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High speed two ‘won’t be so fast after all’, research study claims

High speed two ‘won’t be so fast after all’, research study claims

🕔14.Mar 2016

Trains on the HS2 route between London and Birmingham will not be able to travel at an advertised speed of 225 mph without substantial and costly engineering changes to make the track safer, according to an academic study.

Research conducted for HS2 Ltd warns that very high speeds proposed for the new route would create “critical track velocity effects” and “significant issues” with track instability.

Major engineering changes will be needed to make the project safe, or the trains will have to run at lower speeds putting paid to the claim that passengers will be able to travel from Birmingham city centre to Euston in 49 minutes.

Details of the research were revealed in the Sunday Telegraph and prompted opponents of HS2 to claim that the already questionable business case for the £50 billion scheme lay in shreds.

The research, completed last year, was conducted by Professor Peter Woodward, a leading expert in the geo-engineering of railways. He warned that the ballasted track proposed by HS2 Ltd “may not be able to adequately retain the track geometry” at the 225 mph proposed.

Prof Woodward is said to have recommended massive ground stiffening and reportedly said that the track should be laid on a concrete slab. However, this would be more expensive and much noisier than ballast.

He also warned that “embankment instability, particularly over poor soils….will generate significant issues during construction and operational running”. About a third of the total length of HS2 from London to Birmingham and onwards to Leeds and Manchester will run on embankments.

Separate research by academic David Connolly, a colleague of Prof Woodward, has suggested that the maximum speed on the soft soil that occurs along much of the HS2 line may be 157 mph.

The claim that HS2 will begin operations with trains travelling at 225 mph and then increase speeds to 250 mph has always been refuted by opponents of the scheme who point out that most high speed lines across the world travel no faster than 200 mph.

HS2 claims it will be able to run up to 18 trains an hour along the core route, more than on any other high speed line in the world. But if the trains were forced to run at the industry standard of 186 mph, in common with the Eurostar high speed link to the Channel Tunnel, frequencies of HS2 services would have to be reduced.

The 119-mile stretch between London Euston and Birmingham Curzon is due to open in 2026. Construction work will begin next year, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin confirmed recently.

Reducing the speed of the trains or scaling back the scheme could have serious implications for the Midlands where forecasts for economic growth and job creation in Birmingham and UK Central, the area around the planned HS2 interchange station at the NEC, are based largely on regeneration triggered by the arrival of high speed rail.

The Department for Transport, however, has always stressed that the benefits of HS2 are as much about freeing capacity on the overcrowded West Coast Main Line as reducing journey times between the Midlands, the North and London.

HS2 strongly rejected the reports and denied that there were any safety issues with its design. A spokesman said: “There are definitely no safety issues associated with the design of HS2. To suggest otherwise is wrong. On all issues, the programme will select the best possible and safest technical solution.”

Prof Andrew McNaughton, the technical director at HS2, told the Guardian newspaper: “We have a world-class team of engineers including some of the most prominent in their field working on HS2. We also have shared experience from high-speed train services around the world built up over decades. HS2 is being designed and developed with safety as the key priority.

“Mitigation measures designed to cope with all phenomena occurring when trains travel at these speeds have been costed into the project.”

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