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The inexplicable need for 400-metre HS2 platforms in Leeds and Manchester

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Data from David Higgins’ 2014 ‘Rebalancing Britain‘ report showed that

  • Manchester-to-London rail passenger volume was much larger than that between Leeds and London
  • Leeds, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and York generated similar amounts of London traffic
  • together, Newcastle upon Tyne and York produced roughly the same London traffic as Manchester did.


At both Leeds and Manchester, new-build terminal stations, with 400-metre platforms, would be built for the exclusive use of HS2 trains. But HS2 services to York and beyond would make use of existing platforms, and be limited to 200-metre length.

With destinations between Newcastle and York taken into account, the cumulative demand to and from York might actually exceed the demand at Manchester.

If short HS2 trains, and short platforms, are deemed adequate to meet expected demand from York, and points north thereof, why are HS2 Ltd proposing to build new termini in Manchester and Leeds?

The available information suggests that the Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds HS2 termini, and their 400-metre platforms, do not serve an obvious or clearly-defined transport purpose.


Written by beleben

October 20, 2017 at 3:55 pm

Posted in HS2

Jean-Cyril spin est là

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'Former Air France CEO Spinetta to assess future of French rail sector', Railway Gazette, 18 Oct 2017On 18 October the Railway Gazette published a story about an inquiry led by former head of Air France-KLM Jean-Cyril Spinetta, which “will investigate multiple issues across the French rail sector, including low ridership on regional passenger trains and the precipitous decline in rail freight seen in recent years”.

However, the story barely mentioned the role of the TGV network in the diminished performance and viability of SNCF.

According to a Le Figaro report (19 September 2017), 70% of TGV service is loss-making.

‘Surexpansion’ of the TGV service seems to have gone hand-in-hand with ‘une négligence progressive’ of the classic network.

Written by beleben

October 19, 2017 at 9:24 am

Right to be sceptical

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A 420-mile (676 km) high speed railway between London and Scotland could be built for ‘as little as £11 billion‘, according to Network Rail chief Iain Coucher, The Times reported on 9 May 2006.

Responding to the proposal, the Shadow Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, said, “The public are right to be highly sceptical […]

the Government should be concentrating on delivering projects that could actually make a difference to people’s lives in the short term.

'High speed trains to take on planes', The Times, 9 May 2006 (h/t @YorkshireNo2HS2)

Written by beleben

October 18, 2017 at 4:30 pm

Posted in HS2

Great Western watershed

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Yesterday’s launch of Hitachi IEP trains on the somewhat electrified main line from Bristol to London might well be described as a ‘watershed moment’ for the Great Western.
@scott4sarah twitter, ceiling 'cascade' on IEP train

‘Leaking’ air-con on the 0600 IEP from Temple Meads to Paddington certainly gave new meaning to the phrase “rolling stock cascade”. The train left Bristol 25 minutes late, and lost another 16 minutes en route, having made the entire journey on diesel because of a pantograph ‘issue’.

Google news, first Great Western IEPs in service

Karen Boswell, managing director of Hitachi Rail Europe, said: “Nine years of hard work has gone into making today happen, from creating a brand new factory and workforce, to establishing modern maintenance facilities from Swansea to London.

“We’ve delivered pioneering 21st century trains for passengers to enjoy”.

Bloomberg, Kobe-steel scam hits planes, trains, autos

Written by beleben

October 17, 2017 at 3:19 pm

The no-evidence base for Northern Powerhouse Rail

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The 'vision' for Northern Powerhouse Rail

According to the ‘Initial Integrated Rail Report, Strategic Transport Plan Evidence Base‘, the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme ‘has been developed with a definitive remit to ultimately deliver the following:’

[Initial Integrated Rail Report, Jacobs and SDG, June 2017]

* The delivery of new and substantially upgraded rail corridors across the North. To release capacity on the existing rail network, which in turn could allow it to be used differently, e.g. for new service patterns, additional local trains or to accommodate more freight traffic;

* To be fully integrated, to allow the benefits of faster journeys to Northern cities to be spread to those places not directly served by new and upgraded routes by through running. NPR stations will become integrated transport hubs, with co-ordinated rail services which also offer convenient connections to local transport services;

* To significantly upgrade hub stations, with more platforms and better facilities for all passengers;

* To mirror HS2 in the integration of NPR within long terms land use planning
considerations around station hubs;

* To drive innovation in rail through the creation of a critical mass for investment in new smart ticketing and information systems which can be used by all rail operators.

