Rail Industry Focus


HS2 – the trains, the route and the connections

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Apr/May 2014

The Institution of Engineering and Technology and Parsons Brinckerhoff held a technical seminar in Manchester exploring how to turn the HS2 ‘Vision into reality’. Speakers included HS2 Ltd phase 2 director Ian Jordan, Network Rail’s senior programme manager for HS2 phase 2 Clive Woods, and head of engineering and operations at HS2, Tim Smart.

The engineers and project leaders shaping the future high-speed rail network gathered in Manchester on 18 March for the HS2 ‘Vision into reality’ technical seminar, hosted by the IET and Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB).

The event at the town hall was held the day after Sir David Higgins’ speech and report launch of HS2 Plus at the same venue the day before, giving speakers and attendees plenty to mull over.

Tim Smart, head of engineering and operations at HS2, kicked the day off by setting the scene: why HS2 is needed, how it was planned, the development so far, and the key issues to be tackled, while Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) chief executive
Dr Jon Lamonte discussed the context for HS2 in the city-region, including the wider transport picture and Network Rail’s Northern Hub works.

The audience got fresh insight into the HS2 team’s planning and design concept from David Watts of PB/CCD Design and Ergonomics Ltd and Thomas Williamson, HS2 Ltd traction and rolling stock engineer.

Train design

Williamson explained that the designers know that passenger and commercial expectations will change over the next decade as the project is developed, so they need to adapt alongside those.

He spoke of the central challenge of delivering a high-capacity service (necessitating short station dwell times and lots of seats) but one which also delivers a “step-change” in the passenger experience.

He said it was important to start by focusing on the basics: safety, reliability, punctuality, ease of use, trust, value for money, comfort, cleanliness, organised spaces, and facilities.

“It means treating customers as individuals,” he said. Commuters know what they’re doing and want a reliable, predictable journey, while infrequent leisure travellers might need more help or assistance and care more about facilities. Early design ideas include on-board children’s play areas and entertainment, a design ensuring passengers stowing luggage don’t block doors, and perhaps even private meeting rooms for business travellers.

One intriguing suggestion – being explored via the FutureRailway and Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) ‘Next-gen train interiors challenge’ – is the idea of reconfiguring trains during the day to make them more facility-focused during the quieter off-peak periods, and more capacity-focused during the peak. Flexibility in the design will be key to achieving the target capacity of 550 seats for a 200m train, and 1,100 for a 400m train.

HS2 engineers are often asked about the scope for double-decker trains, typically by those enthused by the European railway experience. He said that while the proposal is feasible, there are three drawbacks: double-deckers add to dwell time, which is already squeezed; they only actually add about 10% capacity, according to some studies; and they cannot continue off the high speed network because of obvious infrastructure incompatibility with the classic network. So single-decker it is.

Dwell time and drivers

Dwell time is important: two minutes is not much time to let up to 400 people on and off at a hub like Old Oak Common. Williamson called it “achievable but challenging”, but noted that school groups, luggage and other factors can eat into dwell times and hurt punctuality.

The answer is to optimise the whole railway system: the station layout, passenger information, and the platform-train interface. This is one area where the European standards are problematic: platform height requirements are low compared to train floor heights.
He said: “That’s not an ideal passenger experience solution, so we’re looking to justifying higher platform solution so there
is level access – a step-free path from street to seat.”

He added: “HS2 will be the first automatically operated railway of its type. Whilst we’ll have drivers on the trains, the trains will be controlled by computers, which will give us a far better degree of regulation, punctuality during normal service, and that will help also during disruptions.”

He said the need for maintenance and future upgrades is being planned in now to ensure there is no need for future disruption or haggling over possession windows.

Route design

Amanda White, senior route engineer for the north west at HS2, joked that trying to summarise three years’ work in 20 minutes would be nigh-on impossible, but she gave it a good go.

She made it clear that the amount of work that has already gone into planning the route – and ruling out alternatives – is extensive. It has involved balancing a host of different requirements: cost, markets served, topographical constraints, geohazards and landfill sites, floodzones, the cost and complexity of tunnelling versus community impact, national parks and protected sites, onward travel and many more.

It has meant difficult decisions, such as having to avoid a protected salt marsh at the expense of coming closer to a residential area, and dealing with the many scattered villages and hamlets in Staffordshire, especially where tunnelling cannot be justified. Another compromise has been the need to cut speeds near Manchester because of the complex route constraints. An early decision was whether to track closer to the West Coast Main Line corridor and Crewe, or the M6 corridor and Stoke. Crewe was chosen, especially because of the way it opens up onward travel to Liverpool, Warrington, Preston and other north-west towns – which are important to the overall business case.

