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Ex-HS2 technical director 'sets record straight' on speed

Alstom proposed hs2 train[1]

Former High Speed 2 (HS2) technical director Andrew McNaughton has attempted to set the record straight on the speed of the line, after claims that slowing down trains could cut project costs. 

In a letter to New Civil Engineer McNaughton hit back at those calling for the speed to be slashed, claiming that doing so would only have a “small effect” on cost but would be a “major dis-benefit” to passengers. McNaughton played a pivotal role in setting the speed of the line.

HS2 Ltd is currently under pressure to cut costs after confirming that the price for building the line was currently coming in above the allotted £27bn budget (including rolling stock) for phase 1between London and Birmingham.

The forecast speed of the line has come under particular scrutiny, with trains travelling at 360km/h or 320km/h in tunnels. When complete it will be one of the fastest high speed rail services in the world.

Last February National Infrastructure Committee commissioner and economist Bridget Rosewell said “she had never understood why” the new high speed line was looking to run trains at 360km/h and the additional cost that incurred.

But in a letter to New Civil Engineer, McNaughton – who stepped down from the role last year after having held the post since the project’s inception - said that the current design speed had been meticulously calculated to provide the “best balance” between cost and passenger journey times.

“The selected design speed arose from the best balance at any point of passenger journey time benefits, cost and impacts, which is why it changes along the route from as low as 230km/h approaching terminals to as high as 360km/h in open country,” says the letter. 

“This was set out in the 2011 Public Consultation. People responded with challenges about going slower (or faster) and in particular the sections laid out for the highest speeds were reviewed to see what would change were the speed there to be lowered.

“Because the railway threads carefully between communities and key features rather than circling around them, the alignment was shown not to alter even with significantly lower speeds.”

He added: “Going slower had a small effect on cost and impact but a major dis-benefit to the 230,000-plus daily travellers who will use it for many decades. This was reported in the Environment Statement given as evidence to Parliament and, like the public consultation documents, was and is all available as a matter of factual record. It is a good (if lengthy) read for those seeking to understand HS2 better.”

He was replying to letters from Alistair Muir in the May print edition and Roger Curtis in the June edition

Muir said that the speed seemed to have been chosen for no better a reason than the “boys toys” logic of wanting a train as fast as a French TGV.  Curits compared HS2 with the French TGV system. But McNaughton’s letter says that HS2 is based on the Japanese rail system.

“HS2 is not inspired by the French system; rather, if anything, by the Japanese – very high frequency and reliability whilst minimising journey time for very large numbers of people,” he said.

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