High-speed rail in the United Kingdom: Wikis


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Only one British domestic high-speed service is allowed to run in service above 125 mph (201 km/h) which is the Southeastern High Speed Service, however several proposals put forward since construction of High Speed 1 might have seen trains like this GNER-rented Class 373 operate at its full potential.

The international definition of high-speed rail is new lines with a speed of at least 250 km/h (155 mph) and existing lines with a speed of around 200 km/h (124 mph).[1] As of 2009, there are four "classic" main railway lines in the United Kingdom operating at 125 mph (201 km/h), plus 108 km (70 mi) of purpose built high-speed line.

The first purpose-built high-speed rail line within the United Kingdom was the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, of which the first section opened in 2003. The building of the line (re-branded "High Speed 1" in 2006) provoked discussion in the national media and specialist rail circles on the merits of constructing further high-speed lines. Costs and benefits of route options for a second dedicated high speed line, between London and the West Midlands, are to be considered by the Government at the end of 2009 (See High Speed Two).

A mixture of 300 km/h (186 mph) Eurostar international services and 225 km/h (140 mph) Southeastern domestic passenger services use High Speed 1. Attempts to increase speeds to 140 mph (225 km/h) on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and West Coast Main Line (WCML) have both failed, partly as train travel above 125 mph (201 km/h) is judged to require in-cab signalling. The term High Speed Train is currently used to refer to the British fleet of diesel-powered 125 mph (201 km/h) InterCity trains currently in use.



Initial High Speed services

An Intercity 125 train at Hull Paragon station in 1982.
The Advanced Passenger Train was more advanced that the Intercity 125, however it was cancelled.

High Speed Rail was introduced to Britain in 1976 by the introduction of the Intercity 125, otherwise known as the HST, with a service speed of 125 MPH.[2] Prior to the HST's introduction, the maximum speed of British trains was limited to 100 mph (160 km/h), the Great Western Main Line was the first to be modified for the new service speed.[3] The Intercity 125 had proven the economic case for High Speed Rail,[4] and British Rail were keen to explore further advances.

While the Japanese and French decided to build completely new tracks for their respective Shinkansen and TGV high-speed rail systems, British Rail opted instead to develop a train capable of running on its existing rail infrastructure. The Advanced Passenger Train could tilt into bends to reduce cornering forces on passengers and had a high power-to-weight figure to enable rapid acceleration.

The APT project first produced a self-propelled gas turbine train, but the 1970s oil crisis caused a rethink in the choice of motive power (as with the prototype TGV) and later pre-production and production APTs were electric units. Initial experience with the trains was good. The prototype set record speeds on the GWML and Midland Main Line and the production versions vastly reduced journey times on the WCML. However, negative media coverage, technical problems and financial constraints caused the project to be cancelled.

BR then proceeded to electrify the ECML and ordered a new fleet of Intercity 225 trains in the mid 1980s. These electric trains were capable of 140mph (225 km/h) and although not initially equipped to tilt, were designed to be easily upgraded by having trailer profiles that tapered inwards at the top and suitable bogies. Speeds of 140 mph (225 km/h) were trialled on the southern, straighter sections of the ECML by using a flashing green aspect on the signals. This indicated it was safe to proceed above 125 mph (201 km/h), but HMRSI eventually ruled that this practice was dangerous and speeds above 125 mph would require in-cab signalling. The 225s were curtailed to 125 mph (201 km/h) and have been limited to this speed since.

Meanwhile, internal studies at BR were investigating the case for a new dedicated track, but none of this work is in the public domain.

High Speed 1 (HS1)

The Pendolino was Britain's second attempt at avoiding building a true high-speed railway, which ended up being restricted to 125 mph (201 km/h).

The CTRL was the first new mainline railway to be built in the UK for a century, and was constructed by London and Continental Railways. After a lengthy process of route selection and public enquiries in the second half of the 1990s, work got under way on Section 1 from the Channel Tunnel to west of the Medway in 1998 and the line opened in 2003. Section 2, continuing the line to London St Pancras, started soon after Section 1 and was opened to the public on 14 November 2007. The complete line is now known as High Speed 1.

The HS1 line was finished on time and under budget. The reduction in journey times and increase in reliability achieved through the opening of Section 1 enabled Eurostar to capture 71% of the total London-Paris market and over 80% of the leisure market, and Section 2 has increased these figures further. Additionally, the connections provided to the WCML, MML and ECML by Section 2 may see growth of hitherto marginal markets, by finally allowing Regional Eurostars to operate, at least on the electrified ECML and WCML. Eurostar's chief executive stated that the company believes they can take 50% market share even on 4½ hour journeys,[5] a journey time that would put Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds within reach of mainland Europe.

