Archive for October 2012
At Birmingham council’s 2012 Transport Summit, David Bull‘s presentation included HS2 Ltd’s visualisation of the proposed Curzon Street high speed station — but captioned, “current images for the [Curzon Street] HS2 terminal do not consider the public realm”.
Mr Bull favoured a different vision for the Moor Street / Curzon Street area — a sort of public park, where the cars and buses that currently run along Moor Street were banished. The only vehicle in Mr Bull’s preferred visualisation was a ‘Sprint rapid transit vehicle’ (an articulated bus styled to look like a tram).
If all that wasn’t baffling enough, Mr Bull’s presentation also included a diagram showing a Midland Metro tramway branching off at the Corporation Street/Upper Bull Street intersection, and apparently heading straight through what used to be the Virgin megastore, towards the HS2 station site.
In yesterday’s Go HS2 article, rail consultant William Barter stated that ‘Service cut claims from HS2 opponents just don’t stack up‘.
What Mr Barter seems unable to accept, is that Economic Case for HS2 depends on extensive reductions in service levels on the existing rail network.
What does “extensive” mean? Well, in Table 8 of the January 2012 Updated appraisal, the present value of operating fewer classic services is £5,100 million.
Exactly what services would get cut to realise a £5.1 billion saving, has never been explained. The plan for classic-services-post-HS2 appears to vary depending on who is being asked. For example, service levels assumed in the April 2012 Demand and Appraisal Report (London – West Midlands) by MVA Consultancy are different to those in Centro’s ‘World Class Rail Network for the West Midlands’ draft.
For several weeks, West Midlands police have been deployed at Birmingham’s Colmore Circus, Old Square, and Moor Street, to stop cars entering the Priory Queensway. As part of the Centro and city council’s ‘Vision for Movement’, Priory Queensway has been reserved for bus and emergency vehicle use.
At the time these pictures were taken, there were at least eight police personnel, including three motorcyclists, on the job.
As part of the Midland Metro construction works in central Birmingham, trees have been cut down along the route. Transport authority Centro stated that they would be replaced on a two-for-one basis, by new saplings planted elsewhere in the city centre. At the time of writing, the location of the replacements has not been disclosed.
The West Midlands Regional Rail Forum is a “body of stakeholders from throughout the West Midlands with an interest in ensuring the success of our regional rail network”, composed of ‘local transport authorities, business, the rail industry (TOCs and Network Rail), the Rail Freight Group and, Passenger Focus’.
This month, the Forum has published its draft report ‘A World Class Rail Network for the West Midlands’. According to paragraph 188.8.131.52 of the report
Work by consultants CEBR, highlighted that long term growth sectors of the West Midlands economy, based on higher added value service sector activities, require a wide pool of high quality labour.
Passenger Focus, Centro, and Network Rail are among the Forum members that back high speed rail. However, on its website, CEBR described HS2 as “a triumph of PR over economics” whose sums “don’t add up”.
The Forum also presented aspirations for improved connectivity on the existing West Coast Main Line.
2.2.13 Improved Connectivity on Existing West Coast Main Line
184.108.40.206 HS2 will also release capacity on the existing West Coast Main Line for additional passenger and freight services and the West Midlands Regional Rail Forum will work with Centro, the DfT and rail industry to ensure to secure the optimum benefits of this for the region, especially in terms of: enhanced cross-regional connectivity local service capacity, frequency & service patterns access to the new HS2 stations new long distance links (including direct London services) capacity for freight growth
2.2.14 This will enable strategic centres such as Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Walsall, Solihull, Sandwell and Dudley to receive new and more frequent rail services, bringing improved connectivity and increased economic output.
2.2.15 As a minimum, following the completion of HS2 Phase 1, the West Midlands Regional Rail Forum also wishes to see the retention of a fast intercity service every 30 minutes between the West Midlands and London Euston with the following calling pattern:
Shrewsbury (1 train per hour)
Telford Central (1 train per hour)
Sandwell & Dudley
Birmingham New St
Rugby (1 train per hour)
Watford Jcn (1 train per hour)
In September 13’s article I explored Go-HS2 statements on how HS2 would ‘free up capacity’ on the West Midlands rail network for more local, regional and freight services. At present, there are three Virgin intercity trains per hour between Birmingham and Euston, via Coventry. The Regional Rail Forum’s aspiration is for two ‘fast’ London trains to continue on that route, after HS2 started up.
