High Speed Bulgaria – catching up with Britain

According to the Balkan Insight, Bulgaria will soon be another country with a high speed railway.

This sounds impressive: go-ahead Bulgaria is pressing on with faster railways, unlike backward Britain.  But if you just read the headline, you might come away with a very misleading impression.

Because Bulgaria’s planned railways are not going to be overtaking Britain’s existing railways.

The Director General of the Bulgarian railway company, Milcho Lambrev, explained that ultra fast railways aren’t economic in Bulgaria.

He said “The territory of the country is characterised by very rugged terrain. In order to introduce railway lines for speeds above 200 km/h, we have to build a lot of expensive infrastructure, such as tunnels, bridges, viaducts and others, which would make the projects more costly.”

Tunnels, bridges, viaducts?  That sounds very like the infrastructure that is being planned for the proposed HS2.  So here’s a country who has rejected the expensive option in favour of a cheaper version of high speed.

But how fast does this new Bulgarian High Speed Railway go – will it be better then our railways?

Their top speed of 200kph is the same as 125mph.  That’s the current speed of both the West Coast Main Line and the East Coast Main Line.

Mainline British railways are already running as fast as the “high speed” railways that Bulgaria will soon be building.  We’re the ones who are ahead.

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23 comments to “High Speed Bulgaria – catching up with Britain”
  1. penny you say we shouldnt blindly copy other countries but then say we should follow bulgaria isnt that another country ? japan is also a very mountainous country yet they have built true high speed rail. the point is that many many countries including lets not forget engalnads hs1 have built, are building and are continuing to plan to build railways such as hs2. and these countries all have different terrains and geographies, japan isnt like spain and italy isnt france. spain and california are similar but others arent.

    • Actually, other countries aren’t planning to build railways like HS2, with a top speed of 400kph. For example, Bulgaria is planning to build a “high speed railway” with a top speed of 200kph.

      But wasn’t that what I said in the article?

      • actually many countries are planning just that. the standard limit for new high speed lines (china spain etc) is 350 kmh or about 220 mph. this is the speed that hs2 trains are planned to run at but since trains are running at 220 mph now is doesnt seem unreasonable that 15 years from now new high speed lines may well run at 250 mph / 400 kmh. so hs2 has built that into the infrastructure.

  2. Rich C – nothing funny about wasting £34bn on a trophy train project when all around us the ‘big society’ is crumbling. In fact there is equally nothing funny about devastating vast swathes of the countryside destroying areas of natural beauty, sites of scientific interest and heritage, blighting homes, communities, people and livelihoods.

    Not to mention the 40 years of scientific study which prove the link between “power lines” and childhood cancers – how safe is HS1 and HS2 for our children born and unborn?…..still laughing?

    How about, less police on the streets, students burdened with a lifetime of debt, troops with insufficient helicopters and poor equipment to fight safely, roads ravaged by bad weather (pot holes by the million!), road safety budgets slashed leaving vulnerable road users at risk, our children educated in out of date, not fit for purpose buildings and social services stripped of vital resources just at the time when families are really struggling to make ends meet…..oh it is just ‘hilarious’ to think our Gov thinks a new train line is in the national interests?

    I am busting my sides with laughter….sick?….as a parrot mate! Fetch me the HS2 sick bag now!

    Other Rich: Thanks for the tip on where to sit on a pandalino…unfortunately seats are not always that easy to find in standclass – even though ‘first class’ is often half empty! Wonder why they don’t put on more standard class carriages and reduce 1st class to address Birm to London capacity concerns?….is it because ‘consultants’ will earn ‘loads a money’ for at least the next 25 years if a new line is built?

    • Blimey Susan – you should write a blog. Then the Daily Mail could sack all it’s journos and just print your blog instead.

      I have to be honest – it still does astonish me when anybody, without the slightest hint of irony, sites “blighting homes” as a genuine reason why they want tens of thousands of jobs for their fellow citizens scrapped. It says a lot about the sort of society we’ve become, sadly.

