HS2

01.03.07

Improving north-south rail capacity

GW Monteith Chairman of The Institution of Civil Engineers’ High Speed Rail Panel

There is a strong body of opinion in the railway industry, that we should adopt Eddington’s suggestion that capacity should be increased by improving the existing network. There has also been a great deal of public debate about the types of new build, including high speed rail (HSR), which would increase capacity. The Institution of Civil Engineers believes that both new build and sweating our existing rail assets should be considered, in order to match future passenger and freight demands.

Possible improvements to the current network are the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), gauge increase to take double deck trains, longer platforms to take longer trains, power supply upgrades to take more and longer trains, upgraded motive power for the same end, additional tracks at pinch points (eg Digswell Viaduct and Welwyn Tunnels on the East Coast Main Line), signalling alterations to allow 140mph running on West and East Coast Main Lines as well as dedicated tracks for freight traffic.The costs of carrying out a number of these improvements have already been calculated and lie within DfT and/or Network Rail.

The plus points for working on the existing network are reduced delay due to political and planning processes, greater likelihood of Government support and lower initial cost.

The downside of merely improving capacity on the existing network is that it is unlikely to achieve a significant shift from air to rail in the case of Scotland to London travel. Only considerable improvement in journey time and reduction in travel cost will achieve that. The capacity improvement will cope with the existing growth predictions if all else remains the same for the time being but, as I have already said, new build will be required eventually, the cost of this being in addition to the cost of upgrading the current network.

However, even if we improve capacity to meet the needs of the next 10-15 years there will come a time when the improved existing network will reach full capacity which will not be alleviated by further upgrading and so new build will eventually be required. ICE believes that this is not a case of "either/or".

Ian Coucher of Network Rail said at an HSR conference last year that the new route would have to be constructed for less than £20bn. What we would like to see done is a comparison of the benefit/cost ratio for the following options

1) improve existing network using varying spend levels such as £5bn, £10bn and £15bn

2) provide new build to the north in stages and

3) improve the existing network but taking into consideration the need for new build in 10 to 15 years beyond the completion of the improved network.

However, this cannot be undertaken without taking into consideration the impact of road user charging.

ICE believes that only if all these options are compared can the UK obtain a value for money, sustainable rail system that meets the country's needs in 30 year's time.

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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