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Archive for February 2013

We go to Bickenhill?

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On 19 February 2013, French train operator SNCF announced its latest experiment in yield managed ‘low cost’ travel products, the Ouigo TGV service.

Marne-la-Vallee TGV station is in the far eastern suburbs of Paris

[Railway Gazette, 20 February 2013]

From April 2 Ouigo services will run from Marne-la-Vallée Chessy station on the eastern outskirts of Paris to Marseille and Montpellier. There will be three return services a day and four on Sundays.

Tickets can only be booked on line, with fares for the single class priced according to demand and ranging from €10 to €85. Children accompanied by an adult pay a flat fare of €5 and SNCF says that 25% of the seats will be sold at less than €25.

Four double-deck TGV Duplex sets have been refurbished at SNCF’s Bischheim workshops to operate Ouigo services, operating in pairs to offer a total of 1268 seats or 20% more than a standard formation. No catering facilities are provided and the bar area has been replaced with additional luggage space. Each Ouigo passenger is entitled to take one piece of baggage free of charge, up to two extra items being charged at €5 or €10 each.

To enable tickets to be checked before boarding, passengers are required to arrive at the station at least 30 min before departure. SNCF says at least four on-train personnel will be present during the journey.

The mind boggles. If they need four on-board personnel for a low cost train, how many do they need for a ‘standard cost’ one? According to the British high speed rail lobbying company Greengauge 21, Ouigo is targeted at people “who continue to use cars for long distance travel”.

[Grengauge 21 blog, ‘Why cheap and cheerful makes good business sense’, 28 February, 2013]

French state railway company SNCF is launching Ouigo, a ‘low-cost’ version of its high-speed TGV service, with fares from €10 for journeys between Paris, Lyon and Marseilles. Could we and should we expect the same on Britain’s high-speed network? Our answer is yes.

To explain why, we need to look at what the new French model entails.

SNCF has already pioneered low-cost offers on its domestic TGV trains, with low price deals and family areas available on a book-in-advance basis. What’s different is that the new ‘Ouigo’ service involves whole separate trains offered at discount prices – which although they start at €10, will on average sell at higher (although still attractive) prices. So why bother with a separate low cost train? After all, deep discounts are available on Inter City trains already in Britain; why not just continue with the same arrangements for HS2 trains when services start up?

Targeting car users

The new idea in France is to target those people who continue to use cars for long distance travel. Often, this is families, and when groups of people travel together, the economics of private car travel look relatively better against the rail alternative, with multiple tickets to purchase.

TGV services now have to pay more realistic charges for use of infrastructure (something of a catch up with the situation we have had in Britain since the creation of Railtrack, now Network Rail). With busy and expensive terminals in the city centres already well served with frequent TGV services, SNCF sees an opportunity to address the private car market and win even more market share for rail. This would have high-speed trains departing from suburban stations, closer to the target market, easier to access by car. So the new services will operate from Marne La Vallée station in Paris and Saint-Exupéry in Lyon, rather than the city centre stations used by the existing TGV services. The geographic separation of termini from those used by the more expensive, higher frequency TGV services reduces the risk to SNCF of existing customers ‘down-trading’ – although some will undoubtedly do so.

So, is HS2 set up to accommodate this type of offering?

Well, of course no decisions have been taken on the service plans at this stage. There is a likelihood that spare capacity in terms of train paths on HS2 will be quite limited or even non-existent at peak times. But then the Ouigo service avoids the busiest peak periods. We believe there is likely to be some spare track capacity during the day and in the evenings on HS2 where this kind of concept could be tried. Unlike in France in 2013, in Britain, where we have an established pattern of ‘open access’ rail operators, there is every reason to believe a competing operator could provide a low-cost operation. Doing so would spread the benefits of HS2 even wider, and add yet more to its business case.

To introduce a Ouigo–equivalent it would be necessary to operate to/from non-central stations. Services would – as in France – need to be operated just as fast as the ‘main’ high-speed service, and would still need to pay track fees – but not the high charges likely to be associated with using stations such as the new Euston.

Across the North, such services could operate from a whole range of places not on the HS2 network but connected to it. To address the car-driving markets of outer London and the wider south east suggests thinking of services that would use the planned connection between HS2 and HS1; this would allow low-cost services to run from Stratford in East London (which has good road access from the M11), and Ebbsfleet in Kent (just off the M2/M25).

