Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) 2
When then British PM Margaret Thatcher reluctantly agreed to the construction of the Channel Tunnel ("Chunnel", Eurotunnel) in 1986, her condition was that not a single penny of public funds should be spent on it. One result was chaotic organisation, including a messy financial structure with hundreds of private banks. Another was that while France managed to finish its Paris–Chunnel high-speed line mostly on time and budget, and Belgium its part from Brussels with some delays, no one volunteered to build anything from the Chunnel to London.
Thus, high-speed trains had not only to slog along on old lines at low speed, but
- instead of standard TGV trains, ones with new chassis had to be designed and purchased, so that they fit into narrower British loading gauges (=cross sections);
- the trains had to be fitted with extra third-rail electric equipment as used in South East England;
- ditto for train control and safety equipment;
- once running, getting struck in South London's and South East England's busy traffic meant lots of delays.
An Eurostar crosses the Medway Viaduct on the not yet opened first leg of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, during the 30 July 2003 record run that achieved the British rail speed record of 334.7 km/h. Photo from Erik's Rail News
So, a decade after Thatcher's decision, her successor John Major's government decided to get construction on track in the form of a public–private partnership (PPP): private companies shall build and run the line, with heavy financial involvement of the state at the construction stage.
On the surface, the result seems to validate the concept: construction finished largely on time and budget. The only significant construction accident was when a tunnel boring machine (TBM) hit a buried 19th-century well that was missing from the maps, resulting in a hole on the surface. The only major over-budget work was a station construction that was not in full control of the project (it's only in part for the high-speed line).
However, on one hand, even though the builders included an American company infamous from Iraq, Bechtel, quality technology was ensured by the inclusion of Systra, one of the companies building the TGV lines in France. In fact, the entire line has been built according to French high-speed line standards.
On the other hand, the agreed contract price (altogether £5.2 billion) and deadlines were soooo generous that abiding by them is less surprising.
Map of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (based on map in downloads at official site)
CTRL 1 was opened in autumn 2003. It was the easier part: only one major bridge, one station (Ashford International), and one major tunnel (the North Downs Tunnel, across the water divide to the Thames valley, which became the UK's longest at a mere 3.2 km). The 74 km section carried trains to the edge of Greater London, cutting some 20 minutes from scheduled times (and even more from actual travel times, as delays were reduced). The result: double-digit percentage growth in passenger numbers, and that for two years! This would seem less impressive considering that absolute numbers only climbed back to the c. 8 million/year pre-dotcom-crash record, but it was achieved on a smaller market with low-budget airlines as competitors.
CTRL 2 continued by diving under the Thames, surfacing onto a viaduct, then some level track, followed by 19 km of tunnels under outer London, right until the track complex before King's Cross and St. Pancras stations. The 39 km line terminates in the latter, which received a major overhaul. In the middle of the London tunnels, there is an one-kilometre open trench, harbouring Stratford International station, which is just next to the site of the 2012 Olympics.
I should note that CTRL 1+2 has been renamed, into the entirely uninspired/ing High Speed 1, but now that I linked to it I'm going to stick to the old name. Since CTRL 2 opened on 14 November, cutting a further 20 minutes from travel time (also because of shorter route, to another station) further growth was impressive: in its first one-and-half months, +11% on the same period last year (contributing to 2007's overall annual record of 8.26 million).
In the renewed London terminal St Pancras International, Eurostar train 3005 stands ready for the 08:05 departure to Brussels Midi, 28 December 2007. Photo by kpmarek from Flickr.com
I close this section with a new train. From 2009, 29 class 395 "Javelin" trainsets will run semi-high-speed services branching off from the CTRL to South East England cities. The class is from Hitachi's A-train platform. (This break into the EU market is a great success for Japanese rail technology.)
The first Hitachi Class 395 high speed domestic train sits outside the new depot at Ashford as the 10.43 London Waterloo to Brussels Eurostar races over the viaduct at 160 mph (257.5 km/h) on the left, 9 November 2007. Photo by Brian Stephenson from RailPictures.Net
The boldest high-speed expansion plans in Europe are Spain's. High-speed rail meant modernity for both the centre-left PSOE and the right-wing PP parties. But the recent history is that while the Aznar government pushed too many projects with too tight deadlines and not enough oversight, the Zapatero government seems stressed even with just trying to manage to completion of projects begun during Aznar's time.
Three lines were about to open just before Christmas last year.
True high-speed lines in Spain (own drawing).