So as far as the West Midlands conurbation is concerned, the sum total of capacity freed up by HS2 would appear to be one fast path an hour, allowing perhaps two extra local passenger services to run between Birmingham and Coventry.
According to HS2 Ltd, the high speed Y network would transform capacity on Britain’s railway, with up to 18 trains per hour per direction running north of London. (However, travel volume between the capital and the three Y network provincial cities might be fairly described as moderate. The vast majority of rail journeys happen well away from HS2, on the London lines of former Eastern and Southern Regions.)
In the HS2 scheme, central Birmingham would be served by a dead-end spur from the main line, with the Y network legs to northern England diverging in open country outside the city. That configuration is inefficient, because demand for rail travel from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds is much lower than demand for travel from London to Manchester and Leeds. The result is that substantial amounts of capacity on HS2’s Birmingham spur, Manchester leg, and Leeds leg, are unusable at any time of day.
The amount of unusable capacity could be mitigated (but not eliminated), by splitting and joining half-trains at the fork point. However, that strategy would require extremely good timekeeping, especially in the Up (London) direction.
Earlier this year, in the run-up to the vote on an elected mayor in Birmingham, there was discussion about the city council expanding its activities, and taking more powers from central government. But reality has powerful jaws and very sharp teeth, and now the council is looking at decommissioning entire services to make £600 million of savings by 2017, reported BBC News today (23 October 2012).
Cuts of £62 [million] to the Labour-run authority’s 2012-13 budget were voted for in February with warnings that 1,100 jobs could go.
Council leader Sir Albert Bore said some services would have to be “decommissioned” completely.
Sir Albert warned the authority could face an additional £60 [million] to £70 [million] of cuts on top of the £120 [million] for 2013 – 2014, depending on reductions in direct government grants.
He blamed successive cuts in government grants for the council’s “horrendous” financial situation, which he said had not taken into account population changes, inflation and other costs.
The leader said the government had banned authorities from raising council tax by more than 1.6% without holding a referendum among voters about whether they would be prepared to pay more. He refused to rule that out as a possibility.
Sir Albert said: “This is the end of local government as we have known it.
“But this is not the end of local government completely.
“It needs to be inventive, it needs to find new ways to work with partners like public agencies, schools and the business community to find different ways to do this.”
The council said it would be holding several public meetings from next month over which services should go.
The problem with ‘consultation’ (compared with say, a referendum), is that vested interests could spin the ‘findings’ in whatever way suited their agenda. Furthermore, most citizens have no idea what individual council services cost per capita. In fact, from councillor Bore’s live webchat this evening, it appears that the authority itself doesn’t have that information, and is yet to fully identify which activities are statutory. (Rudimentary high-level comparisons of service costs have been made by local authorities for years, but nowhere near detailed enough for the purpose of managing expenditure.)
A lot of the webchat questions seem to come from staff of the council and its associated bodies, such as the Connexions careers service. Apparently, schools are choosing not to contract with Connexions to provide careers advice, but again, it’s not clear how efficient or cost-effective Connexions is, or why Birmingham council should be involved with dictating who should be providing non-statutory careers advice.
A few weeks ago, Birmingham hosted the Conservative party conference — which cost the city hundreds of thousands of pounds. The Chamberlain Files reported that councillor Bore doubted whether subsidising political conferences was cost-effective. While evidence of general economic benefit from them is very thin, it’s likely that vested interests, such as the council’s Marketing Birmingham affiliate, are pushing very hard for continued subsidy of such events.
Since relocating there in 1990, Birmingham Royal Ballet has received millions in council cash, yet it does not even perform one full free show a year in the city. Its public performance, at Artsfest, has amounted to about 15 minutes in the last two years. So Birmingham council might want to look at ensuring at least one free-to-the-public full production a year is included in future funding contracts.