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Posts Tagged ‘railways

Panoramic view

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BBC Television’s Panorama ‘Train Fares: Taken for a Ride?’ (first broadcast date 23 Jan 2012) looked at Britain’s railways:

Packed in like sardines, on trains that often arrive late… But it is the price of the tickets that really upsets lots of rail travellers, and fares have just gone up to record levels. So why are train fares so expensive? Panorama investigates the cost of riding on the railway.

BBC Panorama rail interviewees Theresa Villiers, David Higgins, Adrian Shooter, Cathryn Ross, Roy McNulty, Steven Norris

Near the beginning, reporter Vivian White promised, “Tonight we track down the millions that get wasted on our railways.” Unfortunately, the programme never did get around to tracking down the wasted millions, or explaining why train fares are so expensive. However, the interview with Network Rail’s chief executive [time in 08:00] Sir David Higgins, did yield this response:

There are six hundred [delay] attribution people, which is — which is — People think that contracting and legal frameworks, and fines, and blame, can improve an industry… I tell you it doesn’t do it at all… It’s complete rubbish.

Which is tantamount to saying that the British model of railway privatisation is complete rubbish. But fragmenting the railway into more than a hundred parts was always going to result in a morass of contractual and accounting interfaces. And scrutiny and planning conundrums.

The programme was somewhat tabloid, with airtime given over to a commuter who sends long time-wasting complaint e-mails, etc. Around the 19 minute mark, the report turned into a sort of PR film for Chiltern Railways, giving a rather slanted view of the case for train operators to have more control of infrastructure. But the interview with Cathryn Ross, of the Office of Rail Regulation, was worryingly illuminating. Rather than interview Theresa Villiers, it might have been more interesting to question her former adviser, Saratha Rajeswaran, who wrote a review apparently recommending no change in scrutiny of Network Rail executive pay.

Transactional bureaucracy, poor governance, lack of transparency, and ineffective scrutiny mechanisms are the pillars of the high-cost railway. Most of the industry is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, including Network Rail. The ‘members‘ of Network Rail are supposed to oversee its efficient operation, but are clearly unable to perform that function. Whether Network Rail’s public members are even ‘members of the public’ is arguable. For example, Jonathan Bray is Pteg Support Unit Director, and Lord Berkeley is chairman of the Rail Freight Group. One of the commuters featured on Panorama applied to be a public member of Network Rail, and was — surprise, surprise — turned down.

Written by beleben

January 26, 2012 at 3:08 pm

‘Geography matters hugely’

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‘Build from the North’ | Summary of the Commons transport committee HS2 report

‘Build from the North’

Last Friday, prior to its publication, Channel 4 political correspondent Michael Crick blogged on the House of Commons transport committee report on HS2. Committee ‘chair’ Louise Ellman is a longstanding supporter of high speed rail.

MPs on the committee will say that if ministers continue to face opposition at the southern end of the line, they ought to think about switching the project round, and start instead in the north. Rather than build first from London to Birmingham, and then proceed north, the committee will suggest that the government should begin with the y-shaped phase two – from Manchester and Leeds down to Birmingham. Then Birmingham to London could be done as the second phase.

This, they say, might involve fewer planning and environmental problems, and more important, would be a much bigger boost for regional regeneration in northern England where it’s more urgent.

This idea’s not surprising perhaps when you consider that six of the eleven members of the Transport Committee are North West MPs.

The chairman Louise Ellman is MP for Liverpool Riverside, and while her colleagues geographically are: Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton), Judy Hilling (Bolton West), John Leech (Manchester Withington), Paul Maynard (Blackpool North) and Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton). Another member, Julian Sturdy of York Outer, would also have an interest in HS2 coming to Leeds pretty soon. The rest of the UK has just four MPs on the transport committee.

And geography matters hugely, of course, when it comes to transport policy. This huge North West (and northern) bias looks like an unintended side effect of the new system, brought in last year, whereby MPs now elect select committees in secret ballots.

Elections may be more democratic, and boost the independence of Parliament, but they also mean select committees can lose balance in terms of things like geography and sex. In the old days the Government and Opposition whips might conspire to exclude trouble-makers, but they would usually ensure that each committee had a good spread of members in other respects.

