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Archive for August 2012

Remote humiliation

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The Midland Metro has become “the first tram system in the UK to win a prestigious award for passenger safety and crime reduction”, according to the Centro press release ‘Metro system first in UK to win safety award‘ dated 29 August 2012.

Judges from the Secured by Design organisation and the Association of Chief Police Officers have given the coveted Safer Tram Stop Award to all 23 stops on the system, which is owned by transport authority Centro and operated by National Express.

The initiative rewards operators who reduce crime and anti-social behaviour at tram stops. It also advises operators, designers and architects on how to develop better and safer environments.

Assessors for the award, a joint scheme between Secured by Design and British Transport Police, travelled the line between Birmingham and Wolverhampton inspecting facilities at the stops.

They also interviewed passengers, asking questions such as how safe they felt using the Metro and what they felt could be done to improve it.

The award follows a number of initiatives by the Safer Travel Partnership, which involves Centro, West Midlands Police, British Transport Police and National Express, to deter crime and anti-social behaviour on the system.
[…]
Offenders have also played a role through the Community Payback project by cutting back foliage to improve visibility and by cleaning and painting stops. The scheme has involved the Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Birmingham Community Payback Units as part of the Staffordshire and West Midlands Probation Trust.

The Secured by Design website gives the following information about it.

ACPO Secured by Design
======================
Established in 1989, Secured by Design (SBD) is owned by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and is the corporate title for a group of national police projects focusing on the design and security for new & refurbished homes, commercial premises and car parks as well as the acknowledgement of quality security products and crime prevention projects.

Secured by Design Membership
============================
The company operates a licensing scheme and includes member companies who are entitled to use the Secured by Design logo and promote the term ‘Police Preferred Specification’ on products which have passed the tests specified by ACPO Secured by Design.

Conspicuous by their absence from Centro’s press release are any hard facts about the number of crimes on the Midland Metro over time, by type and location. The award just seems to be an ACPO whizz to raise money, but again, there is no information about how much the “assessment” cost.

A feature of the offender work scheme used by Centro is that participants have to wear jackets with ‘Community Payback’ ‘COMMUNITY PAYBACK’ written on them, presumably for humiliation purposes. But although passengers waiting for trams can identify workers as offenders, the photos used to promote the scheme don’t show their faces. So it seems humiliation in person is fine, but remote humiliation is a step too far.

Written by beleben

August 31, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Gloom unit scrapper

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The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) is unhappy with the Department for Transport’s May 2012 draft WebTAG Unit on smarter choices, feeling that it is too gloomy about their potential.

Smarter Choices initiatives, which combine a range of different measures into a concerted plan to promote and improve facilities for sustainable travel, are now a well-established way of cutting traffic and getting people on more buses, trains, bikes and walks. The Sustainable Travel Towns programme from 2004 to 2009 proved that for a relatively small cost, car trips can be cut by 10%, and many similar recent initiatives – from simple travel plans to car clubs, cycle lanes and interactive bus apps – have also helped to increase sustainable travel in towns and cities around the UK.

Despite this, when the DfT published a new draft WebTAG unit late last year containing guidance for the appraisal of Smarter Choices, the text was very pessimistic about the possible effects of these programmes, suggesting wrongly that there was a lack of evidence and failing to emphasise the ‘package effect’ of implementing a range of measures all at once.

To help improve the draft unit, Campaign for Better Transport helped to arrange a meeting between DfT officials and a group of experts in the field of Smarter Choices and, afterwards, the group submitted some suggested amendments.

Because of this, we were all very disappointed when the Department’s new draft, published this May, only contained a small number of changes and still maintained a rather gloomy view of the benefits.

CBT would like DfT’s version to be scrapped in favour of something more favourable to smarter choices. It has been working on its own alternative draft.

If you work for a local authority, a school, a workplace or group of workplaces, or any other body that’s implemented travel planning, information, new services or infrastructure projects for sustainable travel – and if you have evidence for how well it all worked – we want to hear from you over the next three months.

