High speed rail, biofuels, and a manned space-flight retrospective

Jason Ford

News Editor

This Friday sees the government closing its consultation on the route of HS2, the high-speed rail line designed to cut journey times between London and Birmingham to 49 minutes by 2026, with work expected to begin in 2016.

Under existing plans London’s Euston station would be redeveloped and a new hub built at Old Oak Common, west London, for separate branches to Heathrow and the ’High Speed One’ Channel Tunnel Rail Link, although the airport will be directly linked if the government responds to calls to move the route further west away from the Chilterns.

In the longer term two more lines are planned north of Birmingham: one serving Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh; the other calling at Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle.

Steven Hayter, chair of ICE’s High Speed Rail working group said last week that while the HS2 proposals open up significant economic opportunities and present ‘good value for money’, the business case must continue to be reviewed as the proposals develop.

Additionally he urged government to ensure the UK wide benefits are realised, by committing to the full ‘Y’ shaped route extending to Leeds and Manchester and by giving consideration to future extensions to other key UK cities.

In a statement, ICE also called on the government to ensure that thought is given to the route’s connection points to the existing network and the costs involved in providing extra capacity at terminals.

In particular, how the London Underground lines will cope with the estimated 80,000 additional passengers, each day, that HS2 will bring into Euston station and whether the proposed single track route linking HS1 and HS2, set to operate in the same corridor as the North London line, could cause further congestion to that commuter service and potentially cause delays to HS2 services.

Still with transport and news that Thomson Airways is set to operate the UK’s first sustainable biofuel flight from Birmingham to Palma in Mallorca this Thursday, subject to testing and safety clearance.

The biofuel being used will be a blend of Jet A1 fuel and hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) fuel.

Germany’s DLR recently announced that Lufthansa has started using biofuels on its regular scheduled flights as part of a €6.6m project.

Six months of testing began on July 15 with the airline using the fuel in an Airbus A321 on flights between Hamburg and Frankfurt.

One of the engines will run on an equal mixture of regular fuel and biosynthetic kerosene and the airline estimates the biofuel will reduce CO2 emissions by up to 1,500 tonnes.

Lufthansa says the biosynthetic kerosene is derived from pure biomass (biomass to liquids – BtL) and consists of jatropha, camelina and animal fats.

Tuesday sees the publication of BP’s second quarter results, which a year ago saw the company announce a loss of £17bn following the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

This will be followed on Wednesday with the delivery of the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team report. The team were tasked with developing conclusions and recommendations from the 20 April 2010 oil platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 and led to America’s largest ever environmental disaster, with up to 208 million gallons of oil spilling into the sea.

The leak was capped on July 15 and declared ’effectively dead’ on September 19.

Recommendations will be forwarded to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Since the disaster, the technical group of the UK’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (OSPRAG) has overseen the development of the OSPRAG capping device which will be a key element of the UK’s oil spill response contingency plans. The cap is now rated for deployment in water depths up to 10,000ft on wells flowing up to 75,000 barrels per day at 15,000 psi.

It might be Monday morning but Briefing is already looking forward to some free time and a visit to a new exhibition that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight.

“Gagarin in Britain” is a free exhibition hosted at the British Council and runs from July 19 to September 13.

According to the event’s publicity material, the exhibition will showcase items from the Vostokmanned space programme including the first space suit – SK-1, including the padded inner lining, blue rubberised pressure-suit and outer orange layer; and an ejector seat of the model used by Gagarin.

These exhibits are accompanied by Soviet posters from the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics; a film made by Roscosmos showing original footage of the early training programme and the 1961 launch itself; a model of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite in the world, launched in October 1957; space food; and one of the earliest dog space suits.

Tours of the exhibition are scheduled from 4pm to 5pm every Tuesday and Friday.