By Phil Marsh

High Speed 2 report published by Department for Transport just before HS2 returns to Parliament for 3rd Reading.

Published: 14th March 2016

Uninformed debate rages in the national print media about safety and cost of HS2 – read on!

The cost of the controversial High Speed 2 (HS2) railway seem to be mounting inexorably if you believe the daily papers. The cost is now being quoted at over an amazing £50billion - but asks if this is correct.

The latest claims published in the national press also suggest that the line will be unsafe at the planned 250mph speeds because of vibration causing ‘waves’ under the track causing instability, and again look at these claims.


The now oft-quoted £50billion plus cost of HS2 apparently now includes the cost of cost of the trains. Why is this an incorrect way of costing a major project – irrespective of one’s point of view on it?

The trains that will operate on the line will be subject to a separate financial arrangement away from the physical infrastructure costs. The design, construction, operation and maintenance of the trains at new depots will be subject to a separate commercially negotiated suite of contracts between financiers, rolling stock manufacturers and the train operating company that will operate trains on the one.

Today’s new train fleet financial arrangements

This is the currently used model by Hitachi for their IEP trains to be used on the East Coast and Great West main lines and by Thameslink services which will be using the Siemens Series Class 700 trains.

The Crossrail project will also be using this method with Transport for London awarding Bombardier the contracts to build Crossrail’s rolling stock and depot facilities as well as the maintenance of new trains and a new depot at Old Oak Common.

Therefore it is obviously incorrect for the costs of the trains to be included in the costs of HS2 construction as is done by objectors and the national press.

Derailment issues?

Much of the national press reported on the risk of ‘derailment and catastrophic track failure’ on HS2. This is part of the risk assessment process that any railway construction or upgrade undertakes so that engineers can understand the risks and then design them out of the operation without compromising journeytimes.

One such case was on HS1 at Fawkham Junction 22 miles from London where a disused trackbed was reinstated to link HS1 at Ebbesfleet to the Kent main line. The link veered off to the left on a tight curve and if the design had been left as originally drawn up, trains would not have been able to maintain sectional running times. So a site visit was arranged, a new survey carried out and the line realigned to enable trains to run at anticipated speeds.

The Daily Telegraph say they revealed these safety issues but the reality is that they had already been identified as part of the design process. Higher track speeds bring more expensive track formations which mitigate the “critical track velocity effects” and this can be done by actual rail alignment and suspension characteristics on the trains themselves.

The report suggests that the proposed 250mph speeds could cause “rapid deterioration of the track, ballast and sub-ballast, including possible derailment and ground failure”. This is why the preventative HS2 maintenance regime will be in place to maintain a safe railway as it does on every railway.

A major part of the construction work will be based on geotechnical surveys which will inform the HS2 team about ground conditions so that they can engineer-out any risks. These will include the noise and vibration caused by trains travelling at high speeds.

The National Audit Office, which has previously criticised HS2, is to undertake a third review of the project and lets hope that they can understand who pays for what this time round.

They said:

It was reported that Ben Ruse for HS2, said: “We support the work by Prof Woodward. We recognise the need to mitigate for the phenomenon of Rayleigh waves and we have done. The detailed design will be based on the specific ground investigation works we are undertaking as we get access to all the route.”

Government 40 page overview for HS2 Phase One and its environmental impacts presented to Parliament

Paragraph 3.68 in the latest 40 page HS2 DfT overview interestingly says; ‘The development of the HS2 Phase One scheme has also taken into account, where reasonably practicable, the ambitions of different bodies in introducing new transport schemes.

For instance, an assurance has been given to Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) requiring the nominated undertaker (construction team) to engage with AVDC on the phasing and timetable of construction works in the Calvert area. This includes the provision of any relevant updates regarding the interface between HS2 construction works and construction works associated with the proposed East-West rail project, so as not to frustrate this possible future development.

This jargon relates to the physical connection between HS2 and the East West rail link at Claydon and Calvert where the HS2 construction and later, the maintenance depot will be located. The question locals are asking is; Will there be an interchange station between the two lines?

Euston and other revisions

Euston station redevelopment for HS2 will now be carried out in two phases to reduce disruption to existing rain services with the high speed part of the station initially providing six high speed platforms and a subsurface high speed station, with a ground-level concourse.

Other revisions include extending tunnels and deepening cuttings so environmental effects are further reduced. This should help the Parliamentary 3rd Reading due to go ahead on March 23rd.

The report says that there will now be about 31 miles of tunnels, 53 miles of cuttings with 50 miles or so at ground level or above. HS2 says that about 75% of the route not in tunnels will have noise barriers and/or landscaped earthworks to reduce noise and to help blend the railway into the existing landscape. Phase One, HS2 says, will not bring demolition of any Grade I or Grade II* listed buildings and a minimum of two million trees will be planted.

The route has been decided on in the Waddesdon and Quainton area to avoid taking land from the adjacent Sheephouse Wood Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), designated for the quality of its ancient woodland.

Why is it being done?

The official reason for HS2 is to ensure the inter-urban rail network supports the economic development of the country providing sufficient increased capacity and improved connectivity between major urban centres. It is an accepted fact that a capacity challenge exists on our rail network as rail demand is increasing above all forecast. The West Coast main line will be full in a decade with increased overcrowding - far above today’s levels and decreasing levels of resilience and reliability.

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