Britpave: The British In-Situ Concrete Paving Association

Station visits are a distraction

Although welcoming the recent tour by the Transport Secretary of proposed train stations for the second phase of the high-speed rail work linking London with the North, Britpave, the transport infrastructure group, believe s it may be premature and is calling for greater confirmation of the start date for the first phase to the Midlands.

Justine Greening’s tour included Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. The visit cast doubts on reports that the Transport Secretary was growing cold on the proposed HS2 rail link following opposition from Conservative MPs whose constituencies are affected.

“Although welcoming the Transport Secretary’s visit to northern stations, the delay in completing the necessary legislation for the start of the first phase of H2 means that it might not be constructed until 2030, four years after the original date,” said Steve Elliott, Britpave General Manager. “Visiting potential stations for the second phase may be premature. Let’s get the first phase confirmed and underway”.

Legislation for HS2 failed to be included in the Queen’s Speech for this year’s Parliament. Consultation on the compensation scheme has been delayed and the routes north of Birmingham have yet to be published. “Despite being in office for over two years, The Government has made very little real progress on HS2”, said Elliott.

Elliot also warned of the necessity of building HS2 right first time. He warned: “HS2 promises significant economic and environmental benefits. However, unless it is built using 21st century technology rather than a ballast track system based on the 19th century these benefits will not be fully realised.”

Ballast track has been used since the earliest days of the Victorian railways and has changed little in concept since then. Unfortunately ballast track moves under load which results in the need for on-going maintenance to restore the line and level and for the ballast to be regularly cleaned or replaced.

Elliott points to the French experience where they opted for traditional ballast when the high-speed TGV network was developed. They have managed to make it work – but at a cost. One some lines the rails have to be swept clean and the ballast replaced and repacked every night. The French are now reported to be examining replacing ballast with concrete slab track having found that the use of ballast tracks undermines the speed, efficiency and safety of high speed trains.

Concrete slab track, as used by the high successful Japanese rail network and increasingly throughout mainland Europe, is the way forward. “Concrete slab track has been proven to maximise operating efficiency by eliminating unplanned maintenance, provides high levels of safety and comfort and impressive long-term performance,” explained Elliott.

Concrete slabtrack has been used in the UK for tunnels and for short stretches of the Heathrow Express, Stansted airport links and at the Eurotunnel terminal. Initial cost has always been given as the reason why slabtrack is not more widely used in the UK. “This is short-sighted and a false economy and, thanks to ongoing slabtrack development, incorrect,” said Elliott. “The maintenance costs of slabtrack are dramatically less that for ballasted systems and the long-term performance is significantly superior which means that over the whole life of the slabtrack its cost is considerably less than that for ballast.”

“HS2 is a major project that has the potential to provide considerable benefits. This potential must not be mired by a lack of commitment to drive it forward nor by the use outdated technology for its construction,” said Elliott.