Similarly, if you’re a transport planner or consultant and have new data or new methods you can share with us to help improve the appraisal process, get in touch.

But is fishing for evidence to support a preconceived line of thinking, the right way to go about planning public transport? I don’t think so.

Written by beleben

August 30, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Jetting from Heathrow with HS2

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The uncorrected transcript of House of Commons transport committee evidence, taken in public on 13 September 2011, included some remarks on the benefits of HS2 from Philip Hammond, transport secretary at the time.

Q553 Julie Hilling: One of the criticisms that people are making is that this is just going to be a rich person’s toy and people of low or moderate means will never be able to travel on this. Can you reassure people that it is going to be a railway for everybody and what will happen about regulating fare prices, etc.?

Mr Hammond: Uncomfortable fact perhaps No. 1 is that the railway is already relatively a rich man’s toy – the whole railway. People who use the railway, on average, have significantly higher incomes than the population as a whole. That is a simple fact[…]

There is another point here which I think we have to be absolutely clear about. If you are working in a factory in Manchester you might never get on HS2, but you will certainly be benefiting from it if the salesman and sales director of your company is routinely hopping on it to go and meet customers, to jet around the world from Heathrow in a way that brings in orders that keep you employed. So the benefits of greater connectivity, the benefits of bringing businesses closer to their markets, the benefits from released freight capacity and moving goods efficiently around the country, do not only accrue to the people who will actually use the railway. They accrue to some people who will never even get on the railway. They certainly accrue to people who will use services on the West Coast and East Coast Main Lines that would not have been able to be provided if we had not been able to move the long distance city to city traffic on to a high speed railway. It is a complicated model and the ripple effects will spread across the whole of the economy in ways that it would be foolish to even try and pretend we can wholly predict and quantify at this stage.

Because journeys from provincial England (or Scotland) to/from destinations such as China, the United States, Japan, and India, are dominated by the long in-flight component, speeding up the rail link at the British end — even with a direct track into Heathrow — by an hour or so (at best), is not going to make much difference.

For example, the direct air journey from Heathrow to Beijing Airport is 10 hours, and getting into the city from there takes at least another 20 minutes. Taking account of baggage recovery, passport/customs, interchange time, etc, a Leeds — Heathrow — Beijing journey that involves HS2, is not going to be noticeably shorter than today.

If a Heathrow access journey does not start/finish in central Birmingham, Leeds, or Manchester, it’s likely that a better connection could be devised using classic rail. In any event, it would make more sense for international journeys from Northern and Midland cities to employ a Northern airport.

In the Y network concept, the new-build track would stop in only three provincial city centres:

* one city on the East Coast Main Line, i.e. Leeds,

* two cities on the West Coast Main Line, i.e. Birmingham and Manchester.

With the Y network in place, the following journeys would all require continued use of the existing railway. Which of them would be ‘sped up’ by HS2?

  • Sheffield — Northampton
  • Peterborough — Leeds
  • London — Wakefield
  • London — Bradford
  • London — Stockport
  • Watford — Manchester
  • Milton Keynes — Bolton
  • Doncaster — London
  • Sheffield — Nottingham
  • Chester — Milton Keynes
  • Wolverhampton — London
  • Coventry — London
  • Stoke-on-Trent — London
  • Stoke-on-Trent — Watford
  • Halifax — Coventry
  • Nottingham — Huddersfield
  • Bristol — Derby

Britain’s economic geography means that Adonis/Steer pattern high speed rail cannot speed up most journeys.

Written by beleben

August 29, 2012 at 8:13 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Tagged with

Designer non-shelters

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Pathetic Birmingham bus shelter replacement

The Birmingham Mail of 17 August had a letter about West Midlands transport authority Centro’s latest botch, the introduction of bus non-shelters in Birmingham city centre.

I am trying not to leap in with negative comments about the new bus routes before they have settled down but what I am really annoyed about is the lack of good quality and effective bus shelters.

