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High-speed rail in the United Kingdom

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High-speed rail in the United Kingdom

Map of high-speed rail routes in Great Britain (present and planned). The Irish railway network is a different gauge and does not have any high-speed infrastructure planned.
Operational high-speed lines in Europe (as of 2013).
  320-350 km/h
  270-300 km/h
  250 km/h
  200-230 km/h

The international definition of high-speed rail embraces new lines with a top speed of at least 250 km/h (155 mph) and existing lines with a top speed of around 200 km/h (124 mph).[1] As of 2011, there are four "classic" main railway lines in Britain operating at up to 125 mph (201 km/h), plus 108 km (70 mi) of purpose-built high-speed line.

The first purpose-built high-speed rail line in Britain was the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, the first section of which opened in 2003. The building of the line (re-branded "High Speed 1" in 2006) provoked discussion in the national media and specialist rail circles on the merits of constructing further high-speed lines. A second purpose-built high-speed line is now planned by the government — High Speed 2 — which will connect London with Birmingham, and at a later phase cities in northern England (including Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds). Alongside this scheme, are plans by the Scottish Government to build a high-speed rail line between Edinburgh and Glasgow, to open by 2024.[2]

At present, a mixture of 300 km/h (186 mph) Eurostar international services and 225 km/h (140 mph) Southeastern domestic passenger services use High Speed 1. Attempts to increase speeds to 140 mph (225 km/h) on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and West Coast Main Line (WCML) have both failed, partly because trains that travel above 125 mph (201 km/h) are considered to require in-cab signalling for safety reasons. The term High Speed Train (or HST125) is currently also used as a brand name for the present British fleet of Class 43 125 mph (201 km/h) InterCity diesel trains.

At the current moment, the following UK train operators operate high-speed rail services:


  • History 1
    • High-speed steam 1.1
    • The APT 1.2
    • InterCity 125 1.3
    • InterCity 225 1.4
    • High-speed DMUs 1.5
    • Pendolino 1.6
  • High Speed 1 (HS1) 2
  • New high-speed line proposals 3
    • Virgin Trains' ECML bid 3.1
    • First Group's plans for the GWML corridor 3.2
    • Government-commissioned studies 3.3
      • Atkins study 3.3.1
      • Commission for Integrated Transport 3.3.2
      • Eddington report 3.3.3
      • Greengauge 21 Study 3.3.4
      • Government White Paper: Delivering a Sustainable Railway 3.3.5
      • Second Atkins study 3.3.6
      • High Speed Two 3.3.7
      • Network Rail study 3.3.8
    • Heathrow Airport to Gatwick Airport 3.4
  • HSR promoters 4
    • Greengauge21 4.1
    • London and Continental Railways 4.2
    • Eleven cities campaign 4.3
  • Other developments 5
    • Intercity Express Programme (IEP) 5.1
    • Liberal Democrats publish plans for British high-speed rail network 5.2
    • Tories publish plans to force short-haul passengers on to high-speed rail 5.3
    • Arup publishes plan for HS2 5.4
    • Network Rail planning five high-speed lines 5.5
  • Accidents and Incidents 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8


High-speed steam

Mallard, the only steam locomotive in the world to reach 126 mph (203 km/h)

During the age of steam locomotion, the British railway industry strove to develop reliable technology for powering high-speed rail services between major cities.

The earliest attempt to build a railway line dedicated for operation at the higher speeds was the Great Central Main Line, opened by the Great Central Railway (GCR) in 1899. This line was an ambitious project led by railway entrepreneur Sir Edward Watkin who envisaged a Liverpool-Paris route crossing from Britain to France via a proposed channel tunnel.[3] Although the tunnel scheme was not realised by this railway company, the route operated services between Sheffield Victoria and London Marylebone via Leicester Central, with the dedicated express track beginning at Annesley in Nottinghamshire.[4] The line was built to certain specifications so that it could take advantage of the higher speeds offered by the advances in steam locomotion. For most of the line the ruling gradient did not exceed 1 in 176 (5.7 ); outside urban areas wide curves were employed with a minimum radius of 1 mile; the route only had one level crossing; and, unlike other railway lines in Britain, the Great Central Main Line was built to an expanded continental loading gauge which meant it could accommodate larger-sized continental trains.[5] The GCR's target market was higher-class 'business' travellers, and it promoted its long-distance express trains with the slogan "Rapid Travel in Luxury".[6] Most of the Great Central Main Line closed in 1966 as part of the Beeching cuts, although parts of the route are still in use today by Chiltern Railways as the London to Aylesbury Line. According to plans announced in 2010, part of the proposed High Speed 2 (HS2) route will run along a re-opened 10-mile (16 km) section of the GCR route between Calvert and Brackley.[7] An alternative proposal to re-open the GCR for freight has been put forward by the Central Railway company.