Market share statistics of Eurostar on London-Paris (and Punctuality):

  • September 2006 (July-September 91.4%)
  • August 2005 71.03% (January-September 87%)
  • May 2005 69%
  • August 2004 67.87% (January-December 84%)
  • July 2004 65.88% (January-June 89%)
  • October 2003 65%
  • July 2003 60.23% (January-June 77%)

The completion and successful operation of CTRL Sections 1 and 2 spurred much discussion and several proposals for new lines in the UK and many interested parties are hoping to capitalise on the momentum given to these ideas by the completion of the complete CTRL. These proposals are discussed below.

First high-speed line proposals

In 2001, two privately-sponsored proposals were put forward to build high-speed lines in the UK. The first, from Virgin Trains, was part of its tender for the ECML franchise. The second, from First Group, was independent of the DfT / SRA rail franchising process. Neither was welcomed by the government, who in the wake of the Hatfield rail crash were focused on - as they saw it - getting the rail network back to reliable operations. There was also a suggestion that at that time government officials overseeing the railways favoured increased nationalisation of infrastructure rather than allowing the creation of additional track operators, seemingly against the notion of public-private partnerships (PPPs) promoted elsewhere.

Virgin Trains' ECML bid

When the ECML franchise (then operated by GNER) came up for its first renewal, Virgin Trains raised the idea of constructing new track and purchasing a new fleet of trains for the line[6]. These so-called VGVs (Virgin Grand Vitesse, after the French TGV) would be capable of 330 kilometres per hour (210 mph) and travel using a mixture of new track and existing track. The new track would be from Peterborough to Yorkshire and on from Newcastle to the Scottish border. This first track would have opened in 2009 and was chosen for ease of construction in the south and elimination of severe curves in Northumberland. Later, if successful, further stretches would have been upgraded. Publicity material featuring Virgin branded TGV and ICE trains appeared and it was stated that the stock would be built in Birmingham (implying Alstom would be the supplier), although at that time the only train capable of such speeds was the German ICE3.

Virgin teamed up with experienced civil engineering contractors such as Bechtel, but their tender was rejected. There were issues with the souring relationship between the Strategic Rail Authority and Virgin Trains' other operations and the possibility of creating a monopoly on Anglo-Scottish routes. Sir Richard Branson said he would give up one of their other franchises if necessary.

Nevertheless, the Virgin bid started people thinking about possibilities and showed that multinational companies were prepared to get involved with privately funded UK high-speed rail projects for the first time.

First Group's plans for the GWML corridor

Around the same time First Great Western, operators of lines west of London, announced a study into a 320 kilometres per hour (200 mph) line from London to South West England and South Wales. First sponsored the study and input was given by other stakeholders in the regions to be served.

Journey times from London given included:

  • Swindon 35 mins
  • Bristol Parkway 49 mins
  • Cardiff Central 70 mins
  • Swansea 120 mins
  • Plymouth 140 mins

Although First stated that this report would be published and given to the SRA and government, little has been heard of the plan since the initial press release. Many at the time felt that First should concentrate on day-to-day running of its services.[7][8][9].

Government-commissioned studies

Since the completion of Section 1 of the CTRL, various government departments and ministers have commissioned reports into the viability of high-speed rail. This is in part due to the success of the CTRL project, part due to realisation that upgrades to existing infrastructure offer poor value for money and cannot hope to meet future capacity needs, and part due to increasing environmental concerns over the expansion of the short-haul airline industry.

Atkins study

In 2001, the SRA commissioned Atkins to perform a feasibility study into the transport and business case for high-speed rail. The study, published on 29 October 2004, looked at combinations of 11 routing options to accommodate forecast traffic flows and concluded:

  • New capacity is required to relieve the WCML by 2015
  • Further new capacity will be required to relieve all three north-south routes by 2031
  • Construction of the complete proposed network would cost £33bn, the shortest option £10bn
  • The line would give a cost-benefit ratio of between 1.9 and 2.8 to 1

Furthermore, additional work was done to look at the impact of road pricing, downgrading the enhancements to the ECML, and changes to the Treasury's green book method of assessing project finance. All three areas were found to improve the case for high-speed rail.[10]

Atkins Option 1

The Atkins study proposed a line between London and Stoke-on-Trent, broadly following the existing WCML and using the WCML for onward connection, as its baseline scenario.

Atkins Option 8

The study concluded that new lines should be built each side of the Pennines, with the eastern line continuing to Edinburgh and Glasgow. A branch also serves Heathrow Airport. This is the £33bn "end game" scenario.

Atkins Option 10

Interestingly, the study considered a link between Manchester and Leeds but did not take this forward. No explanation is given for this.

Commission for Integrated Transport

In 2004 the Commission for Integrated Transport commissioned Steer Davies Gleave to produce a report entitled High Speed Rail: International Comparisons. The report focused on the reasons why the costs being quoted for UK HSR routes (particularly in Atkins) were high in comparison to other countries, in addition to investigating the business case and transport case for such a network.