I refer specifically to the new 50 and 35 stops now from outside Selfridges. They really are pathetic.

This is one of the busiest bus routes with huge numbers of passengers waiting. Previously, we had the very sensible bus shelters which held lots of people.

– Linda Gresham, Kings Heath

Written by beleben

August 28, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Posted in Birmingham, Centro

Tagged with ,

A ‘technically incorrect’ update

with 2 comments

In my previous blogpost, I noted that Centro’s Alex Burrows had claimed that HS2 phases 1 and 2

have a CR of 2.5 before you factor in much wider real economy benefits

but that did not match the claimed benefit-cost ratio in HS2 Ltd’s January 2012 Economic Case update.

Extract from Alex Burrows' blogpost, "have the anti HS2 groups finally hit the buffers?", 23 Aug 2012

Mr Burrows subsequently updated his blogpost, with a link to HS2’s Ltd August 2012 Updated Economic Case.[Note 1]

Alex's little BCR helpa (Aug 2012)

Which turned out to be helpful, but also rather disappointing. Anyway, as can be seen from Table 1 of the August 2012 update (below), HS2 Ltd’s assessment of the Y network benefit-cost ratio is now 1.9 before wider economic impacts, and 2.5 after they are included. I won’t bother to discuss stage one (LWM), because its numbers are lower still.

HS2 Ltd, another update to the Y network benefit cost ratio, Aug 2012

So in the August 2012 update, the Y network BCR is not 2.5 before “much wider real economy benefits” are included. Quod erat demonstrandum, as they say.

On a more serious note, HS2 Ltd’s BCR updating process remains silent on details such as

* the number and type of trains that would run on the West Coast Main Line following startup of HS2;

* the amount of operating subsidy required for HS2,

* the amount of operating subsidy required for the West Coast Main Line following loss of varying amounts of intercity patronage to HS2;

* demand analysis of the effects of alternative premium fare structures on HS2 (nearly all high speed lines in the world, including HS1, implement a premium fare structure);

* sensitivity of traffic volume to possible continued intercity operations on the WCML;

* economic quantification of disruption arising from construction (e.g. on the borough of Camden, people travelling from Euston, etc)

* credibility of construction cost estimates (e.g. for rebuilding Euston station).

And of course, the August update provides no insight as to how the Y network legs would be routed, or where the northern stations would be.

Note 1. The August BCR update “incorporated the economic forecasts published by the Office for Budgetary [sic] Responsibility in March 2012”. According to the Guardian (8 August 2012) the Bank of England “cut its growth forecast for 2012 from the 1.25% pencilled in three months ago and believes the bounce-back next year will be weaker than previously anticipated”.

Written by beleben

August 24, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Centro, High speed rail, HS2

Tagged with

Technically incorrect

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HS2 phases 1 and 2 have a benefit cost ratio of 2.5 without including wider economic impacts, and “can compete with and beat the new Virgin flights between Manchester and Heathrow”, according to Centro’s head of ‘strategy’ Alex Burrows.

the intransigent mantra – no business case (technically incorrect, phases 1 and 2 have a CR of 2.5 before you factor in much wider real economy benefits), no environmental case (well, HS2 can compete with and beat the new Virgin flights between Manchester and Heathrow for starters…), no money to pay for it (the equivalent annual budget for building HS2 is currently being spent on building crossrail) – has never really been developed further as it exposes the premises they have based it on to be ultimately flawed. There is plenty of information available if you check out the go-hs2 website and various others as to why hs2 is so desperately needed for rail capacity for intercity, local/regional and freight services that the opposition case cannot answer whatsoever.

But phases 1 and 2 do not have a benefit cost ratio of 2.5, even according to HS2 Ltd’s January 2012 Economic Case update.

2. Conclusions on value for money
[2.1] The headline findings from our value for money scrutiny of HS2 are that phase 1 (London to West Midlands) lies towards the lower end of the medium value for money category.