      • ‘Blighting homes’ is a perfectly valid reason for something not to be done. As I hope you are not a complete idiot I assume you are trying to say that the benefits to the many should override the losses to a few, which is of course also a valid concept – indeed it should be expected to be the case the costs/benefits of a large infrastructure project are so huge that the ranks of ‘nimbies and tree-huggers’ asking for fair compensation would make little difference to the equation. Note this is not to say those costs should be ignored, but that in the scheme of things these costs are small – the errors in other predicted costs will be far more significant at the end of the day.

        For HS2 the above concept applies perfectly well – and this is the key point: HS2 manages to not make sense entirely on its own, as its large benefits are unfortunately overtaken by its huge costs. A few houses more or less don’t change this – HS2 is not a nimby problem, it is a problem to the whole country.

        So, you can emphasize the benefits in isolation as much as you like, but until you look at the cost of these ‘benefits’ you don’t know if you are looking at a prudent investment or a white elephant. You mention jobs of which I seem to remember we are talking about in the order of 10,000 construction jobs, and a few thousand permanent jobs. This implies that each job will cost about something well over £1 million to create via HS2 – good value?

        I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: HS2 is a solution looking for problems and failing to do so. We have lots of real problems, and should be looking for real solutions – ones that won’t cost as much, won’t take as long, and might even solve the problems.

        • Property blight is an important cost. Apart from the 400+ houses that will need to be demolished and paid for at pre blight market values, Philip Hammond has announced that there will be compensation for those in close proximity to the line whose property values are diminished because of the railway. He said something along the lines that as HS2 was an investment for the benefit of the whole country, those who live along the line of the route should not suffer financial loss because of it.

        • As I hope you are not a complete idiot I…

          Cut the ranting and the insults out please. Doesn’t do you any favours.

          ‘Blighting homes’ is a perfectly valid reason for something not to be done..

          So why does the rest of your piece completely fail to justify this? It seems to be some ramble about whether you personally think HS2 is a good investment or not and doesn’t remotely touch on the validity of using ‘property blight’ as a counter argument to HS2.

          ‘Blighting homes’ should not, under any circumstances whatsover, be used as an argument against a proposal which is desgined to be a major benefit to the country as a whole. If you think the economics aren’t there, then fine. Wave your placard and argue the toss, but the fact that ‘property blight’ is routinely presented as an anti-HS2 argument by the Chiltern nimbys on here speaks volumes about their agenda. It’s fairly obvious where their priorities lie, despite this “we’re protesting on behalf of the country” stuff.

          Much like our railways today, HS2 will be around for well over 100 years, and will benefit generations to come. Not just us, but our great, great grandchildren and more. That’s one of the reasons I want to see it built, to get the UK in shape for the future, and I don’t care too much about immediate cost/benefit ratios. I don’t use the NHS but pay taxes twoards it – can I have my money back please, because it doesn’t benefit me? No, thought not. This is just history repeating itself. A bunch of self-centered land owners looking after their own immediate self interests. Finmere’s post about property blight is typical – he doesn’t give a monkeys about the rest of the country. All he cares about is whether he’s going to be out of pocket.

          Bring on HS2 for the long-term good of the country and for the benefit of future genrerations in a Europe where travel is dominated by high speed rail, as it clearly is going to be.

          • Richard

            Nimbyism is often used as a reason why arguments should be dismissed and not be taken seriously. I can honestly say that if there were strong economic or environmental arguments in favour, I would accept my compensation and move on. But there are no strong arguments in favour.

            There are deep disagreements among transport professionals and expert commentators as to whether this scheme should be given priority, whether it is affordable, whether its economics add up, and whether its contribution to reducing carbon emissions by the transport sector is as claimed.

            Even the government has acknowledged that there are no economic arguments. Their justification is now based on a nebulous idea of changing the social and economic geography of the country. They are breaking their own rules and making them up as they go along.