Various claims exist for the first locomotive to break the 100 mph (160 km/h) barrier, notably the Great Western Railway's City of Truro (1904) and the LNER's Flying Scotsman (1934). Locomotive power capable of reaching 126 mph (203 km/h) has existed in Britain since 1938, when the LNER's Mallard broke the steam locomotive speed record.

Despite advances in locomotive engineering, the railway infrastructure was unable to support safe running at such high speeds and, until the mid-1970s, the British railway speed limit remained at 100 mph (160 km/h).


A production version of the APT (1980-86)

In the 1970s, British Rail began to explore new technologies for enabling high-speed passenger rail services in the UK. While the Japanese and French railway authorities had decided to build completely new tracks for their respective Shinkansen and TGV high-speed rail systems, British Rail opted instead to develop a train capable of running on existing rail infrastructure: the Advanced Passenger Train (APT), with a top speed of 155 mph (249 km/h). An experimental version, the APT-E was tested between 1972 and 1976. It was equipped with a tilting mechanism which allowed the train to tilt into bends to reduce cornering forces on passengers, and was powered by gas turbines (the first to be used on British Rail since the Great Western Railway, and subsequent Western Region utilised Swiss built Brown-Boveri, and British built Metropolitan Vickers locomotives (18000 and 18100) in the early 1950s). The 1970s oil crisis prompted a rethink in the choice of motive power (as with the prototype TGV in France), and British Rail later opted for traditional electric overhead lines when the pre-production and production APTs were brought into service in 1980-86.[8]

Initial experience with the Advanced Passenger Trains was good. They had a high power-to-weight ratio to enable rapid acceleration; the prototype set record speeds on the Great Western Main Line and the Midland Main Line, and the production versions vastly reduced journey times on the WCML. The APT was, however, beset with technical problems; financial constraints and negative media coverage eventually caused the project to be cancelled.[9]

InterCity 125

An InterCity 125 train at Hull Paragon station in 1982. The InterCity 125 is the world's fastest diesel train.

During the same period, British Rail also invested in a separate, parallel project to design a train based on conventional technology as a stopgap.[10] The Intercity 125, otherwise known as the High-Speed Train (HST), was launched in 1976 with a service speed of 125 mph (201 km/h) and provided the first high-speed rail services in Britain.[11] The HST was diesel-powered, and the Great Western Main Line (GWML) was the first to be modified for the new service.[12] Because the GWML had been built mostly straight, often with four tracks and with a distance of 1 mile (ca. 1.6 km) between distant signal and main signal, it allowed trains to run at 125 mph (201 km/h) with relatively moderate infrastructure investments, compared to other countries in Europe. The Intercity 125 had proven the economic case for high-speed rail,[13] and British Rail was keen to explore further advances.

InterCity 225

The Intercity 225

BR then proceeded to electrify the ECML and ordered a new fleet of Intercity 225 electric trains in the mid-1980s. These were capable of 140 mph (225 km/h) and although not initially equipped to tilt, were designed to be easily upgraded to tilt mode by having trailer profiles that tapered inwards at the top and suitable bogies. Speeds of 140 mph (225 km/h) were tested on the southern, straighter sections of the ECML by using a flashing green aspect on the signals. This indicated it was safe to proceed above 125 mph (201 km/h), but HMRSI eventually ruled that this was dangerous and that speeds above 125 mph would require in-cab signalling. The 225s were therefore limited to 125 mph (201 km/h) and have been ever since.

High-speed DMUs

A Class 220 Voyager DEMU, built in Belgium by Bombardier Transportation, which is capable of speeds of up to 125 mph

In the early 2000s, a number of train operating companies introduced diesel multiple units (DMUs) capable of 125 mph (201 km/h) speeds, including the Adelante, Voyager, Super-Voyager and Meridian/Pioneer units.


A Class 390 Pendolino at Manchester Piccadilly. The Class 390 was designed for 140 mph (225 km/h), but is currently limited to 125 mph (201 km/h) due to a lack of cab signalling which is required by regulations for trains to be permitted to operate at more than 125 mph.

In 2002, Virgin Trains introduced a new high-speed service on the West Coast Main Line with a fleet of 53 custom-designed Pendolino trains.[14] The nine-car trains were constructed by Alstom and are equipped with a tilting mechanism developed by Fiat to enable them to run at high speeds on existing rail infrastructure, thus fulfilling the aims of the APT project some 30 years later.[15]

The Pendolinos were designed to run at 140 mph (225 km/h), but require in-cab signalling for high-speed operation. The 2004 West Coast Main Line modernisation programme, which was an upgrade to the infrastructure to allow faster line speeds, ran over budget, and plans were consequently scaled back. As with the introduction of the Intercity 225 in the 1980s, the lack of signalling upgrades resulted in the maximum line speed being restricted to 125 mph (201 km/h).[16] Some members of the fleet were later lengthened to 11 carriages.

