Archive for August 2011
The Centro-led GoHS2 has announced that Birmingham’s young professionals have joined its campaign (it turns out that “Birmingham’s young professionals” means the Birmingham Future organisation, which claims around 500 members).
This isn’t much of a surprise, given that Birmingham Future was represented at the Biz4HS2 photo-opportunity in Victoria Square. And Gareth Morgan, “Chair of Birmingham Futures” (sic) appears in a video on the Biz4HS2 Youtube channel uploaded on 28 March 2011.
In the video, Mr Morgan says “If I know that I can just go down to New Street Station, jump on a train, and 45 minutes later, I’m in London, or an hour later, I’m in Leeds, I think it brings the country closer together”. But HS2 doesn’t involve New Street station; it would run from a separate dead-end station, at Curzon Street. And even with the second stage Y-network, Leeds would not be reached from London in 1 hour.
These misapprehensions don’t come as much of a surprise, either. I’ve noticed that many HS2 cheerleaders turn out to have little idea or understanding about things like “freed-up capacity”, time savings, or carbon emissions.
Under Centro‘s vision for HS2, the capacity “freed up” on the West Midlands rail network by high speed rail amounts to nothing more than one hourly Pendolino path on the Birmingham – Coventry – Rugby axis. So the provision of rail links between Black Country locations has nothing to do with HS2 or capacity shortages, and everything to do with poor economics. Here’s some examples.
Walsall to Cannock rail service
In July 2010 Centro cut support for the Walsall to Cannock rail service (leading to a cut in frequency), saying the £7.18 per-passenger subsidy was poor value for money.
Wolverhampton to Walsall rail service
The Department for Transport refused to provide additional funding to allow the 10.8 km Wolverhampton to Walsall passenger service to continue. Around 60,000 journeys were made annually, and the required subsidy was £700,000. This meant that each traveller’s round trip required public funding of around £20.
Apart from low demand, another major restraint on West Midlands local rail development is its high operating costs. There is no use of driver only operation, and most stations are staffed, most of the time, even though personnel are often unable to watch over the platforms from their office. Stations are actually more likely to be unstaffed in the evenings, when the purported ‘value’ of having staff present is maximised.
Local government reform in Birmingham has concentrated power in the hands of a politburo (‘cabinet’) with no effective checks-and-balances functionality. And so it has come to pass that the city’s “cabinet member for culture”, Liberal Democrat Councillor Martin Mullaney, has given Aston Manor Transport Museum six months’ notice to get out of its home, the old Aston tram shed, which is owned by the city council.
He said: “(Birmingham council’s) property department is regularly getting inquiries for the building from Asian wedding companies and retailers.
“On the open market, the property department believes they would easily be able to sell the lease for in excess of £900,000 – it has a sizeable car park next to it, remember.”
Coun Mullaney also stated: “We tried to offset the community value of the AMTM against the rent, but it’s (sic) value was calculated to be small.”
Mr Mullaney doesn’t explain what he means by community value, or how it was “calculated”. Most people in Birmingham don’t use its swimming pools, or libraries, so I suppose one might argue that their community value is “limited”, too. Given the enormous amounts that Birmingham city council has wasted over the years, cash from selling the old tram shed wouldn’t provide any real improvement for the city’s finances.
Sadly, such philistinism has been a feature of past council administrations as well. In the 1990s, the free-admission science museum was closed, and most of its collection placed into store. The remaining items were moved to a dumbed down ‘Think Tank’ exhibition within Millennium Point, with steep admission charges.
Permanent lighting has been installed at “key locations” on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) to enable most track maintenance to be nocturnal. However, compared to the WCML, the HS2 project would involve even higher maintenance requirements (because of the higher forces on the track and overhead power cables, etc). There would be up to 14 trains per hour in each direction in the daytime, with the number rising to 18 in a later stage.
