 2018 at 11:04 am

Posted in HS2, London, Planning, Politics

One Response

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