Archive for September 2011
Autumn is the season for party political conferences in Britain, and Centro (the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority), has had staff in attendance to talk up high speed rail at the Liberal Democrat and Labour events. No doubt, next week’s Conservative conference will also be exposed to Centro’s dogma.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, people across the West Midlands are struggling with third-rate local transport facilities. In the forty years since it was established to ‘improve local public transport’, Centro has never managed to find the money to make railway stations such as Stechford accessible to persons of reduced mobility. But in the depths of recession, Centro had no problem finding a sum, running into six figures, to propagandise high speed rail. Which most people in the area would rarely, if ever, use.
On 17 June 2011, Labour MP David Miliband tweeted the “Great news of 300 jobs at Siemens in South Tyneside from new Thameslink contract”. The government had announced that Siemens of Germany was preferred bidder for the supply of new Thameslink rolling stock, rather than Bombardier’s Derby factory. Very little of the Siemens train would be built in Great Britain.
At its conference in September, his brother, Labour party leader Ed Miliband, took a rather different position.
But when I am Prime Minister, how we tax, what government buys, how we regulate, what we celebrate will be in the service of Britain’s producers.
And don’t let anyone tell you that this is the anti-business choice.
It’s the pro-business choice.
Pro-business on the side of the small businesses who can’t get a loan.
Pro-business on the side of high value manufacturing that can’t build its business because of the short-termist culture.
Pro-business on the side of the British company losing out to its competitors abroad when their government steps in and our government stands aside.
And that includes companies like Bombardier and BAe systems.
Being sold down the river by this Government.
HS2 shows how one bad policy can beget multiple undesirable effects. And how – if not left too late – these bad consequences can be avoided, by abandoning the idea that led to them. No-one knows what the demand for North – South travel will be in the future, but the decision to pursue high speed rail magnifies the project risk, because of the very long lead times involved.
If demand were to continue to rise at a high rate, HS2’s politically-led 350 km/h peak speed would rule out adding rail capacity by re-using the existing Great Central formation, even though city-to-city journey times with a 225-250 km/h speed wouldn’t be much different. The prestige HS2 linespeed also
- pushes up the electricity consumption by around 100% -> which creates an operating cost problem -> which leads to an ongoing affordability and subsidy problem;
- increases traction carbon by around 100% -> which creates an environment and compliance problem (the Climate Change Act 2008 sets out a year 2050 target for the six ‘Kyoto gases’ at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline);
- requires the acquisition of more special purpose rolling stock (that cannot be cascaded to other lines), contrary to a policy of ‘standardised design, to reduce costs’.
Whatever the future demand for North – South travel is, setting 250 km/h as the rail design speed dispenses with the need to excavate thousands of tons of spoil, halves the traction energy bill, ticks the ‘carbon-possible’ box, and enables the use of truly interoperable trains.
Great Britain’s Office for Rail Regulation has estimated that the country’s rail passenger volume was 1258 million passengers in 2009, and there’s been sustained growth since 1994.
Nevertheless, the railway accounts for a relatively small proportion of all internal transport, and for lower income groups, intercity rail is especially unaffordable for ‘walk-up’ travel (i.e. where journeys are not pre-booked using tickets restricted to particular trains). As a result, there is a preponderance of users from higher income groups.
In London and some other conurbations, there is a more level usage of short distance passenger rail, partly helped by concessionary/free travel for retired persons. But at the national level, the railway is becoming less and less affordable to the public as a whole.
So for future transport planning, affordability ought to be just as important as resilience and sustainability. High speed rail, in particular, raises some very difficult questions, because it’s expensive to build, and more expensive to operate than conventional rail. The low level of political realism about affordability can be seen in this extract from Maria Eagle’s speech at the 2011 Labour Party conference:
The country wants us to find a better way to deliver rail service in Britain. That’s what we heard loud and clear in our policy review.
They manage it in other parts of the EU. And we can do it here.
So, over the coming months, we will be looking at the right way to bring order back to the chaos in our railways.
And let’s have a new deal for British train manufacturing too.
When the Prime Minister took his Cabinet to Derby, home of our last train manufacturer, he said he’d support local businesses. Then placed a massive order for new trains with a company that will build them in Germany.
It’s time to nail a lie.
If the government thought the tender was wrong: they had every right to rip it up and start again.
The truth? As Philip Hammond has admitted: it just didn’t occur to him.
Because this is a government that cannot think beyond the bottom line.
