Major cities have this week been told that they could be excluded from any north-south high speed rail line because they are too close together.
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Representatives from 11 UK cities launched a new lobby group at last week’s High Speed Rail Summit in London, with the hope of influencing government to link their cities to a national high speed network as well as to the wider European system.
But Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher immediately dampened their hopes by telling them that many cities would fail to qualify for connections to such a network.
“Our experiences and the experience around the world is that you should put at least 100 miles [160km] between stations,” said Coucher. “When you stop a train, you stop it for everyone on it.”
“Our experiences and the experience around the world is that you should put at least 100 miles [160km] between stations.”
Iain Coucher, Network Rail
But few of the cities represented by lobby group High Speed Rail UK (HSR UK) − Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield - are far enough apart to improve connections via high speed means.
London to Birmingham − the principal connection being considered in the High Speed 2 (HS2) feasibility study due to report its findings to the government at the end of this year − is 162km, just enough to justify a high speed line.
But Birmingham to Manchester is just 114km and distances between other cities are smaller still − Nottingham to Sheffield, Liverpool to Manchester and Sheffield to Leeds are all journeys of around 50km.
Transport secretary Lord Adonis said he understood why cities were lobbying, but warned that high speed might not suit them all.
“Clearly there are political and other factors to take into account [when deciding on which stations to include]. The key issue is the speed at which trains run,” he said, adding that a key consideration in the HS2 study is that high speed trains are interoperable with existing lines − allowing them to connect cities that do not get a full high speed service.
Opposition parties welcomed the formation of the lobby group but also failed to commit support to a full high speed network.
Meanwhile, speakers from France and Germany both warned that the UK should aim to learn from their experiences to avoid including too many stops.
“Don’t use it for short distances with many stops.”
David Azema, French rail company SNCF
“If it is possible, use high speed for what it is − long distance, high volume passenger traffic,” said David Azema, director of strategy and finance at French rail company SNCF. “Don’t use it for short distances with many stops.”
Former Deutsche Bahn chief executive Johannes Ludewig, now executive director of European rail body Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies, agreed: “High speed is something for long distances.”
Ludewig added that in Germany local authorities seeking high speed links have used planning powers to force the construction of stations in their towns.
“You should put at least 160km between stations”
Iain Coucher, Network Rail
“There are political and other factors to take into account when deciding which stations to include”
Distance between London and Birmingham
Distance between Birmingham and Manchester