Archive for November 2012
Birmingham Airport is one of two large airports in the English Midlands, but is not regarded as a premier rank facility by international airlines, and most of its current capacity is unused. Rather than reduce its landing charges or improve its user friendliness, the Airport has commissioned a public relations campaign calling for a ‘balanced aviation debate‘, which seems to be aimed at getting the British government to force airlines to use it.
Before the airport was part-privatised in the 1990s, public funds paid for improved surface access (such as Birmingham International station, on the main Birmingham — London railway, opened in 1976) and a new passenger terminal (opened in 1984). This month (November 2012), construction work has started on an extension to the runway, to ‘open up the West Midlands to more long-haul flights’, the Birmingham Post reported.
Extending the existing runway by 405 metres to 3,003 metres by early 2014, means aircraft will be able to take off from Birmingham with more fuel and fly direct to destinations currently out of reach, such as China, South America, South Africa and the West Coast of the USA.
The planning application for the extension was granted by Solihull Council in 2009 and Section 106 Planning Conditions were agreed in 2010.
Airport chief executive Paul Kehoe said:
“We have plenty of spare capacity at Birmingham now. Our passenger numbers could double from the current nine million a year to 18 million today, and the runway extension will allow us to increase beyond 36 million in future years.
“Our passenger growth could create in excess of 243,000 jobs in the region according to a new report by the West Midlands Economic Forum.”
The runway extension scheme, which involves diverting the A45 Coventry Road, was drawn up after a plan to build a second runway was abandoned in 2007.
[BBC News, Sep 2007] Airport chiefs had originally said an extra runway would be needed to cater for a three-fold increase in passenger numbers to about 27m a year by 2030.
The airport has now said instead it wants to extend the existing runway and build a third passenger terminal.
It says with these extra services it would not have to re-consider having another runway until at least 2030.
The airport’s acting managing director Joe Kelly said the extra flights each year could be just as well catered for by the extension as they would be by a second runway.
The Airport company is part-funding the development, but it seems that it was unable or unwilling to obtain the full amount from the banking sector. So millions of pounds of public money are being put into the project by the government’s Regional Growth Fund, Birmingham city council, and transport authority Centro.
The Beleben blog cannot find any published business plan, or cost benefit analysis, for the runway development. Neither the Birmingham Airport masterplan, ”Towards 2030: Planning a sustainable future for air transport in the Midlands’ (produced five years ago) nor the West Midlands Economic Forum’s Stimulating Revival (Paul Forrest, September 2012) provides any insight.
BBC News reported that neither British Airways nor Virgin appear keen on using Birmingham’s runway extension to transfer any of their long-haul flights from London airports.
David Learmount, from Flight International Magazine, said that although Birmingham could “theoretically” – with its longer runway – become a “hub” airport and fly to destinations like China, it was “very unlikely to”.
He said not enough passengers would fly into Birmingham wanting to go on to those sorts of destinations, unlike Heathrow.
Mr Learmount said the greatest benefit would be to local “pleasure passengers” who would be able to choose from more holiday destinations.
One might have expected new central and local government investment to result in an increase in public equity in the airport, but the terms don’t seem to be in the public domain. Centro’s involvement is particularly aberrant, because its remit is supposed to be local transport in the West Midlands county. Diverting the A45 does not provide benefits for local transport users, so why their transport budget should be raided to pay for it, is beyond explanation.
Centro’s airport fixation can also be seen in its support for two separate future Midland Metro routes between Elmdon and central Birmingham. In October 2010, Midlands Business News reported Centro’s head of strategy, Alex Burrows, as saying that “Tax increment financing of schemes like the Birmingham City Centre to Birmingham Airport Rapid Transit plan will deliver connectivity between the city centre, Birmingham Business Park and Chelmsley Wood”. In August 2012, Mr Burrows stated that he was an advocate
for a brand new 4 runway Birmingham airport next to the proposed HS2 Birmingham Interchange station. The site will have fantastic road and rail links and is equidistant between the city centres of Birmingham and Coventry as well as being easily accessible to a huge population across the Midlands, Wales and beyond.
In yesterday’s blogpost, I mentioned Centro’s bizarre proposals for mitigating West Midlands HS2 disconnectivity. The Coventry Telegraph’s Martin Bagot has also covered the story.
COVENTRY could get a tram service to link directly to the new HS2 station near the NEC.
Centro will consider plans for a metro service from the city to the Birmingham station on the high speed rail network.
A tram is one option to allow the city to benefit from the £32 billion rail project which has faced fierce opposition from action groups in Warwickshire.
