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Great piece. But if our goal is increased capacity, perhaps HS2 isn't the best way to do it - are there cheaper and slower alternatives? And if this is an either/or decision, there are alternative proposals that are absolutely worth of consideration - some scandalously poor situations up North for example. I just can't help feeling this is yet another example of the public being stitched up by their taxes being funnelled to a financial bonanza for the politicians' chums.



Basically, no - upgrades to the existing rail network are exceedingly expensive and disruptive (the whole East Coast Mainline is basically closing this weekend because a single junction needs to be renewed.) HS2 provide lots of fast intercity capacity meaning existing lines can be freed up for a massive enhancement to local services. The high speed also helps reduce demand for domestic air travel which is vital for combating the climate emergency.

This map shows where capacity will be unlocked: https://twitter.com/HS2ltd/status/1158403767756316672

And this comprehensively explains why more capacity is needed and a new high speed railway is the solution: https://medium.com/@garethdennis/high-speed-two-and-the-need...


As it stands I don't believe this. I'll happily accept that new tracks need to be built, and to support higher speed, but going up to "400 km/h (250 mph)" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Speed_2) seems pure dickwaving.

From your article "Yet the story doesn’t seem to be getting through. As engineers, it is not just our duty to create new infrastructure, it is also our duty to communicate its purpose. Helping the British public to get behind High Speed 2 must be a priority for our industry if we are to truly make this megaproject a success."

Translation: shut up and swallow, plebs.

I'd like to know what incremental cost there is for an increment of higher speed - I bet I know the shape of that graph. If you want higher capacity, let me know why longer trains don't work.

New line yes, gouging expense for national vanity, no.


What money are you trying to save?

You could go for Ballast rather than Slab, which means lower install costs and slower trains, but also means higher maintenence costs, but the headline price will be lower, even though the TCO will be higher and the service will be worse.

Longer trains don't work because you'd have to demolish the towns that the stations are currently in -- extending 200m north/south at every station between Euston and Rugby is not cheap and will piss off a lot more people than building a quiet railway through an empty area, not to mention all the signal problems and points fouling, and what will you do at Euston?

> I'd like to know what incremental cost there is for an increment of higher speed

The big costs are land acquisition and earthworks, which won't change at all regardless of the speed. Euston is another cost, but you'd have to completely rebuild the station, including putting all the platforms underground, for your longer train plan - and Underground space in London isn't that easy.


I'd like to know what incremental cost there is for an increment of higher speed

So you are arguing against it when you don't know the cost?


That's a good question. I don't know the cost but it is reasonable to suppose that every extra 10% in speed adds >10% in cost, and that this cost increment grows nonlinearly. So my objection is I think reasonable - or does it grow linearly in your view?

However to be sure I'm not being unreasonabe I want to know what that curve is - am I being unreasonable to ask for information given that I'm going to be paying for HS2?


That doesn't seem to be the case, if you look at the infrastructure cost breakdowns the total construction cost for phase 1 is estimated at £6.6Bn, with the remaining £9.6Bn going to things like project management, mitigation costs, and land acquisition.

If you take a look at the construction costs, of the $6.6Bn only £665 are going towards the rail and control systems. With all other items being largely the same regardless of rail speed, I have a feeling (though I could be quite wrong), that the cost difference between low and high speed is marginal.

Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/...


Thanks, I really appreciate you made the effort to find some actual stats, but with respect, that doc is from march 2012. I don't know if the data is still relevant now (though it may be).

We need some solid stats by an independent party which is why I'm happy one is going to be looking into it.

FYI from that document, let me quote cos it's interesting: cost estimates in march 2012:

2.9 Route package cost summaries

2.9.1 The phase one total cost estimate is £16.3 billion within a cost range of £15.4 billion to £17.3 billion. [...]

2.9.2 The phase two total cost estimate is £17.1 billion within a cost range of £15.7 billion to £18.7 billion. [...]

2.9.3 The full Y network cost estimate is £33.4 billion within a cost range of £30.9 billion to £36.0 billion. [...]


Construction costs haven’t changed all that much since then. A significant proportion of the costs are in project management and contractual arrangements designed to shift risk away from politicians and managers. If you look at costs in France, we are about 5-10 times more expensive for a route of equivalent complexity. French digger drivers don’t earn 5x less and materials are not 5x cheaper in France, if they were French would be the language of building sites in Britain. So the costs must be coming from somewhere else; land acquisition, risk management and over complicated contracting and project management processes are my bet, based on my experience of working on large construction projects in the UK and Europe.


Most expensive TGV route so far €15m/km. ~200km London-Birmingham. Therefore ~€3bn for the high speed line itself. €5bn each end for stations? €10bn for tunnels into London? The rest spent on typical British dicking around with procurement, only people worse at wasting money on getting stuff done is the US. I wonder if it’s to do with the way we contract things? Edit: another stat says €20m/km LGV Mediterranean.


There's a lot of tunneling on HS2 - including massive underground stations at Euston and OOC, a new station in Birmingham, and tunnelling in London and Chilterns.

That has to happen whether the trains run at 180mph or 80mph.


LGV Mediterranean has to negotiate the hilly terrain in southern France. Plenty of tunnels and viaducts. €20m/km. Way less than us. The problem is with how we manage construction projects in the UK.


It's hard to compare, the UK is more densely populated, twice as high as France. My guess is a lot went into buying off property owners.