2.2 Until important choices regarding the route and station locations for phase 2 (West Midlands to Leeds and Manchester) are made it is not possible to provide a definitive value for money assessment for the full Y network. Further details of the second phase of the scheme, including a recommended route, will be provided by HS2 Ltd in March 2012.

[2.3] For London to West Midlands HS2 Ltd estimate the benefit cost ratio (BCR) to be 1.4. This takes into account those impacts where there is a firm evidence base to support their conversion into monetary units. The Department then takes into account additional impacts that can be monetised, but where the evidence base is less certain i.e. wider economic impacts and landscape.

[2.4] Including the additional effects of wider economic impacts (+£4.1 bn) and landscape (-£1.0 bn) produces an adjusted BCR of 1.6. Including the impact of recent updates to the Office of Budget Responsibility’s economic outlook is expected to reduce the BCR by around 0.1. Including this impact moves the adjusted BCR to the boundary between medium and low value for money.

[2.5] We judge that while some of the non-monetised impacts would place downward pressure on value for money e.g. heritage and biodiversity, others would contribute to improving value for money e.g. improvements to accessibility and to station facilities at Euston. However, we cannot say whether taken together the net impact would be sufficient to move the scheme into the low value for money category, although there is a risk that this could be the case.

[2.6] For the proposed extensions to Leeds and Manchester, key route choices are yet to be made. As such HS2 Ltd currently estimates the BCR to be 1.6 to 1.9. The upper end of this range represents an assessment based on city-centre station locations with good links to other transport hubs. The low end of this range represents a conservative estimate as it assumes all stations are outside city centres and offer poor connectivity to the existing rail network.

[2.7] Given that a route for the Y network beyond the West Midlands has not yet been proposed or decided, it is not possible to evaluate a number of impacts of the scheme e.g. townscape, heritage, biodiversity, noise etc. Adding HS2 Ltd estimates of Wider Economic Impacts for the Y network produces a BCR range of 1.8 to 2.5, although this omits a wide range of effects that will be captured in the value for money assessment.

And HS2 cannot “compete with and beat” the new Virgin flights between Manchester and Heathrow, because HS2 doesn’t exist. The first stage would not open until 2026. In the meantime, the centre-to-centre journey time by train is already quicker than by air. So the existence of flights from Manchester to London is evidence of commercial viability being determined by other factors, such as the fares charged.

According to the 2007 Booz report there was no emissions case for building a high speed railway between Manchester and London, because of embedded carbon. But even if embedded carbon from building a new line were zero, the traction carbon from Y network trains operating at 330+ km/h is unsustainable. Even if only half-trains (200 metres long) were operated, how could a satisfactory passenger volume could be achieved for services that connected no towns other than Manchester and London, every 20 minutes? And some form of classic fast service would have to operate as well, unless places like Stoke-on-Trent were reduced to having just stopping trains.

The diversion of funding into HS2 is particularly harmful for rail development in the north of England. For example, in Network Rail’s Control Period 5 (2014 – 2019) there is no funding for electrification to Hull, Blackburn, Lincoln, Rochdale, Halifax, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Rotherham, Harrogate, and Barnsley.

In southern England, there is no money allocated for rebuilding the Varsity Line between Cambridge and Bedford, electrification of Gospel Oak to Barking, or reinstatement of Uckfield — Lewes.

For Wales, there is no funding for electrification to Holyhead or Wrexham, and no trackwork programmed to improve linkages to Manchester and Liverpool.

In the Midlands, there is no money to re-open and develop the South Staffordshire Line, modernise the West Midlands suburban rail network (Birmingham Crossrail), or create an East Midlands regional tram-train (‘Big NET’).

Because of growing congestion on London’s Underground, there is a need to develop new high capacity transport. However, the HS2 elephant means there is no money available to develop tramway services in west London, along the Chelsea – Hackney axis, or between Camden and Peckham.