Black: in 250+km/h service previously
Red: in 300 km/h service since last year, dark red: soon
Blue: lines currently in construction for 300 km/h or higher
Not shown: lines in planning stage, 200+km/h conventional line upgrades
One was the long overdue final section of the Madrid–Barcelona high-speed line, delayed due to long disputes with Barcelona about the layout, and a rather messy contracting process. Then earlier last year, when seeing that construction companies aren't on track to meet their deadlines, the transport minister decided to push the companies to work full-throttle. Of course, the result was irresponsible and shoddy work, which led to accidents, further delays, and a collapse of Barcelona's commuter traffic (see kcurie's account: 1, 2, 3). Opening is now planned for 28 February.
An AVE/RENFE series 120 variable-gauge train (CAF-Alstom, sometimes named "BRAVA" after its bogie type) on the renewed broad-gauge line into Barcelona, 17 December 2007. To the left, the then end of the standard-gauge high-speed track-laying. Photo by Sanlucar-Playa from SkyscraperCity
On 22 December 2007, the Madrid–Segovia–Valladolid line opened [pdf, Spanish!]. 179.5 km built from 4.205 billion, this line will serve as trunk line for Spain's entire North, to be fed by at least five future lines. Beyond several "shorter" tunnels (up to 9.5 km), it runs through the 28,418.66 m long Guadarrama Tunnel (crossing the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain chain north of Madrid), which is currently the fourth-longest tunnel in the world.
The line is currently served by two types of trains. One is the Talgo 350 type (AVE/RENFE series 102), whose top speed (despite the type name) would be 330 km/h, but is now limited to 'only' 300 km/h, due to ongoing lack of fitness for service of the ERTMS Level 2 train control system. The duckbill nose shape (hence the Spanish nickname: Pato) is meant to better deal with side winds and reduce aerodynamic noise. The trains cut travel time by between one and one and a half hours.
An AVE/RENFE series 102 near Tres Cantos, during final test runs on the Madrid-Valladolid line, 11 December 2007. Photo by Luis Miguel R.S. from Flickr.com
The other train type on the line, which got a similar "duckbill-nosed" styling (hence Spanish nickname: Patito), is the series version of Talgo's variable-gauge train (AVE/RENFE series 130). (The (diesel) prototype, when testing this line, was covered in a comment thread on ET.) The S-130 has a top speed of only 250 km/h, but after simply driving through a special transitional track at 15 km/h, it can continue to destinations on broad-gauge conventional lines. (It's rival, the S-120, does the same, but Talgo deserves credit for being first.)
An AVE/RENFE series 130 runs through the gauge-changing facility in Roda de Bará (current end of the Madrid-Barcelona line). Video by peettheengineer
On 23 December 2007, the Córdoba–Málaga high-speed line was fully opened [pdf, in Spanish!].
Short TV reportage on the opening, with some aerial shots. Video from YouTube
This is a branch off Spain's first high-speed line (Madrid–Sevilla). It first climbs on a plateau, then crosses the 7297 m Abdalajís Tunnel, and descends across several tunnels and bridges along a valley to the Mediterranean coast. It was put in service until Antequera (first two-thirds on the plateau) one year ago, but didn't see full high-speed service until now. Altogether 168.8 km was built from 2.539 billion.
Again cutting more than one and a half hour, the line is served by AVE/RENFE series S-102 and S-103 "Velaro-E" trains (see one of both behind Zapatero in the video). The latter is Siemens's up-powered version of the German railways' flagship ICE-3. But again, though the S-103 could do 350 km/h, the present train control system limits it to 300 km/h.
The inaugural run with an AVE/RENFE series 103 "Velaro-E" just left the 837 m viaduct of Jévar, near Ávila/Andalusia, 22 December 2007. Photo by Fuen446 from trensim.com
Until 7 January, 416 of the 438 train runs on the two new lines were on-time (in the last few days, 100%) – note that AVE/RENFE pays back 50% of your ticket when 15 minutes late, and all when 30 minutes late. The Valladolid line saw 18,378 passengers in 130 trains, the Málaga line 58,510 passengers in 308 trains – that's seat utilisations around 50%, low for high-speed rail, but expect improvement as passengers discover the new offer.
Two more lines that were diaried earlier, so here only in brief:
- The first two-thirds of the LGV Est Européenne in France went into service on 10 June 2007. We covered the VIP opening trains, the new record run on it, praised competent state management, and I wrote a trip report one way as well as the other way.
In the first three months, SNCF's overall traffic on all relations using the new line was 2.9 million passengers (a growth of 65%!), and 7 million by the end of 2007. the plan was an annual 11.5 million by 2010, now it looks like that will be surpassed in the first year. The (over-budget) 5.515 billion seems to have been worth it.
