Posted 1st June 2009 | 20 Comments

250 mph plan for High Speed Two

Anrew Mcnaughton

BRITAIN’S next high-speed line—HS2 from London to the West Midlands and beyond—could be running within 15 years at a top speed of 250 mph, twice the maximum speed now allowed on conventional tracks.

Details of the future specification were given to the Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum by Professor Andrew McNaughton, chief engineer of the High Speed 2 company, set up by the Government to develop plans for the new line.

With such a high top speed, he said, there could be no tunnels and few curves. Aerodynamic forces would increase tunnel costs tenfold, and while the minimum radius for curves on the 125mph East Coast Main Line was 1,800 metres, at 250 mph the minimum radius on a new route would have to be 7,200 metres.

But double-deck high speed trains with 12,000 installed horse power would be able to climb much steeper gradients than ‘classic’ trains—3.5 per cent, compared with only 0.5 per cent grades on conventional lines.  He explained: “High speed rail is not invisible.  You cannot hide it.”
Although Prof McNaughton did not specifically mention the Chilterns, it is clear that a major challenge for the planners in finding a suitable route from London to the West Midlands will be how to cross these hills, which in places are designated areas of outstanding national beauty.
Greenguage 21, the pressure group that originally proposed a new line from London to the West Midlands, has suggested a route that would take the line in tunnels under High Wycombe.  But this plan envisaged a top speed of only 300 km/h, as adopted for HS1, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
But Prof McNaughton said that with new rail technologies 350-360 km/h was already becoming standard. And in countries such as France and Spain new lines were now being planned or built for a maximum of 400 km/h.

 “We are playing catch-up now,” he said. “So any new line in Britain should aim to cope with a service speed of 400 km/h — that is 250 mph, half the speed of an aeroplane.”
He gave no hint of any preferred route, but said a proposal for public consultation would definitely be published “before midnight on 31 December.”   
A new line would take at least 15 years—seven years for planning and authorisation and eight years to construct as far as the West Midlands.

“But we are determined it will get built,” he added.
Work could start as the Crossrail and Thameslink projects are completed in 2016-17 — retaining skills and jobs, and transferring the annual public budget for Crossrail/Thameslink to HS2, with stage 1 completion in 2022-24.
He said the HS2 company was focusing on the London-West Midlands-North West corridor “which is going to run out of capacity—both on the railways and on the motorways—by 2025.”
The population densities of Greater London, West Midlands, West Yorkshire/Greater Manchester/Merseyside and Strathclyde were ideal for very high speed operations judged against Continental experience.
He likened the corridor to the Paris-Brussells route where rail’s market share had more than doubled since introduction of 300 km/h high-speed Thalys trains. Airline competition had been eliminated, and rail had also eaten into the road market.
Prof McNaughton said HS2 would free up capacity on the existing West Coast Main Line, particularly at the southern end to enable more housing and economic growth around Milton Keynes and in Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire.
The new line would also relieve “suppressed capacity” for more freight trains.
He added that there was as much a business case for releasing capacity on the WCML for more freight and commuter services as there was for a London-Manchester journey time of only 75 minutes.

But the new line’s ‘green credentials’ would depend very much on Government decisions about future electricity generating policies and what fuels were to be used, he said.  
With a much larger loading gauge (height and width), the route could carry duplex trains, 400 metres long, compared with a maximum length allowed in Britain now of only 245 metres. 
Each train would have 1,100 seats and there would be a train every four minutes, giving 16,500 seats each way per hour—about three times more than Virgin can offer now in a peak hour with 12 x 9-car simplex Pendolinos and one 2 x 4 car Voyager.
With such long trains, many existing stations would be unsuitable, and Prof McNaughton added: “Trying to find a site for a London station is proving something of a challenge.”
Parkway stations along the route would also be important to compete with private car travel and to attract sufficient passengers to justify the project.  But the number of stations would have to carefully limited so as not to lose the benefits of high speeds.
“High speed rail is transformational. It is a new transport mode, not just faster rail,” Prof McNaughton emphasised.
He added that magnetic levitation was not being considered because of its high costs and the inability of maglev trains to continue onto ‘classic’ lines.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Rob, Margate

    The Japanese magnetic train is the way to go otherwise the technology will be quickly outdated. I would be a bit nervous traveling at 250 mph plus on 19th Century designed railway lines. A small defect or driver error could create an horrific crash far worse than an aircraft.

