HS2 Ltd has denied that David Higgins has resigned, after the Cabinet Office announced that it was seeking a new chairman in an official newsletter.
[HS2 chairman’s £475k-a-year post advertised ‘in error’ by Government, Andrew Gilligan, Daily Telegraph, 30 April 2016]
[…] The bulletin states that the job is “expected to be advertised within the next few months”.
But a spokesman for HS2 claimed the entry was an “error”, saying: “Sir David Higgins remains as chairman of HS2 Ltd.”
However, the spokesman refused to say how long he would remain or to make any further comment.
His contract was extended only in January this year after he was initially appointed for a two-year term beginning in January 2014.
In November 2013 the government announced that David Higgins would be taking up the chairmanship of HS2 Ltd, ‘to drive down the cost of the high speed rail project’.
In February 2011, David Higgins took over the position of chief executive of the failing infrastructure manager, Network Rail. In July 2015, he told the BBC there was ‘no sign of a crisis’ at Network Rail when he ran it.
Having claimed that HS2 had been damaged by not ‘clearly‘ setting out the rationale, in November 2014 Mr Higgins told the House of Commons transport select committee that “a railway line where trains travel at 220 miles an hour as opposed to 120 miles an hour clearly has nearly twice the capacity because you can have twice as many trains on it”.
“Once we started to talk about capacity, then people started to get it.” Or perhaps, more accurately, ‘once the chairman of HS2 started to talk about capacity, it became clear that he hadn’t the foggiest idea what he was talking about’.
At the time of writing, the ‘twice the capacity’ claim is the subject of an unresolved, and long-overdue, freedom of information enquiry to HS2 Ltd.
In the November 2015 Supplement to the October 2013 Strategic Case for HS2, the Department for Transport stated that research showed that “passengers start to perceive negative impacts” from crowding at 80 per cent load factors”.
But in his letter to Lord Hollick dated 25 September 2015, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport Lord Ahmad stated, “Behavioural research shows that on long distance services passengers begin to feel negative effects from crowding at between 60% and 70% loading”.
So, do passengers start to feel ‘negative effects’ at 60% loading, or at 80% loading? But isn’t this whole line of reasoning a bit odd? Do clients in a restaurant start to feel ‘negative effects’ if the adjacent tables also have customers? What about the length of waits in hospital accident and emergency? After how many minutes in A&E triage do ‘negative effects’ set in?
Obviously, £50-billion-spent-on-HS2 must mean £50-billion-not-spent-on-other-things (like metropolitan transport, hospital A&E, medical research, etc).
The ‘shadow objective’ of avoiding “passengers starting to feel negative effects” by running intercity trains 40% empty — in the peak — must be one of the oddest features of the HS2 project.
In 1981, the Department of Transport and British Railways Board stated that there had been ‘substantial progress’ in the design of overhead line equipment for railway electrification. Wire headspans and shorter masts were reducing the visual intrusion caused by electrification works.
Network Rail’s aesthetically challenged electrification of the Great Western main line is a good example of the need for a re-think of design across the railway. There is no reason why ‘reliable infrastructure’ should mean ugly infrastructure.
On 19 November 2014, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin wrote to the House of Lords Economics Committee chairman, Clive Hollick, about HS2 and rail capacity.
Figure 10 from the letter gave the seats and standing capacity of London Midland commuter trains at Euston.
Or rather, it didn’t.
As can be seen, there was no exposition of the standing capacity.
According to the Department for Transport’s HS2 technical index supplement (November 2015), Autumn 2014 count data indicates that at present, 0.7 per cent of Virgin West Coast passengers across the AM and PM peaks are standing as trains arrive at/depart Euston. This rises to 2.4 per cent on a Friday PM peak.
So, in general, just seven in every thousand Euston peak passengers are standing.
But the Department claims that “Standing will become a major issue on ICWC services by 2033/34”.
In fact, the indications are that by using higher capacity IEP-type trains, standing on ICWC services would be zero by 2033/34.
Peak standing would go from nought point seven per cent, to nought point nought per cent, Fridays included.
