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Archive for December 2011

The miss the bus experience

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Lloyd Northover is a company that uses creative communications to help its clients move their organisations forward, fulfilling their dreams as well as their goals. Great, if those dreams involve having passengers miss their bus, using a massive ad hoarding to obstruct their view.

Imagine missing the bus

Written by beleben

December 30, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Quadrophrenia midlandia

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There is a kind of reality distortion field that permeates infrastructure planning in Britain. In this fifth dimension, ‘visionaries’ and lobbyists put forward ideas such as

Another manifestation of reality distortion fieldism is the scheme to four-track the Birmingham to Coventry railway. Unlike much of the West Coast Main Line, the Stafford – Birmingham – Rugby line is only twin-track (i.e., one track for each direction). South of Birmingham, omnistation (stopping) trains are constrained by the need to accommodate longer distance freight and passenger services, resulting in sub-optimal timetabling.

In February 2011, Centro stated that four-tracking on the Birmingham to Coventry route was needed ‘in addition‘ to high speed rail, and their Rail Development Plan proposed a second pair of tracks between Proof House Junction (east of New Street station) and Birmingham Airport.

Birmingham Coventry railway, four-tracking proposed by Centro

Four-tracking from Beechwood tunnel (between Tile Hill and Berkswell) to Stechford at a cost of £900 million was proposed in Atkins’ Rail Package 2 ‘alternative’ to HS2. Before it dropped its support for high speed rail, the Green Party also favoured four-tracking the line, and its use by HS2 trains serving the West Midlands.

Maps based on Open Street Map (

The West Midlands is an area where cost-effective and relatively straightforward rail schemes – such as the Benson Road and Camp Hill chords – have been held up for years, because of lack of municipal support. So the eccentric Coventry four tracking concept, with its much bigger price tag and environmental impact, is unlikely to get anywhere.

I don’t see how anyone could make a case for spending £900-plus million to enable more stopping trains to Adderley Park, Lea Hall, Hampton-in-Arden (etc). The numbers don’t come anywhere close to stacking up. The best value approach would entail improving bus services to these places, and perhaps closing Adderley Park altogether.

Written by beleben

December 29, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Malos aires

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Stationary diesel buses in central Birmingham

In January 2011, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority retired its last diesel bus.

In an urban area where diesel buses began operating in 1940, the MTA now has 2,221 buses powered by compressed natural gas, as well as one electric bus and six gasoline-electric hybrids.

Transit officials estimate that the elimination of diesel engines has reduced the release of cancer-causing particulates from the bus fleet by 80% and greenhouse gases by about 300,000 pounds a day in one of the smoggiest areas of the country.

MTA officials say that compressed natural gas buses cost more to buy and maintain than those powered by diesel but that the increased expenses are offset somewhat over the long run by lower fuel costs.

“Not only is this an important step for air quality, it sets the bar for other transportation agencies to follow,” said Joe Lyou, president of the Coalition for Clean Air, a statewide organization based in Los Angeles. “Now when an MTA bus pulls up, you don’t run away anymore from the huge cloud of exhaust.”
Though the MTA has converted its fleet, the agency still contracts with private bus lines that rely on diesel fuel. Of the 187 private buses, 82 have diesel engines, but transit officials say those should be phased out in the next several years.

In Great Britain, road public transport in the big cities is dependent on diesel powered vehicles. Many of the 2,000-plus buses in the West Midlands Urban Area spend a lot of time stationary (or moving very slowly in traffic) with engines on, and the consequence is very bad local air quality.

Eighteen diesel/battery hybrid buses are to be introduced to NXWM service in early 2012, and as part of the council’s ‘Vision for Movement‘, the most polluting buses would be effectively excluded from Birmingham city centre. But these measures in themselves are not going to make a difference overall.

Centro's car and bus comparison diagramIn its ‘Transforming Bus Travel‘ document, Centro included a diagram purporting to show that a single decker bus is ‘equivalent to 78 cars’.

