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Will HS2 Fail or Succeed?
Dave Perton
12 Posts
I believe it will do both, it just depends on the measure you use. In an project there are three measures of success or failure, cost, time-scale and outcome and I believe it will fail on two but succeed on the most important and have set out my argument in a blog post here https://communities.theiet.org/groups/blogpost/view/27/231/6920

The project is so complex to think costs will not overrun or timing slip is to be naive, as it is impossible to predict them when the timescales are so long and the complexity so great, but the outcome will be a success
38 Replies
Simon Barker
865 Posts
These kinds of projects are always sold to the government based on wildly optimistic costs and timescales, which will never be met.  If the people planning the project had submitted realistic figures, HS2 would never have started, and the people planning it would have been out of a job.

While HS2 may be popular and successful once it's finished, we may never know the lost opportunity of what else could have been done with the money instead.
143 Posts
How odd that no report has been published on the cost of a day return by anyone using it ,😏 
Denis McMahon
340 Posts
Day returns?  Weekend returns?  Mid-week returns?  Remember them?

Time was when ticket prices were published and stable. One knew in advance just how much a train journey would cost.

Nowadays it is a case of pick the time and find the price offered. It makes no difference whether you buy your ticket on-line or go to the ticket office and buy it from a real person. You can't even be sure of the route you will take for your journey. Example: Hampshire to Cambridgeshire. Via Waterloo and King's Cross? Or via Paddington and King's Cross? The system seems to find the less-busy routes and offer cheaper fares to suite. Maybe not a bad thing!

But if one can't predict the price of a rail ticket, one can hardly expect the predict the price of a massive project like HS2.
£106bn (and will rise) for a few hundred Km of slightly updated 20th century mode of travel with massive negative environmental and social impact along its construction route for a few minutes faster travel (in theory) between a few cities. Logically it should never have been started, logically it should have been killed off last year, but this white elephant vanity project now has a 'get it done at any cost plus price', political pet project life of its own.
Simon Barker
865 Posts
It's not really being built to shave a few minutes off intercity journeys.  The real problem is that (until very recently), more and more people have been using rail travel.
Running commuter trains that stop at every station, and high speed intercity trains, on the same line gets unworkable once the traffic gets too dense.  The real point of HS2 is to provide a new line for the fast trains, leaving the commuter trains to rattle and creep along the existing line.
But we already have direct mobility routes between the cities we want to connect with HS2 - they are called motorways.

If we are only doing city to city stops and connections, why not put high speed raised rail or maglev lines along the central reservation over the motorways instead of carving up the countryside and forcing people to move for more ground-based railway lines - use and leverage the £bns of investment in our extant mobility infrastructure we already have? These 'sky rail' routes could have intermediate stops at strategic points if necessary too. Why not use individual carriages or strings of carriages sized for traffic at different times of day or 'demand driven' train sizes, instead of running big trains no matter the number of passengers. Add and remove carriages along the way the match demand - like a cable car system at ski resorts. Similar concept to the hyperloop picture in the attached - https://www.alphr.com/the-future/1008177/hyperloop-overhyped-underlooped 

Are we not supposedly an innovating technology and world leading nation that invented passenger and cargo railways, iron bridges, metal passenger ships, aircraft and jet engine and jet airliners, hovercraft, cats eyes, maglev trains (not forgetting telephony, TV, radar, et al). We're now a nation of sustainable mobility technology followers and late-comers, no longer innovators, first movers and leaders in sustainable mobility, very sad.
143 Posts
Hi Maurice I don't know about the UK being poor at major innovation , the problem is I think not so much that  we arnt innovative , more a case we don't have the sorts of engineers and mind set that can make up its mind what works , and so all the bad ideas and speculators get the funding and favour. I am sympathetic to where no one could think beyond a certain horizon , I mean some people cant quite grasp some ideas and we have a whole new frontier in getting environmental thinking right and at the moment places like the IET don't do biology and earths natural life systems. I think with HS2 it was marginal from the start and well over a billion has gone on it already. To go really fast on 120km of line , is a pretty unusual thing to start from , I mean going really fast between 500km nodes really could produce some economic uplift , but then you need to think about what other aspects you can get from your railway, and HS2 has been pretty clear on how it will work , with heritage stock or adaptability , it is a high speed rail adventure in all its design aspects .
Ticketing is as you say , if you look around you can see good offers , to fill the spaces around higher usage volumes , so what is being said about HS2 is that it will have revenues other than regular commuting , which is where the case gets really shaky. your right also on the effect it could have on the rest of the rail network in terms of investment , and that old infrastructure will need replacing . It just saddens me that the correct arguments are not being heard and were all going to paying our taxes to something that could fail very badly in revenue terms and people transported , I mean were all ready at the levels where it will need subsidy when operational , and at least the big spend of the channel tunnel managed to keep revenues. which even the plump expenses of the Birmingham to London business user isn't really there and it only gets more expensive from Birmingham onwards . despite the excellent and confident maps of the routes. It will be a tragedy in my view how it works out and big bill for future tax payers and given its a shareholder venture they get any profits first .     
Simon Barker
865 Posts
The reason why we don't have all the innovation is that it makes things more complex, more expensive and less reliable.  An electric train sitting on two rails in nice and simple, and it works.  People have tries monorails, maglev trains and the like.  They have either been abandoned or kept as curiosities running along short lines.