The routes studied gave journey times from and to London as follows:

Destination Current Journey Time HSR Journey Time
Birmingham 1h 10m 0h 55m
Manchester 2h 08m 1h 06m
Leeds 2h 05m 1h 25m
Liverpool 2h 8m 1h 15m
Newcastle 2h 50m 1h 40m
Edinburgh 4h 05m 2h 06m
Glasgow 4h 20m 2h 32m

The study gave the following recommendations:

  • That the Government and SRA begin to plan now for High-Speed Rail (HSR) as part of a wider strategy to ease the anticipated capacity constraints on the existing networks. Schemes that appear to offer good value for money should be actively progressed.
  • That costs of HSR projects are closely examined to bring them closer to the lower costs achieved in Europe. They should take account of possible reductions in underlying costs and further cost reductions if the industry structure, safety regulations and the approvals process were reviewed.
  • That the Government examines ways of maximising private sector involvement in HSR. This should take account of the potential impact of any future national road charging scheme on passenger demand and its potential to make private sector investment more attractive.
  • That changes in the appraisal process be considered relating to value of time, economic impact analysis, environmental assessments and risk/optimism bias allowances.
  • Additional capacity will be required by 2015
  • Ways to reduce the currently high cost of new rail infrastructure such as high-speed lines include:
    • Building lines in phases rather than all at once could produce a cost saving of 20%-30%
    • UK project management, planning, design and legal costs can reach 25% of the total cost (compared with 3% on the Spanish Madrid - Lerida line) and could therefore be reduced
  • If these cost savings materialise, then the benefits could outweigh the costs by 3 to 1

Eddington report

British Airways' former chief executive Sir Rod Eddington produced The Eddington Transport Study, reporting on future transport strategy in November 2006.

The report covered all transport modes and had initially been expected to strongly recommend investment in high-speed rail. However, on 29 August 2006 The Times reported that Sir Rod would state that given a limited transport budget, a high-speed rail link is not the most cost-effective option to obtain higher capacity on the rail network and therefore should not be built[11]. Most of the press continued to take this line when the report was finally published, drawing scorn from both opposition parties, Labour back-benchers and transport pressure groups alike. The report seemed to confirm this:

Significant momentum has built behind the case for a new network of very high-speed rail lines in the UK. This is often associated with new technologies, such as magnetic levitation devices, currently in very limited use in China. The business case is often argued to rest on the transformational impact of such a network on the UK’s economic geography. However, new high-speed rail networks in the UK would not significantly change the level of economic connectivity between most parts of the UK, given existing aviation and rail links. Even if a transformation in connectivity could be achieved, the evidence is very quiet on the scale of resulting economic benefit, and in France business use of the high speed train network is low.

Faced with such arguments, supporters of HSLs point to the capacity increases such new lines would deliver in London and selected urban areas by removing some or all interurban trains from commuter and freight lines. Such benefits are likely to be both real and substantial. Crucially though, these goals could be achieved by other solutions, and perhaps at much lower cost. The range of policy measures would include fares pricing policy, signal-based methods of achieving more capacity on the existing network, and conventional solutions to capacity problems e.g. longer trains. Indeed, in keeping with a non-modal approach, the measures assessed should include improvements to other modes that support these journeys (e.g. motorway, bus, and urban access improvements).

New lines – including new very high-speed lines – should take their place within this range of policy measures, and each should be assessed on their merits before selecting the option that offers the greatest returns on investment. An alternative argument is sometimes made on environmental grounds because a very high speed line from London to Scotland could attract modal shift from air. Such arguments must be made with care given that total domestic aviation emissions, including flight between other cities, account for 1.2 per cent of the UK’s annual carbon emissions (CO2 equivalent), including allowance for the climate change impacts of non-carbon emissions from aviation. Furthermore, rail’s energy consumption and carbon emissions increase with speed and this would erode rail’s environmental advantage and so it is important to consider the costs involved in reducing carbon emissions in this way.

However, Sir Rod later claimed both to the press and parliamentary select committee that he was quoted out of context in reports at the time, had aimed his comments specifically at speculative MagLev options, and in fact was in favour of using conventional high-speed rail to relieve congestion once existing main lines reached capacity[12]. Nevertheless, enthusiasm for such projects seemed to wane after the report's publication, at least in Westminster. The topic remained much on the political agenda in the North East of England and Scotland.

Greengauge 21 Study

Greengauge 21 Proposal (2009)
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Heathrow Airport 
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  High Speed 1
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New Built HSR (320 km/h)  
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In June 2007, the campaign group Greengauge 21, led by Jim Steer, published its report High Speed Two: A Greengauge 21 Proposition. In it, they evaluated options for high-speed rail in the UK and recommended an £11bn route from London St Pancras and Heathrow to Birmingham and the North West, which they dubbed HS2. The report recommended the new rail line be built in the M40/Chiltern Main Line corridor, and used it as the basis for its findings. This Route has the greatest strategic advantage, as the Chiltern Main Line is a popular alternative to the WCML from Birmingham to London, and also lends the opportunity to build a branch line to Heathrow Airport, giving the passengers served by the WCML a direct service to one of the world's premier international airports. The WCML is also the corridor which would be under the most pressure in the next 15 – 20 years. A connection to High Speed 1 would allow Eurostar terminals to open in Birmingham and Manchester.

