Archive for July 2011
Rather than being an exemplar of 21st century connectivity, HS2 looks like something developed at the Ministry of Silly Walks, with silly walks themselves built into the proposition. The first urban silly walk proposed by HS2 planners is in central Birmingham, between the proposed HS2 terminal and New Street station.
For aficionados of semi-rural silliness, HS2 planners propose the walks for people changing between Birmingham International and Bickenhill HS2 stations, which would also include a ride on a people mover.
At HS2 Old Oak Common, Philip Hammond had doubts about the viability of a silly walk, but eventually came around to the idea.
For the second stage of HS2, silly walks are only at the rough outline, but in prospect for sites including Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, and Sheffield, as part of the city-to-HS2 parkway concept.
In previous posts, I highlighted the advantages of reconfiguring utilisation of rail routes between London, the Midlands and northern England, and having the Chiltern Main Line take the role of principal intercity route between the West Midlands and the capital. This is a different position to that taken by campaigns such as Action Groups Against HS2 (AGHAST), the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA), and the Taxpayers’ Alliance, which have tended to support Rail Package 2 (‘RP2’) or derivatives of it (‘RP2d’).
In his report for the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Mr Chris Stokes wrote that
Rail Package 2, prepared by DfT in its review of alternatives, would cost less and can be delivered faster, has a much better benefit cost ratio and provides for 15 to 16 InterCity trains an hour from Euston. This is clearly effectively the limit on what can be achieved on the existing route, but at present there are only 9 to 10 trains an hour from Euston so it does represent a major increase.
A range of rail and road alternatives to building a new railway were developed by Atkins for DfT and published as part of the March 2010 case for HS2. The most promising rail proposal (Rail Package 2) concerned uprating the existing WCML.
but went on to outline several of its own RP2d variants (with additions not present in the official Atkins report). Intended to increase capacity, these involved the use of 12 car Pendolino formations of the WCML (‘official’ RP2 only has a maximum train length of 11 cars) and converting some Pendolino carriages from First to Second (a.k.a. ‘Standard’) Class.
Claims about RP2 and RP2d have been the subject of ongoing dispute, with HS2 proponents alleging that RP2 variants ‘wouldn’t allow for expansion of services to Milton Keynes’, ‘the costs of lengthening WCML platforms and depots for 12 carriages are extremely high’, and so on.
The Campaign for High Speed Rail (Biz4HS2) hosted William Barter‘s critique of RP2, which argued that RP2d wouldn’t cope with background traffic growth, and would really only add capacity in the off-peak (where it is not needed). Mr Barter was also unimpressed about ‘seconding’ some First Class capacity. In his view, First’s all-day 20% utilisation was not relevant, it was the occupancy in peak periods that mattered.
Mr Barter warned that RP2 would jeopardise the reliability of the whole WCML service, through trying to operate at close to peak levels of service continuously. This is interesting, considering his (controversial) view that HS2 could operate reliably with tracks seeing up to 18 trains per hour. Given the need for increased separation between high speed trains due to their longer stopping distances, it’s a lot easier to operate 18 trains per hour at conventional speeds, than at 350 to 400 km/h.
The Virgin Trains Pendolino seating plan allows a comparison of the capacities of its First and Second Class carriages (which is fairly representative of British First and Second Class in general), from which it can be seen that a 20% occupied First Class carriage has an ‘equivalent a Second Class occupancy’ of around 15%. The average kilometric fare paid by First and Second Class travellers on Virgin West Coast, or the wider British railway network is unknown (and commercially sensitive), but there’s no evidence that ‘20% all day occupancy’ is justified by the yield in peak time, or that First Class is a cash cow that subsidises Second Class travellers.
To its users, the appeal of First Class is doubtless partly based on the expectation that adjacent seats are quite/more likely to be empty. The users of a quarter-full First Class carriage may find themselves able to do more ‘productive’ work than those of a fully occupied one. But the wider public interest isn’t best served by this state of affairs.
Eurostar’s website states that the journey from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord takes 2 hours, 15 minutes. The scope for reducing this time for regular services is quite small, because of infrastructure limitations, for example in the long tunnel sections of HS1.
From Birmingham to London Euston, HS2 services would take 49 minutes. Birmingham to Paris services would need to access the HS1 line via the single track HS2 to HS1 link. Exactly how long this would take, isn’t known, as no details are known about the pathing issues. Members of the London Assembly’s transport committee have expressed dissatisfaction about the effects of the HS1 to HS2 link on heavily used orbital rail services.
On Eurostar’s website, it recommends checking in up to 90 minutes before departure. All travellers, apart from ‘carte blanche holders’ or ‘Business Premier travellers’ must check in at least 30 minutes before departure; for them, the minimum is 10 minutes.
So when the figures are added up, it’s only Boulevard Merde de Taureau that could be reached in under 3 hours with HS2.
All of this ignores the much larger problem of the economic viability of through services between Europe, and central and northern England. HS2 Ltd have shied away from detailing the costs and benefits of the HS2 to HS1 link, but International Connections: A report for HS2 Ltd strongly suggests that a regular interval passenger service between Paris and Birmingham, or indeed Paris and anywhere north of London, is a highly unlikely proposition. The demand isn’t there, and the subsidies required would be massive.
Watching ‘hitman‘ and rail enthusiast Pete Waterman talk about HS2 is always good for a laugh. Interviewed, with Stop HS2‘s Joe Rukin, on Channel 4 News today, Mr Waterman told an (obviously pro-HS2) Jon Snow that there’d ‘never been a case to build any railway’ on economic grounds, but that didn’t matter. HS2 should be built, because it should be built. End of.
