Britain’s railway network is a national success story, and Labour’s policy of renationalisation is just an ideological comfort blanket, wrote Labour ‘Progressive’ James Wood.
[‘Labour’s nonexistent rail policy’, James Wood, Progress, 2017-02-13]
On 23 February this year (touch wood) we will celebrate 10 years since a passenger was killed on the rail network, a thankfully long way from the appalling regularity of high-fatality crashes of the eighties and nineties.
[…] In 2012 – 2013, GB train operating company profits were £250 m […against] TOC costs of £6.2 bn, ticket revenue of £7.7 bn and industry-wide costs of £13 bn. If the £250 million TOC profits were directly deducted from UK farebox income, that would only fund a one-off two per cent cut in ticket prices. Simply removing the private sector from the railways will not create a railway with high investment and low fares.
Sadly, the article is based on inaccurate and incomplete information, and muddled thinking. Unfortunately
- it is not “10 years since a passenger was killed on the rail network”
- the idea that ditching the current industry structure would only permit ‘a one-off two per cent cut in ticket prices’, is absurd.
The fragmentation imposed by John Major’s government substantially increased the whole-industry cost base, and the results can be seen to this day. The rolling stock leasing companies created by the Major government are certainly not operating on a ‘2 per cent margin’, for example.
The current industry structure is not really compatible with efficiency or value for money objectives, and there is no sign of transport secretary Chris Grayling knowing how to fix it, or any other country wanting to copy it.
‘Unlike the Tories, the Labour party is committed to delivering the west – east rail link connecting the great cities of the north’.
But what exactly is Labour’s “west – east rail link”? Is it ‘HS3’?
HS2 Ltd chairman David Higgins has a ‘vision’ of people travelling to a new city around Toton parkway, at budget airline-style ‘lo-lo’ prices.
[‘Next arrival on the HS2 line: a brand new city’, Mark Hookham, The Sunday Times, 12 Feb 2017]
“Check every Eurostar — it’s always packed. You know why Eurostar is packed? It’s because it’s run on a Ryanair/ easyJet model,” he said.
However, the vision is not shared by Toton’s MP, Anna Soubry.
Is Eurostar always “packed”?
And is it run anything like a low-cost airline?
The Eurostar service depends on billions of pounds of dedicated high-cost infrastructure (i.e. HS1, the Channel Tunnel, and LGV Nord), which means that commercial ‘low-cost’ operation is not possible.
Although Eurostar managed to take a large part of the Paris and Brussels travel market from airlines, that was only possible because of public subsidies running into billions of pounds.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Higgins predicted that a new city coud be built around the Toton HS2 station.
[‘Next arrival on the HS2 line: a brand new city’, The Sunday Times]
[David Higgins:] “You’ve got two big cities either side of it [Toton HS2]. You’ve got a big university within a very short distance. It will be well under an hour to both London and Leeds. So this is a city.”
Were HS2 to offer travel to ‘a new city’ at Toton at ‘lo-lo prices’ – assuming space for a city could be found – there would be a need for enormous subsidies, to cover HS2’s high fixed infrastructure costs.
According to Network Rail, ‘the major increase in rail capacity the UK needs can only come from making the infrastructure we already have more productive‘.
In that case, how important is the £60+ billion new-build HS2 for meeting future demand?
- According to Network Rail, “there will be 1 billion extra annual rail journeys” by 2030.
And according to HS2 Ltd, HS2 ‘will carry 300,000 passengers per day’ when complete
(i.e., ~110 million per year).
However, HS2 is not scheduled to be complete until about 2033. But if it somehow were fully open by 2030, and carrying its target annual demand – two very big ‘ifs’ – that would still mean that 89% of the forecast ‘billion extra passengers‘ would have to be accommodated on the existing railway.
