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Archive for June 2012

McNulty and McNumpty

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In a press release dated 29 June 2012 UK Tram and Centro chief Geoff Inskip stated that there are three possible routes for tram trains in the West Midlands county:

* Wednesbury — Stourbridge,

* Walsall — Wolverhampton, and

* Walsall — Wednesbury.

Public transport chief Geoff Inskip has urged the government to invest millions of pounds into tram-trains.

He called on the Department for Transport to set aside £100 million a year from the savings identified in the McNulty Report into improving efficiency in Britain’s rail industry to develop tram-train networks across the country.

Tram-train is a light-rail public transport system where trams are able to run on an urban network and on mainline railways shared with conventional trains.

Mr Inskip is chief executive of Centro, the integrated transport authority for the West Midlands.

He is also chairman of UK Tram, the forum representing Britain’s tram industry and recently outlined the case for tram-trains to the All-Party Parliamentary Light Rail Group.

He said: “Tram-train is a brilliant concept ripe for development – it combines the tram’s flexibility and accessibility with a train’s greater speed, and bridges the distance between main railway stations and a city centre.

“It is why I say the Government should set aside £100m per annum from those savings they will be making from McNulty and ring fence that money for tram-train.

“In this way we can get on with delivering the Department for Transport’s agenda of delivering a better value for money railway and a greener more sustainable economy.”

Work has begun on a national tram-train pilot scheme between Sheffield and Rotherham which is due to begin operating in 2015.

Mr Inskip said it was essential that transport authorities developed similar projects elsewhere around the country.

“In the Centro region alone we have three possible applications – Wednesbury — Stourbridge, Walsall — Wolverhampton and Walsall — Wednesbury,” he said.

“By starting work now in other parts of the country the successful outcomes of the national trial can be immediately captured without prolonged interruptions for lengthy project development stages.”

Mr Inskip said tram-trains were efficient because operating costs were generally cheaper than those of conventional heavy rail services.

They offered opportunities for better connectivity because they were able to utilise spare rail capacity on existing corridors and former rail routes, and also reduced pressure on the local rail network.

“Tram-train is a fundamentally proven concept and early introduction is required – the benefits are too great for the opportunity to realise them to be missed,” Mr Inskip said.

“It is integral to creating the necessary capacity needed for the future development of both light and heavy rail in our cities, bridging the gap between local, urban rail services and light rail systems and optimising heavy and light rail systems’ assets.

“It will also deliver real benefits to passengers – increased frequencies, faster journey times and improved city centre penetration.”

It’s no surprise to find that the press release was not accompanied by any details or numbers to support the three proposed tram-train services. McNulty has suggested making savings by de-staffing stations and reducing the number of trains running. But Centro has opposed de-staffing of stations, and wants to increase the number of trains running.

So the Centro and McNulty positions are not compatible with one another. At present, and in the foreseeable future, there is no value for money or economic case for running rail or tram services between Walsall and Wolverhampton.

Walsall and Wolverhampton

The rail service between these towns (11 km apart) ended a few years ago because only 60,000 journeys were made in a year, and the subsidy needed was £700,000. In other words, every return trip required a subsidy of £22. (These services were not even paying the full cost of the infrastructure, since the route is used by freight and diverted passenger trains.) The return bus fare is about £4, which is dear enough.

South Staffordshire Line

I’m not sure what the idea would be behind running tram-trains between Walsall and Wednesbury, and Wednesbury and Stourbridge. Restoring the South Staffordshire line makes sense as part of a national railfreight strategy, but there is no financial or transport case for tram-train on it.

Written by beleben

June 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Staggering appointments

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Richard Brown in the 'kidnap victim' Eurostar video

Richard Brown

On 28 June, transport secretary Justine Greening announced the appointment of four non-executive directors to the board of HS2 Ltd. They include Godric Smith, a former spin doctor for Tony Blair, and Richard Brown, a former chief executive of Eurostar. Here’s the details from the press release.

Richard Brown has held high level positions in and around the rail sector. Through his association with HS1 and Eurostar, he brings experience of the specification and delivery of major rail infrastructure, and ensuring longer term value for money. He is also able to add further value through his experience of running an operational high speed railway.

Godric Smith is currently Director of Government Communications for London 2012. From 2006 to 2011 he was Director of Communications for the Olympic Delivery Authority. He worked at Downing Street for 10 years from 1996 – 2006 including as the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman from 2001 – 2004.

Duncan Sutherland has undertaken a number of senior development roles working with Local Authorities; as Director of City Development in Coventry, and as Chief Executive of the property and investment arm of the City of Edinburgh Council. For the last 12 years, he has worked with Local Authorities and developers to realise large scale, long term regeneration projects. He will advise and challenge the senior executive to ensure the widest possible receipt of benefits.