Summary of the Commons transport committee HS2 report

Today, the committee published its report. As can be seen from the Parliamentary news webpage, Mr Crick’s soundings turned out to be on the mark.

08 November 2011

There is a good case for a high speed rail network, linking London and the major cities of the Midlands, the North and Scotland says the Commons Transport Committee.

Launching High Speed Rail – the report of the inquiry into high speed rail, including the Government’s proposal for HS2 – committee chair Louise Ellman said,

“A high speed rail network, beginning with a line between London and the West Midlands, would provide a step change in the capacity, quality, reliability and frequency of rail services between our major cities.

A high speed line offers potential economic and strategic benefits which a conventional line does not, including a dramatic improvement in connectivity between our major cities, Heathrow and other airports, and the rest of Europe.

High speed rail may be a catalyst for economic growth, helping to rebalance the economy and bridge the north-south divide. But the Government must do more to promote local and regional growth strategies to ensure we get maximum economic benefit from high speed rail.

High speed rail is affordable: HS2 will cost around £2 billion per annum over 17 years. Construction of a high speed rail network should start with the line between London and the West Midlands, as this is where capacity needs are greatest. But we are concerned that under current plans high speed rail lines won’t reach Manchester and Leeds for more than 20 years.

The Government should also look at options to build southwards from the north and link to other lines such as the Midland Main Line. We see no reason why the Scottish Government should not begin work on a Scottish high speed line, to connect with the English network in due course.

Investment in HS2 must not lead to reduced investment in the ‘classic’ rail network. We are concerned that the Government is developing separate strategies for rail and aviation, with HS2 separate from both. We call again for the publication of a comprehensive transport strategy.

Investment in high speed rail has potential to boost growth but may have a substantial negative impact on the countryside, communities and people along the route. This must be better reflected in the business case for HS2 and future phases of the project. We would encourage the Government to follow existing transport corridors wherever possible.”


The Transport Committee sets out a series of recommendations on high speed rail:

* The Government must firmly commit to the Y network before seeking parliamentary approval for HS2

* If the Government decides to go ahead with HS2, it should publish a summary of the financial case showing how the project is affordable alongside sustained investment in the classic network as well as its priorities for expenditure in the next Network Rail control period (for 2014-19)

* More information about the Y network (to Leeds and Manchester) such as the location of stations and environmental impacts should be published and strategically appraised before a final decision on HS2 is made

* A full assessment of the case for building from north to south should be carried out as a priority

* It is disappointing that a major strategic scheme is being designed and assessed to a large extent based upon the value of travel time savings, which are not universally accepted. This issue should be addressed in the updated economic case for HS2 with the implications for scheme design made explicit

* The Government needs to make clear how HS2 fits into its wider aviation strategy, looking again at the case for a direct link to Heathrow in phase I on the assumption that the high speed rail network will extend to Manchester and Leeds. The costs and benefits of routing HS2 via Heathrow should be set out more clearly and there should be a clear statement about the status of possible complementary schemes such as those which would link Heathrow by rail to Gatwick or the Great Western Main Line

* Better information should be provided to explain the Government’s rationale for its proposals for London termini and linkages, which are the most expensive and complex elements of HS2

* Operating 18 trains per hour at 225mph are risk factors for which more technical information should be published. It is questionable whether the system proposed is being designed with sufficient margin for expansion

* Claims that HS2 would deliver substantial carbon-reduction benefits do not stand up to scrutiny. However, HS2 will produce less carbon than an expanded motorway network or greater domestic aviation in the event of increased demand for inter-urban travel

* Government support to enable the full potential of high speed rail to be realised, – including funding, for the development of regional and local strategies for transport, housing, skills and employment – should be recognised as a priority

* When announcing its decision on HS2, the Government should provide a more explicit and comprehensive statement about likely patterns of service on the classic network once HS2 is operational

* The Government should engage with Network Rail to identify whether there are affordable options to enable more peak-time capacity to be provided for Milton Keynes and Northampton commuters before HS2 opens

* The Government should desist from disparaging opponents of high speed rail as NIMBYs. Both sides in the debate should show respect for each other and focus on the facts

Written by beleben

November 8, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Paul Maynard on HS2

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Expecting the Government to Abandon HS2 is Unrealistic, wrote Paul Maynard MP in an article that appeared on HuffPo. Here’s some extracts.