At present, flows like Birmingham to London, and Manchester to London, amount to fewer than 10 million trips per annum, combined. On a ‘two-and-a-half-billion-passenger’ railway, what would be the sense in building hundreds of kilometres of vanity infrastructure to accommodate, at best, 3 or 4 percent of the traffic?
The capital cost of increasing the capacity of existing railways with digital technology is much lower than building new lines, according to a 2014 Arup corporate article.
In practice, the best capacity uplifts would likely arise from combining ‘Digital Railway’ technologies with ‘old-school’ infrastructure improvements (such as grade separated junctions).
London mayor Sadiq Khan has warned that the capital’s transport network will ‘grind to a halt’ under the “unbearable strain” of millions more passengers, unless the government agrees to co-fund the £30 billion (?) Crossrail 2.
What might have prompted that ‘warning’?
[Sadiq Khan: London’s transport network will grind to halt amid ‘unbearable strain’ without Crossrail 2, PIPPA CRERAR, Evening Standard, 8 Feb 2017]
It comes as Government insiders revealed concerns about stumping up almost half of the current £32 billion cost, with one claiming ministers were “going cold” on the idea.
But the immediate ‘strain’ for Transport for London is an overall fares income ‘down £90 million due to lower passenger volumes’, according to Greater London Assembly Conservatives.
In the view of the Beleben blog, Crossrail 2, in its present form, is a vanity project, and should not be built.
The full economic case has been kept from the public, but the available summary information indicates that Crossrail 2’s benefit-cost and other metrics are not particularly impressive.
Obviously, transport congestion in central London is not limited to Crossrail 2’s south-west-to-north-east axis. It requires a holistic approach.
With further automation and platform screens, the capacity of existing Underground lines could be increased substantially. And for many journeys in central London, new on-street light rail would be quicker than the tube.
Why are megaprojects like HS2 so attractive to decision makers? The answer may be found in the so-called “four sublimes” of megaproject management (wrote Bent Flyvbjerg).
[What You Should Know about Megaprojects and Why: An Overview, Bent Flyvbjerg, Project Management Journal, volume 45, number 2, April – May 2014]
[…] Karen Trapenberg Frick first introduced the term to the study of megaprojects, describing the technological sublime as the rapture engineers and technologists get from building large and innovative projects, like the tallest building or the longest bridge.
[…] The common practice of depending on the Hiding Hand or creative error in estimating costs and benefits results in an inverted Darwinism, that is, the “survival of the unfittest.” It is not the best projects that get implemented, but the projects that look best on paper. And the projects that look best on paper are the projects with the largest cost underestimates and benefit overestimates, shortfalls, and risks of nonviability. Thus the projects that have been made to look best on paper become the worst, or unfittest, projects in reality, in the sense that they are the very projects that will encounter the most problems during construction and operations in terms of the largest cost overruns, benefit shortfalls, and risks of nonviability. They have been designed like that, as disasters waiting to happen.
Momentum is gathering behind the idea of including Bradford on a high-speed line between Manchester and Leeds, according to the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority has commissioned Arup to investigate the options.
[‘Plans to transform Bradford Forster Square station remain on track’, Claire Wilde, T&A, 6 Feb 2017]
The T&A has found out that the possible options being explored include:
* A through line for Bradford city centre for the first time in its history;
* Bringing the high-speed line underneath the existing city, using tunnels, cuttings, or both;
* A new underground high-speed platform built beneath Bradford Interchange;
* Possible pedestrian subways linking this to Bradford Forster Square station.
[…] The feasibility study will be fed back to working group Transport for the North (TfN) which has been given £60 million of Government funding to draw up proposals for a high-speed link between Leeds and Manchester, which is now called Northern Powerhouse Rail.
If the government cannot fund the electrification of the Selby to Hull railway, what are the chances of a new ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ line being built between Manchester and Leeds, via Bradford?
Before the construction of the Broadway development, there would have been the possibility of an affordable heavy rail link across Bradford city centre. However, the council and Integrated Transport Authority, failed to protect an alignment.