  • Stokie, Stoke, England

    Its good to hear that we are actually invetsing in Rail. Its also good to hear that it will create thousands of jobs. What I would like to know is if it will actually create any manufacturing jobs in this country building the trains themselves. If not, then it shouldn't go ahead until this is sorted out. We need the manufacturing base in this country to expand greatly and quickly to get us out of recession and to give youngsters hope for the future.

  • Michael Turberville, Reading, England, UK, EU

    I hear Lord Adonis harp on and on in every interview and news blog spot you can get about High Speed line TWO and what route it might or might not take and how many decades it would take to build IF it ever gets built.

    WHY are we limiting our nation to just TWO high speed lines???

    We have HS1 - tick. done
    We could do with
    HS2, portsmouth, southamption, brighton, gatwick, and tunnel under london with subsurface station under kings cross and then carrying on north - running roughly the ecml route.
    HS3 - the airport interconnector, a loop, LHR, LGW, a station in what will be the thames gateway int airport, stanstead, luton, and LHR. This can spur off with HS4 at or near Luton to go to Birmingham international, Manchester int and bradford leeds and possibly edinburgh or glasgow.

    HS5 - Belfast, dublin, under sea cut/cover tunnel, swansea, cardiff, bristol, swindon, reading, LHR, and a new subsurface tunnel with station under st panc/kings cross and carrying on to join HS1 at stratford

    HS6, the stratford, (new tunnel to st pan/kings cross station), LHR, Reading, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow/Edinburgh

    HS7, old ECML upgraded by building a parallel line.

    HS8 - the new subsurface from west to east - stratford, standstead, cambridge, nottingham, manchester, blackpool, scotland

    HS9 - plymouth, bristol, cheltenham, birmingham, liverpool, manchester, leeds/york?, new castle, scotland - pushing all the way to inverness

    HS10 - the east / west under london that goes to LHR, st pan/kings cross, stratford, thames est new airport, to be carried on to another set of chunnels to be build as the current ones are at capacity. there are 2 main bores and there should be at least 6, 2 for freight, 2 for le shuttle/eurostar, 2 for eurostar.

    I could keep going and send you some nice diagrams that would be far more beneficial than ONE single LINE build in 40 years time!

    Along with this is a total electrification of the entire rail network and ending the need for DMU's.

    This would be the only proper scheme that makes sense and is best value for the customer and citizens of the UK!

  • Jack Gillespie, London, United Kingdon

    Much as I am well aware that this HSR is never going to be built, if it is I believe that it must not be maglev (so we could have through trains to the continent), must be capable of at least 300kmph and must be built all the way to Scotland. I also strongly believe that it should go to St Pancras (the only station in London with adequate transport connections, even after crossrail is built). Furthermore, I think it must go via Birmingham & Manchester city centeres, without any 'spurs', 'branches' or 'parkways'.

  • Joseph Pestell, Newbury

    England (and I mean England because I am not persuaded of the economics of High Speed all the way to Scotland) is a small country with much shorter distances between major centres of population than France or Spain. So ultra-high speed (400kph) really saves very little time on most journeys by comparison with existing high speed of 300kph. But the engineering costs and difficulty of finding suitable routes are much greater. Tunnels may be needed not just to eliminate gradients but to shield neighbourhoods from noise.
    Let's be sensible about this and go for 300kph which is deliverable and stacks up economically.

