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Archive for May 2012

Déjà connecté

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Who Says There is no Alternative?’ is a document prepared by John Stewart, then-‘chair’ of the Campaign for Better Transport, in 2008, for the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) trade union. It argued that proposals to expand Heathrow Airport with a third runway would be unnecessary if there were serious government-led investment in (high speed) rail as part of a coordinated transport system.

High-speed rail would create tens of thousands of jobs across the country, including new jobs at Heathrow. It would be a win-win solution: an environmentally friendlier option than airport expansion which at the same time boosted the economy, protected employment levels at Heathrow and created jobs across the country.

When the government’s HS2 scheme was published in 2010, the Campaign for Better Transport took a noncommittal position. Perhaps they cottoned onto the fact that the HS2–Heathrow connection was targeted at drawing in travellers from the North, and would make a third runway more (not less) likely. However, the RMT recently dusted off ‘Who Says’, and presented it to the All Party Parliamentary Group for High Speed Rail. The paper claimed that the journey time tipping point (for passengers switching from air to rail) had recently changed from three hours to between four and four-and-a-half hours for business travel,

The French railway, SNCF, has found that on journeys of less than four-and-a-half hours, where their trains compete with airlines, their share of the market is over 50%. This is backed up by other European rail companies, which are capturing more than 60% of the business market from airlines on four hour journeys.”

and many of the most-flown destinations served from Heathrow were short-haul and potentially substitutable by high speed rail.

Replacing Short-Haul Flights at Heathrow
Well over a third of all flights using Heathrow are short-haul. A study carried out by the campaign group HACAN showed that of a total of 473,000 flights which used the airport in 2006, 100,000 served 12 destinations where there was already a viable rail alternative and a further 100,000 flights went to places where an improved rail service could provide an alternative. If a lot of these flights were replaced by rail, that would free up the space at Heathrow to bring in more long-distance flights without any need to expand the airport.

The figures in the HACAN report make for startling reading

Paris 50/60 flights a day to and from Heathrow
Amsterdam** 50
Edinburgh 40
Manchester 36
Brussels 30
Glasgow 28
Newcastle 12
Leeds/Bradford 10
Rotterdam** 6
Durham/Tees Valley 6

* the figures are those of a fairly typical day but will vary throughout the year

** Amsterdam and Rotterdam have been included because the high-speed line from Brussels to Amsterdam is imminent

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow are reachable by train from London in four and a half hours, and according to the CBT paper, travel duration by air has higher variability. So following the reasoning used by Mr Stewart, 350 km/h high speed rail is not required between London and Scotland’s central belt; classic rail is fast enough.

The survival of ‘residual’ flights between London and places like Manchester and Tees Valley suggests that business travel isn’t purely dimensioned by time. It’s known that businesspeople’s travel is a component of Ryanair’s business, even though its services tend to make use of lesser connected and more remote airports.

Written by beleben

May 31, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Bikes and metropolitan public transport

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Although local authorities in Britain purport to encourage travel by bicycle, cyclists and would-be cyclists continue to be marginalised in town planning and transport policy. In Birmingham, the level of municipal antipathy was such that it took three years to install a single ‘Cyclists crossing’ road sign. (Earlier this month, control of the council changed hands.)

Bicycle-enabled public transport can offer advantages to travellers (including motorists) and wider society, so it’s disappointing that aspiration, policy, and action are so badly attuned. In the West Midlands, millions of pounds have been spent on park and ride by transport authority Centro, but almost nothing on bicycle-enabled transit.

Front-mounted bike rack on public transit bus in USA - pic by Buchanan-Hermit, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-2.0Outside of London, Britain’s local public transport is dominated by buses, on which the facility to transport bikes is effectively non-existent. Some cities in the United States allow pushbikes to be transported on local buses, generally by means of a rack mounted externally on the vehicle front. For various reasons, this arrangement is not well suited to the British environment. However, enablement of combined bicycle-and-public-transport journeys should be a priority in urban planning. For city neighbourhoods not served by rail transit, consideration should be given to using large capacity buses, similar to TfL’s New Bus for London, to allow 1 – 2 bikes to be taken onboard.