Branching off HS1, it would briefly follow the WCML and GWML, branching off at the connection with the Central Line, going to Northolt Junction, where it will follow the Chiltern Main Line and have a triangular junction serving a branch to Heathrow. The line will be tunnelled at Chiltern stations, up till Princes Risborough, where it will incorporate itself with the intercity line, up to Banbury, where it will branch off and hug the M40 and M42, before joining the Birmingham Loop, at Birmingham International/NEC. Links to Milton Kenyes and Oxford via the Varsity Line, and Banbury in the middle of the Line, would experience a growth in services. Local services on Chiltern, WCML south of Rugby, and Banbury - Coventry - Birmingham could be intensified.

The new line would enable journey times of:

  • London to Birmingham in 45 minutes
  • Birmingham to Paris in 3 hours
  • London to Manchester (via the WCML after the Trent Valley) in 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Manchester to Paris in 3 hours 45 minutes

The line would be built to the continental loading gauge, allowing the use of double-decker trains.

On 3 July 2007 reports appeared in several online editions of British newspapers about the UK government's forthcoming 30-year strategy (see below). It was stated that "Britain may need High Speed Two", but that "the strategy will stop short of promising to pay for the line". [13][14]

In September 2009, Greengauge 21 published a new study into High Speed Rail.[15] This was far more extensive than Network Rail's proposal, with the plan calling for a full, integrated high speed network totalling around 1500km. Greengauge's plan calls for two north/south corridors from London, which would broadly parallel the ECML and WCML, together with three east/west corridors between London-Bristol, Sheffield-Manchester and Edinburgh-Glasgow. Both the north/south lines would consist of new built high speed lines, while the east/west corridors would run on existing lines upgraded to allow 200km/h running.[16] One of the central parts of the Greengauge 21 proposal is to have it linked directly with High Speed 1, to allow through running to the Channel Tunnel, thus enabling services to run direct from regional cities to Europe. The draft timetable produced as part of the plan estimates that trains could run between Birmingham and Paris in approximately 3 hours.

  • High-Speed North-East - the North-East route would run north from London to Cambridge, with a spur connecting to Stansted Airport, before diverting towards the East Midlands, stopping at Nottingham and Sheffield. It would then run as far as Leeds, before resuming the route of the ECML towards Newcastle. Between Newcastle and Edinburgh, the route would consist of existing upgraded line rather than new build.
  • High-Speed North-West - the North-West route would be completely new build. This would run north towards Birmingham, with a spur to Heathrow Airport, before reaching Manchester and Liverpool. Both of these would be on branches off the main line, with Manchester at a triangular junction; the main line would continue north where it would fork, with branches to Glasgow and Edinburgh, where it would connect with the North-East Line.
  • High-Speed West - the Western corridor would consist of existing track upgraded to 200 km/h, and would run west out of London stopping at Heathrow, Bristol and Cardiff. A triangular junction at Heathrow would allow access from these western destinations to the North-West route without the need to go via London.
  • High-Speed Trans-Pennine - the Trans-Pennine route would be a short corridor of upgraded line connecting Sheffield and Manchester. Both of these would be on triangular junctions, allowing access to all destinations on the North-East and North-West corridors.
  • High-Speed Scotland - the Scottish route would be a corridor between Edinburgh and Glasgow, consisting of entirely new build line.

Government White Paper: Delivering a Sustainable Railway

In July 2007, the new Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, delivered a white paper called 'Delivering a Sustainable Railway'. The report outlined the government's strategic plan for the railways until 2037. This report overlooked high-speed rail options, with the government opting instead for "further study" and saying that dedicated "magnetic rail link" and freight lines were "too expensive". Amongst the support documentation for this white paper is a report by transport professors Roderick Smith and Roger Kemp, entitled Technical issues raised by the proposal to introduce a 500 km/h magnetically-levitated transport system in the UK. This report reviewed the options for a MagLev trunk line, particularly those proposed by UK Ultraspeed and concluded that it was a high risk option, with a high impact on transport energy use and therefore CO2 emissions.

Second Atkins study

In March 2008, The Observer and The Sunday Times both reported that a second report for the Department of Transport by Atkins entitled Because Transport Matters showed that the original Option 8 (a high speed network on both west and east coast) would give a benefit of £63bn, well in excess of the predicted costs of £31bn. The report suggested building two 300 kilometres per hour (190 mph) lines on the East and West coasts. The West coast line would run to Manchester, whilst the Eastern line would run to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Travel times of 71 minutes to Manchester and 74 minutes to Sheffield were mentioned in the report[17]

High Speed Two

High Speed Two Proposal
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High Speed Two (HS2) is a proposed high speed railway in the United Kingdom serving London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds or alternatively London, Manchester, Liverpool, Preston, Glasgow and Edinburgh but not Sheffield. The UK Government launched a formal high speed rail project in January 2009 and high speed rail has the support from all three main political parties. The UK Government has now approved construction, due to begin in 2017, with the first trains running by 2025. Subject to consultation, the London terminus for the high-speed line would be Euston, the Birmingham city centre station would be at Curzon Street, and there would be interchange stations with Crossrail west of Paddington and near Birmingham airport. [18][19][20] The only other high speed route in the UK is High Speed 1 (also known as the 'Channel Tunnel Rail Link').