But it should be remembered that the HS2 business case to date has assumed our high-speed services will attract no premium over regular long distance rail fares. While at the top end rail ticket prices are expensive, most people don’t travel first class/fully flexible. We have previously estimated the typical single fare (in today’s prices) at £40 – 45 based on an analysis of the price people actually pay for tickets for journeys such as Manchester — London.

The secret of success with HS2 will be ensuring that trains operate with few empty seats, and this can only be achieved by offering a range of prices to appeal to different market segments on the same trains. But there is no doubt that a low-cost high-speed model, targetted at providing a better alternative to the tedium and vagaries of the national motorway network, could have great appeal, and the HS2 plans can make this possible Ouigo–style too.

If the HS2 railway were built, the result would be the creation of large amounts of unusable, and near-unusable, capacity. One could imagine near-unusable-capacity in particular HS2 trains being sold at the last minute, for £1 per seat, or whatever amount happened to just exceed the guessed marginal cost.

But separate dense-pack ‘economy HS2’ trains running from Bickenhill, or wherever, are a very unlikely prospect. France’s cheap ‘n grim advance purchase Ouigo cattle truck will be a very small operation, and the idea that it would be attractive to large numbers of family motorists, is fanciful.

Written by beleben

February 28, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Tagged with , ,

Leader of the wack

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Centro graphic claimed that HS2 would allow sub-3-hour journeys from Birmingham to Paris The West Midlands must be served by direct high speed rail services to Europe “if it is to take full advantage of the tremendous opportunity HS2 brings”, said the chairman of the West Midlands transport authority Centro.

[Go HS2 weblog, Posted on February 27, 2013]

[Councillor] John McNicholas, chairman of Centro, said high speed rail services would be able to reach Paris and Brussels from Birmingham in less than three hours.

Through services to other cities on the growing European high speed rail network, such as Amsterdam and Frankfurt, would also be possible.

“High speed rail presents a tremendous opportunity for the West Midlands bringing jobs and investment,” he said.

“Journey times from Birmingham to London, Leeds and Manchester will be halved by high speed services, but it is essential we’re also able to take full advantage of improved European connections.”

Cllr McNicholas said it would be a missed opportunity if high speed rail passengers from the West Midlands had to change trains or even stations in London in order to access international services.

He said provision must be made for passport and customs control at Birmingham’s city centre station in Moor Street and at the Birmingham Interchange station.

“I welcome the proposed direct link between HS2 and the existing HS1 line from London to Europe but it must be capable of allowing passengers in the West Midlands fast, direct rail travel to the continent.”

Cllr McNicholas said the current proposal for a single track HS1-HS2 link may prove inadequate to meet future demand and added that the West Midlands was working closely with Transport for London and other authorities to ensure UK regions could be served by European connections.

“I urge the Government to consider a fully segregated two track link between HS2 and HS1, which could cater not only for high speed rail services from the West Midlands to a range of destinations on the continent but which would also facilitate new high speed rail links between the region and economic centres in East London and Kent.

“High speed rail is great news for our region and we want to see fast, direct links with European cities.”

Over a decade ago, Regional Eurostar and Nightstar carriages were ordered for services from Britain’s provincial cities to Europe via the Channel Tunnel, but low demand ensured they were never used for that purpose.

HS2 would only reduce the Birmingham-to-Europe rail journey time by just over half an hour, so it’s unlikely such trains could run without heavy subsidies. Is councillor McNicholas proposing that council tax be used to subsidise rail travel to Europe?

If HS2 paths were reallocated away from Euston and onto HS1, that would surely reduce loadings, revenue, and the benefit cost ratio. HS1 was designed as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and its domestic connectivity is poor. It would be difficult to envision a viable HS2 through service to towns like Maidstone and Canterbury.

Written by beleben

February 27, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Sprint into the unknown

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Construction of a network of Midland Metro tram routes across the West Midlands has been an objective of transport authority Centro since the mid 1980s, but only one line has been built. More recently, the authority has expressed interest in bus rapid transit (BRT) as a step towards more tramways. In 2006, it proposed the introduction of BRT in Coventry, branded as ‘Sprint’ or ‘SPRINT’. Services were intended to run to Kenilworth, Bedworth, and Nuneaton, with some sections having exclusive rights to roadspace.