The reality is that the average bus carries about 9 passengers, so emissions per passenger kilometre are not something to be especially proud of. So long as high frequency bus services (e.g., Birmingham – Kings Heath – Maypole) remain operated by diesel buses, there is going to be bad air.

What’s needed is fewer silly diagrams, and more rational thinking. There is a strong case for converting most of Birmingham’s trunk bus routes to trolleybus operation, but this would require the support and involvement of the local authority. Whether the civic leadership has the necessary perspicuity, remains to be seen.

Written by beleben

December 24, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Confused of Summer Lane

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Go HS2 campaign supporters, page 1

Earlier this year, Centro, the West Midlands transport authority, set up the GoHS2 campaign at its Summer Lane headquarters, to “bring HS2 to the West Midlands”.

But the West Midlands *already has* high speed rail – with its London Pendolino trains matching the Frankfurt – Cologne ICE in speed, and more than matching it in frequency and number of through trains.

At the time of writing, the GoHS2 website has 56 supporters, most of whom seem to be local authority or Atkins staff (unless supporters ‘David Bull’, ‘Peter Bethell’, etc, just happen to share the names of council staff).

Go HS2 campaign claiming "opponents want to scrap first class"The GoHS2 activity on social media has been no less bizarre. A recent example is the comment that “HS2 opponents want to scrap first class (higher revenue) for standard but at same time want to ‘relieve burden’ on taxpayer”.

This is a strange comment for Centro to make, because none of the trains on West Midlands local services (Straford-upon-Avon, Walsall, Stourbridge, etc) offer *any* First class accommodation. When these services did offer First, there was no “higher revenue”, because those seats were empty. Chiltern Railways have also done away with traditional First class, in favour of experiments with other types of product segmentation.

Comparing First and Standard class Pendolino capacity Far from being some kind of cash cow, specifying four First class coaches for each nine-coach West Coast Pendolino was a serious error. As can be seen from comparing a First and Second Standard class Pendolino carriage, revenue per seat has to be 65% higher even *at the same occupancy level*.

So the future role and price differential of First class needs to be examined, but it’s a more a matter of economics than capacity. There is a very large amount of capacity waiting to be used (e.g., the Chiltern Line volume could be expanded by 800%+, through relatively small investment). And 16-coach intercity passenger trains are already operating on the British railway network.

Written by beleben

December 21, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Nat Expecting a fair increase

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Urban diametric and radial bus routes Most bus fares in Greater Birmingham are going up next month, announced National Express West Midlands (NXWM), operator of most services.

Um, quelle surprise. Virtually every January, NXWM fares go up. In fact, in some years, there’s been two increases. And there was a stealth increase when the company replaced the stage-based ticketing system, inherited from the municipal operators, with just standard and ‘short hop’ fares.

Anyway, here’s the price-hikin’ press release:

National Express West Midlands is changing its fare structure in line with inflation from 2 Jan 2012 and trialing a new £1 city hop ticket.

The new trial city hop fare will allow people to get around Birmingham city centre using the bus for a pound. The ticket will be available for Single trips wholly within the middle city ring road in Birmingham, including the places shown on the diagram to the right.

The new fares reflect rising business costs and will support further reinvestment into the West Midlands bus network during 2012, building on the arrival of almost 100 new vehicles including green hybrids in 2011.

The change to existing tickets will mean single tickets increase by 10p, Daysaver by 20p and cards by 50p a week.

Fare increases have been kept to a minimum and West Midland bus prices remain amongst the most competitive of any major UK city. Monthly Direct debit is the cheapest method of travelling and provides unlimited bus travel for the equivalent of £1.60 per day.

Peter Coates, Managing Director for National Express Bus UK, said:
“We realise these are tough times and have kept the increase to a minimum with the average increase in line with inflation. The price rise will allow us to continue our significant investment into the region’s bus network and meet rising business costs.”

