The Anonymous Widower

Are Short Lengths Of High Speed Line A Good Idea?

In New ‘HS3’ Link To Yorkshire Proposed By Thinktank After Region’s HS2 Axe, I showed that a short length of faster by-pass line could give decent ties savings.

So in this post, I will look at home much time, diversions or by-passes like the Selby Diversion could save.

The diversion runs between Temple Hirst Junction and Colton Junction.

  • It is 13.8 miles long.
  • A typical train takes 7.5 minutes, which is an average speed of 115 mph.
  • But Wikipedia claim that the route was well-designed and British Rail felt it was good for 160 mph.

So what times are possible at various speeds?

  • 115 mph – 7.5 minutes
  • 120 mph – 6.9 minutes
  • 130 mph – 6.4 minutes
  • 140 mph – 5.9 minutes
  • 150 mph – 5.5 minutes
  • 160 mph – 5.2 minutes
  • 180 mph – 4.6 minutes

They are not great savings, but if you could increase operating speed on straight sections of thirty miles and raise the average speed from 120 to 180 mph, that would save five minutes. It would all mount up.

If you look at the railway maps of the UK, there are sections of the East Coast Main Line, Great Western Main Line, Midland Main Line and West Coast Main Line, where the track is straight and sometimes as many as four-tracks.

Stevenage Station And Stoke Junction

A simple example in a few years could be between just North of Stevenage station and Stoke junction, which after current works and some others could be four tracks all the way.

  • It is 72.2 miles.
  • Trains take 39 minutes.
  • My timings give an average speed of 111 mph.
  • There are a number of level crossings.
  • Flat junctions at Hitchin and Werrington have been replaced with grade separated junctions.

Note that it is longer than the Cologne-Aachen high speed railway in Germany, which is only 43 miles long and has an operating speed of 250 kph or 155.3 mph.

Savings on the Stevenage and Stoke stretch could be as follows.

  • 140 mph – eight minutes
  • 155.3 mph – eleven minutes
  • 160 mph – twelve minutes
  • 180 mph – fifteen minutes.
  • 200 mph – seventeen minutes.

This alone could mean that London Kings Cross and Leeds could be around two hours with trains such as the proposed High Speed Two Classic-Compatible Trains.

It couldn’t be extended to the North very easily as Stoke Tunnel is between Stoke junction and Grantham.

This Google Map shows the tunnel.

If it could easily be converted into a four-track cutting, this would add nearly six miles to the four-track section with high speed lines in the middle and slow lines on the outside.

A Diversion At York

When improving speeds and times on the East Coast Main Line, a diversion at York is sometimes mentioned.

The Google Map shows the East Coast Main Line, as it goes through York station.


  1. York station is in the South East corner of the map.
  2. The River Ouse meandering North from near the station, before turning West at the top of the map.
  3. The East Coast Main Line running North from the station to the West of the river.

The railway crosses the river just to the North of Skelton junction.

This Google Map shows the tracks at York in more detail.


  1. The River Ouse in the North-East corner of the map.
  2. The East Coast Main Line through York station curving round the Railway Museum, before going North.
  3. A second rail route and sidings to the West of the East Coast Main Line can be seen.

Could a diversion route be created between Holgate and Skelton junctions on railway land?

  • It would be about two miles long.
  • It could be built to also sort out the bottleneck at Skelton junction.
  • It might be possible to extend the fast line to Northallerton station.

This could create up to thirty miles of fast lines between Holgate junction and Northallerton.

A Diversion At Durham

When improving speeds and times on the East Coast Main Line, a diversion at Durham is sometimes mentioned.

The Google Map shows the East Coast Main Line, as it goes through Durham station.


  1. I have arranged the map so that the East Coast Main Line goes between the South-West and North-East corners of the map.
  2. Durham station is clearly visible.
  3. The railway line curves East towards the station around Nevilles Cross after running North from the South.

This Google Map shows the East Coast Main Line, as it goes through Chester-le-Street station.


  1. Chester-le-Street station is in the North-East corner of the map.
  2. The East Coast Main Line runs North-South down the middle of the map.
  3. About halfway down the map, the East Coast Main Line starts to veer to the East.

If you look at the bigger picture of these maps, it appears that to serve Durham, the line took a loop to the East, so would a diversion cut off the corner between Chester-le-Street and Nevilles Cross and put Durham on a loop?

It would be a bit shorter, but it could be built to enable running at a higher speed.

Short German High Speed Lines

I have travelled a lot on German trains and they have some of our problems.

  • Infrastructure dating back to the times of Kaiser Bill.
  • A high mileage of track without electrification.
  • Less high speed railways than France or Spain.

They are creating several high speed railways.

Earlier, I indicated that the Cologne-Aachen high speed railway, which is only 43 miles long, has an operating speed of 250 kph.

Other short high speed railways include.

Note, that the Germans are still upgrading lines to 200 kph or 125 mph.

The Germans would appear to favour some shorter high speed lines, so it must be a worthwhile philosophy.


I very much feel there is scope to create some new high speed sections on the current UK network, with only building very little outside of the current land used by the network.

