Archive for June 2011
The costs have to be understood in relation to the returns and this is where most agree the government has to do more to show the sums are right.
But the consensus is the issue of limited rail capacity is key, not faster trains.
I’m not convinced politicians at Coventry and Warwickshire councils, fighting HS2 alongside vociferous constituents, have properly considered the disadvantages and economic costs of having a Victorian rail network unable to cope by the 2020s and beyond. Ten or 20 minutes added journey times could be less of an inconvenience.
Rail capacity is “limited”, like lots of other things. Road capacity is limited. Typewriter manufacturing capacity is limited – is that an argument for building more typewriter factories? If the issue of limited rail capacity is key, then why is High Speed 2 not called ‘High Capacity 2’? And why was HS2 Ltd set up to ‘develop the case for new *high speed* rail’, not *high capacity*, rail?
Most railways in Britain run well under capacity, most of the time. Where there are genuine capacity shortfalls, there’s no evidence that they are best dealt with by building HS2 (one of the lines most affected by capacity issues is London to Brighton, for which HS2 provides no help at all). And at the national level, the market for long distance rail travel is growing, but in absolute terms, not very large.
The *vast majority of railways in Western Europe* were built over a hundred years ago, and there’s nothing especially ‘Victorian’ about those in Britain. Victorian railways did not use solid state interlocking, continuously welded rail, or monocoque carriages. And they did not run trains at 200 km/h every day.
Coventry’s opposition is partly understandable. HS2 would bypass the city, and affect fast services to London.
But it would stop at a station nearby – to which local road and rail improvements would be needed.
HS2 is being sold as providing quicker journey times. But, in most cases, the time savings are trivial, zero, or – as with Coventry – negative. “Stopping at a station nearby” actually means ‘stopping at a parkway, miles away from where you live’.
There’s nothing exceptional about Coventry and HS2. Longer and less convenient journeys are built into Adonis/Steer high speed rail. Its headline-grabbing peak speeds dictate a small number of access points, which are unsuited to British economic geography.
In previous blogposts, I discussed the transfer of London – West Midlands intercity rail traffic to the Chiltern Main Line. The diagram above shows the reconfiguration of services supporting this ‘Evergreen++’ concept – which is scalable, resilient, environment-friendly, and less expensive than HS2.
- maximises the use of the Chiltern Main Line through the use of long trains – longer, in fact, than those currently operating between Euston, Birmingham, and Wolverhampton
- uses Snow Hill, not Moor Street, as the Birmingham stopping point
- uses Paddington, not Marylebone, as the London stopping point
- allows for a very high capacity future London to Birmingham service (using a station at Old Oak Common as an alternative to reconstruction of Paddington)
- does not include cruft – such as a £3.44 billion tunnel between Seer Green and Saunderton
- provides the potential for through (no-change-of-train) service between London and Black Country towns such as Walsall and West Bromwich.
The Black Country accounts for around half of the population of the West Midlands Urban Area. Because there is no change of train needed for Black Country towns, Evergreen++ is able to compete with HS2 on journey times to London.
The Evergreen++ concept is about providing versatile, resilient, and interoperable infrastructure. The upgrade and electrification of the Coventry to Leamington Spa railway maximises realisation of these objectives.
However, it’s likely that the West Coast Main Line could continue to be used for Coventry services, by splitting a future interregio-type service on the WCML, at Rugby. Intercity trains would not run from London to Birmingham on the WCML, however; their paths would be freed for other use.
On the West Coast Main Line, upgrade works (e.g. junction grade separation) could robustify capacity between Euston and Milton Keynes.
But it’s also possible to provide a second access to southern Milton Keynes, by extending passenger services from Marylebone beyond Aylesbury, using part of the Oxford – Cambridge Varsity Line.
Future patterns of economic activity are likely to depend increasingly on international connectivity. Heathrow is the United Kingdom’s only international “hub” airport providing links to a wide range of long-haul destinations. It is vital to the UK’s competitiveness: easy access to Heathrow is often a major factor for business in deciding where to locate.
The Government’s policy is not to allow airports in the South East to increase their runway capacity but to make them operate more effectively within existing capacity. High speed rail could support this, taking traffic from domestic flights which would enable Heathrow to boost its operational resilience and provide opportunities for enhancing its route network.
A direct link would transform the accessibility of Heathrow from the Midlands and the North, bringing Leeds and Manchester within 75 and 70 minutes respectively of Heathrow.
In HS2 phase one (London – Staffordshire/Birmingham, or ‘HS2WM’) there would be only future provision for a link into Heathrow. Air passengers would connect to HS2 at the Old Oak Common interchange served by Crossrail and Heathrow Express. The airport high speed link would only be built with phase two (‘HS2YN’), the Y-shaped network extending to Yorkshire and Lancashire, and would be north-facing, i.e. for use by trains coming from and going to Birmingham and points north of it:
This would allow HS2 services to start at Heathrow and split on route to serve a number of destinations in the Midlands, the North and Scotland. Eventually this spur could be extended to loop back to the main HS2 line so that trains from West Midlands and beyond could call at Heathrow on the way to London.
