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Distances key to HS2 city choice

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.

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.

Connecting cities

“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”

Lord Adonis


Distance between London and Birmingham


Distance between Birmingham and Manchester

Readers' comments (5)

  • Looks like they're going to have to move either Birmingham or Manchester 36km to the south or north respectively, or just put the station at Warwick or Bury! It appears Ian Coucher knows little about the geography of the UK.

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  • Martin Stockley

    When making travel choices the key consideration is the quality of experience which encompasses speed amongst other factors such as convenience, cost, comfort etc. Flying is fast while in the air but the overall experience is very poor quality and at a lower grade than most modern bus travel in terms of comfort, convenience and cost.
    There are two separate issues here; would it have been better to build a new West Coast line rather than upgrade? Maybe; Would high speed routes be of real value to the UK (bearing in mind that they can only be used for limited journeys over a certain distance)? Maybe.
    If you talk about investing in high speed routes you shouldn't be surprised to find that you have a group of cities lobbying you for their inclusion. That doesn't mean it is a good idea nor does it mean that being excluded from such a route would be damaging.

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  • High speed is a must for every country where the propensity for travel is considerable. With high speed turnouts and computer based simulation systems, through trains could be run to every city which is off the HS Main line. What is important is that he Junction connections should be good and efficient. Land is an irrevocable asset and should be put to good use.

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  • Don't forget that the principal reason for building new lines is to provide capacity on routes that are forecast to be full in a few years. Making them high speed is secondary. It would be perverse for these new lines to by-pass large communities simply because we are intoxicated by the prospect of very high speeds. The answer is for intermediate stations to be off-line so they do not impede longer distance traffic. Thus, the debate on the distance between stations is puerile.

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  • Another viewpoint on the question of which cities to stop at is the possible benefit to the country as a whole in the reduction of carbon emission, by those people switching from internal flights to the highspeed line.

    If the government were to stop all internal flights completely within the UK, the twofold benefits would be a significant:-
    1. Reduction in carbon emissions as people have no option but to use the train (Glasgow to London return, by plane 0.21tonnes of carbon against the train of 0.02 - source carbon footprint website)
    2. Coupled with a reduction in the amount of air travel relieving the pressure on local communities resisting expansion of airports. Given the long-haul flights can now utilise the space provided by the departure of the internal flights.

    So if the highspeed line were to replace the internal flights then it would need to service the cities, just as the planes would have done.

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