Posts Tagged ‘high speed rail’

Tom won’t, but Terry will

Monday, 28 July 2008

Terry Hill, chairman of Arup

While Britain’s Rail Minister, Tom Harris, has been busy telling MPs that the UK is too crowded for high speed rail, and that high speed trains are not very ‘green’. Terry Hill, the chairman of Arup has been progressing his plans to build Britain’s next high speed line. Here’s an extract from an interview with him published in yesterday’s Sunday Times.

Hill and his fellow Arupites are old hands at the big politics that go with big projects. They were the behind-the-scenes movers and shakers on decisions that shaped the face of Britain over the past two decades.

Remember Margaret Thatcher’s mid-1980s plan to build three orbital roads for London, Ringways 1, 2 and 3? Thought not. Hill helped kill it. Remember the British Rail scheme to bring the high-speed rail line from the Channel tunnel carving through the south London suburbs? No? Hill and his merry men killed that too.

Now Arup has another cunning plan, a £4.2 billion extension of the high-speed line. It would run west of the capital to a new mega station near Heathrow, kick-starting new rail lines to the north, and perhaps removing the need for the airport’s third runway. Hill went to see transport secretary Ruth Kelly about it last week.

Click here for the complete article.

Arup were responsible for designing the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, now rebranded as HS1. They were also involved in the Sydney Opera House, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and in most of the new venues built for the Beijing Olympics.

In January Arup announced that it was working on a feasibility study for HS2, a new high speed line from London to the North. The company had first suggested building such a line 18 years earlier. Observing the distinctly chilly welcome that Greengauge’s plans for high speed rail received from the UK Treasury and Department for Transport, Arup repacked their plans and in May launched a proposal to build a new transport hub at Heathrow Airport, one that could in the future be served by high speed rail. Now Arup are advocating extending HS1 from Central London to the proposed Heathrow hub.

Perhaps, their slowly, slowly catchee monkey approach may just turn out to be successful.

UK Government dithers about fast rail

Sunday, 27 July 2008

St Pancras (Eurostar) Station in rush hour.
Photo Daniel Berehulak/Getty/The Guardian

(click on picture for original context)

9 July 2008

East Coast Railway Line

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether she plans to introduce a high speed rail network on the East Coast.

Mr. Tom Harris: The Secretary of State invited Network Rail to begin work to develop longer-term options for the railway network. As part of this, on 23 June 2008 Network Rail announced a strategic review of the case for new rail lines. It will consider five of Network Rail’s strategic routes, north and west of London: Chiltern, East Coast, West Coast, Great Western and Midland Main Lines. It is too early to say what the results of this study will be or where any potential new lines might go. The study is expected to be complete in July 2009.

Still I suppose that it’s a small step forward from Tom Harris saying that High Speed Railways were not green enough to be built in Britain.


Birmingham backs high speed rail

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Eurostar train crosses the Medway on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link now dubbed “High Speed 1” (photo originally published on and republished by European Tribune)

A development programme was launched on Friday, 13 June to promote high speed rail development. Its purpose is to encourage the government to create a national strategy for high speed rail and to examine the case for high-speed rail links in five corridors.

Greengauge 21 director Jim Steer announced the launch of the £0.75M programme at the Railway Forum event in Birmingham. The event was attended by representatives from Eurostar, Network Rail, and Bechtel – one of the companies responsible for building the high-speed rail links between the Channel Tunnel and St Pancras which opened last year.

The programme, which will be funded by a consortium who are creating a Public Interest Group to oversee the work, will investigate funding options as well as consulting widely on the conclusions reached by earlier studies and on the outcome of this programme.

The proposal to construct a line from London to Birmingham received enthusiastic support from Birmingham City Council chief executive Stephen Hughes “The West Midlands Rail Capacity Study has shown the critically important West Coast Main Line runs out of capacity within 20 years”, said Mr Hughes. “It is vital we start planning for high speed rail services linking London and the continent with Birmingham International and the city centre. The study suggests economic benefits to the city will amount to over £1 billion, particularly benefiting the financial and business services sectors, but also construction, hotels and restaurants, real estate and other businesses.”

