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The inexplicable need for 400-metre HS2 platforms in Leeds and Manchester

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Data from David Higgins’ 2014 ‘Rebalancing Britain‘ report showed that

  • Manchester-to-London rail passenger volume was much larger than that between Leeds and London
  • Leeds, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and York generated similar amounts of London traffic
  • together, Newcastle upon Tyne and York produced roughly the same London traffic as Manchester did.


At both Leeds and Manchester, new-build terminal stations, with 400-metre platforms, would be built for the exclusive use of HS2 trains. But HS2 services to York and beyond would make use of existing platforms, and be limited to 200-metre length.

With destinations between Newcastle and York taken into account, the cumulative demand to and from York might actually exceed the demand at Manchester.

If short HS2 trains, and short platforms, are deemed adequate to meet expected demand from York, and points north thereof, why are HS2 Ltd proposing to build new termini in Manchester and Leeds?

The available information suggests that the Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds HS2 termini, and their 400-metre platforms, do not serve an obvious or clearly-defined transport purpose.


Written by beleben

October 20, 2017 at 3:55 pm

Posted in HS2

Right to be sceptical

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A 420-mile (676 km) high speed railway between London and Scotland could be built for ‘as little as £11 billion‘, according to Network Rail chief Iain Coucher, The Times reported on 9 May 2006.

Responding to the proposal, the Shadow Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, said, “The public are right to be highly sceptical […]

the Government should be concentrating on delivering projects that could actually make a difference to people’s lives in the short term.

'High speed trains to take on planes', The Times, 9 May 2006 (h/t @YorkshireNo2HS2)

Written by beleben

October 18, 2017 at 4:30 pm

Posted in HS2

Unreason at the core

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In the 2014 ‘Rebalancing Britain‘ report, HS2 chairman David Higgins wrote of “the clear importance of the Manchester market”. According to the Department for Transport, there were about 3¼ million rail journeys between London and Manchester in 2013 / 2014, and 48 trains per day in each direction.

Northern markets, David Higgins 'Rebalancing Britain' report for the Department for Transport, 2014

Northern markets, David Higgins ‘Rebalancing Britain’ report for the Department for Transport, 2014

Assuming 589-seat Pendolino trains, and 360-days-per-year operation, would give an annual quantum of (589 * 48 * 2 * 360 =) 20,355,840 seats. For Monday-through-Friday, the figure would be ~14,136,000.

So, on a 7-day or a 5-day measure, less than a quarter of the ‘Manchester to London intercity seat capacity’ was actually used for journeys between Manchester and London.

The percentages for other end to end journeys, such as London to Birmingham and London to Leeds, are not that different. To get better loadings, intercity trains tend to make stops en route, enabling them to tap into commuter traffic (e.g. Macclesfield to Manchester).

In the HS2 scheme, there would be a much higher dependence on ‘end to end’ traffic, with intermediate destinations tending to be either badly served (e.g. Nottingham, Coventry), or not served at all.

But as is plain to see from the ‘Northern markets’ graphic (above), the volume of big-city to big-city demand is not very large.

The ‘capacity case’ for HS2 does not withstand scrutiny because (i) the vast majority of rail demand is for short distance travel, (ii) capacity on the existing tracks can be increased substantially, at much lower cost.

For example, Manchester-to-London and Birmingham-to-London capacity on the existing West Coast Main Line could be increased by over 50%, without resignalling, or platform lengthening. That uplift would come from recasting the timetable, and using space-efficient carriages.

On page 5 of his ‘Rebalancing’ report, David Higgins wrote, “The biggest danger in any major project is losing sight of why you are doing it in the first place. Why is it worth the effort, not to mention the cost? What is the problem that it is the answer to? What is the core purpose you are trying to achieve?”

The big chart of ‘with- and without-HS2’ journey times – on page 4 of the report – would suggest that the rationale of HS2 was more about ‘reducing journey times’, than increasing capacity.

DfT / David Higgins 'Rebalancing Britain' 2014 report, page 4 and top of page 5

DfT / David Higgins ‘Rebalancing Britain’ 2014 report, page 4 and top of page 5

But how many journeys would it speed up?

