a. Reduce Design Speed from 400kph to 320kph
Countries much larger than the United Kingdom, with much longer distances to cover, have chosen to design their high speed railways for lower speeds than us. Neither France, Germany, Italy nor Spain have seen a need to design their new high speed railways for the 400kph chosen by HS2 Ltd for ours. 'Design that will stand the test of time' claims HS2 Ltd. 400kph in the future? How? A self delusion. It must be 400kph from Day One, or never. To move later from 360kph to 400kph the entire 360kph fleet must be scrapped! Operating trains at different speeds on a network will cut capacity. The time table experts know this, but obviously not the HS2 policy makers.
Higher speed is often wrongly presented as a means to achieve higher capacity. But 16 trains per hour (TPH) at 200kph have the same capacity as 16 TPH at 300kph or 16 at 400kph. Higher speed only means higher costs, financial and environmental.
In order to keep down the cost of both constructing and operating HS2, the design speed of the entire network should be reduced from 400kph to 320kph. While it may be too late to reap all benefits of doing so on Phase 1, reducing the design speed here will still mean that vertical curve radii can be cut, which in turn will lead to savings in earth works, tunnelling and land take. The cost of electricity supply infrastructure can be cut by reducing the number and/or size of substations. The use of ballast tracks rather than slab will also reduce costs. On Phases 2a and 2b the design speed reduction will lead to even greater savings on construction costs.
Reducing the design speed of the HS2 network would mean reducing the operating speed on it too. This means slightly longer journey times, offset by reduced time losses when calling at intermediate stations or moving through tunnels or other speed restrictions. There would also be sizeable capital savings on the procurement of 'off the peg' 320kph train sets.
Braking and acceleration distances from/to, say 300kph are shorter than those from/to 360kph. Intermediate stations would require shorter run-off and run-on tracks. The lower speed may even allow the capacity goal of 18 trains per hour between London and the West Midlands to be safely achieved, particularly if Birmingham International is axed, as proposed in section 2 Curzon Street Station, here. Environmentally, energy use would be lower at 300kph and noise and vibration levels noticeably reduced, compared with those at 360kph.
b. Speed of HS2 Trains on Classic Lines and HS2 Journey Times
The maximum speed on Network Rail's classic lines is 110mph/175kph. That is the maximum speed classic compatible HS2 trains may run at on these lines. That maximum speed is increased to 125mph/200kph, Enhanced Permissible Speed (EPS), for tilting Pendolinos (390s) and Super Voyagers (221s). Pendolinos are faster than HS2 trains by 15mph/25kph on most classic lines. They are capable of a maximum speed of 140mph/225kph, but are not allowed to exceed EPS. Capacity will be lost on classic lines if slow HS2 trains are mixed with fast Pendolinos.
Any reduction in journey time achieved by HS2 trains on fast HS2 lines will slowly be eroded when they move onto classic lines. This means that use of classic lines by HS2 trains should be minimised. HS2 Ltd should let the faster Pendolinos 'do' the long haul classic routes to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle, to offer passengers the shortest journey time, even allowing for a change into a HS2 unit.
Where fast HS2 lines are available HS2 trains should use them. This should apply to services currently planned to leave an existing HS2 line via the obsolete Handsacre Link onto the WCML via Stafford to Crewe/Liverpool and to Stoke-on-Trent/Macclesfield. To stay will ensure shorter journey times for all HS2 services to Liverpool and, with the cost neutral replacement of the Handsacre Link with the Meaford Curve, (see section 5 Meaford Curve, Stone and Stoke-on-Trent here) also provide shorter journey times for HS2 services to Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield. Annual user benefits would increase by £26M and there would be large environmental and safety benefits between Colwich Junction and Stone. In addition, two hourly paths of scarce capacity in each direction would be released on the WCML between Lichfield and Crewe if these HS2 services would stay on the adjacent HS2 line.
c. Step-free Access and Platform Height
Step-free access onto HS2 trains, as well as onto Pendolinos, Voyagers and other long-distance trains requires a platform height of 1250mm above rail. Platform height at most UK stations is 915mm. HS2 Ltd originally specified a height of 760mm for its platforms. These low platform heights should be avoided. The increased height of the train floor above a platform would pose a greater risk to passengers' safety. Dwell times at stations would also be extended, leading to longer journey times.
HS2 Ltd has seen its initial error on this issue. Dedicated HS2 platforms will now have a height of 1115mm. This does still not provide step-free access and may not stand the test of time. Providing step-free access to its trains from its dedicated platforms should be one of the easier problems HS2 has to solve. It should also be a goal for Network Rail that step-free access is provided on its network to all HS2 and other high floor national and regional services. Eventually 90% of British rail travellers ought to benefit from step-free train access.
d. Dwell Time at Stations
The dwell time of a train at a station begins when it comes to a complete rest and ends when it begins moving again. It includes the fixed time it takes for steps to commence unfolding, steps to unfold, doors to open, doors to close, steps to retract and train to commence moving, plus the variable time it takes for passengers to leave and board the train. The fixed time elements on long haul trains add up to about 60 seconds, less for urban ones. The minimum variable time, for different platform heights, is estimated below, assuming a mix of long-distance commuters with light luggage and other passengers with heavy luggage and/or children and push chairs:
Platform height 1250mm - step free: 3s average per leaving/boarding passenger.