Objections to carrying bikes on transit are usually about capacity or safety. Even nominally ‘high capacity’ rail transit systems can have total or near-total prohibition of cycle carriage. Sometimes, folding bikes are allowed, but these are less affordable for many people.

On Manchester’s Metrolink tramway, concern about bikes becoming projectiles in an accident led to transport authority GMITA (now TfGM) turning down requests for onboard cycle carriage. And in the West Midlands, Centro has stated that new supposedly ‘high capacity’ CAF trams will not be carrying bikes.

Conversion of railway to tramway has actually reduced green transport options, as can be seen with Metrolink in Oldham. In future British urban rail systems, the facility to carry accompanied bicycles should be designed-in (as with wheelchairs and pushchairs).

Many prospective mixed journeys only require bicycle use at one end, and for these, cycle stowage at the transit boarding point should be ideal. However, where bicycle parking has been provided, it has tended not to be very good. The ‘facility’ at Stechford railway station is an example. It consists of two Sheffield stands, in the open air, at the foot of a flight of steps, insecurely si(gh)ted, with no closed circuit tv coverage. Why public authorities choose to have infrastructure designed by non-cycling non-public-transport users, is unfathomable.

Written by beleben

May 29, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Negative perceptions and negative reality

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HS2 Ltd’s chief engineer Prof Andrew McNaughton has been talking to Stuart Nathan of the Engineer magazine about how the high speed network “has been consistently misrepresented”. Contrary to negative perceptions, “HS2 will become a vital part of the UK’s infrastructure”.

But reading the article, it seems that Prof McNaughton himself has gone into misrepresentation overdrive.

Much of the negative portrayal of HS2 has seen it depicted as an expensive way of taking relatively few people fast between London and Birmingham. But McNaughton insists that this isn’t the case at all. Instead, he says, it should be seen as a network with Birmingham at the hub, linking to cities in the north and the south, and enabling the upgrading of services on existing lines. ‘I was recently giving evidence to a House of Lords committee alongside representatives from Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Nottingham,’ he said, ‘and while they’d all picked up on the improved connectivity HS2 would give them with London, Heathrow and Paris via HS1, they’d also picked up on Birmingham to Manchester in 40 minutes. That journey takes hours at the moment. Nottingham to Leeds takes two hours at the moment; HS2 would do it in 20 minutes. It changes the relationship between those cities; it could unlock growth for the Midlands and the north.’

That is misinformation. In the Y network, London Euston is the ‘hub’. Birmingham is not even on the main line; it is on a branch served by trains running to a terminus at Curzon Street, remote from New Street (the main city station).

There is no station called ‘Nottingham’ on the Y network. Central Nottingham is not a HS2 destination.

The published service plan for the Y network provides no services at all to Paris, Brussels, or anywhere on the continent. And just two trains per hour to Heathrow Airport. (The original service plan actually had zero trains to Heathrow as well.)

Manchester to Birmingham does not “take hours” at the moment; it takes around 90 to 100 minutes. But it’s important to model real door-to-door journeys, with the longer local legs required by HS2 taken into account. Picking destination pairs directly served by the four high speed stations badly misrepresents typical journey times. What about Wolverhampton to Stockport, or Coventry to Rochdale, by HS2?

Old Oak Common is key to how the difficult southern section of the line will be built. ‘It’s very much like Stratford on the HS1 line,’ McNaughton explained. ‘We’ll build a big box and use it to launch the tunnelling works, driving to Euston and “around the corner” to link up with the HS1 line, then we’ll fit the box out as a station.’

Well, in all the years before the Olympics, Eurostar has never wanted to stop its trains at Stratford. Stopping a high speed train just after it has set out, doesn’t really make sense.

