Transport secretary Chris Grayling MP has launched “the hunt” for a company to design, build and maintain a fleet of up to 60 state-of-the-art ‘225mph’ classic compatible trains for Britain’s “HS2 network”.
[‘Search underway for company to build HS2 trains in £2.75 billion government rail investment’, Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd, gov.uk, 20 January 2017]
[…] Providing a world class passenger experience is at the heart of the requirements for companies interested in bidding for the £2.75 billion contract.
Hundreds of jobs will be created by the government’s investment, boosting Britain’s skills and expertise in this sector.
[…] Today sees the publication of the Periodic Indicative Notice (PIN), pre-advising the formal start of the process in spring this year. There will be an industry event on 27 March where interested companies can find out more about the bidding requirements and process. This will be followed by the launch of the pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) pack which will provide further details of the specifications for the trains.
Bidders will be shortlisted following the PQQ, and the formal invitations to tender issued in 2018. The contract award will be announced at the end of 2019.
One might expect a £2.75 billion spend to produce more than just ‘hundreds of jobs’, but there is no domestic supply chain for intercity rolling stock. At present, only the assembly of passenger carriages from imported parts is carried out within Great Britain (at Newton Aycliffe and Derby), and large quantities of rolling stock are imported completely built up. For the sake of appearances, potential HS2 train bidders such as Alstom and CRRC might have to offer GB assembly, even though they have plenty of spare capacity at home.
HS2 Ltd has talked up the prospect of ‘level boarding’ from platform to train, but how feasible is this ‘state of the art’ aspiration? In the view of the Beleben blog, the likelihood of true level boarding is fairly low. How a step from ‘classic’ platforms to HS2 trains could be avoided, is yet to be explained. But even with absolutely no height difference, seemingly small horizontal gaps are enough to bring pushchairs, wheelchairs and wheeled luggage to a halt.
The ‘level boarding’ conundrum might end up being offloaded onto rolling stock bidders, in much the same way that the HS2 timetabling problem is being dumped on a future ‘West Coast Partnership‘.
HS2 provides a “real opportunity to take Northern Powerhouse Rail forward” in that “we” will be able to “use some parts” of that network [HS2] to help us improve connections across the north, according to Transport for the North chief David Brown.
[‘Vital transport links closer to being a reality’, RTM, Jan 2017]
The new and improved northern rail network cradling and interfacing with a fast HS2 rail link is exactly what is needed to provide the capacity and connectivity the north needs to grow and develop its full potential. Working in cohesion, the services will together deliver our vision of city to city links, both east-west and north-south, effectively mobilising one of the most powerful workforces in the UK.
“Exactly what is needed”?
There is no way that rail, or road, development could ‘mobilise’ disparate workforces in cities like Liverpool and Newcastle upon Tyne, into a single so-called ‘Northern powerhouse’. They are simply too far apart.
And there is no way that HS2 – a ‘transport for London’ project – could play a significant role in northern connectivity.
HS2 does not link northern cities, and attempting to re-use sections of phase 2 to perform that function (e.g. between Manchester and Liverpool) is likely to waste enormous sums of public cash.
Building a very high speed railway to London is not a way of improving rail in the north.
According to the ‘High Speed Rail Industry Leaders Group’, HS2 and Crossrail are leading the way in the vital task of reducing carbon emissions for new infrastructure projects.
[David Shirres, ‘Reducing project carbon’, Rail Engineer, 17 Jan 2017]
Transport for London (TfL) is reducing its contribution to climate change to support the Mayor’s ambition of London becoming a zero-carbon city by 2050. To do this, TfL is taking action to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2025 (from 1990 levels), including reducing project embodied carbon.
So, TfL are planning to reduce carbon emissions.
But what about HS2?
For Crossrail and HS2, sustainability is a high priority. Considering carbon at the early design stage enables these mega-projects to achieve significant carbon (and cost) reductions for both construction and operation. Crossrail’s operational energy usage will be minimised by a vertical track profile that aids deceleration and acceleration, responsive escalators, specially developed LED lighting and lightweight energy-efficient rolling stock. Crossrail has so far achieved an 11 per cent reduction in embodied project carbon against its baseline. This is mainly due to reduction in construction materials and the amount of cement used in concrete, subject to cement performance requirements and curing time.
Project construction is estimated to generate 1.7 million tonnes CO2e, against which the carbon footprint model indicates annual operational CO2 savings of between 70,000 and 225,000 tonnes, largely due to car journey replacement. Crossrail estimate that, after 9 to 13 years, the project will provide net CO2 savings.
The construction carbon footprint for HS2 Phase One is estimated to be between 5.3 and 6.5 million tonnes CO2e. Some of this is from the construction of tunnels and earthworks as mitigation for environmental noise and visual amenity. Operational emissions are estimated to be a net 3 million tonnes CO2e over a 60- year period taking into account modal shift, mitigation from planting two million trees and freight benefits from released capacity on the classic network. Emissions per passenger kilometre from high-speed rail, inter-city rail, car and plane are estimated to be respectively 8, 22, 67 and 170 grams of CO2e.
49 per cent of the embodied carbon for the construction of a high-speed railway comes from steel while 28 per cent is from concrete. HS2’s opportunities to lower embodied carbon include maximising opportunities to re-use excavated material on site, the use of 4-D modelling to plan efficient logistics with low carbon modes such as rail and development of new materials including sustainable concrete.
In all the verbiage, Mr Shirres never got around to saying whether building and operating HS2 would reduce, or increase, carbon emissions.