Running a train system is difficult and complex.  Adding and subtracting carriages throughout the day adds complexity and slows things down.  Running the same length train back and forth along the same line all day is simpler and quicker.  I have been on trains that split in half at some point along the journey.  Apart from the risk that passengers will end up in the wrong half of the train, there is always a delay as the two halves of the train are uncoupled.  And then you need to organise a driver for each half, because you can't just abandon carriages in the middle of the track.

Running trains in motorway central reservations isn't going to work.  Most aren't wide enough for two trains to pass, and nobody wants a single-track line these days.  Motorways don't go through towns, they go around them.  So the train will have to peel away from the motorways to visit towns.  And every time a vehicle hits teh central reservation, you're going to have to cancel every train until a structural engineer has attended to assess the damage.  It's so much easier to run the line parallel to teh motorway.

Never forget the KISS principle.
3421 Posts
perhaps you want the opposite - trains you can park your car on while it moves much faster than 70mph, and perhaps gets charged at the same time too.
So the government has approved a £106bn ++++ cost plus 'whatever it costs' historical railway project that hasn't yet set its ticket rates, does know its engineering costs, therefore, has no idea if it will ever be cost effective, whilst delivering 20 year out of date railway technology whilst the world moves today to future mass mobility technology such as mono-rail, hyper loop, maglev and the UK gets burned with unreliable trains that will still be delayed by the wrong leaves, snow, rain, sunshine on the lines. Completely bonkers.
I didn't say run trains 'in' central reservations, I said run trains 'above' central reservations and 'over' motorways on raised modern rail track systems for maglev, hyperloop, etc. Trains running between motorways works extremely well in the USA - just go to Washington, etc. I'm also saying run semi-autonomous train pod convoys, like the proposed autonomous road haulage convoys, and 'build' trains in realtime based on demand to each destination - AI using ticketing data could do this easily. Train pods can be stored, added and removed, anywhere along the route in 'raised shunting yards'. The aim of HS2 is not to have too many stops to cut down journey time, so only needs to follow motorways between cities and then into and out of the few cities en route.

Think exponentially what is required 10 years, 20, 30 years ahead in a changed more sustainable world, not replicate the inefficient rail system with just slightly faster and more expensive to what we have today.

If today's train commuter is not clever enough to get in the right pod that has big destination signage all over it, and probably by then has nano-GPS route guidance to the pre-booked pod seat on a personal IoT/AI smart device, they really shouldn't be let out to travel on their own.

If we had taken your proposed KISS way forward last century, we would not be using recyclable rockets, having commercial space journeys to the Space station let alone have a space station, gone to the moon, gone supersonic, have electric and hydrogen vehicles, or even be communicating as we are today. 

More Arthur C Clark attitude and vision required I suggest.
Fully support that - seems to work well in France, for Eurotunnel, et al and would be a far better solution than the 20th century thinking and solution that HS2 is. 
Andy Millar
1734 Posts
Maurice Dixon:
If today's train commuter is not clever enough to get in the right pod that has big destination signage all over it, and probably by then has nano-GPS route guidance to the pre-booked pod seat on a personal IoT/AI smart device, they really shouldn't be let out to travel on their own.

I'm a Chartered Engineer, Chartered Manager, occasional member of Mensa, and have 27 years' experience of working in the rail industry. I've also been known to get on the wrong train. Fortunately due to lock down I'm not travelling anywhere at the moment - but I will remember when I start again to find someone cleverer than me to help!

