Meeting the challenges issued by HSUK

When the HSUK consortium developed their own alternative to HS2, they issued a challenge to HS2 Ltd in the form of a series of questions that highlighted the official HS2 plan's shortcomings. Although a consensus was quickly reached that the HSUK alternative was not the best solution, their questions were still valid and went unanswered. But the Track11 version of HS2 has addressed the flaws that remain in HS2 Ltd's version. Therefore Track11 has risen to the challenge and answered the questions on design principles and connectivity:

Design Principles Challenge

1. Please explain how and why the decision was taken for HS2 to operate separate from the existing network, with no consideration given to the alternative of fully integrated operation (as exemplified by successful ‘ICE’ operation on German Railways/Deutsche Bahn).

This question is not applicable as the Track11 variant of HS2 is fully integrated with the existing network.

2. Please explain how and why the decision was taken for the HS2 route to be designed for 400km/h operation.

Track11 does not have the resources to redesign the whole of the HS2 route, and does not consider it to be sensible to redesign HS2 from scratch when the plans are already satisfactory for most of their length. Thus the Track11 variant of HS2 uses the route developed by HS2 Ltd and its precursors except where it is environmentally acceptable or fails to properly integrate with the existing infrastructure. Therefore designing most of the line for 400km/h operation was not Track11's decision.

However, the Aylesbury Vale section is an exception to this. It was designed for 400km/h operation because there did not seem to be any significant savings available from designing it to a lower specification, and because Track11 recognises that the ability to run above the normal maximum service speed is important for service reliability, as it would allow delays to be counteracted.

3. Please explain how HS2 will optimise Heathrow’s rail connectivity, and at the same time optimise its functionality as an intercity railway.

Trains from The North would leave HS2 near Calvert, and run to Heathrow and Gatwick via conventional railway lines. Therefore although Heathrow would gain direct services via HS2, it has not impacted on the Track11 high speed route selection.

4. Please explain why HS2 development has been predicated on enhancing low-volume flows to regional airports, to the detriment of adjacent major communities which will see reductions in intercity service levels.

There are significant advantages to running high speed railways via airports: they're generally not as built up as city centres, so finding a suitable alignment is easier. Railways increase the catchment area of airports, giving other places on the line the benefit of convenient access to more overseas destinations and reducing the need for connecting flights to domestic destinations. And crucially, running to airports enables a significant portion of the cost of the railway to be funded by landing fees.

However, the assumption that the adjacent major communities would see a reduction in intercity service levels is dubious. Because HS2 would free up capacity on the existing lines, places such as Coventry and Stockport are likely to get an increase in service frequency, albeit with a slightly longer journey time due to the trains making more stops. And those passengers who are in a great hurry to get to London would have the additional option of going by rail to the airport where they could transfer onto a high speed train.

Of the 528 city pairs considered by HSUK, they claim 183 currently have direct trains linking them. Under the Track11 HS2 plan, many more would be gained, but only one of them (Luton to Nottingham) would lose its direct service, as the trains would run via Milton Keynes and Northampton instead.

It should be noted that what direct links are timetabled is largely an operational matter, which is why Track11 has not predicted the exact number of direct links gained. Conversely it is possible that operational decisions could remove some direct links (e.g. they could decide to terminate Oxford services in Birmingham, requiring passengers on up to 11 city pairs to change at Curzon Street).

5. Please explain how HS2 Ltd evaluated alternative network configurations to determine the optimum solution.

At the southern end, they didn't! They treated the requirement to serve Old Oak Common as absolute, and refused to consider any network configuration that bypassed it. Aidan Stanger of Track11 pointed out this flaw in their methodology during the public consultation. HS2 lost his submission, and when they eventually found it a few months later they stated that it had not changed their opinion (though they gave no reason for that).

Track11 took the view that a WCML based alternative was best because it enabled staging of construction (as with HS1 where trains initially used the conventional railways between Gravesend and London). Track11 also recognised that for airport services, connectivity is generally more important than very high speeds, and that making Heathrow a branch means it can also be integrated with Gatwick services.

