High Speed Rail : Anything For Us?
The Scottish Government has issued proposals for a high-speed line between Edinburgh and Glasgow, serving both city centres but nowhere in between, with the outline business case appraisal being published in 2014. These proposals are outside the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme referred to above. There has been some criticism of this, echoing that in England about High Speed 2 (HS2), suggesting that the money would be better spent on existing railways. It has been pointed out that there are already four routes between the two cities although, rather unfortunately, several publications illustrated their reports with a map that did not show the recently reopened line between Airdrie and Bathgate. The criticism has been countered by the Government saying that HS Scotland would release capacity on all four routes for more frequent stopping services. Eventually, the Scottish HS line would be connected to HS2 somewhere in the Carstairs area and run to dedicated stations in Glasgow and Edinburgh, the existing locations not being suitable for 400m trains, the world standard length for HS lines. Glasgow City Council has earmarked a brown-field site to the east of the city centre north of the existing railway between Bellgrove and High Street, which it has earmarked for regeneration. This would also be able to serve the Glasgow Cross line which is currently used for rolling stock transfers and which was proposed for reopening to passenger trains a few years ago but which was shelved; its junction is roughly in the middle of the proposed HS2 station site. No firm location has been identified for Edinburgh's HS station. HS Scotland would open in 2024, some two years before the first phase of HS2. However, for reasons which are not clear, HS Scotland is being built with a 140 mph (225 km/h) maximum speed whereas HS2's maximum speed will be 250 mph (400 km/h).
Meanwhile, your convener and acting editor has been examining the HS2 phase 2 rail proposals for England which were published in January to see whether they would have any effect upon rail travel to our neck of the woods. You will surely have read and heard much in the media about this; a lot of the reporting has been inaccurate. The proposals consist of more than ninety maps and well over a thousand pages of supporting documentation, such as technical and engineering reports, along with much detail of how the routes and stations which are being recommended have emerged from the extensive sifting process and the reasons why some locations for stations which would have seemed to be more logical than those which have been chosen were eliminated. Just in case you are unaware of what the phase 2 proposals are, they extend phase 1 from Water Orton to Ulleskelf, a few miles south of York on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and from near Lichfield to a connection with the West Coast Main Line (WCML) at Bamfurlong between Warrington and Wigan, the so-called 'Y' network. In turn, the eastern leg has a branch to Leeds and the western leg has a branch to Manchester with a further connection to the WCML south of Crewe. It is proposed that Anglo-Scottish HS trains to both Edinburgh and Glasgow would run via the Bamfurlong connection, using "classic-compatible" trains which would run on both HS2 and existing lines. These trains would be built to a loading gauge and length that could use existing lines and stations with minimal modification. The proposal is for trains to split and join at Carstairs, although the journey time penalties for doing so, especially for the Edinburgh portion, are not mentioned in the reports. What is skated over is that the classic-compatible trains will be non-tilt, replacing tilting Pendolinos so there will be an effect on journey times from this as they will be subject to a 110 mph limit rather than 125 mph. Trains which are captive to HS2 would be of a higher capacity and would be to continental loading gauge, potentially double-deck. Still to be decided is a route between Bamfurlong and HS Scotland. To remind you, phase 1 is a railway from an enlarged London Euston to a connection with the WCML north-west of Lichfield, along with a branch to central Birmingham and a connection from Old Oak Common in west London to High Speed 1 (the Channel Tunnel Rail Link as was) near London St. Pancras. Those proposals were initially published three years ago and details of the final route were issued last year. There were similar maps and reports issued as for phase 2.
Although High Speed rail is not proposed to serve anywhere north of the Central Belt, it would boost rail travel and this, it is believed, would encourage passengers travelling further afield. However, hidden in the small print, there is a sting. As you will know, in the past couple of years or so, there have been proposals from both Westminster and Edinburgh to discontinue the through trains between London and Aberdeen/Inverness. Fortunately, these have been seen off, at least for the time being. One of the documents published by High Speed Two Limited is sub-headed: Explanation of the service patterns. It outlines what trains could be run on HS2 itself, not just to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, but to many cities and towns off HS2 using the classic-compatible trains. Possibilities for post-phase 1 and post-phase 2 are shown. There is a most interesting appendix headed Released Capacity and this is what concerns us particularly. Now, rather than high speed per se, it is this released capacity which is the main purpose of HS2, and the appendix outlines the suggested alterations to existing services which would be possible when limited-stop longer distance services are removed from the WCML, ECML and Midland Main Line. All three would continue to have trains from their existing London termini to most of the places currently served, although generally with more calls in trains to further-flung destinations to enable those stations nearer to London to enjoy an increased frequency of service and give better connectivity from them to the midlands and the north. Buried in the small print under East Coast changes is the legend: Through trains to Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness are withdrawn. Also proposed for withdrawal are CrossCountry trains north of Newcastle to Edinburgh and Glasgow but it is proposed that TransPennine Express trains, currently 100 mph diesel multiple units, will be extended north of Newcastle to serve various stations to Edinburgh. Glasgow (via Kirknewton and Carstairs) does not get a mention, nor does the rolling stock that might be used on what is largely a 125 mph railway. We must remember, though, that the north Trans-Pennine route is proposed for electrification. To cover itself, HS2 Ltd does point out that the service specifications shown are only indicative and that they are not writing a timetable for 2032/33. What is not mentioned is that the whole structure of the railway industry may be completely different by then. The changes may be twenty years away but FoFNL will continue to keep a close eye on any threat to connectivity to and from the Highland capital.
Just in case either government should be in any doubt of the value of through trains north of Edinburgh, on Friday, 22nd February, the 14.52 Aberdeen to King's Cross was reported full and standing at Leuchars. The following Friday, the 09.52 from Aberdeen was reported to be in the same condition at the same station.