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Archive for July 2011

Ministry of silly walks

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Ministry of silly walks, Walk 1: Birmingham New Street station to Curzon Street HS2

Illustration includes picture of Curzon Street by Steve Cadman, (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

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.

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July 31, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Package palaver

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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.

In its February 2011 document ‘More capacity on WCML: an alternative to HS2‘ the HS2AA described RP2 as the “most promising” rail package:

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.

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July 31, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Boulevard Merde de Taureau

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Merde de taureauThe GoHS2 campaign run by Centro, the West Midlands transport authority, has produced a ‘poster’ claiming that HS2 would allow journeys from ‘Bullring to boulevard’ in “under 3 hours”.

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.

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July 29, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Pete Waterman on HS2

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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.

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July 28, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Volterra infirma 2

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Amusing to see David Begg’s Campaign for High Speed Rail website featuring a web banner stating “CREATE 1 MILLION JOBS, SUPPORT High-Speed Rail”, with ‘Volterra‘ written on it as well.

David Begg's Biz4HS2 web banner: 'CREATE 1 MILLION JOBS, SUPPORT High-Speed Rail'

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July 28, 2011 at 9:48 pm

M6 Toll and HS2

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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.

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July 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Volterra infirma

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Bridget Rosewell waffling

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).

Bridget Rosewell 'instrumental' in establishing Ebbsfleet HS1 station

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.

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July 27, 2011 at 9:38 pm

High speed air

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Like its wasteful little brother (the Hitachi IEP train), the HS2 project involves the deployment of fixed formation trainsets to provide long distance rail services. But the use of such trains means that it is very difficult to match supply and demand of seats efficiently. To give an example, suppose there were 700 passengers wanting to travel on a Birmingham to London service. With HS2, this would involve a consist of two 550-seat units, amounting to 1100 seats – and giving a total of **400 empty** seats. So a lot of HS2 energy is likely to be expended on moving a lot of empty seats, air, and metal around at 400km/h. As the HS2 units would not be gangway interconnected, there would also need to be duplicate customer service staff (one crew for each unit).

With the Chiltern Electric concept, using locomotive hauled carriages on a modernised Chiltern line, it would be possible to avoid this environmental waste and operational inefficiency. Train length could be adjusted to match demand, even within a single day. The key to achieving this is reliable systems, and in particular, easy uncoupling and recoupling of carriages at terminal stations. This could be a design objective of the ‘Mark 6’ carriage concept, discussed earlier.

Which of the following is environmentally and economically sustainable?

A. Running locomotive hauled, adjustable length, electric trains on the upgraded (but already existing) Chiltern Line at speeds of 200-225 km/h, or

B. Building 175 km of entirely new railway between Birmingham and London, and running fixed-size trains on it, at 400 km/h?

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July 27, 2011 at 9:59 am

Faking the case for HS2

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HS2 is getting very sillyAs various chancers in the public sector and lobbying companies have climbed aboard the HS2 bandwagon, the claims for it have become more and more detached from reality. For example, Centro (the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive) has stated that HS2 would produce an “average wage increase of £300 per worker per annum”. Naturally enough, this was not accompanied by any evidence of such an effect elsewhere in the world, nor was there any explanation of how speeding up trains to London by a few minutes would increase the wages of a shoe shop worker in Cradley Heath.

More and more of this drivel has been pumped out by local authorities as time has passed. Even before Centro hired someone to tweet pro-HS2 inanities for £30,000, it had admitted to spending away over £70,000 on lobbying for high speed rail. Similar HS2-propaganda-on-the-rates insults to local taxpayers were delivered by councils in the North of England, notably in Manchester and Leeds.

It’s interesting to look back on how Britain got into a situation where national transport policy has been highjacked by high speed rail fantasists. In March 2006, the then-Labour government asked Rod Eddington to examine national transport policy, and look at how the transport network should be modernised. According to the report of the Eddington study, published on 1 December 2006, the approach was not to “seek to make simple and mode-based comparisons of motorway length or kilometres of high-speed rail line, which are often based on an assumption that ‘more’ and ‘faster’ are always better”, but to

[section 1.51] …take into account the advantages and disadvantages of the UK’s physical and economic geography when assessing performance. Although care should be taken with generalisations, the UK’s economic geography means that the principal task of the UK transport system is not, in comparison to the needs of France or Spain, to put in place very high-speed networks to bring distant cities and regions closer together, in order to enable trading and facilitate economies of scale. Instead, because the UK’s economic activity is in fact densely located in and around urban areas, domestic freight routes and international gateways, the greater task is to deal with the resulting density of transport demand.

Figure 4 in the report highlighted the differences in distribution of urban centres in different parts of Europe:
Eddington report, Figure 4, spacing of urban centres

and Figure 5 showed the repartition of journeys by type and time of day in Great Britain in 2002-2004.
Trips in progress, Great Britain, 2002-2004

These diagrams are of interest when considering British high speed rail, and the current government’s HS2 project. Because Great Britain’s urban centres are close together (Figure 4), and existing connectivity is relatively good, new-build high speed rail cannot significantly improve overall transport linkages. But in a country like Spain, where urban centres are much further apart (and where the existing railway is much less evolved) there *could* be scope for new-build high speed rail to ameliorate transport efficiency.

The 350 km/h speed, and ‘business’ case of HS2 are claimed to be driven by the benefits to business travellers, but Eddington’s Figure 5 showed that

(i) business travel is a very small part of all travel within Great Britain.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that

(ii) business travel between the points served by HS2 is itself only a fraction of all business travel within Great Britain and

(iii) there is no evidence that HS2 generally speeds up real (door to door) journeys between points that it purportedly serves.

