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Archive for January 2012

West Coast ostrichism

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Passenger Focus and Network Rail 'WCML released capacity report', Jan 2012On 19 January, the report ‘Future priorities for the West Coast Main Line: Released capacity from a potential high speed line‘ was published.

Produced by Network Rail and Passenger Focus, it was commissioned by the Department for Transport, with the (cl)aim of finding out about what people wanted from ‘capacity released by HS2’ on the West Coast Main Line.

Press release


Passengers on Britain’s busiest rail route could benefit from faster, more frequent trains, less crowding and better connections if the first phase of the proposed high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham goes ahead as planned.

Those are the conclusions of a report published today by Network Rail and Passenger Focus, which sets out the improved level of service passengers on the West Coast Main Line could experience thanks to the extra capacity and 125mph trains which would become available if long-distance services migrate to High Speed 2.

One of the biggest groups to benefit would be commuters travelling between Northampton, Milton Keynes, Watford Junction and London, where the worst overcrowding is forecast in the coming years as demand for rail continues to grow. Initial analysis suggests as many as twelve trains per hour could operate on this section of the route in the busiest peak hours.

Other key beneficiaries would be passengers travelling between the major towns and cities of the West Midlands and between London and destinations in the Trent Valley, as well as companies that rely on moving goods by rail freight. There are also likely to be opportunities to improve connectivity between the south end of the route and towns and cities further the north.

More than 5,000 current passengers and almost 1,000 potential new rail users were surveyed by Passenger Focus, highlighting the key priorities for the capacity which would be released if a new rail line such as HS2 is built.

Anthony Smith, Passenger Focus chief executive said, “Passengers know that with more people using the West Coast Main Line it is only a matter of time before capacity runs out. If a new line was to free up this much-needed route passengers, especially commuters, have signalled they want to be able to get seat as well as more direct services.”

Passengers clearly stated first and foremost they want to be able get a seat. Direct services were also high up the list of priorities for both current passenger and non-users. In the additional comments section punctuality and reliability also featured.

Network Rail used these survey results to produce nine overarching goals or ‘outputs’ – such as shorter journey times between London and the Trent Valley or additional direct services between major towns and cities in the West Midlands – which could form the building blocks of a future WCML timetable.

Paul Plummer, Network Rail group strategy director, said: “The West Coast Main Line is Britain’s busiest and most economically vital rail artery – but by 2024 it will be full, with no more space to accommodate the continued predicted growth in demand. HS2 would not only transform travel between our major cities, it is also the best way to solve the capacity crunch facing passengers and businesses on the West Coast Main Line.

“This joint study with Passenger Focus means we now know what commuters, business and leisure travellers and freight companies want from their railway, so we can work with our customers and government to help plan for a future West Coast Main Line which best meets the their needs and supports rather than stifles economic growth.”

In the majority of cases Network Rail has concluded that the outputs identified in the study could be delivered when the proposed new line between London and Birmingham opens. The second stage of this study will develop a more detailed understanding of any trade-offs between outputs in order to provide the best overall level service on the West Coast Main Line in the future.

Notes to editor:

Network Rail’s West Coast Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS), published in July 2011, stated that the WCML will be running at full capacity at the southern end of the route by 2024. Network Rail’s New Lines study, published in 2009, had concluded that a new line between London, the West Midlands and the north of England was the best way to provide the necessary capacity to cope with forecast demand.

In addition to the Passenger Focus survey, as part of its evidence-gathering Network Rail held a series of workshops with local authorities on or adjacent to the WCML between London and Cheshire as well as relevant Passenger Transport Executives.

Meetings were also held with freight operating companies to understand the likely requirements of future freight users (which were found to be largely in line with the WCML RUS and the Initial Industry Plan published on September 2011).

Conditional outputs
The conditional outputs specified by Network Rail, which would make best use of the released capacity on the WCML, are:

  • London suburban

    An increase in the provision of London suburban peak services to the level where all passengers travelling for more than 20 minutes have a reasonable expectation of a seat for the duration of their journey. A reduction in journey times between London and major commuter stations, such that the mixture of non/limited stop and stopping services to/from any given station does not lead to overcrowding.