According to the Department for Transport, the November 2015 technical annex to the HS2 Strategic Case showed that ‘infrastructure investment contained within the [Atkins] Strategic Alternative only allows a 4.7 per cent increase in [London Midland] morning peak capacity into Euston over and above running all of today’s services with 12-cars’.
|Reference||London Midland capacity scenario||Number of LM services||Standard class seats||Standard class capacity|
|i||No HS2, Dec 2014||28 (stated by DfT)||15132 (stated by DfT)||20234 (stated by DfT)|
|ii||No HS2, All 12-carriage||28 (stated by DfT)||19344 (stated by DfT), 20412 (arithmetic*)||25884 (stated by DfT)|
|iii||With Atkins “Strategic” Alternative and No HS2||30 (stated by DfT)||20580 (stated by DfT), 21870 (arithmetic*)||27120 (stated by DfT)|
|iv||With HS2||41 (stated by DfT)||30330 (stated by DfT), 29889 (arithmetic*)||41103 (stated by DfT)|
No classic lineside works,
Run 12 trains in the three peak hours
|36 (see discussion below)||26244 (arithmetic*)|
|* = assuming 243 Standard Class seats in a 4-car Class 350/2 unit, i.e. 729 seats in a 12-car train|
- the figures given do not seem to match those from publicly available train data,
- the Department does not include First Class in its assessment of commuter capacity,
- the ‘Strategic Alternative’ is a “straw man” proposal, commissioned by the government purely to bolster the case for HS2. Much better “alternatives” could be, and have been, designed.
The technical annex also claimed that, with HS2 Phase One, route capacity released from running fewer inter-city services on the West Coast Main Line would allow the number of London Midland morning peak arrivals to increase from 28 to 41.
But how dependent is London Midland capacity on HS2? The company’s December 2015 – May 2016 timetable showed that, in the three hour weekday morning peak,
- only seven Commuter trains arrived at Euston between between 07:01 and 08:00, thirteen arrived between 08:01 and 09:00, and eight arrived between 09:01 and 10:00; and
- most were ‘Commuter Slow’ — running on the slow lines not used by inter-city trains.
|Dec 2015 – May 2016 timetable (weekday)|
|Time of arrival at Euston||Between
07:01 – 08:00
08:01 – 09:00
09:01 – 10:00
|Quantum of London Midland trains||7||13||8|
If thirteen London Midland commuter trains can be accommodated between 8am and 9am, what would be the difficulty in accommodating twelve between 7am and 8am, or between 9am and 10am? Many ‘flexitime’ workers would use shoulder peak services, if cheaper fares were on offer.
HS2 “will be more advanced than what you see across Europe and the Far East”, HS2 Ltd chief executive Simon Kirby told Construction News.
[Exclusive: Simon Kirby on safety, skills, cost savings and HS2’s future, JACK SIMPSON, CN, 21 APRIL 2016]
[…] Phase one of the high-speed line will stretch 225 km from London Euston to Birmingham [sic], with a further 318 km to be laid as part of phase two.
[…] Excluding rolling stock, the estimated cost of HS2 currently stands at £78.4m per kilometre.
This would make it the most expensive high-speed rail link in the world – three times the cost per kilometre of high-speed lines in Germany and 10 times higher than in France and Spain.
While Mr Kirby believes some of this can be attributed to the extra station work required on HS2 when compared with French or Spanish projects, he believes a large proportion is down to the UK’s approach to construction.
Is the kilometric cost of high speed lines in Germany three times that of Spain or France? Most of Germany’s high speed rail network is upgraded existing line (Ausbaustrecke), not new-build.
According to Die Welt (22 October 2002), the upgrade of the 284 km Hamburg to Berlin route for 230 km/h operation was costed at just 638.7 million euro (£500 million, at the current exchange rate). £500 million would not buy even 10 km of HS2 track.
If, in Britain, existing track were upgraded instead of building HS2, the savings would run into tens of billions of pounds, and the environmental impact and disruption would be minimal.
No high speed line anywhere in the world has the specification and complexity of HS2, so it would indeed have to be “more advanced than what you see across Europe and the Far East”. But in an April 2013 interview with E&T Magazine, HS2 chief engineer Andrew McNaughton said
[HS2: the need for speed
Sean Davies, E&T, 12 April 2013]
[A McN:] “The guardian principle is that I want the best three-year-old railway technology that I can buy in 2026. I don’t actually want to have invented anything.”
So, HS2 is supposed to be both built on off-the-shelf technology, and “more advanced than what you see across Europe and the Far East”. How would ‘three-year-old’ technology, bought in from overseas suppliers, be ‘exportable’ by HS2 Ltd? How could they own the intellectual property?