“Fares in the West Midlands are among the most competitive of any major UK city and our focus in 2012 is improving the quality of journey for all our customers. This year we have introduced almost 100 new vehicles to the network and have plans to sustain this investment in 2012.”

“We operate an exact fare policy for speed and security so it’s important that customers are made aware of the change well in advance. Information will be displayed on buses and on our website.”
New bus fares from 2 January, 2011

West Midlands Cash Fares Current New
Birmingham City Hop – NEW n/a £1.00
Adult Short Hop £1.60 £1.70
Adult Single £1.80 £1.90
Adult Daysaver £3.60 £3.80
Family Daysaver £7.80 £8.00
West Midlands Travelcards
Regional – 1 Week £14.50 £15.00
Regional Direct Debit (Monthly) £46.00 £48.00
Regional 4 Week £52.00 £54.00
Black Country – 1 Week £13.00 £13.50
Black Country Direct
Debit (Monthly)
£40.00 £42.00
Black Country – 4 Week £45.50 £47.50

The city hop fare won’t “allow people to get around Birmingham city centre using the bus for a pound”, because the bus routeing and network planning doesn’t anticipate or facilitate such journeys. Effectively all bus services entering central Birmingham are radial (city-to-suburb); direct cross-city travel without a change of bus is not on the menu. And in any event, a single bus ticket is not transferable onto another NXWM bus.

If anything, the situation regards travel across the city centre corona is likely to get worse, with the ‘Connected City’ reorganisation of buses (to make way for Midland Metro to run along Corporation Street), seemingly drawn up on the back of a fag packet.

It’s interesting to compare the NXWM fares with those of Paris. For example, a single ticket bought on the RATP bus costs €1.90, but a t+ ticket bought off-bus beforehand costs €1.70, or €12.50 for ten. What’s more, the t+ ticket is valid for inter-bus transfers within the city, for 90 minutes between the first and last validation. (At the time of writing £1 = €1.20 or thereabouts.)

Written by beleben

December 20, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Bad deal

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In April 2011 reported that Kent County Council funding would allow a handful of Southeastern High Speed trains to run to and from Deal and Sandwich (services commenced in September).

The new service aims to ‘boost business confidence and support new employment opportunities in the area at the same time as Pfizer withdraws from its Sandwich site.’

At the Kent Rail Summit at County Hall, Leader of Kent County Council Paul Carter announced their support for the new peak service for rail travellers from Sandwich and Deal which will slash the journey time to London to approximately 90 minutes.

It will provide 3 trains to London in the morning leaving Sandwich at 0551, 0617 and 0647 and calling at Deal 5 minutes later. Trains will return from St Pancras at 1740 and 1840.
The cost of this new service is approximately £151,000, but costs will reduce the more that the services are used. KCC is also lobbying the Department for Transport for an exemption to the current franchise agreement which will make further savings on the cost.

KCC Leader and Chairman of the Sandwich Economic Development Task Force Paul Carter stated:

“Journey times to Sandwich and Deal will be slashed by the introduction of this new High Speed service which will provide an immediate boost to business and job prospects in the area and has long been called for by local residents.

“We’ve worked closely with Southeastern, local MPs and Dover District Council to secure the service at minimum cost. At a time of exceptional need for the area with the exit of Pfizer in 2012, we were determined to provide new high speed links which would support local businesses and attract new investment into the area. It’s great news and a real boost to Sandwich and Deal.”

If the subsidy provides trains from East Kent in the morning and trains from London in the evening, how does that “support new employment opportunities in the area“?

High speed rail services are already heavily subsidised by central government. So what is the rationale for prioritising additional council funding for HS1 over rural bus services, or nurseries? HS1 accounts for just 5% of Southeastern’s passenger numbers, and its importance to wider London and South East transport is miniscule.