The OECD, a rich-country think-tank, reckons it costs 90% more to build lines for trains that reach 350kph than it does to lay ones that allow speeds of 250kph, according to The Economist.
[China has built the world’s largest bullet-train network, the Economist, 14 Jan 2017]
For longer lines with more than 100m passengers a year and travel times of five hours or less — such as the one between Beijing and Shanghai — the more expensive type may be justifiable.
So how many rail passengers are there to ‘justify’ a 350 km/h HS2 link between London and Leeds, for example?
GTR Southern rail users with disabilities face delayed journeys or the prospect of no longer being able to board some trains after the company said there was no “cast-iron guarantee” that assistance would be available at all stations, The Guardian reported. The change has been linked to the extension of ‘driver controlled operation’, in which guards are replaced by ‘onboard supervisors’.
[No guarantee of help for disabled passengers, says Southern, Diane Taylor, The Guardian, 17 Jan 2017]
Southern has admitted it may have to book taxis for disabled travellers who cannot complete their journey because the only member of staff on the train is the driver.
Previously there were 33 stations across the Southern rail network where passengers in need of assistance to get on or off the train could turn up and be guaranteed help.
(Of course, because of GTR’s repeated failure to recruit sufficient staff, there are no ‘guarantees’ for anyone to be able to ‘complete their journey’.)
According to Wikipedia, Southern Railway ‘operates’ 156 stations. Like other train operators, it has never offered network-wide spontaneous travel for persons of reduced mobility. How could such a facility be provided?
It would appear that implementating turn up and go nationwide would, in many cases, require the train driver to assist with boarding and alighting. That would entail changes in equipment and operating procedure, to allow the driver to leave the cab as and when required.
Publishing a draft operating timetable for HS2 would build up a set of debates, expectations and controversies “long before the likely pattern of demand and usage is clear”, according to HS2 Ltd director Andrew Adonis.
[High Speed Rail (London–West Midlands) Bill, Lords Grand Committee, 12 January 2017]
[Andrew Adonis:] It is not clear to me why my noble friend [Lord Berkeley] thinks that publishing a draft timetable nine years before the line opens is a good idea. This would build up a whole set of debates, expectations and controversies long before the likely pattern of demand and usage is clear. Was there some particular reason why he was so keen that this work should be done so far in advance of the opening of HS2?
But he went on to claim, “just to be clear”, that “the illustrative timetables have been published already and, indeed, have been a part of the business case. What my noble friend’s amendment refers to is a comprehensive and detailed working timetable, which, as I say, will greatly build up the expectations of those who will benefit and lead to big and controversial campaigns by those who will not.”
As usual, Andrew Adonis was talking nonsense. HS2 Ltd has only published ‘service patterns’, which are far less detailed than any sort of timetable.
If HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport can publish ‘service patterns’ for HS2 and West Coast Main Line ‘modelling’, was there some particular reason they are unable to produce corresponding working timetables?
The most likely explanation is that publishing such timetables would further expose the limitations and impracticalities of HS2, and the associated post-2026 ‘planning’. Apparently, the government’s plan is to make the whole thing someone else’s problem, by having the future ‘West Coast Partnership’ responsible for HS2 and WCML timetable design.
[House of Lords, High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, 10 Jan 2017]
[Andrew Adonis:] My noble friend Lord Snape referred to the plan for a kind of patch-and-mend link between HS1 and HS2 using the North London line. There was a plan for that in the original HS1 scheme, linking to the conventional lines. There was also initially from HS2 Ltd a plan for it in respect of the HS2 line. It has to be said that nobody much liked this. It would have been a very slow connection, weaving its way up to the North London line, across and down, which would have made the line even less competitive with the airlines. When the trains were running, it would have used a lot of capacity on the North London line [NLL], which, as noble Lords will know, is now an integral part of the Overground service and a major freight artery. That would have been highly inconvenient.
Increasing the number of freight trains using the NLL would also “use up a lot of capacity” and be “highly inconvenient” for Overground travel. But those outcomes would be a virtually inevitable consequence of the Department for Transport’s post-HS2 ‘ambition’ to run more freight on the West Coast Main Line (if the ambition were otherwise feasible).
[House of Lords, 10 Jan 2017]
[Andrew Adonis:] I cannot emphasise enough that the single biggest threat to this project is cost overruns in building the core of it, between cities where there is massive traffic – namely, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London. It would not be a sensible use of public resources at the moment to add in — on a wing and a prayer, because for sentimental reasons we think it would be nice to have one or two trains a day that start off from Manchester and have “Paris” on the front — the commitment to many billions further of public spending.
So, how big is this ‘massive traffic’? Consider the easily-largest business travel flow between London and northern England.
According to DfT, there were 1,843,000 rail business journeys between London and Manchester in 2013 / 2014 (~922,000 each way), and 48 trains per day in each direction.
Suppose all of this business travel took place on Mondays to Fridays (250 days per year). With 48 trains per day, the average business passenger load must have been (922,000 / (250 * 48)), or ~78 persons per train.
Such analysis shows that end-to-end business (and non-business) traffic between London and Manchester, London and Birmingham, and London and Leeds, could hardly be described as ‘massive’. In fact, journeys to and from intermediate points account for a significant part of the intercity rail clientele.
Unlike the existing intercity services, HS2’s London – Manchester, London – Birmingham, and London – Leeds trains would not be able to serve any significant intermediate poles of demand. If Manchester – London demand doubled, there would be an average of ~160 business passengers in a 1,100 seat HS2 train.