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Collateral damage

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Today’s Liverpool Post reported on routeing of HS2 Liverpool services,

PLANS for a high-speed rail link to the edge of Liverpool have been quietly dumped, apparently to save money – adding to the journey time to London.

The 250mph trains were expected to run at top-speed from the capital to just south of Manchester, before slowing to conventional speed for the final 30-odd miles into Lime Street.

But The Liverpool Post can reveal that the trains will now switch to standard speed around 50 miles further south, at a point just north of Birmingham.
High-speed trains (HS2) from the capital were expected to take just 16 minutes longer to reach Liverpool than Manchester, once the second stage of the £32bn project – from Birmingham to Manchester – is completed, in 2032.

That difference in journey times has now more than doubled to 38 minutes, a potentially clinching factor for any business deciding where to set up in the North West.

and the phenomenon of high speed rail collateral damage:

Liverpool will be “collateral damage” in the government’s determination to make Manchester an economic powerhouse, one expert has warned.

John Tomaney, the professor of regional development at Newcastle University, has investigated the impact of high-speed rail on areas of France and Spain.

Last year, he caused a stir when he told MPs that 250mph trains were likely to widen the North-South divide, because investment and jobs would be sucked from “peripheral regions” to a “dominant capital”.

Now Professor Tomaney has warned that Liverpool could be left trailing in Manchester’s wake, if the government presses ahead with the plans revealed by the Post today.

Here’s the bizarre-but-inventive spin from the Department for Transport:

A Dft spokesman said: “It’s correct that one option was for the connection to Liverpool from the high-speed line to be further north, closer to Manchester.

“However, it is now intended for that connection to be at Lichfield, north of Birmingham, which means the trains will run at conventional speed for longer to Liverpool than was the case before.”

The spokesman agreed the change was likely to save money, but added: “This is good news for passengers from Runcorn, Crewe and Stafford, which will now have trains switching to the high-speed line.”

And perhaps “bad news” for “freeing up much-needed capacity” on the West Coast line, etc. (Actually, the plan to standardise HS2 unit lengths at 200 metres has always meant that capacity on the London to Liverpool service would go down, not up.)

HS2 redistributional disbenefits and disadvantaged catchment effects shouldn’t come as a surprise. For example, in ‘The accessibility impact of a new High-speed Rail line in the UK‘, Héctor S Martínez Sánchez-Mateos and Moshe Givoni used Network Rail’s proposal for a new ‘North-to-South’ high speed railway to examine “regional accessibility”, meaning rail connectivity to the capital, measured as travel time by rail.

Network Rail 2009 version of HS2The term ‘HS2’ has been used for different high speed schemes put forward by Greengauge 21, Network Rail, and the Department for Transport’s HS2 Ltd. In this blogpost, the current DfT HS2 Ltd scheme is identified as ‘HS2’ and the 2009 Network Rail proposal used by Martínez Sánchez-Mateos and Givoni is identified as ‘HS2NR’. They described their methodology as follows:

First, an analysis of changes in accessibility was performed only for the cities that will benefit from a HSR station (London, Birmingham, Manchester, Warrington, Liverpool, Preston, Glasgow and Edinburgh). Second, in order to assess the wider regional impact of a new HSR line, additional 114 stations which are currently served by the conventional network were considered. The 114 stations on the conventional network chosen for the analysis are all in relative (geographic) proximity to the proposed HS2NR and thus are expected to gain some accessibility benefits from its construction.

Martínez Sánchez-Mateos and Givoni assumed that places benefit from greater accessibility if travel times to London were cut by using the HS2NR services through one of the new stations. Otherwise, for the purpose of the analysis, it was assumed that travel time to London, using the conventional rail network, would not change.

To measure regional accessibility we use travel time by rail, accounting also for a travel time penalty when a transfer between trains is required. Two calculations of travel time are considered. First, travel time on the conventional rail network based on the current official timetables and second, travel time when using the new HSR line. For most of the analysis, the reference point taken to measure accessibility is travel time to London. London is taken as the reference point due to its economic and political importance in the UK landscape. In many respects, the circumstances of many UK cities are determined by their (relative) accessibility to London (Leuning et. al., 2007). For many (smaller) regional cities and towns, travel time and accessibility to the nearest major conurbation (e.g. Birmingham, Manchester, or Liverpool) is expected to be, from a socio-economic perspective, more important, but travel times to the nearest major city will not change as a result of the HSR, it is assumed. Yet, the relative accessibility of those smaller locations to London might change and this can have important, probably negative, implications.