The new route, probably from Moor Street Station, would link to the Channel Tunnel, enabling passengers to travel from Birmingham to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam in three hours, and would offer express services to London and Heathrow in less than 50 minutes Research already carries out by the by the council suggests the best route would be to lay new track next to the Chiltern Line, from Moor Street to London via Warwick Parkway. A separate spur line to Birmingham International Airport and the NEC would also be constructed.

The case for connecting Birmingham and London by high speed rail is really a ‘no brainer’. Unfortunately the realisation of this project depends entirely on Government approval. Recently Tom Harris, Undersecretary State for Rail, questioned the environmental benefits of building high speed railways in the UK.


Harris spins his way out of high speed rail

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Tom Harris, Under Secretary of State for Transport
responsible for railways in the UK

It is not parliamentary language to accuse a UK government minister of lying, so instead BTWT accuses Tom Harris of ‘being economical with the truth’. A host of press articles in May about a new high speed line from London to the North gave rise to speculation that the UK government might at last be about to commission a feasibility study for the new line. BTWT bided its time before commenting, waiting for a signal as to the government’s intentions. Now Mr Harris has given that signal and it is firmly fixed in the stop position. Yesterday’s Times reports.

Despite repeated promises to consider the benefits of a dedicated new line capable of carrying passengers from London to Scotland in less than three hours, ministers are thinking again.

In a letter obtained by The Times, Tom Harris, the Rail Minister, said: “The argument that high-speed rail travel is a ‘green option’ does not necessarily stand up to close inspection. Increasing the maximum speed of a train from 200kph [125mph – the current maximum speed of domestic trains] to 350kph leads to a 90 per cent increase in energy consumption.”

Mr Harris was responding to an appeal by Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West of England, asking the Government to make its position clear. Mr Davies pointed out that France had already built 1,000 miles of 190mph line, was planning another 500 miles and was considering raising the top speed of trains to 225mph.

Mr Harris claims that Britain has less need for high-speed rail than other European countries. He said: “The economic geography of the UK is very different from other countries with high-speed lines. The main challenge for the UK’s transport network is congestion and reliability, not journey times and connectivity.”

Mr Harris’s comments contrast sharply with Labour’s 2005 election manifesto, which pledged to “look at the feasibility and affordability of a new North-South high-speed link”.

The fallacies on which Mr Harris’s conclusions are based were quickly pointed out by Chris Davies.

Mr Davies said that Mr Harris had failed to acknowledge the environmental benefits of persuading domestic air passengers to transfer to high-speed rail. He added: “It is very disappointing to see the minister scrabbling around for excuses for the Government’s inaction on high-speed rail, especially when those excuses are so weak.”

A high-speed train produces about 90 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger-kilometre, compared with just over 50g/km for a conventional electric train. But a domestic flight produces 225g/km.

Inter-city lines are severely overcrowded and there is strong evidence that future demand has been underestimated. The total distance travelled by train is growing by about 10 per cent a year, but over the next five years the Government is planning to increase capacity by only 22.5 per cent.

In January Iain Coucher, the chief executive of Network Rail, told The Times that by 2020 Britain needed at least three domestic high-speed lines to add to the 68-mile link between London and the Channel Tunnel.

Richard Brown, the Chief Executive of Eurostar, also added his weight to the debate in a letter published yesterday in The Times.

Sir, Any useful assessment of the environmental benefits of high-speed rail must rely on far more than a simplistic comparison with the energy consumption of conventional trains (“High-speed rail travel is not a green option, say ministers”, June 6).

To start with, no one except the Government is proposing that future high-speed trains would operate at 350km/h (217mph). The current European maximum is 300km/h (186mph) with an emerging consensus that 320km/h (199mph) is the practical maximum in future — so the increase in energy would not be as great as the Government suggests.

Secondly, the actual passenger load factor on Eurostar services is twice as great as that assumed for high-speed trains in the recent rail White Paper, thus halving the Government’s estimate of energy use per passenger journey.

Furthermore, high-speed rail has a proven record across Europe of enabling very significant modal shift from plane to train, delivering a vast saving in carbon dioxide emissions generated by people who would otherwise fly. Research has shown that a Eurostar journey generates less than one-tenth of the carbon dioxide emissions of an equivalent flight.