First and foremost, we have to recognise that £32 billion is a lot of money, but that it ‘only’ amounts to £1-2 billion per year between now and 2032. That is not to diminish the scale of the spending, but I do feel that bandying about a sum that will be spent over the length of twenty years creates a slightly misleading impression. Equally, no-one wants to create white elephants either – and the task of politicians is to ensure that the right line is built if it is determined that a new line is needed. We must also recognise this country’s 60-year infrastructure lag that has to be overcome somehow.

For that, I think, is the crux of the matter. What disappointed me was that the those both strongly for and strongly against still struggle to find any common ground, or any recognition that there needs to be a consensus. Merely expecting the Government to abandon HS2 is unrealistic, and does nothing to solve the wider strategic problems. Equally, arguing that it should be full steam ahead anyone with concerns is not paying attention, is equally unhelpful.

The strategic problems resolve principally around capacity. I admire all those who manage to find empty trains on the West Coast Main Line. As a regular traveller, I must always be picking the busiest ones. Both Rail Package 2 and RP2+, which anti-HS2 groups are promoting, do increase peak-time capacity by some 70 per cent. RP2 is occurring whatever the decision on HS2, as I understand it, though RP2+ would require additional work again. We need to realise how traumatic the last upgrade of the West Coast Main Line was, and factor that disruption into our assessments. Additionally, the peak-hour increases, whilst welcome, are only a sticking plaster. It is unavoidably the case that a HS2 line, under the Government’s proposals, would increase capacity by some 150 per cent. This is an order of magnitude that I believe cannot be ignored.

Yes, if there’s not enough trains, or trains aren’t long enough, there’ll be crowding. But is that caused by (a) lack of track, or (b) some other factors?

[The answer’s ‘(b)’].

Mr Maynard has seen through some of the ‘transformative’ smoke, so I’m surprised that he hasn’t queried why

  • the WCML fast lines only manage 11 – 12 hourly departures out of Euston
  • the Chiltern Line is so little used
  • London Midland only manages to operate a handful of twelve-car trains in the peak hours (etc).

Our trip to Europe as a Select Committee was enlightening in that it demonstrated we already have a superior high-speed network in this country which we perhaps fail to appreciate. Travelling from Paris to Frankfurt saw us speed along – initially – at 300 kph. Then we hit the end of the high-speed line and trundled the remainder of the way at a speed less than I experience at times on my morning commute on the Kingston Loop.

The visit also demonstrated how the politicisation of decisions about the networks was considered normal in Europe, and nothing to be ashamed of. France had stations in proverbial ‘turnip’ fields to gain local support. Even the Frankfurt-Cologne line had intermediate stops at Montabaur and Limburg Sued inserted at the time by Helmut Kohl to satisfy his local CDU colleagues.

It is worth noting also that Lord Mawhinney’s report into whether Heathrow should be on the high-speed network only found against the idea when assessing it on the basis of it ceasing at Birmingham: “… a direct high speed link to Heathrow fully funded from public expenditure, in the context of a high speed rail network extending only to the Midlands, is not likely to provide a good return on the public expenditure entailed.”

Yet most major European airports are connected directly to their high-speed networks. Indeed, Schiphol is the major rail hub for all the Netherlands, rather than Amsterdam Centraal. And the Dutch experience also demonstrates that high-speed rail doesn’t work well ‘only’ in geographically large countries.

There’s nothing wrong with having rail links to airports. Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham (etc) have had rail access for years. But designing a high speed rail system around linking airports is ridiculous. The economics of the Heathrow HS2 link, with or without the Y network, scream “Do not do this”, but because it’s in the Conservative party ideas cupboard, it’s in the project.

HS2 is too weird and environmentally impactful to be a consensus project, but I don’t think many people would oppose additional London Midland rolling stock, or electrification of the Midland and Chiltern Main Lines. These would provide cost-effective capacity amelioration, well before 2026. Decoupling high speed rail from a political timescale would allow assessment of whether demand increases for long distance rail would survive large fare increases, such as those recently announced (etc). Furthermore, the benefit-cost ratio of HS2 supposedly improves, if it’s delayed.

