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High Speed Light

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As mentioned previously, extending new build high speed rail to Scotland would cost around £50 billion. The government seems to accept that the Y network to Manchester and Leeds, together with a spur to Heathrow, would be around “£32.2 billion (Quarter 3, 2009 prices)”.

In June 2010, This is London reported that a high-speed rail link could be built from London to Manchester for a “bargain £6 billion”. It turned out that “Manchester” meant “Manchester airport”, and the costs of stations were not included.

A HIGH-SPEED rail link between London, Birmingham and Manchester could be built for £6 billion if a “bargain basement” approach is taken to construction, experts claim today.

A report by the Research Group suggests the cost of the High Speed Two route proposed by the Labour regime – between £15.8 billion and £17.4 billion -could be cut by half.

The group said huge savings could be made if the UK were to use types of trains and track already in operation on the Continent, and if only three stations were built – one in each city.

The London terminus of “High Speed Light” would be at Old Oak Common, north of Wormwood Scrubs, to let passengers interchange with Crossrail to and from Heathrow. The other stations would be at Birmingham and Manchester airports. The cost of these stations is not included in the £6 billion price.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the report was a “welcome contribution to the debate” but its ideas, such as an interchange at Old Oak Common, are unlikely to be adopted. This is because the Lib-Con coalition has asked Lord Mawhinney, a former Tory transport secretary, to investigate extending High Speed Two direct to Heathrow.

Members of the Research Group include Carphone Warehouse founder David Ross and Sir Andrew Foster, a former chairman of the Audit Commission. They warn the rail system will be in “crisis” by 2020 because of surging demand – the tracks now carry more than 1.3 billion passengers a year.

They call for High Speed Two to be developed in a piecemeal fashion, akin to the motorway network. Construction could start in 2015, two years earlier than planned, and finish by 2027.

The route should be built “as simply as possible, with essential facilities only”, and without any requirement to overlap with the existing network. “Smaller scale, manageable projects … can be set up with good financial discipline and learning from international experience,” the report says. “UK costs are high and need to be brought down to international benchmarks. We view this project as the most effective way of getting high-speed rail started – High Speed Light as it were.”

SPV vehicleThe ‘High Speed Light’ report, High Speed Rail, How to get started, dated February 2010, was written by David Ross, Andrew Foster, Roderick Smith, Catherine Griffiths, and Bridget Rosewell. Here’s some extracts:

We propose that a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) should be established to procure a high speed line from Old Oak Common (on the Crossrail route to Heathrow) to Birmingham Airport and Manchester Airport. Funding for this should be raised with government guarantees for the basic infrastructure, but city centre linkages, station development and so on would be funded and justified separately. Train operators would be privately financed. On European standards, this would cost in the region of £6bn.

A critical feature of a HSR network is that it needs to be national in its scale and dedicated to high speed trains only.

A recent estimate of overall cost from Network Rail is a daunting £34bn. To put this in perspective, £34bn would finance the 2012 Olympics more than three times over. It is about the same as the entire value of Network Rail’s existing assets.

A key requirement in delivering HSR is to create projects that appear to be practicable and fundable and show how this scale can be delivered over time in a manageable way.

According to construction companies, the cost of procuring railway infrastructure in Britain is as much as three times higher as comparable projects in continental Europe. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link cost £5.8bn at more than £56m per kilometre it is the world’s most expensive HSR link. There are various reasons for our comparatively higher costs including nonstandard technical specifications, different operating standards and safety requirements, tortuous planning requirements and complex budgetary and procurement processes. The cost gap must be reduced.

European experience suggests HSR procurement, project management and construction operates most efficiently and effectively on stretches of 100 to 200 kilometres

More than half the cost of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and much of the planning effort, arose from the final approach to central London and St Pancras because of the extensive tunnelling and other engineering work involved. Why then, in developing HSR, is it initially essential to build into city centres? Even if traditional appraisal methodologies show that this maximises benefits, a detailed financial analysis will give very different metrics. Best value for money will be achieved by selecting those segments with lower costs per kilometre for early development, probably longer segments outside the cities which represent the potential for the biggest time savings.

