The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), in common with many of its sister learned societies, organises an extensive programme of regional lectures that are designed to inform members and give them the opportunity to meet and exchange views within easy travelling distance of their homes and/or workplace. The Coventry and Warwickshire network of the IET decided to include two talks on HS2 in its current programme – one in support of the proposal and one against – to take place on separate nights, with the talk in support being held first.
For a speaker in favour of HS2 the IET, not surprisingly, approached HS2 Ltd and Andrew Coombes, Head of Specification and Assurance, was the nominee. For the contrary view Stop HS2 was asked to furnish a speaker, and Penny Gaines, Chairman of Stop HS2, asked if I would oblige. As a Corporate Member of the IET (MIET) I felt that I could hardly refuse.
Although I have been called upon to give presentations many times when I was working for a living, I have never regarded myself as a natural public speaker, and my compensation for this is to put a great deal of effort into the preparation. However, I felt that this preparatory work got off to a strong start with my choice of a title, High Speed Two: is it on the right track? Who can resist a pun? It was about two days before I was due to give the talk that I learned that the title of the latest House of Commons Transport Committee report on HS2, due to be published the day following my big night, was High speed rail: on track? – that was a trifle disconcerting, but at least I would be able to claim that I used it first. Anyway by the time that I realised that my title was not as clever and original as I had thought, it was too late to turn back; all of the hard work had been put in, and I had a set of presentation slides on my iPad that I was fairly pleased with.
The venue for the talk was the Engineering and Computing Building at Coventry University, a magnificent £55m state-of-the-art facility opened last year. When I duly arrived two weeks before Christmas – not the best time at which to expect people to attend an evening event – the lecture theatre proved to be something of a bear pit. It reminded me of one of the old teaching operating theatres, with students looking down from on high at the surgeon and poor patient below. The space seemed designed to intimidate the most-hardened of presenters.
Since I was talking to an audience that was likely to contain a high proportion of engineers, I had directed my pitch at looking at HS2 as an engineering solution, and giving my view that it had a number of shortcomings in this respect. That had seemed the right way forward when I was preparing for the talk, but as I stood there looking at the tiered, blue-upholstered seats and their occupants that were before me, I must confess that I was full of trepidation, despite the handful of faces that I recognised as members of our campaign who had turned out to give me much-needed support. After all, this was bound to be an intelligent and questioning audience, unlikely to be fobbed off with any unsubstantiated claims that I might try to make. However, at least I had the assurance that I had done my homework and had the facts and figures to hand to back up my views.
Once I had started, adrenalin and autopilot took over and I heard somebody – I wasn’t even sure that it was me – talking. He seemed to sound fairly assured, so I left him to it. I swear that I had an out-of-body experience at one point, looking down on this chap going on about HS2 Phase 1 being over-provisioned with seats.
What, I hear you ask, did I say?
After a very brief overview of the HS2 proposal – after all that was Andrew Coombes’ territory, not mine – I launched into my first main topic, which was the engineering and environmental consequences of meeting the journey time objective that had been set by the business plan. I reminded my audience of what the IET had said in paragraph 6.2 of its response to the 2011 consultation:
“… no analysis has been presented as to why High Speed 2 requires a line speed of 400km/h, when the proximity of UK cities [and other factors] are factored in.”
I also showed examples of the fairly insignificant time penalties that would be incurred with some less environmentally damaging alternative route corridors.
I then spent some time looking at capacity issues and the impact that HS2 Phase 1 might have on traffic on the West Coast Main Line (WCML), employing an analysis of services to and from London. I explained that the WCML supports a number of distinct passenger services and freight trains, and that demand and supply on these services may be characterised using a set of measures. These measures, as I showed, indicate that the most crowded services currently are suburban commuter trains, followed by long-distance commuter trains, and that more train paths are also needed for freight services.
(To be concluded …)