So it’s likely that large portions of the HS2 line would be equipped with permanent illumination, although light pollution from viaducts, etc, doesn’t appear to be discussed in official documents.
High speed rail was one of the topics discussed at March 2011’s Birmingham Transport Summit, with Ian Jordan delivering a presentation for HS2 Ltd. The blog of the Birmingham City Centre Neighbourhood Forum reported an “important message” from the summit.
IMPORTANT MESSAGE – HS2 is Crucial To Your Future
25 03 2011
Please spare the time to read this – your future prosperity is at stake!
Birmingham City must be well connected with the outside world to grow and prosper.
This was the theme and strong message of the Transport Summit 2011 meeting held at the Council House last Tuesday. It was unanimously echoed in speeches by key people in the Council and businesses serving the city.
Undecided about the merits of HS2 before the meeting, I left with no doubt that the future wealth of the City depends on advanced transport links to London, Continental Europe and the wider World.
Most important is easy connectivity with the developing key states of the wider world – China, India, Japan and others as they develop.
But also, Britain must shrink geographically in the eyes of key foreign governments and business investors. Getting to central Birmingham must be easier than getting to central London to encourage foreign (and UK) investors and industrialists. This is very possible!
How to achieve this?
Well, two things are essential:
- Birmingham Airport expansion to serve much more of the world
- the HS2 (High Speed Rail) link to London and beyond
Why HS2? Well, it will shrink Britain! A straight forward, no change no hassle journey from the capitals of neighbouring EU states is key. The planned 49 minutes extra timetable time by HS2 to reach Birmingham from the London stop, in practice disappears, due to the proximity of the Birmingham stop to business and commercial centres and the ease and speed of movement to them.
Local transport improvements in the pipeline will make Birmingham easy to live in and travel to work, and hence increase desirability of investment in new businesses.
This will make Birmingham the city of first choice in future over London.
Be aware of the opposition to HS2
The opponents of HS2 (mainly rich and influential people living along the proposed HS2 corridor) are already well organised and funded***.
There needs to be an equally vociferous movement for the proponents.
Typically, people against an idea are more energetic than those in favour.
The government is in favour of HS2!
So have your say
The Department for Transport is consulting the population.
Read the Government’s case for HS2 and have your say. Click on
*** In one village alone during a single evening a call for financial donations to oppose HS2 realised £100,000!
It may be that a call for ‘stop HS2’ financial donations raised £100,000 during a single evening. But it’d be really nice if Mr Caine actually identified the date, and the village concerned. After all, the rest of his blogpost seems to have some serious credibility problems. For example, there’s no evidence that opponents of HS2 are mainly rich and influential people. The largest population concentrations affected by HS2 are in Greater London (e.g. around Euston station), including people living in social housing.
With the HS2 scheme, urban centres like Sandwell and Wolverhampton would get slower connections to London, as trains are decelerated to serve Milton Keynes, and other places on the West Coast Main Line. Alasdair Rae’s blogpost showing the outline of Great Britain and Northern Ireland superimposed on various parts of the world, states that “The USA and China are both approximately 40 times larger than the UK”.
So Britain doesn’t really need to “shrink geographically in the eyes of key foreign governments and business investors”. Its population centres are closely spaced, and internal links are relatively well developed. In any event, I fail to see how Britain is ‘shrunk’ by increasing rail journey times from places such as the Black Country (population: 1 million plus) to London.
Years ago, Regional Eurostar trains were built to provide international services from British provincial cities. So it would be possible to have a “straight forward, no change no hassle journey from the capitals” of neighbouring EU states to Birmingham, without HS2, right now. The reason the Regional services never started, was the belated realisation that they would not be competitive.
