While many have picked up on the Telegraph’s routinely trashy hatchet job on Richard Dawkins – another example of how the paper is in so many ways little more than a broadsheet Mail – the paper’s “London Editor” Andrew Gilligan has been allowed to contribute a piece of ostensibly proper journalism, on the HS2 project, one of his pet hates. It, too, is in reality a crude attack piece.
“High speed rail link ‘at risk of derailment’ because of 225mph trains” shrieks the shock horror headline, demonstrating the thoughtful and serious tone that Gilligan wishes to strike. And he appears to have a real University Professor to back up his headline, Peter Woodward, who he calls “one of the world’s leading experts on the geo-engineering of railways”.
Prof Woodward, who works at Heriot Watt University, does not make this claim himself – and Gilligan is in no position to judge, having not done any comparative study – but his bio does indeed give his subject area as “Railway Geotechnical Engineering”, and he has an impressive list of publications to his name, as well as his now patented work on polyurethane geocomposites.
But there is a problem with Gilligan’s citing of Prof Woodward: the Telegraph hack admits that the man from Heriot Watt “declined to answer questions about his work”. Yes, sadly, the Prof saw Gilligan coming. But he has done research on train/track interaction at higher speeds, and it is this that Gilligan has drawn upon to get his attention grabbing banner.
Woodward’s research considers the potential of derailment if trains reach a “critical track velocity”, but he does not say what this velocity might be (his research continues), which leaves the way clear for Gilligan to suggest that it could be less than 225mph. But there is a problem with this line of attack: trains have been run at far higher speeds without derailment, and for some years now.
Test runs on part of Japan’s Shinkansen network reached over 270mph in the 1990s, and the current speed record for railways, of just over 357mph, was recorded by an adapted French TGV set in 2007. No derailment occurred, although there was some throwing of ballast in the train’s wake. Moreover, as Gilligan admits, trains operate at 200mph in daily service.
And high speed lines in both France and Japan have an exemplary safety record going back decades. Prof Woodward’s research can only help HS2 – and other similar projects – take that excellent record forward. But instead, Gilligan, who has set his stall out to knock HS2, has tried to manipulate the facts to fit his agenda and frighten the readers.
Andrew Gilligan is a disgrace to journalism. No change there, then.