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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

Tram-train tribulations (part two)

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Passengers in South Yorkshire will be the first in the country to benefit from flexible Tram Trains that will make their journeys easier and more convenient, announced the Department for Transport yesterday (in somewhat garbled English).

Transport Minister Norman Baker gave the green light to a £58m pilot scheme to run revolutionary Tram Trains on both rail and tram networks, making them ideal for the eight mile non-stop journeys of no more than 25 minutes between, suburb and city centres from Sheffield to Rotherham.[sic]

As well as providing a boost to the regional economy thanks to improved connections across the region, the project is also expected to create 35 new jobs locally as well.

As part of the major works being undertaken to make the project a reality includes the electrification of a stretch of track between Sheffield and Rotherham and the construction of 400 metre line linking the tramway to the train tracks.[sic]
Notes to Editors

1. The Tram Train pilot is a partnership between the Department for Transport and Network Rail, Northern Rail Ltd, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) and Stagecoach Supertram. SYPTE will lead on delivery of the pilot.

2. Seven vehicles are being bought for Tram Train and the additional Sheffield Supertram capacity announced in 2011. The total project is estimated to cost £58 million.

3. A procurement competition led by Northern in 2009-10 identified Vossloh as the lead bidder for the supply of the Tram Train vehicles. Because Northern’s franchise ends before the two year experimental period, the contract for the vehicles will be let by South Yorkshire PTE and the vehicles are expected to be operated by Stagecoach Supertram.

4. Tram Train will commence in 2015 and the pilot will run for two years with a view to permanent operation. Tickets will be fully integrated with Supertram.

5. The core objectives of the Tram Train pilot are to:

◦ Understand the changes to industry costs of operating a lighter weight vehicle with track brakes on the national rail network;

◦ Determine changes to technical standards required both to allow inter-running of lightweight tram vehicles with heavy rail passenger and freight traffic and to gain the maximum cost benefit from Tram Train operation;

◦ Gauge passenger perception and acceptability of Tram Train;

◦ Determine the practical and operational issues of extending Tram Trains from the national rail network to on-street running; and

◦ Understand the technical and operational challenges involved in this project so that the concept can potentially be rolled out elsewhere.

6. A Tram Train vehicle is based on a tram that has been enhanced to make it suitable for operation on the main line as a train as well as street running. Typically a tram train will have:

◦ Higher vehicle crashworthiness to allow for the higher average speed operations of it and other trains and to resist slow speed collisions with heavier trains;

◦ Enhancements to the signalling system to minimise the risk of a collision between trains and Tram Trains. This involves installing train protection and warning system (TPWS) at all signals, whereas TPWS is currently installed at junctions and sites with high levels of signal passed at danger (SPAD) incidents;

◦ Road Traffic Act compliant head lights and direction indicators for on-street operation and to meet rail main line lighting requirements for visibility;

◦ Additional main line signalling and communications equipment such as TPWS and the Global System for Mobile Communication – Railway (GSM-R);

◦ More seating than a tram for longer distance journeys;

◦ A wheel profile suitable for both tramway and standard main line track.

In part one I mentioned the plan to trial diesel trams on the Sheffield – Penistone – Huddersfield railway, which was abandoned on cost grounds. Tram-trains have been promoted as a low cost way of modernising rural railways and improving urban connectivity, but they are not particularly ‘low cost’, as the £58 million Rotherham scheme demonstrates.

Whether tram-trains are good value, depends on the circumstances. In the West Midlands, Centro’s proposed £300+ million Wednesbury – Brierley Hill – Stourbridge tram-train is not value for money, and does not make sense.

In Greater Manchester, tram-trains look more promising. They could enable a surface running version of the 1970s Picc-Vic scheme to be implemented, with Bolton and Stockport brought into the Metrolink system.

Replacement of the Merseyrail third-rail fleet is likely to be progressed in the next few years, and a tram-train design could be adapted to facilitate no-change access to Liverpool Airport and Skelmersdale.

In the East Midlands, tram-trains could allow travel direct from Nottingham’s Market Square all the way to East Midlands Airport, or Mansfield. However, Nottingham’s current trams are only 2.4 metres wide, and re-engineering of the existing NET trackage might be required to allow wider vehicles to circulate.

Written by beleben

May 18, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Are you being spun?

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Having struggled to originate much of its own content, transport authority Centro‘s Go HS2 website has largely relied on external ‘guest’ contributors, which is probably just as well. Another example of Centro’s public relations maladroitness cropped up a few days ago on BBC local radio, when presenter Adrian Goldberg slated their “gobbledegook” refusal to come on air to discuss Midland Metro.

