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DfT doubts feasibility of UK-wide high speed rail network

hs2 train

The Department for Transport does not believe a UK-wide high speed rail network is currently feasible, New Civil Engineer understands.

The DfT has played down calls for a nationwide replica of HS2, after transport thinktank Greengauge 21 claimed that multiple high speed rail lines would inject “rocket fuel” into the economy.

However, NCE has learned that the DfT is sceptical about the current feasibility of rolling out a nationwide system.

While admitting that the report highlights the need for debate, a spokesperson for the DfT said that it does “not agree with all recommendations in the [Greengauge 21] report”.

““The focus now is on maximising the extraordinary benefits of HS2 for everyone. Whilst we may not agree with all recommendations in this report, it is an important contribution to the debate and underlines the need for HS2, delivering the rail network this country needs for the future,” a spokesperson said.

“This government has an ambitious and clear strategy for the future of our rail network.

HS2 will provide the backbone of our railway system – improving connections between our major cities, boosting productivity, delivering better journeys for passengers and driving economic growth across the country.”

Not-for-profit firm Greengauge 21 believes faster links to cities such as Bristol, Cardiff, Newcastle, Liverpool and Edinburgh would help the UK to close the productivity gap with European neighbours Germany and France.

Greengauge 21 director Jim Steer said: “We need a plan to put rocket fuel into our economic productivity and today’s report sets out proposals to do so.

“It is vital for the future of the country that no region is left behind, and the national railway strategy needs to reach all parts of the country.”

He added: “Fundamentally, we need to completely re-orientate the railway from a ‘hub-and-spoke’ centred on London to a fully national network.”

In total, Greengauge 21 believes that an additional 162km of high speed rail lines should be build by 2040.

The report also proposed a further 204km of fast lines with speeds between 200km and 250km.ph, with a major upgrade of the east coast mainline also put forward.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Greenguage's new report includes some interesting ideas and some which need further analysis. I support their idea of having some HS2 services not stopping at Old Oak, but reckon the report's example is too extreme. Old Oak is intended to provide easy connections to Heathrow, Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool Street etc. Travellers from most northern destinations would like their train to stop there when they want to connect and to skip when they don't.
    HS2 expect 25% of passengers to want to connect and, if they are right, that justifies 50% or so of services stopping. HS2's plan for 18 trains per hour allows for 2 "recovery" gaps in service each hour - followed by 2 "flights" of non stop services, each with a flexible number of trains all skipping Old Oak.
    The West Coast Partnership should try stoping all trains initially, but plan their timetable so that 1 Birmingham and 1 Manchester service are just after a recovery slot and could therefore skip, with minimal change to timetables.

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  • As Greengauge21 points out, there is currently no long-term plan for the nation’s railway. Neither the Department for Transport, Network Rail or the National Infrastructure Commission has one that can been looked. The "Beyond HS2" publication therefore, almost by default, the nearest thing that exists to setting out a strategic long term vision for how the UK's railways should evolve over the next 3 decades or so.

    Whilst debates can be had about whether Beyond HS2 has got it right with regard to each of its detailed proposals, there can be little doubt that it shines a light on the shortcomings of UK rail planning and the potential that exists to do much better.

    The creation of a high-speed X network instead of a Y seems like an obvious plan that should be developed. This would allow the high-speed rail network follow the same national connectivity pattern between major economic centres as the motorway system does (and indeed that the canal network did over 2 centuries ago). Unfortunately the HS2 infrastructure as currently planned for Birmingham makes no passive provision for such an X-plan development. However passive provision could easily be included as part of HS2 at modest cost if modifications to the infrastructure design were to be carried with near- immediate effect.

    One area that Beyond HS2 does not attempt to tackle is how high-speed railways should work in conjunction with aviation. This seems a significant omission given the importance that rail access to airports has in terms of creating a more-joined up set of strategic national transport systems. Expedition Engineering's HS4Air proposal for a high-speed London orbital via both Heathrow and Gatwick shows how high-speed rail and aviation can work together to better serve the nation in a similar way that already happens in countries like France, Germany and Netherlands. HS4Air would be a complementary addition to the sort of ideas set out in Beyond HS2.

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  • Can NCE please find a writer who can spell. The misspelling of 'gauge' is just one example of the poor English we face regularly.

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  • The main problem in developing a modern rail network in England is the density of population and hence lack of the land corridors which are demanded by high speed rail. A compromise was suggested some years ago during the build up to the accepted route for HS2 which concentrated on the rolling stock instead of the rail itself. Currently the requirement for high speed trains is that they need to be 400m long - presumably based on the distance between the escape routes in the channel tunnel. This limits the number of stations that can accommodate them and hence the cities that can be served directly without the need to change trains. However, if a hybrid train is developed at just 200m in length, this would be able to provide direct connectivity to Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Holyhead. Food for thought, Hitachi?

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