The concept of high-speed rail is certainly not new, with thousands of miles of lines having already become operational across the world in the last 46 years. Even in the UK, high- speed rail has been implemented commercially since 2007 following the launch of High Speed 1 (HS1) or the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL), which connects St Pancras in London with the Channel Tunnel in Kent. And it is possible that this could be followed by the introduction of High Speed 2 (HS2) – a new high-speed rail line between London and the West Midlands and further north to Manchester and Leeds.Making a case
This proposal was raised as a result of the previous Government’s recognition of the continuing growth in long-distance train travel and importance of connectivity between principal cities. As such High Speed Two Limited (HS2 Ltd) was established in 2009 to look at the feasibility of, and consider the business case for, high speed rail services between London and Scotland. Particularly this involved proposing what a network might look like, and studying a buildable route between London and the West Midlands. The results of this report were published in March 2010.
Following a change in Government this case was reviewed and subsequently formed the basis of the recent public consultation, which was launched on the 28th February 2011. With this having closed on 29th July, HS2 Ltd is gearing up to examine all comments in detail to form a final objective report, which in turn will be used to make a decision on the future of HS2 later in the year.Based on experience
As chief engineer at HS2 Ltd, Professor Andrew McNaughton is a key figure within the project providing high-level engineering and operational skill into an analysis that also incorporates economic and sustainability considerations. Having held all manner of roles up to director level within the railway industry over the last 40 years, Andrew was chief engineer at Network Rail for a number of years prior to the foundation of HS2 Ltd in 2009. Equally, in his spare time he is also a special advisor to the Australian government on the subject of high-speed rail.
Whilst credentials such as these have been vital in developing what operation of HS2 would look like in the UK, also of merit has been the experience gained by the industry through the HS1 project. Andrew elaborates: “A lot of the work that was done on HS1 in terms of high-speed rail design and siting it in the environment are today considered as standard in high-speed projects across the world. In this respect, the HS1 team were genuine pioneers of acceptable high-speed rail. Additionally these ideas have been taken on and developed further by other railways into the principles that we are using in HS2, so this experience has been invaluable to the project.”Prime location
Planning any major infrastructure project, let alone one which spans the length of the country, is undeniably challenging. “We are looking to create a high-speed network in the most densely populated country in Western Europe, which in the first stage extends from the heart of the biggest city in Europe to the second biggest city region in Britain – the West Midlands. Therefore our engineering and operational proposals are not only based on what is technically sound, we have also considered the whole sustainability agenda from the effect on people and the environment to historical sites, agriculture and other resources. I think the biggest challenge is the complexity of all those aspects together. However, in pure engineering terms our biggest difficulty lies within the London end of the line, both through tunnelling and
the regeneration of Euston station into a 21st Century terminal,” explains Andrew.
Aside from Euston station, which is aimed at north-south passenger dispersal, HS2 Ltd also proposes an interchange station at Old Oak Common, where integration with Crossrail will make rapid travel from the northern cities into the heart of the City of London and Docklands financial district a valid option.International standards
In much the same way as HS1, the HS2 proposal is based around standard internationally accepted technology and principles for high-speed rail operation. Andrew describes the importance of this approach: “By the time HS2 could become operational in 2026, we expect to see close to 25,000 miles of high-speed rail across the world. Clearly there is a very large market out there for proven highly reliable technology with an established performance, so it is central to our thinking that we develop high-speed rail as something that uses accepted international standards.”
One such example is that the HS2 infrastructure will accommodate ‘GC’ gauge trains as the European standard. The report also suggests that trains running exclusively on high-speed infrastructure should be standard products tendered in an international procurement market. Those trains that also have to run beyond the dedicated high-speed infrastructure on to the existing rail network will be of a special design incorporating components of high-speed trains with the added control and brake systems required by British railway infrastructure.
Whilst the underpinning technology of HS2 is based on today’s proven systems, for example the ETCS Level 2 control system, HS2 Ltd inevitably looks to the future and the likely developments that will take place over the next 15 years. Particularly it is likely that ETCS Level 2 will be progressed further, enabling more trains per hour to be run in line with HS2’s highly intensive service proposals.Promoting connectivity
By linking major city regions within the UK, and thereby transforming the local transport market, it is clear that the impact of HS2 goes far beyond just its infrastructure. “By definition cities are big places and people tend to work in the centre and live in the suburbs, so station placement is absolutely vital to the effectiveness of high-speed rail as an intercity travel system. It is not just about city centre-to-city centre travel but more door-to-door transport and therefore we have to look long-term at how we fit high-speed rail into existing transport systems, or in some cases how those systems can be amended over time to take best advantage of high-speed rail,” comments Andrew.
This vision of integrated connectivity has already been recognised through proposals in Birmingham to integrate the entrances and concourses of HS2’s new station into the expanding Moor Street station, and also the best way to connect this to the nearby New Street station. Equally, other city regions have approached the organisation and HS2 Ltd has contacted them to discuss high-speed rail location and how this can be used to rethink local proposals as appropriate to ensure good connectivity.Stimulating UK supply chain
Whilst the HS2 project is not reliant on developing entirely new technologies, if the proposals do go ahead, HS2 Ltd is keen to see the UK supply industry respond to the assured work associated with such a large programme in developing new methods and products, particularly in respect to achieving high quality infrastructure at a cost-effective price.
“One of the things that has been difficult for the UK supply industry is that there would effectively be a decade gap between the completion of HS1 and construction of HS2, if the scheme goes ahead, and it’s challenging for any supply industry to prosper without a home market,” explains Andrew.
“My hope is that if the project goes ahead, the supply market will respond to the greater certainty of long-term work to develop new products that can compete in a global market. As we are working in an international environment, if the UK develops something that is better for British high-speed rail, then it would also be a very good export opportunity.”
At the heart of this lies the need for firms to have the confidence to take on and train individuals, as a skilled workforce is vital to producing superior products at a better price. One clear example of this is the current tunnelling academy project within Crossrail, which offers key skills required to work in tunnel excavation, underground construction and infrastructure. With current plans due to see Crossrail complete construction as HS2 begins, there is the potential to maintain the academy, and therefore the supply of skilled labour, for use in the HS2 programme. The next steps
It is important to emphasise that the future of HS2 remains undecided until the end of this year, following a decision by the Secretary of State based on the analysis of the public consultation.
That said, alongside its existing work on the consultation analysis, HS2 Ltd is also developing its contracting strategy in preparation of a hybrid bill (for the London-West Midlands phase) to be laid before Parliament in 2013. This includes gathering expressions of interest for a development partner whose contract would only be signed if the Secretary of State decides to go ahead with the scheme.
Whilst focus firmly rests upon the proposed HS2 programme, which if successful could see stage one open in 2026 and the complete ‘Y’ network operational from 2032, Andrew is keen to stress the wider potential of high-speed rail in the UK, and the prospective development of a subsequent network in the long term: “This is not about a single high-speed line, but developing over time a high-speed network of which London to West Midlands is but the first section, and West Midlands to the North is the second. The UK is growing faster in terms of population than potentially anytime in its history, and as such there will come a time when existing road and rail capacity is full.
“Where there is greater demand across the world, it has become almost a given that the most efficient and suitable way of achieving this is through high-speed rail. Therefore if we undertake some long-term infrastructure planning in the UK we can plot a future that gives a steady workload and therefore the opportunity for our supply sector to develop new skills and products. This in turn makes high-speed rail more successful as the Government is able to put forward further schemes with the certainty that they will be delivered cost effectively and to the highest quality by the UK supply sector.”
High Speed Two Limited (HS2 Ltd)
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7944 4908