The following table lists the speeds of the fastest trains operating in Great Britain in 2010 which are capable of a top speed of 125 mph or greater:
Name Locomotive Class Type Max. Recorded Speed (mph (km/h)) Max. Design Speed (mph (km/h)) Max. Speed in service (mph (km/h))
Eurostar Class 373 EMU 209 (334.7) 186 (300) 186 (300)
Javelin Class 395 EMU 157 (252)[17] 140 (225) 140 (225)
InterCity 225 Class 91 Electric Loco 162 (261) 140 (225) 125 (200)
Pendolino Class 390 EMU 162 (261)[18] 140 (225) 125 (200)
InterCity 125 Class 43 (HST) Diesel Loco 148 (238) 125 (200) 125 (200)
Adelante Class 180 DMU 125 (200) 125 (200) 125 (200)
Voyager Class 220 DEMU 125 (200) 125 (200) 125 (200)
Super Voyager Class 221 DEMU 125 (200) 125 (200) 125 (200)
Meridian/Pioneer Class 222 DEMU 125 (200) 125 (200) 125 (200)

High Speed 1 (HS1)

A Eurostar on High Speed 1 at Strood, Kent. Eurostar services are the only services in Great Britain to operate at speeds of more than 225 km/h
Eurostar train at London St Pancras
Southeastern High-Speed train at Ebbsfleet International. Southeastern's high-speed services are the only domestic rail services in the UK to operate at speeds of more than 200 km/h.

The Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL), now known as High Speed 1 (HS1), was the first new mainline railway to be built in the UK for a century and was constructed by London and Continental Railways. After a lengthy process of route selection and public enquiries in the second half of the 1990s, work got under way on Section 1 from the Channel Tunnel to west of the Medway in 1998 and the line opened in 2003. Section 2, continuing the line to London St Pancras, started soon after Section 1 and was opened to the public on 14 November 2007.

The HS1 line was finished on time and under budget. The reduction in journey times and increase in reliability achieved through the opening of Section 1 enabled Eurostar to capture 71% of the total London-Paris market and over 80% of the leisure market and Section 2 has increased these figures further. Additionally, the connections provided to the WCML, MML and ECML by Section 2 may see growth of hitherto marginal markets, by finally allowing Regional Eurostars to operate, at least on the electrified ECML and WCML. Eurostar's chief executive stated that the company believes it can take 50% market share even on 4½-hour journeys,[19] a journey time that would put Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds within reach of mainland Europe.

Market share statistics of Eurostar on London-Paris (punctuality between brackets):

The rising market share of Eurostar on the London-Paris route.
  • September 2006 (July–September 91.4%)
  • August 2005 71.03% (January–September 87%)
  • May 2005 69%
  • August 2004 67.87% (January–December 84%)
  • July 2004 65.88% (January–June 89%)
  • October 2003 65%
  • July 2003 60.23% (January–June 77%)

The completion and successful operation of CTRL Sections 1 and 2 spurred much discussion and several proposals for new lines in the UK and many interested parties are hoping to capitalise on the momentum given to these ideas by the completion of the complete CTRL. These proposals are discussed below.

The construction of High Speed 1 also permitted the introduction of a new domestic high-speed service when in 2009 Southeastern launched its high-speed route between London St Pancras and Ashford International. Operated with a fleet of British Rail Class 395 trains, the service reaches a top speed of 140 mph (225 km/h). Southeastern High-Speed is currently the only British domestic high-speed service allowed to run above 125 mph (201 km/h).

New high-speed line proposals

In 2001, two privately sponsored proposals were put forward to build high-speed lines in the UK. The first, from Virgin Trains, was part of its tender for the ECML franchise. The second, from First Group, was independent of the DfT / SRA rail franchising process. Neither was welcomed by the government, which in the wake of the Hatfield rail crash was focused on - as it saw it - getting the rail network back to reliable operations. There was also a suggestion that at that time government officials overseeing the railways favoured increased nationalisation of infrastructure rather than allowing the creation of additional track operators, seemingly against the notion of public-private partnerships (PPPs) promoted elsewhere.

Virgin Trains' ECML bid

Virgin Trains express Driving Van Trailer 82114 at Platform 1, Glasgow Central Station, Scotland July 2000.