The local workforce at Bombardier should be proud of the way they are fighting. Not just for their jobs, but for the future of train manufacturing in this country. And we should be proud of the fantastic job that our local Labour MPs – Margaret Beckett and Chris Williamson – are doing. And the effort and resources of the trade unions, leading this fight. We stand with you and we must keep fighting for those jobs.
And let’s make sure that never again do we stack the odds so badly against Britain.
So today I say to Philip Hammond: there is no faith that your Department will give British manufacturing a fair chance. So hand over responsibility for ordering the new Crossrail trains to Transport for London, which – thanks to Labour – has a track record of buying British. And, while we’re at it, let’s show our commitment to rail devolution by letting them manage more of London’s suburban rail services. Providing another opportunity for British train manufacturing.
And let’s set out a long term strategy for investing in our rail infrastructure.
No more talk of classic rail, but a network transformed with a programme to complete electrification and introduce a new generation of high speed inter-city trains. And, yes, let’s also tackle capacity problems between north and south. And in the only credible way it can be done.
That’s why it was Labour that set out plans for a new high speed line. Not just from London to Birmingham, but on to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. Cutting journey times across the UK, benefitting Glasgow and Edinburgh. And, yes, bringing Liverpool under 100 minutes from London.
But the Tory-led Government is only planning to take powers to construct the line as far as Birmingham which casts real doubt on their long term commitment to delivering high speed rail in the north. They should think again and ensure the whole route is included in the forthcoming legislation.
And let’s make it a line that is affordable for the many, not the few. Because when Philip Hammond says, that if you work in a factory in Manchester you will never use it. But, not to worry, because you’ll benefit when your company director does. I’m sorry but that is a Tory vision for high speed rail, not a Labour vision. Philip Hammond may think it is a rich man’s toy, but I don’t. I know you don’t. And a future Labour government never will.
The Labour government contracted with Hitachi to build Class 395 and Intercity Express Programme (IEP) trains in Japan for use on Britain’s main lines, so it’s a bit late in the day for Ms Eagle to start championing British train manufacturing. The Hitachi IEP carriages, at about £9 million apiece, have a fair claim to be the most expensive rail carriages ever built anywhere in the world. The bi-mode version of the IEP takes absurdity to new heights (with no use of such trains in Hitachi’s home market). Someone has to pay for these decisions, and it’s a fair bet that a lot of the cost will end up in long distance train tickets.
The HS2 project would introduce another two types of inflexible train into the rail inventory, and the HS2 Ltd estimate is that trains would use 95-100% more energy on new build high speed line:
Traction power was modelled: for a 200m train, the model calculated the energy consumption would be 45 kilowatt hours/mile (28 kilowatt hours/km) whilst running on HS2. For classic-compatible services running on the classic network, we have assumed the same energy consumption as a Pendolino (23 kilowatt hours/mile, 14 kilowatt hours/km).
(On the information available, a Pendolino has seating equal to, or greater than, a 200 metre HS2 train – the AGV 11 Reference train used by HS2 Ltd seats 510 in dense pack configuration.)
High speed rail imposes extra stresses and wear on equipment such as overhead lines, and rails, requiring more maintenance. It’s all very well to yap about ‘affordability’ in the abstract at a party conference, but if Adonis/Steer high speed rail is implemented, someone has to pick up the tab for the extra electricity, extra maintenance, etc.
The train operator London Midland (LM) has started publishing crowdedness information for some of its services. The Euston ‘weekdays from 5 Sep 2011’ table (extract above) shows some 12-car trains running in the peak to destinations including Birmingham New Street, but even some of these are indicated as ‘standing room only’. In the table, two red dots together appears to mean “trains where you may have to stand for more than 20 minutes”.
Overcrowding on West Coast Main Line outer suburban services to Northampton has been used to justify the British government policy of building high speed rail to Birmingham. The argument is that transferring conventional Long Distance High Speed services to the HS2 track frees up space for better commuter services. But London commuter overcrowding affects many commuter towns, such Brighton and Reading, so why single out Northampton and Milton Keynes for special attention? Would future overcrowding be better addressed by other means? In fact, there are lots of questions one might ask about the current services, including the pricing, and the train lengths. Why is the 1554 service from Euston to Birmingham service only composed of 4 carriages? (It’s listed as ‘standing room only’.)
“While the business case for HS2 continues to unravel, this research note examines the hidden costs of the project. That includes both the costs of promises from Ministers, and the cost of other schemes which will be needed to make it work as advertised.
For a number of reasons costs may be higher:
* The present plans show that many towns and cities will get a worse service. If that is not the case as Theresa Villiers has argued, then the saving in the business plan for reducing existing services would not be possible, costing £5.4 billion.
* Additional pressure on London Underground lines from Euston will make Crossrail 2 necessary, costing at least £10 billion.
* Mitigating the environmental effects of the line, for example by running portions of it underground is likely to add at least £3 billion to the cost.
And revenues may be lower:
* Demand is unlikely to match the Government’s expectations, though we have not included a cost for this in our final calculations.
* Phillip (sic) Hammond has pledged that the increase in capacity will allow competition driving lower fares. But the business case is based on a 27 per cent over inflation rise in fares. If that does not take place revenue is likely to be at least £10 billion lower.
* The final result is that the cost to taxpayers alone will rise from £17.1 billion to a massive £45.5 billion.
The Huffington Post’s coverage included some of the responses to the TPA document:
More than £28 billion of taxpayers’ money will be needed to cover the hidden costs of the High Speed Two (HS2) project, according to an investigation championed by the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA).
Rising costs and lower revenues associated with recent pledges made by the Department of Transport are to blame, claims the report.
Critics of HS2 argue that £10 billion will be added to the bill by Cross Rail 2 – the Chelsea to Hackney line – that will have to be built to ease pressure on London Underground lines from Euston, according to the TPA.
Offsetting environmental concerns, such as going underground to avoid visual disruption, will cost an estimated additional £3 billion, it says.
However, Professor David Begg, Director of the Campaign for HS2, called the TPA report a “work of imaginative fiction”. He said:
“Anybody can make up a set of figures for spending that may have to happen in the future. Unfortunately, the key thing this ‘research note’ lacks is any evidence or research.
Tory MP Kwasi Kwarteng, a member of the transport select committee, agreed with Begg. Speaking at an event organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), he said:
“Any input into the model can come up with any answer you want. It is simply the case that it is all dependent on the assumptions you make. It does not take an Einstein or even a sophisticated mathematician to manipulate those assumptions to find the figures you want.”
Flaws in predicted revenue are also criticised by the report. The project relies on the assumption that many more people will be using rail by the time of HS2’s completion. Kwarteng acknowledged this, saying:
“I’ve seen the benefit-cost analysis and I agree that it is based on extraordinary assumptions: that is that rail demand will increase from now till 2043. If it stops in 2026, then it makes no sense; there will be no benefit. I’ve seen those figures… there are risks, everything in life has risks, but if you balance the risks I think this is an excellent project… railways have been subsidised by the government since the nineteenth century.”
David Begg’s response to the ‘The Hidden Costs of HS2’ was posted on the Biz4HS2 website:
September 16, 2011
The Taxpayers’ Alliance’s report, ‘The Hidden Costs of HS2’, authored by Chris Stokes, claims that there are £28 billion of hidden costs not factored in to HS2’s business case. As a result, they claim that HS2 will cost £45.5 billion. This is a massive claim, for which a substantial evidence base is required. However, the TPA have concocted this figure on the basis of a number of erroneous and baseless claims.
1. The TPA say “the Government will have to spend £5.8 billion improving services for towns and cities who will be getting a worse deal under HS2”
• This is completely untrue. The HSR network would, in fact, free up a significant amount of capacity on existing lines as long-distance journeys transfer over to the new network. This would allow for a complete revamp of the East Coast and West Coast Main Line timetables, which would increase the possible number of services on the lines themselves as well as the services that connect to those lines (note 1).
• Without high-speed rail the rail network in this country is going to become completely blocked. Trains will become even more overcrowded, and the reliability of services will decrease. This scenario has been confirmed by leading authorities, such as Network Rail and Virgin (note 2). In order to squeeze extra services onto a congested line, intermediate stations like Watford Junction will end up being removed. This will have a devastating impact on smaller towns and cities.
• The TPA’s analysis provides no alternative that will release sufficient capacity to avoid this situation. Indeed, they provide no alternative at all. The claim, then, that we will have to spend an additional £5.4 billion on improving services that will be short-changed by high-speed rail is not only untrue, it is incredible. The TPA should ask themselves how much they would have to pay to fix the entire network if we, as they appear to suggest, were to simply sit on our hands for foreseeable future and allow it to deteriorate.
