UK: Calls for HS2 to be Halted After Expert Report Labels it “Unsafe”

Image courtesy of HS2 Ltd.

A report commissioned by HS2, which was discovered by The Telegraph, has found that the planned high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham would be unviable with the speeds and track construction as currently planned, and that running the train at the speeds proposed by HS2 Ltd. would “threaten the stability and safety of the train”.

The research was carried out by Professor Peter Woodward, Atkins Professor of High Speed Railways at Heriot Watt University and a leading expert in railway geo-engineering. It was labelled as “official-sensitive”, meaning that it was effectively classified because “inappropriate access could have damaging consequences”.

The research has found that the soil quality on much of the proposed route would not sustain the top speeds of 400km/h without creating structural instability along the line. The fastest trains in Europe (France’s TGV) travel no faster than 320km/h, over soil of better quality than that found on the proposed HS2 route.

In order to ensure the stability and safety of the line, works would have to be undertaken to inject concrete beneath the rails, thus raising the cost of the line significantly. It is already expected to be the most expensive railway line in the world. This measure would also significantly increase noise emissions and ground vibration. A second, and more logical and cost-effective option, would be to have the trains run at slower speeds, which would negate the purpose of the line altogether.

The HS2 high-speed line is unpopular with many Britons from across the political spectrum. UKIPs Transport Spokesman Jill Seymour has called for a halt to the plans until a comprehensive study has been carried out, citing spiralling costs and “organisational shambles”. A poll taken by The Telegraph found that 67% of respondents were against the line, other polls put public opinion at up to 91% against.

The research comes amid a barrage of bad press. A 2013 National Audit Office report found that the benefits to the national economy are far from certain, and a second study currently being undertaken will examine the continuously rising costs, which now stand at around £51billion. A Cabinet Office review will also be released at the same time as that report. With 1,300 staff already employed, and many of them refusing to relocate to the new HS2 headquarters in Birmingham (and therefore commuting and further clogging up the rail network which HS2 was designed to ease), HS2 Ltd. has been called by some a beast too big to manage.

The HS2 Bill is currently being scrutinised by the House of Commons, and was hoped to be passed through the Lords by the end of this year. However, this is considered by many to be increasingly unlikely. The House of Lords has blocked a number of legislative measures from this Conservative Government already, and this could be another. The announcement of a private consortium selected to manage the project has been put off for a second week amid negative press, and since there has been little let-up of criticism for the line, it may be that the announcement will be put off again.

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