Current travel time calculations are based on the current timetables considering a) the fastest available connection during office hours – to represent ‘best’ commuting opportunities, and b) adding an interchange penalty of 17.61 minutes, as estimated by Wardman (2001) for a rail to rail interchange in the UK. An important assumption included in the calculations is that the change from the conventional rail service/network to the high-speed service/network is done at the same stations and is relatively seamless. In other words, the HSR station is located where the current main station is, e.g. Piccadilly station in Manchester, Lime Street station in Liverpool, etc. This will not necessarily be the case, an issue which is discussed in the concluding section.

By examining which cities will experience travel time reductions when using HS2NR to get to London, the catchment area of the proposed HSR stations can be defined. Naturally, passengers will also use the new high-speed line to get to other places than London, but using London is a good indicator.

Locations were examined for changes in relative accessibility. There were a few oddities, such as in a Midlands map, showing passengers from Matlock to London going via Birmingham.
English Midlands catchment - HS2NR (2009 Network Rail version of HS2)

The choice of station location is crucial with respect to the potential accessibility benefits of a new HSR, and therefore other economic effects, and is considered as the main factor in determining the ‘success’ of HSR related development (Menéndez et al, 2002). This aspect is not yet explicitly addressed in the UK debate. The station location is important from a local (city) perspective and a regional one. From a regional perspective, the focus of this paper, it will determine the catchment area of any station on the HSR line. For economic reasons, both in terms of potential development around the station (land availability) and the cost of building the station and line to it, there is pressure and some advantages in building the new stations HSR outside the city, in a different location to the current main rail stations. This will mean, in most cases, that a time consuming and inconvenient transfer will be required from the conventional network to the HSR network. Given that significant investments in the conventional network are not expected, the current structure of the conventional network should be considered as given. To reduce the polarization effect of HSR, the increase in travel time distances between places on the line and those not on it, any new HSR line and especially the stations on it, must be planned with careful considerations of the current alignment of the conventional network and not just demand projections between major cities. The current discussion and documents, e.g. Network Rail 2009, suggests new locations for the stations are currently the preferred option.

Overall, a new HSR line in the UK will have substantial effect on the UK Geography. In many respects it will ‘shrink’ the UK, as the HSR did for continental Europe (see Spiekermann and Wegener, 1994). But for many (more) places it will expand the UK. HS2, or a larger HSR network, might turn the geography of the UK upside down, with cities closer to London by distance being further from it in many other aspects. This is likely to have adverse effects on demand for transport and overall might results in more travel and even more travel by car considering the reduction in the level and quality of rail transport on the conventional rail network. Furthermore, depending on the location of the station and how it is integrated with the rest of the (public) transport network car travel to reach the new HSR stations might be the most attractive mode.

Given the relatively small distances between the major urban conurbations in England (the aerial distance between London and Birmingham is about 150 km and between London and Manchester 250 km), and the relatively well developed (in terms of geographic coverage) rail network in the UK, a new full scale HSR line, with maximum speeds of over 350 kph, might not be the best (cost effective) way to increase rail capacity and meet increases in demand for rail travel.

In fact, the situation with HS2 is much worse than with Network Rail’s HS2NR, because

(i) HS2 has markedly worse connectivity (for example, in Birmingham, classic rail interchange cannot happen in the same station, and there are no through trains from London HS2 to Wolverhampton, etc).

(ii) the HS2 economic case involves reducing the service levels on the legacy network (by £2.3 billion), and increasing the numbers of stops made by classic ‘fast’ trains.

So with the HS2 scheme, there would be absolute reduction in ‘accessibility’ for places not directly served by HS2, and not just the HS2NR relative reduction, considered by Martínez and Givoni.

Written by beleben

February 2, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Stopping this batty project

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According to the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), the colony of Bechstein’s bats in Bernwood Forest could be a ‘showstopper’ for the HS2 line.

But if the government isn’t bothered about moving thousands of tonnes of spoil, pouring thousands of tonnes of concrete, and generating thousands of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide from 350 km/h trains, I can’t imagine that they’d be much fussed about Bechstein’s bats.