Electric trains can also be switched to even lower-carbon sources of electricity as soon as these become available under the Government’s energy plans, unlike aircraft and road vehicles which are likely to remain very largely wedded to fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.

Finally, any assessment of environmental impact should also be based on the next generation of high-speed trains, which are about 25 per cent more energy-efficient than current fleets such as Eurostar.

With domestic main lines running out of capacity, and with the current rapid expansion of the continental high-speed rail network, the case for further high-speed lines in Britain should be properly and fully investigated.

Richard Brown
Chief executive, Eurostar

If you live in the UK and feel as strongly as we do that the UK is the railway Cinderella of Europe, perhaps you could write to to your own MP, pointing out the fallacies in Mr Harris’s comments, and asking them to obtain details of the basis on which Mr Harris made his extraordinary claims?

You can obtain your MP’s name and address as well as all sorts of other interesting information from TheyWorkForYou.

You may also enjoy playing with L’EcoComparateur, a very nice CO2 emissions calculator for different transport modes. Sadly, it doesn’t do London to Warsaw just yet and, in fact, seems to work best when the journey originates or ends in France. On 25 June, the International Union of Railways is running a workshop to launch the ‘UIC Eco-comparison tools for European routes‘. Perhaps UK Transport Minister, Ruth Kelly, should make sure that Mr Harris attends.

France takes pole position in race to build and equip Polish high speed rail

Thursday, 5 June 2008


Alstom’s 360 kmph AGV

In a daring display of French audacity, and showing none of the recitence of their more staid European rivals, the French Embassy in Warsaw hosted a very successful two day seminar on modern transport solutions. The detailed management of the seminar, which took place on 2 and 3 June was handled by UBIFRANCE, the French Agency for international business development together with the Polish Ministry of Infrastructure. The seminar targeted Polish decision makers involved in railway transport and public transport. The French delegation was lead by Mr Dominique Bussereau, the French Minister for the Environment, Energy, Sustainable Development and Land Use Planning, while the Polish delegation was lead by Poland’s Minister of Infrastructure, Mr Cezary Grabarczyk and also included Deputy Minister Juliusz Engelhard, who carries Ministry’s railways portfolio.

The first session discussed public transport in Poland and France, paying particular attention to urban transport development and the role of local authorities in planning and running public transport services. The second session, focussed on high speed rail, an area where French engineers lead the world, and Poland plans for a “Y” shaped high speed system from Warsaw to Wroclaw and Poznan, via Lodz. Other matters that were discussed included financing options for the EUR8 billion project as well as the role of private-public partnerships.

Mr Busserau (third left), Mr Engelhard (right)
Mr Grabarczyk (third right)

During Tuesday’s session Mr Grabarczyk announced that the plan to build Poland’s high speed railway is due to be submitted for government approval in the next few months. Mr Grabarczyk added that he hoped to have a feasibility study completed by 2010 and to to begin track construction by 2014 with a view to completion in 2019. “The priority is linking into the European network,” he commented.

The aim is to have 35 separate trains serving the line. Poland will be inviting bids for the locomotives and rolling stock, Grabarczyk said. However, he did not hide his admiration for the new AGV train from the French group Alstom, which is due to go into service in Italy in 2011 and is set a service speed record of 360 kilometers per hour. “The AGV doesn’t seem to have any competition,” he said.

Currently, the 345 km rail trip from Warsaw to Wroclaw drags out for five and a half hours, the 330 km from Warsaw to Poznan lasts three hours and the 130 km Warsaw to Lodz takes two and a half hours. High speed trains could cover either of the first two journeys in around an hour and the Warsaw-Lodz trip in less than half an hour.

Seminar Programme pdf download (WARNING – French text)

We applaud HRH!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Dyspozytor has been a fan of Prince Charles ever since he had the opportunity to meet HRH on the occasion of the Prince’s visit to the Blackbird Leys Estate in the early 1990s.