Owing to a lack of public enthusiasm, the original plan was not progressed. However, Centro continued to promote bus rapid transit schemes for Coventry and other parts of the West Midlands.

Centro Connected City website, Feb 2013, showing proposed rapid transit routes

Aspirations for Sprint buses were added to Birmingham city council’s ‘Vision for Movement’ transport plan, and on 12 November 2010, the Birmingham Mail reported that the £15 million first route — between Walsall and [Birmingham] Five Ways via New Street station — would open by 2015.

Five others are due to follow, including links to the airport, Edgbaston, Bartley Green and Perry Barr.
Birmingham Sprint will be served by a fleet of dozens of “rapid transport vehicles” which look like trams but operate without tracks.

Dedicated lanes and traffic signals will mean they can speed past queues of traffic.
Geoff Inskip, chief executive of regional transport body Centro, said: “Our long-term plan is to have a Metro [tram] network but we won’t sit back and wait – this is a pre-emptive solution.

“I firmly believe Birmingham Sprint will prove to be so busy that the only solution will be to introduce permanent Metro lines. It offers value for money in the short-term and allows us to identify routes without making a huge infrastructure investment.”

Mr Inskip said he was already in talks with operators who were keen to run the services.

Birmingham Sprint bus 'offer'

So what is the environmental and business case for Sprint, where exactly would the buses go, and how often would they run?

Sprint BRT

According to Centro

  1. opportunities for segregated running are limited, as ‘major reallocation of road space is unlikely to be acceptable to highway authorities’
  2. large scale land purchase would meet ‘high levels of public opposition’, and increase costs to a level where the project would not be fundable
  3. service specification would be primarily determined by the operator, as ‘these will be commercial services operating without subsidy’
  4. frequency of service would depend on the extent to which existing services are ‘superseded’
  5. vehicle type would include some or all of the following attributes:
    • anti-scratch-graffiti film on the windows
    • tram-like seating
    • multiple doors, to reduce stop waiting times
    • ‘next stop’ displays and announcements
    • free wi-fi
    • low emission
    • high quality interiors and comfortable seating.

According to Centro, Sprint “is a new network of bus rapid transit corridors to support the development of a world class public transport system and meet regeneration objectives. It will be branded the same throughout the West Midlands with high quality infrastructure and vehicles. Sprint will be recognised as offering a high standard of service.”

Birmingham city council and three ‘business improvement districts’ (Colmore, Broad Street, and Retail Birmingham) are involved in the Walsall — Birmingham route. As of February 2013, the corridors ‘under consideration’ were

  • A34 Walsall › Perry Barr › Birmingham › Five Ways › (Birmingham University › Bartley Green)
  • Solihull › Middle Bickenhill (proposed HS2 station)
  • Coleshill Parkway rail station › Middle Bickenhill (proposed HS2 station)
  • Wolverhampton › I54 business park › Brinsford (proposed park and ride rail station)
  • Longbridge rail station › Frankley
  • Coventry › Keresley
  • Coventry › Walsgrave
  • Coventry › Warwick University › Westwood Business Park
  • Coventry › Baginton Airport

Cillian O’Brien’s January 18 2013 Birmingham Post story reported that Sprint was likely to ‘enjoy dedicated lanes and priority traffic signalling to speed up journeys’.

Centro’s documentation stated that Sprint would

be more like the standard expected on light rail than on existing bus services,

be complementary to existing public transport,

have stops at key demand locations – located every 500 – 800 [metres],

offer faster journey times than ‘regular’ bus – aspiration for 30% time saving,

provide end-to-end journey times of approximately 15 – 20 minutes, to reduce passengers having to wait for excessive periods, and

be covered by a Quality Partnership Scheme, or similar formal agreement, between Centro, the Local Highway Authorities and operator(s).

In Centro’s view, with “no major infrastructure or segregation, BRT would not be highly capital intensive, so full Webtag compliant benefit cost ratios would not be developed”.

Given that there is already fairly good public transport between Walsall and Birmingham, it’s difficult to see what role Sprint would fulfil. As one of the Black Country’s main destinations, Walsall has a reasonable rail service (around four trains an hour on daytime weekdays, taking 22 to 27 minutes). And on the parallel A34 main road, National Express West Midlands (NXWM) bus routes #51 and #X51 run approximately every 7 to 10 minutes.

