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Infrastructure in 2014: How high speed rail will take the strain

Last month saw a major milestone in the push for a second high speed rail line in the UK, when the hybrid bill for phase one of High Speed Two (HS2) was put before Parliament.

If the Bill is approved, an Act of Parliament will give scheme sponsor HS2 Ltd powers to buy land, construct and operate the new railway.

The government is also consulting on phase two of the network, which will have its own hybrid bill. The intention is to have phase one in operation by the end of 2026, with the second phase following by 2033.

Feasibility studies are underway for subsequent phases to continue the network to the North East and Scotland.

The case for the high speed network is based on the twin factors of capacity and connectivity between Britain’s principal cities. The country is growing, and more people are moving living in major cities.

At the same time, although there has been a programme of continuous improvement of our historic rail network, it is forecast to be full by the mid-2020s. The improvements have been successful in attracting people onto rail for intercity travel, with the numbers doubling in little over a decade.

Our work has showed that the most effective way to provide extra capacity between major cities was a new rail network rather than motorways or further disruptive incremental improvement of the existing rail system. Not only does this provide capacity for intercity travel but it also enables the existing network to be released for new commuter, regional and freight services, which are also forecast to grow.

We showed that, for little additional cost, the new network could be high speed, reducing journey times between cities and promoting improved economic activity between them.

The case for the high speed network is based on the twin factors of capacity and connectivity between Britain’s principal cities

The operational specification for HS2 has been developed to make it a high capacity system providing high reliability, high frequency services with short journey times. The distances between major cities mean that high speed rail can reduce travel times between them to around an hour, compared with two or more today.

Demand forecasts justify at least two services per hour between most city pairs, so the trunk of the new network from London to Birmingham is being designed to allow up to 18 trains per hour in each direction.

Probably the greatest concerns about high speed rail to communities along the route are noise and visual intrusion. We make use of the permissible gradients to follow the landscape closely and avoid large viaducts and embankments wherever possible, which reduces these effects.

However, the most cost effective solution to noise is to develop quieter trains, so we are expecting technologies similar to those developed for Japanese Shinkansen trains to be used on HS2.

Given the very high capacity and the emphasis on whole journey time saving, not just maximum speed, we have been modelling the most efficient way of people boarding and alighting from trains to reduce turnaround times. We are developing a step-free train to platform interface, not only for passengers of reduced mobility but to speed up boarding for everyone.

A key expectation of HS2 is that, designed from scratch rather than being constrained by traditional British practice, it can be developed to provide a “future rail” experience for the millions of people using it.

  • Andrew McNaughton is technical director at HS2 Ltd


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