When the ECML franchise (then operated by GNER) came up for its first renewal, Virgin Trains raised the idea of constructing new track and purchasing a new fleet of trains for the line. These so-called VGVs (Virgin Grand Vitesse, after the French TGV) would have been capable of 330 kilometres per hour (210 mph) and would have used a mixture of new track and existing track. The new track would be from Peterborough to Yorkshire and on from Newcastle to the Scottish border. This first line would have opened in 2009 and was chosen for ease of construction in the south and elimination of severe curves in Northumberland. Later, if successful, further stretches would have been upgraded. Publicity material featuring Virgin branded TGV and ICE trains appeared, and it was stated that the stock would be built in Birmingham.[20] Virgin's bid was rejected, and GNER's franchise was renewed.

First Group's plans for the GWML corridor

Around the same time, First Great Western, operator of lines west of London, announced a study into a 320-kilometre-per-hour (200 mph) line from London to South West England and South Wales. First sponsored the study and input was given by other stakeholders in the regions to be served.

Journey times from London given included:

  • Swindon 35 mins
  • Bristol Parkway 49 mins
  • Cardiff Central 70 mins
  • Swansea 120 mins
  • Plymouth 140 mins

Although First stated that this report would be published and given to the SRA and government, little has been heard of the plan since the initial press release. Many at the time felt that First should concentrate on day-to-day running of its services.[21][22][23]

Government-commissioned studies

Since the completion of Section 1 of the CTRL, various government departments and ministers have commissioned reports into the viability of high-speed rail. This is in part due to the success of the CTRL project, part due to realisation that upgrades to existing infrastructure offer poor value for money and cannot hope to meet future capacity needs, and part due to increasing environmental concerns over the expansion of the short-haul airline industry.

Atkins study

In 2001, the SRA commissioned Atkins to perform a feasibility study into the transport and business case for high-speed rail. The study, published on 29 October 2004, looked at combinations of 11 routing options to accommodate forecast traffic flows and concluded:

  • New capacity is required to relieve the WCML by 2015
  • Further new capacity will be required to relieve all three north-south routes by 2031
  • Construction of the complete proposed network would cost £33bn, the shortest option £10bn
  • The line would give a cost-benefit ratio of between 1.9 and 2.8 to 1

Furthermore, additional work was done to look at the impact of road pricing, downgrading the enhancements to the ECML, and changes to the Treasury's green book method of assessing project finance. All three areas were found to improve the case for high-speed rail.[24]

Atkins Option 1
The Atkins study proposed a line between London and Stoke-on-Trent, broadly following the existing WCML and using the WCML for onward connection, as its baseline scenario.
Atkins Option 8
The study concluded that new lines should be built each side of the Pennines, with the eastern line continuing to Edinburgh and Glasgow. A branch also serves Heathrow Airport. This is the £33bn "end game" scenario.
Atkins Option 10
The study considered a link between Manchester and Leeds but did not take this forward.

Commission for Integrated Transport

In 2004 the Commission for Integrated Transport commissioned Steer Davies Gleave to produce a report on high-speed rail.[25] The report focused on the reasons why the costs being quoted for British HSR routes (particularly in Atkins) were high in comparison to other countries, in addition to investigating the business case and transport case for such a network.

The routes studied gave hypothetical journey times from and to London as follows:

Destination Current Journey Time HS2 Journey Time
Birmingham 1h 10m 0h 55m
Manchester 2h 08m 1h 06m
Leeds 2h 05m 1h 25m
Liverpool 2h 08m 1h 15m
Newcastle 2h 50m 1h 40m
Edinburgh 4h 05m 2h 06m
Glasgow 4h 20m 2h 32m

The study gave the following recommendations:

  • That the Government and SRA begin to plan now for High-Speed Rail (HSR) as part of a wider strategy to ease the anticipated capacity constraints on the existing networks. Schemes that appear to offer good value for money should be actively progressed.
  • That costs of HSR projects be closely examined to bring them closer to the lower costs achieved in Europe. They should take account of possible reductions in underlying costs and further cost reductions if the industry structure, safety regulations and the approvals process were reviewed.
  • That the Government examine ways of maximising private sector involvement in HSR. This should take account of the potential impact of any future national road charging scheme on passenger demand and its potential to make private sector investment more attractive.
  • That changes in the appraisal process be considered relating to value of time, economic impact analysis, environmental assessments and risk/optimism bias allowances.
  • Additional capacity will be required by 2015.
  • Ways to reduce the currently high cost of new rail infrastructure such as high-speed lines include:
    • Building lines in phases rather than all at once could produce a cost saving of 20%-30%.
    • British project management, planning, design and legal costs can reach 25% of the total cost (compared with 3% on the Spanish Madrid - Lerida line) and could therefore be reduced.
  • If these cost savings materialise, then the benefits could outweigh the costs by 3 to 1.