Being too hot for Centro, the Beleben blog is banned from commenting on the Go HS2/Centro blogs and Twitter feeds, so I can’t comment directly on ‘Are You Being Served’. That’s not the 1970s sitcom, but the title of a Go HS2 blogpost warning of ‘difficult choices‘ if HS2 does not go ahead. Apparently, as a character in another 1970s sitcom used to say, “we are all doomed” without HS2. As “demand continues to soar on our railways, we will be forced to make increasingly difficult choices about which stations are served and which are not”.

Go HS2 cited recent changes in the Chiltern Railways timetable as evidence

There was more evidence of this problem this week in a news release from London TravelWatch which says it is alarmed by the new timetable introduced on the London – High Wycombe route last Sunday (May 13).
In this case London TravelWatch says stopping services to High Wycombe have been revised so that the level of service at some stations such as Northolt Park and Seer Green & Jordans will be reduced to just one train an hour.

Sharon Grant, London TravelWatch chair, said the new timetable had been put in place to improve reliability.

“It does so at the expense of those passengers who rely on the half hourly stopping service to High Wycombe. One overcrowded train an hour is really not acceptable,” she said.

This is happening across our network as train operators struggle to cope with the competing pressures for faster, more frequent, long distance services whilst at the same time striving to maintain local service frequencies on a mixed use railway network with limited capacity.

and rail scribe Nick Kingsley chimed in with

HS2′s opponents are quick to cite Chiltern as an HS2 ‘alternative’ yet here we have Chiltern Railways targeting city to city journeys by business people (even introducing ‘business zones’ on board, a pseudo first class). By achieving a 100 mile/h line speed AND BY ELIMINATING INTERMEDIATE STOPS, Chiltern Railways has been able to eat into Virgin’s share. BUT let nobody claim that this is the best use of capacity: it is the worst possible use actually, because different speeds and stopping patterns eat up the slots available on any section of the railway.

Recovering from its 1970s nadir, Chiltern has become a main line again, so I’m not sure where the crime is in offering city to city journeys to business people. Disparate speeds, stopping patterns, and acceleration are the norm on Britain’s railways, and in a perfect world, such disparities would not exist. However, in the real and imperfect world, mixed traffic is often the optimum in economic and environmental terms.

The Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL, or HS1) is a good example. There is a big difference between the characteristics of TGV373000, Class 395, and freight trains using it, which reduces its ‘capacity’. But this has no practical consequence, because the line is running well under theoretical capacity. In fact, the domestic Javelin services were devised to ‘mop up’ some of the unused CTRL capacity, and improve its bottom line. Train operator Southeastern’s track access charges are a significant help in meeting HS1 Ltd’s fixed costs.

The argument of high speed proponents is that HS2 would free up capacity on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) because

  1. express trains would transfer from WCML to HS2;
  2. this would free paths for more semi-fast/stopping services;
  3. and the WCML traffic mix would be more homogenous

but this is all very dubious. For example, unless the incumbent passenger operator(s) were ‘nobbled’ in some way, it’s likely that they would want to continue to run fast trains on WCML, competing against the high speed operator on HS2. In an un-nobbled market, they would have a strong operating cost advantage against the HS2 franchisee, and this would be particularly important for the leisure travel sector.

Even if all current long distance high speed services were forcibly routed onto HS2 (e.g. by means of an ‘Integrated West Coast’ franchise), mixed traffic would still be the order of the day. Freight trains travelling at 60 mph (100 km/h) are never going to run particularly well with semi-fast passenger workings at 90 mph (145 km/h) on the same busy tracks. So the best way of decongesting the West Coast Main Line is to reconfigure North – South traffic on a network basis — the principle used in Rail Package 6.

Written by beleben

May 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Great Britain, High speed rail, HS2

Tagged with , ,

HS2 and Staffordshire

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With his news release dated 14 May, Stafford’s Member of Parliament Jeremy Lefroy put forward the case for a North Staffordshire station on the Manchester leg of the HS2 Y network.

Following a meeting with transport secretary Justine Greening, Mr Lefroy said

“The Secretary of State listened with an open mind to the case for this stop. The Local Enterprise Partnerships and business community have been working hard on the economic case which will need to make the strongest possible case. It is important that the benefits of High Speed rail come to us here in Staffordshire and do not pass us by.”

Centro’s Go HS2 campaign has also backed a HS2 station in Staffordshire, alongside its attacks on the 51m Group’s Optimised Alternative. Centro seems particularly upset by the idea of building a Stafford by-pass for the existing West Coast Main Line.