Written by beleben

October 26, 2011 at 10:41 am

Adonis/Steer rail topologies

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HS2 Ltd's Andrew McNaughton: slides of a future high speed network

One of the topics touched on by HS2 Ltd chief engineer Professor Andrew McNaughton in his presentation ‘High Capacity and High Speed Travel: A 21st Century Solution’ on 20 October 2009, was the shape of a future network. Speaking to members of the Institute of Engineering and Technology, Professor McNaughton presented slides showing high speed networks centred on different parts of Great Britain, including the North East and Scotland.

Presumably, these slides were included for ‘entertainment’ purposes, because elsewhere in his speech, Professor McNaughton emphasised the need for high volumes to justify new-build track. So it’s a certainty that any British high speed rail network would be centred on London, just as the French TGV system is centred on Paris. As the TGV has expanded, regional and long-distance cross-country rail links (such as Bordeaux to Lyon) have deteriorated. If anything, a British high speed network would be more even centralist than the French one. Birmingham is just planned as a spur off the HS2 trunk, and Britain’s island geography prevents the ‘peripheral region’ benefits provided by infrastructure such as the LGV Rhin-Rhône.

Written by beleben

October 23, 2011 at 10:37 am

Yitby sasibcro

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Yes, in their backyard. So a station in Blisworth can reopen.’

Written by beleben

October 16, 2011 at 12:37 pm

British public transport costs

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In a story on the effects of public transport fare increases and service cutbacks on British commuters, the Sunday Mirror reported that hundreds of bus routes have been axed after subsidies were slashed. On seven out of ten domestic long-distance corridors, the newspaper found that air travel was cheaper than the train.

Friends of the Earth’s Richard Dyer said: “If the Government is serious about tackling climate change green travel alternatives should be made more attractive – and this must include cheaper and better rail and bus travel.”

I’m not too sure that the government is “serious about about tackling climate change”, given the proposals to raise the motorway limit to 80 mph, and build 240 mph HS2. Anyway, the Sunday Mirror gave no source for its claim that short-haul aviation ­produces over four times more emissions per mile than a train journey, and although the airline industry is indirectly subsidised (e.g. through the favourable taxation of aviation fuel) its users are also subjected to costs (e.g. air passenger duty, security theatre) that are not imposed on other modes.

Large parts of Britain’s surface transport – especially rail – are heavily dependent on government funding, and the industry’s cost and subsidy structures are unsustainable. The Bus Service Operators Grant, providing a fuel duty rebate to operators, subsidises many services that would run even if there were no grant, and BSOG has also been used to bankroll ‘bus wars‘, in towns such as Oxford. Subsidies need to be better targeted to maximise public benefit, and there is a strong case for dispensing with BSOG in its current form.

Written by beleben

October 2, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Standing room workshop

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Extract from London Midland crowdedness information

The train operator London Midland (LM) has started publishing crowdedness information for some of its services. The Euston ‘weekdays from 5 Sep 2011’ table (extract above) shows some 12-car trains running in the peak to destinations including Birmingham New Street, but even some of these are indicated as ‘standing room only’. In the table, two red dots together appears to mean “trains where you may have to stand for more than 20 minutes”.

Overcrowding on West Coast Main Line outer suburban services to Northampton has been used to justify the British government policy of building high speed rail to Birmingham. The argument is that transferring conventional Long Distance High Speed services to the HS2 track frees up space for better commuter services. But London commuter overcrowding affects many commuter towns, such Brighton and Reading, so why single out Northampton and Milton Keynes for special attention? Would future overcrowding be better addressed by other means? In fact, there are lots of questions one might ask about the current services, including the pricing, and the train lengths. Why is the 1554 service from Euston to Birmingham service only composed of 4 carriages? (It’s listed as ‘standing room only’.)

HS2 and freight

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Bloomberg reported on how rail freight in Britain would ‘benefit from HS2‘.

Tesco, the U.K.’s largest retailer, in June opened a rail hub at Daventry, on the West Coast main line in central England. It has capacity for eight trains a day to take goods around the country, saving an annual 20,000 metric tons of carbon-dioxide emissions, according to the company’s 2011 Corporate Responsibility Report.

