Posts Tagged ‘high speed railway’

The Great Race

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Which was faster the plane or the train? Click to find out

After the rather sombre tone of our recent posts, here is a little light hearted fun, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph. There’s been a long-standing debate between the editor of W-wa Jeziorki blog and BTWT about what is the best way to travel long-distance in Europe – high speed train or take the plane. We maintain that travel by train is inherently superior. You can work on your laptop, read a book or engage the other travellers in conversation. Every time one travels by plane, one’s life is shortened by 6 weeks because of the stress and toxic fumes involved. In reply our friend Mike claims that plane travel is faster.

When the Eurostar service was transferred to St Pancras and the shortest rail journey time from London to Paris was shortened to just 2 hours 15 minutes, the Daily Telegraph decided to put both modes of transport to the test. Two of its travel writers were sent out to race from Westminster to the Eiffel Tower.

Francisca Kellett took the plane: the British Airways 12:50 from Heathrow

We meet in the morning in the slanting shadow of Big Ben. Not quite pistols at dawn. I don’t need a pistol. I have an aeroplane.

How can I be anything but optimistic? I am taking the fastest mode of transport available to the travelling public.

My flight, from Heathrow to Paris Charles de Gaulle, is scheduled to take a whisper more than an hour. Charles’s Eurostar journey takes two hours 15 minutes.

Even taking into account the time it takes to get to the airport, check in, pass through security and do it all again at the other end, I’m bound to win. I own this race. It’s mine.

Click here to read the rest of Francisca’s account of her journey.

Charles Starmer-Smith took the train: the Eurostar 12:30 from St Pancras

Our head-to-head begins under Big Ben. As we both set off from Parliament Square, the sun illuminates the clock’s golden hands. Today is all about time.

I arrive at St Pancras by Tube, well ahead of schedule, which gives me a chance to marvel at the revamped station. It took 11 years for the architect Alastair Lansley to create what he calls “a deliberate essay in saying we’re going to be bigger and better than our rivals”. As shafts of blue light cascade down from the majestic roof of iron and glass, it seems worth the wait.

I wander though the pillared concourse, but none of the shops and restaurants is open, there’s no sign of the farmers’ market we were promised and a few businessmen grumble that even the executive lounge is closed. But they are soon appeased by complimentary boxes of Champagne and chocolate by way of apology. A children’s choir on the concourse launches into My Favourite Things.

Click here to read the rest of Charles’s account of his journey.

Seen the video? If not click on the picture at the head of this article. I think that there’s no question as to which is the superior mode of transport. N’est-ce pas?

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.

A Ride on the Dark Track – part 3

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Hollandsch Diep Bridge, HSL Zuid High-Speed Rail Line

Dyspozytor is riding on a lorry from Poland to London to discover why so much Polish freight goes to the UK by road. The first part of his report was published on Sunday.

We pulled into a parking area about 10 am. “Half an hour”, said Wojtek. We slept for two. It was going to be our longest period of uninterrupted sleep before we reached our unloading point in East London. Wojtek had chosen the time for his passage through Germany well. We cruised past Berlin, Braunschweig, and Hanover. We drove through the centre of Bad Oberhausen. This strange 6 km gap in the German motorway network is the result of some nifty lobbying by local residents. They want a tunnel, not a Twyford Down style by-pass.

At 4 pm. we stop at another parking area for our statutory rest period. Several hours ago, Wojtek should have taken a compulsory 7 hour rest period, but by juggling the discs in his tachograph, he had created a second virtual driver that would pass any later inspection. We would be OK, provided we weren’t pulled up by the traffic police. During our 20 minute break we were entertained by the comings and goings of 20 policemen in bright fluorescent jackets looking at vehicles in the parking area on the other side of the motorway. They seemed to be concentrating all their efforts on inspecting the contents of small vans, rather than lorries or cars.

Half an hour later we were overtaken by a white van. The driver seemed to know Wojtek and signalled him to pull in at the next parking area. We stopped, handshakes were exchanged, and the van driver beckoned us round to the back of his van. Inside was an Aladdin’s cave packed with the latest consumer electronics. Perhaps Wojtek would like a plasma TV for his wife? The price was really competitive. Wojtek reluctantly shook his head. Was it something to do with my presence, or the prospect of taking the hot TV through the closely controlled UK border? I never did find out.