The outcome of the July 2012 reorganisation of central Birmingham bus routes demonstrated a need for astute transport planning and consultation, but Sprint has been progressed without much input or oversight from the public.

Written by beleben

February 26, 2013 at 4:39 pm

How much is a bob worth?

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Britain’s Electoral Reform Society has produced a report setting out the ‘problems’ leading up to the police and crime commissioner elections on 15 November 2012.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society

The price of failure on PCC elections

On 15 November 2012 English and Welsh voters went to the polls to elect the first Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). As we anticipated the election saw the lowest turnout in peacetime history with only 15.1% of voters turning out.

The Home Office stated a desire to “empower the public – increasing local accountability and giving the public a direct say on how their streets are policed”. Unfortunately on 15 November 2012 less than 1 in 5 members of the public chose to take up this opportunity.

From the start, the PCC elections looked set to be an exercise in how not to run an election.

The date of the election was moved from May to November creating the first barrier to voters turning out. Voters were then left in the dark about who they could vote for with a lack of centrally provided candidate information.

Candidates were kept away by huge deposits, unclear eligibility rules, vast electoral districts and high campaign costs. The Electoral Reform Society predicted these factors could add up to extremely low turnout Unfortunately we were proved right.

Our new report sets out the problems leading up to and including polling day on 15 November 2012.

The Government has not conceded that errors were made. There was no shortage of warnings: from us; from candidates; from the independent Electoral Commission. Yet all were ignored. One government minister even insisted the “carping” about the elections was just a “silly season story”.

The publicity that highlighted the extent of the failures of the elections had the benefit of being so widespread that at least voters came to know about the new office, even if for many it was after the ballot boxes had been emptied.

However, polling shows that any awareness of who had been elected did not last that long. In fact, although the turnout of 15% was considered dismal by everyone (apart from the Government), it seems that even fewer people than actually voted can name their local PCC.

A poll, conducted by Populus in the last week of January 2013, showed that only 11% of respondents could correctly name the person elected for their area. In other words, after spending £75 million holding the elections and millions more to staff and resource officeholders, nearly 90% of Britons have no idea who their elected police and crime commissioner is. Government mismanagement has handed our elected Commissioners a poisoned chalice, and it remains unclear how they can overcome it.

The Police and Crime Commissioner vote failed both candidates and voters alike. There are lessons to be learnt which we want to see implemented for the next PCC election:

* Never hold another election in the winter months which discourages people from turning out

* Never leave voters in the dark about who or what they are voting for – ensure information on candidates is provided in mailings to voters.

* Ensure a level playing field for candidates through well-designed election rules.

The Twitter account of the West Midlands commissioner, Bob Jones, announced that he had told BBC Radio CWR that the election was ‘appallingly publicised’. I don’t think that was true. Certainly, people were uninformed about the issues, the PCC role, the candidates, and the candidates’ policies, but there was a reasonable awareness that there was an election taking place.

If, in place of a vote, people had been offered £10 in exchange for turning up and placing a cross against the statement, “Yes, I want my £10”, I’d imagine the turnout would have been much higher than in the PCC election.

So, one could estimate the value of the PCC as the being the value in £ offered that would bring out the equivalent number of people as voted in the PCC election. So how much is Bob Jones worth, to the average elector?

Written by beleben

February 25, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Birmingham

Tagged with

Affordability in transport planning

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Todd Litman’s opinion piece on Affordability As A Transportation Planning Goal is focused on North American experience, but the issues are more or less the same in Great Britain.

The 2009 [United States] National Household Travel Survey asked respondents to rate the importance of six transport problems: traffic safety, congestion, price of travel, availability of public transit, and lack of walkways or sidewalks. Virtually every demographic group rated affordability (“price of travel”) most important […]

Yet, conventional planning ignores this concern. Affordability is seldom recognizes as a transportation planning objective, and if it is, it is usually evaluated based simply on fuel costs. Conventional planning ignores vehicle ownership and parking facility costs, which are much larger than fuel costs, and so ignores the inaffordability caused by automobile dependency, and the user savings that often result from increased transport system diversity and land use accessibility.

