Earth Notes: Eco Puzzler: HS3 Rail

Updated 2024-02-20.
For those on their way to mastering engineering... Design a 400kph+ train system London to Birmingham to Manchester to Glasgow. #ecoEngineering #transport
From a series of eco puzzles set for real MEng students by "The Prof". This one is to leapfrog HS2 and go for something which is a bit more than an envisaged development of the current European norm.

Text lightly edited from real project work description for MEng students.

Many thanks to "The Prof" for so generously making this material available!

High Speed Train System HS3 for the UK

By: ""


There are several high speed rail systems around the world, many having existed for some time. The Japanese started it with their Shinkansen trains in 1964; the French came along with their TGVs in the 1980s; Germany, Spain and most recently China have systems too. Virtually all are powerful trains running at around 300 kph on specially aligned tracks, albeit with the flanged steel wheels on steel rails at 4'-81/2" gauge which a Victorian would recognise.

There are significant advantages in high speed rail as a transport system. For example, just to compare with air travel:

  • the door to door journey times for distances up to around 1000 km are usually less
  • less energy is used to transport each passenger and this energy does not have to be derived from fossil fuel
  • passengers can carry more luggage and have more personal space
  • the train can stop at more places on the journey

Britain has lagged behind Europe in developing its system, probably for very understandable reasons. However, Britain does now have a short length of high speed rail, namely HS1, which is in Kent on the Channel Tunnel Line. Also, the government can see that an economic stimulus is needed for parts of Britain outside the south eastern corner and that a high speed system linking the length of Britain to the European system could be a part of this stimulus. Hence the recent work done on the feasibility design of HS2 which is intended to link London to the West Midlands, in the first instance, with the intent of extending up to the north. For HS2, the starting assumptions are that the trains will run on steel wheels on steel rail track, the maximum running speed is 360 kph and the infrastructure will be designed for 400 kph speed where possible.

The project

The project is to leapfrog HS2 and go for something which is a bit more than an envisaged development of the current European norm. The project is the feasibility study for a train system which:

  • links London to Birmingham to Manchester to Glasgow
  • the average speed between stops is 400 kph, with maximum speeds of around 460 kph
  • the journey time between existing city-centre main rail termini is not more than 60% of the current normal fastest main-line journey time.

The intent is to make the study as complete as possible in terms of aspects covered. Hence there will be work on:

  • projected demand to size the systems carrying capacity
  • route selection
  • integration into existing transport systems
  • train design
  • track design
  • civil engineering infrastructure design
  • power supply
  • signalling and control
  • safety and security
  • environmental impact
  • sustainability
  • capital cost
  • operating cost

The approach to the feasibility study should be risk-based, ie the more innovative or important the item, the more rigorous the demonstration of its feasibility.

So, there is plenty of work in mechanical engineering, aerodynamics and civil engineering with some electronics in signalling and control and probably, but not certainly, heavy electrical power for propulsion. There will also be some inputs needed on physiological responses to noise, vibration and accelerations.

(Level: Masters; group work, learning activity.)