The first elements of a new HSR network could provide an effective and efficient link between London, Birmingham and Manchester without venturing into the cities themselves. A possible route runs from a London terminus at Old Oak Common on the new Crossrail route, which links Heathrow to the West and Bond Street and Canary Wharf to the East. Indeed, the Old Oak Common terminus would be only two stops from the West End and seven from the City. The northward HSR route would be to Birmingham Airport and then Manchester Airport where linkages with city centres already exist.

The distance involved in this route is about 300km, suitable for letting as two projects in line with the staging principles outlined above. Major construction companies estimate that a reasonable cost for continental rail projects is €20m per kilometre. On this basis, the cost of a route from London to Manchester is less than £6bn. Both stations and related facilities should initially be limited in number (at Old Oak Common and Birmingham and Manchester airports) and designed and built as simply as possible, with essential facilities only. Ancillary development (for example additional parkway stations, improved links to city centres, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls) should not be seen as part of the programme but to be added as investors demand. Some of these may be delivered alongside the core programme, but as separate projects, for example to manage passenger arrivals.

Finally, it is not essential to integrate the HSR network with the classic network. A High Speed Network can be developed quite separately, reducing cost and facilitating the adoption of more cost-effective technical specifications.

'There is no Ebbsfleet'‘High Speed Light’ is further evidence of the inconsistencies and muddle that permeates thinking on high speed rail. HS2 is supposed to accelerate journeys between cities, but the ‘High Speed Light’ report advocated building a line that does not serve city centres. Co-author Bridget Rosewell “was instrumental in establishing the case for a station” at Ebbsfleet on HS1, but apparently supported building a HS2 line with just three stations between the Thames and the Mersey.

‘High Speed Light’ also says that adopting European technical specifications would help cut costs, for London to Manchester, to £6 bn. Well, European high speed rail norms have been adopted for HS2, and the result is a London to West Midlands line costed at £17 bn.

Written by beleben

September 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm

One Response

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  1. Ebbsfleet shows how flawed so much of the High Speed Rail forecasting and planning is – of and to that we might add the ‘domestic’ Eurostar and Eurostarnight trains now doing sterling work as ‘clearance sale’ offers with SNCF and VIARail. Plus of course the large part of the 29 train 395 fleet which is currently spare, glorious luxury for many off peak travellers of having an entire coach of the 6 coach trains to themselves. On a trip last year I was one of just 30 passengers outbound from St Pancras during the rush hour, heading for Dover, and most got off at Ashford.

    The ‘faster journey’ claims are already not proven by the experience of Kent commuters who, even on a trip from Gravesend to a City (or Canary Wharf) office will get there substantially faster (and substantially cheaper) using the old routes. That core customer base won’t shift to HS1, much as the core customer base of WCML and other routes won’t move too HS1 for the same basic reason that it does not integrate with a network that serves places people want to travel between without adding inconvenience and *low value time (waiting and getting between stations) penalties. *Higher value time is where on a slower rail journey you get 1.5-4 hours of solid time to work against say flying where there is a conglomeration of chopped up elements in which the traveller cannot do very much productive activity, and often the distance travelled includes retracing your steps. Cyclists in LA beat a cross-city flight by riding 38 miles door to door – the aircraft flew 90 miles, to which one adds access and transfer times. By the time a passenger from Coventry has added travelling back to Bickenhall changing stations and allowed for a connection overlap – they would have reached London faster on a direct train, with less ‘wasted’ time.

    Ebbsfleet is a sea of empty tarmac with unused car parks – fortunate in some ways as this cuts the cost of running a bus service to bring car users from the more distant parking places to the station. A substantial number (relative to the car users) actually cycle as Northfleet and other residential areas are within easy cycling distance, offering the HS1 service at a better frequency and choice than Gravesend, but despite Northfleet station being a walkable connection (albeit a laughable position for an integrated transport network where even rail services don’t connect properly) there are dreadful arrangements for walking and cycling routes – no signage, poor interfaces with motorised/carriageway infrastructure etc. Of course amazingly those who see and want the benefit of being able to cycle (fast, low cost reliable short journeys) to Ebbsfleet manage to do this despite the failure of planning and operational provisions to do this.

    Dave H

    September 19, 2011 at 10:59 am

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