  • London urban

    An all-day increase in the minimum frequency of London urban services to four trains per hour.

  • West Midlands suburban

    Provision of additional direct services between major centres in the West Midlands metropolitan area.

  • London interurban

    Provision of services to broadly maintain the existing connectivity between London and intermediate stations.
    A reduction in journey times between London and Trent Valley stations.

  • Non-London interurban

    An increase in the number of direct trains between large stations at the north and south ends of the WCML, and specification of the local timetable to connect with these services.

  • Freight

    To accommodate 85 and 80 trains per day on the Wembley – Rugby and Rugby – Stafford sections of the WCML respectively. These freight paths should not have significantly longer journey times, or reduced capability compared to currently, to ensure that rail remains competitive with road haulage.To be able to accommodate the same level of freight traffic with high speed services using the route north of Lichfield, as would be the case without these new services.


Both Network Rail and Passenger Focus are publicly funded organisations, and toe the government line on high speed rail. It’s fairly obvious that the document was conceived as what might be politely described as a piece of HS2 advocacy. There is a noticeable use of conditional phraseology (‘HS2 could mean more commuter services’, ‘HS2 could mean more freight’, etc) but the cost-effectiveness or ‘mutual achievability’ of outcomes, isn’t discussed.

Seatedness probability

Previous research (conducted by Passenger Focus, and the Office of Rail Regulation) doesn’t support the idea of the West Coast Main Line having uniquely difficult seating or capacity problems. In fact, short term crowding on London Midland services could be largely put down to inefficient operations management, and a shortage of rolling stock.

In the longer term, capacity and resilience could be greatly improved by the maintenance of alternative routes, as can be seen elsewhere on the network (e.g., Chiltern Railways’ Evergreen 3 scheme for Oxford, and Varsity Line restoration for Milton Keynes). Rebuilding the railway from Bedford via Olney would permit extension of the Thameslink service to Northampton, leading to further decongestion of West Coast commuter services, and better connectivity.

Changing trains

Aversion to having to change train was strongest amongst business passengers, according to the Passenger Focus report:

Passengers were found to be strongly adverse to having to change trains, with the strength of this dislike increasing in proportion to the length of journey. Where interchange is currently required on the WCML, provision of a direct train would be the most valuable way to improve services for passengers.

Existing business users are most inconvenienced by interchange, which is consistent with previous research suggesting that business passengers use in-vehicle time productively, and this is not generally possible when changing trains.

Commuters and leisure passengers are only slightly less averse to interchange, with little difference in the valuation of each of these groups. The quality of the interchange facilities is also important to passengers, however it has not been possible to estimate a value for this.

If current and potential passengers are averse to changing trains, that points to a big problem for the high speed Y network, because of the small number of access points (fewer than ten). HS2 connectivity with the existing rail system would be abysmal. In phase one, at both of the Birmingham stops, interchange with the legacy rail network could not even take place within the same station.

In HS2 phase two, premier rank intercity trains from Manchester and Leeds would be switched from the West and East Coast Main Lines, and intermediate destinations such as Stockport and Wakefield would no longer be served. Most fast rail travel between Northern towns and London would have to start and finish with a connecting train to and from the Manchester or Leeds HS2 station.

According to Centro’s Geoff Inskip, HS2 would provide a “fast, direct link between our major cities”. Since the only Midlands city with a HS2 station would be Birmingham, that implies that Mr Inskip doesn’t regard Wolverhampton or Coventry as being “major cities”.

By contrast, the Rail Package 6 concept prioritises no-change connections wherever possible (backed up with very high quality same-station interchange). This approach facilitates direct London connectedness for towns such as Rochdale, Bolton, Stockport, Wakefield, Bradford, and Huddersfield. And Wolverhampton, Walsall, and Stourbridge.

Watford dc lines

Between Euston and Watford Junction, the four West Coast ‘ac lines’ tracks are shadowed by the underused ‘dc lines‘ (described as the ‘London urban’ lines by Passenger Focus). They are currently more or less independent of the ‘ac lines’ so it’s hard to see how HS2 would “free up capacity” on them. If anything, HS2 appears to be a threat to their survival.