Eddington report

In 2006 British Airways' former chief executive Sir Rod Eddington produced a report on future transport strategy.[26]

The report covered all transport modes and had initially been expected to strongly recommend investment in high-speed rail. However, on 29 August 2006 The Times reported that Sir Rod would state that given a limited transport budget, a high-speed rail link is not the most cost-effective option to obtain higher capacity on the rail network and therefore should not be built.[27] Most of the press continued to take this line when the report was finally published, drawing scorn from both opposition parties, Labour back-benchers and transport pressure groups alike. The report seemed to confirm this:

However, Sir Rod later claimed both to the press and to a parliamentary select committee that he was quoted out of context in reports at the time, had aimed his comments specifically at speculative MagLev options, and in fact was in favour of using conventional high-speed rail to relieve congestion once existing main lines reached capacity.[28] Nevertheless, enthusiasm for such projects seemed to wane after the report's publication, at least in Westminster. The topic remained much on the political agenda in the North East of England and Scotland.

Greengauge 21 Study

In June 2007, the campaign group Greengauge 21, led by Jim Steer, published a proposal for High Speed Two.[29] It evaluated options for high-speed rail in the UK and recommended an £11bn route from London St Pancras and Heathrow to Birmingham and the North West, which they dubbed HS2. The report recommended the new line be built in the M40/Chiltern Main Line corridor, and used it as the basis for its findings. This route has the greatest strategic advantage, as the Chiltern Main Line is a popular alternative to the WCML from Birmingham to London, and also lends the opportunity to build a branch line to Heathrow Airport, giving the passengers served by the WCML a direct service to one of the world's premier international airports. The WCML is also the corridor which would be under the most pressure in the next 15 – 20 years. A connection to High Speed 1 would allow Eurostar terminals to open in Birmingham and Manchester.

Branching off HS1, it would briefly follow the WCML and GWML, branching off at the connection with the Central line, going to Northolt Junction, where it will follow the Chiltern Main Line and have a triangular junction serving a branch to Heathrow. The line will be tunnelled at Chiltern stations, up till Princes Risborough, where it will incorporate itself with the intercity line, up to Banbury, where it will branch off and hug the M40 and M42, before joining the Birmingham Loop, at Birmingham International/NEC. Links to Milton Keynes and Oxford via the Varsity Line, and Banbury in the middle of the Line, would experience a growth in services. Local services on Chiltern, WCML south of Rugby, and Banbury - Coventry - Birmingham could be intensified.

The new line would enable journey times of:

  • London to Birmingham in 45 minutes
  • Birmingham to Paris in 3 hours
  • London to Manchester (via the WCML after the Trent Valley) in 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Manchester to Paris in 3 hours 45 minutes

The line would be built to the continental loading gauge, allowing the use of double-decker trains.

On 3 July 2007 reports appeared in several British newspapers about the UK government's forthcoming 30-year strategy (see below). It was stated that "Britain may need High Speed Two", but that "the strategy will stop short of promising to pay for the line".[30][31]

In September 2009, Greengauge 21 published a new study into High Speed Rail.[32] This was far more extensive than Network Rail's proposal, calling for a full, integrated high-speed network totalling around 1500 km. Greengauge's plan calls for two north/south corridors from London, which would broadly parallel the ECML and WCML, together with three east/west corridors between London-Bristol, Sheffield-Manchester and Edinburgh-Glasgow. Both the north/south lines would consist of new-built high-speed lines, while the east/west corridors would run on existing lines upgraded to allow 200 km/h running.[33] One of the central parts of the Greengauge 21 proposal is to have it linked directly with High Speed 1, to allow through running to the Channel Tunnel, thus enabling trains to run direct from regional cities to Europe. The draft timetable produced as part of the plan estimates that trains could run between Birmingham and Paris in approximately 3 hours.

  • High-Speed North-East - the North-East route would run north from London to Cambridge, with a spur connecting to Stansted Airport, before diverting towards the East Midlands, stopping at Nottingham and Sheffield. It would then run as far as Leeds, before resuming the route of the ECML towards Newcastle. Between Newcastle and Edinburgh, the route would consist of existing upgraded line rather than new build.
  • High-Speed North-West - the North-West route would be completely new build. This would run north towards Birmingham, with a spur to Heathrow Airport, before reaching Manchester and Liverpool. Both of these would be on branches off the main line, with Manchester at a triangular junction; the main line would continue north where it would fork, with branches to Glasgow and Edinburgh, where it would connect with the North-East Line.
  • High-Speed West - the Western corridor would consist of existing track upgraded to 200 km/h, and would run west out of London stopping at Heathrow, Bristol and Cardiff. A triangular junction at Heathrow would allow access from these western destinations to the North-West route without the need to go via London.
  • High-Speed Trans-Pennine - the Trans-Pennine route would be a short corridor of upgraded line connecting Sheffield and Manchester. Both of these would be on triangular junctions, allowing access to all destinations on the North-East and North-West corridors.
  • High-Speed Scotland - the Scottish route would be a corridor between Edinburgh and Glasgow, consisting of entirely new-build line.