Although the ‘Evidence Base’ runs to 83 pages, there is no actual evidence in it which supports the ‘vision‘ for Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The topology is questionable, and the target frequencies, and target journey times (e.g. ‘Sheffield to Manchester in 30 minutes’) seem to be round numbers plucked from the air. Evidence about corridor demand, capacity utilisation on the existing rail lines, etc, is conspicuous by its absence.

In its current form, ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ is a dreadful project which would do almost nothing for everyday transport in the north.

Commuting patterns into Greater Manchester (Paul Swinney, using 2011 Census data)

Commuting patterns into Greater Manchester (Paul Swinney, using 2011 Census data)

Written by beleben

October 12, 2017 at 11:00 am

Unreason at the core

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In the 2014 ‘Rebalancing Britain‘ report, HS2 chairman David Higgins wrote of “the clear importance of the Manchester market”. According to the Department for Transport, there were about 3¼ million rail journeys between London and Manchester in 2013 / 2014, and 48 trains per day in each direction.

Northern markets, David Higgins 'Rebalancing Britain' report for the Department for Transport, 2014

Northern markets, David Higgins ‘Rebalancing Britain’ report for the Department for Transport, 2014

Assuming 589-seat Pendolino trains, and 360-days-per-year operation, would give an annual quantum of (589 * 48 * 2 * 360 =) 20,355,840 seats. For Monday-through-Friday, the figure would be ~14,136,000.

So, on a 7-day or a 5-day measure, less than a quarter of the ‘Manchester to London intercity seat capacity’ was actually used for journeys between Manchester and London.

The percentages for other end to end journeys, such as London to Birmingham and London to Leeds, are not that different. To get better loadings, intercity trains tend to make stops en route, enabling them to tap into commuter traffic (e.g. Macclesfield to Manchester).

In the HS2 scheme, there would be a much higher dependence on ‘end to end’ traffic, with intermediate destinations tending to be either badly served (e.g. Nottingham, Coventry), or not served at all.

But as is plain to see from the ‘Northern markets’ graphic (above), the volume of big-city to big-city demand is not very large.

The ‘capacity case’ for HS2 does not withstand scrutiny because (i) the vast majority of rail demand is for short distance travel, (ii) capacity on the existing tracks can be increased substantially, at much lower cost.

For example, Manchester-to-London and Birmingham-to-London capacity on the existing West Coast Main Line could be increased by over 50%, without resignalling, or platform lengthening. That uplift would come from recasting the timetable, and using space-efficient carriages.

On page 5 of his ‘Rebalancing’ report, David Higgins wrote, “The biggest danger in any major project is losing sight of why you are doing it in the first place. Why is it worth the effort, not to mention the cost? What is the problem that it is the answer to? What is the core purpose you are trying to achieve?”

The big chart of ‘with- and without-HS2’ journey times – on page 4 of the report – would suggest that the rationale of HS2 was more about ‘reducing journey times’, than increasing capacity.

DfT / David Higgins 'Rebalancing Britain' 2014 report, page 4 and top of page 5

DfT / David Higgins ‘Rebalancing Britain’ 2014 report, page 4 and top of page 5

But how many journeys would it speed up?

There are ~1,500 million journeys on ‘national rail’, each year. Would speeding up 3¼ million of them between Manchester and London — or 1¾ million between Leeds and London — justify an outlay of “£55.7 billion”?

Written by beleben

October 11, 2017 at 11:31 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

State of the art in 1980s France

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Ahead of the Conservative Party conference (1 to 4 Oct 2017) in Manchester, transport secretary Chris Grayling has insisted that HS2 is a ‘state of the art capacity project’.

Chris Grayling on HS2, Daily Express 01 Oct 2017

‘State of the art’, in 1980s France, perhaps. HS2 seems to combine outmoded TGV design concepts with ‘faster than you’ 360 km/h operation.

But very high speed is very high cost, and makes no sense when centres of population are close together – as they are in Britain.

Written by beleben

October 1, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Posted in HS2, Politics