Sorry to be facetious (well, a bit sorry, that was quite fun typing that), but there's a very serious point here - as engineers we are very good at designing transportation systems which we understand (because we designed them), but which do not consider the harassed commuter or the visitor. (Although I haven't lived in London for over 35 years, I still find when I am up there that I'm regularly helping lost people on their first visit to navigate the Underground - which is actually relatively well signed.) One of the two reasons Apple became successful was because they realised that other computer interfaces were designed by engineers who believed that if the user wasn't clever enough to use the computer interface then they shouldn't be using it. Whereas the Apple approach was assume the user was too busy wanting to do other things to want to try to work out the interface. (The other reason they were successful was similar, to realise that users want their computers to just work, whatever software they loaded onto them or hardware they plugged into them. Incidentally I'm writing this on a PC - there's a third issue which is that improvements in technology also need to be affordable...) It's bringing the two ideas in this thread together - use advances in technology to make it even simpler.

Over the last few years myself and a colleague have been working together to help a wide range of innovation projects enter the rail industry. But it's interesting that the time I remember us being most impressed - we both looked at each other and said "that's really good" - was when we bought a ticket for the Oslo Metro at a rather remote station. Quite apart from the fact that it only quoted us one fare, the clever bit was that as it printed the ticket it displayed on a screen the platform number, the time of the next train, and I think (I may have misremembered this bit) even displayed an arrow showing us which way to go. That was solving the actual problem faced by all travellers who don't use the same route every day.

As usual, I'll keep out of the discussion on HS2 but watch with interest...





3421 Posts
not sure about Arthur C Clark, what we will get will be more like Colin Kapp I suspect.
( for those who are not sure)
The Railways Up on Cannis is is a particularly apt episode, where the trains end up with rollers as there are too many existing but  incompatible track width standards that all have to be met.
Hi Andy, mea culpa if my comment was taken as a pointed comment at yourself, not intended. 

The point you illustrate in the Swedish ticketing scenario is exactly what I believe HS2 is missing in its thinking today, with little exponential thinking about mass transport tomorrow. We have systems like following coloured lines in hospitals to different wards, pulsing lights and using smart phones within buildings from reception to the room you are visiting in smart buildings linked to your GPS location position and destination (indoor way finding), etc. The main problem is that the HS2 solution to a 20th Century train solution was immediately decided to be another 20th Century train solution based on yesterday's technology and approaches.

The UK seems pathologically adverse to scanning globally for best practice and using exemplars from foreign countries on how to do things better, smarter, more cost effectively and with spiral evolution to future proof in its DNA concept and design. A British Empire and historic hubris that is holding us back - the entrepreneurial and innovation spirit has been dimmed for many reasons. 

As we move out of Covid-19 we have a real opportunity to frog leap conventional thinking and use a paradigm shift in thinking and future systems approach to provide a more sustainable, resilient and innovative clean tech era that moves us into 21st Century mass mobility solutions.
Sounds about right, Heath Robinson compromises.
Simon Barker
865 Posts
My point is that people love coming up with clever over-complicated solutions, when there is a simple well-known solution.  The most cost-effective solution to a problem is the one to go for.

The clever solution is more risky, will probably end up costing more.  Building railway lines above motorways will involve a massive disruption to the motorway network while it is being done. It will require huge engineering works to build something strong enough to hold two trains passing.  Bridges over the motorway would have to be knocked down and rebuilt higher.  Motorway bridges over other things, such as rivers, will have to be knocked down and built stronger.
Elevated railways are already being done/planned in other countries.

Self-supporting, modular, elevated rail systems are far more efficient due to multiple usage of land, create minimal reduction in urban, rural and agricultural land use, less risk from railway crossings, less disruptive in construction, etc.

Minimal disruption, maximum construction speed, scale, consistent quality and repeatability, least environmental destruction, and standardised construction using modular construction techniques.

