8,500 engineers can’t be wrong – High Speed Rail across the world

ICE HSR train operating in Germany

When Japan was struck by earthquakes and a tsunami earlier this year it took just 35 days for the country to repair and restore services on their High Speed Rail line.

Around 8,500 engineers worked to fix the damage, which emphasises how vital HSR is to the Japanese economy.

This was one of many fascinating facts given in a lecture on international HSR by Professor Andrew McNaughton in Birmingham.

Professor McNaughton is the chief engineer for HS2 Ltd, so critics of HS2 will doubtless say his views are biased.

But Professor McNaughton was quick to point out that HSR is not always the right choice and needs careful consideration to gain the maximum return.

Japan was the perfect place to begin. The Japanese built the first HSR train 47 years ago. This was three years before the final steam train was phased out on British railways. So this is not new, untried technology as critics would have you believe.

There has not been a single fatality on Japan’s HSR network in those 47 years and they are extremely proud of their service.

Closer to home Belgium has been ‘quietly getting on with it’ in the words of the Professor.

Paris to Brussels used to take around two-and-a-half hours on the train. In those days the train made up 24% of journeys with car journeys at 61% and a small airline market.

When Thalys cut the journey time to 1h 25m train patronage rose to 50%, while car journeys fell to 43% and airlines withdrew from the route.

Professor McNaughton said HSR worked best on densely populated routes where lines could connect a number of cities.

In areas of Spain and south-western France population is sparse, so HSR building is often based on political rather than economic decisions.

Professor McNaughton said the Japanese were mystified by Spain’s decision to refund fares if five minutes late. He was told:

‘In Japan we don’t run five minutes late.’

He gave a quick roundup of activity around the world.

HSR is in operation in:

Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Great Britain, Japan, Korea, China, USA

HSR is under construction in:

Netherlands, Iran and Turkey

HSR is at project phase in:

Poland, Portugal, Russia, Morocco, India, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia

A few more interesting facts:

Australia is setting aside corridors of land as the population increases along its south and eastern coasts.

China is building at an incredible rate: 1,000 miles in less than three years

After Tokyo-Osaka, Frankfurt-Cologne is one of the most economically successful routes in the world.

Interestingly the length of the route is similar to Birmingham to London.

Birmingham and the West Midlands region will, of course, be at the centre of the proposed HS2 network. The hub is here and not in London.

And looking at the international picture in Germany and Japan the West Midlands has much to gain from HSR.

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