Written by beleben

August 23, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Posted in Centro, High speed rail, HS2

Tagged with

Disconnected city

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The disconnected city:  Birmingham city centre map, Centro, 2012

According to Centro’s project website, the ‘Connected City’ scheme lays down a shared vision designed to benefit all users of Birmingham city centre.

For the first time the city’s business community and its public sector have come together to support a Vision for Movement designed to benefit all users of the city centre and secure Birmingham’s future prosperity. This vision is the result of that close collaboration and lays down a shared Vision designed to benefit the city centre in the years ahead.

[…]Our transport vision is based on a well connected city, an efficient city and a walkable city. By linking the city centre together we will be making it easier for everyone to use – pedestrians, those travelling by public transport, cyclists and those using cars.
[…]
A world class city centre and transport system will be created for residents, businesses and visitors. Improvements to the movement network and transport information will help connect people with places.

Different transport projects have been co-ordinated to achieve common goals and to maximise user benefits including:

* A highly accessible place and movement system that is inclusive for people with mobility and sensory impairments

* Designated transport interchanges for more intuitive use, revealing travel options

* Higher frequencies and improved vehicles

* Improved stations, stops and facilities

* New information products and services

* Extended use of real time information and the latest technology

Who the Vision was shared with is unknown, as the reconfiguration of roads and bus routes was done without any public consultation or input. According to Birmingham city council, the design work was done by Amey, the same concern that holds the city’s 25-year highway maintenance PFI contract. Apparently even Centro’s head of ‘strategy’ Alex Burrows seemed to think it was more of a nightmare, than a vision.

Centro 'strategist' Alex Burrows: interchanging is a nightmare

Bus services have been grouped into five impressive-sounding ‘interchanges’ serving different parts of the city, but these turned out to be just names applied to groups of on-street bus stops (with no seating and minimal protection against the rain).

Birmingham 'Connected City', so-called interchanges, 2012

There doesn’t appear to be much functional real-time information, either. All in all, I’d be surprised if any of the Connected City design staff ever used Birmingham public transport. On the evidence available, there must have been some involvement of ‘Telly Savalas designers’, who have never set foot in Birmingham.

Centro's explanation of Connected City claimed that public comments were welcome, but the public have been presented with a fait accompli

Looking at Centro’s map of routes updated following July’s bus reorganisation, it’s clear that Birmingham’s public transport is anything but ‘well connected’. Lack of connectivity and through routes makes for slow and inconvenient travel between points on opposing sides of the city centre (e.g. from the Jewellery Quarter to Bordesley). Centro’s intention is to revive a version of its failed Stationlink bus to link the various ‘interchanges’, so that a 4 km journey might entail changing bus twice.

Birmingham city centre most hold some kind of world record for the number of times the streets have been dug up. A Central News report from February 2000 showed similar disruption and confusion affecting the same streets as those being dug up in 2012.

One of the areas most badly affected by incompetent planners was Moor Street, where a bus mall was built and demolished, before it had even fully opened.

Written by beleben

August 22, 2012 at 10:51 am

Standing up for commuters

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North London Line Capitalstar interior is optimised for standees

In articles dated 20 August 2012 on Conservative Home and the Guardian, CentreForum’s chief economist Tim Leunig put forward ideas to reduce the cost of Britain’s rail network. These included re-introducing a third class of travel, and a Beeching-style closure of lesser used stations and lines.

Third class

A low-cost commuter network would have carriages designed for standing room only. People take up a lot less space if they stand up. Call it third class if you like. If enough people are willing to stand, we need fewer carriages, and less power to haul the train. As a result operating costs fall, and prices can fall with them. We may even be able to run fewer trains, outside the main peak. That implies a big saving in wages. The biggest savings of all come from avoiding having to lengthen platforms, and rearrange stations and signalling to cope with the rise in passenger numbers. These are very expensive items.

Of course people prefer to sit down – but the reality is that most people are willing to stand. We know this because every day the vast majority of commuters at London terminal stations jump on the next train, even if it is standing room only, rather than boarding a later train. Commuters from Waterloo to Wimbledon are a good case study: trains typically leave every three minutes, from adjacent platforms. Yet people overwhelmingly choose to board the first train, even if they have to stand.