The halting of logging in the world’s rainforests is the single greatest solution to climate change, Prince Charles has said. He called for a mechanism to be devised to pay poor countries to prevent them felling their rainforests. The prince told the BBC’s Today programme that the forests provided the earth’s “air conditioning system”. He said it was “crazy” the rainforests were worth more “dead than alive” to some of the world’s poorest people

(complete article)

We applaud the Prince’s courage in ‘joining up the dots’ in a way that the UK government has singularly failed to do. Not all that long ago as part of its overseas aid programme the UK government was actually financing the building of a new road through the Amazonian rain forest. The rate of deforestation is directly proportional to the building of new access roads. We hope that other prominent figures will support the Prince’s call. Now how about somebody equally prominent calling for the Government to abandon its airport expansion programme in favour of the construction of a UK-wide high speed rail network?

more links:

BBC – Amazon’s future in balance
BBC – On the Amazon frontier
World ecological problems blog – Amazon deforestation

574.8 km per hour

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Alstom’s record breaking run on 3 April 2007 (click on pic for video)

A year, one month and 12 days ago the French broke the world speed record for a conventional (steel wheel on steel rail) passenger train.

High Speed Railways (line speed at least 150mph/250kmph)

Now which country was it that first introduced railways as a modern form of transport?

Ten tips for Boris

Friday, 9 May 2008

On his bike – click pic for Evening Standard article
(Sept 2007) – on Boris winning the nomination for
Tory mayoral candidate

Citizens’ journalism site OhmyNews International carries an excellent 10 point prescription for incoming London Mayor, Boris Johnson, in order to get London fighting fit again. The article, Ten Steps to a Greater London, by Asad Yawar discusses a number of urgent problems from air pollution to racism. Here we re-publish his first three recommendations: a blueprint for solving the capital’s transport problems.

1. Rail links between London and the rest of the United Kingdom

If you wish to get from London to Paris or Brussels, then rapid and efficient Eurostar trains can whisk you from a glittering new terminal at St. Pancras to the respective capitals of France and Belgium in around two hours. If, however, your desire is to travel from London to, say, Birmingham, then you will have to allow at least three hours in which to complete the journey. Going by train from London to the North-West of England is something that should be contemplated only by the most patient of Buddhist monks.

This is because High Speed 1 – the UK’s rail link to continental Europe – is the country’s only high-speed rail connection to anywhere. Most major capitals in Western Europe – Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Rome – are connected to at least some cities in their respective nations via high-speed trains. Not so London.

The consequences are clear: massive losses in terms of time and money, uneven economic development and many regions, especially in the North of England, which are dying a slow death, while London’s effective economic space is shrinking. The mayor of London must make it a priority to lobby for the construction of high-speed rail links to locations such as Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh if London is to come anywhere near maximising its economic and social potential.

2. The Tube

As most denizens of the city know all too well, there are countless problems with London’s aging underground network, known with ironic affection as the Tube. But two in particular stand out. The first is that, in parts, it is now so decrepit that users would be well advised to pack rations before embarking on a journey: in 2006, the average commuter on the Metropolitan Line wasted three days, 10 hours and 25 minutes – not including missed connections – purely in delays. Additionally, at weekends, much of the network is shut down to carry out engineering work, the logic of which is only occasionally apparent.

The second is that the Tube is not nearly as comprehensive as even many people within London would suspect. In fact, six out of London’s 32 boroughs are not even graced with its presence (though this will change to some degree with the eventual elongation of the East London Line).

Therefore, it is clear that the mayor must secure two things: firstly, the capital needed to rehabilitate the world’s oldest underground railway network; and secondly, that required to extend the Tube to areas of London which are not currently served by it.

3. The suburban rail network

While problems with the Tube tend to dominate transportation-related headlines within London, the delays experienced by most users of London’s suburban railway network are the stuff of fable, with signal failure, broken rails, fallen leaves, rain, missing drivers and even bright sunlight all contriving to trap London’s long-suffering long-distance commuters into ever-tighter carriages for ever-longer periods of time.

The mayor can follow a two-pronged strategy: he can attempt to get as much of the suburban railway network under his control as possible (in similar fashion to how his predecessor successfully took the North London Line under his wing), and he can pressurize central government on behalf of his constituents to initiate a long-term program of building a brand-new suburban railway infrastructure. Both elements are as politically tricky to accomplish as they are essential.

(click for original article)