Written by beleben

December 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Reshaping rolling stock procurement, part three

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Having taken evidence on the Thameslink (trains) Programme, the House of Commons transport committee has now published its report containing conclusions and recommendations both for the UK rolling stock market

1. Although it may not be feasible or desirable to smooth out completely peaks and troughs in procurement there is scope for the DfT to ensure that there is a steadier flow of opportunities to UK-based manufacturers and the supply chain. (Paragraph 15)

2. We recommend that the Government clarify how it intends to use Network Rail’s passenger rolling stock RUS in ensuring that there is a steadier flow of procurements in future as well as clearer information to industry about the work which the DfT expects to initiate via operating firms or generate itself. We also recommend that the Government clarify whether the medium-term procurement plans mentioned in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s autumn statement will include a plan for rolling stock. In the meantime, we would encourage the Government to assist the UK train building sector in finding opportunities for work before the next major train procurement projects are completed. (Paragraph 16)

and for the Thameslink process itself.

3. We recommend that the Government explain how the measures announced in the Chancellor’s autumn statement to improve procurement practices will achieve a more strategic approach to large-scale procurement and publish an implementation timetable. (Paragraph 23)

4. There would now appear to be few defenders of the previous Government’s decision to exclude socio-economic criteria from the Thameslink procurement. We note that it would not have been possible for the terms of the contract to have been amended, following the change of Government in May 2010, without starting the procurement afresh with a new invitation to tender. Looking ahead, we fully support the Government’s intention to have a “sharper focus on the UK’s strategic interest” in major public procurements. We hope that this new approach to procurement does not come too late for the Bombardier plant in Derby. (Paragraph 24)

5. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Siemens’ A+ credit rating made a significant contribution to its success in winning the Thameslink procurement. Omitting credit ratings from the evaluation criteria for future rolling stock procurements, beginning with Crossrail, is a sensible step. We have a wider concern, however, that bundling train manufacture and financing together in procurement exercises will skew the market towards larger multinational firms, possibly at the expense of excellence in train design and domestic manufacturing. We recommend that the Government work with the railway industry to establish how train manufacturers can create finance partnerships which offer good value to the taxpayer whilst promoting long-term best value. (Paragraph 29)

6. We would expect the DfT to take a robust attitude to any further allegations of corruption involving Siemens, or any other firm it contracts with, and not to hold back from excluding firms from procurement exercises where there is sound evidence of corruption. (Paragraph 33)


7. We think that it would be in the public interest for the procurement process to be independently reviewed and we have written to the Comptroller and Auditor General to ask him to undertake this work and to report to Parliament before summer 2012 (Paragraph 38)

8. If the Government proceeds to sign a contract with Siemens we recommend that it publish the reasons for favouring Siemens over Bombardier and the difference in the cost of the two bids. (Paragraph 39)

I don’t think these recommendations are going to come close to solving the shortcomings of rolling stock procurement, but perhaps they are the best that can be expected. Politicians such as Ed Miliband (who spoke of Bombardier “being sold down the river by this government”) showed little to no interest when factories such as Metro-Cammell were shuttered, or when huge orders were handed to Hitachi and Siemens, etc.

It’s not clear how closely the size of Bombardier’s Derby workforce is related to loss of the Thameslink contract, how ‘British’ its trains are, or even how ‘British’ they could be. Because huge parts of the Derby rolling stock works were razed after its privatisation, Bombardier has long been reliant on factories in Germany and Belgium to do a lot of its manufacturing.

Written by beleben

December 19, 2011 at 1:33 pm

HS2 could be a booking nuisance

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Pie chart of expected HS2 users by previous mode

Although their HS2 report missed the pivotal question, the Commons transport committee did at least consider the topic of railway ‘demand management’.