Providing that there are some seats on the train for those that need them, there are few issues with standee-oriented carriages for short distances (e.g. the Capitalstars used on the North London Line, pictured above). Workers who have been sitting down all day might even benefit from having to stand a little. But for longer distances, large numbers of standees would clearly present health and safety issues.

In Britain, purchase of a rail ticket has generally given a right to be carried, rather than a right to travel sitting down. Introducing a third class of dedicated standing-only travel would surely imply that buying a second-class ticket would henceforth give entitlement to a seat. Having multiple classes of travel could also reduce capacity utilisation and revenue, which may explain why many commuter networks are one-class only (e.g. Southeastern HS1, and local trains in the West Midlands).

In absolute terms, the number of people travelling by intercity rail is not that large, and demand is less peaky than on commuter routes. So providing everyone with a seat would not be that hard, if only the government would stop blundering.

  • The Department for Transport is procuring 596 IEP carriages from Japan. The money could have bought perhaps 1,200 new generation loco-hauled ‘Mark 6’ carriages, and/or allowed many Mark 3 carriages to be refurbished.
  • Rather than maximise the potential of underused assets such as the Chiltern Main Line, or the GN/GE Joint Line, DfT is planning to expend £40 billion on trophy infrastructure.

Closing lesser used stations and lines

Lots of stations should close. The least heavily used 50% of stations account for less than 3.6% of traffic. The least heavily used 30% of stations account for less than 1% of passengers. (Source: ORR station use data) It is a preposterous waste of money to keep them open. We have more little used stations than before Beeching.

Reviewing the options for closing (or opening) stations to meet changing demand is a rational policy, but savings from closing stations on rural lines are not going to be very large. With lightweight trains equipped with ‘Request Stop’ buttons, and stopping as required, traction energy costs can be kept small.

The high costs of station maintenance seem to be a product of how infrastructure is managed. Network Rail has been known to send workers by van from Birmingham to Holyhead (North Wales) and back, just to clean the station.

The viability of stations is also threatened by pressure groups or councillors insisting that they all be staffed. In the West Midlands, transport authority Centro wants all stations to be manned (but in Tyne and Wear, nearly all Metro stations are unstaffed).

We should accept that where passenger flows are too low, lines should close. Cross subsidies within rail make little economic or social sense.

As was mentioned in BBC television’s Ian Hislop Goes off the Rails, Lord Beeching viewed the railway as a sort of onion, whose outer unprofitable layers could be removed. He did not appreciate the network dimension of the railway, and following thousands of miles of 1960s rationalisation, it still did not cover its costs.

Ultimately, the case for the railway has to be made on grounds other than financial ones. But that does not mean that investment and subsidy should not be subject to rigorous economic and environmental tests.

Written by beleben

August 21, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Great Britain, Politics, Railways

Tagged with

Strange kind of war

with 3 comments

On 14 August, the Daily Mail reported that fare increases programmed for Britain’s railways in the next two years would widen the gap between what British and European commuters pay for tickets.

Some UK tickets are already almost ten times the price of some on the continent, according to figures from the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT).

The price of a season ticket from Woking in Surrey to London, including Tube travel in the capital, was £3,268 last year – while the 22-mile journey from Velletri to Rome cost Italian season ticket holders £336.17.
[…]
Sophie Allain, CBT’s public transport campaigner, said: ‘We knew we had some of the most expensive rail fares in Europe, if not the world, but even we were shocked by how much more the UK ticket was in comparison to our European counterparts.

When the cost of season tickets is so much higher than other European capitals, the Government’s fare rises are starting to affect the UK’s competitiveness.’

And all that was before a 6 per cent rise in fares in January 2012, and now the impending 6 per cent average increase for 2013 passengers are facing with news today that the retail prices index (RPI) rose to 3.2 per cent.

