The story of an abandoned rail project amid calls to stop HS2

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In last week’s Guardian the Fly highlighted the total waste of money that is HS2; The paper also printed a letter regarding it.

My column is not political, but the perceived feeling in the county is very few people want it, and even fewer will need it.

The work to build this white elephant impacts Mid Cheshire considerably if it continues to lumber across the country, destroying and damaging all in its path.

The green fields of Wimboldsley will be covered in a vast HS2 depot: (from the Winsford & Middlewich Guardian October 2020).

The new proposals would see the planned Wimboldsley rolling stock depot increase in size from 60 to 65 hectares, while a new 800m maintenance site is also on the cards, and a doubling of tracks in the area from two to four will lead to greater loss of habitat.

But the damage to wildlife and infrastructure does not stop there as Phase 2b continues.

So, this week I will contribute to the debate with a similar example of what happened in yesteryears when a rail project was set in motion and was eventually cancelled with many millions of pounds written off.

I researched it thoroughly for my A to Z of Crewe book, and there are some similarities. On display on the track alongside the West Coast Main Line at the Crewe Heritage Centre is one of the only remaining examples of the abandoned APT project.

The decision to design and build an APT was made in January 1969, and the first thing that needed to be acquired was funding for the project; this proved difficult.

The already hard-up British Railways Board could not afford it. In Japan, the Tokyo-Osaka train carried 120 million passengers a year, and BRs busiest line, the West Coast Main Line, was just six million, so not every participant felt that a lot could be spent on the new train.

The Ministry of Transport was approached, and finally, in 1971, it was agreed that BR would pay half and the Ministry of Transport the other half. What was required was a train, powered by overhead electrics that could travel at least 155mph, cornering 40 per cent faster than expresses of the period.

The project commenced, and many problems arose. The plan to put the engine in the middle of the train to equalise the weight meant no link between the carriages needing two buffet cars and staff. Empire building detracted from the work; a potential constituent of HS2, BR and other agencies were getting a bit fed up.

The idea that the best train would be multiple units with power cars at each end was still the favourite placing the engines out of the way underneath the carriages. This was not new; the smaller diesel and electric railcars worked the same way as tramcars and the Blue Pullman.

Due to the delay, work started on an interim plan, and from it in a short time came the far more successful InterCity 125, also known as The High-Speed Train or HST. It was capable of 125mph on most of the standard rail infrastructure.

Work on the APT still limped along with long delays in construction and planning; for instance, it was discovered that two APTs passing each other from opposite directions on a bend were likely to connect as both leaned towards each other.

In 1980 the APT team was disbanded, leaving onward work for other agencies; at this time, the project had been running for 10 years with no train yet in service. Pressure came from all sides, and eventually, the government demanded that this ‘money pit’ be put into service, despite the ongoing problems.

On the December 7, 1981, the press were invited to ride on the train from Glasgow to London, during which a record of four hours 15 minutes was set. The press corps was not interested; they were too busy feeling sick as the train rolled around the bends.

They were not happy, although the free food and drink probably contributed to the queasiness, and the train became a laughing stock, described as amongst other things a ‘queasy rider’. Finally, the APT-P trains went into service in mid-1984, bearing in mind that the InterCity 125s had entered service in 1976 and were a great success.

They were diesel, and although fast at 125mph, they were slow enough to travel virtually anywhere in the network.

By 1985/6, the APTs were withdrawn, broken up or sent to museums. One of which is the star turn at the Crewe Heritage Centre. Another is at ‘Locomotion, the National Rail Museum at Shildon.

There was still a need, however, for new high-speed locomotives and upgraded infrastructure to take them. In early 1990 work started on what was to be an InterCity 250 consisting of class 93 electric locomotive, nine coaches and a Driving Van Trailer (DVT).

In 1992 the project was cancelled due to the coming privatisation and a shortage of funding. Later along came The Pendolino with Fiat Ferroviaria’s tilting ability. That, like the InterCity 125 and the later trains powered by DVTs, was a success story.

The APT, however, was a costly mistake. Are we heading that way again, especially after lockdown and the increased use of office technology? Do we really want such an expensive and damaging project to continue its costly way across the country, especially Mid Cheshire?

‘The HS2 line heads north through the Minshull Vernon parish area, peels off the West Coast Main Line, and crosses beneath the A530.

‘The HS2 Crewe North Rolling Stock Depot is located between the West Coast Main Line and the HS2 alignment. It then continues at or above ground level into the Cheshire West and Chester Council area before crossing beneath Clive Green Lane and then over the Shropshire Union canal.

‘At the back of the Winsford Industrial Estate, the line enters a deep cutting, providing for a diversion of the A54 and A533 at a single crossing point of the new line to the west of Middlewich’.