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Wednesday 9 November 2011

Phil Space On HS2

It started so promisingly: Daily Mail hack Michael Hanlon looked at the fall-out from the horrific accident on the M5 near Taunton last Friday and could only conclude that the idea of raising the motorway speed limit to 80mph was thereby shown to be less than A Good Idea. Sadly, any credibility Hanlon had in store was then sprayed up the wall yesterday with an appallingly uninformed piece on HS2.

Because the attack, “We must slow down this high speed rail project”, is mere formulaic knocking copy filled with misinformation. Hanlon demonstrates this at the outset when he tells that HS2’s time saving of 23 minutes for London to Birmingham is “One and a half billion pounds a minute”. But the cost he used (£32 billion) is for the whole “Y network” including Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

Moreover, his existing London to Birmingham fastest time of 72 minutes does not exist: the only train scheduled to do the journey this quickly runs the other way, from Birmingham to London (Hanlon’s “fastest trains” [plural] characterisation is therefore wrong; a more typical fastest time is 82 minutes). And to this has to be added a little journalistic exaggeration.

Trains to Devon and Cornwall dawdle along at velocities that would embarrass I K Brunel” pontificates Hanlon, who, had he bothered to inspect the National Rail journey planner, would have seen that the fastest trains [plural] from London to Plymouth average a shade over 75mph, a speed that Brunel would have been more than happy merely to achieve momentarily.

But, as the man said, there’s more: “Of course, the network really needs to be taken back into public hands” tells Hanlon, apparently unaware that the network, overseen as it is by Network Rail, is already in public hands. And as for “New signalling and some line upgrades would mean that many services currently restricted to 125mph could run at 140mph or more”, this too is bunk.

British Rail (remember them?) concluded that the maximum permissible speed with conventional signalling was 125 – after trials of 140mph running. To go faster would need adoption of cab signalling by any train using lines supposedly upgraded, as well as an appropriate train protection system. For mixed use lines, that would mean spending serious amounts of money.

And much of the rest of Hanlon’s piece is similarly muddled, so much so that it does not need any in-depth knowledge of the rail industry to see through it. This means that any attempt to damage the case for HS2 is likely to have exactly the opposite effect. But Hanlon does concede that “I would support HS2 if ... the plan was extended to ... Northern England”. Which it already has been.

So it was hardly worth Hanlon’s while turning up, then.

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