“In the event that HS2 does become fully operational, we would welcome the improved network capacity, as it would further reduce our carbon footprint,” Tesco, based in Cheshunt, north of London, said in an e-mailed statement.

Building the high-speed line would allow three freight trains an hour to run on the existing West Coast line, instead of fewer than two on average now, according to GreenGauge21, a research group funded by public bodies including Network Rail and Transport for London.

It might be worth pointing out that one-and-a-bit extra freight trains per hour, on one railway, isn’t particularly significant at the national level, or even as a proportion of trucks using the M1 motorway. And the ‘Daventry’ International Railfreight Terminal used by Tesco, doesn’t really allow it “to take goods around the country”. Tesco runs trains from Daventry to Livingston in Scotland, but there’s minimal potential for running trains to the east or the west of England. The connections no longer exist. For example, the Northampton to Peterborough railway was closed as long ago as 1964. Nowadays, virtually all British retail distribution is heavily road-based, and I’d be surprised if an “annual 20,000 tonne reduction in greenhouse gases” would amount to a notable percentage of Tesco’s total.

Sadly, maladroit project design is not just confined to the passenger railway. Although the 1985-1990 East Coast Main Line electrification involved clearance improvements (raising bridges etc), no-one had the foresight to include W12-type loading gauge capability for freight.

So HS2 wouldn’t make much difference to national railfreight capability. The way forward for rail cargo should be to carefully build on the capability of the existing network.

Written by beleben

September 13, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Going rogue

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‘High Speed Trains And The Development And Regeneration Of Cities’, 2006

One of the first documents produced by Greengauge 21 was ‘High Speed Trains And The Development And Regeneration Of Cities‘ (June 2006), written by Reg Harman (Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Transport and Society, University of the West of England).

Here are some extracts, with my notes.

“The main potential growth area for high-speed travel is around the 2-hour time band, say between 1½ and 2½ hours. This broadly equates to a distance of 250-550 km”

(Birmingham to London is 175 km)

“The impact brought by high-speed trains is in fact very real. But it is rarely measurable in any detail despite, in France and elsewhere, a very substantial research effort with an ever-growing body of analytical evidence on which to draw. High speed rail can be at its most effective in countries which include significant distances but also population centres of high density; especially where an important part of the long distance market involves journey distances of around 1½ to 2½ hours.”

(Centro have forecast HS2 benefits in detail [e.g. jobs created, and wage increases], for 15+ years into the future)

“To what extent do the gains made in economic activity of the major cities come at the expense of other smaller regional cities? Strengthening a major regional centre appears to make other cities in the region, as well as the rural catchment, more dependent on it. This does not necessarily mean a negative impact – they may all grow together – but it does imply that consideration may need to be given to within-region trade-offs.”

(Centro claimed that HS2 benefits the West Midlands Region, not just Birmingham; the ‘Yorkshire Needs High Speed Rail’ campaign claimed that HS2 benefits Leeds ‘City Region’, not just Leeds)

House of Commons Transport Select Committee, 2011

Reg Harman and Tony Bolden gave evidence to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee on high speed rail. Here are some extracts.

We agree that the maximum speed of 400 km/hr (250 mph) should be aimed at, as top operating speeds continue to rise across mainland Europe and Japan.

The UK Government does not appear to have a coherent forward looking transport strategy in the way that most European countries do.

Any new route must, of necessity, focus on connecting city centre to city centre, and the routeing will be largely determined by topography and cost issues. But the opportunities for serving other main centres, without detracting from the operating times of nonstop trains, would enable the benefits of faster rail travel and better connections at regional level to be created, complementing the better regional services possible on the existing network.

The HS2 proposal assumes that construction of the line and its termini will attract job creating development, primarily around the termini of the line. This seems very unlikely in itself. For example, on the existing HS1 line, the new stations at Stratford International and Ebbsfleet have not brought any real economic development as yet.