Government White Paper: Delivering a Sustainable Railway

In July 2007, the new Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, delivered a white paper on the future of the railways.[34] The report outlined the government's strategic plan for the railways until 2037. It overlooked high-speed rail options, the government opting instead for "further study" and saying that dedicated magnetic levitation system and freight lines were "too expensive".[35] Amongst the support documentation for the white paper was a report by transport professors Roderick Smith and Roger Kemp which reviewed the options for a MagLev trunk line, particularly those proposed by UK Ultraspeed, and concluded that it was a high-risk option, with a high impact on transport energy use and therefore carbon dioxide emissions.[36]

Second Atkins study

In March 2008, The Observer and The Sunday Times both reported that a second report for the Department of Transport by Atkins entitled Because Transport Matters[37] showed that the original Option 8 (a high-speed network on both west and east coasts) would give a benefit of £63bn, well in excess of the predicted costs of £31bn. The report suggested building two 300 kilometres per hour (190 mph) lines on the East and West coasts. The West coast line would run to Manchester, and the East coast line would run to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Travel times of 71 minutes to Manchester and 74 minutes to Sheffield were mentioned in the report.[38]

High Speed Two

High Speed Two (HS2) is a proposed high-speed railway in the United Kingdom serving London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds, or alternatively London, Manchester, Liverpool, Preston, Glasgow and Edinburgh but not Sheffield. The UK Government launched a formal high-speed rail project in January 2009, and high-speed rail has the support of all three main political parties. The UK Government has now approved construction, due to begin in 2017, with the first trains running by 2025. Subject to consultation, the London terminus for the high-speed line would be Euston, a new Birmingham city-centre station would be built at Curzon Street, and there would be interchange stations with Crossrail west of Paddington and with the existing intercity rail network near Birmingham airport.[39][40][41] The only other high-speed route in the UK is High Speed 1 (also known as the 'Channel Tunnel Rail Link').

HS2's proposal is for a Y-shaped network between London and England's major regional cities, serving Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, East Midlands and Newcastle, with connections on to the West Coast and East Coast main lines to allow through services to Scotland. The Greengauge 21 study states that the total route length, including the connections to the existing network and High Speed One, would be 150 miles (240 km).

Network Rail study

In August 2009, Network Rail published a study[42] outlining its proposals for the expansion of the railway network. The headline proposal was its plan for a new high-speed rail line between London and Glasgow/Edinburgh, following a route through the West Midlands and the North-West of England. This plan, whereby the new line would follow a similar but not totally parallel route to the West Coast Main Line, would involve trains running from both London and Birmingham as southern termini to Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Included in the report are draft timings which put Birmingham less than an hour from London, Manchester just over an hour, Liverpool just under 90 minutes, and just over two hours to Glasgow and Edinburgh, with sixteen trains per hour estimated from London, and four trains per hour between the regional cities. The report also looked into the question of services to Heathrow Airport, and came to the conclusion that running all trains from London via Heathrow reduced the benefit of the line by as much as £3 billion. Instead, Network Rail's proposal would entail a short spur from the main line terminating at Heathrow, reducing the road and air traffic to the airport from the cities that the line would serve. Network Rail also outlined the case for not including such areas as Leeds and the North-East of England in the proposal, with two main points:

  • The journey time from London to Leeds via Manchester would not be reduced significantly enough over the existing route via the East Coast Main Line to warrant the cost of building the connection.
  • Leeds would be the top target market for any proposed high-speed line from London to North-East of England, so building a connection to Leeds would reduce the strength of the case for that.

Heathrow Airport to Gatwick Airport

The UK Government is studying a proposal for a 180 mph line between London Heathrow and Gatwick Airports. The journey would take 15 minutes and provide the first direct rail link between the two airports. The plan could virtually make Heathrow and Gatwick into a single hub.[43]

HSR promoters

The recent interest in high-speed rail generated by the success of the CTRL has led to the formation of several companies and non-profit groups aiming to further the construction of domestic high-speed lines in Britain. The principal groups are:


Greengauge21 is a non-profit group aiming to establish conventional high-speed wheel-on-rail technology as the mode of choice for new lines. The group has performed studies on routeing, environmental issues and the use of high-speed rail as an alternative to short haul airlines.[44]

Currently it is proposing a new high-speed line between, at first, London and Birmingham. This is tentatively called High Speed Two.

