A summary of our #railchat: HS2 - The Facts

On Friday 23rd March, 12-2pm, we held our #railchat on Twitter. We covered HS2 and some of the supporting facts and figures.

Is the battle over?

The second HS2 #railchat demonstrated that passions are still very, very high by those against the proposals for the new high speed line.

Is the battle over? Those in favour of the High Speed Two line from London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester have remained largely silent during both debates which may infer the project is home and dry so far as the funding and principle is concerned.

The detractors from the scheme would not agree with this statement as they contributed probably 90% of comments during the two on-line debates. It was only in the last half hour of the second debate that those in favour started fighting back to show their support for the scheme.

Varying quality of factual accuracy by HS2 opponents

rail.co.uk’s Phil Marsh gave his views on the questions from a unique position: He was tasked with completing the Regional Eurostar project 15 years ago and then negotiated the suite of Agreements for HS1 when Railtrack took over responsibility for it’s construction. This was while he was managing the Eurostar services for Railtrack then running from Waterloo.

This gave him access to the real information concerning the business case for both projects. Many of the opponents to HS2 are basing their objections to the scheme on incorrect ‘facts’ based on the Eurostar and HS1 route’s construction and funding.


It is claimed that Eurostar train sizes and services have been cut. These trains are fixed formation and cannot be shortened. The quantity of services has increased year on year as the demand grows – especially since November 2007 when St. Pancras opened.

Passenger numbers are a third of those forecast in 1990. This number is around 80% of the original forecasts and just under 10million passengers a year are now carried.

The original numbers were inflated to ensure that the project gained Parliamentary backing but even these will be met once German ICE and French TGV services commence in December 2014 from St. Pancras offering direct services to Holland, Switzerland and Germany.


HS2 says it will plant 2 million trees along the line to screen the immediate environments. The comment came back that half of these won’t grow and what about the leaves on the line problem!

High Speeds are not safe

High speed rail is safe, one of the reasons it is expensive. The system is built to the highest standards which are applicable across Europe and must comply with Interoperable legislation. Those against the line suggest that speeds over 300kph/186mph are unsafe and are not proven. This was recently highlighted in uninformed national media comment giving the anti HS2 people an unfortunate boost as the facts were wrong!

They are wrong as trains now run in service at speeds up to 225mph. We must remember Eurostar trains are now 20 years old and technology has moved on which ensures that the train, track and signalling interface together to create a safe environment.

In fact it is so safe, that whenever an accident occurs, it is headline news. This level of safety is due to the rigorous safety approval process which when signed off, makes the signatories liable for any failures in their work. Again, this was part of Phil Marsh’s final job in Network Rail, as a member of the Rolling Stock Approval Board offering professional knowledge as to the processes.

Growth in Rail

Conventional UK routes are becoming full and the expectation is that rail travel will continue to grow as roads also become congested and fuel prices continue their upward trajectory.

The alternative suggested is to lengthen trains on ordinary existing routes. This in turn affects the signalling system and platforms also have to be lengthened due to safety legislation.

This has already been done on the West Coast Main Line which caused a decade of expensive disruption due to the way the railways are operated.

And finally….

Many people are ‘agnostic’ about HS2, they simply have no opinion either way about the proposals. But, while the campaigners against the project continue to put out statistics that are demonstrably incorrect, it is turning those with no opinion against the anti-brigade and so in favour of the scheme!

What is curious is that the official HS2 team with the Department for Transport maintain their low profile as do those companies and individuals in favour of the scheme.

Does this mean they are confident of victory? Is this why people in Liverpool continue to campaign for the link as they have lost out?

Liverpool losers from HS2

Nick Hair writes that a link from High Speed Two to Liverpool, would create vast benefits over the current West Coast Main Line service, is no longer part of the multibillion pound infrastructure plan.

Previously, it was anticipated that a spur line could diverge from the main High Speed Two railway near Manchester enabling direct new services to run with much greater potential. This has been because of the escalating cost of the tunnelling in the London area, owing to complaints from residents in Ruislip.

So it seems that the link towards Liverpool will have to be cancelled to compensate and is seen as a major blow to Liverpool’s chances of reaping economic benefits from the scheme. Liverpool’s services will join the West Coast Main Line at Lichfield, running via Stafford, Crewe, Hartford and Runcorn to reach Lime Street. This means that several “Bottlenecks” on the route will still have to be encountered.

Should fares be higher on the High Speed lines, it could create something of a “white elephant” so far as Merseyside is concerned. Liverpool has a poor Intercity service, with only an hourly service to or from London. This compares to three trains an hour for each of Birmingham and Manchester to London, with both Birmingham and Manchester also having services (operated by CrossCountry) to cities such as Southampton, Reading, Bristol, Plymouth, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle.

A Summary

A further summary of the #railchat can be found here.

About Phil Marsh

When it comes to Britain's railways, there is very little our chief rail expert, Phil Marsh, doesn't know.

Phil currently works as a railway consultant, journalist, author and operations specialist and is in much demand by national broadcast media for comment on railway matters. Philip is still an active railwayman nearly 40 years on working for the West Coast Railway Company as a Guard and Fireman and supports the management team as required.

Outside his professional career, Philip has been Chairman of The Mid Hants Railway and also performed similar high profile roles in a voluntary capacity in other preserved railway positions. He is a regular at the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway and the Severn Valley Railway.

Read more about Phil Marsh.

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