Conventional planning assumes that faster modes are more important than slower modes, and that congestion reduction is the most impotant planning objective, and so favors wider roads with higher design speeds and longer block lengths over narrower, lower-speed, more connected roads. […]

Affordability has largely been ignored in British public transport planning, leading to the promotion of non-viable projects such as Midland Metro and HS2. Midland Metro ‘serves’ some of the most deprived areas in the Black Country, yet is the most expensive public transport in the West Midlands. Little wonder that it carries just a third of the passenger numbers originally predicted by its promoter, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (Centro).

Written by beleben

February 25, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Birmingham city council’s wheeled bin ‘consultation’

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Birmingham city council, wheeled bin consultation 2013

Birmingham city council has launched its online wheelie bin consultation. The consultation questions are reproduced below.

Consultation with householders regarding new wheelie bin services in Birmingham

About this consultation questionnaire

This consultation questionnaire gives you the opportunity to provide your views about Birmingham City Council’s proposed changes to the domestic recycling and rubbish collection service. You can read full details below and on the following pages. There is space at the end of the questionnaire to let us have your further comments on any issues in this questionnaire or any other general points that you wish to make about the Council’s wheelie bin proposals.

Alternatively, copies of the questionnaire are available from local Libraries and Customer Service Centres.

The consultation questionnaire may be completed by residents aged 16 or over. This consultation will remain open until the 31st of May 2013; however an interim report based on all responses received by the end of March 2013 will be produced.

All completed questionnaires will be processed by Opinion Research Services (ORS), an independent research company. Your views will be treated as confidential, will be stored in accordance with the Data Protection Act and only the ORS research team will see your questionnaire. All views will always remain anonymous and the data will not be used to determine future services for individual households.

Individual households will be contacted prior to the roll-out of wheelie bins in their area.

Recycling and rubbish in Birmingham

Birmingham City Council collects about 400,000 tonnes of household rubbish each year costing around £60 million in collection and disposal charges, including Government Landfill Tax of up to £80 per tonne. Our costs are simply too high and the Council can no longer afford to carry on collecting and disposing of rubbish as we currently do.

Although we have increased our recycling performance over the last few years, Birmingham is in the bottom 25% of all Local Authorities for low recycling performance and on average, we produce more rubbish per household than any of the other major cities in the UK.

As proved in other cities throughout the UK, we will be able to reduce costs by reducing the amount of rubbish that we need to dispose of and increasing the amount that we recycle.

The Council has therefore decided to change the way that recycling and rubbish is collected in Birmingham and to adopt a wheelie bin collection service. This is not unique to Birmingham as 82% of all English Councils already use wheelie bins, recognising the additional benefits of increased cleanliness in local neighbourhoods by avoiding the problems that many residents experience with sacks being torn open by pests or recyclables blowing down the street on a windy day.

Government funding

The Council has recently been awarded additional funding of nearly £30 million to implement the wheelie bin scheme. This money will help to pay for the wheelie bins and the vehicles needed to empty them. In return, the Council will continue to maintain a weekly collection of rubbish.

Age Confirmation

Are you aged 16 or over?

Choose one of the following answers


Details of proposed scheme

Our plan is to provide households with increased storage capacity by using 2 wheelie bins, as follows:

1. Recycling – fortnightly collection using a 240 litre wheelie bin with a pod to separate the paper and card from the mixed materials (cans, glass and plastic bottles). The wheelie bin is 107cm high and takes up a ground space of 58cm X 74cm.

2. Rubbish – weekly collection using a 180 litre wheelie bin (equivalent to 2-3 black bags). The wheelie bin is 107cm high and takes up a ground space of 48cm X 74cm.

By way of comparison, a typical recycling box is around 50 litres capacity and a rubbish collection sack holds a maximum of 80 litres.

Green garden waste collections will continue as a sack collection service in 2013. This and other changes to waste management services are being consulted on separately and further information will be published in due course.

The Council recognises that not all properties are suitable for wheelie bin collections and that some larger and smaller households will have different requirements. In these circumstances, the Council would make alternative arrangements. Larger rubbish bins (240 litres) will be available for larger households and there is a smaller version of the recycling bin (140 litres) for smaller households who won’t need the standard 240 litre recycling bin.

The Council also recognises that some residents would find it difficult to move a wheelie bin and we would propose to make alternative arrangements either through the provision of an ‘assisted’ service or by providing a different type of collection service that meets the households’ needs.

