28 February 2010

Fast Trax 3 - and where do the high speed lines go? - Radial routes from London

Taken that the case for high speed lines is won then the strategy for establishing all the envisaged lines has to be laid down.Here we will look at the case for radial routes from London while the case for other routes will be looked at in the next article (Fast Trax 4)

The thinking so far, and the proposals presented, have only considered the possibility of travelling from A to B along specially built lines. However, the European experience has always been that the high speed element of a line is only a benefit to reach destinations at a greater distance. For many years French TGV and German ICE trains have ventured into different parts of Switzerland without the Swiss having, designated, high speed lines. The French TGV arrives at Irun, on the Spanish border, without any prospect of the high speed line arriving at the border for some years yet. In fact it will probably run through to Bilbao, at least, when the Basque standard gauge "Y" high speed system is completed in 2016. It will thus leave a gap from Irun/Hendaye to Bordeaux before the French get around to completing their section(as yet unprogrammed) of the high speed line.

1-The first line which will be built, without doubt, is the high speed line from London to Birmingham which we have named the Chiltern High Speed Line (CHSL). Our suggestion (stated in Fast Trax- 13/2/10) for the London terminus is Paddington. When the Great Western surburban services into Paddington are transfered on to Crossrail, and if the Heathrow Express services transfer on to Crossrail (to Stansted)  then terminating platforms will be freed up (no more than 4 should be needed) for CHSL services. This is without taking into consideration that some Chiltern  services already operate from Paddington. This terminus would provide the necessary connections to Crossrail and Heathrow (through HE) as well as the West Country and South Wales.

2-We have also stated that the West Midland terminus should be a through station(not a cul-de-sac terminus) in Central Birmingham with the Grand Central idea appearing to be the best solution. From there services can be provided northwards on improved fast lines(not necessarily high speed ones).Obviously trains would continue to travel from Birmingham to Manchester and Glasgow on the WCMLHowever, if the benefits of the CHSL are to be maximalised then services north of Birmingham which subtract traffic from the WCML have to be considered. 

The obvious candidates are the services to Shrewsbury- Wrexham and Chester- North Wales coast- Holyhead. Another candidate would be extending the services from Wrexham to Chester and under the Mersey to Liverpool. These would supplement the Virgin train services to Merseyside and make unnecessary any other proposal to provide a high speed line entering from the east. Any such tunnel under the Mersey could provide a station at John Lennon Airport while use the old CLC tunnel to Liverpool Central. This tunnel still exists and has room for four tracks so would be compatible with the Merseyrail service to L/P Central low level. It could terminate at an extended station at low level or use the old street level site. The present commercial premises on the site could be rebuilt on top of the station.  

3-To achieve the high speeds from the West and South Wales we are assuming that the electrification of the GWML goes ahead together with the upgrading of the line to high speed standard. Apparently, the original construction of this line was such that higher speeds can already be achieved than those achieved at present on the present track without any upgrade. This suggests that any upgrade(bridges, tunnels, junctions, points etc.) would not necessarily be expensive - at least from London to Cardiff. The expensive element would be the electrification and vehicle purchase.

4-In our first blog(Fast Trax 13/2/10) we mentioned the line of the service  to Manchester from London. This would use the present Midland Main Line(MML) upgraded to high speed standard as far as East Midland Airport Parkway. Then a new, high speed, line would branch off to Derby and Stoke where it would join the WCML from Stoke to Manchester.This would provide an alternative to the Virgin services from Manchester to Euston while also terminating at St.Pancras with the easy one step link to Eurostar services.

5-The other part of the MML at East Midlands Parkway would branch off (on a new line ) through Nottingham, Sheffield, Wakefield(?) and on to Leeds. Here also an alternative service to London from Leeds than the East Coast ECML services to Kings Cross would be provided into St.Pancras with the easy one step link to Eurostar services.

6-The case for the ECML was never better stated than the correspondent "ian down under"who replied to the  article published 18/2/10 in the EDINBURGH EVENING NEWS
This is another example of the potential customers being more in favour of upgrading than expensive white elephants that may not be built at all but if built would only benefit the few.
The fourtracking at Welwyn would aleviate the bottleneck into London.The competition on services to Leeds would help reduce demand for extra train paths on the ECML while the Thameslink through services to south of the Thames would increase line speeds and free up terminus platforms.

7- The WCML is the busiest trunk line. However, we have already attacked the problem of capacity restraints. the CHSL would take most the West Midland traffic off the WCML. The extension of this line, or at least its services to Wrexham, Chester, North Wales and Liverpool would dampen demand on the WCML for services to these areas. The alternative of services to Manchester from London via the MML and Derby would also dampen demand for extra train paths to Manchester on the WCML. Therefore, freed up long distance capacity could be devoted to services to the rest of North West England and Scotland.

The case for upgrading the WCML has been rejected as being too expensive and disruptive.That seems to be begging the question. (It seems to echo the arguments against electrifying the line from Weaver Junction to Glasgow and Edinburgh that were put forward in the 1960s - the lines to Liverpool and Manchester were considered enough by some) Is it not more expensive and disruptive to have dedicated high speed lines carving their ways across the landscape through land and buildings alike in order to ensure their paths are straight lines. That is the only way to achieve the speeds of 350kph (220mph) plus that are being broached. Slightly lower ambitious speeds can be obtained to benefit more at a lower cost by upgrading and,subsequently, become more likely to be built. The benefits for population centres on this line would be tremendous while also facilitating the improved electric services from Scotland into Liverpool, from Wigan, and Manchester, from Preston.

8- One high speed line is already built out of London southwards i.e. St.Pancras- Stratford- Ebbsfleet- Ashford - Chunnel. 

9-Another high speed route is the one which runs East Croydon- Gatwick- Brighton but with starting points at Victoria, Blackfriars and even London Bridge.

10-From Waterloo the SWML runs to Woking with a branch continuing to Portsmouth. Another branch runs from Woking to Basingstoke and on to Southampton and Weymouth while another runs from Basingstoke to Salisbury and Exeter.
These latter third rail electrified lines serve mostly the surburban commuters round London. However, that does not mean that the lines themselves cannot be upgraded with respect to height and width so that higher capacity trains( double decker ones)  and international freight services cannot take advantage of their tracks.

The next blog will look at other alternatives.

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