Mike Welton has been re-appointed to the Board. During his early career he was part of Department’s design and construction management team for the M3 and M25. He returned to the private sector and led, from senior executive positions, many large civil engineering projects, including the London Underground Jubilee Line tunnels and stations. He retired from his position as Group Chief Executive of Balfour Beatty in 2004, to follow a non-executive career.

Duncan Sutherland is also appointed by Scottish Ministers as a Non Executive Board Director of the Scottish Canals Board.

As Non-Executive Directors, their primary responsibilities will be to ensure that:

* the Department requirements, laid out in the Sponsor’s Requirement and Project Development Agreement, are adhered to throughout development;

* the performance and conduct of management in meeting agreed milestones, including the preparation of annual reports and annual accounts and other statutory duties is monitored effectively;

* high standards of corporate governance are observed, including high standards of probity in line with both best practice and statutory requirements;

* the executive function is provided with advice and challenge in all areas affecting development;

* stakeholder relationships with partnership organisations are developed and improved.

The Board will be based in HS2 Ltd’s offices in central London. Non-Executive Directors of HS2 Ltd receive a per diem of £950, and are expected to commit 2 days per month to the business of HS2 Ltd.

Public appointments are made for a period of 3 – 5 years, however re-appointment is possible, if mutually agreed, to a maximum engagement of 10 years. It is necessary to ensure that the Board has continuity, by staggering appointments:

Godric and Duncan have been appointed for 3 years. Godric will take up his post in October, on conclusion of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Richard and Mike have been appointed for 5 years, as they will provide advice and challenge on the preparations for construction following Royal Assent for the hybrid Bill in 2015.


Richard Brown said:

“I am delighted to take up this appointment. This is a fantastically important project for the country, and I will work to ensure that we deliver a project that is not simply a design marvel but also, in the longer term, a successful operational railway”.

Duncan Sutherland said:

“I am very happy to be joining the Board of HS2 Ltd. This is a vital project for the country and I will work to ensure that the regenerative benefits, and opportunities for long term, large scale development, are maximised across the high speed rail network”.

Godric Smith said:

“High speed rail has an important part to play in helping modernise our national infrastructure, renew our railways and promote growth. I look forward to making a contribution to the development of HS2 over the next three years”.

Mike Welton said:

“I am very pleased to have been asked to remain in my position on the Board of HS2 Ltd. I will continue to work to deliver this project, to ensure that our transport infrastructure is fit to meet our needs for the future, addressing the very real problems affecting capacity, while securing the best value for money for the taxpayer”.

Notes to Editors

The Non-Executive Directors of HS2 Ltd are appointments made by the Secretary of State for Transport. This appointment falls within the remit of the Commissioner for Public Appointments and will be made in accordance with the Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments to Public Bodies.

All appointments are made on merit, and political activity plays no part in the selection process. However, in accordance with the original Nolan recommendations, there is a requirement for an appointees’ political activity (if any is declared) to be made public.

The appointees all declared that they have no political activity.

HS2 Ltd is an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB). It was also established as a Companies Act company, limited by guarantee, on 14 January 2009. It has a sole member, the Secretary of State for Transport, for whom it is remitted to undertake work.

HS2 Ltd is funded from the public purse by grants-in-aid. The company’s objective was to ‘advise the Secretary of State for Transport on the development of proposals for a new railway line from London to the West Midlands and potentially beyond’.

Following a decision by the Secretary of State for Transport to proceed with a London to West Midlands route, the remit was extended to:

* undertake further work and provide advice to enable the Department to deposit a hybrid Bill with Parliament in October 2013, in order to gain Royal Assent by May 2015, in respect of the London to West Midlands line.

* the delivery of a safe and affordable route design; assessment of the environmental impacts of this design and production of the Environmental Statement; and, the consultation with all relevant bodies on aspects of the proposals.

* developing routes from the West Midlands to Leeds, with a connection to the East Coast Main Line, and to Manchester, with a connection to the West Coast Main Line, and a spur to Heathrow, to include appropriate engineering designs and sustainability appraisal and the implications for the whole Y network.

* prepare materials and provide advice to develop and inform future consultations

The current/previous Board has been very effective during the conceptual stage of the project. Prior to the Secretary of State’s decision Andy Friend had already notified the Department that he did not wish to serve on a reappointed Board for the implementation phase. Sir Brian Briscoe notified the Department that he wished to step down from his role as Chair, but was willing to continue his Non-Executive Director role until 2014, in order to provide continuity on the Board.

Written by beleben

June 29, 2012 at 9:15 am

Knott in gley public interest

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On June 22, The Guardian Northerner Blog’s political commentator Ed Jacobs asked how the HS2 project could be made more ‘relevant’ to people.

