Monthly Archives: March 2014

Prospects for Direct Trains from Manchester to Paris with the postponed link between HS1 and HS2 in the Higgins Review

This week has seen some important statements about the proposed linkage between HS1 and HS2 linkage being scrapped, or at least postponed. I have been writing about a possible direct service between Manchester and Paris since 2007, and I consider the planned link to be important. However, we need to remind ourselves that we already have a link between HS1 and the West Coast Main Line.

I can understand why the Higgins review took the decision on removing the link from the first phase of the construction of HS2, and I would suggest the main factors are:

1. To maintain cross-party support for HS2 by removing a £700m element. This removal shows that fears about cost overruns are being taken seriously. The “no blank cheques” statement by the Labour Party was in fact a relief after a few worrying weeks where it looked like support for HS2 might be given up entirely as a public statement of strong future control of finances.

2. To extend the first phase of construction to Crewe. This is a massive reassurance to the north of England that the first phase of HS2 will not just be used to connect the Midlands to London and then stop. The worry is that any government will keep putting off starting the second leg to the north of Birmingham. The great logic of Crewe is that it isn’t too big a step nor too large a project to finish the lines to the north.

3. To reassure communities living around Euston that large-scale housing demolitions were not going to happen. While the impact of HS2 in rural areas receives a lot of coverage, the bulk of the housing upheaval actually could happen within London. The new track layout in and around Euston station is still unsettled, so discussions of a link to nearby St Pancras are premature. Crucially, it depends on two decisions: how much expensive tunnelling is done, and to what extent Euston becomes an East-West through-station rather than remaining only a North-South terminus.

So, while the removal of the link from the first phase of construction is symbolically disappointing, it is also understandable. It is not a show-stopper in terms of direct trains from Manchester through the Channel Tunnel to the continent of Europe. The published business case describes how such services could run now.

And extra time should allow for a better designed link. As Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, told Construction News (26 March 2014), “trying to get these high-speed trains to dicker over the existing tracks in north London and then join up with HS1 wasn’t the right way forward. HS1 and HS2 need to be joined in a tunnel and that will eventually happen. David [Higgins] was right to say that in the first phase, don’t do the HS1/2 link as it’s currently on the table, because there’s no point. It’s bad news for transport in London and it’s not the right scheme.”

HS2 won’t link to HS1 – north of England cut off from Channel Tunnel again – repeat of Regional Eurostar fiasco

The BBC is reporting that HS2 will not connect to HS1, depriving the north of England from direct trains through the Channel Tunnel.

20 years ago another Government did the very same thing, withdrawing the planned Regional Eurostar service. It sold the trains to France and Canada, and closed down the depots.

For the full timeline, see the last page of the document linked below. This report also shows that it is possible even today to link Manchester to Paris – all the technical details are there for any sceptics.

Download: Innovation in Manchester to Paris Overnight Rail with Existing Resources (PDF)

night trains manchester to paris 2012

A budget for construction, and disenchantment with current volume house builders

Today’s budget statement focused on construction, with an ambition to see a further 200,000 new homes being built.

But behind this number it seems there is a disenchantment with the volume house building firms. We see new money for Right to Build, to encourage public bodies to sell land at a market rate to self-builders. We also see a new fund to encourage more activity by SME builder-developers.

After all, Ebbsfleet in Kent is essentially the public sector giving a stutteringly slow rate of private sector house building a kick in the pants, to be blunt.

It has been noted that, on the European Continent, it is commonplace for people to directly pay a builder to create their bespoke house. Less understood is that a lot of these new homes are essentially chosen out of a catalogue, then delivered to site in modules direct from factories, and assembled to very high standards in just a few days by trained teams from the same factory. There was a rare example of this shown in the UK some years ago on the Grand Designs TV programme, where the new home and team came on lorries from Germany.

Frankly, until we get comfortable with offsite manufacturing of modules and panels, and with integrated manufacturing and assembling, then self-builders, or rather self-developers, in the UK will remain a minority hobby. The first firm to achieve this at scale will boost UK manufacturing as well as construction, and the first conurbation to assemble this new economic cluster will steal a march on others areas.

Any takers?

Back from our travels

We’re now back from 8 weeks in Tenerife, avoiding the worst of the severe strains of the UK winter. We added to our enjoyment with Spanish classes on the terrace, taught by a young Russian woman in a small class including Germans, Austrians, Dutch and Finns. As usual, we stayed at Mar y Sol in Los Cristianos and met up with many friends from previous visits, both staff and guests.

One of the highlights was having a haiku (poem) retweeted by Jack Munroe – *fame*. It received a large number of views via LinkedIn as well. What is new is how most people come to the blog via Twitter. The second most common route to the blog is via search engines, and dear old LinkedIn is dropping to third.

The next book is 14k words in, and I am now being followed by the EU Commissioner for the Regions and by BIS in the UK. As ever, in the blogs I am following a professional line of being honest and ethical while not breaking confidences. Recent topics included reducing carbon emissions and on housing economics.

However, the most read blog so far this year is on press reports of rumours that the planned connection between HS2 and HS1 will be axed. This relates to one of my dear lost causes – promoting the idea of an overnight train between Manchester and Paris. One day… 🙂

Happy March everyone.