The Department for Transport says the project will cut Birmingham to London journey times from one hour 21 minutes to 52 minutes (a saving of 30 mins in ideal situations) with Phase 1 by 2031. Will this really happen on time and budget and is this a significant change to business and travel between London and the Midlands? Covid-19 has shown there will be a big shift to on-line meetings, virtual team working, cyber-collaboration, 3D Virtual Reality/AI immersed meetings, virtual conferences and seminars where your avatar will be able to walk around a virtual meeting/conference centre, meet people, interact in cyber-booths, etc, requiring far less face-to-face meetings, and thus far less long distance travel? HS2 Phase 2 to Leeds and Manchester by 2040 when the world will have changed two or three cycles by then given the pace of change of technology. 20 years ago in 2000 we didn't have smart phones, on-line streaming, 3D VR helmets, reusable rockets, Uber, Lyft, Air BNB, 4G, personal medical and fitness devices, wearable technology, tele-medicine, etc, on-line collaboration, social media, personal GPS services, multiple satellite services. Imagine what we will have by 2030 and then 2040 and you will only be able to come uo with say 10% of what will be designed and used day-to-day! The world will have rapidly moved on and past conventional rail travel as we know it today, and well before a HS2-lite version eventually gets to Birmingham by 2035 (earliest if ever) at £150bn+.

The new railway line running between London and the West Midlands would carry 400m-long (1,300ft) trains with as many as 1,100 seats per train - whether fully booked or empty - waste of resources using standard sized trains for all demand scenarios: 0 passengers to overcrowded.

Lets shunt ourselves into the third decade of the 21st Century and be forward looking, innovative and world leading in sustainable railway/mass mobility, and develop technology we can globally export to other countries also grappling with future mass transit rail systems.

U-turn spinning top on Covid-19 policies, U-turn on BREXIT border checks and other issues, U-turn on Huawei, U-turn on the golden era of trade with China - I wouldn't be surprised given the pressure on national coffers during Covid-19 to see a Boris U-turn on HS2 as it is today by the summer.

Repayment of £100bn+ spent to keep the country afloat with wages/salaries/business loans/PPE, or >£106bn - £200bn over 10-30 years for a short stretch (relative) of conventional, yesterday technology, railway to save 30 mins (at best with no problems on the journey) travelling between London and Birmingham when the whole way we will be living and working is changing around us as we speak. I support Option A, the one that is better taxpayer value for money to future proof us and make us more resilient as a nation, over a legacy project first proposed in 2009 and that wouldn't deliver until 2040 at the earliest, if at all.
HS2 will ultimately succeed, but is being delivered too slowly and by the time it is delivered will be out of date, yes it will overrun in terms of budget and delivery!
Why do I say this, currently in China where motorways and trains run on elevated sections, including stations, and this seems to work very well, and the speed of these trains is now 350 kph, the service is very good. If the train is full, you cant buy a ticket either!
Lots of focus on saving 30 minutes, but this is the first section, London to Scotland should be significant.
143 Posts
I still think it has to be explained what the price of a ticket from Manchester to London will be , if people choose more zoom meetings for business and at 20p a minute any boss cutting down on the overheads will think a zoom call vs £300 for a day return will be better ??? 
Helios, that's why HS2 as is will fail, is a waste of money, and needs to be cancelled asap. How we do business, have meetings, need sustainable net zero energy and net zero environment impact, etc, will have changed for 2 decades before the first train leaves the station. 19th century solution to a 20th century problem not fit for the 21st century requirement.
Dave Perton
12 Posts
Well that drew an interesting range of responses. From the "It's a waste of money and should be cancelled", through "it's the wrong transport system", to general support.I am not expecting to challenge the entrenched views with any success. 

Personally I believe  transport systems will always find a market, ticket pricing will match market needs to create it. Although we are now working differently and I expect Zoom meetings will continue to be the new normal, they will not eliminate the need to travel. People also work while travelling and enjoy travelling.I know I do. Even if f the passenger numbers don't appear then at least we will have freight capacity to take diesel lorries of f the road. by the time it is ready pretty much all electricity will be renewables or nuclear.

We clearly currently do not have enough capacity on our rail system and this will make a big difference to that, although local infrastructure will also need to be improved and capacity added.

The same leap of faith is required that the Victorians took with the first railways, or digging the canals before that and I for one, support taking it, it is what British Engineers do best.
Andy C
26 Posts
Personally, I think they should have started by spending some of the billions on improving the loading gauge. As it is very few lines in this country were built to the Berne gauge and by upgrading certain lines (especially commuter lines) to this standard or better would allow significantly greater loadings (double decker carriages anyone?).
The main problem for your average voter is that HS2 is just about a line from London to Birmingham that saves 10 minutes. Both assumptions obviously completely wrong, but the government and industry have never properly managed to win the battle about what this project is. It hasn’t helped that HS2 and the government failed to adequately compensate businesses and households – had they much of the negative campaigning would have been quashed and they could have focused their attention to the details to optimise the design.

