But is it that far from the truth?
A high speed railway is defined as one where speeds of 200 kph or 125 mph are possible. The fastest lines run at 320 kph or 200 mph.
So what speed can we expect to see on the Great Western Main Line, after it is fully modernised in 2017?
Currently the fastest trains in the UK are the Class 373 ( 300 kph) used by Eurostar, the Class 390 ( 225 kph) used by Virgin and the InterCity 225 (225 kph) used by East Coast. The latter two trains are restricted to 200 kph, due to signalling restrictions on their lines and because they have to mix it with slower trains.
It is also interesting to note that the Class 395, which bring the high speed Kent commuter services into St. Pancras run at 225 kph.
The new trains for the electrified Great Western Main Line are based on the Class 395 and are called Class 800 and Class 801. These have a design speed of 225 kph, but will be limited to 200 kph on traditional lines.
But Brunel built the Great Western for speed and a lot of the route it is pretty straight and much has four tracks. It is also going to be resignalled to the highest European standards with in-cab signalling. The latter is necessary to go above 200 kph. So it shouldn’t be one of the most difficult tasks to make much of the line capable of 225 kph or even more.
The only real problem on the line is the Severn Tunnel. But as Crossrail has shown, we have some of the best tunnel engineers in the world. So just as the Swiss dealt with their railway bottleneck of the Simplon Tunnel, all we need to do to improve the Severn Tunnel is give the best engineers their head and let them solve the problems, whilst the politicians sit around and watch and wait. After all it’s only a baby compared to the massive twin bores of the Simplon.
As an aside here, I do wonder if one of the most affordable solutions might be to use a modern tunnel boring machine to create a new tunnel alongside the current one.
So I believe that even if it still goes slower on opening, trains to Bristol and Wales will be doing 225 kph before the end of this decade.
If that isn’t a high speed railway like HS1, I don’t know what is?
But whatever we call it, it’ll be here several years before HS2!
I think we need to call for three cheers for Brunel, who got the route right in the first place.
I heard good reports on the television of the rebuilt Reading station, so today, as I hadn’t anything specific to do, I decided to go to the town and have a look at the work that has been done.
I think Isambard would have been proud of what has been done, as he rarely did boring! And the new Reading station is certainly not that!
The concept of the station is very simple. The thirty metre wide overbridge is connected to all the platforms by escalators and lifts. Then at one end there is another set of four escalators and lifts to take people to the main south entrance.
But in all my life, I’ve never seen so many people walking wide-eyed in awe around a new building or even an art gallery. One guy told me he’d come into the station specifically to photograph the building and had taken fifty pictures. Even railwaymen who’d probably seen it all, were walking around giving the new station a critical look.
There was also the teacher, who’d travelled with me from London. She was amazed at it all, especially as she had left on Thursday from the old Reading station.
Very little has been reported on the media about the design and quality of this new station. The only news seems to be stories pointing out the fact that the handover is a few days late and there’s a bit of chaos. None of the stories mention, that the project will be completed a year ahead of the original plan.
I do wonder if Reading is the shape of stations to come.
The wide overbridge concept is used in a similar, but smaller and less dramatic form at Leeds and Derby, but how many other stations could benefit from this type of design?
In the pictures, you’ll see some of Inter City 125 trains, that are used on all services from London to the West and Wales. They are genuine high speed trains capable of 200 kph, ride as smooth as silk and they are now forty years old. I doubt they’ll all ever be retired, as for running through the Highlands of Scotland and from Bristol to Cornwall, where electrification is virtually impossible, there is no other fast train, that can handle the route.
So at last, these trains have got a modern station, to complement their design.
It is being reported that the bridge at Dawlish station is being replaced by a new copy in plastic, because the steel work has corroded. You can get a measure of the conditions from this picture taken on the line through the station.
So what would he have thought about the use of plastic?
Brunel was an innovative user of the materials he had available and I believe he very much used the best material he had at his disposal for a particular job. His prefabricated timber bridges could best be described as masterpieces.
So I suspect that his ghost is right behind Network Rail’s decision.
Because it was Open House, the floodlights were left on in the Thames Tunnel today. I took these two pictures.
I did intend to take some more on my way back, but I was rather delayed.
Perhaps it would be a good idea, if Transport for London, lit up some of the disused stations on the Underground, so they could be seen from passing trains on the Open House weekend.
Brunel’s most famous ship, the Great Eastern, wasn’t built in Liverpool, Belfast, Glasgow or on the Tyne or Tees, but on the Thames at Millwall. If you take the DLR to Island Gardens station and then walk along the Thames Path towards the City, you’ll see a sign pointing you to the Great Eastern Launch Site. It’s shown in these pictures of the Launch Site itself.
The Great Eastern was so large it was actually launched sideways, as the river wasn’t wide enough for a traditional launch. It was also pushed in by scores of hydraulic rams, as it was reluctant to move. It is said that these rams, built by Tangye, launched that company as well.
I went back to the Thames Tunnel on the East London line and took a video of an approaching train.
The video was taken from the same place where I took the still images in Wapping station.
The Thames Tunnel is the oldest underwater tunnel in the world and was built between 1825 and 1843 by Marc Brunel and his more famous son Isambard. It is now used to carry the East London line under the Thames and you can actually look into the tunnel from the platforms at Wapping station.
I was looking from the Northbound platform, just by the exit and the stairs that lead up to the street. When the station was designed, they decided to put protective railing to stop you failing on the line, but these do not obscure the view down the tunnel as the train approaches.
On Saturday on my journey to Ipswich the Class 90 engine pushing the train to Ipswich was named.
So who is Roger Ford? Roger is a respected writer on the railways of Britain and writes extensively in the magazine, Modern Railways. On Wikipedia, there is a link between the magazine and these engines.
Through 2006 and 2007 reliability has improved greatly: in 2007 the whole fleet won the ‘Silver Spanner’ from Modern Railways for the most improved main line fleet reliability in the UK.
I doubt that Roger would have allowed his name to be used for the engine, if it was anything to do with the award! The story is here on the National Express East Anglia web site. I wonder what will happen, when the company loses the franchise in the next few months. But then they inherited the engine and its name from Virgin, so hopefully for Roger’s sake, he’ll continue to push the Ipswich/Norwich expresses up the hill to East Anglia.
Whether the pusher at the other end of the train was named, I didn’t know. But surely the Brunel nameplates, are the only ones that feature a top hat!
On the one hand I watching athletics on the BBC in the centre of Newcastle amongst all of the bridges and the iconic buildings. It’s called the Great North City Games.
On the other hand, I’ve just had an e-mail describing the Sound Tracks Festival in East London, which is taking place at three main venues and you get between them on the East London line. Someone has remarked that it’s quicker to get between stages, using the train, that walking through the mud at Glastonbury. And of course there’ll be acoustic acts, including bands and a harpist on the connecting trains. I wonder what the Brunels would have said, if they’d known that their Thames Tunnel, would be transporting mobile concert halls between the two sides of the river.
We now have some fantastic pieces of infrastructure, both new and old and we should be imaginative about how we use them.
This large chamber is one of the original caissons that were sunk so that the tunnel could be excavated. Note the remains of the staircase and the soot from steam trains on the walls. You could also hear the London Overground rumbling beneath your feet.
The Brunel Museum will be improving the access to this chamber, which until recently hadn’t been open for about a 150 years