The Solihull station, meanwhile, will act as the link between HS2 and the rest of the country. ‘The station is positioned to be close to the NEC, the airport, and the M6 and M42 box,’ McNaughton said. ‘Then we’re building a delta junction. If you’re going to Birmingham, you’ll go on the spur into the city centre. But then we reconnect, via the delta junction, with the West Coast Mainline at Lichfield. And that’s really important; it means that we can run trains to Liverpool and Manchester, using Eurostar 2 stock, which is compatible with the new line and the existing line, and not stop in Birmingham at all. You get the time saving to Birmingham, which has been well publicised, but you also get that time saving going on to Manchester and beyond to Glasgow, and that’s before the second phase is built.’

The Y network has never included provision for GC gauge trains such as second generation Eurostar (Siemens Velaro) to reach Liverpool. So the claim appears to be misinformation, unless ‘Eurostar 2’ is being used as a synonym for ‘classic compatible train’. The HS2 Solihull station is a parkway, and in ‘Solihull’ in name only. It’s in a rural location in the extreme north of the borough. The idea that journey times, in peak hours, using the parkway would be shorter than with the existing network, has no factual basis. HS2 Ltd have never published access times from Dudley, Sutton Coldfield, Cheylesmore, etc.

The second phase, the two branches of the Y from the West Midlands to Manchester and to Leeds via the East Midlands, are scheduled to be built up to 2032. This will allow high-speed trains, travelling up to 250mph, to run between all four cities on the network, but will also connect with the existing West Coast and East Coast mainlines. ‘The existing network was never conceived as looking both north and south; that’s why it’s relatively easy to travel from London to most places and vice-versa, but hard to travel between many of the cities,’ McNaughton said. ‘But because we’re developing the potential for a network, we can have that line that faces north and south and allows that interconnection.’

There is no evidence of any plans to run HS2 trains between “all four cities on the network”. Direct trains between Manchester and Leeds were in the Conservative Party’s once-preferred ‘S-shape’ network, but are not a feature of the Y network.

The large number of destinations means an equally large number of trains; up to 18 per hour. ‘We’re designing this to be the most heavily used line in the world,’ McNaughton said. ‘That’s important for the engineering. We have to take the business requirements – journey times, capacities and so on – and work out an operational concept: how the service is going to run; how you’re going to get people on and off the trains; and how trains are going to come into stations. Only then can you start designing lines and stations and bridges and things. But what the railway will look like to a user is something that has to be built in from the start.’

The number of HS2 destinations isn’t “particularly large”. The number of destination pairs served directly (no change of train) is lower than with the existing network.

Ergonomics is important to McNaughton and he’s starting from the assumption that the trains are going to be full. The design’s starting point was that there would be no premium on the fares to use the service, he said. ‘That would have been counterproductive, and make it a very expensive way to move fresh air around,’ he commented. ‘So we have to think about how to get 1,100 people onto a train 400m long, and at peak time, how to handle 18,000 people per hour. You have to treat them as individuals – some will be familiar with high-speed rail, some won’t; some will be tourists, some will be travellers; they’re different ages, different sizes, moving at different speeds. At Euston, for example, we’ll have escalators from the concourse to the platform every 100m or so, and a couple of hundred people using each one like an airline gate; we should be able to board the whole train, which is bigger than a Eurostar and has more passengers, in two minutes. It takes 15 to load a Eurostar.’

I thought the whole idea was to use off-the-shelf European gauge rolling stock and technology, so as to avoid risk or having to think about ergonomics, or “how to get 1,100 people onto a train 400m long”. But those problems pale into insignificance, compared with issues like ‘how to fill a 400-metre long train running from London to Manchester, that does not serve any other towns en route’.

McNaughton is convinced that HS2 is the best way to solve Britain’s rail problems. ‘These cities are growing; the population is growing. Demand for rail will increase,’ he said. ‘The West Coast Mainline will be at capacity by 2025. HS2 provides not only double the capacity for inter-city travel, it frees up the existing lines for commuter growth into the big cities, so we can provide fast trains to all these intermediate places that at the moment have a poor stopping service.’

McNaughton added: ‘If you stand on Milton Keynes platform during morning peak, you’ll see lots of Pendolino trains but they don’t stop; they’re all full of people going to Manchester. In 2025, when HS2 opens, they’re gone. Trains will stop at Milton Keynes every 10 minutes.’

