Ultraspeed Could Bring UK Key Cities Closer

Dale Potts
Faithful+Gould is backing a new travel concept which could shrink journey times from hours to minutes

Transport specialists at Faithful+Gould are backing a new travel concept that has the potential to shrink journey times between major UK centres from hours to minutes. The indicative journey time from London to Birmingham could be around 30 minutes.

The Secretary of State for Transport has announced his Department’s intention to conduct a far reaching review of long term strategy for the UK railways network. Alongside traditional railways, the review is expected to consider a 300 mph ground transport system called UK Ultraspeed.

Ultraspeed uses magnetic levitation (maglev) technology to enable passengers to travel safely and in an environmentally friendly manner. The vehicles used float above a fixed guideway track on an electro magnetic 'cushion' and are guided, propelled and braked by variable frequency electric currents passed through the guideway.

Faithful+Gould provides project and cost consultancy to the transport sector across the rail, aviation and roads markets. It advises rail operators around the world on development projects and long term strategy and so has a global view on related technology. Ian Metcalfe, director and national head of transport at the consultancy was one of those asked by the Ultraspeed team to give a professional opinion on its potential as a solution to UK transport challenges.

Director Ian Metcalfe explains: "It is evident that the speed and efficiency of maglev systems has the potential to transform the way we travel between major centres and also to provide rapid transport between airports. The implication is not only faster land travel but also the ability to use our airports in a more integrated way. If passengers can travel at speeds in excess of 300 MPH between two airports, for example, they can potentially function as a single unit."

Setting aside these benefits, there are a number of practical factors which give such systems huge appeal:

  • This type of technology, though new to the UK, is already well-proven
  • Relatively small amounts of land are needed to accommodate the guideways
  • From a construction viewpoint much of the work can be undertaken off site.

Of equal importance is the fact that these systems are fast to build. There is a similar system in use in China. The contract to build the line, which is in Shanghai, was signed in January 2001. The vehicle’s maiden trip was made in December 2002 and it opened for full commercial service in December 2003

Ian Metcalfe commented, "The ability for guideway, vehicles and systems to be prefabricated off site, combined with opportunities for careful pre-planning and integrated design make construction simpler and more predictable in terms of timing than many other modes of transport. Guideway design allows for great flexibility in routing, controlling civil engineering costs, and in some areas allowing existing transport corridors to be used, so potentially easing the planning approval process."