What Italy’s Frecciarossa taught me about HS2

Despite been a self-confessed trainaholic hailing from a corner of Yorkshire that lays just a stone’s throw away from the proposed London-Leeds route I have always maintained a bit of an indifferent attitude towards HS2.

It’s perhaps not surprising given that high speed rail has become a rather outdated concept in contrast to US tests of a Hyperloop system and record speeds of 374 mph in Japan with its Maglev rail system.

As Emma Haslett wrote here, after decades of hurt at the hands of Britain’s antiquated rail system commuters have become a little nonplussed about the challenges it presents, and half an hour off a commute to the Midlands is hardly going to repair our scars.

And I would have agreed had I not sampled Italy’s high speed Frecciarossa trains last week on two occasions, which was enough to completely change my perspective on our own ambitious infrastructure project.

Now let me say this for the record; The Frecciarossa are delightful trains to ride. They are spacious, clean, comfortable and ruddy fast to boot. The trains reach speeds of 300 km/h at their peak delivering inter-city journeys between Milan and Rome in under three hours and Napoli in the south west to Venice in the north east in under five.

From our base in Bologna we made two return trips on the Frecciarossa, with Venice and Florence been made perfectly feasible day trips thanks to the rapid speed.

But what surprised me the most is that when I reflected on both journeys the speed was the least impressive aspect.

First of all, we sat in a Premium Economy class which was wedged between the cattle carts and first class. For a €10 surcharge we enjoyed sparkling wine and snacks along with extra leg room with seat reservations that were made – in typical Italian fashion – so that we faced each other across a table rather than sitting side by side.

The extra space afforded the possibility to confront the challenge British intercity rail trains face in carrying four empty carriages reserved for first class passengers and four rammed carriages carrying economy passengers. By putting a middle ground in between and making first class a real experience for the price you satisfy all markets and probably make a little more money on top.

As far as environmental concerns go I was relieved to see the effort that had been put in to ensure the high speed rail system barely left a mark on the Tuscan countryside that it dissects. Simply put, if you weren’t sitting on the train you would barely notice it was there.

For those who are worried about the environmental impact HS2 will have on beauty spots such as the Chilterns or Yorkshire’s countryside I encourage you to check the infographic below. Two million trees will be planted along the route between London and the West Midlands alone and most of the route will be tunnelled in the same way Italy’s high-speed rail is.

With proposed speeds of 400 km/h and 14 trains an hour in each direction perhaps this is worth the investment after all. I just had to sample it for myself to find out.

5 Responses

  1. Des Walker

    Hailing for “a corner of Yorkshire that lays just a stone’s throw” from the line why not come to Barnburgh to see the damage that this line will cause. None of the mostly tunnelled route (err are you sure about this LOL) here, just 60 feet high embankments of earth forming a semi-circle around our village.

    But no worry, in fifty years time the newly planted saplings will have grown with the added benefit of my long deceased corpse as fertilizer. Just one of many lives ruined.

    But think of all the people employed in construction, steel mills and tractor factories.

    Anyway, enough of my time wasted on this guff.

  2. Peter Davidson

    I strongly support the principles underpinning HS2 construction but for me there are two major problems with current UK strategy in the field of High Speed Rail
    1. Overall costs per km, which remain ridiculously out of kilter with experience across the rest of Europe. Yes, I realise that UK costs will always be higher because the UK’s constrained gauge means the cost of bringing trains directly into city centre stations is exhorbitant but even allowing for that and the relatively high cost of land per km² in the UK doesn’t explain the disjunct between costs for HS2 and say, the just about to open LGV SEA, 340 km of new track and raccordments (links back into the existing network) – total cost less than 8bn€ (or £7bn)!!!
    2. The lack of ambition shown in construction of HS2. HS2 should be just the beginning of a much wider strategy aimed at creating a 21st century fit for purpose UK rail network, linking as much of the UK as possible, not just to London but also to each other. Transport in the UK does NOT and should NOT revolve around planet LONDON?

    Addess these two major shortcomings and the concept of High Speed Rail in the UK would gain much wider public support than it currently enjoys?

  3. Mauri Franksson

    The environmental costs of the construction of TAV lines in the 90s were heavy.
    In the Appennini one renowned problem, for instance, were the destruction or contamination of hundreds of water springs.
    Moreover the costs spiraled out of control due to the orographic conformation of the country (England, tbf, is far less problematic on that account).
    By investing heavily on TAV, Italian FS deprived the rest of the rail network of vital resources. However good the HS network is in Italy, it came at an unacceptable cost and such disparity is not justified by traffic projections, results and investments. Even less so, since the rest of the network, which is still being used by the vast majority of the population, has been lagging behind, abandoned and left to rotten. And this lack of investment has a environmental cost, too, as people are forced to turn to cars and buses because links are less and less reliable.

  4. John Burns

    We are told `capacity` id the problem. The only capacity issues are on the West Coast Mainline (WCML) south of Northampton. Nowhere else! The East Coast Mainline (ECML) has none with the West Coast Mainline having twice the traffic of the East Coast Mainline.

    The capacity south of Northampton on the WCML can be alleviated by diverting trains to other lines, such as the Wolverhampton and Birmingham trains run on an uprated and fast Chiltern line, and opening old and building new local and regional lines taking trains off the WCML. Local and regional lines will be more accepted as they are used by the populations they run though on daily basis.

    Tilting trains can reach 140mph, they do not because they do not have in-cab signalling fitted. The 1980s APT was designed to run at 155mph on `existing`track. Capacity issues north of Northampton on the WCML tend to be ‘bottlenecks’. Take out the bottlenecks on the WCML, run the trains at 155mph by taking slow trains off by building local and regional rail and the difference in journey time from London to Manchester compared to full HS2 is about 15 minutes.

    The ECML with bottlenecks removed can give a journey time from London to Leeds, 169 miles, about the same time as HS2 using 155mph trains.

    There is no need to build a national high-speed rail line in the UK. Many rail experts have constantly emphasised this point. Building local & regional rail taking it off the mainlines leaves us expressways.

    But! Grayling, the transport minister says he is going ahead. The Treasury are against HS2 and Hammond, the chancellor, holds the money. Predication time. It looks like that if any new line are to be built they need only be from Old Oak Common in London to around Northampton/Milton Keynes. Prepare to see only HS2 running from London to the Crewe Hub via Birmingham and no more.

    The ‘whole’ of the flawed design of HS2 is a `political transport project`, not a project that meets a transport ‘need’ for sure.

  5. Paul

    So the trains are very comfortable compared to typical UK rolling stock? But you’ve travelled on a continental spec train. Whenever you see examples of the Alston Pendolinos deployed abroad they seem to offer the lap of luxury compared to the cramped miserable conditions of Pendolinos that work the West Coast mainline. Italy will have specified the Titanium X. You can bet we’ll end up with the Popular Plus.

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