Archive for May 2013
Before Milton Keynes Central station was opened in 1982, some West Coast intercity trains used to stop at Bletchley, where the Varsity Line crosses the West Coast Main Line. Through Varsity services between Oxford and Cambridge came to an end in 1967.
The current plans for East West Rail include running passenger trains from Oxford and Marylebone on the Varsity Line into new platforms at Bletchley. From there, they would run the short distance up the West Coast line to terminate at Milton Keynes Central — which as the name implies, is adjacent to the city’s central business district.
The East West Rail proposal does not represent an optimal configuration. Connectivity would be maximised by restoring the Varsity Line through to Cambridge, and ultimately, establishing a rail link between Bletchley, Luton, and St Pancras.
In that scenario, it might be worth re-establishing Bletchley as the WCML intercity stop, with Milton Keynes Central served by regional / outer suburban trains. As well as the interchange potential, Bletchley would appear to offer better options for capacity expansion (i.e. West Coast platforming).
Most of the attention on the proposed HS2 rail line costs has concerned the expenditure involved in building it, but it’s important to think about the operating costs and losses too.
A railway between London and Manchester that only lets people board and alight near a village eight miles outside Birmingham is unlikely to be a stellar commercial proposition. One might say that it is “a vanity project, in many ways”. And indeed, those were the very words used by Virgin Trains chief Tony Collins — during an interview with Danny Kelly — on Adrian Goldberg’s BBC WM show ( ).
On the show Mr Collins rubbished what might be called the ‘increasingly separated’ high speed rail model promoted by HS2 Ltd, and called for any new infrastructure to be integrated with the existing railway. He also suggested that platform lengthening and longer trains be pursued for inter city services on West Coast — possibly even for places like Wolverhampton.
Virgin Trains has proposed a non-stop train from Scotland to London, “the first such service since the 1930s”, the Scotsman reported (29/05/2013). Trains would run on the West Coast line from Glasgow Central to London Euston in under four hours, reaching 135 mph [217 km/h] around Lockerbie.
By ALASTAIR DALTON
[Chief operating officer Chris Gibb said] “Between Lancaster and Glasgow there has been a degree of upgrade, but huge potential.”
[…] Virgin is negotiating an extension of its franchise to 2017 after the UK Government last year abandoned the competition for the next franchise, admitting civil servants had botched the process.
The train operator was given an interim extension from last December to next year.
217 km/h is said to be the fastest speed that is compatible with the West Coast Main Line’s existing signalling. In the 1990s, Railtrack’s ‘PUG2’ upgrade was supposed to lead to 140 mph [225 km/h] trains, but it was cancelled in favour of a simpler modernisation with 200 km/h linespeeds.
It’s unclear what the costs of 217 km/h linespeed would be, or who would be prepared to pay them. But even with the low passenger volumes on the WCML in Scotland, the case must be much stronger than for a £50 billion high speed railway cutting the London — Glasgow journey by just 30 minutes.
Opposition to the proposed HS2 high speed rail route is growing in the north of England, with council leaders in Wakefield, Calderdale, and Bradford openly questioning the value of the scheme, the Financial Times reported (paywall, May 26, 2013). The effect of HS2 would be to make other West Riding towns subordinate to Leeds.
The low quality of rail connections between towns in the West Riding is problematic for the HS2 concept, as travellers would have to make their way to and from just two access points — Leeds New Lane, and Meadowhall. Wakefield council leader Peter Box said the line could ‘suck investment and talent from the north to London’, and ‘east-west links should be improved first’. He also suggested that Wakefield would lose half of its direct (East Coast) services to the capital.
At present, rail links to Leeds, Wakefield, and Doncaster from London are reasonably good, and the Midland Main Line (MML) is scheduled to be electrified northwards to Sheffield by early 2022. However, most intra-regional connections are substandard. If the HS2 project were suspended, there would be funding opportunities to improve intra-regional connectivity, and provide more Northern towns with direct trains to London, within a decade. Electrification could be extended from Sheffield to Doncaster and Leeds, from Temple Hirst to Hull, and from Hare Park to Halifax / Huddersfield.
Such low-cost investments would open up options such as a Doncaster split-and-join direct intercity service between London and a range of destinations. The elimination of the cumbersome extended local leg component (accessing Leeds HS2) would be an important advantage for Calderdale.
And by using the eastern approach to Leeds City, East Coast services from London could continue to Bradford Forster Square, without change of direction.
Birmingham’s Labour council leader Albert Bore has said that traffic congestion and piecemeal services meant that, ‘in transport terms, the city was going nowhere’, the Birmingham Mail reported (23 May 2013).
He proposed a ten-year transport vision, featuring the integrated development of tram and bus routes, railway stations and even cycle lanes and pedestrian zones.
Sir Albert said a draft plan would be published in the Autumn, leading to a full consultation about the future shape of the city’s transport services.
In the short term, Sir Albert said he was looking to reduce the cost of travel for young jobseekers.
A recent social inclusion report, by Bishop of Birmingham David Urquhart, highlighted the cost of travel as a barrier to employment.
Local transport authority Centro has been peddling a similar ‘vision’ for more than twenty years. But over that period, there has been a big fall in public transport use, and no noticeable improvement in traffic congestion.
In the West Midlands context, light rail has relatively little to offer. The Midland Metro Line One tramway carries just five million passengers annually, and two thirds of them previously travelled by bus. The local rail network has been largely neglected, with money being poured into an overblown refurbishment of New Street station (‘Birmingham Gateway’). Support for ‘active modes’ (walking and cycling) has been minimal. And the bus system is a major polluter of air across the metropolitan area
The March 2012 HS2 Ltd Cost and Risk Model Report estimated the capital costs of rolling stock for the London — West Midlands high speed railway, and Y network, as £3 billion and and £7.53 billion respectively (2011 prices). Although HS2 is being touted as a “400 km/h railway”, the March 2012 report focused on procurement of 360 km/h trainsets (of three types: 200-metre long captive, 200-metre classic compatible, and 260-metre classic compatible).
Depending on the internal layout, one might expect a 200-metre long trainset to have between 400 and 550 seats. Assuming 550 places, and a purchase cost of £39.8 million, the cost per seat in a classic compatible 200-metre unit would be £72,000. For the £26.5 million captive trainset, the cost per seat would be £48,000.
It’s possible to compare the (socialised) seat costs of HS2 trains with those of private automobiles (costs borne by their owners). Assuming a four-seat automobile cost £20,000 and lasted 11 years, the annual ‘cost per seat’ would be £454. For a HS2 classic compatible train lasting 30 years, and no mid-life refurb, the annual ‘cost per seat’ would be £2,400 (similar differentials could be expected for the annual maintenance charges).
What the 21st century railway needs is low cost, energy efficient, and reliable rolling stock — but the HS2 procurement would take costs, and complexity, in the wrong direction.
Jerry Nickelsburg’s evaluation of growth rates of locales served by Japan’s Shinkansen was the subject of a 24 July 2012 Beleben blogpost. In the British context, Mr Nickelsburg’s findings would seem to support investment in versatile infrastructure facilitating improved freight and passenger movement (such as a reactivated Great Central line).
But the British government’s HS2 ‘Spinkansen’ railway is the antithesis of versatile.
[Rory Sutherland, The Spectator, 25 May 2013]
The [HS2] train line, whatever happens, will only be able to do one thing: carry people (not freight) very fast between three or four pre-ordained points. That’s it.