The factsheet gives the cost of the Heathrow spur as being £2,500,000,000 to £3,900,000,000, but does not say how many passengers would be using it. And there’s no indication of service frequencies to the north, or how much time is saved with the direct link, compared with changing at Old Oak Common. The map in the factsheet is confusing – at the Heathrow end, it shows two different termini for the link, at Heathrow North, and Terminal 5, on separate alignments (no track between them). Whether one or both termini would be built, isn’t clear.
As there is a shortage of runway capacity in the South East, it seems quite odd for government policy to encourage passengers from northern England to use the Heathrow ‘hub’, with a dedicated high speed rail connection. It would seem better to encourage ‘flying locally’ wherever possible. In the United States, point-to-point flights have begun to supplant the hub concept.
- 5 million journeys a year
- with the lowest construction cost estimate (£2.5 bn), and
- 5% as the interest rate applied on money borrowed to fund it,
the cost of each one-way journey on the stage two link (from the junction with the HS2 trunk line, south-west of Rickmansworth, to Heathrow, and vice versa) would be about £25. This doesn’t include any other charges, such as staffing or energy.
With higher railway speeds, aerodynamic noise starts to present problems. This can be contrasted with lower speed ‘classic’ trains, where the noise is predominately from the wheel/rail interface, and traction equipment. At the Birmingham Waterhall roadshow, three noise cabins were set up to allow the people to experience the noise from a future HS2 line. It wasn’t clear whether the sounds in each cabin were different, and what was being represented, so I asked a specialist member of the exhibition staff to explain. It turned out that each booth was intended to give a simulation of HS2 trains, at a different point on the route (near Water Orton, Greatworth, and Ruislip).
To create the audio presentations, HS2 Ltd had gone to France, and recorded sound levels from TGVs and ICEs in motion on the (ballasted) high speed line LGV Est. Exactly how uniform the noise levels are between different trains on LGV Est, wasn’t made clear. And I wasn’t able to find out exactly how or where the recordings were made, or the *precise* points on HS2 that they were supposed to replicate.
Doubtless, noise propagation would vary to some extent from one day to the next (e.g., barometric pressure, and wind) and would even vary with things like the degree of wheel and rail wear. The recordings were designed to simulate being at a particular distance from the rails, but how HS2 were able to accurately measure these distances, or the speeds of trains, while on location in France, isn’t something that I’ve been able to establish.
There seems to be a degree of wishful thinking in the roadshow’s presentation of HS2 noise. I was informed that the simulations had been post-produced or *modified*, to reduce the sound. This was because HS2 Ltd expected that, by the time its railway was built, technological advances would allow noise emissions to be cut. This seems a rather hopeful assumption – I don’t know to what extent later generations of TGV have reduced noise outputs, compared to the first ones. And I don’t think HS2 Ltd knows, either.
As part of the government’s public consultation on HS2, the Department for Transport (DfT) has run a series of roadshow events over the last few months (the last ones having taken place in central Birmingham on June 17 and 18).
From the Department for Transport high speed rail subdomain:
A series of public information events will be held at locations along the proposed route. They will provide an opportunity to view the proposals, presenting information in a clear, accurate and accessible way, as well as offering the chance for you to speak to the HS2 team and officials from the Department for Transport. If you are unable to attend an event, the exhibition material will be available on this site after each one.
So, the stated purpose of the roadshow events was to disseminate information to – and collect feedback from – the public. As well as support and ‘customer relations’ staff, the roadshows included a few officials from HS2 Ltd, DfT, and consultants (e.g., Arup) involved with drawing up the scheme (different staff attended each event). At Birmingham’s Waterhall, the exhibition included computers to access HS2 documentation, noise simulation sound booths, and display panels.
Having been along to a couple of the exhibitions, I got the impression that they were more about selling HS2, than being informational. The display stands and brochures had little, if anything, to say about the wider context of future transport needs and options, and there was no attempt to set out the pros and cons of high speed rail in a systematic way. Although the government describes HS2 as a project of national importance, the roadshow only went to places near the stage one section (London to Birmingham, and Staffordshire). From attending a HS2 roadshow, the man or woman in the street would never be aware that there are alternative viewpoints. In fact, the displays and brochures didn’t even detail the government’s own limited studies of “HS2 alternatives” (‘Rail Interventions‘ etc).
Even with the limits on press freedom in China, some interesting details have emerged about the country’s high speed rail developments. The news site Eastday reported on the faking of Shanghai to Beijing high speed rail capabilities.
THE former railway minister exaggerated the potential performance of trains on the Shanghai – Beijing high-speed link, a former deputy chief engineer at the ministry has claimed.
