ON the day before a series of judicial reviews were due to begin in the High Court ‘The Independent on Sunday’ newspaper ran a report that the Government “is looking to slice around 100km per hour off the top speed of the controversial High Speed Two rail connection proposed between London and Birmingham. Officials at the Department for Transport are understood to have asked the state-owned body overseeing HS2 if it agrees with criticisms that Government had focused too much on the need for speed.”
Only at the end of its report did the newspaper add that a Transport Department spokesman had said there were no plans to reduce HS2’s maximum design speed of 400km/h.
However, had the newspaper bothered to check the facts (something, perhaps, that Lord Leveson would encourage) it would have found that the question of HS2’s speed was raised last year — and replied to at length as long ago as last January in the ‘Review of HS2 London to West Midlands Route Selection and Speed - A report to Government by HS2 Ltd.’
This stated: “We designed HS2 to permit speeds of up to 225mph [360km/h] initially, similar to routes currently being developed elsewhere in Europe, for which there is proven technology,” adding: “Our view is that 250mph [400km/h] represents a reasonable maximum design speed, given likely technology development over the coming decades.”
But the report also made clear that the route now planned — including various levels of mitigation incorporated after feedback from public consultation in 2010 — has a maximum speed of only 250km/h between Old Oak Common and West Ruislip, and a train leaving London would only reach 360km/h after 28 miles (because of speed limits in the many tunnelled sections now proposed up to and through the Chilterns).
Only about 109km of the stage one route, between Amersham and the Birmingham Interchange Station near the National Exhibition Centre, would have the maximum design speed of 400km/h, HS2 Ltd said.
“Given the sizeable loss of benefits from lower speeds, and the scope to mitigate environmental effects, we remain of the view therefore that the current design speed [400km/h] is appropriate. . . . In summary, we have found that the sustainability benefits that could be achieved by adopting a lower design speed are, at best, marginal.”
In reconsidering the case for adopting a lower maximum speed, HS2 Ltd said it had developed alignments for two alternative corridor options having the same maximum speed as HS1 (300km/h).
Chiltern Line and M40 alignment at 300km/h — ‘£3bn more expensive’
This option would have a journey time between Euston and Birmingham of 56 minutes as opposed to 49 minutes. It would encounter a much greater number of major population centres than the now-proposed route — including Gerrard’s Cross, Beaconsfield, High Wycombe and Princes Risborough. “These four locations alone have a combined population in excess of 110,000 people. This would result in unacceptable impacts on communities through major demolitions, severance and noise impacts,” according to HS2 Ltd.
As a result, this route would require substantial sections of tunnelling, said HS2 Ltd. “For example, it would need to be tunnelled under Gerrard’s Cross, surfacing to pass through the area around Seer Green before entering a seven-and-half-mile long tunnel under both Beaconsfield and High Wycombe.”
In addition, in running as close as practicable to the M40 corridor the route would need to avoid six motorway junctions through the use of flyovers or tunnels, adding to the engineering complexity and cost, and “there would also inevitably be significant disruption to the road and motorway network during construction over two to three years,” HS2 Ltd said.
“This would contribute to total costs of £19.5 billion, making it a £3 billion more expensive option than the (now-recommended) route which would cost £16.5 billion.”
As a result, HS2 Ltd reckoned the Benefit Cost Ratio of the scheme would be reduced by 25 per cent or more, and added: “The seven minute journey time penalty would also apply to all destinations further north, both initially for trains running onto the classic network and later on a wider network . . . Designing a wider network with a similar maximum speed of 300km/h would mean that further additional time would be added to journeys to all cities beyond Birmingham.”
M1 alignment at 300km/h — ‘substantially more complicated’
London-Birmingham journey time would be 55 minutes.
As with the M40 corridor, a surface alignment along the M1 route would encounter a much greater number of major population centres than the now-proposed route, “including Hemel Hempstead, Milton Keynes and, in particular, Luton” — with a combined population of over 480,000 people.
“This would result in unacceptable impacts on communities through major demolitions, severance and noise impacts and therefore this route would require substantial sections of tunnelling. This makes it a substantially more complicated,” stated the HS2 Ltd report.
The likely cost of constructing this route would be £18.7 billion, £2.2 billion more than the now-recommended route — reducing the Benefit Cost Ratio of the scheme by 25 per cent or more.
HS2 Ltd added: “The surface sections of the new M1 alignment would result in 150 residential dwellings being at risk of demolition, more than double for the section between Old Oak Common and the Birmingham Interchange Station . . . [and] 14 communities would also be at risk of isolation or severance, as a result of being bounded by transport infrastructure, as compared with three communities at risk of isolation for the [now-proposed] route.”
In addition, tunnels for the M1 option would pass under 6,400 dwellings “compared to 350 for the proposed route”.
Transport corridor comparison: HS1 and HS2
HS2 Ltd pointed out that neither the M1 nor the M40 motorways follow the most direct route from London to the West Midlands. “Given this, they make any rail route following them longer, both in terms of distance and journey time. As they serve other major towns and cities along the way, any route following these transport corridors would impact on populations and the existing infrastructure such as motorway junctions which would need to be avoided or mitigated” — all leading to higher costs.
Significantly, HS2 Ltd also emphasised that the major transport corridors between London and Birmingham (M1/M6 and M40/M42) “differ significantly from those between London and Folkestone, namely the M20, along which HS1 travels. It passes by fewer large population centres and takes a more direct route from London to its intended destination.”
So HS2 will actually do what HS1 already does — avoid large population centres and take a more direct route from London than the existing motorways.
“Every alternative corridor considered would increase the costs and reduce the economic benefits of HS2, and none of them would result in significantly reduced impacts on the environment.”
Not surprisingly, therefore, HS2 Ltd’s overall conclusion was that “the adopted route corridor presents the best balance of cost, sustainability impacts, journey times and benefits.”