Platform height 1115mm - 1 step: add 1s per leaving/boarding passenger to the 1250mm variable time.
Platform height 915mm - 2 steps: add 3s per leaving/boarding passenger to the 1250mm variable time.
Assuming the busiest carriage door will have 15 leaving and 15 boarding passengers, minimum dwell times will be:
Platform height 1250mm: 60 seconds fixed, 15x3s plus 15x3s (= 90s) variable = 2 minutes 30 seconds.
Platform height 1115mm: 60 seconds fixed, 90s plus 15x1s plus 15x1s variable = 3 minutes.
Platform height 915mm: 60 seconds fixed, 90s plus 15x3s plus 15x3s variable = 4 minutes.
These minimum dwell times at stations will be exceeded at peak hours, when some passengers will be standing. The results lead to the questions: Is HS2's assumed dwell time of 2 minutes realistic for any platform hight? And are HS2's stated journey times realistic?
e. GC Loading Gauge, Capacity and Comfort
All new HS2 tracks will be built to the wide European loading gauge GC. The wide captive HS2 train sets will be limited to run on new HS2 tracks only. A 2+2 seat configuration is specified by HS2 Ltd for both the narrow classic compatible and the wide captive HS2 train sets. This is a waste of capacity as far as captive standard class train sets are concerned. Captive train sets can comfortably accommodate a 3+2 seat configuration. This would give a low, almost no cost 25% increase in seating capacity in standard class without compromising comfort. Off peak passengers would spread out to sit 2+1 in 3+2 configuration carriages.
During AM and PM peak hours it is assumed that all available train sets will be in service. During these and other peak travel periods, such as the beginning and end of holiday periods and for large sports events and the like, the increase in seating capacity which could economically be provided by the 3+2 seat configuration, would greatly add to passenger comfort. A sufficient number of captive train sets with a 3+2 standard class seat configuration to cover these peak travel periods should be procured by HS2 Ltd.
It is assumed that HS2 Ltd has, if not a policy then at least an aspiration, to use the wide captive GC gauge train sets on all routes where this is possible, including London to Birmingham (phase 1), London and Birmingham to Crewe (phase 2a) and London and Birmingham to Manchester, East Midlands and Leeds (phase 2b). However, these few GC gauge routes fall short of a comprehensive GC gauge network accommodating roomier rolling stock. The HS2 GC gauge routes do not presently cover places like Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Stafford, Stoke-on-Trent, Stockport, Chester, Warrington, Liverpool, Preston, Glasgow and Edinburgh, Chesterfield, Sheffield, York and Newcastle.
To ensure the maximum use of the larger, less costly and more comfortable captive train sets HS2 Ltd should agree with Network Rail and others, like Transport for the North (TfN), a programme to upgrade the routes to some of the cities and towns listed above to the GC gauge. As a minimum the following lines, all used by HS2 Ltd, should be upgraded to GC gauge: 1) Birmingham New Street to Shrewsbury and Stafford via Wolverhampton (phase 1); 2) from the Meaford Curve to Stoke-on-Trent and if possible to Macclesfield (phase 2a); 3) the proposed NPR line from its junction with HS2 to Liverpool via Warrington (phase 2b); 4) if the proposed railhead and maintenance facility remains near Ashley the NPR line from its junction with HS2 at Hoo Green to its junction with HS2 west of Manchester Airport; 5) from the end of the HS2 line near Wigan to Preston (phase 2b); and 6) from the end of the HS2 line near Church Fenton to York (phase 2b).
If it is judged too costly to provide better passenger comfort by upgrading these lines to GC gauge then classic compatible 200m train sets arriving 1) from Shrewsbury and Stafford could be joined with captive 200m train sets in New Street; 2) from Macclesfield could be joined with captive 200m train sets in Stoke-on-Trent; 3) from Liverpool could be joined with captive 200m train sets in Warrington or Crewe; 4) from Preston could be joined with captive 200m train sets in Crewe; 5) from York could be joined with captive 200m sets in Sheffield; and vice versa.
f. Rail Fares vs Air Fares
With good planning, both business and leisure travel by air to the European continent from my local airports (Manchester and Liverpool) can be made for less than the combined London and Eurostar rail fares. Similarly, the fare for a domestic UK flight is often well below the fare for the equivalent rail journey.
This undermines the economic viability of operating long distance rail services, such as HS2. Air Passenger Duty on routes shorter than, say, 1000 kilometres, where good alternative rail services exist, should be set at a level that will enable travelling by HS2 and other rail services to compete with air travel. This should also make new airport runways unnecessary and will help to slow climate change.
Building a link between HS1 and HS2 should not be contemplated until travelling by rail can compete with air travel.
This section last revised 24 September 2019