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On the rails, in the wind and out of the lab

In terms of rail, what do Spain, France and Germany have in common? The answer is that they have 5,465km of high-speed rail network between them, with a further 2,127km under construction.

By comparison, the UK has 113km of high-speed rail capability operating between London to Kent and the Channel Tunnel but that is set to change with the construction of High-Speed 2 (HS2) between London and Birmingham and further spurs north to Leeds and Manchester, the details of which were announced today.

David Cameron argues that HS2 will secure economic prosperity across Britain, rebalance the economy and support tens of thousands of jobs, whilst others state it will improve journey times between major cities, plus increase passenger and freight capacity.

The latter is most pronounced on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) with David Higgins, chief executive of Network Rail arguing that the UK’s ‘busiest and most economically important line’ will be full in a little over a decade.

In a statement he said, ‘This is a rare chance to stop playing catch-up on capacity. If we get ahead of the game we can create huge opportunities for growth and connectivity.

‘HS2 could be that rarest of things – a genuine game-changer for the railway. It can transform long distance travel, improve daily commutes on existing lines and create space on the network for passengers and freight to transfer from congested roads to an expanded railway.’

Furthermore, the Department for Transport believes HS2 will deliver £2 of benefit for every £1 spent on it before the wider economic benefits are calculated.

Andy Street, chair of the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership believes HS2 presents an opportunity to create a new industry in Greater Birmingham, using the area’s strength as an advanced manufacturing centre to attract the jobs associated with the project to the region.

Preferred routes from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, totalling 211 miles, include the proposed locations of five new stations:

  • Manchester, located in the city centre alongside the existing station at Piccadilly
  • Manchester Airport, a new interchange station alongside the M56, between Warburton Green and Davenport Green
  • East Midlands, at Toton between Nottingham and Derby, and one mile off the M1
  • Sheffield, at Meadowhall, connected to the city centre station by a 5-minute rail link
  • Leeds, at New Lane, in the South Bank area of the city centre, connected to the current main station by a walkway

The HS2 Phase Two Command Paper can be found here.

In May 2012 Andrew McNaughton, technical director, HS2 Ltd spoke to The Engineer’s Stuart Nathan, arguing that the line will become a vital part of Britain’s infrastructure. Click here to read the article.

Energy infrastructure is high on the agenda in Scotland, which this week hosts the Offshore Wind and Supply Chain Conference.

Scottish Renewables has released figures ahead of the event that claim investment levels in offshore wind have reached £165m.

Of this figure, £65m was invested in 2012 and the total is said to represent all contracts awarded by developers with Scottish companies in advance of any consents being awarded to their projects.

According to Lindsay Leask, senior policy manager for Offshore Renewables at Scottish Renewables, most of the current investment has been made in research, including environmental surveys, technical engineering surveys and project demonstration.

‘However, this flow of private finance is also generating huge opportunities for the supply chain, and once consents for projects are granted this will both motivate new entrants and strengthen those existing companies who are already reaping the benefit of diversifying into this emerging sector,’ Leask said.

Scotland’s renewables represent 5.4GW in installed capacity with a further 4GW in the planning system.

Offshore Wind and Supply Chain Conference is a free event taking place in Aberdeen on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

The event’s organisers say delegates will be able to learn about the ‘key issues crucial to the industry’s success, including cost reduction, electricity market reform, international market opportunities for the supply chain and innovation.’

Britain might be forging ahead with key infrastructure schemes but the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) today cautions that long-term plans are required to maintain the nation’s global reputation for innovation.

The warning comes as the Big Innovation Centre publishes ‘Catapult to Success: Be Ambitious, Bold and Enterprising’, a report that aims to establish what the UK’s Catapult centres should look like by reviewing examples from Europe.

Overseen by the Technology Strategy Board, Catapults can be defined simply as a network of seven technology and innovation centres designed to help businesses thrive with the help of independent experts. 

Prof Andy Hopper CBE, president of the IET says the Catapult centres are set to receive over £1bn in investment in the coming years but warns that their success will depend on attracting exceptional talent and being able to ‘develop a symbiotic relationship between academic research and those working in the field.’