Service levels and patterns on the West Coast Main Line post-HS2-startup have never been set out. Anyone who looks at a map can see that most commuter flows into London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds would not be relieved by HS2.

If the Prof’s intention is to no longer have fast trains on the West Coast Main Line through Milton Keynes, the implications for towns currently served (e.g. Stoke-on-Trent) do not look good. As a by-product of HS2 reconfiguration, journey times to everywhere between Manchester and London on the WCML seem destined to be heading up.

Written by beleben

May 28, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Schenker versus Chiltern

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In DB Schenker‘s written evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group for High Speed Rail, UK Head of Communications Graham Meiklejohn wrote

In the long term we urge the Government to connect both the High Speed 1 and High Speed 2 rail routes in London. By linking both these lines together, a route for continental sized freight trains from northern England to mainland Europe would be created enhancing trading links for manufacturing companies based there.

Another Deutsche Bahn subsidiary — Chiltern Railways — also made a HS2-supportive submission to the APPG. Here’s some extracts.

Britain’s railways are now handling more traffic than at any time since the 1920s, and both passenger and freight traffic are continuing to grow despite the poor state of the national economy. A particular feature is the growth of rail traffic to/from south midlands (e.g. existing towns such as Banbury and Bicester, or new cities such as Milton Keynes), due to these being favoured locations for new housing development. There is a limit to how much of this growth can be absorbed on the existing rail network.

A conventional railway line handling a mixture of intercity passenger (100-125mph), local passenger (75mph) and freight (60-70mph) of necessity makes sub-optimal use of line capacity, due to fast trains catching up with slow ones. This is exacerbated where more trains have to call at intermediate stations.
By concentrating on a single traffic type (i.e. high-speed intercity passenger) a new line can give far more additional capacity than could an upgrade of a conventional mixed-traffic railway.

So passenger train operator Chiltern Railways is deprecating mixing traffic types on the same rails, at the same time as sister company DB Schenker is arguing for mixed use of HS2 track. Such are the contradictory foundations on which the case for high speed rail stands.

Chiltern Railways dropped the somewhat off-topic railways-are-busier-than-at-any-time-since-the-1920s claim into their evidence, but this is also a bit dodgy. No reliable figures are available for total traffic in the period during the Second World War. Furthermore, today’s rail freight volumes are well down on those achieved in the past.

Written by beleben

May 27, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Unpicturing the Subway

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Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), custodian of Glasgow’s Subway, intends to bring in new by-laws for the system. Proposed by-law #12 is concerned with photo and audio capture:

12 Filming and recording

12.1 Passengers must not take photographs, or make video audio or visual recordings on any part of the subway.

12.2 The only exception to byelaw 12.1 is if a passenger has the written permission of SPT in relation to the activity. The passenger must be carrying the permission, show it to an officer on request, and comply with any conditions of that permission.

According to the Glasgow Evening Times, people taking unauthorised photos could be hit with a £1000 fine.

I can see a justification for SPT having powers to prevent filmcrews descending into the Subway, or stop people blocking platforms willy-nilly with tripods, and so forth. But this by-law seems way over the top. What is its purpose?

Written by beleben

May 24, 2012 at 9:55 am

The answer’s high speed rail. Now what was the question?

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Using the headline “HS2 rail alternatives no solution, MPs say” BBC News today reported that

Alternatives to the High Speed Two (HS2) rail link would not solve the capacity problems on Britain’s railways, MPs say.

A report by the Parliamentary Inquiry into Britain’s rail capacity says only the high-speed rail network can create the extra capacity needed.

The MPs found that alternatives, such as incremental upgrades to the existing network, would not be sufficient.
The report is the culmination of a four-month inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for High Speed Rail [APPGHSR], with representatives from all three of the main political parties.

To be clear, the ‘inquiry’ was conducted by a group of MPs formed expressly to support creation of a ‘national high speed rail network’, in July 2011. According to David Begg’s Biz4HS2 news release, the APPGHSR is “a powerful new voice in favour of building a new high speed rail line”.