Upgrades of existing track, or trains, are difficult territory for high speed protagonists, because their top-line message involves presenting upgrades as ‘inadequate’, ‘disruptive’, ‘poor value’, or ‘tried and failed’. Although it appears in the 51m package, the Stafford by-pass concept originated at Network Rail, and has its own existence away from HS2 controversies. Go HS2’s April 24 blogpost described the ‘Project 110’ upgrade for some London Midland Outer Suburban trains to run at 110 mph (177 km/h) as “innovative”. Which I suppose it is, for a company that runs trains just eight cars long, at times of maximum demand. But it should have been obvious ten years ago that procuring Desiro rolling stock, unable to keep up with 200+ km/h Pendolinos running on the same track, was a capacity blunder.

Go HS2, or rather Alan Marshall, went on to claim that

Rail Package 2 (RP2), from which the ‘Optimised Alternative’ has been developed, would provide some 9,700 seats, and 51m’s around 10,400.

But the difference with 51m’s proposal is largely accounted for by a proposed additional inter-city train that would require construction of the 14 mile-long Stafford by-pass line at a cost of £1.23 billion.

This line would be built through open countryside, from Colwich to Norton Bridge. When 51m question the economic case for HS2, how can they claim £1.23 bn is value for money for just one extra train per hour?

But the key issue now is that this extra capacity, broadly similar to that proposed in RP2 and by 51m, is already being added — because it is required, now, to cope with the present and continuing rising demand for passenger travel on the West Coast Main Line.

I am not a supporter of the 51m scheme, or the Stafford by-pass, but there’s no sense in opposing new build railway when or where it is beneficial. But HS2 is not necessary or beneficial. Nor is it value for money, even in the terms put forward by Mr Marshall himself, as he implied that incrementing West Coast capacity by one (hourly) path for £1.23 billion (the claim for the Stafford by-pass) is poor value. According to the government, the HS2 phase one scheme would provide 14 additional paths on the West Coast corridor, at a cost of £18 billion — which works out at £1.28 billion per path.

Whilst a new high speed rail station may bring some (limited) economic benefits to North Staffordshire, they are highly unlikely to be significant, based on the current skills of the local workforce and based on the existing range of businesses in the area. Not my words, but those of the Atkins company (a fervent supporter of new build high speed rail) in its discussion note for Staffordshire county council. Here are some extracts.

On frequency and capacity

Defining available capacity on any rail route is not straightforward, and is driven by complex interdependence between services with different speed profiles and stopping patterns, junction conflicts and platform availability, as well as the impact of timetabling constraints elsewhere on the network. Of relevance to routes through Staffordshire is the relatively limited capacity into Birmingham via Wolverhampton, which is predominantly two-track. This railway is shared by many different services, with approximately 8tph long distance (and a further 2tph stopping at local stations between Wolverhampton and Birmingham), including services from the West Midlands to Shropshire and West Wales, and 1tph from London Euston to Wolverhampton. In addition, there is limited capacity from Staffordshire into Manchester via Stockport and through Stafford. Schemes are in development for these two areas of constraint; the improvements at Stafford, including the Norton Bridge Junction upgrade and the Northern Hub schemes, respectively.

By moving non-stopping services off the WCML south of Lichfield, onto the new HS2 line, significant capacity is released on this section of the route, but net additional services would operate on the route north of Lichfield, where HS2 services will share the route with remaining residual ICWC, Cross-Country and London Midland stopping services. Hence no spare capacity will be released north of Lichfield as a result of Phase 1 of HS2, with additional HS2 services sharing the WCML and branches with classic services. Figure 2.4 shows the impact on network utilisation on the main WCML routes through Staffordshire.

We assume that some limited route enhancements [i.e. upgrades] would be required on top of the improvements earlier outlined for CP4 to achieve the higher levels of service on the WCML route, although exact details are not known at this time.
Figure 2.5 shows that the proposed HS2 Phase 2 timetable reduces overall service levels either at or below those operated at the moment, and significantly below those in the Phase 1 timetable.
As set out in public documents, the HS2 service pattern is focussed around serving the large point-to-point markets, with smaller markets continuing to be served on ICWC services. The notional service pattern for London-based ICWC services retains 5tph to or through Staffordshire, although the actual levels of service could be modified at any time to meet passenger demand
more effectively.

One concern might be that the financial and economic viability of the remaining ICWC services could be severely affected by the switch of the majority of passenger demand to high speed services, resulting in pressure to reduce service levels further in future years, whether or not guarantees of service level provisions are given at this stage.
It is important to note that there is unlikely to be any released capacity on the WCML route into Birmingham via Wolverhampton – this limits any use of capacity released by HS2 to operate more services from Staffordshire to Birmingham.

On a Staffordshire HS2 station

There is an increasing body of research into the non-transport impacts of HSR services, the findings of which have influenced this chapter. Having said this, the research clearly indicates that it is difficult to find well defined empirical and quantified evidence on the impacts of HSR.
Initial research into the impacts of the French TGV lines suggests that, generally, HSR services cannot be shown to have had a major impact on the net redistribution of economic activity between Paris and the provincial cities, or on the overall rate of growth of these cities.