As part of the roll-out phase, pilot projects will take place from May 2013 in the Brandwood and Harborne wards. All properties in these two wards will be individually assessed to determine their suitability for a wheelie bin collection service. Residents will be notified of this assessment and we will invite residents to tell us of any particular issues that would make this service impractical for their particular household, or to let us know that they have a larger household or perhaps would prefer to have the smaller recycling bin.

Council staff will also be available in the neighbourhood, and by phone to discuss any particular problems or issues that might arise so that we can make sure that the new services work for everybody.

Attitudes to recycling and rewards

Birmingham City Council is planning to introduce wheelie bins for most households to reduce rubbish and to reduce costs. Please let us know your views about some important aspects of the scheme. The Council values your opinions and wants to know your views on these proposals.

Attitudes to recycling and rewards

Which of the following statements do you feel best describes your household?

Choose one of the following answers

We recycle as much as we possibly can
We recycle a lot but not everything that can be recycled in Birmingham
We do not recycle much
We do not recycle anything
Don’t Know

Attitudes to recycling and rewards

The Council ran a pilot in 2012 to test a Recycling Reward Programme. This proved popular with residents who participated and recycling rates went up.

If the Council introduced a Recycling Reward Scheme across the City, what type of rewards would you like to receive?

Check any that apply

Points that can be used for discounts at local or national businesses
Points that can be used to get discounts for Council services
Points to donate to charitable causes
Points to donate to local projects such as schools/new community buildings
Not interested in rewards
Don’t know
Other – please specify

About you

Are your day-to-day activities limited because of a health problem or disability which has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 12 months?

Choose one of the following answers

Yes, limited a lot
Yes, limited a little
Prefer not to say

About you

What is your ethnic group?

Choose one of the following answers

White – English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British
White – Irish
White – Gypsy or Irish Traveller
White – Any other White background
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British – African
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British – Caribbean
Any other Black/African/Caribbean background
Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups – Asian and White
Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups – Black African and White
Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups – Black Caribbean and White
Any other Mixed/Multiple ethnic background
Asian/Asian British – Bangladeshi
Asian/Asian British – Chinese
Asian/Asian British – Indian Sikh
Asian/Asian British – Indian Other
Asian/Asian British -Pakistani
Any other Asian background
Other ethnic group – Arab
Other ethnic group – Jewish
Any other ethnic group
Prefer not to say

About you

Which of the following most accurately describes your sexual orientation?

Choose one of the following answers

Gay man
Gay woman/lesbian
Prefer not to say

About you

What is your religion? (Even if you are not practising)

Choose one of the following answers

Christian (Catholic, Church of England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, other Protestant, Orthodox and all other denominations)
Other religion / faith (Please specify)
No religion
Prefer not to say

About you

What is your full home postcode?

Please note that this information will only be used to analyse responses at an appropriate geographic level to inform the provision of our local services. Your full postcode will not be passed on to the council.

Please check the format of your answer.

Being kept informed about changes to your waste collection service

If you would like the Council to keep you informed by email about changes to your waste
collection service please provide your email address below (this will be passed to Birmingham City Council, separately from the results of the survey). They will store it in accordance with the Data Protection Act and will never share it with any other parties.

Please check the format of your answer.

Thank You

Thank you very much for taking the time to complete this questionnaire. In order to save and submit your answers please click on the ‘submit’ button below.

Please note that once you have clicked on the ‘submit’ button there is no further opportunity to review or change your answers.

Written by beleben

February 25, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Jolly good tram research

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Edinburgh councillors and officials are planning a tour of tram projects around the UK “to learn from their experience”, reported The Scotsman’s Ian Swanson (Friday, 22 February 2013).

Up to nine elected representatives and officials from the Capital will travel to Manchester, Nottingham and Dublin to see what lessons can be learned from cities which appear to have made a success of trams. Sheffield and Luton may also be included.

The city council’s policy and strategy committee will be asked next week to approve the trips.
It said the visits, expected to take place in March and April, would include the transport convener and vice-convener, the tram media manager and “up to two other appropriate officers”, with the tram manager also expected to go and opposition transport spokespeople to be invited.

But opposition politicians voiced scepticism about a “grand tour” which could be viewed by the public as “jollies”.

It’s far too late in the day for this type of visit to be any use. The die is cast.