The eco-friendly way of improving North to South rail provision is to upgrade the existing lines, especially the Chiltern and Midland Main Lines. If further capacity were needed over the longer term, the existing Great Central rail route could be reactivated at a much lower financial and environmental cost than the batty HS2 project.

Written by beleben

October 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Classical mythology

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Because the new-build track of HS2 phase one would only link two cities (London and Birmingham), services to northern towns – including Manchester and Liverpool – would depend on ‘classic compatible’ trains (CCTs). According to HS2 Ltd, each CCT would be 200 metres long and carry up to 550 passengers. From what is known of HS2 phase two, CCTs would still be necessary for through services from London to Scotland, as well as all North West destinations other than Manchester.

As part of the continuing upgrade of the existing West Coast Main Line, many of the Pendolino trains are being extended to 11 carriages, providing 589 seats per unit.

It can be seen that even on the official figures, HS2 CCT services would have a lower capacity than the 11-car Pendolinos currently being formed for use on the WCML. In fact, the reduction with CCTs is likely to be substantially larger, because the stated capacity of HS2 Ltd’s 200 metre reference train (Alstom’s AGV 11) is 510 in ‘dense pack’ arrangement, and 458 in standard arrangement.

In practice, CCT capacity would be determined by factors such as the proportion of fully-accessible toilets in each trainset, the seat pitches, the proportion of first class seats, and the length of non-passenger (safety) space in the end carriages. But I’d suggest that a reasonable mid-range estimate for the reduced train capacity for Northern and Scottish cities from HS2, is 20%.

Written by beleben

October 3, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Revising Britain’s road speed limits

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Britain’s coalition government is proposing to increase the maximum road speed limit (in England, at least) from 70 to 80 mph (112 to 128 km/h), the Independent reported.

Ministers will consult on the proposal later in the year along with plans to expand significantly the number of areas covered by a 20mph limit.

The speed regime is complex, with different maxima enforced for different types of vehicle on certain roads. 40, 50, and 60 mph general limits are supposedly set to meet specific local conditions, and most motorways are 70 mph. On most residential roads in urban areas, the limit is 30 mph (48 km/h), but a few places have 20 mph (32 km/h). All these are routinely ignored by large numbers of motorists, and transport secretary Philip Hammond has mentioned the disregard of the 70 limit as a sort of justification for increasing it (along with the ‘advantage to British business’ of time savings).

Speeding is a major quality of life issue in residential areas, and it’s surprising how little use is made of 20 mph zones. With regard to safety on interurban roads and motorways, evidence from other countries is inconclusive. A raised limit might not have much effect on accidents, because exceeding the maximum is commonplace. Although stopping distance is longer as speeds go up, outcomes of accidents such as tyre blow-outs might not be much changed at 80, compared with 70.

Increasing the motorway legal maximum by 10 mph could not make journeys 14% quicker, the reduction would be far less. But at 80 mph, road vehicles burn a lot more fuel than at 70 (or at the optimal 55-60 range), and therein lies the likely appeal to government. Many motorists like driving fast, petrol and diesel are heavily taxed, so a higher speed limit could produce significant revenues.

Written by beleben

October 2, 2011 at 12:30 am

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’.)

High Speed Light

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As mentioned previously, extending new build high speed rail to Scotland would cost around £50 billion. The government seems to accept that the Y network to Manchester and Leeds, together with a spur to Heathrow, would be around “£32.2 billion (Quarter 3, 2009 prices)”.

In June 2010, This is London reported that a high-speed rail link could be built from London to Manchester for a “bargain £6 billion”. It turned out that “Manchester” meant “Manchester airport”, and the costs of stations were not included.

A HIGH-SPEED rail link between London, Birmingham and Manchester could be built for £6 billion if a “bargain basement” approach is taken to construction, experts claim today.

A report by the Research Group suggests the cost of the High Speed Two route proposed by the Labour regime – between £15.8 billion and £17.4 billion -could be cut by half.

The group said huge savings could be made if the UK were to use types of trains and track already in operation on the Continent, and if only three stations were built – one in each city.

The London terminus of “High Speed Light” would be at Old Oak Common, north of Wormwood Scrubs, to let passengers interchange with Crossrail to and from Heathrow. The other stations would be at Birmingham and Manchester airports. The cost of these stations is not included in the £6 billion price.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the report was a “welcome contribution to the debate” but its ideas, such as an interchange at Old Oak Common, are unlikely to be adopted. This is because the Lib-Con coalition has asked Lord Mawhinney, a former Tory transport secretary, to investigate extending High Speed Two direct to Heathrow.