‘Whilst this initiative is to be lauded, I urge the government to ensure this is part of a consistent long term approach to ensure we boost innovation and get the UK back on its feet,’ said Prof Hopper.

Finally, while Ferrari, McLaren and Sahara Force India prepare to unveil their new F1 cars this week the motorsport engineers of tomorrow are already readying themselves to take part in the world’s largest student motorsport event

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has announced the preliminary line-up for Formula Student 2013 with teams from Australia, Nigeria, Ukraine, Pakistan and Turkey making up the 149 selected for this year’s competition, including 54 from the UK, 11 from India and the first ever entry from Oman.

Formula Student 2012 winners Chalmers University of Technology from Sweden, and Oxford Brookes University, who designed and built 2012’s seventh placed car, are returning to compete in July.

Formula Student, which takes place in Silverstone on 4-7 July, requires student engineers to design and build a single seat racing car in one year. The cars are then judged on their speed, acceleration, handling and endurance in a series of time-trial races. Teams themselves are tested on their design, costing and business presentation skills.

Readers' comments (22)

  • I'm not against high-speed train links, I was just expecting something more Hi-Tec for £30 Billion. Which will be nearer £50 Billion by the time the first train rattles down the tracks in 20yrs time.

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  • It is a fact of history that the Victorian railway expansion fuelled growth and prosperity by transporting raw materials to factories and goods to market. However, I cannot see that transporting a minority of people a few minutes faster will have the slightest effect. Do we really expect that in 20 years more people will need to travel about to business meetings or will we all be teleconferencing? I suspect the latter. The whole HS2 project is poorly thought out and looks very much like a "me too" vanity project desperately looking for some justification. The fact that other countries have it is no reason to assume that we must have it too - like some membership card to an elite club of nations.

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  • May we suggest that you take a look at our interview with the technical director of HS2, Andrew McNaughton. He explains well why the project is about more than transporting a minority of people a few minutes faster - it's about freeing up capacity on the rest of the transport network.

  • The prediction that we will need greater capacity in 20 years time defeats me just as much as the "monetary value of time saved" argument or any other economic argument for HS2 for that matter. Better communications technology is reducing the need for travel (especially business travel) rather than increasing it. The green argument is also flawed. Surely the days of throwing big pots of public money and extra energy consumption so that we can travel faster have long passed. It is pretty basic physics that means the faster you go the more energy you consume per passenger mile so why the obsession with 400kph. I am all for investment in rail infrastructure but let's have better local infrastructure so more people can travel to work or go shopping by train. The HS2 arguments, whether time or capacity, seem to be all about long distance travel and only a very small proportion of us do that on a regular basis

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  • But HS2 could increase capacity on local and commuter trains (see previous comment).

  • Maybe I'm just a simpleton but how many people currently clogging up capacity on local trains are going to be displaced onto the new HS2 with it's very few stations? They just want to get from home to work maybe 20 miles away. Our politicians are very fond of grand, loosely-worded, soundbites which don't stand up to logical scrutiny. HS2 may take away some road travel but not if I have to drive 50 miles to the nearest station. It may displace some domestic air travel (so as to free up more landing slots for international flights at Heathrow) but that argument is marginal at best. It simply sounds like something we "want" to be part of the club of "already haves" and we are struggling to find a real "need". As an engineer I find the prospect of high speed rail exciting but I simply can't see a convincing argument to do it

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  • Perhaps by a fraction of the overall cost of building HS2 the existing lines could be made more efficient if the were interconnected, rather than just running parallel to each other, and with more branches. As it is, train routes in Bucks., for instance, require that passengers to go to London first for any destination outside the Chilterns Railway service. Rail and bus services could be combined in a better grid, rather than competing with each other.

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    How does building a 200-mile-long advertisement for German engineering and high-technology expertise benefit the UK's economy and global reputation??