London and Continental Railways

It was reported in August 2006 that London and Continental Railways (the developers of HS1) was to put forward a high-speed rail scheme to the Department for Transport this autumn. Its scheme would cost between £12 billion and £19 billion depending on the route chosen. The timing of this was to depend on the release of the Eddington Report described above.[45] It is not known if this scheme was advanced in the light of subsequent developments.

Eleven cities campaign

Eleven big cities announced a joint campaign for a high-speed rail network serving the entire of Great Britain on 9 September 2009. Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield stated as their goal that The campaign will be deliberately focused on the importance of building a whole network to link all our major economic centres together, not simply a sterile debate about where a first route should go. [46]

Other developments

Intercity Express Programme (IEP)

On 8 March 2007, the Department for Transport invited bidders to participate in the Intercity Express Programme or IEP. This is a project to replace the ageing Intercity 125 and subsequently Intercity 225 fleets with a new high-speed train designed to operate on the ECML, GWML and Cross Country routes. The project grew out of discussions between First Group and Siemens in the early years of the decade, later being taken over by the SRA and DfT.

On 12 February 2009, the DfT announced that Agility Trains, a consortium led by Hitachi, was the preferred bidder, with a train named the Hitachi Super Express. In February 2010 it was announced the programme was suspended pending an independent report, with a decision on its viability to be given after the 2010 General Election.

Liberal Democrats publish plans for British high-speed rail network

On 2 August 2007, the BBC reported that the Liberal Democrats proposed the building of a high-speed rail network in Great Britain, connecting London with Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Tyneside and Scotland in the north and Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter in the west.[47] Funding for the investment would come from an extra £10 tax per ticket on internal flights in Britain and tolls on road freight, mirroring similar toll schemes in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

On 22 August 2007, a Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP tabled a motion to the Scottish Parliament calling for a high-speed rail link between Edinburgh, Glasgow and London.[48]

Tories publish plans to force short-haul passengers on to high-speed rail

On 28 August 2007, The Times reported that the Conservative Party has found that 20% of all flights from Heathrow are to destinations that can be - or soon will be able to be - reached in a competitive time by high-speed rail (the top ten short haul destinations are: Paris, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Manchester, Brussels, Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds/Bradford, Rotterdam and Durham/Tees Valley).[49][50] They plan to impose a moratorium on airport expansion and force this traffic on to the railways, freeing up slots for long-haul flights and removing the need for a third runway at Heathrow and a second runway at Stansted.

Arup publishes plan for HS2

On 2 December 2007, The Sunday Times reported that engineering group Arup, a member of the consortium behind High Speed One, was to put forward a plan for a second British high-speed line to the North of England and Lowland Scotland via Heathrow Airport. This would enable direct transfers between flights and trains to Continental Europe and British regions. The plan, closely resembling that of Greengauge21, was to be formally announced later in week commencing 3 December 2007.[51]

Network Rail planning five high-speed lines

In June 2008 the BBC and The Daily Telegraph reported that Network Rail was planning five high-speed domestic lines in Britain. The lines would parallel the East Coast, West Coast, Midland, Chiltern and Great Western Main Lines. A further line was planned to follow the route of the former L&SWR and GWR via Exeter to Plymouth and Penzance.[52][53]

On 23 June, further details appeared on the Network Rail website.[54] It has been mooted that the high-speed lines would be parallel to existing lines, although the possibility of the East-coast line passing through Stansted Airport has also been discussed.

Accidents and Incidents

  • Southall rail crash: On 19th September 1997, a Great Western Trains InterCity 125 operating a service from Swansea to London Paddington failed to stop at a red signal and collided with a freight train entering Southall goods yard. Seven people were killed and 139 were injured. The train driver, Larry Harrison, was charged with manslaughter (he had been distracted as he had bent down to pack his bag), but the case was dropped. Great Western Trains was fined £1.5 million for violations of health and safety law in connection with the accident.