            I respect your belief in high speed rail even though I don’t agree with it. With no strong arguments in favour, it’s more of an act of faith than a rational decision. It will be for lawyers and politicians to weigh the arguments and determine what is for the long term good of the country.

            Meanwhile I’m not going to sit back and meekly accept the disruption to the green and pleasant land in which I live. I believe that this should be preserved for the generations to come.

          • Hi Richard,
            You seem to miss the point I was trying to make (and trying to make politely which it would appear I failed in, sorry), so maybe I was wrong in giving you the benefit of the doubt. I’ll try again:

            Property blight is a cost, a real cost. It should be taken into account when planning something. If you were a pig farmer would you put them immediately by your house, or would you put them in the next field along? All things being equal I think the thought of property blight would make the decision obvious, however maybe you would have to build a road to the next field so actually justify the decision to put them by your house – but your property blight is still a cost to the project. Of course I’d be surprised if property blight made the difference between you keeping pigs or not – if the case for doing that rested on your great-grandchildren maybe breaking even then you would probably look for a different way of making a living.

            So, I actually agree with you that property blight is not the reason to cancel HS2, but of course in my case that is because I believe the flaws in the project are large enough that these costs are relatively small in the scheme of things, not that they are irrelevant under any circumstances. HS2 would bring benefits for generations, but generations will be paying for it as well (and it’s not clear whether that debt would ever get paid, let alone be an ‘investment’) – this is what we should be discussing, not dismissing all opposition as nimbyism.

            One last point – I pay my taxes and expect them to be spent on all sort of things that I will never use. But if national projects were funded by some sort of inverse lottery (‘congratulations, you have been chosen to personally buy a new helicopter for the MoD’) there would be complaints – luckily we don’t have this, and if HS2 does get built the nice Mr Hammond has promised to reimburse me which is as he should. My own opposition is because HS2 does not sense anywhere, not because I’ll be out of pocket (who knows I might even make a profit!)

      • On the jobs point, the government is currently spending about £2bn a year on crossrail. The idea is that when this is finished that spending will be diverted to HS2. This means that HS2 does not represent new spending and as such will remain ‘jobs neutral’. HS2 will not create new jobs. If it doesn’t go ahead, the spending would most likely go into other transport projects or public services and employ people in that way. The only way that jobs would be affected is if the money is used to pay down the national debt.

        • i really dont follow the logic of this suggestion at all. when crossrail and thameslink contruction is finished then those jobs will not be there any more ! hs2 will create construction jobs that will not otherwise be there ! this sounds like the dreaded spin to me that we accuse our politicians of !

    • There is no evidence that hs2 is a trophy project and there is no evidence that “vast swathes of countryside will be destroyed” define vast. i suppose it is a more reasonable comment that armageddon concrete bombs but no more accurate!. The real reason is that it makes susan feel sick !

      i agree with your other comments about the army helicopters etc and the council cutbacks but these may happen anyway no matter what we may think about them. we cannot afford to throw away an investment such as hs2 with the jobs it will offer and the benefits it will bring.

  3. Any railway whose top permitted running speed reaches or exceeds 125mph (or 110mph in the USA) comes within the “High Speed” bracket. Obviously it will not be able maintain that full speed throughout the entire journey as, on existing conventional routes the train will be subject to speed restrictions due to junctions, station stops winding terrain, etc.
    The plans for HS2 envisage a “state of the art” Ultra High Speed system which will still seen as competetive in 15 years’time.
    This an equivilent step change from the present W.European norm for mainline services as are the Bulgarian advances over what has gone before.

  4. Another compelling argument from Stop HS2. “A poorer country can’t afford HSR, so we shouldn’t build it.” Then Susan weighs in with the killer-blow for HS2. “I get a bit sick on the train, me.” This is great stuff. Comedy gold.

    • We keep being told that numerous other countries are building high speed and therefore, say our politicians, we should catch up with other countries and build a new really fast railway.

      However our politicians are not comparing like with like – the Bulgarian example is a “high speed railway” which will be no faster then the West Coast Main Line already is.