The HS2 economic appraisal doesn’t seek to quantify carbon impacts, visual impacts, or productivity impacts on businesses along the line (etc). And ‘wider economic benefits‘ are also excluded. On the GoHS2 blog, claims that the HS2 business case underestimates the ‘advantage’ of HS2, because agglomeration benefits aren’t monetised:
The HS2 debate has seen a lot of claims made on both sides as to the veracity of the business case, the environmental case, the capacity case and any other case you’d care to imagine. And I think the anti-HS2 campaigners have a point. The business case doesn’t stack up. It’s far too cautious!
Speaking on behalf of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group – which represents 3000 businesses in the West Midlands – we feel that the business case underplays many of the likely benefits of HS2. Agglomeration benefits, the benefits that accrue when large numbers of people come together in cities and towns, are completely left out of the Department for Transport’s business case. The British Chambers of Commerce have suggested that Birmingham alone could see agglomeration benefits equivalent to £106 per worker per year over a sixty-year period. That’s serious money!
So why hasn’t this huge benefit of HS2 been included in the business case? Well it’s very difficult to calculate. You can’t use a calculator to estimate the chance encounters and the opportunities that manifest when people live in large urban centres and when we make it easier for people to travel between them.
HS2 will make it easier for people to come together over greater distances by removing physical barriers. Agglomeration benefits may be difficult to quantify but they do occur. Our Victorian railways heralded a new era in our industrial and social expansion and they have served us well. But the business community is clear: it’s high time that we invest in a 21st century railway and reap the benefits (including those not included in the DfT’s business case).
Given that the these benefits are “difficult to calculate”, how did the British Chambers of Commerce conclude that “Birmingham alone could see agglomeration benefits equivalent to £106 per worker per year”? Mr Blackett doesn’t identify the document.
If “agglomeration benefits do occur”, are their effects larger with investment in transport within agglomerations, or between agglomerations? With all the HS2 made-up numbers and factoids bandied around, it’s easy to forget that economic appraisals should involve the comparison of alternatives.
In its discussion of generated journeys, HS2 Ltd’s document ‘Demand for Long Distance Travel‘ mentions some of the economic effects of the long “upgrade” of the West Coast Main Line.
Why would there be new trips as a result of HS2?
Quicker journey times and increased frequencies enable passengers to make trips that would otherwise have been impractical or unattractive. With the reductions in journey time anticipated from HS2, passengers would be able to get to more places within reasonable travel times than they could before. Overall, we estimate that these new opportunities would lead to an extra 33,000 trips a day being made on HS2 by 2043. Of these new trips 59% would be for leisure and 37% for business.
This increase in demand can be compared with the increase experienced when the WCML was upgraded.
Case Study: West Coast Main Line Upgrade
The WCML runs from London to Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. The first stage of the upgraded line opened in September 2004 and the upgrade of the whole line was completed in December 2008. This included signalling, track and rolling stock improvements to allow higher speed trains and more trains to be run. This reduced journey times along the route by an average of 34 minutes. Note 1
As a result of the upgrade, an increase in the number of passengers on the route was experienced compared to other routes which had not been upgraded in the same period. For example, between 2006 and 2009 this resulted in 36% more passenger journeys (relative to 13% across the East Coast Mainline between London, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh) and 38% more passenger‐kilometres (relative to 15% across East Coast Mainline services).Note 2
(1) The 34 minute average journey time saving reported from the WCML upgrade is similar to that claimed for a future HS2 phase one and ‘classic compatible’ service between the capital and provincial conurbations (e.g. Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool). For example, HS2 is claimed to speed up journeys to the . This opens up the possibility of looking into whether speeding up intercity train journeys to the capital has had the effect of increasing aggregate productivity and economic activity in those cities. No-one appears to have done this, but the results from such an evaluation could make for some interesting reading.
(2) Upgrading the West Coast Main Line resulted in travel volume rising faster than on lines not upgraded during the same period. So as with new-build lines, the process of upgrading lines has the potential to bring about generated journeys, which depending on the circumstances, may not be a desirable outcome in sustainability terms. This has implications for decision-making in the domains of type and scale of transport investment.