Written by beleben

February 24, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Posted in Rapid transit, Scotland

Tagged with

What’s bin decided?

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Birmingham City Council ad in the Metro newspaper (Birmingham edition), 22 Feb 2013

Birmingham City Council took out an advert in the 22 February Birmingham edition of the Metro newspaper, to publicise “new ways to collect rubbish and recycle” (in other words, to promote its wheelie bin rubbish collection scheme).

There’s not much new about wheelie bins; local authorities all over Britain have used them for years. Whether and how they should be using them, are different matters altogether. In terms of labour productivity, hebdomadary wheeled bin collection must  be about as inefficient as it gets.

Birmingham council’s news release of December 24 2012 stated that that “the council is ‘consulting’ around a 3-bin model — a bin for residual (black bag) waste, a bin for recyclables, and a bin for garden waste”.

But the 22 February 2013 Metro advert says “Wheelie bins are coming to Birmingham homes – two bins for every household, for rubbish disposal and recycling”. In the future, green waste is to be an add-on optional service, paid for separately.

The council has claimed that switching to wheeled bins ‘would save the £1 million cost of supplying black bags’ to residents. But from April 2013, the council won’t be supplying them anyway.

And wheeled bins would ‘stop animals tearing open black bags for food’. Well, why put food in the black bags in the first place?

Written by beleben

February 24, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Birmingham

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Network Rail ‘did not seek clarification from 51m’

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According to the 51m group of local authorities, Network Rail made no attempt to get in touch to clarify details of the “optimised alternative” to HS2.

51m have developed proposals which deliver major additional capacity increases on the West Coast Main Line much more quickly and at less than 10 % of the cost of HS2. The proposals more than meet the DfT’s forecasts of a doubling in demand for long distance rail travel.

The key features of the proposals are:

* Increasing the length of existing InterCity trains from the current 9 or 11 cars to 12 cars. This can be done on all routes except to Liverpool with only limited work on extending platforms at a number of stations. Liverpool would continue to have 11 car trains, as the costs of reconstructing Liverpool Lime Street station would be prohibitive.

* Reducing the number of first class vehicles in each train from 4 to 3, by converting one car from first to standard class.

* Doubling capacity on the fast commuter trains between Northampton, Milton Keynes and Euston by constructing a grade separated junction south of Milton Keynes and introducing higher performance trains on this route. These are services which are overcrowded now – this can’t wait until 2026

* Infrastructure investment to eliminate existing bottlenecks on the West Coast Main Line between Rugby and Nuneaton and in the Stafford area. This would enable operation of 24 daily additional InterCity trains in each direction.

The first two changes alone would more than double InterCity capacity compared with the numbers used in the HS2 “base case”. Standard class capacity would be tripled with the proposed infrastructure investment.

The additional capacity would also enable services to be improved, particularly for intermediate stations. 51m have developed detailed plans which have been “proved” through external expert analysis, and are robust. The illustrative timetable delivers the following benefits:

* Additional capacity to Manchester and the North West

* Hourly “fast” Manchester trains – non-stop to Wilmslow

* Glasgow trains accelerated by omission of north west stops, and alternate trains running fast from Preston to Carlisle

* New through services to Blackpool/Windermere (alternate hours)

* Major improvement for Nuneaton, Tamworth and Lichfield.

* Improved Rugby service (almost half hourly interval)

* Watford gains an hourly Crewe/Manchester service, giving a step change in access to the North West

In contrast, HS2 will inevitably result in worse services for many stations on the existing route, as the HS2 business case includes a saving of £7 billion for service reductions on existing routes.

Business case

WS Atkins, working for the Department of Transport, concluded that the 51m alternative has a much better business case than HS2, with a Benefit Cost Ratio of 5.17 [note 1], compared with only 1.6 – 1.9 for HS2 [note 2]

Response to criticisms of the 51m alternative
Government has largely relied on a report by Network Rail to “rubbish” the 51m alternative. This work was carried out without any attempt to engage with 51m, or even to clarify 51m’s proposals. Network Rail’s criticisms are not valid, indeed are in some cases based on misunderstandings of 51m’s proposals which could easily have been cleared up.