 Track11 is in favour of a Y shaped network of high speed lines because that is what best addresses the inadequacies of the existing railway network. It would not be overly focussed on London – many of the trains would start at Birmingham instead, and there would also be airport link services branching off at the southern end. It does make sense to concentrate on the biggest cities because that's where demand is highest, but there would also be some high speed trains branching off at the northern end to serve smaller cities.

6. Please explain why HS2 has been developed with no overall design coordination to ensure that the new high speed lines and the existing network function together as an integrated and optimised system.

This question is not applicable to the Track11 variant of HS2. Indeed integrating HS2 with the existing network was one of the objectives of Track11's work on HS2.

Connectivity Challenge

1. Please explain how HS2 offers the best solution to increase UK rail capacity.

Track11 acknowledges that trying to make a single railway solve every problem is a recipe for failure. But on the issue of addressing capacity shortfalls on Intercity lines, it makes sense to concentrate resources on the busiest sections first. The Track11 HS2 variant does this.

2. Please explain how HS2 will achieve inclusive coverage accessing all major UK communities, and avoid the obvious perils of a 2-tier, 2-speed Britain.

Britain already has, and always will have, a lot more than 2 tiers and speeds. High speed lines are only justifiable where demand is highest, but railway improvements are justified, and indeed needed, in all parts of the country. So are road improvements, and a better outcome could be achieved by considering all transport improvements together rather than divided by mode. By being comprised of smaller stages than HS2 Ltd's plan, the Track11 HS2 plan is more conducive to being viewed as a series of parts of the list of transport improvements that Britain needs, rather than as a completely separate project which could be used as an excuse to deny funding to other transport improvements.

3. Please explain how HS2 offers the best solution to reduce UK intercity rail journey times.

The Track11 variant of HS2 would be very well integrated with existing lines, with most (initially all) of its services using conventional railway lines for part of the journey. By having long stretches of 360km/h running, HS2 would slash journey times on the routes it serves, and by connecting to three main lines (and some branches) the benefits would be spread to many routes. But Track11 regards HS2 not as the solution, but as part of an ongoing process of improvements.

4. Please explain how HS2 offers the best strategy for interchange between high speed and local services, to access all communities.

All of its stations except East Midlands Airport and Toton would interchange with train services on existing lines. Both those stations could be connected to Nottingham by light rail, and busway connections to Derby are also a possibility. Because Birmingham Curzon Street station would incorporate Moor Street station and platforms on the New Street lines, every train that goes to Birmingham would stop at Curzon Street, greatly improving interchange opportunities.

5. Please explain how HS2 offers the best solution to transform UK intercity connectivity.

Airport Link services would transform connectivity. Starting at Gatwick and stopping at Reigate, Leatherhead, Byfleet, Heathrow Terminal 5, High Wycombe and Calvert, the trains would then run via HS2 to Birmingham International and beyond, linking both to cities and to airports including Manchester, East Midlands, and possibly eventually Robin Hood and Teesside.

The main high speed services would also increase connectivity by bringing down journey times, making previously impractical journeys practical. It would also directly serve Meadowhall and result in more long distance trains stopping there, introducing new journey opportunities. But the biggest connectivity benefits are likely to come from the trains that use the eastern HS2 branch and conventional lines to reach underserved destinations in West Yorkshire.

More connectivity benefits will come from places bypassed by HS2, such as Milton Keynes. With HS2 removing the need for trains to go through without stopping, the capacity would be available to improve the services it gets. The Track11 plan also includes a Northampton to Leicester line, restoring some of the connectivity that was lost in the second half of the 20th century.

6. Please explain how HS2 offers the best solution for robust and reliable UK intercity railway operation.

Most of HS2 will be designed for higher speeds than used in normal operations, to enable recovery from any delay. And monitoring systems will be fitted to trains to spot potential problems early so that they don't result in failures.