“Transport for London quashes rumours Overground trains between Euston and Queen’s Park will be cut after HS2” was a headline on the London 24 website, but the accompanying story (dated 20 January), suggested London Overground services from Watford into Euston could be “removed” permanently.

Thousands of Brent residents use the service everyday but it is feared the line could be scrapped to make way for the new HS2 track and to relieve pressure at Euston.
In chapter three of the [HS2] report, which was backed by government officials last week, it says London Overground services from Watford into Euston could be “removed” to make room at the station for high-speed services.

However, when the Times asked Transport for London (TfL) if this was the case, a spokeswoman said: “There is no indication that it will have implications on current services.”
It means a tunnel could be built under Kilburn, Queen’s Park and Kensal Green, sparking fears it could damage properties and cause noise pollution.

The line would run beneath Kensal Green Cemetery, in Harrow Road, where engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel is buried.

A new station would be built at Old Oak Common, in Harlesden, and a large two-storey ventilation shaft would be constructed beside Queen’s Park Station, in Salusbury Road, Queen’s Park.

A spokesman for HS2 said: “HS2 Ltd is planning for the Watford to London service to continue running during the redevelopment of the mainline station. It would be for TFL to decide on any changes to the service patterns during and after the construction work.”

HS2 Ltd’s plan for Euston would permanently reduce its platforms for conventional services (from eighteen to twelve). Capacity reduction for classic services at Euston, and the irresilience of the single HS2 Up and Down tracks are two of the growing family of HS2 ‘ostrich‘ issues.

Written by beleben

January 31, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Panoramic view

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BBC Television’s Panorama ‘Train Fares: Taken for a Ride?’ (first broadcast date 23 Jan 2012) looked at Britain’s railways:

Packed in like sardines, on trains that often arrive late… But it is the price of the tickets that really upsets lots of rail travellers, and fares have just gone up to record levels. So why are train fares so expensive? Panorama investigates the cost of riding on the railway.

BBC Panorama rail interviewees Theresa Villiers, David Higgins, Adrian Shooter, Cathryn Ross, Roy McNulty, Steven Norris

Near the beginning, reporter Vivian White promised, “Tonight we track down the millions that get wasted on our railways.” Unfortunately, the programme never did get around to tracking down the wasted millions, or explaining why train fares are so expensive. However, the interview with Network Rail’s chief executive [time in 08:00] Sir David Higgins, did yield this response:

There are six hundred [delay] attribution people, which is — which is — People think that contracting and legal frameworks, and fines, and blame, can improve an industry… I tell you it doesn’t do it at all… It’s complete rubbish.

Which is tantamount to saying that the British model of railway privatisation is complete rubbish. But fragmenting the railway into more than a hundred parts was always going to result in a morass of contractual and accounting interfaces. And scrutiny and planning conundrums.

The programme was somewhat tabloid, with airtime given over to a commuter who sends long time-wasting complaint e-mails, etc. Around the 19 minute mark, the report turned into a sort of PR film for Chiltern Railways, giving a rather slanted view of the case for train operators to have more control of infrastructure. But the interview with Cathryn Ross, of the Office of Rail Regulation, was worryingly illuminating. Rather than interview Theresa Villiers, it might have been more interesting to question her former adviser, Saratha Rajeswaran, who wrote a review apparently recommending no change in scrutiny of Network Rail executive pay.

Transactional bureaucracy, poor governance, lack of transparency, and ineffective scrutiny mechanisms are the pillars of the high-cost railway. Most of the industry is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, including Network Rail. The ‘members‘ of Network Rail are supposed to oversee its efficient operation, but are clearly unable to perform that function. Whether Network Rail’s public members are even ‘members of the public’ is arguable. For example, Jonathan Bray is Pteg Support Unit Director, and Lord Berkeley is chairman of the Rail Freight Group. One of the commuters featured on Panorama applied to be a public member of Network Rail, and was — surprise, surprise — turned down.