The principal criticisms are as follows:

“Insufficient capacity to meet forecast demand on Euston commuter services”

Network Rail implicitly accept that the 51m alternative provides adequate InterCity capacity, but say 51m’s proposals won’t meet future commuter demand. This issue was not a critical part of the 51m consultation response, so it did not form a major part of the Government’s February 2011 consultation on HS2. Even so, 51m’s proposals double commuter capacity on the already overcrowded services to Milton Keynes and Northampton.

Furthermore, it is now clear that current overcrowding could be relieved immediately by letting passengers to Milton Keynes use half empty Virgin trains which already stop there at peak periods, but don’t carry passengers between Milton Keynes and Euston – the only route to London with such a restriction.

And when it’s finished, HS2 provides no more commuter capacity than the 51m proposals – nor any additional capacity for freight. This is because HS2’s own service proposals for the existing route don’t allow any services to be transferred from the slow to the fast lines, as the fast lines are still intensively used.

“51m’s proposals would necessitate remodelling Euston station”

The 51m alternative would not require any work at Euston, as sufficient 12 car length platforms are available to accommodate the proposed service frequency. In contrast, HS2 will require complete reconstruction of the station over an 8 year period, with massive disruption and reduced peak capacity

“51m’s proposals would result in long periods of disruption”

The 51m proposals involve only three worksites on the existing route, and are comparable to the recently completed flyover at Nuneaton (constructed without any major disruption), the proposed flyover at Norton Bridge (north of Stafford), and the proposed HS2 grade separated junction north of Lichfield.

The work proposed under the 51m alternative would certainly be much less disruptive than the reconstruction of Euston required for HS2.

“The high utilisation of the fast lines would negatively impact on route performance”

The 51m alternative would result in higher utilisation of the fast lines than at present, with a maximum of 16 trains per hour in the peak direction. However, this is reliably achieved elsewhere on the rail network in peak periods, for example on the fast lines between Liverpool Street and Shenfield (20 trains an hour) and between Waterloo and Woking (15 trains an hour). Moreover, the proposed infrastructure enhancements will improve reliability by segregating freight and local passenger trains from InterCity trains throughout the route between Euston and Crewe.

In addition, the fast line occupation is lower than that proposed for HS2 (18 trains per hour) despite the fact that HS2 will have a lower technical limit on the number of trains per hour, as a result of its proposed 350 kph operating speed, hence the much longer braking distances required. It is extremely doubtful that 18 trains per hour will be capable of being reliably delivered in practice – no high speed line anywhere else in the world operates close to the level claimed for HS2

“The 51m proposals increase long distance high speed connectivity on some flows, however this is at the expense of other intermediate flows, where connectivity severely worsens. In some cases this results in leaving stations without a train service.”

The concerns about connectivity and leaving some stations without a train service are entirely unfounded, as 51m would have readily explained if Network Rail had made any attempt to clarify this. The illustrative 51m service pattern improves overall connectivity. No stations are left “without a train service”.

The service pattern set out in the 51m alternative was not exhaustive, and was not intended to cover stations such as Atherstone, Rugeley and Stone, which are the stations cited in Network Rail’s report. There is clearly route capacity to continue to serve these stations.

In contrast, the HS2 business case includes a saving of £7 billion for service reductions on existing routes.

[1] Page 28

[2] Page 10

51m’s analysis of HS2 is largely correct, but their “optimised alternative” proposal has a few oddities. The best way to optimise West Coast utilisation would include the transfer of West Midlands intercity services to the Chiltern Main Line, but that’s not part of their proposition. The group’s idea of running 12-car trains on the West Coast trunk to Scotland, or Windermere, is unlikely to be necessary in the foreseeable future (passenger volumes are too small). Indeed, most of the time, passengers travelling on the Windermere branch would fit into a single carriage.

Written by beleben

February 20, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Posted in HS2, Planning, Politics

Tagged with ,

Nonsense in the third degree

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British government rail minister Simon Burns has visited Japan to see its bullet trains, reported the Daily Telegraph (20 Feb 2013).

He said ministers were already considering how to take the [HS2] line further north to Scotland.

There could also be the potential in the future for high-speed “spurs” elsewhere, for example to south Wales, he said.

As with the proposed Scotland extension, the future potential for a “high-speed spur” to south Wales, is effectively nil. Because there’s too much existing capacity — and nowhere near enough demand — to justify the investment.

Written by beleben

February 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2, Planning, Politics

Tagged with ,