Mr Waterman’s standpoint appears to represent the underlying opinion of large parts of the pro-HS2 lobby, and some government officials. There had to be a ‘business case’ and at least a pretence that alternatives to high speed rail have been considered, but it’s all for the sake of appearances. Upon examination, the business case assumptions turn out to be ludicrous, and the “alternatives to HS2” Rail Packages turn out to have been designed by a firm (Atkins) that has been pushing new build high speed rail for years.
In the television discussion, Mr Waterman said he lived in Warrington, and could reach London in 1 hour 38 minutes by rail. Mr Rukin pointed out that with high speed rail in place, this would no longer be possible.
In the HS2 first phase, Warrington would have a direct rail service to London, using ‘classic compatible trains’. But under the full Y-shape high speed network concept, the West Coast Main Line is relegated to a secondary role with fewer, slower trains.
Like Coventry, towns like Warrington, Runcorn, and Stockport get their current level of service by virtue of being on a line to a much larger city. But with new build high speed rail in place, they would be bypassed by the replacement HS2 services that stop only at (or in the case of parkways, outside) big cities.
The privately financed M6 Toll road was designed and implemented to increase capacity, and speed up journeys, on the M6 motorway north of Birmingham.
But it has never lived up to expectations. The evidence is that not enough people are prepared to pay the tolls, and the company running M6 Toll have just announced losses of £50 million.
The future value of the income from tolls is unlikely to be very large, so the road isn’t worth very much. The government could buy out the operator, and make the road part of the free-at-the-point-of-use national network. That way, there’d be at least something to be salvaged from the experiment. In the meantime, M6 Toll is yet another warning for people not to be swayed by the ‘time savings’ and ‘increased capacity’ propaganda of HS2 lobbyists.
Bridget Rosewell, chairman and and founding director of Volterra Partners, appears in a video posted today on David Begg’s Campaign for High Speed Rail Youtube channel. In the video, Ms Rosewell explains that Volterra was commissioned by the Core Cities Group (“the eight large cities outside London”) to look at “the transport infrastructure needs for those cities”.
The Youtube page doesn’t link to a written description of Ms Rosewell’s ‘findings’, but in the video, she wastes no time in saying what the infrastructure priority ‘should be’:
The current proposals for high speed rail between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, that is our best option at the moment, to create the kind of jobs we need
As HS2 is a prospective future project, it doesn’t create any jobs “at the moment” (except for high speed rail lobbyists). And what the “kind of jobs we need” means, Ms Rosewell doesn’t explain. Is Thameslink train-building within Great Britain “the kind of jobs we need”, for example? She doesn’t proffer an opinion, and there’s no clue as to linkage between saving a few minutes on some trips to London, and national economic competitiveness. And why high speed intercity rail transport should take priority over other investment (for example, intracity public transport in the big conurbations), isn’t explained either.
Here’s some more from the video:
I think what I’d like you to understand is when we talk about transport investment, we shouldn’t be talking about how much time does it save off a trip to Birmingham… this is about working out what kind of new opportunities, what kind of new businesses, what kind of new jobs, you can create using different kinds of transport investment.
Cities outside London have the potential to create an extra million jobs over the next 20 years or so if they have the right conditions. What do I mean by that… extra investment, the ability to get to new markets. To get that access, we particularly need better rail services. More capacity, more speed, better access to all the cities outside London.
Our place in the global economy resents on our ability to trade, it rests on our ability to export. But lots of people live outside London, and have opportunities that they could exploit. Our place in the global economy resents on our ability to trade, it rests on our ability to export. But lots of people live outside London, and have opportunities that they could also exploit if they had the opportunity.
One of the most important conclusions is that transport infrastructure is a necessary condition for economic growth.
I suppose that the statement, “transport infrastructure is a necessary condition for economic growth”, means “good transport infrastructure is a necessary condition for economic growth”. But in international terms, internal transport links in Great Britain are well developed, as is accepted in the Eddington report. So, on the insightfulness scale, Ms Rosewell’s thoughts seem to be on about the same level as George Bush’s “Russia’s big, and so’s China“. Talking of China, its internal transport system is not particularly good, but its economic growth has outpaced Western countries (such as Great Britain) that have much more developed internal transport systems. This doesn’t really fit with Ms Rosewell’s ‘findings’ on good transport infrastructure being necessary for growth.
What is ‘good’ transport infrastructure, anyway? Ms Rosewell seems to equate it with high speed rail, but there’s no evidence that this is the case. What infrastructure projects are pursued, is as important as the level of infrastructure spending. In the 1950s, huge amounts of capital were wasted in a badly thought through Modernisation Programme for Britain’s railways, overseen by the Conservative government of the day.
Back to Ms Rosewell’s riddles. She says “we shouldn’t be talking about how much time does it save off a trip to Birmingham”, then moments later, that we need “more speed”. Speed is pivotal to HS2. That’s what it’s called ‘High Speed Two’, and that’s why it wouldn’t stop anywhere between a few big cities (or at least, a few parkways ‘serving’ big cities). So, no stop in Coventry, no stop in Sheffield, no stop in Stoke-on-Trent, no stop in Milton Keynes. But when HS1 was being planned, Ms Rosewell was arguing for a station to be built in Ebbsfleet (which is tiny, compared to cities like Stoke on Trent, or Milton Keynes).
There’s no consistency or rationality in what Ms Rosewell has to say about high speed rail. Public authorities and David Begg’s Campaign seem to be hiring her to give “economist” authority to their lobbying. But on inspection, what’s she saying on transport investment is gibberish.