HS2's proposal is for a diamond shaped network between London and England's major regional cities serving Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, East Midlands and Sheffield with journey times of 30-40 minutes between stops with both city centre and parkway stations. The intention would be to relieve congestion on the motorways, rather than replicating an existing route such as the West Coast Main Line. The proposal suggests that there is no economic case for building a dedicated line to Scotland as there would only be a handful of high-speed services daily to Edinburgh and Glasgow. However, there would still be scope for fast inter-city trains to run to cities not served by the HS2 network via the existing East Coast and West Coast lines. The proposal would use the Chiltern Main Line for part of the route.

Network Rail study

Network Rail High Speed Proposal
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Heathrow Airport
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In August 2009, Network Rail published a study[21] outlining its proposals for the expansion of the railway network. The headline proposal was its plan for a new high speed rail line between London and Glasgow/Edinburgh, following a route through the West Midlands and the North-West of England. This plan, which would see the new line following a similar but not totally parallel route to the West Coast Main Line, would see trains running from both London and Birmingham as southern termini to Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Included in the report are draft timings which put Birmingham less than an hour from London, Manchester just over an hour, Liverpool just under 90 minutes and just over two hours to Glasgow and Edinburgh, with sixteen trains per hour estimated from London, and four trains per hour between the regional cities. The report also looked into the question of services to Heathrow Airport, and came to the conclusion that running all trains from London via Heathrow reduced the benefit of the line by as much as £3 billion. Instead, Network Rail's proposal would see a short spur from the main line terminating at Heathrow, reducing the road and air traffic to the airport from the cities that the line would serve. Network Rail also outlined the case for not including such areas as Leeds and the North-East of England in the proposal, with two main points:

  • The journey time from London to Leeds via Manchester would not be reduced significantly enough over the existing route via the East Coast Main Line to warrant the cost of building the connection.
  • Leeds would be the top target market for any proposed high speed line from London to North-East of England, so building a connection to Leeds would reduce the strength of the case for that.

Technology choices

Any operators of a new high-speed route are faced with a decision on which technology to use. There are two alternative technically viable but incompatible propulsion technologies available to allow speeds of over 200mph: Wheel-on-rail (high-speed but essentially traditional railway trains) and magnetic levitation (Maglev) trains and variations of both exist.


The German ICE 3 family represent the state-of-the-art in conventional rail technology.

Most high-speed systems in use in the world today use highly developed but otherwise traditional rail technology, designed to operate at 300 km/h (186 mph) or higher speeds. All railways operating at these speeds on a regular basis use electric traction, although onboard power generation has been considered in the past. Full details of this type of traction can be seen on the High Speed Rail page.

There are various train architectures in use: Articulated rakes of coaches have been used by Alstom for the TGV, Eurostar and derivatives of these trains and more recently with the Bombardier Talgo AVE S-102. Meanwhile Siemens and Japanese manufacturers of the Shinkansen have promoted non-articulated multiple unit designs with the Velaro, ICE 3 and bullet trains. More recently, Alstom combined the benefits of both with the AGV.


Transrapid is the world's only production ready high-speed maglev train.

Magnetic Levitation trains dispense with wheels and are lifted and propelled by magnetic fields. A group called UK Ultraspeed is promoting such a line in the UK.

Two high-speed systems are either being deployed or close to being deployed worldwide: The German Transrapid system has been deployed in Shanghai as an airport transit system. The system opened in 2004. The other main Maglev technology that is close to deployment is in Japan, where an alternative and incompatible system to Transrapid has been developed. This line uses cooled, superconducting magnets to improve efficiency and currently holds the Maglev speed record of 581 km/h (361mph). The Japanese government has approved plans to extend the experimental Yamanashi line into a full link between Tokyo and Osaka (Chūō Shinkansen)[22]

A third Transrapid line had been approved in Germany, connecting Munich's Airport with its central railway station in 10 minutes[23], but has since been scrapped.

Route choices

The promoters of both wheel-on-rail and maglev systems in the UK, and the technology-agnostic studies that have been commissioned by government departments and third parties, have concentrated on the North-South axis of the UK for the first route. There is some disagreement on whether a single central route, both west and east coast routes or a single S-shaped route taking in the major population centres (as proposed by maglev promoters) should be constructed first.

All studies have argued that a hub at Heathrow Airport would be desirable as both an interchange for air services and local rail services to the west and south of London. The Atkins study has identified routes to the West Midlands, Liverpool and Manchester as being capacity constrained by 2015 and this is almost certainly where the first HSL will be required. Atkins also recommended having two routes, one each side of the Pennines. The study recommends against a trunk and branch structure.