Written by beleben

January 26, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Great Central interregio

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Reactivation of the southern Great Central route was briefly promoted by Chiltern Railways about a decade ago. In Great Central is the way to go, I discussed some of the advantages of reconnecting the Great Central corridor back into the railway system. The diagram shows a possible interregio application, providing improved access for localities between London and the Midlands.

Chiltern Great Central interregioThe red line shows a possible Great Central semifast passenger rail service between London, Rugby and Leicester. For completeness, the second rail access to Oxford and Milton Keynes is also shown.

Written by beleben

January 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Great Central intercity

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Great Central intercity passenger conceptIn Great Central is the way to go, I discussed some of the advantages of reconnecting the Great Central corridor back into the railway system.

The diagram shows a possible routeing of London-bound Liverpool and Glasgow West Coast intercity passenger trains into the Great Central, via a new connection near Rugby. The route would also be available for cross country intercity service to the south coast.

With a move to a clockface timetable, there could be benefits in stopping crosscountry intercity services to the south coast at Tamworth and Banbury, as shown.

Written by beleben

January 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm

In with the spin crowd

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As previously mentioned, it’s worth considering the emotive language of HS2 lobbyists against the real numbers. The franchise and London station data from the Office for Rail Regulation National Rail Trends Yearbook 2010/2011 showed that, compared with Euston services,

  • crowding is a bigger issue for the Great Western (Paddington) franchise,
  • Liverpool Street handles a much larger volume of morning peak trains. Etc.

For some reason, high speed rail lobbyists don’t seem to be calling for new westbound and eastbound lines to take priory over modernising the Great Western or Great Eastern. And no-one is saying that upgrading GW or GE is “patch and mend” of “outdated Victorian infrastructure”. That phraseology, from the Adonis/Steer school of obfuscation, seems to be mostly directed at the West Coast Line.

Passengers in excess of capacity, by franchise, 2008-2010

Hype is no substitute for rationality. West Coast Main Line capacity issues are no less manageable than those of other routes.

'Peak arrivals and departures, London stations, typical weekday, Autumn 2010', ORR

Written by beleben

January 23, 2012 at 12:37 pm

A more dispersed investment

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Here’s an extract from an interesting viewpoint on HS2, by Simon Watkins, from the Landscape Institute website.

There are capacity issues on the railway and on the road system. These are widespread, affecting major towns and cities throughout the country, and are not, as a rule, contingent solely upon the relationship of each settlement to London, but do affect the economic performance and quality of life of each area. What might a more dispersed investment of £32bn look like, and how might a wider range of local issues be addressed?

It is argued that high-speed rail is a feature of the continental economy – the UK needs it in order to compete. But the distances across the continent are much greater, so that high-speed connections between disparate regions are actually a useful component of the continental transport network. The potential reductions to journey times in the UK are far less significant. To propose such a grandiose scheme on the basis of competition, despite facing quite different circumstances and constraints to our ‘competitors’ looks like either idealism or spectacular political vanity.

Written by beleben

January 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm

The curious orange

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Geoff Inskip and a letter to the Editor of somethingThe Go HS2 campaign has reproduced a letter that Centro chief executive Geoff Inskip has written to ‘the Editor’. The editor of what, isn’t identified, but anyway, here’s the text of the missive, along with some notes on his claims.

Dear Sir,

The Transport Secretary’s decision to build HS2 is great news for our region. Not only will HS2 provide a fast, direct link between our major cities[note 1], but significantly for the West Midlands, it will release capacity on our existing lines for more local services.

Many of our passengers recognise that our train services are increasingly crowded, particularly at peak times, so HS2 will release more space that is desperately needed.

This will allow us to run more local and regional services benefiting rail users in the West Midlands, for example, increasing services between Wolverhampton and Birmingham Airport, and Coventry and Birmingham.[note 2] We can also free space for more freight,[note 3] taking lorries off our congested roads.

While we recognise there has been opposition along the line of route from people directly affected, it is now important that the Government ensures that work is carried out to reduce the impact on the environment, communities and individuals.

The West Midlands stands to benefit tremendously with 22,000 jobs and a £1.5bn per year boost to our economy.[note 4] Now the decision has been made we look forward to turning to the next chapter and taking advantage of this tremendous opportunity to revolutionise transport in the West Midlands.