    Why are no efforts being made by the UK govt to facilitate the establishment (within the UK ) of (design, engineering and manufacturing) joint ventures between one or more of the UK's few remaining world-beating companies- such as BAE* or Rolls-Royce - and a proven-as-capable overseas rail and public transportation firm such as Japan's Hitachi or Kawasaki??

    Why isn't the UK doing like Russia** has with its recently completed- and planned- high-speed 1520 mm-wide rail lines and insisting that the rail gauge (width) of the UK's HS2 tracks will be a British high-speed rail gauge- not the same gauge as high-speed rail track used in France, Spain, Germany (1435 mm) ??

    In terms of long-term industrial strategies, the establishment of facilities in the UK to assemble new trains/rail-related hardware for the country is less than 1/2 of what industry leaders and govt officials ought to be aiming for…

    The creation of a self-sustaining rail technology (and public-transport) research and development AND DESIGN & MANUFACTURING base in the UK is needed just as much....

    It could only make constructive sense for some of this fiscal year's spending- perhaps collaboratively with overseas mega-corporations' contributions- to be put towards the establishment of a public/rail transport R & D technology centre/campus in the UK... if necessary with the UK govt as a temporary minor shareholder in the venture....

    Such a centre/campus comprising significant representation from a world-class rail technology leader such as Hitachi- -

    ... along with a leading UK firm that has cutting-edge complimentary technology expertise- such as Rolls-Royce- perhaps co-financed by one of China's and/or the Middle East's Sovereign Wealth funds would be one way of providing the new centre/campus with automatic positive world-recognition...

    As part of a UK Centre Of Excellence For Public Transport venture, participating companies could be charged with developing and marketing world-wide British models/brands of high-speed trains (+ other commercial-goods & people-mover train types) along with developing high-speed (and slower speed) rail 'track' and signalling components...

    A top table, internationally respected UK firm like a Rolls-Royce, BAE, or VT paired with an effervescent and competent international partner such as Hitachi or Kawasaki (& Bombardier??)- and their renowned R & D resources- would immeasurably strengthen the viability and export-related potential of a UK based "World Centre Of Excellence" for public transport technology and its research & development programmes.....

    In its current unambitously planned, puerile format, HS2 will do far more for other countries' economies and reputations than the United Kingdom's and in the long term will irreparably damage the UK's sovereignty and UK plc !!!

    Roderick V. Louis


    ** -page #3 - page #10

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  • UK PM says*-

    "...I think it's vital for Britain if we're going to succeed in the global race... Yes, these are difficult economic times but I think that's precisely the time you should be planning for the future, working out how we link up the cities of our country, how reduce journey times, how we spread our wealth and prosperity around the country.... "

    Last time I checked, the country that identifies itself as the United Kingdom was comprised of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland...

    Why then is HS2 not planned to be routed through ALL of the UK's component states... and not just England???

    In its current unambitously planned, puerile format, HS2 will do far more for other countries' economies and reputations than the United Kingdom's and in the long term will irreparably damage the UK's sovereignty and UK plc !!!

    Roderick V. Louis
    Vancouver, BC, Canada


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  • HS1 was a French contract built to European standards.
    HS2 will be similarly built to conform to European plans for expansion, communication, trade. This will include European trains, including freight to the big marshalling yard in Leicestershire. Let's make sure it is a level playing field. We need to have car trains like we used to do, etc.

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  • Hasnt the government already 'lost 40 million (or billion i cant remember) on this project before even starting? Encouraging. Maybe they will recoup this in extortionate fares, which of course people will pay. I use a car wherever possible because train travel is already ridiculously overpriced.

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  • In the interview my memory is that it was accepted that money would only be made if the service was full. Yet it cost a lot, and the green thing to do nowadays is to telecommute. Tickets will be extortionate. So to me it seems set up to be a disaster - no margin and a lot of big assumptions. I'm sure there are much better investments such as better internet connections for the whole country (which don't need railway lines to run along). No real attempt has been made to explain the benefits. It all has the smell of 'you wouldn't understand' or 'it's obvious' or "here's an explanation that doesn't really explain." In other words: typical management bullshit.

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