The Belgian government has pulled out of the Fyra project to run high speed trains between Brussels and Amsterdam. It’s reported here.
This sorry story has a lot of lessons for governments, who try to implement large projects.
Building railway lines and in particular high-speed lines is not difficult, except for the odd local political and environmental problems, as HS1 found in Kent and HS2 is now finding. But the actual line generally works well from an engineering perspective, with the possible exception of the Wenzhou crash in China, where signalling may have been at fault. None of the high speed train crashes in this country, were caused by engineering problems on new lines.
The main problems with Fyra are all about using new unproven trains. No sensible project manager would ever use unproven technology at the heart of a new project. You could argue, that Boeing used an unproven battery system on the Dreamliner. But look what happened there!
The other major problem with Fyra is that they discontinued the traditional services between towns like The Hague and Brussels, thus alienating a lot of their target market.
So when you do a large project, make sure that it fits the aspirations of your customers.
If we look at HS2 to Birmingham, the technology to be used to build the line will be very much proven, as hopefully will be the trains, which will probably be derived from something that is working well in the UK or Europe.
The line too, will be an addition to the current services between the two cities. This in itself removes a lot of risk from this line, as say there is a problem that cuts capacity on HS2, you don’t have only one basket for your eggs. I also believe the competition from such as Chiltern and Virgin trains and their successors, will make sure that HS2 is competitive and reliable. Those two services, will also act as valuable feeder services to HS2, as say you live in Banbury and want to go to Leeds, you’d hop to Moor Street station in Birmingham and then take HS2 to Leeds, when that section of the line is completed.
This plan called Euston Cross, was first aired in the railway press and is a serious alternative to what is currently proposed. it’s described detail in this post in a blog.
I think it should be taken seriously, as it would appear to have a few cost advantages and it would require less demolition at Euston.
As an engineer, who helped to develop the methods and software to build large projects, I believe that we can’t ignore the lessons of the biggest and most intelligent beast in the jungle; Crossrail.
Crossrail is setting new records for tunnelling proficiency, depth under London and project management. But as we experienced in the North Sea Oil industry in the 1970s, today’s big machines are dwarves compared to what will be available in a few years.
So the idea of linking HS2 to HS1 by means of tunnels and an underground station might be easier, than anybody would dare think using today’s technology. It could also go a lot deeper and just as Crossrail is diving under the Underground, it could probably dive deeper still.
The Sunday Times is reporting the Eco-report for HS2 stretched to 50,000 pages and weighs half-a-ton.
Partly this is due to the fact that Parliament needs a hard copy.
Surely though, that in this case to save a large number of trees, they should receive it electronically.
Huddersfield is the tenth largest town in England, with a population of 146,000 or so. As I found on my trip yesterday, it has a grand railway station with good connections to Manchester and Leeds, but it doesn’t have any good connections to the South and London. Those that came up by coach and car from Suffolk, weren’t too impressed by the roads to get their either.
I went by changing at Manchester Piccadilly, which at least has a frequent connection to Huddersfield. Going as fast as you can that way it takes a few minutes under three hours, as it does via Leeds. Going via Wakefield can be a bit quicker, but trying via Sheffield say stretches the journey to nearly four hours.
Looking at the various rail lines in the area, there is a line from Huddersfield to Sheffield called the Penistone Line. If someone had a bit of sense, it would seem that this area of Yorkshire could be given better transport links by improving this line so that it provides a better link to the Midland Main Line, when that is electrified to Sheffield. Many countries would electrify the line, but seeing the terrain yesterday and looking at the map, it might not be a cost-effective project.
The current improvements and electrification of the Midland Main Line will probably mean that going via Sheffield to London will be quicker than the other routes in a few years.
And then sometime in the next century HS2 might reach Sheffield Meadowhall station!
You can’t get over the fact, that Huddersfield seems to be a bit of an afterthought in railway planning and it has been like that for many years.
I do sometimes worry about the grip some people have on sense. Look at this article, about the damage done by the slag heap from a coal mine to the railways near Doncaster.
We should have got rid of our coal mines just after we found we had North Sea Gas and Oil, and probably developed nuclear power for most of or electricity. Instead we struggled on with the world’s most polluting fuel for many years.
Now the Nimbys don’t want any developments, be they fracking, nuclear power, wind power or even new railways like HS2. I suspect, if you had a vote on new motorways it would pass, provided they didn’t build one near to the voters.
But how many people will call this trouble with the trains near Doncaster, an environmental disaster caused by not getting rid of coal years ago? I will!
There is going to be masses of opposition.
In fact, I think that the amount of opposition is such, that the line will not get built. certainly, as I look forward at 65, I doubt I’ll ever see it.
Let’s face it, if you had a referendum, which asked if we wanted a high speed rail or more motorways, the man stuck in the jam on the M1 would vote for the roads.
HS2 also doesn’t help our biggest transport problem of the next twenty years. Or at least not directly! How do we get all the freight containers, to and from the major ports like Southampton, Felixstowe and Thames Haven? It deals with them indirectly, by making more paths available on the classic lines to the North and Scotland, especially if a few strategic freight by-passes are built and lines like Ipswich to Nuneaton are electrified.