Various route options between London and Birmingham have also been suggested, some incorporating an intermediate stop in the vicinity of either Oxford (a city of international prominence), or Northampton (being roughly half-way), or at another point which will allow convenient interchange with the national rail network (E.g. Bicester, for both the Chiltern Main Line and East West Rail Link).

The Maglev option promoted by UK Ultraspeed takes a route from London to Manchester, with a branch to Liverpool, then directly across the Pennines to Leeds, with a branch to Sheffield, before heading north east to Teesside and Tyneside then north to Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Atkins study includes a trans-Pennine option, but puts more emphasis on a line through the East Midlands to Sheffield, Leeds and then north on a similar trajectory to that of the maglev.

Use of existing infrastructure

The advantage of conventional wheel-on-rail technology is that it can use existing infrastructure to access city centres. So far, the studies have stopped short of recommending a London terminus, but it is generally assumed that it would be at or close to the High Speed 1 station at St Pancras. Indeed, it is assumed that the route would interface directly with HS1 to allow through running. However, the new railway will most likely be built to the larger continental loading gauge — just as with HS1 — so access to city centre stations over existing lines will require structures on the route to be altered and therefore negate some of the advantage conventional technology has in this respect.

The UK Ultraspeed proposal does not envisage a Central London terminus at all, but instead proposes stations at Heathrow and Stratford. The latter would offer direct connections with Eurostar and both terminals would connect to the city centre via Crossrail. The route from Stratford would follow the Lea Valley and meet the Heathrow branch at a parkway station by the M25 on the north side of London. UK Ultraspeed argues that this gives direct access to more relevant locations in and around London than a single terminus at or near the Euston Road.

Many UK cities have existing rail corridors which are currently not in use, and some proposals for new high speed routes emphasise the use of these, to enable interchanges with existing railway stations. In some cases, these corridors were formerly rail freight or locomotive yards; others are the remains of closed routes. In many cases the corridors are incomplete, having been encroached upon by development, or with bridges having been removed. In many cases they are protected by local town planning policy documents. Where their re-use is possible, it is considered more sustainable, and cheaper, than the wholesale construction of a new route through (or under) the urban landscape.

Direct vs maximum intermediate population coverage

A route taking in many of the major cities along the UK Ultraspeed route - crossing the Pennines and maximising the number of journey options possible with a single train - would total 700 km (435 miles). A route taking a line east of the Pennines, missing Birmingham and Manchester but including Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds, would total 634 km (394 miles) along the core. By comparison, today's WCML is 642 km (399 miles) end-to-end.

Taking the new Madrid to Barcelona high-speed line as an example of the state-of-the-art, the trains available for a conventional UK high-speed line would be capable of 350 kilometres per hour (220 mph). The Spanish line is 621 kilometres (386 mi) long with an advertised journey time of 2½ hours, giving an average speed of 248 kilometres per hour (154 mph). Furthermore, since the opening of the LGV Est, a TGV covers the 167.6 kilometres (104.1 mi) from Lorraine TGV railway station to Champagne-Ardenne TGV railway station in 36 minutes, at an average speed of 279.3 kilometres per hour (173.5 mph)[24]. This service calls at both stations and so is representative of a high-speed service with 100 mile stopping frequency. Moreover, the TGV that achieves these timings is only capable of 320 kilometres per hour (200 mph) and so is slower than the Spanish unit.

This shows that the time penalty incurred by routing the line via Birmingham and Manchester could be expected to be less than 15 minutes for Leeds and points north. At this average speed, Glasgow would be 2½ hours from London. In contrast, UK Ultraspeed claim an end-to-end journey time of 2 hours 35 minutes and passengers wishing to access Central London would need to take a Crossrail journey of at least 15 minutes and change trains.

What must also be considered is that despite the direct "East of the Pennines" route having a shorter core length, in order to provide services to Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, considerable length of branches are required. Therefore, the overall amount of extra track required is three times that of the additional core length of the "S" option that takes in Birmingham and Manchester directly. These branches come to an additional 201 kilometres (125 mi) of route, as opposed to the 66 kilometres (41 mi) outlined above. The option still requires a traversal of the Pennines.

Interestingly, the additional route length involved in the "S" option is nearly identical to that incurred by Eurostar trains, which are routed through Lille, on their way from London to Paris. The detour adds approximately 41 miles to that journey, yet timings remain competitive with air and Eurostar enjoys significant market share. It is only now, 15 years after the construction of the LGV Nord that discussions over a proposed direct line, the LGV Picardie, are taking place. This is unlikely to be built within 10 years.

HSR promoters

The recent interest in high-speed rail generated by the success of the CTRL has led to the formation of several companies and non-profit groups aiming to further the construction of domestic high-speed lines in the UK. The principal groups are:


Greengauge21 is a non-profit group aiming to establish conventional high-speed wheel-on-rail technology as the mode of choice for new lines. The group has performed studies on routeing, environmental issues and the use of high-speed rail as an alternative to short haul airlines.

