Lessons from HS1

28 November, 2016

How often do we hear that we should learn from projects already implemented? In the case of HS2 of course, HS1 comes to mind.

The patient and wise might suggest that it is still too early to be definitive.  If the Paramount leisure park proceeds at Ebbsfleet, what currently looks a pretty dismal response to HS1 in regeneration terms might look rather different (as did Stratford before and after the decision to host the hugely successful 2012 Olympics there).

One clear lesson is to hand, however. We learned this key HS1 lesson from Jeremy Candfield – who has just retired after a distinguished career at DfT, then at Union Railways working on what became HS1, and then as head of the Railway Industry Association (RIA). When we asked Jeremy several years ago, when RIA was co-sponsoring Greengauge 21’s work on high-speed rail in Britain Fast Forward, if he believed there were any key lessons to be learned from the HS1 route planning process he said this:

“the important thing to do is to settle the fixed points – the ends of the route and the places where it connects with the existing railway. Then decisions about route alignment become much simpler”.

It is not clear that HS2 Ltd has followed this formula. Or perhaps it’s just that the planning process is subject to even more influences than was the case in the early 1990s when HS1’s route was settled. In any event, HS2’s connections to the existing railway are not yet settled.

The recently published HS2 Phase 2 report came with a commitment to examine systematically the provision of connections to the ‘classic’ rail network during 2017. This is to be welcomed. Currently once trains have joined the HS2 route travelling south, for example, there are no onward connections to the classic network planned anywhere (although the possible provision of a north-side connection to access Sheffield Midland would be an exception).

While it would have been better to look at the question of connections with the existing rail network sooner, later is better than never.

Also attending Jeremy Candfield’s farewell reception was Stephen Joseph CBE, head of Campaign for Better Transport. He and CBT’s predecessor organisation, Transport 2000 also deserve some credit for the ultimate acceptance and success of the HS1 route alignment (no noise nuisance complaints in operation, and no environmentalists protesting at construction sites). With some foresight, T2000 commissioned work into this question, and the report, entitled “Right tracks to Europe” argued strongly for high-speed rail alignments to be built in existing transport corridors. In practice, this is what HS1 did – following the M20, M2 and A13 road corridors (as well as existing railway lines) where possible. And in some cases, the HS2 alignments – especially in Phase 2 – follow this approach.

Greengauge 21 has not engaged in questions of alignment choice in the past and doesn’t intend to start doing so now. But in our mind high-speed rail in Britain should not end with HS2, and we pass on these observations on key factors affecting route alignment choices for future developments.

And we wish Jeremy Candfield a very happy retirement.