Managing demand

40. Sir Roy McNulty’s report on rail value for money calls for a move away from “predict and provide” (i.e. calculating future passenger demand and attempting to provide for it in full) to “predict, manage and provide”, whereby the high cost of meeting peak demand is reduced by fare structures and other methods that shift demand from the peak to the off-peak. 51m and others have argued that increased demand management should be part of a package of alternatives to HS2. They point out that, currently, some of the worst crowding on WCML occurs in off-peak periods, particularly at Euston at 7pm on Friday evenings, when off-peak tickets become valid. 51m and others say that this is an anomaly of the fare structure and could be addressed by more sophisticated pricing.

41. The DfT seems to reject attempts to manage demand over the long term:

Whilst there may be a case for employing demand management as a tactical response to managing demand on the railways, it is unlikely to significantly alter the case over the medium-to-long term for the provision of additional capacity.

It argues that demand management is already employed to a substantial extent and that, commuters and others travelling at peak times, currently paying higher fares, find it hard to switch to off-peak periods. Mr Hammond, citing the above case at Euston station has, however, accepted the need to adjust the fares structure in order to address overcrowding and avoid “perverse incentives”.

42. In response to the suggestion, made by opponents of HS2, that fares would be so high that it would be used exclusively by the rich, Mr Hammond said:

Uncomfortable fact perhaps No. 1 is that the railway is already relatively a rich man’s toy—the whole railway. People who use the railway, on average, have significantly higher incomes than the population as a whole. […] the assumption is that the socio­economic mix of passengers [on HS2] will be broadly similar to those currently using the West Coast Main Line.

The fares strategy for HS2 has not been decided (the modelling has simply assumed current fares levels). It would have been helpful if the DfT had provided a more comprehensive account of the options and implications. It seems likely, however, that, should HS2 go ahead, the current yield-management system of high peak-time fares and low off-peak and advanced fares would apply. In our view, the significant expansion in capacity that HS2 would bring, on both HS2 services and the classic lines, would make it highly likely that cheaper fares would be offered in order to maximise passenger numbers and revenues. This would, potentially, make rail travel more equitable.

43. Demand management, such as peak and off peak pricing, is already an integral element in the way that train services are planned and operated. It is, however, in our view, largely a tactical approach and not a long-term solution to serious mismatches of supply and demand. If capacity is seriously constrained, growing demand can be managed only by means of ever higher ticket prices or increasing restrictions such as compulsory seat reservations, neither of which are acceptable as a long-term approach to rail service provision.

Planning for the long term

44. The debate on capacity seems to us to reveal two contrasting views. On one view, rising demand on the West Coast corridor is essentially a problem, to be tackled by least-cost incremental improvements coupled with measures to suppress demand. On the other view, rising demand is, for strategic reasons, to be welcomed and indeed fostered. As noted in Chapter 2, we consider that the Government needs to explain more clearly this strategic case and in particular why such arguments do not apply to road and air transport.

In practice, demand management means pricing that attempts to shadow consumers’ willingness to pay to travel in a certain time period. Contrary to the impression given in the Commons report, such pricing is actually more important for HS2 than it is for conventional rail. In fact, railway investor Michael Schabas went so far as to claim that Without Market Pricing, Half the Benefits of HSR are Wasted. Virtually nothing is said about pricing or demand management in the HS2 Ltd documentation, but the interplay of pricing and load factor is important for the per-journey environmental impact, and the potential from modal shift from cars (HS2 Ltd’s forecast of car to rail shift is a very low 7%).

Table 2 of Systra’s Factors affecting carbon impacts of HSR (Version 3.1, 28 November 2011) stated that a TGV-Réseau train running on the open straight for 100 kilometres needed 825 kWh at 200 km/h, but 1920 kWh at 330 km/h. It gave a similar energy-speed differential for the later AGV11 train design. Put another way, Systra’s table gave carbon emissions per seat as being 2.3 times as large at the HS2 cruising speed, compared to the Southeastern HS1 (Class 395) cruising speed. But HS2’s increased specific carbon could be mitigated – to an extent – by means of demand management measures, such as compulsory reservation. Greengauge 21 claimed a load factor of around 70% for demand-managed French domestic high speed rail (TGV) and Eurostar, compared with around 50% for the German domestic InterCityExpress. But, as is often the case in the world of high speed rail, there is no way of independently verifying these figures.