For the next two years, train operators can hike fares by whatever RPI is, plus 3 per cent – and can raise some tickets by another 5 percentage points on top of that as long as they make others cheaper. That could equal an 11 per cent rise for some journeys both next January and the one after.

According to the Campaign for Better Transport’s Fair Fares Now website

Train travellers should be able to expect a fair deal for the price of their ticket.

Fair Fares Now is calling for:

* Affordable prices, including peak times and turn-up-and-go tickets

* Reliable services that aren’t overcrowded

* Straightforward tickets that make train travel simple

Making fares cheaper, simpler and fairer wouldn’t just benefit long-suffering passengers, and stop pricing those who can least afford it off the train. It would also give people choices about how they get around, and help to attract more people onto the train. In the long run, that’s what’s needed to protect the environment and strengthen the economy.

But what “fair” means, hasn’t been explained. On Left Foot Forward, Will Straw asserted that

if there is a war being waged on any of the travelling public, it is on those using public transport.

If there is a “war” being waged on commuter rail users, it’s quite an odd one. For example, Department for Transport data for the year 2010 – 2011 showed that the Southeastern train company was subsidised to the tune of 11.6 pence per passenger kilometre. For a commuter travelling from Ashford to St Pancras, that meant a subvention of around £20.88 per day, or £104.40 a week. It’s difficult to see what’s “fair” about a situation in which a warehouseman in Ashford going 15 kilometres to low paid work by heavily taxed private car, subsidises the travel of a HS1 commuter going 90 kilometres to a City finance job.

According to the consultancy Steer Davies Gleave, HS2 could increase commuting from Birmingham to London by between two and four times. There are few instances of long distance tidal rail traffic covering its costs, and on the evidence of Southeastern’s subsidy requirements and the energy-hungry speeds planned for HS2, the subsidy required to cover Y network losses could be substantial. HS2 Ltd has not provided any details of annual subsidy requirements for its proposed services.

Written by beleben

August 20, 2012 at 10:24 am

You’ve gotta have a system

with one comment

Renfe, Memoria 1983As late as the 1980s, compared to most western European countries, Spain’s national railway network was antiquated, and provided a distinctly odd customer experience. I remember a Largo Recorrido journey from a few years ago, where the train, nearing Madrid, was shaking so violently that I thought it had come off the rails.

Since then, there has been massive investment in parts of the system, particularly the Cercanias and new build líneas de alta velocidad (LAV), along with sectorisation of train operations, and separation of infrastructure from production.

Spanish practice has been to build LAV as freight-capable, and unlike the legacy network, standard 1435mm track gauge is used (at one point, wholescale conversion of the 1668mm network to 1435mm was under consideration). Outside of the big cities, investment in the legacy system has remained modest.

Given the limits of its legacy road and rail infrastructure, the construction of some LAV track could be seen as being justified by its developmental and connectivity benefits.

However, as of 2012, the AVE network is said to be the second longest in the world after China, and there is evidence that much of the investment does not live up to the hype.

In his presentation ‘Energy consumption of High Speed trains‘ for the UIC High Speed Rail 6th world congress in Amsterdam (2008), Alberto García Álvarez of the Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles claimed that Spain’s new build high speed rail (AVE) was more efficient that its legacy network, and a similar efficiency disparity was likely in other countries.

Alberto García Alvarez, Energy consumption of High Speed trains (2008)

Alberto García Alvarez, Energy consumption of High Speed trains (2008)

He described the AVE as a ‘system’, in which each part contributed to the efficiency.

García Álvarez, 2008 presentation -  'high speed rail is a system'

Sr García Álvarez was using the notion of efficiency within a narrow confine. For example, it would be challenging to describe the manufacture and storage of large amounts of surplus AVE rolling stock as ‘efficient’. As the AHT Gelditu website noted,

Renfe se ha gastado 1,400 millones de euros en trenes de alta velocidad innecesarios.

