Is it really worth running HS2 via Old Oak Common? This guy thinks he has a better plan

London Euston, proposed terminus for High Speed 2. Image: Getty.

Independent rail campaigner Michael Bell on his alternative plan for HS2.

High Speed 2 Ltd says it is having difficulty designing a station and route for HS2 through London. That may be because it is still uncertain whether the project is going ahead at all, but there are planning difficulties too.

The proposed HS2 route starts from the west side of Euston, and stops after only three miles at Old Oak Common, where it meets the Elizabeth line from Heathrow. That’s because, when the route was designed, it was seen as important for the “National Airport” to make connection with HS2, the country’s main railway.

This is muddled thinking. A passenger from Heathrow need only stay on the Elizabeth Line for eight minutes and then change, to get to Euston in a total of under 20 minutes. Not a big deal to those who have flown the Atlantic, but a considerable deal to those who have 12 minutes added to their everyday north-south journey.

That delay consists not only of stopping time at Old Oak Common but also of the 20 extra miles run westward before HS2 can turn north. What’s more, building that route will be very expensive and very disruptive. Muck, noise and heavy lorries for 10 years.

Old Oak Common has caught the eye of developers, and it may well be that both public good and profit can be made by redeveloping Old Oak Common – but that does not depend on HS2. It is hard to imagine that many will come from the north just to visit Old Oak Common.

An alternative

I suggest instead the Thorn Shaped Route. It gets its name from the letter þ, called “thorn”, used in Old English to write the sounds which we now write “th”. It would run from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, York to Leeds, where it would split. The eastern half of the loop would then run via Sheffield, Nottingham, and Leicester; the western half via loop Manchester, Stoke, Birmingham and Coventry; before the two recombine at Rugby and continue London. In such a way, it would link up all the centres of this country east of the Severn.

Ringby would, a sort of Midlands Engine/Northern Powerhouse+. 

Within London, the route would start from the east side of Euston, and run in tunnel to West Hampstead, from where it would join a viaduct over the M1. The length of overhead to be covered is 10 kms, Let us say the spans are 100 M Considering the amounts of earth to be moved and concrete to be poured, this must be much cheaper than HS2’s route – and avoiding Old Oak Common would mean the trains can get up to full speed straight away.

As to its appearance, the new viaduct would look like the Byker viaduct of the Tyne-Wear Metro: a very ordinary bit of urban architecture, of the sort we could all drive along or live near. Noise from the motorway will overwhelm the noise of trains on the route, while passengers will get a good view of London.

The Byker viaduct, Newcastle. Image: author provided.

The route would then serve a road/rail interchange at “Waterdale”, the intersection of the M1 and M25. This will be far more useful than Old Oak Common: a rail route runs from Rickmansworth in the west to very near Waterdale, and could be extended east to St Albans and Hatfield. 

From there, the route runs north as the 5th and 6th track of the West Coast Main Line. Through Linslade, in southern Bedfordshire, the WCML takes a curve which is too sharp for these speeds – so my route instead takes a straight  line through a cutting on the west side of Linslade, taking with it the 4th and 3rd tracks of the WCML. This removes the only speed restriction between London and Milton Keynes, enabling that town to be served by services like the Javelin services which serves Kent.


If the route were to be run at up to 18 trains per hour, as HS2 propose for its own trunk route, there can be no station at Milton Keynes. That’s because at that intensity you cannot stop selected trains and not others: all trains must stop, and Milton Keynes cannot warrant so many trains.

So the route instead follows the original Birmingham-London route though Wolverton, which, amazingly, is still there. The route forks at Rugby, one arm running north to Leicester and beyond, the other heading west to Coventry and beyond.

You can read more about the Thorn Shaped Route on its website.

 
 
 
 

Mayor Marvin Rees' hope for Bristol: A more equitable city that can 'live with difference'

“I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city," Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees says. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

When the statue of 18th century slave trader Edward Colston was torn from its plinth and dumped in Bristol’s harbour during the city’s Black Lives Matter protests on 7 June, mayor Marvin Rees was thrust into the spotlight. 

Refraining from direct support of the statue’s removal, the city’s first black mayor shared a different perspective on what UK home secretary Priti Patel called “sheer vandalism”:

“It is important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity,” he said in a statement at the time. “I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city and wherever we see it.”

48 year-old Rees, who grew up in the city, has since expanded on his approach to the issue in an interview with CityMetric, saying “wherever you stand on that spectrum, the city needs to be a home for all of those people with all of those perspectives, even if you disagree with them.”

“We need to have the ability to live with difference, and that is the ethnic difference, racial difference, gender difference, but also different political perspectives,” he added. “I have been making that point repeatedly – and I hope that by making it, it becomes real.” 


What making that point means, in practice, for Rees is perhaps best illustrated by his approach to city governance.

Weeks after the toppling of Colston’s statue, a new installation was erected at the same spot featuring Jen Reid, a protester of Black Lives Matter. However, the installation was removed, as “it was the work and decision of a London-based artist, and it was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed”, Rees said in a statement.

Bristol may appear a prosperous city, logging the highest employment rate among the UK’s “core cities” in the second quarter of 2019. But it is still home to many areas that suffer from social and economic problems: over 70,000 people, about 15 percent of Bristol’s population, live in what are considered the top 10 percent most disadvantaged areas in England. 

In an attempt to combat this inequality, Rees has been involved in a number of projects. He has established Bristol Works, where more than 3,000 young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are given work experience opportunities. And is now setting up a commission on social mobility. “Launching a Bristol commission on social mobility is not only about social justice; it [should not be] possible for a modern city to leave millions of pounds worth of talent on the shelf, just because the talent was born into poverty,” he says.

The mayor is also a strong supporter of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), explaining that SDGs offer a way to talk about sustainability within a framework of many issues, ranging from climate change and biodiversity to women’s issues, domestic violence, poverty and hunger.

“What we want to achieve as a city cannot be done as a city working alone,” he insists. “We don’t want to benefit only people inside Bristol, we want to benefit the planet, and the SDGs offer a framework for a global conversation,” suggesting that a vehicle should be launched that allows cities to work together, ideally with organisations such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund involved. 

Greater collaboration between cities would be “beneficial in terms of economies of scale,” he argues, “as cities could get more competitive prices when buying materials for building houses or ordering buses, rather than each city acquiring a few of them at a higher price.”

In an attempt to focus on the long term, Rees launched One City Plan in January 2019, setting out a number of goals for Bristol to achieve by 2050.

Investing in green infrastructure to meet 2030 carbon emission targets spelled out in the SDGs is a key area here, with the mayor noting that transport, mass transit and energy are important sectors looking for further investment and government funding: “The sooner we meet our targets, the sooner we will benefit from them, and invest in sectors that will provide people with jobs.”

Jobs, especially following the outbreak of Covid-19, are of paramount importance to Rees. Bristol’s council wants to ensure that any government money given to the city will be quickly passed on to businesses to help prevent redundancies, he says, though given that mass job losses seem inevitable, reskilling options are also being looked into, such as through a zero-carbon smart energy project called City Leap.

Another important area for investment in Bristol is affordable housing, with 9,000 homes already built under Rees’s term of office. “People could build a base for life with affordable housing, [and this would mean] their mental health would be better because they have a safe place,” he explains. “Children in families that have a home that is affordable are more likely to able to eat and to heat, [and they are more likely to enjoy a] better education.”

Taken in the round, Rees’s agenda for Bristol is its own blueprint for shaping history. The Colston statue now lies in safe storage, with a local museum likely to play host to the controversial monument. But the Black Lives Matters protestors were fighting for a fairer, more equal future, and it is here where Rees is determined to deliver.

Sofia Karadima is a senior editor at NS Media Group.