  • Jason, Coventry, England

    Reopen the Great Central to Rugby, the lesser amount of people to disturb, it's mostly there bar a couple of viaducts in Brackley, and Willoughby, ok it's got Catesby tunnel, but NO level crossings. Near to DIRFT in Daventry and the M1 - M6 - M45 then...take your choice

  • T.L, London, England

    I can see 200mph happening but not 250mph. Kings Cross/St Pancras is a great place to build new platforms, why dont they just have the platforms underground saving space! 200mph and faster is happening in France and Germany its not unrealistic, but this country takes too long to give the go ahead France don't take 7 yeas to give the go-ahead so why should we. Maglev would be a stuipd idea beacuseyou need new rails every were with High Speed Rail trains can run on all electric tracks, is the trains are built to the right side. Duplex trains are opptimistic!

  • I McNab, Manchester, UK

    Sorry, but Prof Mc Naughton must live in cloud cuckoo land if he believes that his HS2 monsters can speed at 400km/h day in day out without a monster catastrophe! The noise alone would be unbearable, and the cost of maintenance would be astronomical. I heard the French are having problems with wheel scorching due to high speed, and it's making for a bumpy ride at times, so they have to slow down? What happens to level crossings? Do they bridge over them all or tunnel under them? Trains were great in their time, but it's time to move on to better things! And that means Maglev! Please don't turn your back on it as if it's not there! It's here Now! It's better Now! And no, it's not as expensive as the Pro Mc Naughton's tell you it is! Please don't take my word! Research it for yourself! It's called 'Progress'!

  • Mick, Upminster, Essex

    No tunnels? Surely a compromise reduction in speed would be considered, especially if the alternative is a longer route anyway which might add just as much time?

  • Michael Bell, Newcastle-onTyne

    The two furthest apart big cities of this country are London and Glasgow, as the crow flies 350 miles apart, by any realistic land route, 410 miles. The interesting realisation is that by going Glasgow - Edinburgh - Newcastle - Middlesbrough - Leeds - Manchester - Birmingham - London, 510 miles, you can reach 40% of the UK population and join all these cities together. And yet Prof McNaughton seems to imply that his route will go to Edinburgh and Manchester down the empty west, when by going down the East it can serve Leeds, Middlesbrough and Newcastle, with their population of 3 Million. Although he does not say so, most such schemes, and presumabley his too, link all to London, but none to each other, though journeys between other cities is large and could be profitable.
    I think the decision for speeds greater than 200 mph is absolutely right.

  • Julian Smith, Rochdale, UK

    About time too -- get on with it - hope to see it before I die (I'm 58)

  • Ben Ford, leicester, uk

    The old great central route would have fine, a bit short sighted now they have sold half the land.

  • Stephen, Luton

    HS1 and St Pancras are fully compatible with 400m trains, european loading gauge and duplex stock. HS2 would also be built to the same standard. What poses the problems is modifying all established stations north of London that are not on the new line (Birmingham/Manchester etc), lengthening and changing platform loading gauge, raising all tunnel and bridge clearances on the classic feeder lines. There are suggestions the London station for HS2 would be St Pancras. But since all platforms are used to capacity, where would you build the additional ones needed?

  • David Fuller, Tiverton, UK

    Actually with ability to climb 3.5% grades, and the desire to eliminate tunnels, the engineering would not be great. Just look at the way HS1 undulates with the landscape; much less engineering than the original Victorian railways.
    Concorde failed economically because of its low capacity, whereas McNaughton is talking about a high capacity line.
    This isn't for a small minority, as the Paris - Brussels experience has demonstrated.

  • David Faircloth, Derby, UK

    Very interesting!

    Just think of the engineering required to build such a railway; and that means considerable cost.

    So does it make commercial sense? Personally, I remain to be convinced for this would result in a very expensive project from which only a few of us taxpayers would benefit (and we would be picking up the tab for most of it). A sort of Concorde on rails.