Any tram would run eight miles along the existing West Coast Main Line transport corridor, before diverting off to the HS2 station.
The West Midlands regional transport body said options considered by its HS2 Local Connectivity Group include:
* A tram service from the city.
* A direct rail service from Coventry with a spur to the HS2 station.
* A shuttle service of “sprint buses” direct to the HS2 station.
[…] Centro chief executive Geoff Inskip said: “Our challenge is to get the best from HS2 for people throughout the West Midlands.
This means ensuring local and regional services connect seamlessly with the high-speed rail network so that everyone benefits.
“We know that using this capacity for more passenger and freight trains – and working hard to deliver schemes such as a direct link to Coventry from HS2 – will bring 22,000 jobs and increase economic activity by £1.5 billion per year.”
The only West Midlands rail capacity “freed up” by HS2 would be on the Birmingham — Coventry route (because Centro says it expects the existing Birmingham — Coventry — London rail services to be reduced from three to two an hour).
In Centro’s connectivity vision, what would that freed capacity be used for?
Um, apparently, to run a tram-train — or heavy rail shuttle — from Coventry station to Bickenhill HS2. This is so weird, you couldn’t make it up. What’s the construction cost of the Spur? What kind of service frequency could operate from Coventry to a Bickenhill HS2 Spur station?
For the HS2 Spur frequency to be any good, the Coventry — Birmingham line would likely end up with *less capacity* than it has now. Who at Centro is responsible for these crackpot ideas?
Members of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority are to discuss HS2 disconnectivity at the meeting of 3 December 2012.
The briefing paper states that Centro was tasked with convening a ‘HS2 Local Connectivity Group’.
4. […]The Group (whilst mindful of individual authorities’ positions on HS2), felt it was important to work together to establish one voice for the West Midlands on what schemes needed to be in place to ensure everyone can derive significant benefits from HS2.
5. The membership of the HS2 Local Connectivity Group is:
* Centro (Chair)
* Arup (as consultants for HS2 Ltd)
* Birmingham City Council
* Birmingham Airport
* Black Country Consortium
* Black Country Chamber of Commerce
* Coventry City Council
* Department for Transport
* Dudley MBC
* Highways Agency
* HS2 Ltd
* NEC Group
* Network Rail
* North Warwickshire District Council
* Sandwell MBC
* Solihull MBC
* Warwickshire County Council
* Walsall MBC
* Wolverhampton City Council
6. Since June 2012, the Group has been working together to develop a Local Connectivity Package which sets out the transport schemes that will be required by the West Midlands to support the required level of connectivity to the West Midlands’ HS2 stations from the whole region.
7. The Local Connectivity Package is currently in draft form (see attached Appendix A) and is intended to be published in early 2013. It is fully aligned with Metropolitan and Regional strategic priorities including the 2015-19 Major Schemes Prioritisation Work, the draft ITA Freight Strategy, Prospectus and Rail Vision.
So far as can be ascertained, the draft Local Connectivity Package (‘Appendix A’) does not appear in the 3 December briefing notes on Centro’s website.
But according to the Go HS2 weblog
- “authorities across the West Midlands” are pressing for a direct link from Coventry into the planned HS2 Interchange station at Birmingham Airport. Coventry is around eight miles from the forthcoming HS2 station, but a direct link would allow passengers to connect straight onto high-speed rail services to the North West, Yorkshire, London and Europe.
- the HS2 Local Connectivity Group “is supporting further tram extensions to the HS2 city centre station benefiting communities in the Black Country served by Midland Metro”.
Clearly, the planned Bickenhill HS2 station is not “at Birmingham Airport”. Its site is 2 km away. If it were “at the airport”, why would there be a need to build a “direct link from Coventry”? There’s already a train from Coventry to Birmingham International station.
What form would the “direct link” take? There’s no clue in the document. This is typical Centro back-of-a-fag-packet stuff. “Direct link” probably means “a bus”. The probability of funding and constructing some kind of direct fixed-track link from Coventry to Bickenhill, is about nil.
The configuration of HS2 in the West Midlands means that it is almost impossible for places like the Black Country and Coventry to derive meaningful benefit. MVA’s April 2012 Demand and Appraisal Report suggested that the benefit from HS2 for the Black Country would be small (about the same as for Worcestershire).
Having backed HS2 Ltd’s terminally flawed concept, Centro have been struggling to devise some means of access to the high speed line from the Black Country. Their latest idea is to extend Midland Metro from the Bull Street / Corporation Street intersection, to the Curzon Street HS2 station.