The group's website is http://www.greengauge21.net/

Currently they are proposing a new high speed line between, at first, London and Birmingham. This is tentatively called High Speed Two.

UK Ultraspeed

UK Ultraspeed is a company that has been formed to promote Transrapid magnetic levitation trains as the basis for a UK network. It works closely with Transrapid itself to keep maglev at the forefront of discussions in the government and media and is performing feasibility studies for a UK route.

UK Ultraspeed website: http://www.500kmh.com/

Transrapid website: http://www.transrapid.de/

Institution of Civil Engineers

The Institution of Civil Engineers performed a study of UK high-speed rail and organised a conference on the subject. Information on their work can be found at the following links:

ICE study news release: http://www.ice.org.uk/news_events/newsdetail_ice.asp?NewsID=632&NewsType=ICE&FacultyID=

ICE study brochure: http://www.ice.org.uk/downloads//missing%20link%20brochure_.pdf

ICE conference: http://www.ice.org.uk/news_events/eventdetail_ice.asp?EventID=1702&EventType=ICE&FacultyID=

BBC News article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/4982770.stm

London and Continental Railways

It was reported on 6 August 2006 that London and Continental Railways (the developers of HS1) were to put forward a high-speed rail scheme to the Department for Transport this autumn. Their scheme would cost between £12 billion and £19 billion depending on the route chosen. The timing of this was to depend on the release of the Eddington Report described above[25]. It is not known if this scheme was advanced in light of subsequent developments.

Eleven cities campaign

Eleven big cities announced a joint campaign for a high-speed rail network serving the entire country on September 9, 2009. Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield stated as their goal that The campaign will be deliberately focused on the importance of building a whole network to link all our major economic centres together, not simply a sterile debate about where a first route should go. [26]

Other developments

Stories about UK high-speed rail in the media.

Intercity Express Programme (IEP)

On 8 March 2007, the Department for Transport invited bidders to participate in the Intercity Express Programme or IEP (website). This is a project to replace the ageing Intercity 125 and subsequently Intercity 225 fleets with a new high speed train designed to operate on the ECML, GWML and Cross Country routes. The project grew out of discussions between First Group and Siemens in the early years of the decade, later being taken over by the SRA and DfT.

The DfT has asked for:

  • Increased capacity and environmental performance over current designs
  • The ability to split the train in order to serve different sub-routes
  • A modular design that can be powered by 25 kV, diesel or both in 3 different variants
  • A design speed of 125 mph (200 km/h) with costings for higher top speeds up to 155 mph (250 km/h).
  • Pre-series introduction on the ECML in 2012 with series production from 2014 to 2020
  • Between 500 and 2000 vehicles
  • Bids from organisations or consortia able to design, produce, finance and maintain the trains for 30 years

It was announced on 16 August that the following organisations had pre-qualified:

  • Alstom-Barclays Rail Group
  • Express Rail Alliance (Bombardier Transportation, Siemens, Angel Trains and Babcock & Brown)
  • Hitachi Europe Ltd

Contract award will be in 2010.

Whilst dual-power trains that can split en-route are considered an improvement over many domestic units operating today, the specification of 125 mph and the potential order of so many vehicles suggests that there are no plans for true high-speed rail (150 mph+) on these routes in the near future. This tender specifically excludes tilt, despite the journey time improvement this eventually brought to the WCML and some Cross Country services.

Liberal Democrats publish plans for UK high-speed rail network

On 2 August 2007 the BBC reported that the Liberal Democrats propose to build a high-speed rail network in the UK, connecting London with Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Tyneside and Scotland in the north and Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter in the west.[27] Funding for the investment would come from an extra £10 tax per ticket on internal flights in Britain and tolls on road freight, mirroring similar tolling schemes in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

On 22 August 2007, a Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP tabled a motion to the Scottish Parliament calling for a high-speed rail link between Scotland and London.

Tories publish plans to force short-haul passengers onto high-speed rail

On 28 August 2007 The Times reported that the Conservative Party has found that 20% of all flights from Heathrow are to destinations that can be - or soon will be able to be - reached in a competitive time by high-speed rail (the top ten short haul destinations are; Paris, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Manchester, Brussels, Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds/Bradford, Rotterdam and Durham/Tees Valley).[28][29] They plan to impose a moratorium on airport expansion and force this traffic onto the railways, freeing up slots for long haul flights and removing the need for a third runway at Heathrow and a second runway at Stansted.