By 6 pm. we were cruising through Holland. The interesting feature of this part of the trip was the Hogesnelheidslijn Zuid (High-Speed Line South) – a brand new 300 km/hr high speed railway constructed through Holland and Belgium to connect a new route Antwerp and Amsterdam. The line was completed in 2007, but apart from construction and gauging trains, no services have yet run on the new railway. The villain in the story is the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). But this is neither the place nor the time. I will deal with ERTMS in a separate post. The HSL Zuid has been constructed practically along the motorway hard shoulder thereby reducing environmental disruption to the minimum.

Our route left the HSL Zuid for a while, only to rejoin it again on the other side of the Holland – Belgium border. I decided that the graciously curved catenary supports in Holland were much more attractive than the traditional straight variety installed along the Belgian section of the line. Antwerp, with its long underwater tunnel, was passed without a hitch. Then some 50 km later, the turn off for the motorway to Ostend was closed. Wojtek switched on his sat-nav and I kept a close look out for road signs. Our diversionary route was signposted some 20 km later. So far so good, Wojtek’s sat-nav and the road signs were in perfect agreement. But then after 15 km, our diversionary route was coned off. We had to take a diversion off our diversion! We found ourself driving through an elegant residential area, small bungalows with large gardens. The road was barely wide enough for our lorry! Then we reached a spot where the sat-nav said “Straight on,” and the road sign said “No through road”.

Scenic Model Railway for Free!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Behind The Water Tower was set up to bring the latest railway news and gossip to overseas friends of Poland’s railways. We wanted to ask for your help when a particular railway was under threat. Currently our main campaign to save the narrow gauge railway at Krosniewice.

As well, as Americans, Austrians, Belgians, Brits, French, Germans and Latvians, we are also read by British ex pats in Poland. So perhaps we should leven our daily fare of what Madame Mayor had for breakfast with a weekly round up of UK and World rail news? So here is a beta test version. If you would like us to continue let us know. If you think Dyspozytor should just stick with Polish news let us know as well.

Family give away unwanted loft railway
Wolverhampton Express and Star

wd2676964tracks_3_tt_14.jpgWhen Steven and Marie Wright moved home to speed through the transaction, they told solicitors to leave a spectacular giant model train set, which had belonged to the previous owner, in the loft.

Now the couple, who have three young children are inviting collectors or parents to take the grand creation off their hands. Mr Wright, a 36-year-old self-employed manufacturer, was so keen to move his family from Wrights Bank in School Lane, Coven, to St Paul’s Close in the village, he agreed to keep the track in case the hiring of tradesmen to dismantle it held things up.

He said: “It belonged to the previous owner of the house who died. “He had obviously put so much effort into it that it seemed a real shame to just take a hammer to it. “It is really impressive and takes up the whole loft, which I would estimate is around 18ft by 10ft. Anyone interested in taking the train set should call Mr Wright on 07985 371954.

Russian railway project eyes Atlantic link
Barents Observer

barentslink.jpg

The operators of the Russian Belkomur railway project are stepping up cooperation with regional authorities in northern Finland in an attempt to strengthen the link between Belkomur and the Barents Link railway project.

The vision of the railway enthusiasts is a new railway connection between the Urals and the Atlantic Sea. The projected Belkomur line will run from the Ural city of Perm to Arkhangelsk. The Barents Link project links the Norwegian town of Narvik with regions in Northwest Russia. While the Komi Republic has had a central role in the Belkomur project, the administration of the Finnish Kainuu county is in charge of the Barents Link.

Labour eyes £31bn high-speed rail plan
Nick Mathiason – The Observer

The government and Network Rail are considering a £31bn proposal to build a network of 187mph high-speed railway lines that would boost the British economy and slash journey times.

railway.jpg New studies drawn up by Atkins, the engineering consultancy, show how developing the existing west and east coast main lines could see journey times from London to Manchester reduced to 74 minutes, London-Birmingham to just one hour, and London-Sheffield to 79 minutes.

Economic gains to the UK of £63bn far exceed the £31bn cost of building the network, says Atkins.

The government welcomed the report: ‘We will be looking at the need for new transport capacity as part of our new approach to planning. We will consider all available options to provide the most efficient and beneficial solutions for passengers and taxpayers’.

photo, The Great Central Railway was built in 1890 to provide a high speed rail route from Manchester to the Channel Tunnel. Most of the line was closed in 1966.