Design vision for HS2

HS2's new design panel chair Sadie Morgan sets out her vision for the £50bn project.

High Speed 2 is the most exciting infrastructure project of my lifetime. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to be involved.

The Design Panel will have a crucial role in supporting and challenging the design process, at every level and covering the whole of the HS2 experience.

In parallel with my appointment as Design Panel Chair, HS2 has published its Design Vision. This document will form the basis of any contract involving design, ensuring that good design is an integral part of the planning and procurement process, from start to finish.

"A successful HS2 will engender national pride matched by a sense of local ownership."

With a core team of circa 20 -25 people, the Panel with cover a broad range of industry sectors, drawing upon a wide range of skills. 

Under my direction the Panel will assure the DfT and the public that design decisions deliver against the Design Vision, consider all needs, and are robust and transparent.

First we need to understand what ‘successful design looks like’. A seamlessly enjoyable experience of travel requires many aspects of design to be right: from website and ticketing to trains, tracks, landscape and stations. Successful design is self evident in use and there are many UK exemplars from which to learn, from the GWR to Crossrail.

A successful HS2 will engender national pride matched by a sense of local ownership. 

Business and cultural heritage is framed by infrastructure projects; the project elements must be fit for purpose and sensitive to environmental contexts. 

Most importantly, given the scale and timing of the project, HS2 should be designed to last. 

That means designing to a clear brief now which can serve the needs of the future.


Proper and considerate design would move HS2 to the main transport corridors where it belongs.
Good design is only successful if the right choices are made in the first place. Half the stations on HS2 are parkway type stations that do not serve city centres. until HS2 Ltd get that right, no amount of design expertise will create the right environment for passengers.
Considerate design is important but first, should we not take a step backwards and ask what is HS2 for and does it fulfil that role? HS2 was sold initially to reduce journey times, but now it is to provide increased capacity. Has the definition of the project changed to fit this new objective? The HS2 project is still planned as a world class, stand-alone project with continuing emphasis on speed and journey times. For example: - HS2 stations are often separate from classic stations – Birmingham, Crewe, Derby/Nottingham, Sheffield. Is this good for connectivity with other rail services or city centres? - HS2 wants its trains to travel at maximum speed on new lines almost into Euston and Manchester stations. This goes against European practice (except at Lille) where high speed trains use existing stations and approach tracks, both for ease of interchange much lower costs and less local aggravation. - Through trains from HS2 onto classic network. Is this an add-on or an intrinsic part of creating a network of through trains? In fact, given the increasing demand from political parties to give more capacity to Scotland and the North, there is likely to be a greater demand for such through services than the captive London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds trains. - How important is maximum speed – e.g. 400kph or 300 kph? There is still uncertainty about maximum speed needed; for how much of a route it is achievable and at what cost; certainly not in tunnels (unless they are built very large at greater cost). Is it worth building new tunnels right into the city centres (London or Manchester or?) to save half a minute but at a cost of several billion? - High speed trains are expensive. Those with max speed of 400kph may cost up to 50% more than those of 300kph. For very long distances such as in France or Italy, the extra speed may be justified; in the UK, this must be questionable. - Do we really need two types of train, classic compatible and ‘captive’ to the new lines and stations? The costs are likely to be higher, and captive trains built to some larger European gauge will not operate on existing lines without massive new investment on existing tracks or new ones. Our conclusion is that, for the UK, we need the extra capacity of HS2 as part of a growing network; the need to speed into a city centre is very questionable if the existing lines can be upgraded to cope. That is why we propose Euston Express, using the existing station for WCML and HS2 trains, and one type of train - classic compatible to go anywhere, with a maximum speed of, say, 300 kph. This will provide excellent service, flexibility and enable a saving of £3.5 to £4 bn!
The next Chancellor could cut his budget deficit by a few billion if he parked the HS2 project and its uber-speed trains and instead built a 39-mile section of HS3 between Leeds and Manchester Victoria. It would halve train times between the two and take half an hour out of train times between the city centres of East Lancs and those of West Yorks. It would also join up a Northern Cities Crossrail and bring together a cross-pennine economy half as big again as Birmingham. Helpful to the North South Divide, too. See: http://www.infrastructure-intelligence.com/article/dec-2014/case-building-hs3-hs2