Geoff Inskip

Centro chief executive


1. Only four cities would have a “direct link” in the HS2 Y network: London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds. No details are known of the precise location of the Manchester and Leeds stations.

Sheffield and Nottingham would only have parkway stations somewhere on their urban periphery. Coventry and the whole Black Country area (population 1 million+) would not be served.

2. Capacity release would be limited to some paths on the Birmingham – Coventry – (Rugby) line. There is no West Midlands network capacity uplift from HS2.

3. The effect of HS2 on West Midlands freight would be minimal, as Centro’s own documentation shows.

4. The claims about “22,000 jobs and a £1.5bn per year boost” are from firms such as Volterra and KPMG. So ‘commissioned speculation’, not academic research.

Written by beleben

January 19, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Past performance is no guide

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One of the oft-repeated claims of Go HS2 (Centro) campaign is ‘that HS2 is needed, because rail is growing at 6% per annum’.

According to Oxygen Mintel

The recession has meant an end to year-on-year growth in rail journeys. There will be an estimated 1,215 million in 2009/10, down 59 million from 2008/09.

Whatever the figures turn out to be, using 6% passenger growth — over a short period — to estimate demand (or plan capacity) thirty to sixty years into the future, is ridiculous. If that scale of growth continued over the 60-year evaluation timeframe of HS2, annual British railway journeys would reach 40,000 million at the end of the period.

Written by beleben

January 18, 2012 at 3:51 pm

West Coast seating

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In November and December 2009, Passenger Focus conducted research on West Coast Main Line passengers’ views and experiences.


Location: London, North West England, Scotland, the West Midlands, Wales
Train company: Arriva Trains Wales, First Transpennine Express, London Midland, Northern Rail, Virgin Trains
Route: West Coast Main Line

In November and December 2009, Passenger Focus spoke to 4106 passengers on six key parts of the West Coast Main Line to explore their views and experience of current services, and to identify potential changes or improvements.

The six routes were specifically chosen to ensure the views of passengers were captured by specific journey purpose (in other words, commuting, business or leisure) and also by Train Operating Company.

We surveyed 1062 passengers between Lancaster and Edinburgh / Glasgow Central; 745 between London Euston and Liverpool / Manchester; 560 between Chester and Llandudno / Bangor; 477 between Crewe and Wilmslow; 432 travelling between Northampton and Tamworth; and 830 between Euston and Milton Keynes Central.

The findings will be used to inform Passenger Focus’s submission to Network Rail’s West Coast Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) consultation later this year.

Below are some extract from the survey, showing some of the findings on getting a seat on the train.

Passenger Focus West Coast Main Line 2009 survey, extract

This suggests a need to address the London to Milton Keynes commuter provision directly; rather than by means of some putative indirect relief in the post-2026 timeframe.

Written by beleben

January 17, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Jeremy Clarkson backs HS2 (reports Biz4HS2)

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Jeremy Clarkson backs HS2 (reports Biz4HS2) - Express and Star articleFinally, HS2 has a deep-thinking environmental heavyweight on side. David Begg’s Biz4HS2 campaign tweeted an Express and Star article in which Jeremy Clarkson expressed his support for high speed rail. In the article, Mr Clarkson branded the objections of those living close to the proposed line as “a bit weak”, and

“poked fun” at why London needs to be connected to Lichfield.

I guess it’s not important for Barlaston to be connected then, either? The improbability continued, with Mr Clarkson expressing an interest in the aesthetics of HS2:

“This is something I hope the high speed rail engineers are thinking about,” Clarkson said. “Not just the bottom line. Not just the accounts. But how the thing will look.”

The good news is: the high speed rail people do look at design.

The bad news is: this is what they’ve come up with:

Network Rail HS2 train

official visualisation London's Euston station rebuilt for HS2

official visualisation of Birmingham's Curzon Street HS2 station

HS1 Medway crossing, Kent, by Clem Rutter (GNU Free Documentation License)

HS2 Quainton depot access visualisation


Written by beleben

January 17, 2012 at 1:03 pm