Talking in generalisations about economic growth may sound good, but it doesn’t address the day-to-day transport problems that we have to endure in the north. So, for those advocating the route, here are four questions that could do with being answered:

1. What would High Speed Rail to northern England do to ease the UK’s unenviable position of having the most expensive rail fares in Europe?

2. How would the project address the problem of trains persistently running late?

3. Will HS2 do anything to relieve frequently overcrowded trains?

4. Would HS2 do anything about the train fare system which so many people cite as being too confusing?

I don’t think HS2 could help much with these issues. Fares are high because the railway is inefficient and less subsidised than its Continental cohorts. The fare structure could probably be rationalised in a couple of years, if the government pushed for it. Trains run late because the railway is inefficient and less modern than its Continental cohorts. And crowding is ultimately tied up with tidal peaks, and willingness to pay.

The government’s timescale is for HS2 track to reach northern England around the year 2032, so its short term relevance for Mancunian and Leodensian commuters is minimal. And over the medium to long term, HS2 would play the role of attention thief and competitor for funds against the classic network.

Rail writer Nick Kingsley’s response to Mr Jacobs’ article (Northerner Blog, 26 June) alluded to commuter benefits for Northwich

The Cheshire town of Northwich might seem an odd place to start a discussion about the case for High Speed 2, the government’s proposed fast rail link between London and (eventually) Manchester and Leeds. Between 7am and 8.30am each weekday, three trains leave Northwich to carry commuters the 30 miles or so to Manchester. Trouble is… only one actually gets there, the others unhelpfully decanting their passengers at Stockport.

[…]The Northwich case is just one of many examples of too many trains being squeezed on to too little railway; and the railways around Leeds and Manchester remain a somewhat haphazard web of routes that have developed only piecemeal since the mid-19th century.

and Knottingley (the ‘Pontefract Line’).

As one senior transport official in West Yorkshire told me in April:

‘Pontefract and Knottingley won’t get a proper service into Leeds until we sort out the East Coast bottlenecks using HS2.’

I’d venture that rail capacity and connectivity in northern cities is better addressed by scalable, smaller schemes that can be implemented in shorter timescales.


Northwich - Manchester rail diagram

Northwich – Manchester rail diagram showing ‘Metrolink Max’ direct access via MSJ&A

Only the mad world of British planning would produce a situation where rail travel from Northwich to Manchester entailed a change of train in Stockport. And detouring trains via Stockport reduces capacity on the approach to Manchester Piccadilly, used by expresses from London.

So why not incorporate Northwich into a ‘Metrolink Max’, and route its Manchester services over the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway (MSJ&A, now part of the Metrolink tramway)? That would shorten the journey, and decongest the Piccadilly approach.


Leeds, Castleford, Knottingley rail diagram

Knottingley and ECML Leeds trains: potential conflict only in vicinity of City station

At present, through trains between Knottingley and Leeds take about 40 minutes, calling at Pontefract Monkhill, Glasshoughton, Castleford and Woodlesford. They do not approach Leeds using the East Coast electrified line from Kings Cross, so it’s unclear to me how HS2 would help with decongestion.

Like Centro in the West Midlands, West Yorkshire ITA misrepresents HS2 as freeing up significant capacity on its local rail network. However, its draft Railplan 7 did include some good development options for the Pontefract line, including platform lengthening. As the site for the HS2 station in Leeds has not been revealed, it’s not possible to discuss the capacity and connectivity implications.

Written by beleben

June 28, 2012 at 8:34 am

Posted in HS2, Leeds, Manchester

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New Centro appointees

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On 25 June Coventry councillor John McNicholas was elected as the new chairman of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority at its annual general meeting. The Authority uses the name ‘Centro’ interchangeably with the Passenger Transport Executive. Councillor Kath Hartley, a Labour member of Birmingham City Council, was appointed vice-chairman.

Cllr McNicholas takes over the post after Labour secured a majority on Centro following last month’s local government elections.
Until his appointment as chairman he was Centro’s Shadow Lead Member for Policy, District & Local Enterprise Partnership liaison, and for high speed rail.

He has also served on the West Midlands Joint Committee’s Planning and Transportation Sub-Committee, The Coventry Partnership, Birmingham Airport Consultative Committee and as a director of Birmingham International Airport Holdings Limited.

Cllr Kath Hartley has represented the Ladywood ward in Birmingham since 1996.

She sits on the Transport Connectivity and Sustainability Overview & Scrutiny Committee and before being made vice-chairman of Centro was its Shadow Lead Member for Bus and Highways.

Coventry is one of five West Midlands boroughs which would not have a station on HS2, so hopefully his fellow citizens will be letting Mr McNicholas know what they think about trekking 13 kilometres just to start a train journey.