As with Germany would it be worthwhile to upgrade some lines to 125 mph running?

These could be possibilities.

There are probably others.


December 8, 2021 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , ,


  1. The old BR information film “The Pain Train” (available on YouTube) shows the combined impacts of small delays. So the combined impacts of small improvements should have a positive effect, although operators may want to take the benefits in terms of reliability/recovery rather than promise schedule improvement.

    Comment by MilesT | December 8, 2021 | Reply

    • I remember talking to a group of off-duty EMR drivers going back to St. Pancras in First and one said something like it’s amazing what you can recover if you’re late and know the route well, with a train that can accelerate and brake well. They were certainly poking fun at our driver that trip.

      They also told me about the problems of electrifying through Leicester, as they’d had a chat with one of Network Rail’s experts a few days before.

      Comment by AnonW | December 8, 2021 | Reply

  2. For a change, I agree with you wholeheartedly! LoL! There a some fairly long stretches of straight track that could be invested in to provide some very high speed main line running. I think realistically those stretches would only be increased to 140mph (poss 150mph). Any faster would really need infrastructure to cater for higher speeds. With some additional investment there are some stretches that have curves that presently prevent such high speed running, yet could be either straightened or re-curved over longer distances. There are certainly some of those on the GWML.

    Comment by Andrew Bruton | December 8, 2021 | Reply

    • I’m expanding this! Come back in an hour or so.

      Comment by AnonW | December 8, 2021 | Reply

  3. Its all very well going faster, but if the lines are shared with other slower, stopping traffic, surely it will count for nothing as they will just get in the way. Also, creating shorter lengths of new ‘high speed’ line’with classic bits sandwiched in the middle – where other lines feed into that section – one is now beholden to a much wider network remaining reliable, so what might seem an unrelated delay can have knock-on consequences for the high speed service…

    Comment by Sisyphus | December 8, 2021 | Reply

    • The high speed lines must be completely separate and on the East Coast Main Line, they are in the centre.

      The only place I can think of, where we have lines like this at present is where the CTRL runs alongside c2c through Dagenham.

      Comment by AnonW | December 8, 2021 | Reply

  4. Germanys approach has been to employ reasonable lengths of HSL but not end to end between major cities to improve overall timings without all the aggravation of trying to get new lines into cities.

    Comment by Nicholas Lewis | December 8, 2021 | Reply

    • They also seem to favour making lines like London and Norwich into 200 kph lines. I suspect North of Manningtree that would be possible, if they demolished the Trowse swing bridge and put in a modern double track lifting bridge.

      Comment by AnonW | December 8, 2021 | Reply

    • Always remember that our railways were built to a smaller gauge than other countries where existing lines normally allow for double deck trains because of larger tunnels etc .

      That’s why the recent announcement about HS2 is a nonsense if you’re building a new railway to modern international gauge instead of small U.K. gauge….. you build all of it and don’t leave a Shapps Gap in the middle!

      Comment by Melvyn | December 8, 2021 | Reply

      • Arghh yes that is a very good point although I suspect thats what we will have for decades.

        Comment by Nicholas Lewis | December 8, 2021

      • My view is that double-deck trains are not what they’re cracked up to be. Loading and unloading is terribly slow, when they are busy and they are a nightmare for someone in a wheelchair.

        HS2 specification for the Classic-Compatible trains includes level access.

        Comment by AnonW | December 9, 2021

  5. Related: in one of his Railnatters Gareth Dennis discusses how to make trains go faster with Steve Wood –

    Comment by Matthew | December 9, 2021 | Reply

    • Thanks!

      Comment by AnonW | December 9, 2021 | Reply

    • I watched that episode when it first came out and still feel it is one of his best. I was converted to the “make the slow bits faster” cause!

      Comment by Fenline Scouser | December 9, 2021 | Reply

  6. Bypasses for York and Durham date back to HS2’s 2016 study on upgrades to WCML/ECML (p46 onward). This has some quite detailed proposals, which were mentioned again in the recent Union Connectivity Review. The York one was based on extending HS2 N of Micklefield roughly along the line of the A1. As that’s no longer going ahead, a shorter alternative might be going N from Colton Jcn For Durham, they mention reopening Leamside, which was/is of course part of NPR (though also left out of the IRP).

    I don’t think shaving a few minutes off journey times is the main point though. Adding capacity is what’s needed. GG21’s proposal of joining ECML at Newark would give an alternative E Midlands-Leeds, higher-speed than MML through Sheffield. But it would dump a lot of extra traffic onto that stretch of the ECML. So they also propose a new line E of Doncaster to provide the extra capacity. Reopening Leamside wouldn’t be high speed, but it add capacity and provides a lot more flexibility.

    Comment by Peter Robins | December 9, 2021 | Reply

  7. […] Are Short Lengths Of High Speed Line A Good Idea?, I look at the mathematics of putting in short lengths of new railway, which have higher speeds, […]

    Pingback by Thoughts On High Speed Two « The Anonymous Widower | March 12, 2023 | Reply

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