      And once you have one example of an overseas high speed railway the same speed as the WCML, you have to start wondering about the speed of other overseas railways. Which other high speed railways are running at WCML speeds?

      • i think we should compare ourselves with france germany etc rather then bulgaria. 125 mph is not considered to be a high speed railway. and the main reason for hs2 is capacity the extra speed is the benefit.

        when anyone else builds a high speed line they mean 185-220 mph. and susan people who use eurostars and tgvs do so in more comfort then pendolinos and passengers arent sick all over the place they dont even notice the speed. in planes people may get sick because of air turbulence or fear but not the speed ! also 250 mph is the max design speed trains will likely run at 220mph

          • penny i wasnt talking about what the eu definition of high speed is. i was pointing out that in the european countries we should be comparing ourselves with 125 mph is not considered high speed. french trains ran at this speed in the 1960’s and indeed the speed record set by mallard in i believe about 1930 was 125 mph and that was a steam engine !

            so i dont think we should consider that a speed that a steam engine achieved 80 years ago really counts as a high speed railway anymore. and i dont see what relevance this bulgaria story has at all. it is just part of the plan to try to put doubt into peoples minds by somehow alluding that because another quite disimilar country has decided on 125 mph then somehow that means we shouldnt run trains faster then that here.

            • That’s yet another definition of high speed – “faster then the Mallard”.

              The relevance of the Bulgaria story is that they have considered what type of “high speed railway” is appropriate to their landscape, and the distances it covers, and made their plans according to that.

              Politicians in this country should not be blindly copying other countries when deciding what sort of infrastructure to build in this country. They should be looking at the landscape and the problems we have here, and deciding what to build based on what is appropriate here.

        • How about comparing the costs. The proposed route for HS2 cuts across densely populated areas and some difficult terrain. 20 kilometres of tunnels, deep cuttings, viaducts spanning valleys and numerous bridges. And that does not come cheap.

          These figures show the comparative costs of HSR in the UK compared with other European countries. (Bluespace Thinking Ltd. – A Review of High Speed Rail – HS2 proposals)

          UK HS2 – €106m per km
          UK HS1 – €54m per km
          TGV France, LGV Est – €10m per km
          TGV France, Rhine-Rhone – €6m per km
          TGV France, Sud Atlantique – €23m per km
          TGV France, Brittany – Loire – €19m per km
          TAV Italy, Rome – Milan – €39m per km
          RAVE Portugal, Lisbon-Madrid – €12m per km

          The comparative cost for building HS2 is 4.3 times higher than the European average.

          Would these other countries be building these railways if the price was the same as here in the UK?

  5. Having been to Bulgaria, yes the terrain is very rugged so a Bulgarian HS2 would probably cost in civil engineering at least ten times what it would cost here. Their approach is therefore quite appropriate for their country but does not read across to the UK where we have a mix-up of speed and capacity to disentangle. Higher speeds will certainly have an effect if the journey times between Noth and South are slashed but in what way is a big guess and is the cost in the widest sense acceptable? More capacity is needed between Birmingham and Rugby and Rugby to Euston – what is the most effective way of doing this?

    As far as Susan is concerned, as a very frequent Pendolino traveller I see very little nausea because of the tilt to get round the tight curves at speed but for a few this is a genuine complaint. Could I suggest that if you sit in the middle third of the saloon you might find the ride more comfortable. The trains for HS2 however won’t tilt since the proposed route is very straight compared to the existing line.

  6. Higher speed on the existing lines – sounds much more sensible to me….not to mention more affordable….Bulgaria obviously have a governing body who know what they are doing……

    PS….has anyone travelled on the Virgin pandalinos?…..When they get up to speed (120mph +) the nausia that they cause is incredible….just how ‘sick’ will commuters feel at 250mph?…..will the train operators provide “HS2 sick bags?” …..NICE!

    HS2 = high speed nausia

    The country will be uber sick if HS2 goes ahead – £34bn on a new train line sure makes me feel sick 🙁

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