Councillor Hartley’s past “sustainability overview” included exalting HS2 to be as fast and carbon-intensive as possible, by building it as straight as possible; and urging the retention of a bus lane used by just four vehicles per hour.

Written by beleben

June 27, 2012 at 11:06 am

Ducking the question

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Are West Yorkshire bus quality contracts workable?Bus strategy in West Yorkshire is one of the items on the agenda for June 29’s annual general meeting of the county’s Integrated Transport Authority (ITA). The Authority intends to recommend that councillors approve the implementation of a quality contract scheme, claiming the idea has public backing.

As in several other areas of Britain, West Yorkshire politicians have been talking about implementing of bus quality contracts for years, without actually following through. The ITA has fallen out with the Association of Bus Operators in West Yorkshire, with chairman James Lewis saying that de-regulation has led to long term planning failure, network instability, and unbalanced rewards for operators.

It would be ‘interesting’ to see a quality contract scheme in operation, because West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive currently does not have the wherewithal to plan and operate a bus network. So there are two significant issues with having quality contracts — cost, and competence. As Bus and Coach noted, the authority is “curiously quiet on the cost of a quality contract scheme”.

It ducks the question on its website saying “depending on how the scheme is implemented, the specification made and how receptive to the scheme bus operators are, there may be no additional public subsidy required to run a quality contract scheme.”
Metro [West Yorkshire PTE] and other English PTEs have tended to look for inspiration to London’s tendered bus network without fully considering either its cost or the very different economic circumstances of London and the south-east compared with the post-industrial conurbations served by the PTEs. Earlier this month the neighbouring South Yorkshire PTE moved away from its earlier pursuit of quality contracts when it announced new partnership plans for bus services in Sheffield.

Written by beleben

June 26, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Freight expectations

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Centro inaction in the early 1990s led to the South Staffordshire Line — which once connected Stourbridge, Brierley Hill, Wednesbury, Walsall, and Lichfield — falling into ruin. The cost of restoring the Bescot to Stourbridge section is apparently £100 million. Today (25 June 2012), the Birmingham Post reported on the latest (non-)development in the history of the line.

The West Midlands should take advantage of the UK’s booming rail freight market by re-opening the Walsall to Stourbridge railway line, according to the regional transport authority.

Geoff Inskip, chief executive of Centro, has called for the relaunch of the Black Country line after the latest figures revealed that the volume of UK rail freight has grown 10 per cent in 2011/12 – generating £6 billion of economic benefits per year.

The Walsall – Stourbridge freight line would form a key link in a strategic UK freight network and provide a realistic alternative to the M5 – M6 / M42 corridors, helping to reduce congestion on core roads through the region.

Centro is also working on plans to use stretches of the line for so-called Tram-Trains – specially designed passenger vehicles capable of running on both heavy and light rail tracks. This could link Stourbridge with Wednesbury with the option of Tram-Trains connecting with the existing Metro line.

A strategic railfreight network could certainly make use of the South Staffordshire railway, but Mr Inskip’s proposals do not make sense.

Centro have never detailed how their tram-train would work. Which is not at all surprising, because, like Centro’s freight strategy, it’s nonsense. To justify spending £100 million, the Walsall — Stourbridge line would need to be capable of handling substantial amounts of freight, but that could not happen with the tram-train (which would cost £300 million extra). The prospect of a collision between a 1,000 ton freight train and one of Centro’s trams is just one of the reasons why it is a non-starter.

If freight trains were restricted to night time, only a few could run — which kills the case for spending the £100 million. If goods trains were not restricted to nocturnal operation, the tram-train would need to be engineered accordingly, raising expensive, and non-trivial, problems. Centro originally intended that the trams replacing its Ansaldo T69 fleet would be capable of running on the South Staffordshire railway, but that idea appears to have been quietly abandoned. It’s very unfortunate that modernisation of Black Country public transport is being held up by unworkable madcap schemes.

Written by beleben

June 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm

What is Go HS2 costing?

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The GoHS2 high speed rail campaign describes itself as a Pro-HS2 West Midlands Coalition of Centro, Birmingham City Council, Birmingham Chamber, Birmingham Airport & NEC, Marketing Birmingham, and Birmingham Future. So most of its members are public sector bodies, or bodies in receipt of public funding.

What aren’t clear, are Go HS2’s funding and staffing arrangements. How many staff and staff hours are attached to Go HS2, and how are its costs apportioned between the members? How much has been spent on the Go HS2 campaign so far by each member?

I’d like to ask those questions. But, as might be expected, the Beleben blog is blocked on the Go HS2 Twitter feed. So much for transparency in local government.

Written by beleben

June 21, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Posted in Centro

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