Economic case suffers without local leadership

HS2’s phase 2 director Ian Jordan outlined the jobs and economic benefits for Manchester, Leeds and other areas, but he added: “All
the evidence from abroad and from the Continent is that when you’ve got strong, strategic local and regional leadership, you can drive success. You see that in places like Lyon and Lille, but equally, there are parts of the TGV network where the local economy has been all but unaffected. That’s been pretty closely aligned to the degree, strength and commitment of local leadership.”

He discussed the direct and indirect boost to jobs and growth in the north west and Yorkshire, adding: “It leads potentially to a 1.7% increase annually in the economic output of Greater Manchester over the time the railway is open. That’s £1.3bn a year, the
size of the economy of somewhere like Cambridge – it is actually huge.”

“It’s not just something that HS2 can do on its own,” he said. “Infrastructure is…an enabler and a supporter – what’s important is working within strong partnerships with strong local leadership, which we know we certainly have here in Greater Manchester.”

He also discussed the wider strategic aims, which focus on capacity in the south but connectivity in the north, and addressed the ‘Crewe question’ – the idea for a hub station at Crewe as proposed by Sir David Higgins, which followed on from work by Network Rail and Cheshire East Council. That “sounds a very attractive proposition”, he said, but needs work to develop it.

The Manchester connection

TfGM’s strategy director Dave Newton and Martin Lax of the Metrolink directorate addressed the local issues, including connectivity at the new airport station and at Piccadilly itself. The two stations will be linked by a 7.5-mile tunnel under south Manchester.

There are plans for a ‘10-figure’ regeneration scheme around Piccadilly station and the neighbouring high-speed terminus.

Lax said that “if possible” Manchester wants the work at Piccadilly to be done “in line with HS2 phase 1 work”. He said the vision for the new stations is inspired by King’s Cross/St Pancras and Berlin Hauptbahnhof, both of which handle high speed and local trains,
metro services, buses, taxis and cars. The stations are of very high architectural quality too, he said, matching Manchester’s vision.

Discussing the wish to accelerate the scheme, Lax said: “Particularly around [Piccadilly], we’re keen to avoid blight. We want to
get on with the redevelopment – as soon as the station is built, and the boulevards are aligned, we can start developing the
sites and regenerating that area.

“We want to ‘build once’. There are a number of elements in Piccadilly – Metrolink, the regeneration framework, bus facilities, HS2, Network Rail improvements. We don’t want 20 or 30 years of one thing being done, then another, then another. We want a coherent plan that delivers a scheme that has the capacity for the next 40 or 50 years.”

‘Integrated connectivity’

Clive Woods, Network Rail’s senior programme manager responsible for HS2 phase 2, discussed the options for integration of the classic network and HS2, outlining three approaches: ‘do minimum’, effectively keeping other services as they are now; ‘incremental’, the historical approach to handling new infrastructure’; or ‘integrated connectivity’, also known as the hub-and-
spoke approach, which could radically cut journey times and improve service frequency on many routes, but the downside is fewer
direct trains serving non-hub locations. These options were explained in detail in Network Rail’s July 2013 document ‘Better Connections’.

Achieving integrated connectivity would depend on truly seamless interchanges, Woods told RTM in the Q&A session, with excellent passenger environments, personalised digital information, and good communications. 

Albéric du Chéné, from the Tours-Bourdeaux high speed rail project in France, reminded the audience that many of the UK issues are actually international.

His presentation, and all the others, are available online – see the box out for information.

 See for yourself

The following presentations from the day are available to watch online at tv.theiet.org on the Transport channel:

• HS2 – Revolutionising the railways: Building a connected Britain (Tim Smart, head of engineering and operations at HS2)

• Setting the GM transport scene (Dr Jon Lamonte, Transport for Greater Manchester chief executive)

• HS2: Benefitting the region (panel session)

• HS2 Passenger Experience (David Watts, Parsons Brinckerhoff CCD Design and Ergonomics Ltd and Thomas Williamson, HS2 Ltd traction and rolling stock engineer)

• HS2 and the North West (Ian Jordan, HS2 phase two director)

• Better Connections – Options for the Integration of High Speed Rail (Clive Woods, Network Rail)

• Connectivity – Local Connections (Martin Lax, Metroling strategic development manager, TfGM & PB)

• Connectivity (panel session)

• International experience: the Tours-Bourdeaux High Speed Rail Concession 2011-61 (Albéric du Chéné, project manager, Vinci Construction Grand Projects)

• The Preferred Route? Finding the right route and stations for HS2 in the North West (Amanda White, senior route engineer, North West)

• A system engineering approach to delivering a railway (Andrew Shepherd, technical director, PB)

• Designing an efficient system for powering high speed train operation (Tom Palfreyman, engineering manager – railway electrification and traction power, with presentation input from Mark Howard, head of power, traction and M&E engineering at HS2 Ltd)

(Image: HS2 Ltd)

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