HS2 tech systems will ‘still be state of the art’ in mid-2030s, minister claims

Although some parts of the new rail line may not open for two decades, DfT minister says the underlying tech will not have aged significantly by then

Prime minister Boris Johnson visits workers on the HS2 construction project in Birmingham   Credit: EDDIE KEOGH/WPA Rota/Press Association Images

Although some parts of the High Speed 2 rail link may not open for 20 years, the government has insisted that the underpinning technology systems “will still be considered state of art” by the time the first trains travel on the new line.

Prime minister Boris Johnson last week announced that the government plans to roll out the £100bn project in full.

Once complete, HS2 will provide a new connection between London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Crewe and Wigan. It is designed to triple capacity on these routes, and will cut travelling times almost in half – reducing the journey between London and Manchester to little more than an hour.

Work on the first section of the line, between London and Birmingham, is expected to conclude between 2028 and 2031. Phase 2, which will extend the line further north, is due to open between 2035 and 2040.

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Despite the fact that some parts of the line may not be served by any trains until two decades from now, Department for Transport minister Baroness Vere said that the underlying technology systems will still be considered modern by the time HS2 opens.

“The core design for HS2, should it go ahead, is based on proven international technology for high-speed rail, so as to contain risks to schedule and cost, but will use elements of new technologies wherever feasible to maximise benefits,” she said. “These include a digital signalling system with increased safety compared to conventional signalling, automatic driving of trains to improve capacity and performance and an advanced traffic management system that will optimise the movement of trains on the network to ensure rapid recovery from perturbations.”

Vere added: “Because of the complexity and criticality of these systems, the development cycle of this technology is very long – decades, rather than years – and we expect that HS2’s systems will still be considered ‘state-of-the-art’ when it opens.”

The minister, who was answering a written parliamentary question from cross-bench peer Lord Taylor of Warwick, admitted that some of the other technology used in the rollout will age much more quickly. She said that, for this reason, the government’s plan has built-in malleability to allow it to adapt to the development of new products,

“There are other areas of technology, such as passenger communications, entertainment and WiFi, which have a much shorter development cycle, and today’s technology in this area is likely to be out-of-date by the 2030s,” she said. “For this reason, we have incorporated flexibility into our specifications for the rolling stock and stations to ensure that the latest technology can be included later in the programme, allowing HS2’s customers to benefit from future innovations. Decisions on such technology will be taken at the latest appropriate moment so that the programme is not put at risk.”


Sam Trendall

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