  • David, UK

    The government clearly wants to build this line in phases, with the line finally arriving in Glasgow and Edinburgh at some unspecified point in the future - almost certainly the second half of the century at the unambitious rate proposed. Thus any vehicle travelling on it must have the ability to continue forward onto convential tracks for some time yet. They may well talk about 400m duplex trains going up and down the new line, but there will still be quite a number of conventional British loading gauge high-speed trains in use on the route too.

    This alone rules out maglev.

    I'm very surprised that Prof McNaughton has stated the top speed proposed rules out tunnels. Practice on HSR elsewhere (including on HS1) is to slow down for a tunnel where necessary. Thus the proposed 400km/h service could slow down to 300km/h for a tunnel under the Chilterns (if indeed it has reached this speed after leaving Heathrow International). If the alternative is a 3.5% grade to get over the hills, this too will slow the train down - it is not uncommon to loose 80-100km/h traversing these grades in France and Germany. Thus a tunnel will be no more of a time penalty than the alternative proposed here and more acceptable to local residents

    As for the difficulty of finding a central London site - I believe there are 65 acres of railway lands north of King's Cross which are about to get covered with executive flats. Surely this is by far the most logical site? Easily enough space to accomodate 400m trains and direct access to HS1 and all the transport facilities present there. Somebody should display some joined up thinking and safeguard this area now, if indeed it isn't too late.

  • leslie burge, leicester, england

    Can't we speed this thing up.
    Also why do we call it a high speed line to the west midlands and beyond?
    Why are we not calling it a high speed line to Scotland via the west midlands
    or what ever other alignment is suitable if we are having parkway stations.
    Or is it as I suspect a high speed line to Birmingham and then we'll see?

  • H. T. Harvey, Birmingham, UK

    The best route would be from St P following M!/MML/WCML as far as Northampton/Rugby and then a NE Spur to Leicester Nottingham Leeds and Newcastle.
    A NWest spur could then follow WCML via Coventry into Birmingham with a Spur to manchester L'pool and Glasgow following the Trent valley line.
    The route into Birmingham may have to be bi level eg Coventry station
    The idiots in Beirmingham have sold the Curzon St Site for development as student appartments. Though if Adonis meant business he could use compulsory purpose to get it back.
    Trains fro Birmingham to the Noerth west would leave B'ham along the derby line passing to the North of Waterorton to join up with the Trent valley line High Speed around Lichfield with a further spur to continueto join the NE HS spur further East

    To try to build HS2 via the Chilterns would be suicide environmentally and economically..

  • Laurence E. Blow, Arlington Virginia, USA

    When Prof McNaughton says, “High speed a new transport mode...,” I think he must be referring to the outrageous levels of noise and vibration that will accompany those 400-meter-long HS2 behemoths that, by the way, can only climb 3.5% grades and need 5.5 miles radius to make a turn at high speed.

    He added that magnetic levitation was not being considered because of its high costs and the inability of maglev trains to continue onto ‘classic’ lines. Hmmm. Seems to me a maglev system that can travel 25% faster than HS2, climb grades 65% steeper, make 40% tighter turns at speed, consume 30% less energy -- with minimal were and tear, meaning lower operations costs to boot -- and has much lower noise and vibration levels deserves a serious look. If the performance benefits produce shorter alignments, maybe the capital costs will be competitive.

    It'd be shortsighted not to consider a maglev alternative.

  • matatk, UK

    These plans sound amazing -- much more than I had anticipated. However, one thing bothers me: if, due the sheer size of these things, we are going to need parkway stations to accommodate them because central ones can't, then why does it matter if they can run on conventional track and wouldn't this open the door for maglev? The article seems to convey two conflicting ideas: that of large trains that can't fit into existing stations and, also, the idea that they simply must run on conventional track. I'm confused, but certain there are wider issues than I understand about this and confident that they seem to have clever people planning it, so am looking forward to finding out more -- just wish this could happen sooner!