According to Sr García Álvarez

  • a Madrid to Lleida journey using the AVE line in a S-102 emu worked out 32.6% faster than a conventional Grandes Lineas journey, while using 15.7% less energy
  • on the wider AVE network, better energy efficiency came from
    • a more homogeneous speed profile
    • lower point to point distance
    • lower ancillary services consumption
    • lower mass per seat and “smoother trains”
    • a more efficient aerodynamic profile
    • bigger trains
    • better load factor, and
    • a more efficient electric system.

Sr García Álvarez argued that system efficiencies would more than offset the higher traction energy arising from increased velocity. However, since the raw data isn’t available, there is no way of assessing the relative efficiencies of particular aspects of the AVE system. The energy inefficiency from increasing speed does seem to have troubled the Spanish government. In a 2007 El Mundo report, transport minister Magdalena Álvarez seemed unconvinced of a case for ever-higher commercial speeds.

[Magdalena] Álvarez comentó que, aunque el AVE S-102 Talgo Bombardier puede alcanzar los 330 kilómetros por hora (km/h) y el modelo Siemens que sustituirá a los Talgo llega a los 350 km/h, la velocidad comercial de la alta velocidad en España será de 300 km/h como máximo. Con ello descartó así algunas previsiones iniciales que apuntaron a que en la línea Madrid – Barcelona se podrían alcanzar los 350 km/h.

Furthermore, Sr García Álvarez’s pitch does not take account of what might be ‘showstopper’ issues in other countries, such as the embedded carbon from AVE construction, or the very low utilisation of the new infrastructure.

Improved aerodynamic design and lower seat mass can be designed into 200 km/h trains too, so Sr García Álvarez’s conflation of speed and non-speed factors obfuscates the energy impact due to running at high speed. Similar obfuscation is practised by HS2 lobbyists in Great Britain.

Sr García Álvarez’s claims


Claim 1: “It is not true that [high speed rail] energy consumption increases with the square of the speed, and the needed power with the cube”

The energy involved in constructing and operating a high speed rail system is more than just the energy used to propel the trains. But as far as traction energy is concerned, it is more or less correct to say that consumption rises as the square of the speed.

So for a railway where trains ran uniformly at 400 km/h, energy consumption would be more than three times that of running at 200 km/h. No amount of lower “mass per seat, better aerodynamic profile” spin is going to alter that fact. In real world high speed lines, trains tend to run well below advertised ‘headline’ velocity for large parts of the journey, so the overall energy multiplier would be lower.

High speed rail, energy requirements of TGV-R and AGV11 (Systra)

Very high speed trains would have lower ancillary (train heating, lighting, etc) energy take, but ‘hotel’ power is not a particularly large part of consumption per-journey. And because ancillaries are generally left on in idle time between peak diagrams (etc), the actual AVE hotel energy saving may not be that large.


Claim 2: “Figures show that in general, HS trains have a similar energy consumption (many times lower) than conventional trains”

Trains running at higher speeds use more energy per kilometre. In Great Britain, HS2 Ltd has accepted that its trains would have higher energy consumption than Pendolinos on account of higher speeds.

New build AVE tracks in Spain are straighter than legacy routes, but in Britain the Bicester cut-off route to Birmingham is much the same length as the HS2 equivalent. Whether the Y network would be shorter than its classic analogue, remains to be seen. The Y network route is currently secret.


Claim 3: “HS (just because of the speed) can capture passengers from all means of transport, especially cars and planes”

In Great Britain, there is little doubt that high speed rail could capture passengers from cars and planes. For example, if high speed rail lines and bridges were built to the Scilly Isles, Shetland, and Larne in Northern Ireland, there would be be modal shift to rail from air, and new rail journeys. But modal shift is peripheral to the question of whether such investments could produce net economic benefit. In the case of HS2, the modal shift expected from air and car travel was estimated at just 3% and 8% respectively by HS2 Ltd.

Renfe, red 1983 [Beleben], showing capacity limitations

© Beleben 2012

Written by beleben

August 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Tagged with , , ,