It has been heralded as the first stage in the development of a competitive rail network at the intersection between Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
High aims indeed, as the UIC welcomed the introduction of high-speed rail travel in Turkey.
The line in Turkey does illustrate the now international acceptance of high-speed rail as “a high quality product”, as Ignacio Barron, director of high speed at UIC, the International Union of Railways, says.
The Turkish example, which has seen the opening of 197km of new track between Eskisehir and Esenkent, is part of work on a 533km-long high-speed line, which will connect the two main cities of Turkey, Istanbul and Ankara. Once the Eskisehir to Istanbul section is completed, in 30 months’ time, the journey time between Ankara and Istanbul will be reduced from between six and seven hours to just over three.
It is similarly quick journey times that the recent announcement of the case for new high-speed lines in Britain envisoned. The report, by Network Rail, outlined plans for a new 200mph high-speed line from London to the Midlands, the North West and Scotland, halving travel time to Edinburgh and Glasgow to just over two hours, as the best option for new lines, generating almost £55bn of value with a capital construction cost of £34bn.
This, Network Rail’s chief executive Iain Coucher said, could “transform Britain”.
He added: “It can promote economic growth, regeneration and social inclusion. It is a low carbon option – cutting domestic flights and taking cars and lorries off the road. It will release capacity on the existing rail network and revolutionise passenger journeys.
“Demand for rail travel is growing and our main lines from the north to London are nearly full. By 2020 we will be turning away passengers – that’s not what we want. We need to start the planning now to meet future demand and the solution is a new high-speed railway to the Midlands, the North West and Scotland. The line has a sound business case that will pay for itself.” The move worldwide towards high-speed rail is fuelled by issues of both sustainability and capacity, Barron says. “The reason for the development of high speed is the sensitivity of everybody to the environmental issues, and taking into account the capacity of track.
“It is a very good alternative to motorways and airplanes which are more polluting and less environmentally friendly. This is a very good opportunity not only for railways but also for society because railways can satisfy the need for transportation.” Across the world, however, Barron says that high-speed rail is “equal yet completely different”.
“It is very difficult to compare high-speed rail in Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan because it has a lot of characteristics,” Barron argues. However, he says: “There are some similarities between Britain and Germany in terms of density of population. Both places have very highly populated areas, and this is a challenge for high-speed rail engineers because you have to make space, which is an important cost.” He also highlights the need for the detail of the service to be planned, as well as the engineering of the line. “Normally, everybody builds a high-speed line and then everything turns around it, but what is important is a highspeed service. It is necessary to start at the end of the project, at the final product to be offered to passengers, and from this you build the line and define the characteristics. I think this is the way in which British planners and engineers are making plans for high speed.” This characteristic also leads into the need to carefully examine where the stations go. In a recent article, headlined “Britain braced for the great train rumpus”, The Scotsman asked whether “work on the £34bn project is likely to necessitate sweeping changes in Scotland’s two largest cities”.
Network Rail’s report states that: “The new city centre terminal stations in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh would be located close to the principal existing city centre stations allowing good access to where people want to be,” and Barron argues that “the stations’ siting are one of the most important elements in the high speed system”.
“It’s a very important characteristic: what are the possibilities in the big cites and how can high speed be connected with the classic network. Then you look at the points of view of the city centre [authorities] and the customers, because it’s important for them.” The importance of this is demonstrated, he added, by the move by Eurostar from Waterloo to St Pancras, which opened the service to more customers, a view shared by Richard Brown, the outgoing chief executive of Eurostar who told Holyrood in May 2008: “Traditionally, not unreasonably, we’ve been seen as a London and a south-east option, and as long as our base was south central London rather than north central London that was always going to be the case, frankly.” Barron argues that the line should plan for faster speeds. Network Rail’s plans for a 200 miles an hour line, which is about 321km an hour, but he says: “Planning for new high-speed infrastructure for Scotland at 450km an hour, I think, is completely realistic, completely necessary. It’s a question of the railway industry and the railway sector developing new technology, but there is the need to incorporate new technology, especially in the elements of the scheme which are long life. And it is also important to consider the environment in terms of energy reduction and noise reduction and so on; these are important technologies to incorporate.” The role of the UIC is, he adds: “To help any railways, in the UK or any other countries, to collect all the actors of high speed in the world to share experiences and to share knowledge in terms of the conception and the development of high speed.” Indeed, the international nature of the technology for high-speed rail is emphasised in the existing services, including in the new south-eastern domestic high-speed service between St Pancras and Ashford in Kent, Barron adds.
“In Britain, in the south east of England, you have established, in my opinion, a very nice example of global high-speed engineering, because on a British line made with French influences, [it] has a Japanese train operated by an international operator led by French and British [companies]. There is a real mix of nationalities, and I think it is a very good thing, and all this for a local service. I think this is a very nice example of cooperation.” The first challenge, though, “in a high-speed project is to be well adapted to the country”.
He concludes: “The high-speed line from London to Edinburgh may be in operation in 15 or 20 years, but these will still be there in 2120, so the challenge is to plan something for the city centres and also organise it for the whole country. It is a challenge, certainly, because it implies important implications on cost and on land, and I think it is a real chance to combine all the elements of the system in a really good way.”