There also seems to be a lots of opponents saying that London and the South East will be the biggest beneficiary. So perhaps we should built it from Birmingham to Scotland? Or at least that should be the first phase to open!
There is the classic opportunity here for a political party to fight an election on an anti-HS2 platform. I don’t think, any of the three major parties would do this, but who’s to say, some smaller party wouldn’t? After all, UKIP has said no to the project in this article on its web site.
out of curiosity, I thought I put the various speeds and size of some of the high-speed trains in Europe.
Fyra – V250 – 8 car trains seating 546, running at a maximum speed of 250 km/hr.
UK – IC 225 – 9 car trains running at a maximum speed of 225 km/hr. Although they are limited to 201 km/hr. because of signalling.
Eurostar – 373 – 20 car trains seating 750, running at a maximum speed of 300 km/hr.
ICE 1 – 12 car trains seating 743, running at a maximum speed of 280 km/hr.
ICE 2 - 8 car trains seating 391, running at a maximum speed of 280 km/hr.
ICE 3 - 8 car trains seating 441, running at a maximum speed of 320 km/hr.
Although, they are all different, it’s surprising how with the exception of Eurostar, they are all fairly shortish trains.
The IC 225 is slower, but also as they run on normal lines with other traffic, and generally stop a few times on their journeys out of London, their performance isn’t as slow as you would think.
It may lead you to the conclusion, that on shorter high-speed services with stops, 200 km/hr may well be fast enough.
But as the French like to show, there is quite a lot of pride, that your trains run very fast. But then France and Spain are probably the only countries in Western Europe, that have the space for long high speed lines.
We have had only a few details about HS2, the line from London to the Midlands, North and eventually to Scotland. They seem to be planning for speeds of up to 400 km/hr., but how much is that to just prove they can do what the French do?
Putting an engineering hat on, it’s well known that the faster you go, the more energy you need and the more noise and damage to the track you make. And if you go at 400 km/hr instead of 200 km/hr, you don’t do the journey in half the time, as you have to accelerate and brake for longer.
We also get the old chestnut, of why don’t we have double-deck trains like they do in many places on the continent. Having travelled on a TGV Duplex to the South of France, I am very sceptical about them on short high speed distances, as loading and unloading can be a nightmare, given the excess baggage people take with them these days.
So I am veering towards shorter nimble trains with superb acceleration. Taking the HS2 route to Birmingham, which has two stops between Euston and Birmingham, they might even be as quick as a faster heavier train.
But then the trouble with a slightly slower service, is that it doesn’t polish the egos of politicians, who love to say they have things like the fastest or biggest in the world.
Obviously, past Birmingham, where there is more space, the service could go faster towards the North and Scotland.
You have to remember that most of the saving in journey times from high speed trains come from taking a direct flat route. Brunel and those that built the East Coast Main Line, knew that and were able to create tracks that now allow trains to run at 200 km/hr. The West Coast Main Line had to be threaded through country estates of the landed gentry and over quite a few hills, so it is much slower.
Looking at my target of Fyra, the Dutch don’t really need a 400 km/hr. line and in fact, limit the speed of trains to 300 km/hr., although they’re not going as fast as that yet.
So there would appear to be good reasons for not building short high-speed lines capable of 400 km/hr. But by all means build them capable of 200 km/hr.
One of the main reasons he gives is that it would stop the demolition of 200 homes at Euston. But then Euston station is a disgrace, as I said here and rebuilding it will probably mean it requires more space. So there would be some demolition anyway.
Euston has several problems.
1. I don’t think there are actually enough platforms for the amount of traffic coming into the station without HS2, let alone, when that line is built. The 2007 proposals for the rebuilding of the station without HS2 envisaged three new platforms.
2. The concourse is typical 1960s and 1970s rubbish, that isn’t big enough for the number of passengers the station handles at present.
3. The Underground station is not really fit for purpose and needs a new booking office, platforms on the Metropolitan line and lifts everywhere.
4. If the station was to be rebuilt properly, the space above the station could be used for new developments of housing and offices.
In my view to solve the problems at Euston even without HS2, the station needs a complete rebuild. 200 homes would be demolished, but many more would be built.
So his first argument that the homes would be saved is spurious.
His proposal that HS2 terminate at Stratford is ludicrous, as there are just two spare platforms there. But HS2 would require probably an extra six very long platforms. And those two spare platforms would be ideal for the TransManche Metro, if that were to be built. After all Stratford is a good interchange now and will be better with Crossrail.
And how do you get from HS2 to Stratford? On the North London line I suppose. Although he did suggest that the trains go up the crowded Lea Valley lines and across to Biggleswade and then to Southam to link up with HS2
It’s an idea, that holds water like a collander. Shame on the BBC to give it publicity!
But those against HS2 will clutch at this weak straw.
It must be as according to The Times, golfers are leading the protest against the line.