Good news for high speed rail fans, although arguably dubious news for Britain as a whole.
The UK government has announced it will proceed with the construction of its HS2 high speed rail line between London and Birmingham. Amazingly, its earlier HS1 project (connecting London with the Chunnel and Europe) was completed on time and under budget, but that hasn’t guaranteed the popularity of its new HS2 project.
The complete HS1 route was operational in November 2007.
HS2 is facing criticism from people who live in its path, fearful of the impact of having trains rushing past at speeds of up to 250 mph, and of rail enthusiasts who claim that HS2 is too little result for too much money. They say it is unlikely to have measurable impact on Britain’s rail network which is overcrowded in other areas that are more deserving of attention than a new high speed route for the relatively short 140 mile sector between London and Birmingham.
The British government is proceeding with the project however, with general support from all political parties, and agreed this week to the first $50 billion part of the project. This first phase is due to be complete by 2026, and will reduce the travel time between Birmingham and London from 1 hr 24 mins down to 45 mins.
So as to minimize the impact of trains on the countryside, 79 of the 140 miles will be in cuttings that shield the track from the adjacent land, and a further 23 miles will be in tunnels. Just 38 of the 140 miles will be normal ‘on grade’ track.
A second phase, extending the line further north to Manchester (on the west) and Leeds (on the east) has yet to be confirmed, and assuming it gets the go-ahead in about 2014, is tentatively scheduled to be complete by 2033.
More information on Britain’s new project can be seen here.
Here’s an interesting article which points out that high speed rail has been far from a success in Europe. In cases where the faster train services are more expensive than slower trains, passengers have generally preferred to pay less money in return for a slightly longer travel time, and because of this, few high speed services are getting anywhere near the ridership needed to justify the investments made.
The implications for California’s controversial high speed rail project are obvious.
Both in Britain’s case, in Europe in general, and also in the US, one persistent suggestion is that the money being spent on showy high speed rail projects would be better spent making regular rail services a bit faster and a bit better. Of course, in the case of UK/EU, what they complain about as being bad train services and too slow is still an unthinkable nirvana which Amtrak seems impossibly removed from ever attaining.
I’m always amused to have British friends complain about their trains. What’s to dislike about trains that leave every hour (or more regularly), which travel at up to 125 mph or faster, and which, at least when purchased in advance, sometimes have amazing value low fares too?