Biz4HS2 news release on APPGHSR launch

So the APPGHSR inquiry was the equivalent of the Flat Earth Society inviting people to give evidence on the shape of the planet. The outcome was never going to be in doubt.

APPGHSR contact Lucy James works for David Begg's Campaign for High Speed Rail

Rationality is lost on MPs Graham Stringer and Stuart Andrew, two of the usual suspects that do the talking for APPGHSR. Under the government’s plan, new-build high speed rail would only serve four British cities directly, so it would be impossible for HS2 to address general capacity shortages.

Paul Bigland's considered thoughts on APPGHSR inquiryIn stage one, HS2 would exacerbate path shortages on the West Coast Main Line. HS2 is irrelevant to crowding on present day Paddington services, Waterloo services, the Great Eastern, or commuter traffic into Leeds, etc. Furthermore, with a length of just 200 metres, most of the trains operating on it would have no more (or fewer) seats, than their 2012 equivalents.

One of the organisations that gave ‘evidence’ to the APPG was freight company DB Schenker. Its evidence was really a request that HS2 be used to enable Continental gauge railfreight to reach Manchester and Leeds. But there is no provision for HS2 to carry such cargo, and like HS1, it is not engineered for efficient freight operation. HS2 does not have the path capacity to allow Continental railfreight, or any railfreight. Or Continental passenger services (even if there were a market for them).

Written by beleben

May 23, 2012 at 11:55 am

Chelney hawks

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Proposals for an additional cross-London passenger railway, on the Chelsea – Hackney axis, can be traced back to the first half of the twentieth century, but funding was never forthcoming. In the days of the London Transport Executive, the ‘Chelney‘ line was generally envisaged as a self-contained small profile Underground railway. In the 21st century, the Chelney line has been re-imagined as ‘Crossrail 2’, featuring tunnels large enough for National Rail trains.

Chelney (Chelsea - Hackney) rail route, safeguarded course

Over the last six months, a working group of the “influential” business organisation London First has been looking at the case for Crossrail 2. According to its interim report, detailed planning of a suitable scheme “needs to start now”.

The study, led by former Transport Secretary, Lord Andrew Adonis, has considered work previously undertaken by Transport for London on a route for “Crossrail 2” between Chelsea and Hackney, and examined demand and congestion forecasts post 2020 and the impact of new national projects, including HS2.

Its conclusions are clear -– by the late 2020s, even after the completion of Crossrail, Thameslink and the current Tube upgrades, central, south-west and north-east London’s rail and underground networks will be heavily congested, and there will be a critical need for new capacity. This will be best provided by a second Crossrail line connecting these parts of London.

Around 1.3 million more people and over 750,000 more jobs are expected in London over the next 20 years and as such, planning for the next generation of transport improvements post 2020 must begin now.

The London First report presents some form of heavy rail Crossrail 2 as the one and only solution to providing adequate transport capacity on London’s North East to South West axis. However, it does not specify precisely what points should be served, or whether the railway should be a self-contained (possibly automated) tube line [‘Chelney tube’], or a regional interconnector built to National Rail standards [‘Crossrail 2’].

Crossrail 2, options presented by London First

Whether London First’s hawkish backing of Crossrail 2 is a good fit with the capital’s transport priorities, is open to question. In the central area, there are crowding issues on several Underground lines, which need to be tackled in the next few years (not the timescale of a new heavy rail line). Street tramways offer the possibility of replacing the Underground for short journeys in the centre, and for that role, would have a general time advantage. Using long trams, one way flows of over 10,000 passengers per hour should be feasible.

So there seems to be a good case for building a street-running tramway on the Chelsea – Hackney axis to meet the local transport needs of the next few years. In the longer term, a ‘Chelney Tramlink’ could be complemented by a Crossrail 2 tunnel using the safeguarded route, but built to take National Rail trains. There would be the possibility of connecting Crossrail 2 into the South West London and Eastern Region tracks.

Written by beleben

May 22, 2012 at 9:40 am