They budgeted £1.1b, but have already spent £2b


You'd be amazed just how poorly dynamite works for making miles of tunnel, in between up to 12 layers of pre-existing tunnels, through wet central London clay.


> but it is reasonable to suppose that every extra 10% in speed adds >10% in cost

I suspect the numbers are more like

60mph railway: £40b 140mph railway: £50b 180mph railway: £60b


The original article made the case that this was cheaper than upgrading existing infrastructure, it also made the case that this will be around for 200 years. That being the case, attempting to future proof, by eg designing it to be 250mph capable seems sensible.

Theres also the fact that this route will have competition, against aircraft and cars, ideally it needs to be quicker than its alternatives in order to succeed.

Longer trains probably will increase capacity, but mailing around TB hard drives probably has higher bandwidth than the average internet connection. Good luck selling individuals on that 'upgrade' though.


> The original article made the case that this was cheaper than upgrading existing infrastructure

which part of "I'll happily accept that new tracks need to be built" was unclear?

> designing it to be 250mph capable seems sensible

I understand it's not going to be run at that speed for much of its length, so what's the cost benefit?

> Theres also the fact that this route will have competition, against aircraft and cars, ideally it needs to be quicker than its alternatives in order to succeed

Interesting question whether we will have fossil-fuel powered aircraft for many decades, and as for cars it's a matter of cost. Trains are expensive now - that's where it will compete with cars; they often are already faster than cars for long distances.

> Longer trains probably will increase capacity

'probably'?

> but mailing around TB hard drives probably has higher bandwidth than the average internet connection

false equivalence. Trains can already be faster than cars.


I don't think it's beyond the wits of engineers to work out which parts of the track need to be 250mph capable given the acceleration profile of the trains that are likely to use it. The ECML out of King's Cross is a 125mph route but unsurprisingly the points outside the station aren't designed for anything close to that.


Relevant snippet from https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/factcheck-qa-how-doe...

<<<

Will HS2 be the world’s fastest bullet train?

[...] But HS2 told FactCheck that there are actually no plans to operate at this speed. What’s more, they say this was never the plan. Indeed, the track, control systems and trains being purchased are not physically capable of it.

The confusion has arisen because HS2 says it has allowed enough flexibility to potentially do a major upgrade of the line at some point in the distant future, should the government want to. The curves in the route could theoretically see speeds of up to 400km per hour.

>>>

So my claim taken from wiki is not incorrect but not relevant yet.

Back to your point "I don't think it's beyond the wits of engineers to work out which parts of the track need to be 250mph capable given the acceleration profile of the trains that are likely to use it"

Good point! However while the engineering of the tracks can vary the trains have to be made to run at that spec speed even if it was for 1 yard. On t'other hand, judging by the jaw-dropping price of the tracks (£104.8m per kilometre, source is same as above) perhaps the trains are the cheap bit.

OK, you are right.


"false equivalence"

That wasn't the point I was trying to make, in the quoted paragraph

Passengers may value the speed more than the capacity. If you quadrupled capacity, but halved speed would that be better or worse for the railway, or the internet?

Door to door train v car journey is more marginal that what you suggest. I would have to spend 2 hours to get to the east cost mainline. In a car I could be over halfway to London by then. And i could have the same problem at the other end. In the same way you'll never be as fast as a plane, but you don't have to turn up 2 hours early for a train.


> If you quadrupled capacity, but halved speed would that be better or worse for the railway, or the internet?

Bandwidth is speed in most cases for the internet, lag intolerant games being an exception. Also my 10Mbit link is good enough for me despite having 100Mbit available. So the question is about comparing things which are not really comparable. Well, TBF, I can't.

> Passengers may value the speed more than the capacity

well they might, and they might want the carriages painted polkadot with hot podium dancers at each end, so how about arguing from a basis of fact instead?

from https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/rail-companies-... and with a table at the bottom. Speed is not mentioned in the report. Clearly other things really are hurting them.

As to speed vs capacity, look in the chart at 'standing room' and 'availability of seats'. That's about capacity.

> Door to door train v car journey is more marginal that what you suggest

For you I wouldn't doubt, but there's a lot of others who may feel different. Pace but arguing from 1 data point is not rigorous. I've heard of people spending £5,000 a year for their work commute (that may be reporting bias but it's another data point).


What part of 'let's communicate the case for our new infrastructure' translates to 'shut up'? If anything, they're saying they need to move away from steamroll it through and try and make the case to local communities that they'll benefit from this and should be singing its praises.


Provide reliable, independent costings and benefits for the project. That's how you make a case.

If you can't make a case then it's time to start up the PR bullshit, which uses nice words and breathless aspirations. It tends to sound like this: "Yet the story doesn’t seem to be getting through. As engineers, it is not just our duty to create new infrastructure, it is also our duty to communicate its purpose. Helping the British public to get behind High Speed 2 must be a priority for our industry if we are to truly make this megaproject a success"

Let's go through that:

"Yet the story doesn’t seem to be getting through"

why not?

"it is not just our duty to create new infrastructure, it is also our duty to communicate its purpose"

It's purpose is clear. It's a railway. So something else is going wrong with your story that you don't want to talk about.

The last sentence is content free. It says zilch.


Someone pointed out recently that the route of the former Great Central Main Line [1] could be relaid with track to increase capacity.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Central_Main_Line




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