Members of the Research Group include Carphone Warehouse founder David Ross and Sir Andrew Foster, a former chairman of the Audit Commission. They warn the rail system will be in “crisis” by 2020 because of surging demand – the tracks now carry more than 1.3 billion passengers a year.

They call for High Speed Two to be developed in a piecemeal fashion, akin to the motorway network. Construction could start in 2015, two years earlier than planned, and finish by 2027.

The route should be built “as simply as possible, with essential facilities only”, and without any requirement to overlap with the existing network. “Smaller scale, manageable projects … can be set up with good financial discipline and learning from international experience,” the report says. “UK costs are high and need to be brought down to international benchmarks. We view this project as the most effective way of getting high-speed rail started – High Speed Light as it were.”

SPV vehicleThe ‘High Speed Light’ report, High Speed Rail, How to get started, dated February 2010, was written by David Ross, Andrew Foster, Roderick Smith, Catherine Griffiths, and Bridget Rosewell. Here’s some extracts:

We propose that a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) should be established to procure a high speed line from Old Oak Common (on the Crossrail route to Heathrow) to Birmingham Airport and Manchester Airport. Funding for this should be raised with government guarantees for the basic infrastructure, but city centre linkages, station development and so on would be funded and justified separately. Train operators would be privately financed. On European standards, this would cost in the region of £6bn.

A critical feature of a HSR network is that it needs to be national in its scale and dedicated to high speed trains only.

A recent estimate of overall cost from Network Rail is a daunting £34bn. To put this in perspective, £34bn would finance the 2012 Olympics more than three times over. It is about the same as the entire value of Network Rail’s existing assets.

A key requirement in delivering HSR is to create projects that appear to be practicable and fundable and show how this scale can be delivered over time in a manageable way.

According to construction companies, the cost of procuring railway infrastructure in Britain is as much as three times higher as comparable projects in continental Europe. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link cost £5.8bn at more than £56m per kilometre it is the world’s most expensive HSR link. There are various reasons for our comparatively higher costs including nonstandard technical specifications, different operating standards and safety requirements, tortuous planning requirements and complex budgetary and procurement processes. The cost gap must be reduced.

European experience suggests HSR procurement, project management and construction operates most efficiently and effectively on stretches of 100 to 200 kilometres

More than half the cost of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and much of the planning effort, arose from the final approach to central London and St Pancras because of the extensive tunnelling and other engineering work involved. Why then, in developing HSR, is it initially essential to build into city centres? Even if traditional appraisal methodologies show that this maximises benefits, a detailed financial analysis will give very different metrics. Best value for money will be achieved by selecting those segments with lower costs per kilometre for early development, probably longer segments outside the cities which represent the potential for the biggest time savings.

The first elements of a new HSR network could provide an effective and efficient link between London, Birmingham and Manchester without venturing into the cities themselves. A possible route runs from a London terminus at Old Oak Common on the new Crossrail route, which links Heathrow to the West and Bond Street and Canary Wharf to the East. Indeed, the Old Oak Common terminus would be only two stops from the West End and seven from the City. The northward HSR route would be to Birmingham Airport and then Manchester Airport where linkages with city centres already exist.

The distance involved in this route is about 300km, suitable for letting as two projects in line with the staging principles outlined above. Major construction companies estimate that a reasonable cost for continental rail projects is €20m per kilometre. On this basis, the cost of a route from London to Manchester is less than £6bn. Both stations and related facilities should initially be limited in number (at Old Oak Common and Birmingham and Manchester airports) and designed and built as simply as possible, with essential facilities only. Ancillary development (for example additional parkway stations, improved links to city centres, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls) should not be seen as part of the programme but to be added as investors demand. Some of these may be delivered alongside the core programme, but as separate projects, for example to manage passenger arrivals.

Finally, it is not essential to integrate the HSR network with the classic network. A High Speed Network can be developed quite separately, reducing cost and facilitating the adoption of more cost-effective technical specifications.

'There is no Ebbsfleet'‘High Speed Light’ is further evidence of the inconsistencies and muddle that permeates thinking on high speed rail. HS2 is supposed to accelerate journeys between cities, but the ‘High Speed Light’ report advocated building a line that does not serve city centres. Co-author Bridget Rosewell “was instrumental in establishing the case for a station” at Ebbsfleet on HS1, but apparently supported building a HS2 line with just three stations between the Thames and the Mersey.

