HS2M READERS’ LETTERS
Christian Wolmar’s latest offering on HS2 is frankly bizarre ( RAIL 823), not so much for what it says as for what it doesn’t say.
Far from just being an attempt to keep up with other countries, the reason for building HS2 is to add capacity to the national rail network, as is evident from years of analysis going back to Network Rail’s New Lines Study of 2008.
What Wolmar thinks of the proposed form of the new capacity is immaterial. That any serious commentator can write a two-page article without mentioning the issue is beyond belief.
Equally weird is his idea that there has been no well-funded or organised challenge to HS2.
Stop HS2 was always the ego trip of one individual, but whatever I think of them, I can’t see how Wolmar has overlooked HS2AA and 51M - the latter, in particular, spent large amounts of council taxpayers’ money on achieving very little.
And the reason these groups failed was (guess what) capacity - their so-called “optimised alternative” neglected anything other than seats on long-distance trains, failing to address paths for freight and London commuters on the West Coast Main Line as well as service frequency on poorly-served interurban links such as Coventry-Milton Keynes. These users will, of course, benefit from released capacity on the WCML after HS2 takes the fast through trains, something else that Wolmar overlooks.
It’s not as if a wide variety of routes (and indeed conventional rail schemes) wasn’t considered during
development of what became HS2.
Wolmar swallows the HSUK scheme uncritically, but its core route follows the “Reverse E” configuration that was rejected at an early stage for HS2 because its journey times to the major centres of Birmingham and Manchester would have been inferior to the chosen route.
Other aspects of HSUK that Wolmar might consider are its lack of detail on how it will access Birmingham New Street and persuade that station to take more trains and passengers; its fleet size (really not difficult to estimate given any sort of timetable); and its benefits, which are simply claimed as HS2’s plus 50%.
Wolmar’s only nod to capacity is to snipe at the misconception that high speed increases capacity, but I have known many good people fall into that trap!
He is right that increasing speed tends to increase headway. But with ETCS Level 2 (not, please note, “moving block”) the required line headways at full speed can be shown to be achievable, while capacity of the HS2 network will be set by termini and low-speed tunnel sections so that even if the top speed were reduced, no more trains could be run.
Meanwhile, capacity benefits arise not just from adding paths on a new route, but also by using them efficiently - first by dedicating the new paths to trains of the same speed, then by designing in the capability for trains 400 metres long.
Or did Wolmar really cover these issues? Perhaps I blinked... William Barter, Towcester
In discussing the Digital Railway ( RAIL 819), the suggestion is made that with ETCS level 3 capacity on rail would be increased by 40%, but that currently that development is not sufficiently advanced to be of use. Speed has been replaced by capacity as the reason for the need to proceed with HS2.
Bearing in mind the disruption and destruction HS2 will bring, would it not make sense to accelerate ETCS level 3 and at least avoid the costs of HS2 beyond Birmingham?
The Digital solution would also benefit the West Country, East Anglia and Scotland, where HS2 will have little effect. Dennis Sumpter, Swanwick