• The alternative that is being proposed by opponents to HS2 will cost vast amounts of money for minimal capacity returns, and will have disastrous consequences for the commuter (note 3). In the words of Network Rail, after 2024, the WCML “is effectively full and any interventions will be disproportionately expensive compared with the benefits gained” (note 4).
2. The TPA say “the Government will have to spend £10 billion creating Crossrail 2”
• Opponents to HS2 seem to want to have their cake and eat it. In one breath they claim that HS2 will be empty and that predicted demand is inflated (on p.4); in the next breath they claim that billions will have to be spent to accommodate the millions of commuters that will end their journey in Euston and need to use the London Underground system (on p.1). Their argument therefore defies logic.
• The only explanation they provide as to why we need Crossrail 2 is this: “Boris Johnson has now said that the construction of the Chelsea – Hackney Line (“Crossrail 2”) is essential to make HS2 work”.
• The only explanation they provide as to how they estimated the predicted £10 billion cost of Crossrail 2 is on the basis of a comparison with the cost of Crossrail 1: “[this] estimate is conservative given Crossrail [note 1] is costing £15.9 billion”.
• The TPA therefore provide no evidence or explanation as to why Crossrail 2 is necessary, and no financial workings. This is a very poor standard of research.
3. The TPA say “the business case and demand predictions are overinflated”
• The business case for HS2 has actually been criticised by leading authorities for being far too conservative. For example, according to Volterra, a leading economic consultancy, the Government’s business case ‘is based on conservative assumptions and a conservative approach to modelling’ (note 5).
• The Government have based its case on time savings, and has failed to adequately account for the wider economic benefits that high-speed rail would produce, such as growth and jobs. In addition, its demand assumptions rely on significantly lower growth figures than have been seen on the network in recent years.
• For example, Greengauge 21 estimated that a high-speed network could deliver benefits of up to £125 billion to the UK economy. Given that the Government estimate is £44 billion, this is roughly three times higher.
• High Speed 1 has certainly exceeded original expectations. Originally estimated to create £500 million for the economy, it is now predicted that it will create £17.6 billion, which is nearly 40 times more (note 7).
In response to the report, Professor David Begg, Director of the Campaign for High Speed Rail, said:
“This is another work of imaginative fiction from the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Anybody can make up a set of figures for spending that may have to happen in the future. Unfortunately, the key thing this “research note” lacks is any evidence or research.
“The TPA has nothing constructive to say about how Britain’s railway capacity crisis can be helped. Instead of just carping and criticising from the sidelines, they should realise that HS2 is the best option for taxpayers and passengers.”
 Greengauge 21, Capturing the Benefits on Existing Lines, http://www.greengauge21.net/wp-content/uploads/Capturing-the-benefits-update.pdf
 Network Rail, West Coast Main Line Utilisation Strategy; Virgin Trains, February 2011 http://mediaroom.virgintrains.co.uk/2011_02_01_archive.html
 The campaign has deconstructed the proposed alternative online here: http://www.campaignforhsr.com/a-better-railway-for-britain-why-the-alternative-to-hs2-doesn%E2%80%99t-stack-up
 Network Rail, West Coast Main Line Utilisation Strategy
 Volterra, Understanding the transport infrastructure requirements to deliver growth in England’s Core Cities, p.25
 Greengauge 21, HSR – affordable to all, October 2011
 London and Continental Railways and Volterra, Economic Impact of High Speed 1
It’s not possible to accurately predict transport demand, or operating costs, 60 years into the future, and HS2 Ltd’s model has little credibility. As (apparently pro-HS2) Mr Kwarteng said, the HS2 benefit-cost ratio is based on extraordinary assumptions. To get “the figures you want”, just feed in suitable inputs and assumptions into the assessment.
The University of Connecticut document ‘Network Vulnerability and High-Speed Rail‘ presented by Nicholas Lownes, noted that
* The vulnerability of a transportation network is strongly correlated with the ability of the network to withstand shocks and disruptions.
* High-volume edges with limited alternative paths represent obvious system vulnerabilities.
The design of HS2 makes it highly vulnerable to disruption. It would be connected to the legacy rail system, but its preferred European-interoperable GC gauge rolling stock would not generally be able to interoperate on British track. The outcome would be that HS2 is exposed to the perturbations from classic rail, but is not able to use those connections to effectively re-route traffic in response to disruption on its own line, or on some other portion of the legacy network.