‘High Speed Light’ also says that adopting European technical specifications would help cut costs, for London to Manchester, to £6 bn. Well, European high speed rail norms have been adopted for HS2, and the result is a London to West Midlands line costed at £17 bn.

Written by beleben

September 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Length of HS2

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Including the HS2 to HS1 link, the north chord of Coleshill delta junction (unused in stage one), the access to the Calvert permanent way and Washwood Heath rolling stock depots, and platform tracks, HS2 stage one trackage would be of the order of 450 km. Official maps of HS2 stage one show that from London Euston to the Trent Valley junction with the West Coast Main Line, the route length is 191.8 km. The Birmingham (south) spur of the delta junction diverges from the HS2 trunk at 161 km from Euston, and Curzon Street buffer stops is at chainage 175.64 km. So if principal route length is 206 km, and total cost £17 bn, HS2 works out at £82.5 million per kilometre, or £82,500 per metre.

Written by beleben

September 17, 2011 at 6:32 pm

The alternative put forward

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GoHS2 campaign tweet 'The alternative put forward by opponents to #HS2 just doesn't stack up'One of the oddest developments in the HS2 project was the embracing of Rail Package 2 by some opposition groups.

Why let a company that is fervently in favour of high speed rail, shape the response to high speed rail? Atkins designed Rail Package 2, but its own preference, revealed in ‘Because Transport Matters‘ is for two new North-South high speed lines, including a route replicating part of the East Coast Main Line to Edinburgh. Atkins’ oddball and contradictory thinking is apparent in its lukewarm appraisal of the value of maintaining electrification of the East Coast Main Line to Edinburgh.

As for the link in GoHS2 tweet, that just points to William Barter’s Why High-Speed Rail is the Only Viable Solution: a critique of Rail Package Two. From which, I gather that Mr Barter is not a fan of excess carriages running empty in the off-peak, unless they’re HS2 carriages, in which case, that’s fine.

Written by beleben

September 12, 2011 at 3:04 pm

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

HS2 and the East Midlands

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To many people, the term ‘East Midlands’ brings to mind the area around Leicester, Derby and Nottingham, but in localgovspeak, this is called the ‘Three Cities Sub Area‘. In government and European Union parlance, the term ‘East Midlands’ is applied to the region comprising the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire, and the unitary authorities of Derby, Leicester, Rutland and Nottingham. According to the the Office of National Statistics, the East Midlands is projected to have higher population growth than any other English region.

As a locality with a relatively high percentage of manufacturing, one might expect the East Midlands to have a good railfreight distributional capability. However, this is not the case, and the principal route into the area, the Midland Main Line, is not cleared for W12 gauge container traffic.

The government’s plans for high speed rail include an East Midlands station on the Leeds leg of the second stage HS2 Y network. However, this could not be located in any of the main urban centres. The embranchement of the Y network is so far north, that serving Leicester would be impossible. Nor is it possible to provide a city station for Nottingham, as Greengauge 21 admits:

Serving the East Midlands by high-speed rail is difficult if it is to be achieved by a connection from the London – West Midlands line. While it may be possible to provide a parkway-style station in the East Midlands, the centre of Nottingham – the largest city in the region and the only one with a mass transit system – cannot be readily addressed through the Y-shaped network

Parkways are one of the absurdities embedded in Adonis/Steer high speed rail. In general, it is not possible to devise efficient local public transport services to out-of-town stations, so they reinforce car dependency and congestion. And any on-train time savings tend to be wiped out by the road access.

In the medium term, the best way to improve East Midlands rail links is to maximise the potential of existing assets, by projects such as electrification of the Midland Main Line. This serves the centres of Nottingham and Leicester, and there is a station close to the centre of Derby.

Preserving the formation of the Great Central trackbed north of Aylesbury would allow creation of an environment-friendly Y-network, if needed at a later date. This would involve constructing interconnectors from a reconstructed Great Central trunk to the West Coast Main Line near Rugby, and to the Midland Main Line south of Leicester. Unlike HS2, this arrangement would serve Leicester and Nottingham city centres.
An environment-friendly Y-network

Map based on OpenStreetMap (CC-BY-SA).

Written by beleben

September 8, 2011 at 11:10 am