It’s nearly two years since Lord Adonis made the original public announcement about HS2. It was spotted immediately that HS2 did not connect to HS1: HS2 Ltd said the link would be “uneconomic”.
This is just the kind of thing that Victorian railway companies did: build two stations, on different lines, near each other, but with no interchange. Examples of these towns include Bicester, Dorking and St Albans. As HS1 and HS2 are the only two planned UK railways which would have a commercial service of taking trains with a continental gauge this oversight seems even more daft.
Since then, HS2 Ltd have realised there might be a flaw in this decision and have been casting around, trying to find a solution. Their current plan is to use the existing North London Line.
Not surprisingly this is causing concern with Transport for London and rail users.
For instance Navin Shah London Assembly member for Brent and Harrow, asked the London Mayor about it:
Mayor answers to London – HS1 / HS2 Link
Question number – 0660/2012
Meeting date – 22/02/2012
Question by Navin Shah
What action are you taking to ensure that London Overground services on the increasingly well used North Line will not be affected by the proposed junction in the Camden Town area?
Answer by Boris Johnson
The proposed connection between HS2 and HS1 is unacceptable and alternative options must be identified that do not adversely impact on London’s rail services. The proposed link as planned would largely use existing tracks and, as proposed, would adversely impact on London Overground capacity and performance. I have asked the Secretary of State to consider alternative options which include more dedicated infrastructure for HS2 services. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has acknowledged this issue and TfL will work closely with HS2 Ltd to examine all options.
Or as Frank Dobson pointed out in Parliament last March
“When HS1 was being built, I recall that the people from Bechtel looked at the possibility of using the North London line as the route into St Pancras. They decided that the cuttings, embankments and bridges along that line were so lousy that it would be cheaper to bore through to St Pancras, which was a considerable distance. When I pointed that out to someone from HS2, they were unaware of that small and apparently irrelevant fact.”
HS2 were right to say the link would be uneconomic. If it were to be evaluated as a standalone transport project in its own right, with its own budget and BCR, it would not get past go.
As Mayor Boris and Frank Dobson point out, the proposed connection cannot be taken seriously. It is a ploy to keep onside those who think it should be possible to go all the way to France without the inconvenience of having to get from Euston to St Pancras.
At a time when it is politically expedient, the link will be dropped completely on the basis that there is no ‘economically viable alternative’.
There is a further bit of history amnesia in the detachment of trains and power supplies from the headline figure – yes trains are an added cost to that £32bn, and no one has really discussed the power this huge acceleration and top speeds will require. To deliver a 49 minute London to Birmingham service the AVERAGE speed will need to be equivalent to take-off speed for a Boeing 737. Those with good memories will recall the huge and embarrassing added cost of building bigger power feeds for the entires South London rail network because the new trains which were heavier and fitted with more complex air conditioning systems would have browned out or tripped the power supplies.
It is worth noting that the direct Line for a London-Birmimgham service opened in 1906 and closed off in the 1960’s is 27 miles shorter than the HS2 route and would offer a 60-65 minute London-Birmingham journey from a choice of 3 stations* in London available now, to a choice of 2 stations in Birmingham. * the route offers an option to connect directly from the Marylebone line to the St Pancras route, where there are 2 ‘spare’ tracks and tunnels (6 tracks with 2 out of use during current works) from West Hampstead to Kentish Town, for around a mile of significant work to connect across a ‘gap’ of under 200m. Both the GC and the Midland routes in to Central London were built late in the 19th Century, with the GC built to take the larger Berne gauge from the start. The railway network here also permits a connection to Stratford by passing St Pancras with a choice of 2 routes with space to clear both for Berne gauge via HS1 and the relatively tunnel-free section of the North London Line (with 2 of the 4 tracks abandoned at Maiden Lane)
The North London Line was used by Eurostar trains to and from their servicing depot and it could accommodate new trains of similar dimensions planned to operate on Hs2 and beyond using the existing routes, from the Lichfield link to the West Coast network.
The critical factor would be the number of present and potential train paths available.
At present some paths are needed fo freight from East Coast ports bypassing London.
The planned reopening of the East- West route through Bedford and Milton Keynes will divert some of this traffic and release further paths for passenger services.