The size of a city and its metropolitan area has been identified as a critical factor in how HSR service affects the development of that city. Large cities that act as regional centres seem to benefit far more from economic development related to HSR than smaller cities.

[…]it should be noted that there isn’t a simple direct correlation between travel time and commuting activity, with many other factors coming into play. For example, anecdotally, there are many parts of southern England (such as coastal destinations in Kent) with longer travel times to London yet higher commuting flows.
The presence of HSR is only a material consideration in a minority of cases of business location/relocation.

Some types of economic activity will be more likely to be influenced by HSR than others. Although there is still debate about which activities are most effected, research suggests the following are strongly attracted to relocate to areas with HSR services: information economy; retail; leisure and hotels, and those sectors indirectly benefitting from increased leisure travel; specialised service providers; and ‘land consuming industries’ (using travel time savings offset by lower land costs).
Greenfield sites for new HSR stations are not always successful. For example little or no development has occurred at two new green field stations outside towns of 25,000 – 35-000 population on the TGV Sud Est from Paris to Lyon. HSR service frequency and connections to economic activity centres are critical.

To be effective the high-speed rail station needs to become the focus of major redevelopment and regeneration activities, geared to the service economy.
An opposing argument says that improving access to employment opportunities elsewhere will draw the skilled workforce from existing local businesses. The Staffordshire Local Economic Assessment identifies that net out-commuting from the county is a major contributor to the output gap which sees GVA per head in the county as one of the lowest in the West Midlands. We do see commuting at present from Stoke-on-Trent to Manchester, anecdotally those drawn to higher paid jobs in central Manchester from a wide catchment.

Having said this, the benefits to commuters to Manchester or Birmingham may be limited should the HS2 station be located to the west/north-west of Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme as its location would negate any potential journey time savings of HS2 services for those currently travelling to Stoke-on-Trent or Crewe stations on foot, cycle or by bus.
In 2001, of the 153,000 people working in Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Crewe, less than 200 live in Birmingham or Manchester (districts). However, it is not necessarily this proximity to stations that is the prime factor in determining travel to work patterns. It is also likely to be governed by the nature of employment opportunities at the destination, and the skills
available to work at that destination.
There is an additional factor at work here in terms of the cost of living. Commuters are unlikely to choose to live in a relatively expensive location such as London, and commute to a location where house prices etc. are significantly lower, such as the urban areas of North Staffordshire.
Relatively recent research showed that the average commuting time in the West Midlands is 23 minutes whilst official data shows that some 80% of those travelling to work (67% of employees) commute is 30 minutes or less. Only 9% of travellers commute for more than 50 minutes, but tend to be those on the highest incomes.
Evidence from London and elsewhere suggests that, increased travel opportunity has led to an increase in distance travelled and a stabilisation of travel time, rather than a reduction in travel time and distance.
In terms of inward investment, again, faster rail services to Manchester, Birmingham and London may make North Staffordshire a more attractive location for investment. However, the question remains as to whether the quality of external connectivity, particularly by rail, is currently a barrier to that investment. For example, the recent DaSTS study stated that: “The evidence shows that the failure of the conurbation to attract inward investment and to grow as much as the UK as a whole does not appear to be linked to the poor connectivity of the conurbation with the rest of the UK”.

Meanwhile, the Staffordshire Local Economic Assessment concluded that: “Current infrastructure is not seen as a constraint to growth”.
Critically though, the findings of much of the local analysis cited in this chapter is that external connectivity is good and, therefore, new HSR services are unlikely to be the key to overcoming the area’s economic challenges (as opposed to internal connectivity). It is the low skills and lack of growth sectors which are constraining the area’s attractiveness as a business location, not external connectivity. Even if external connectivity were an issue, research suggests that, whilst HSR can act as a catalyst for economic rejuvenation which is already underway, it is unlikely to kick-start it. Indeed, the North Staffordshire Connectivity Study noted that there is relatively little economic interaction with the Greater Manchester, West Midlands or London conurbations despite the relatively good road and rail connections.

The findings of much of the local analysis (including Staffordshire’s Local Economic Assessment) cited in this discussion note is that external connectivity is already good and, therefore, new HSR services are unlikely to be the key to overcoming the area’s economic challenges. It is the low skills and lack of growth sectors which are constraining the area’s attractiveness as a business location, not external connectivity. There is a real possibility that HS2 will result in the loss of two trains per hour on the classic network at Stoke-on-Trent, which would erode this good external connectivity.

Obviously, these observations have relevance for many other places in the English regions, such as Nottinghamshire, and South Yorkshire.

Written by beleben

May 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm