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Rail High Speed Rail to the North

A TGV-style line would take advantage of Britain's linear geography by connecting major cities between London and Edinburgh/Glasgow with 220mph lines.


High speed rail has been a success in a number of countries, particularly France, Japan and Germany; routes also operate or are being constructed in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, the US, China and others.

"High speed" is internationally accepted to mean services running regularly at above 140mph (225km/h). In practice, trains can achieve up to 200mph (320km/h); the only true high-speed trains in Britain are Eurostar trains running between London and Paris or Brussels on the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link. These achieve 186mph (300km/h). In 2009, domestic services will be introduced between London and Kent, running at 140mph (225km/h).

A recent study by Atkins for the Department for Transport has shown that a north-south high speed line in the UK could generate benefit-cost ratios of between 1.4:1 and 3:1; these are extremely good returns on investment.

This high-speed line would be built with the capability for trains to run at 225mph (360km/h); the first generation of trains would probably run at 186mph (300km/h) as is European and Japanese current standard practice.

The DfT will now be conducting an extensive investigation into the feasibility of a core high-speed network linking London to the north.


Unfortunately the construction costs are likely to be huge; according to the Atkins report, they range between 9bn for a basic line linking London to Birmingham and Stafford using existing routes into the city centres, to 32bn for a generally fully-segregated network from London to both the West Midlands, Liverpool and Manchester on a westerley branch and the East Midlands, Yorkshire, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh on an easterly branch, with new city centre routes and stations.

Time savings

Journeys on a high speed network are likely to give significant reductions in journey time, bringing regions of the country much closer to each other.

For example, journey times from London to Birmingham would reduce by 25m to 55m; London to Manchester would be achieved in 1h20m, a reduction of nearly an hour, and London to Glasgow would reduce from 4h45m to 3h.

Choice of Route

Atkins investigated a range of options, illustrated below.

Map of proposed HSL options

The basic Section A links London and Heathrow Airport to Birmingham, with a further link on to the West Coast Main Line to allow high-speed trains to continue on the "classic" network to other destinations.

Further extensions of the high-speed line run to Liverpool and Manchester and from Manchester to Leeds. An alternative or additional option is to run a separate route from London to Leeds; this would have shorter journey times but would be more expensive and would not allow services between the West Midlands and the northeast.

Such services could be provided (as well as services from London) with section B, a branch from before Birmingham through the East Midlands to Leeds.

Further options take the high speed line onwards from Leeds to Newcastle and from Newcastle to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Goal scenario

Atkins' "Option 8" is one of their goal scenarios, achieving a proper high-speed network serving many major cities, with other services extending onto classic lines. This is illustrated below, including "added-value" stations additional to city centre stops. These stations increase the benefits of the network.

Schematic diagram of Option 8
Speculative alignments

The former Great Central from London Marylebone to Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield might be a key candidate for a high speed line since the alignment is already in place, reducing construction problems associated with a brand-new alignment. The western branch to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester could diverge from near Rugby.

Construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link has shown that the route of a high speed line can follow existing motorways to minimise environmental impacts, and would require tunnelling in hilly areas to avoid sharp gradients and curves, and would also need tunnelling in urban areas to reach city centres without using up scarce capacity on existing lines.

The Maglev option

The new DfT investigation into the high-speed network will also be considering magnetic levitation (maglev) technology, as currently developed by German company Transrapid. British company UK Ultraspeed are promoting a staged construction of a 500-mile maglev network linking London and Heathrow to Glasgow via Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

Maglev has a number of advantages over TGV (most notably speed, at 300mph/500kmh) which are discussed on the UK Ultraspeed website.

Disadvantages include an inability to interface completely with the conventional rail network or the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and the difficulty of penetrating city centres using new alignments, depending upon hub stations with links into the city.

For example, Ultraspeed's pre-feasibility route considers two branches at London - one from Heathrow and one from Stratford - converging at an M25 parkway station. Connections into central London would be made via Crossrail from Heathrow or Stratford. Similarly, at Edinburgh, connections would be made via Edinburgh Crossrail from maglev terminals at East Edinburgh and Edinburgh Airport.

It is important to note that this is a pre-feasibility base case only, and a full feasibility study would look at all possible routing options.


(newest first)
Double-decker high-speed line mooted
2007-06-20 13:44:21

The DfT is considering a high-speed line between London and Birmingham, with double-decker train services, amongst other possibilities for the future of railways.

Eddington report to abandon high-speed line
2006-08-29 07:52:53

The Eddington report into the future of transport in Britain is expected to favour smaller-scale investment in transport in Britain, including better railway links between the cities of northern England.

LCR plans high-speed line to north
2006-08-06 16:24:59

London & Continental Railways, the company building the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, are hoping to meet the government this autumn to promote the high speed railway to the north of England and Scotland. They believe that their project management of the CTRL, which is currently on time and budget, gives them the exporience necessary for the line which has already been mooted by the DfT.

Network Rail to propose high-speed line to ICE
2006-05-08 14:51:48

Network Rail deputy chief executive Ian Coucher is due to unveil proposals for a high-speed railway from London to Scotland roughly following the West Coast Main Line out of London towards the Midlands en route to Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Threefold boost for national high speed line
2005-12-16 13:06:52

Within the last two weeks, both the Institute of Civil Engineers and Eurostar have called for construction of a new high-speed rail link from London to the north of the country, whilst rumours say that the Treasury will support proposals for the railway when the Eddington report into the future of transport - which is very likely to suggest a high-speed line - is released next year.

Network Rail considering three high speed rail technologies
2005-11-06 16:49:03

Network Rail is examining options for the mooted high speed railway between London and the north, and is considering 150mph turbo-diesel technology as well as European-standard 186mph electric and the 270mph German maglev system.

Gordon Brown tries out Shanghai maglev
2005-02-25 08:19:06

During his visit to China, the chancellor, Gordon Brown, took a trip on the Shanghai airport maglev - not long after the DfT said it was considering maglev as one of a range of possible options for a new high-speed rail link between London and the north.

DfT considers maglev for high speed line to north
2005-02-20 17:14:34

The DfT has announced that it will be considering magnetic levitation technology (maglev), currently used to transport passengers between Shanghai and its airport, alongside TGV technology in its investigation into a high-speed link between London and the north. The announcement follows a presentation by company UK Ultraspeed at Downing Street.

Darling supports backbone high-speed line
2005-02-04 20:24:44

Contrary to his previous beliefs, Transport Secretary Alastair Darling has signalled his support for a backbone high-speed rail line between London, the West Midlands, Manchester, Leeds and the north. A new feasibility study will be carried out to update old proposals from the SRA. The study will be part of a review to determine how future demand will be catered for on the network.

High speed rail "should be built by 2016"
2004-10-29 08:01:20

According to The Times, the government tried to bury a report which said that the first section of a high-speed rail line from London to the North should be in place by 2016 to avoid massive overcrowding on the main intercity lines. Without extra capacity on the rail network, the report says that the motorway network will also become severely overcrowded and that train fares will have to rise to control demand.

Lib Dems call for high speed line to Scotland
2004-09-21 17:14:59

At the Liberal Democrat party conference, a transport strategy was passed which calls for a 12bn high speed rail line from London to Edinburgh via Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle. Transport spokesman John Thurso said that the line would deliver improvements for local and regional services too as capacity was freed up on conventional lines.

Prof Begg pushes high speed rail to avoid rail congestion
2004-03-09 13:23:23

Professor Begg, of the Commission for Integrated Transport, has renewed his calls for a high-speed backbone line to be constructed so that we can avoid critical congestion on the rail network in ten years' time.

Prof Begg supports planning of new high-speed network
2004-02-08 12:57:07

Professor David Begg, Chairman of the Integrated Transport Commission, has backed construction of a high-speed network, saying that government should start planning now since economic benefits could outweigh costs by three to one.

Links & Sources

  1. Department for Transport: Vision for a High Speed Line
  2. Commission for Integrated Transport: High Speed Rail fact sheet

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