- The 34,576.6 m long (world's third longest) Lötschberg Base Tunnel (and its short connections to existing lines) in Switzerland, commissioned for 250 km/h, was officially opened on 15 June 2007, I covered it. But while regular freight trains used it soon, for passenger shuttle trains, one had to wait until 15 September, and full-scale through service started on 9 December last year.
Honorary mention should go to two line doublings in Italy: the now four-tracked (Milan–)Pioltello–Treviglio and Padova–Mestre(–Venice) sections, which went into service on 2 July resp. 1 March 2007. Only about a third of the former is suitable for 250 km/h, but the higher-speed tracks of both will form part of a future Milan–Trieste line.
Another honorary mention should go to Turkey: although not in the European part, two long lines are in construction for 250 km/h. First to open is the 226 km Ankara–Eskişehir section of the line to Istanbul. The Italian State Railways' ETR 500 Y2 high-speed test train was used for commissioning. During a test run on 12 September 2007, it set a new rail speed record for Turkey: 303 km/h.
However, Hızlı Tren revenue service starting this year will first be shouldered by Spanish exports, 10 trainsets equivalent to the AVE/RENFE S-120, and later by South Korean ROTEM's HSR-350x.
ETR 500 Y2 during an early low-speed trial near Beylikköprü on 26 April 2007, posted on YouTube by skyzes
First a string of delayed projects:
- Barcelona city access (28 February 2008?);
- Antwerp–Rotterdam–Amsterdam (HSL 4/HSL Zuid) in Belgium and the Netherlands, delays with rolling stock delivery (October 2008?);
- Liège to (near) Aachen (HSL/LGV 3) in Belgium, again rolling stock equipment delivery delays (December 2008?);
- Naples city access in Italy, was held up by archaeological works (June 2008?);
- (most of) Bologna–Milan, delays with city accesses (15 December 2008?);
- Florence–Bologna (a line almost exclusively in tunnels), delays with city access sections and tunnel fitting (October 2009?).
For all but the first, the on-going problems with ERTMS Level 2 contributes to the delay, too.
One more this year: in northern Sweden, the Örnsköldsvik–Husum section of the Botniabanan will open in October 2008. This will be a single-track mixed-traffic mainline, but in theory for 250 km/h.
In Italy, finishing the great question-mark-shaped line from Torino to Naples, the Novara–Milan section may open in December 2009 (if it is not delayed).
Then there are a whole load of in-construction lines in Spain, which I drew into the map above:
- Barcelona–Figueres–Perpignan/France (ready maybe in 2010);
- Vitoria–Bilbao/San Sebastián/Irún ("Y Vasca"='Basque Y');
- Pajares (first-built section of line to Gijón, with a 24,667 m tunnel);
- Ourense–Santiago de Compostela (the final section of a future line to Galicia; construction of the other end, where it branches off the Valladolid line, will begin soon);
- a whole tree of lines from Madrid to the south-east (Valencia, Albacete, Alicante, Murcia);
- Mérida–Badajoz (a first section of the Madrid–Lisbon line) near the Portugal border;
- Sevilla–Antequera–Granada ("Transversal Andaluz"), crosses the just opened Málaga branch (2013/2010).
In addition, there are 200+km/h conventional line upgrades (with preparation for re-gauging): from Zaragoza south to Teruel, Vigo–A Coruña (along the western shore) and Monforte–Lugo (near the eastern border) in Galicia, the northern third of the Valencia–Tarragona(–Barcelona) Mediterranean line, Alcázar de San Juan–Linares–Jaén (south of Madrid); and Sevilla–Cádiz, which shall be further upgraded to a high-speed line (hence also on the map).
Of the curently more or less in-construction lines in France, the one with a fixed schedule is the eastern leg (Branche Est) of the LGV Rhin–Rhône, to be opened in December 2011 (earlier mentions on ET: 1, 2).
Above: Boring of the Chavanne Tunnel starts. Just 1970 m, but the only significant tunnel along Branche Est of the LGV Rhin–Rhône.
Below: Viaduc de la Linotte - Ormenans, the bridge deck starts progress from one side.
Photos made on 17 July 2007 from the official construction photo album
Update [2008-1-20 17:28:40 by DoDo]: Forgot: in Germany, the sole project to mention is the 9,385 m Katzenbergtunnel, and the adjoining sections of a line doubling north of Basel, in the south-eastern corner of Germany. The two tunnel boring machines (TBMs) holed through on 20 September resp. 1 October, but 250 km/h traffic will only roll through from 2011.
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