HS2 phase one would involve a new build line between ‘London and the West Midlands’, but as described in earlier blogposts, the journey time reduction for the majority of travellers (business travellers included) to and from that area is either extremely small, or zero. HS2 does not “transform” journey times for business travellers, just as it doesn’t transform journeys for any other travelling group.

On any one day, most business journeys are likely to be quite short (less than 20 km) – in the same way that most non-business journeys are. For that reason, it’s highly probable that improvements in *intracity* connectivity provide a better economic return than schemes such as HS2.

Given these realities, and the inclusion of Figures 4 and 5, it’s no surprise to find high speed rail getting a fairly cool reception in the Eddington report:

Figure 15: The case for new very High Speed Lines (HSLs)

Significant momentum has built behind the case for a new network of very high-speed rail lines in the UK. […] The business case is often argued to rest on the transformational impact of such a network on the UK’s economic geography. However, new high-speed rail networks in the UK would not significantly change the level of economic connectivity between most parts of the UK, given existing aviation and rail links. Even if a transformation in connectivity could be achieved, the evidence is very quiet on the scale of resulting economic benefit, and in France business use of the high speed train network is low.

Faced with such arguments, supporters of HSLs point to the capacity increases such new lines would deliver in London and selected urban areas by removing some or all interurban trains from commuter and freight lines. Such benefits are likely to be both real and substantial. Crucially though, these goals could be achieved by other solutions, and perhaps at much lower cost. The range of policy measures would include fares pricing policy, signal-based methods of achieving more capacity on the existing network, and conventional solutions to capacity problems e.g. longer trains. Indeed, in keeping with a non-modal approach, the measures assessed should include improvements to other modes that support these journeys (e.g. motorway, bus, and urban access improvements).

New lines – including new very high-speed lines – should take their place within this range of policy measures, and each should be assessed on their merits before selecting the option that offers the greatest returns on investment.

An alternative argument is sometimes made on environmental grounds because a very high speed line from London to Scotland could attract modal shift from air. Such arguments must be made with care given that total domestic aviation emissions, including flight between other cities, account for 1.2 per cent of the UK’s annual carbon emissions (CO2 equivalent), including allowance for the the climate change impacts of non-carbon emissions from aviation. Furthermore, rail’s energy consumption and carbon emissions increase with speed and this would erode rail’s environmental advantage and so it is important to consider the costs involved in reducing carbon emissions in this way.

By the time Andrew Adonis had moved to the Department for Transport, there were plenty of reasons to be sceptical about new build high speed rail: Eddington, Booz Allen’s estimated carbon impacts of a new North-South high speed line, the massively overblown forecasts for Eurostar, the repeat bailouts of HS1, the Nightstar/Regional Eurostar fiasco, the Department for Transport’s own ‘Delivering a Sustainable Railway’, Flyvbjerg, Skamris Holm, and Buhl, etc. But to Adonis and his Conservative successors, none of this was of much interest. Economics, transport efficiency, and the environment are not the impetus for high speed rail in Britain. It’s all about politics and special interests.

HS2 serves a political purpose, and its economic and environmental documents are moulded around that purpose. This explains crazies such as the absence of point-to-point journey time data in the documentation; the creation of a travel model especially devised to ‘support’ the project (the undocumented PLANET suite); the exclusion of carbon emissions and other externalities from the evaluation as ‘too uncertain’ to monetise; and the bizarre forecasts of constant steep travel growth.

With high year-on-year compound growth, it’s not too long before the HS2 forecasting assumptions has everyone in the country in a state of perpetual motion, travelling back and forth on high speed rail. So the model has this growth arbitrarily, and abruptly, stopping dead in 2043.

Welcome to Adonis/Steer World.

The viable part of HS2

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The latest dollop of tripe from Greengauge21 concerns the “return” that “could” arise from the government selling HS2 around 2029 (which turns out to mean half the capital invested is deemed wiped out at privatisation). No-one can forecast what the proceeds of a sale of a HS2 lease would be, so it’s all rather silly.

But the real silliness action isn’t in the finances of the sale of a HS2 lease, but in the HS2 economic case:

1. In its most extensive form, HS2 is envisaged as a dedicated high speed line linking Scotland, the North of England, and the Midlands to London. Because of the short distances between urban centres, it’s only on journeys between London and Scotland that high speed rail could provide significant time savings, but the demand on that sector isn’t very large, compared with flows in south central England. Between Manchester, Birmingham, and London, rail travel demand is much stronger, but there the time savings provided by HS2 would be minimal, as discussed in earlier blogposts.

2. If the second stage of HS2 (the Y-network to Leeds and Manchester, and link to Heathrow Airport) were not built, the project’s cost benefit numbers would be likely to be much improved. But the HS2 to HS1 link’s 4,850 daily passengers amount to a laughable/pitiful 3 full trainloads in each direction. So cancelling that, along with the hugely expensive Euston rebuild and tunnel to Old Oak Common, has a massively positive effect on cost-benefit numbers.

3. Because the Chiltern line is largely empty, and could accommodate 16-carriage trains between Birmingham and London, there’s no capacity-based justification to build the HS2 trunk from London to the West Midlands. So HS2 money could be reassigned to electrification of the Chiltern and Midland Main Lines, re-opening the Varsity Line (and linking in Bletchley to Marylebone), Uckfield to Lewes reopening, and metropolitan transport improvements, such as Birmingham Crossrail.

4. This leaves the viable part of HS2, which amounts to just one thing: Old Oak Common interchange. This could become the southern terminus for intercity trains routed by the (currently half-empty) Chiltern line, to Birmingham and beyond.