Arup publishes plan for HS2

On 2 December 2007 The Sunday Times reported that engineering group Arup, one member of the consortium behind High Speed One, was to put forward a plan for a second UK high-speed line to the North of England and Scotland via Heathrow Airport. This would enable direct transfers between flights and trains to Continental Europe and British regions. The plan, closely resembling that of Greengauge21's, will be formally announced later in the week commencing 3 December 2007. [30]

Network Rail planning five high speed lines

On 21 June 2008 the BBC and The Daily Telegraph reported that Network Rail were planning five High Speed Domestic Lines in the UK. The lines will parallel the East Coast, West Coast, Midland, Chiltern and Great Western Main Lines. A further line is planned to follow the route of the former L&SWR and GWR via Exeter to Plymouth and Penzance. [31] [32]

On 23 June further details appeared on the Network Rail website.[33] It has been mooted that the high-speed lines would be parallel to existing lines, although the possibility of the East-coast line passing through Stansted Airport has also been discussed.

See also


  1. ^ "General definitions of highspeed". UIC. 2006-11-28. http://www.uic.asso.fr/gv/article.php3?id_article=14. Retrieved 2007-01-03. 
  2. ^ Shilton, David (1982-08). "Modelling the Demand for High Speed Train Services". Operational Research Society. http://www.jstor.org/pss/2634319. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  3. ^ R.J. Collins. "High speed track on the Western Region of British Railways". Institute of Civil Engineers. http://www.atypon-link.com/ITELF/doi/pdf/10.1680/iicep.1978.2755. Retrieved 2009-05-18. 
  4. ^ "New opportunities for the railways: the privatisation of British Rail". Railway Archive. p. 8. http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/DoT_WP001.pdf. Retrieved 2009-05-18. 
  5. ^ See News > Features > Future Insight)
  6. ^ BBC News, Virgin's 200mph East Coast vision, 2000-03-06.
  7. ^ First Great Western, press release, 200mph Rail Line Plan For South West And Wales, 2002-10-17 (via Internet Archive#Wayback Machine).
  8. ^ BBC News, Rail firm considers 200mph trains, 2002-10-17.
  9. ^ BBC News, Cardiff to London in just over an hour, 2002-10-17.
  10. ^ Department for Transport, A vision for the High Speed Line (HSL), retrieved 2008-06-24.
  11. ^ Times Online, We don't need the 200mph rail link, says man from BA, 2006-08-29.
  12. ^ Eric Martlew MP, The Eddington Transport Study (HC 458-i), Transport Committee 16 Apr 2007, 2007-04-16.
  13. ^ "London to Frankfurt in under 5 hours: Europe unites to speed up rail journeys". Times Online. 2007-07-03. http://travel.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/travel/article2017533.ece. Retrieved 2007-07-06. 
  14. ^ "High-speed rail network to challenge low-cost flights across Europe". Daily Mail. 2007-07-03. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=465849&in_page_id=1770. Retrieved 2007-07-06. 
  15. ^ Greengauge 21 proposes UK high speed network - Railway Gazette, 17/09/09
  16. ^ Fast Forward - Greengauge 21
  17. ^ The Observer, Labour eyes £31bn high-speed rail plan, 2008-03-09.
  18. ^ High-speed rail plans announced by government BBC News: Accessed Mar 11th, 2010
  19. ^ Department for Transport's leaflet High speed train: London to Birmimgham
  20. ^ http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/rail/pi/highspeedrail/commandpaper/pdf/cmdpaper.pdf High Speed Rail Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Transport by Command of Her Majesty March 2010
  21. ^ "The case for new lines". Meeting the capacity challenge. Network Rail New Lines. http://www.networkrail.co.uk/documents/About%20us/New%20Lines%20Programme/5886_NewLineStudy_synopsis.pdf. 
  22. ^ Japan Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI), Overview of Maglev R&D, 2004-04-20, retrieved 2008-06-24.
  23. ^ BBC News, Germany to build maglev railway, 2007-09-25.
  24. ^ Railway Gazette, New lines boost rail's high speed performance, 2007-09-04.
  25. ^ Mail on Sunday, £19bn plan for high speed rail link, 2008-08-06.
  26. ^ "Eleven UK cities campaign for high-speed rail network". http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/sep/08/high-speed-rail-campaign-uk. 
  27. ^ BBC News, Lib Dems plan air tax to aid rail 2007-08-02.
  28. ^ London Evening Standard, Tories' green taxes would fund tax breaks for families 2008-04-28.
  29. ^ The Times, Tories consider plans to force short-haul air passengers on to high-speed trains 2007-08-29.
  30. ^ The Sunday Times, Heathrow to Paris at 186mph 2007-12-02.
  31. ^ "Major new rail lines considered". BBC News. 2008-06-21. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7467203.stm. Retrieved 2008-06-23. 
  32. ^ "High speed trains planned in UK railway blueprint". Daily Telegraph. 2008-06-21. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/2166457/High-speed-trains-planned-in-UK-railway-blueprint.html. Retrieved 2008-06-23. 
  33. ^ "Meeting the capacity challenge: Network Rail looks at the case for new rail lines". Daily Network Rail. 2008-06-23. http://www.networkrailmediacentre.co.uk/Content/Detail.asp?ReleaseID=3765&NewsAreaID=2&SearchCategoryID=2. Retrieved 2008-06-23. 

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