“Fast” speed is another issue. It has only now taken FOI requests and announcements from Stephenson to say that running trains at slower speeds actually costs more money as the reduction in construction costs (-4% v 300kmph lines [Stephenson] or -9% v 200kmph line [HS2 FOI] are outweighed by the loss in benefits of shorter journey times – it’s more than 10 years since this scheme started and this battle is still being fought by anti HS2 journalists and campaigners.

The biggest failing is connectivity. Network Rail’s early 2000s plan for a new line showed London to Glasgow but with a link via Manchester which would have begun to create fast regional connections. This is still not included in any HS2 plan, even using classic compatible trains. The realisation of this poor northern connectivity is beginning to be tackled as the Northern Powerhouse and northern mayors have had this poor connectivity dumped on their laps. Slowly connectivity is being corrected with plans for a through station at Manchester (and hopefully also Leeds) that allows for extended NPR and running to Scotland. HS2 should never have been regarded as London to somewhere; the benefits should always have been regional cities to other regional cities. Even the proposal by Weston Williamson:
for the NIC still lacks an adequate direct connection for future HS2 type trains from Manchester and Leeds to Glasgow (as the station box doesn’t provide this and then such a journey would go south via Manchester Airport), but it is an improvement over today’s plans. At some stage the government will realise that Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham are the keystones of this project and that through stations or provision for such links are absolutely essential.

In the end this project will succeed, but only after major errors have been corrected, hopefully before construction, or in the years ahead after people start using it and we realise that connections are not optimised for NPR or East West Rail, or for extended off network running to Scotland, or even SW to Bristol (some safeguarding provision for a 1 or 2 mile tunnel from Curzon St to SW Birmingham lines towards the SW should have been considered allowing any northern city fast HS2 journeys through/under Birmingham).

Fundamentally HS2 is a system and we are dependent on what trains run over the entire network to achieve the highest benefits. Tilting trains on the West Coast Main Line were always a compromise when they were first proposed in the 1960s, yet here we are 60 years later and who honestly believes that another £40bn will be spent on a new line from Leeds to Edinburgh or Manchester/Wigan to Glasgow. So the train selection is as much an essential part of this project as the line itself.

With the availability of the latest tilting trains from Alstom (Avelia Liberty for Amtrak) and the Talgo Avril (to which a tilt capability can be selected at procurement) then extended running to Scotland using classic compatible HS2 trains would allow HS2 speeds on the dedicated track and up to 300kmph for the Avelia in tilt mode and probably higher with the Avril. With upgrades to the WCML over the next few years for signalling and long passing places, these new trains now make the 1970-80’s plans for 155mph tilt speeds easily achievable north of Preston. Indeed, if there were brand new HSL north of Preston then these trains can operate to those higher speeds as on HS2. This is a compromise that is cheap. No bridges are burned by not selecting such trains (which are due to be decided upon in the autumn this year) and they offer full flexibility and maximum speeds from partial track upgrades, which also could form the basis of the strategy for the NPR upgrades and new lines.


Finally, if we were anything other the “Great” Britain & NI, with a long record of having governments destroying and failing to invest and follow through on our world leading technical ability, then I’d never have proposed HS2 in 2020. We’d have gone and worked with the German’s at Siemens and Thyssenkrupp and done what Japan and China are pushing ahead with – a core 500 to 600kmph maglev line. Essentially Siemens have given away their HSR and maglev technology to the Chinese who in the end will sell it all back to us as our governments’ failed to understand the future.


It is sad to say, but HS2 will be out of date 20 years after it opens, but we can still optimise it for “our” future with connectivity improvements and procurement of new 350kmph+ tilting trains.
Andy Millar
1734 Posts
"It hasn’t helped that HS2 and the government failed to adequately compensate businesses and households – had they much of the negative campaigning would have been quashed and they could have focused their attention to the details to optimise the design."

It's a bit more than that, there are two other very big issues which affect and concern people not on the route (and hence a much larger number of people):
  • Whether the HS2 money could have been better spent on other projects (rail or otherwise)
  • The environmental damage, in particular the loss of ancient woodlands. That may be thought of as a matter of compensation, but it isn't. When it's gone it's gone (at least in human lifetime measures). 
To persuade people that it's a good thing those two issues must be addressed.




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