Engineering HS2: Andrew McNaughton is the man whose job is on the line

For Andrew McNaughton, the controversial high-speed rail network is about hundreds of miles of steel rail and millions of tonnes of concrete

For a man with the weight of the country’s largest infrastructure project since the construction of the M25 on his shoulders, Andrew McNaughton doesn’t seem overly concerned about intense political pressure, angry protests or budget over-runs.

Mr McNaughton, the chief technical director of HS2, the proposed high-speed rail link that will run between London, the West Midlands and Manchester, has a long history on Britain’s railways and is far more concerned with the engineering challenges ahead.

Since joining British Rail in 1973 he has worked on dozens of projects, including the first high-speed rail line in Kent linking to the Channel Tunnel, before being appointed chief engineer at High Speed Rail Ltd and taking charge of the route and design for Britain’s most controversial infrastructure project in decades.

He believes the project has long been misrepresented. “For a start it isn’t a line,” he told The Independent. “Phase One to Birmingham and Phase Two to the North-East and North-West together make a Y-shaped network that we’ve designed from the ground up.”

The High Speed Rail Bill, which if passed will give the green light to construction of the first phase, was presented to Parliament last week. Anti-HS2 campaigners were quick to point out that it was the longest Bill in parliamentary history, stretching to nearly 50,000 pages and weighing, if printed out, up to a tonne – the equivalent of small car. But Mr McNaughton has other statistics on his mind.

“Of course we don’t start the design with steel and concrete – you start with the passengers – but that said, the first phase will see us pour 13.6 million tonnes of concrete and move up to 128 million tonnes of earth,” he says.

That first phase to Birmingham will have 14,600 engineers working on it, but the whole network will run a total distance of 343 miles and,  including junctions, depots and stations, will require 750 miles of track to be laid.

Once phase two is completed, sometime in 2033, the network will, according to Mr McNaughton, have “more than twice the passenger carrying capacity of two motorways”, with 18 services an hour in each direction, each train carrying as many as 1,100 people. It’s a vast challenge and one that’s already been labelled a potential white elephant, but Mr McNaughton’s confidence seems unshakable despite revelations earlier this month in the trade publication Building that all of the HS2 engineering design contracts are already running over budget to the tune of £10.6m.

“At a technical level, yes, it will have cost that much [the £50bn budget] and it will be ready on time,” he says. “When I stand in front of Commons committees, senior politicians and representatives of the community affected, I have to be able to say if I’m telling you something, it’s right. Not that ‘With a bit of luck we’ll get this right’.”

According to Felix Schmid, a professor of engineering at Birmingham University and a member of the HS2 Leaders Group, the main challenge for the project is not only creating a truly integrated network – but also one that is attractive to look at.

“Concerns about noise pollution are largely misguided as with a well-designed train noise levels are very low,” he said. The consequence of “nasty” neighbours is that “you have to build earth walls on either side of the railways” and “attractiveness disappears very quickly”, he added.

Professor Schmid believes the Government has “rolled over” and allowed many local campaigners to convince designers to build tunnels to reduce the line’s visual impact. More than half the route between London and Birmingham – including stretches of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire – will be in cuttings or tunnels and 48 miles of the whole network will be in tunnels at a depth of up to 50 metres.

He added: “Environmentally this is a very bad idea because of the enormous amount of energy that goes into building a tunnel. And the visual impact becomes very small [for nearby residents] but it doesn’t mean a very attractive journey – people don’t tend to think about that but if much of your journey is in a tunnel or below ground level you might as well have trains without windows.”

To the engineering community one of the biggest decisions has been whether to use a concrete slab track or the traditional ballasted track, familiar to British train passengers for its rhythmic clunkity clunk. It might sound arcane, but according to Professor Schmid it’s crucial.

“They need to make is sustainable,” he said. “The British are traditionally more keen on ballasted track, but at 200mph you’ve got to get it right and don’t want ballast thrown up damaging the trains and damaging the rails.”

According to Professor Schmid there’s also a misconception about the speed the trains will be travelling at. They are capable of 250mph, which means a 4.3 miles turning radius, but “most likely they will run at 200mph for early stages and still hit the proposed journey times”, he said.

It is this speed and the intensity of the trains running down the line that provide the biggest challenges for Mr McNaughton, but civil engineering questions aside, he is convinced there is a demand for HS2, citing surging population growth in England over the next 40 years. “Are people suddenly going to stop travelling? The answer to that is clearly no,” he says.

Next year sees the 50th anniversary of Japan’s Shinkansen high-speed network, which shows, Mr McNaughton says, how far behind the curve Britain is. “If I lie awake at night worrying, it’s because we should have been doing this years ago. If we’d done this 10 years ago, we perhaps wouldn’t have wasted so much money on other things and would have got it up and ready to meet the demand.”

HS2 in numbers

250mph: Top speed of new trains

343 miles: Total distance of network

750 miles: Total track

49 minutes: Reduced London-to-Birmingham journey time

40,000: New jobs expected to be generated by the project

14,600: Engineers working on project

2033: Scheduled completion date for entire project

£27bn: Projected ticket revenues over next 30 years

400: Houses due to be demolished to make way for HS2 line

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London