On TGV, there is a limited availability of walk-on access, through ‘Réservation rapide’ ticket machines at stations (where unsold seats can be bought close to departure), or through boarding without a reservation (and paying the steep penalty charge). Whether the wider French public like this arrangement is unknown, since they don’t have a choice. The operator, SNCF, has a virtual monopoly of intercity public transport, and many origin-destination sets lost their conventional rail service when the TGV was introduced. And to protect SNCF, internal coach services (of the type operated in Great Britain and Poland) are forbidden.

Motorists value the freedom to start a journey at a time that suits them, and to alter their plans at short notice. It follows that modal shift from car to rail for long distance trips would require tarification that is both flexible and price-competitive. However, flexible ticketing conflicts with the principle of using demand management to influence load factors on high speed rail.

Written by beleben

December 16, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Representing the mucho

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Although the Spanish railway operator Renfe Operadora runs some promotional offers, travel on its high speed trains is generally quite expensive. Here’s an extract from today’s Barca – Madrid rail timetable, with available fares. All trains listed are AVE (high speed), apart from the overnight stopping Estrella, that runs on the old route via Guadalajara. As can be seen, the Estrella is considerably less expensive, but I suppose if someone is in a hurry, Guadalajara won’t do.

Sample Renfe timetable and fares, Barca - Madrid

(Turista = second class, Turista Mesa = second class ‘table’ fare, Preferente = first class, Club = first class ‘plus’, Litera = sleeping)

Written by beleben

December 13, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Cause to pause

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Another Begg facepalm momentAccording to GoHS2 (Centro), the Frankfurt – Cologne high speed line

is one of the most commercially successful in the world. Critics say high speed rail needs long distances, but Frankfurt-Cologne is an almost identical mileage to Birmingham-London.

GoHS2 tends to get its ‘facts’ from David Begg, which isn’t ideal from an accuracy standpoint, but I don’t suppose veracity matters much to them. Anyway, the journey between Frankfurt and Cologne’s main stations using the Neubaustrecke (NBS, i.e. the high speed line) is 173.6 km, and according to Deutsche Bahn Reiseauskunft, typical transit times are 77 or 78 minutes. A second class walk-up journey using the high speed line generally costs 67 euro, compared with 48 euro on the legacy route via Mainz.

Examples of Koeln Frankfurt train journey details, from Deutsche Bahn

What conclusions can be reached? Firstly, there is a premium for travel using the Frankfurt to Cologne NBS – around 39%, on the random journeys examined. The on-train time saving (over the Rhine bank legacy route) is 62 minutes, giving a substitutional value of hourly time of about (67 – 48) = 19 euro. Since MSN Money currently quotes GBP 1 = EUR 1.1792, one might postulate that anyone whose after-tax hourly income was below £16 sterling might have cause to pause before buying a ticket.

Secondly, at 82 to 84 minutes, the Virgin West Coast intercity train between Birmingham New Street and London (181.8 km) achieves *much the same* speed and journey time as a Frankfurt – Cologne high speed InterCity Express (173.6 km). However, Virgin’s generalised journey time is actually better, because of the frequency of service (every 20 minutes).

Thirdly, there’s no evidence to support GoHS2’s statement that the Frankfurt – Cologne NBS is “commercially successful”. What is known, is that load factors on German Intercity Express lines in general aren’t particularly high. And on the Frankfurt – Cologne high speed line,

  • path utilisation and frequency of service is low (see schedule above)
  • centre-to-centre intercity journeys often require a change of train (at Frankfurt Flughafen)
  • because of its gradients, unused paths cannot be reallocated to freight services.

The lesson from the Frankfurt – Cologne NBS is: ‘Railway infrastructure is expensive. So it’s important to get the details right’.

Written by beleben

December 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm