HS2 is a people project with added technology, that’s the view of the project’s technical director Andrew McNaughton.
HS2 will reduce journey times, it will relieve pressure from the West Coast Main Line – one of Europe’s busiest mixed-use rail corridors – and Britain’s growing cities will reap substantial economic benefits from quicker journey times.
But ultimately, HS2 will be built for people, giving passengers more time with their friends and family, more time to do what they want.
“HS2 gives you your life back. It stops you dying,” said Andrew McNaughton.
McNaughton took up the role of technical director in 2012, joining from Network Rail where he was chief engineer. The tall, thin-framed engineer from Leeds has become a fervent proponent of the project.
“I’ve been with HS2 over six years now, since the very start,” said McNaughton.
At the beginning it was all about capacity and journey time, “a very railway thing,” said McNaughton.
“Then the value of reliability and dependability came in. Slowly but surely people realised it’s not as much what HS2 is but what it can do.”
The Y-shaped network will cover around 550 track kilometres, linking the majority of the UK’s major metropolitan centres. High-speed trains will run through to places like Liverpool, Carlisle, Newcastle and Glasgow.
All major parties backed the initial parliamentary bill by 350 votes to 34 in the Commons on 31 October 2013, paving the way for construction to begin on Phase One in 2017 ready for the first train in 2026.
Railway of the Future
Around the world, trains are getting faster and countries are acknowledging the benefits of high-speed rail.
In Italy, the maximum operating speed on the national network will soon increase to 360 km/h (225 mph) with the introduction of Italian State Railway’s newest train – the Frecciarossa 1000.
The Frecciarossa 1000 is Europe’s fastest production train, capable of 400 km/h (250 mph). It includes many of the same modern features HS2 is proposing, including ERTMS level 2 signalling and remote condition monitoring. It provides a glimpse into what the HS2 rolling stock of the future could look like.
HS2 is likely to be built to accommodate speeds of 400 km/h, which would make it, by current standards, the fastest railway in Europe, if not the world.
It may have been dismissed initially but journey times do matter. That’s what McNaughton believes.
“Our aim is to give you your life back,” said McNaughton, addressing a packed Rail Exec Club meeting in Birmingham. “Because frankly, however well you’re using your journey, if you’re standing there because your train’s not frequent enough or late, what are you doing? You’re not living you’re life, you’re basically dying, so if I make you wait 10 minutes, you’re never going to get that 10 minutes back.”
Designing a railway with current technology when it won’t be completed until 2030 is a challenge.
“This railway is here forever. Not just for 2030 but 2300,” said McNaughton.
“You can look to the future but you can’t predict it,” he added. HS2 will be built anticipating future upgrades.
The project will make good use of smart technology. McNaughton talks of the ‘Wow!’ factor. Ticket barriers will be done away with, allowing direct access from street to seat. “I don’t want barriers,” he said. Passengers will know exactly which door to board on the 400-metre long trains. No time wasting wandering around and then waiting for barriers to open before joining the stampede.
“Innovation is a strong part of HS2, but it’s innovation for a purpose. So it’s not techies doing things for techies sake. You will see an awful lot of innovation on HS2, innovation in the way we use technology for the passenger experience. We hope to be ahead of the world.
“Our technical strategy is to use the latest proven technology. It’s too important a project for Britain that we use something that’s untried, untested, just crawling out the laboratory, but is the latest proven, we don’t want to use old stuff.”
The average age of HS2’s workforce is just 34. Women account for 43 per cent of the workforce. Many of the people who will help design, construct and operate HS2 are still in the classroom – some won’t have even begun to consider a career in rail.
“We’re certainly building careers,” said McNaughton. “The railway’s always a people business, it’s a human business. It’s used by humans, it’s operated by humans, it’s maintained by humans, it’s renewed by humans, it’s designed by humans and it affects humans. So it’s fundamentally a human business with added technology.”
A modern railway system is designed to be easy. But this doesn’t mean it needs to be a largely automated system, with little human interaction.
“The passengers want an emotional connection with people. They don’t want some people-less system.”
He added: “What you can say about the future is it will be different. We don’t necessarily know how. The point I continually make is that our people will be at the heart of what we do, which sounds kind of trite but it’s absolutely true.
“It’s an exciting time because we’re big enough as a programme to change things… We’re big enough and a lot of our requirements that the government set out for us are that we are an exemplar… How we use technology, how we train people, the service it operates. We just want to redefine rail travel and leave something that people can then re-redefine in 30, 50, 60 years time.”
HS2 is not a London-centric organisation. Birmingham will not only be the headquarters for HS2, it will be the site of the country’s main HS2 academy, the fleet will be maintained in Birmingham and Curzon Street station will give a boost to a tired corner of the city.
New railways have always faced barriers. HS2’s aim of creating a barrier-free station environment perhaps demonstrates its argument perfectly, removing barriers to growth and changing the way people think about rail travel.