Liu Zhijun, who was dismissed in February in a graft probe, had said the train would reach a maximum speed of 380kph and maintain a constant speed of 350kph.
But Zhou Yimin told yesterday’s 21st Century Business Herald that the train could only reach 350kph for a few minutes at a time.
The high-speed train was developed by China based on foreign technology. The foreign manufacturers clearly stated in their contract that the maximum operational speed was 300kph, Zhou told the newspaper.
High-speed trains made by Japan and France had reached 440kph and 574kph in test runs and but tests runs and daily operation were totally different things, Zhou said.
Zhou said that an official with Siemens AG, which sold components to Chinese train makers, once told him they didn’t care how China promoted the technology as long as Siemens could seal the deal; secondly, the technology they sold was designed for a top speed of 300kph. If the trains ran faster than that, they wouldn’t be responsible for any consequences.
Caixin Weekly covered some details of the costs and financing of Chinese high speed rail. It said that “Now that high-speed trains are crisscrossing the country, enormous costs and other shortcomings have been exposed”.
Professor Zhao Jian of Beijing Jiaotong University School of Economics and Management says a single kilometer of high-speed rail can cost three times more than ordinary track.
In Britain’s High Speed 2 project, its government has claimed that a ‘conventional speed’ new line would cost almost as much as a very high speed line – which is obviously quite different to the Chinese experience, as related by Professor Zhao Jian.
The government-owned HS2 Ltd made a comparison between the its proposed line, and a conventional line following the very same route. This is a ridiculous comparison, the whole purpose of the HS2 route is that it’s designed for high peak speed. If the 350+ km/h requirement is dispensed with, a meaningful comparison can be drawn between HS2, and alternative schemes, which provide their benefits in a different way.
If, over the long term, there were a need for another rail line to the north of England, the existing Great Central formation is largely intact. Obviously, re-using that line would avoid most of the deleterious environmental impacts of the new build HS2 route, and the capital costs would be much lower. But the government’s overriding aspiration, for 350 km/h trains (or faster), means that the idea seemingly has no political appeal.
The coalition government has repeatedly stressed how important very high speeds are to the HS2 business case. This is curious, given that it’s not that long since the Department for Transport ordered Hitachi rolling stock for the domestic Southeastern High Speed service capable of a maximum speed of only 225 km/h – well below HS1‘s peak linespeed. And the DfT’s own Delivering a Sustainable Railway (July 2007) noted that:
[Paragraph 6.14] Higher speed is not the only or best way of cutting journey times. Nor is it without cost. Increasing the maximum speed of a train from 200 km/h to 350 km/h means a 90 per cent increase in energy consumption. In exchange, it cuts station-to-station journey time by less than 25 per cent and door-to-door journey-time by even less.
On the rather long list of “what’s wrong with Adonis/Steer high speed rail”, parkway stations would surely deserve a top ten position. In the West Midlands, with the phase one London – Birmingham scheme, about half of the people boarding and alighting high speed trains would be using the out-of-town Bickenhill interchange station (says HS2 Ltd). And in the larger Y-shaped network following on from phase one, it’s likely there would be several parkways, for example in the East Midlands, and South Yorkshire.
The reason HS2 Ltd favours out-of-town parkways, is ‘buildability’. Because captive services on the Y-shaped network would be operated with quasi-Berne gauge trains, extensive alterations would be necessary for them to use existing city centre stations such as Manchester Piccadilly, Sheffield Midland, or Leeds City. For the phase one scheme in Birmingham, HS2 would be provided with a new dead-end station at Curzon Street, separate from other rail traffic, served by a branch line from the ‘trunk line’ at Coleshill. But it’s hard to see how ‘HS2 branch lines’ could be the norm for serving cities around the network.
So the need for ‘through stations, with long platforms’ is likely to dictate the use of out of town locations. But devising satisfactory connections for such mega-stations is likely to prove extremely difficult, if not impossible. Access for private cars could be established – with enough money thrown at car parking and entrance roads – but satisfactory public transport is a much tougher problem. For the Bickenhill interchange station, HS2 Ltd assumes the automobile as the normal means of access, and the design shows a five-storey car park for up to 7000 vehicles (along with the need for extensive remodelling to the road network). But even a 7000 vehicle car park seems mismatched to the HS2 capacity (up to 1100 passengers per train, up to 18 trains per direction per hour).
Remote from the locations that they purport to serve, it’s highly likely that the access time to and from HS2 parkways would wipe out any savings from the on-train component of the journey.
The aerial view artist’s impression of the Bickenhill interchange shows further problems in the concept. The walk from the extremities of the station car park, to the train door, could be several hundred metres. For people using the link to/from Birmingham International station and the airport, there is an obvious capacity disparity between the ‘people mover’ and the 1100-seat HS2 trains, leading to delays and dispersal problems.