There are ~1,500 million journeys on ‘national rail’, each year. Would speeding up 3¼ million of them between Manchester and London — or 1¾ million between Leeds and London — justify an outlay of “£55.7 billion”?

Written by beleben

October 11, 2017 at 11:31 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

State of the art in 1980s France

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Ahead of the Conservative Party conference (1 to 4 Oct 2017) in Manchester, transport secretary Chris Grayling has insisted that HS2 is a ‘state of the art capacity project’.

Chris Grayling on HS2, Daily Express 01 Oct 2017

‘State of the art’, in 1980s France, perhaps. HS2 seems to combine outmoded TGV design concepts with ‘faster than you’ 360 km/h operation.

But very high speed is very high cost, and makes no sense when centres of population are close together – as they are in Britain.

Written by beleben

October 1, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Posted in HS2, Politics

Aesthetically challenged overhead

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High Speed 2 Ltd has procured a £3 million licence from SNCF to use its existing high speed overhead catenary system (OCS) for the HS2 phase 1 route, New Civil Engineer reported (paywall).

[HS2 to use French overhead line technology, Katherine Smale, New Civil Engineer, 29 Sep 2017]

[…] The project promoter said while it welcomed any solution which met its standards, as a number of companies had already produced systems which were close to complying with its standards, it anticipated the work would be to upgrade and develop existing systems and not design it from scratch.

HS2 said unlike alternative systems, SNCF’s system did not prescribe suppliers, opening the way for UK-based manufacturers to bid for contracts to supply OCS components.

This suggests that HS2 phase 1 could end up looking much like HS1 – which is a French ‘high speed’ line, in all but name.

SNCF type overhead lines, as seen on 51m website

SNCF type overhead lines, as seen on 51m website

So, what happened to the aspiration for HS2 to be a design ‘exemplar’, with ‘aesthetic overhead line structures’? Perhaps Sadie Morgan knows?

RIBA competitions, 'aesthetic overhead line structures'

RIBA competitions, ‘aesthetic overhead line structures’

Did someone say ‘Tesco value’?

Allied Insulators, 'HS2 aesthetic electrification'

Allied Insulators, ‘HS2 aesthetic electrification’

Written by beleben

September 29, 2017 at 11:28 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Lost in the scrum

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HS2 arrives at Euston

HS2 executives have warned that journey time savings from the “£55.7 billion” high speed railway would be “lost in the scrum of passengers, queues and poor onward connections” at Euston station, unless the “£30 billion” Crossrail 2 is built.

[HS2 warns it will not ‘work properly’ without Crossrail 2, Gill Plimmer and Jim Pickard, Financial Times, 25 Sep 2017 (paywall)]

Euston is already severely overcrowded and currently handles more than double its supposed 20m passenger-a-year capacity. With HS2, more than 10 high-speed trains an hour, each carrying up to 1,000 passengers, could cause a huge crunch.

“We are dependent on Crossrail 2 for the train line to work properly at Euston,” said one senior person at HS2.

[…] modelling by TfL shows that — without Crossrail 2 — more than 17 Underground stations would “buckle” under crowding pressures from HS2.

A case of ‘One vanity project demands another’, perhaps. The entire economic case for Crossrail 2 remains under a cloak of secrecy.

Greater London Authority refusal to provide Crossrail 2 business case info, July 2017

If HS2 cannot “work properly” without Crossrail 2, why didn’t HS2 Ltd include statements to that effect, in its economic case?

Written by beleben

September 25, 2017 at 11:10 am

Posted in HS2, Planning, Politics

Getting Leonie excited

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HS2 would pass through Long Eaton via a 16 metre high viaduct, but the benefits for the town are “very exciting”, according to Leonie Dubois, HS2 head of consultation and engagement (quoted in the Nottingham Post, 21 Sep 2017).

Long Eaton HS2 viaduct, impression published by Derby Telegraph

Toton parkway station would be “the best connected station on the railway network, which is a massive opportunity for the people”.

Written by beleben

September 22, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Posted in HS2