We consider that the proposed HS2 alignment through the Chilterns would be economically weak, as well as creating very serious environmental problems. We suggest instead that the route should be taken northwards out of the London terminal on the Midland main line, routeing it to Birmingham via Milton Keynes along the M1 and M6 corridors. This would support development opportunities and growth along the corridor with new transport infrastructure, especially the major development in the Milton Keynes sub region. The new line could also be linked clearly with the existing rail network in London, at Toddington (north of Luton), Milton Keynes and Birmingham. This could enable provision of services from Northampton through Milton Keynes to London, with through working to Stratford, Thames Gateway and Ashford by linking up the existing Kent to London fast services on HS1; this would connect together all the major development areas of the ‘greater South East’.

We consider that the proposed location of a new station at Curzon Street in Birmingham is a poor choice. There are no links with other public transport services, which are heavily concentrated around New Street, in the heart of the city centre, and some distance from the Curzon Street site. This means that those arriving or departing on HS2 services will need more time and effort to reach or come from commercial premises in the centre of Birmingham and will not be able to readily interchange with local rail, light rail or bus services. They may well lose some of the time they would have gained by the faster rail journey!

In our view, a high speed London – Birmingham service must use New Street as its Birmingham station, to offer the optimum level of access and interchange. This does pose a challenge: the current station is already heavily congested and ill-equipped to deal with the number of passengers using it. We are aware that there are plans to rebuild it, and this opportunity must be used to provide the capacity and quality to equip it as terminus for high speed trains. Clearly this requires strong and focused planning by all agencies involved. As a through station, it would permit flexibility in using nearby stabling and servicing facilities, to avoid unnecessary platform occupation. Some high speed – and other – trains might work through to / from Wolverhampton, as with the current service, thus expanding the connectivity within the West Midlands. Other trains could go further beyond the West Midlands, to serve the main centres of the North West and Wales, if the relevant market and operating case could be made. (Extension of some trains beyond the main cities served is a normal feature of the TGV service pattern in France, where it forms an important component in spreading the connectivity benefits to other areas within the region.)

At the southern end of the proposed route, we are very doubtful about an expanded Euston. It is well linked to the London Underground system and near to regional rail systems, but it would involve massive reconstruction and disruption to the immediate local area. St Pancras has very good London Underground links and direct access to the Thameslink regional rail services (currently being upgraded). It is also the terminus for HS1, thus providing direct connections where through trains are not available. Thus St Pancras should in our view be the terminus for HS2. It also has significantly more room for expansion than Euston.

Written by beleben

September 13, 2011 at 10:34 am

Big trains, more comfort?

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Loading gauges compared (from Network Rail freight RUS, 2007)No-one appears to have devised any set of metrics to assess comfort levels of public transport journeys, although it’s reasonable to assume that personal space is one of several important factors.

Most European railways are built to more generous dimensions than those in Great Britain, and in theory the use of Continental loading gauge should mean more comfort. In the HS2 documentation, the specified loading gauge for new build track is known as ‘GC’, effectively a standard for western European high speed rail. The more generous dimensions of GC should allow HS2 to provide levels of passenger comfort not yet seen on Britain’s railways.

At least, that’s the theory. In fact, around three quarters of the stage one HS2 trains would have to be built to a smaller British loading gauge, not GC gauge, in order to provide through services onto existing lines. With a larger Y network, the loading gauge issues are still there, but pushed a bit further to the north. Unless existing lines beyond Manchester and Leeds were rebuilt, classic compatible trains would still be needed in large numbers.

GC gauge does permit double deck passenger trains, but these have a lower comfort level than single deck designs (including British single deck trains). Nevertheless, in western Europe, high maintenance costs have led both SNCF and Deutsche Bahn to make increasing use of double deck carriages, with the former standardising on double-deck for high speed services. SNCF has expressed little interest in the single deck Alstom AGV, which is used in HS2 Ltd’s traction energy modelling. In any event, the 200 metre AGV only seats 458 persons in standard configuration. The dense pack version seats 510, which is still below HS2 Ltd’s aspiration of 550.


Even with services operated with Continental gauge captive stock, it’s unlikely that HS2 would provide increased comfort for passengers. The high costs associated with high speed rail are likely to dictate the use of double deck and/or dense pack trains. With conventional speed trains, it’s possible to provide increased personal space for each passenger, at lower cost.

Written by beleben

September 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm