High Speed Rail to Scotland

The High Speed Scotland Summary Report was published  by Transport Scotland the other week together with HS2’s broad options study to the Scotland.

I rather think we’ve been waiting on the content from HS2 rather than from the Scottish perspective.

We know HS2 is getting as far as Crewe on the West Coast route with a link North. There’s meant to be Classic Compatable High Speed Trains that will run off the HS line onto conventional lines but when they do, they won’t be any faster than the current Pendolinos and won’t have the tilting ability on curved sections and the ability to run a little faster with tilt differentials.

The hills and routing north doesn’t make matters easy either, as there’s a need to thread through, possibly on a similar alignment.

National Parks and other features narrow the options too.

And then there’s hills..

So far, you can see the difficulty and the restriction, routes would probably need to follow the existing corridors, there’s not an easy option, although the HS2 information makes an east coast routing a viable alternative.

There’s some innovation in this. But HS2 were asked by both Governments to identify a three hour routing to both Edinburgh and Glasgow at a lower cost.

So, a west coast route and then to the two main cities?

Transport Scotland have looked in detail and options are there, to connect or otherwise with HS2 from the south.

Alternative Routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

But, there’s a number of existing ways between Glasgow and Edinburgh, with the EGIP Mainline ‘via Falkirk’ route being electrified and having major works, including the Queen Street Tunnel Closure. The North Clyde Line route via Airdrie and Bathgate is electrified but, is generally a slower stopping service.

There’s a route via Shotts that’s subject to an electrification project and should be wired by 2019. There’s also a proposal announced under the ‘rail revolution’ package for a service between Edinburgh and Glasgow via Cumbernauld, Stepps and Gartcosh, the announcement also mentioned Glasgow to Cumbernauld services extended by Falkirk Grahamston to Edinburgh.

The current ‘via Carstairs’ route used by East Coast and Cross County as well as Scotrail Electric trains to Edinburgh and North Berwick. The big downside is the speed restriction and curve of the track off the west coast mainline and there are plans in place for improving the junction layout and improving speeds, but there’s still issues longer term in order to make a quicker journey time despite it being electrified.

The HS routes proposed are similar to the Carstairs route with a point where the Edinburgh and Glasgow services diverge from the south. In the D1 example, only a chord is built to connect between the HS2 routings, in other examples the Glasgow and Edinburgh HS route is built with HS2 connecting onto it.

There’s nothing I’ve seen that suggests either a specific new route or a substantial use of sections of the existing ‘via Carstairs’ route and the issues remain at the Glasgow end where there’s the density of Scotrail operated routes in Lanarkshire into Glasgow and some workaround is required to get a high speed route nearer to the lines running into Glasgow Central.

There would be similar issues before getting toward Edinburgh from the south and west too, although possibly easier. All in all, high speed running could be establish on a new route and provision made for south facing junctions off the line, but the end to end time could be compromised by the approach to both existing terminals at the end of the line.

Classic Compatible Trains.

These are high speed trains that ‘fit’ the UK’s loading gauges and are not the wider bigger trains used on other European High Speed lines, the class 373 Eurostar and class 395 Javelin are such trains, they are a compromise in order that trains can run on other British tracks and into terminals and other stations. HS2 refer to Classic Compatible trains running services that diverge off the HS2 tracks and that these are needed for locations that will use standard platform facilities at existing stations rather than HS2 specific ‘captive’ lines.

These trains may not be as fast or have as much capacity as the ‘Captive’ stock which is intended to be to the UIC international gauge and more similar to the next generation of TGV or ICE trains. These trains may effectively be bought off the shelf as other countries have developed and ordered trains that could be suitable.

It’s thought that both Classic Compatible and Captive trains will be capable of the same speeds on the HS2 infrastructure but concerns have been expressed about the capabilities of the Classic Compatabile trains on the West Coast Mainline as they will not have the tilting ability of the class 390 Pendolinos and  may be slower or sections such as Carlisle to Glasgow on the WCML, especially if a connection is not made between the proposed and accelerated phase 2 of the project and the Scottish Cities.

The Classic Compatible Trains will be a specific or bespoke design to UK classic network gauges and will be more costly than the captive stock, even if the decision on procurement is through the same manufacturer. Certainly Hitachi have produced the Javelins in the past and both Siemens and Alsthom are capable of adapting their developed designs.

For me, I think there needs to be thought given to the rolling stock it should aspire to match the performance of the tilting Pendolinos and take stock of the IEP projects Class 800 variants that will come into use in coming years, especially on the East Coast Mainline. The Classic Compatable trains in my view need a tilt ability off the HS2 network for the WCML they will need ability to do 125 mph operation (hopefully upgraded to 140mph) if technology on existing lines in improved enough. The length and footprints must be acceptable for running into (presumably expanded and enhanced) terminal platforms at both Waverley and Central.

Therefore specification and ability of the Classic Compatible trains will be crucial and there’s a need to look at possibility of tilt if the proposed improvements and interventions won’t substantially straighten the line or remove obsticals. It’s not great reading that sections of track may still only allow 150kph running (93mph).

The Scottish HSR document mentions running Classic Compatible Edinburgh to Glasgow, I’d question why. Presumably it’d be faster with ‘captive’ type sets if there’s no issue with the entrance/exit from the terminal stations. But would a line to suit classic compatible need any less suitable infrastructure for high speed running?


I’m impressed with both reports but, we need a commitment to get HS2 north of Crewe, preferably towards Lancaster as said by Greengauge 21’s Director Jim Steer. The points he makes in ‘RAIL 796’ about 125mph capable units that the New Transpennine Express franchise might order, and that the number of paths on the northern section of the WCML may well get to around 9 paths per hour on what is pretty much just a two track railway between Motherwell and Preston. It’s a good point also on the limitations made by the previous upgrade of the West Coast Main Line not adding capacity or many 4 tracked sections either.

For me, I think there’s hopes raised in some of the proposals in the Network Rail consultation on Scotland for the CP6 period and beyond and there’s certainly incremental improvements that can be made before HS2 sets start running , there’s a need to look at seeing what improvements can be taken forward sooner.

Obviously a defined and agreed HS2 route into Scotland is needed with the cap of the Y between Edinburgh and Glasgow defined too, a long gestation period has went on and these routings need defined so that action can follow.

If I were to be radical:-

Base Tunnels that would cost into the Billions, similar schemes in Switzerland for the Transalp project really would take a large dent into Journey times, but long underground tunnels with potential to transform journey times must be considered and if we are to be serious on transport issues, these could also be used in a manner similar to euro-tunnel to remove vehicles from motorways as well as giving a HS route a route that really would dent time for a journey north. Yeah Billions, but a radical long term answer to getting transport between Scotland and the South.

All in all, the route options need assessed in the way that HS2 phase one and two were appraised, detailed and focused kilometre by kilometre work, it might bring attention to what is needed and help focus on options available and potential  costs.


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