The idea smacks of desperation. How would the tram service headway work with a junction in Corporation Street? What is the point of building high speed rail to London, and then having people from miles away reach it by a mode of transport that stops every few hundred yards? Like the old trams, accommodation in Low Speed One‘s new Urbos 3 trams is to be single class, and mainly for standees.
Are businessmen from, say, Bilston, going to be queueing up to use the ‘productive working environment’ of Midland Metro? According to Passenger Focus
- rail passengers are strongly adverse to having to change trains, with the strength of this dislike increasing in proportion to the length of journey.
Existing business users are most inconvenienced by interchange, which is consistent with previous research suggesting that business passengers use in-vehicle time productively, and this is not generally possible when changing trains.
Commuters and leisure passengers are only slightly less averse to interchange, with little difference in the valuation of each of these groups.
- as soon as passengers are required to stand, the value that they derive from the rail service reduces significantly. This strength of reaction is proportional to both the time spent standing and the number of other people standing given the space available, as passengers are most averse to standing in extremely congested conditions for long periods of time.
Writing for the Stop HS2 weblog, Andrew Bodman noted that MVA’s April 2012 Demand and Appraisal Report (HS2 London – West Midlands) for HS2 Ltd included a downgraded passenger service for Northampton post-2026.
Northampton is a busy station on the WCML with 2.5 million passengers in the last year. That represents a 13% increase on the previous year. Between London and Northampton, only Euston, Milton Keynes and Watford Junction stations handle more rail passengers. Currently there are 54 trains each way between Northampton and Euston per day, and some of these at peak times are sufficiently full that some passengers have to stand for part of their journeys.
The ”Demand and Appraisal Report HS2 London – West Midlands” published earlier this year outlines the anticipated schedule for classic trains on the WCML after the introduction of HS2. Rather than providing additional trains for Northampton, this schedule indicates that there will be only 42 trains each way between Northampton and Euston per day. So this will be a reduction of 12 trains per day in each direction. See Tables A2 and A3: http://www.hs2.org.uk/assets/x/85308
Demand for travel between Northampton and London is likely to increase between now and 2026 when HS2 is scheduled to start operation. So trains will become even more crowded rather than less crowded and with a reduced frequency there will be longer to wait between trains.
When such shortcomings are put to HS2 evangelists, the answer is always something like “That service level is for modelling purposes only”. But if HS2 ‘frees up capacity for more local, regional, and freight services’ why is it necessary to model inferior service patterns?
A response from the councillor responsible for transport at Northamptonshire County Council on the subject of Northampton’s future train services contained the following views:
“I am well aware that the service level for Northampton contained in the published proposals for HS2 falls short of both the reasonable aspirations of the town and the importance which ministers have attached to serving the area post-HS2. This is something of which all county councillors have been made aware in the reports we have considered on the subject. I have made this point myself to ministers on several occasions, and along with my officers have repeatedly made the point to officials from both the Department for Transport and HS2 Limited. While they have acknowledged that their published proposals are not really fit for purpose, I have been disappointed that no better proposals have been forthcoming”.
There is a huge difference between the claims for what ‘HS2 could deliver’, and what it would actually deliver.
Earlier this month, Greengauge 21 submitted their evidence of the spatial effects of to the Independent Transport Commission. They claimed that HSR can lead to a paradigm shift in the way development takes place across Britain.
The impact derives from:
* Major uplifts in the accessibility and connectivity of the major cities served by HSR
* The capacity for greater local and regional use that will become available on existing railway lines, expanding labour market catchments, and benefitting a second tier of towns and cities.
There are two aspects to the shift to consider. First, there will be a response within each city region. This will see a new pattern of development increasingly switching away from development on the urban periphery and beyond towards city centre and inner city locations. High speed rail can underpin adoption of the ‘Smart Growth’ agenda already being adopted in the USA (partly in response to higher energy costs).
Second, there will be a regional-scale shift. This accords well with Government aims to re-balance the national economy, both in sectoral and regional terms, and take pressure off the congested South East. The regions will benefit hugely from transformed levels of accessibility to the capital and to major international gateways.
According to Greengauge 21, a high speed rail network would be an enabler of ‘smart growth’.
A national high-speed rail network provides the opportunity to take a different and more sustainable course, one in which development takes place in existing urban areas and not (except in extremely rare cases) elsewhere. This was, more or less enshrined in planning policy (if frequently disregarded in practice), but the situation has been further weakened by the National Planning Policy Framework of 2011 and by the perceived need to liberalise planning processes to stimulate development. With high-speed rail, there will be fresh opportunities for the development community and for business expansion. It becomes possible to return to a position of much greater protection for undeveloped/greenfield sites without damaging economic growth prospects.