See also


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  2. ^ "BBC News - High-speed rail plan for Glasgow to Edinburgh line". 2012-11-12. Retrieved 2012-12-13. 
  3. ^ Haywood, Russell (2012). Railways, Urban Development and Town Planning in Britain: 1948-2008. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 22.  
  4. ^ Holland, Julian (2007). Amazing and extraordinary railway facts. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. p. 44.  
  5. ^ Healy 1987, pp. 24-53.
  6. ^ Healy 1987, pp. 78.
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  8. ^ Duffy, Michael C. (2003). Electric railways 1880-1990. Institution of Electrical Engineers. p. 402.  
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  13. ^ "New opportunities for the railways: The privatisation of British Rail". London: HMSO. July 1992. p. 8. Retrieved 18 May 2009. 
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  15. ^ "Time to tilt on track". BBC News. 12 December 2003. Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  16. ^ "West Coast Main Line Pendolino Tilting Trains, United Kingdom". Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  17. ^ "Bullet train in milestone run on HS1". Railnews. 10 June 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2012. an earlier successful 'overspeed' test to check train stability and ride on 18th April, when the train achieved a maximum speed of 252 km/h 
  18. ^ Haigh, Philip (25 February 2009). "Once upon a time in the West". Rail (612) (Peterborough). p. 54. 
  19. ^ See News > Features > Future Insight)
  20. ^ "Virgin's 200mph East Coast vision". BBC News (London). 6 March 2000. 
  21. ^ 200mph "Rail Line Plan For South West And Wales" (Press release). First Great Western. 17 October 2002. 
  22. ^ "Rail firm considers 200mph trains". BBC News. 17 October 2002. 
  23. ^ "Cardiff to London in just over an hour". BBC News. 17 October 2002. 
  24. ^ "A vision for the High Speed Line (HSL)". Department for Transport. Retrieved 23 June 2011. 
  25. ^ "High Speed Rail: International Comparisons". Steer Davies Gleave. 2004. 
  26. ^ "The Eddington Transport Study". Department for Transport. December 2006. 
  27. ^ Webster, Ben (29 August 2006). "We don't need the 200mph rail link, says man from BA". The Times (London). 
  28. ^ Eric Martlew MP, Transport Committee 16 Apr 2007The Eddington Transport Study (HC 458-i), , 16 April 2007.
  29. ^ "High Speed Two: A Greengauge 21 Proposition". Greengauge 21. June 2007. 
  30. ^ Webster, Ben (3 July 2007). "London to Frankfurt in under 5 hours: Europe unites to speed up rail journeys". The Times (London). Retrieved 6 July 2007. 
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  32. ^ "Greengauge 21 proposes UK high speed network". Railway Gazette International (London). 17 September 2009. 
  33. ^ "Fast Forward". Greengauge 21. September 2009. 
  34. ^ "Delivering a Sustainable Railway". Department for Transport. July 2007. 
  35. ^ "Billions pledged for rail upgrade". BBC News. 24 July 2007. 
  36. ^ Kemp, R.; Smith, R. (June 2007). "Technical issues raised by the proposal to introduce a 500 km/h magnetically-levitated transport system in the UK". Transport Research Laboratory. 
  37. ^ "Because Transport Matters: High Speed Rail". Atkins. Retrieved 23 June 2011. 
  38. ^ Mathiason, Nick (9 March 2008). "Labour eyes £31bn high-speed rail plan". The Observer (London). 
  39. ^ "High-speed rail plans announced by government". BBC News. 11 March 2010. 
  40. ^ "High speed rail: London to Birmimgham" (leaflet). Department for Transport. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  41. ^ Department for Transport (March 2010). High Speed Rail. London: HMSO.  
  42. ^ "Meeting the capacity challenge: The case for new lines". Network Rail. August 2009. 
  43. ^ "Heathrow and Gatwick airports: Ministers mull rail link". BBC News. 8 October 2011. Retrieved 24 November 2011. 
  44. ^ "Driving the debate on High-Speed Rail". Greengauge 21. Retrieved 2012-12-13. 
  45. ^ McGhie, Tom (6 August 2006). "£19bn plan for high speed rail link".  
  46. ^ Stratton, Allegra (8 September 2009). "Eleven UK cities campaign for high-speed rail network". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  47. ^ "Lib Dems plan air tax to aid rail". BBC News. 2 August 2007. 
  48. ^ "MSP calls for fast London railway link". Edinburgh Evening News. 22 August 2007. 
  49. ^ "Tories' green taxes would fund tax breaks for families". London Evening Standard. 28 August 2007. 
  50. ^ Hurst, Greg (29 August 2007). "Tories consider plans to force short-haul air passengers on to high-speed trains". The Times (London). 
  51. ^ O'Connell, Dominic (2 December 2007). "Heathrow to Paris at 186mph". The Sunday Times (London). 
  52. ^ "Major new rail lines considered". BBC News. 21 June 2008. Retrieved 23 June 2008. 
  53. ^ Millward, David (21 June 2008). "High speed trains planned in UK railway blueprint". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 23 June 2008. 
  54. ^ "Meeting the capacity challenge: Network Rail looks at the case for new rail lines" (Press release). Network Rail. 23 June 2008. Retrieved 23 June 2011. 
  • "Britain's Transport Infrastructure High Speed Two" (PDF).  
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