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Capacity before speed at High Speed 2

Development of new railway lines from London to the North of England and Scotland could focus on capacity rather than speed, the senior rail executive charged with developing them said this week.

He also said he was keeping an open mind about the need for a high speed rail hub at London’s Heathrow airport.

The need to reconcile demands for capacity and speed on lines was expressed by Andrew McNaughton, the incoming chief engineer of the government backed High Speed 2 company. High Speed 2 was established to investigate the potential for the new lines between London, the West Midlands and Scotland.

McNaughton joined High Speed 2 from Network Rail where he was chief engineer and was speaking before his first day in his new job.

He said he did not want to prejudge the outcome of the High Speed 2 investigation, but hinted that capacity rather than speed could determine its scope.

He even suggested that the new line to the Midlands be dubbed High Capacity 1, rather than High Speed 2. But he added that the new line could be designed for maximum speeds at least 300km/h.

McNaughton questioned the need to run trains at such high speeds, given the energy input needed and the limited scope for journey-time savings.

McNaughton also cast doubt over the Arup-proposed “Heathrow Hub” high speed rail interchange, which had been considered to be an implicit part of new high speed rail plans announced by Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon.

The Department for Transport document explaining the establishment of High Speed 2 says that “any new line could connect to a new Heathrow International interchange on the Great Western Main Line”. It also mentions an interchange with Crossrail which has a terminus at the airport.

But McNaughton said the statement is ambiguous and does not necessarily imply that the Heathrow/Crossrail interchange must be within the airport. “Heathrow is in the wrong direction,” he said.

“I draw your attention to the careful wording of ministerial announcement. There should be an interchange on the Great Western Railway so that Heathrow is served. I am sure that by the time it is finished, there will be several options.

“If a new railway does have a positive interchange with Crossrail, it could be anywhere between here [London] and Heathrow,” he said, raising the possibility of an interchange in central London beyond the current Great Western terminus at Paddington.

“St Pancras or Euston. Particularly Euston. Why not put more of the suburban trains through Euston onto Crossrail and free-up space at Euston?” he asked.

High Speed Two:

  • Budget: unknown

  • Staff: unknown, but “small, with a handful of small groups of half a dozen people” - McNaughton

  • Task: To investigate new lines north from London to the west Midlands with an interchange at Heathrow, and report back to the government with options in one year.

Non executive chair: David Rowlands (former chief civil servant at DfT)
Chief executive: Alison Munro (former divisional manager, Strategic Roads – DfT)

Division chiefs (no titles confirmed yet)

Rail – Andrew McNaughton
Planning – unknown
Business Case - unknown

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