In other words, a national HSR network creates the opportunity to break away from permitting development to take place on the urban periphery where its environmental, social and long run costs are high, and instead puts a focus on urban centres (and the transport networks that help them function).
This is a prognosis of so-called ‘Smart Growth’ – a radically revised path for land use development developed in the USA. Application of these principles to Britain has been developed by Jon Reeds. In Britain, there is a much greater preponderance of underused and unused property, brownfield and former industrial premises available in the major regional cities suitable for major regeneration than remains in the capital.
Smart Growth UK Principles
* Plan compact communities
* Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities
* Provide sustainable transport choices
* Protect the unbuilt environment
* Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
* Mix land uses
* Encourage communities to flourish and grow
* Create a range of housing opportunities and choice
* Make development decision fair and economically inclusive
Source: Jon Reeds, Smart Growth [page 19] http://www.greenbooks.co.uk
Who could be against ‘encouraging communities to flourish and grow’, or ‘fostering distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place’? Whatever smart growth means, it doesn’t seem to have all that much to do with high speed rail. In March 2012, the Daily Telegraph reported on the ‘new city’ for the Meriden Gap mentioned by HS2 Ltd’s chief engineer.
Up to 100,000 homes would be built on green belt in the Midlands near the controversial High Speed 2 rail route as part of a dramatic expansion of housing.
The plan, disclosed by Andrew McNaughton, the chief engineer of HS2, would exploit the new and highly controversial National Planning Policy Framework, which aims to simplify Britain’s planning laws, increase economic growth and provide homes for Britain’s booming population.
Not the most obvious way to ‘Protect the unbuilt environment’, perhaps. Oddly enough, high speed rail got a mention in a 2010 letter to the Guardian about smart growth, by a person by the name of Jon Reeds.
Use of terms like smart cities to describe technological fixes for urban areas only shows the narrowness of UK thinking on cities and sustainability (Smarter cities, Society, 8 September). The smart growth movement has been well-established in North America and elsewhere for the last 15-20 years and has shown that towns and cities are the future for most of us. But the challenges and sustainability they offer lie in much wider spatial, transport and community planning innovations. The US may be the country that gave the world hyper-sprawl, 10-lane freeways and the inner-city problem, but it’s now vigorously addressing these with programmes emphasising compact, walkable cities, served by rail-based transit, with traditional town centres. Here we’re fixated with low-density greenfield sprawl, “low-emission vehicles” and shopping malls with electronic gizmos. We don’t need ecotowns, we need traditional urban town planning; we don’t need inter-urban high-speed rail, we should equip our cities with light rail or metro systems – and worry less about “e-topias” and more about functional urban communities.
For over twenty years, construction and expansion of the Midland Metro tramway has been the centrepiece of West Midlands transport planning, but only one line has been built.
Using the former Great Western railway trackbed for about 90% of its 20-kilometre length, the 23-stop Midland Metro Line One opened in 1999, and runs between Wolverhampton, West Bromwich, and Birmingham Snow Hill. At present, there is only street running between Priestfield and Wolverhampton, but transport authority Centro is currently progressing a 1.4-km long street-running extension from Snow Hill to Stephenson Street in Birmingham city centre.
In 1990, Midland Metro Line One’s build cost was put at around £60 million, but that figure turned out to be a severe underestimate. The project had to be de-scoped, with the number of stops cut from 27 to 23, and two-section trams ordered instead of three-section ones. Despite specification downgrades, Midland Metro still ended up costing £145 million ‘at 1995 prices’.
The Birmingham City Centre Extension is expected to open around 2015, and is costed at about £143 million (including £14 million for re-routeing buses). However, the substantial costs of disruption from construction are not monetised.
Centro predicted that Line One would carry around 15 million passengers in the first year of operation (see above). However, patronage has flatlined at around 5 million, and Centro’s expectations for a 36% modal shift from car also proved to be wide of the mark. Only about 13% to 20% of Metro passengers previously used a car for their journey.
The evidence suggests that Midland Metro expansion is neither cost-effective nor environment-friendly investment. Development of the local heavy rail and bus infrastructure is likely to offer significantly better outcomes.
Comparing the proposed seating arrangements in 9-car Hitachi IEP trainsets with the current 9-car and 11-car versions of Inter City West Coast Pendolinos, it can be seen that there is a marked difference in allocation of First and
Standard Second class places.
Why would the West Coast franchise need a higher proportion of First Class than Great Western, or East Coast? The likely answer is that it doesn’t. In other words, replacing some First Class seating with higher density Second Class is a quick way of increasing passenger volumes.