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Archive for May 2013

Bletchley as an East – West interchange

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RP6 Varsity/ WCML/ St Pancras connexions conceptBefore 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).

Written by beleben

May 31, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Posted in HS2, Planning, Politics

Vanity can be multifaceted

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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 (30 May 2013).

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.

Written by beleben

May 30, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Tagged with ,

A degree of upgrade

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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.


[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.

Written by beleben

May 30, 2013 at 8:37 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

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Subordination to Leeds is built into HS2

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HS2 in West Yorkshire: only Leeds would have a stationOpposition 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.

Split-and-join direct service concept, London to Halifax and Hull

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.

London to Bradford 'no-reverse' concept

And by using the eastern approach to Leeds City, East Coast services from London could continue to Bradford Forster Square, without change of direction.

Written by beleben

May 29, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Vision without inspiration

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Centro overloaded Bullring bus stop

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

Written by beleben

May 28, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Posted in Birmingham, Centro, Public transport

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HS2 rolling stock costs

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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.

Written by beleben

May 28, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

HS2 is not versatile infrastructure

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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.

Written by beleben

May 27, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

HS2 Birmingham blight and spin

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Labour MP Liam Byrne (Hodge Hill) has warned that the decision to build a HS2 depot on the former GEC Alsthom (Metropolitan-Cammell) site “would be fought in the courts and in Parliament”, the Birmingham Post reported (24 May).

He said: “This is a tragic day for East Birmingham. One single decision by bungling officials and ministers has destroyed the chance to give 7,000 people in Britain’s worst unemployment hotspot the chance to work. It’s the economic crime of the century.”

And MP Andrew Mitchell (Con Sutton Coldfield) has written to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin urging him to intervene.

Mr Mitchell said in the letter: “As it stands all interested parties are yet to be convinced that the Washwood Heath site is the only viable option.
Although the rail depot would create around 400 jobs, these would be low-skilled and relatively low-paid. It would mean a third of Birmingham’s available industrial land will be given over to the rail depot.

The Post story also mentioned Curzon Street HS2 station would have a seventh platform for ‘high speed services to Amsterdam, Paris or Brussels’. Regional Eurostar and Nightstar trains to and from Britain’s regions were part of the government’s Channel Tunnel planning in the 1980s, but the services never started. On the evidence available, (i) the HS2 trunk would not have the path capacity to support international services, and (ii) the demand would not support their introduction.

Research commissioned for HS2 Ltd suggested international services from the British regions would not be viable

Written by beleben

May 25, 2013 at 9:46 am

Euston Cross HS2, part three

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In my March 9 blogpost on HS2 Euston Cross, I suggested that the scheme

  • would not be ‘cost neutral’,
  • and probably require more than two underground island platforms to be built.

On 23 May, the Camden New Journal reported proceedings of a Euston Cross meeting presented by Tony Berkeley, Bill Bradshaw and Jonathan Roberts at Cecil Sharp House, Camden Town, on Monday (20 May). The story stated that HS2 Ltd had ruled Euston Cross out saying it would force them to “relocate the Somers Town community” and cost around £3 bn more than its current plans.

Lord Berkeley, who lives in Holborn and was a key figure in the Channel Tunnel project in the 1980s and 1990s, told the meeting he planned to “threaten” HS2 Ltd with a “select committee” unless they gave serious consideration to the plan.

He said: “We intend to push this forward. I believe we need a high-speed line to take the capacity of the West Coast mainline, and provide more capacity for freight. We have to meet that demand.

“This line is needed, but it has to be the right line in the right place. Nobody has said our scheme won’t work, it is just about getting the cost down.”

Well, I’ll say “it won’t work”. Inasmuch as one can tell what “it” is, HS2 Euston Cross is not a viable scheme.

Tony Berkeley has now stated that Euston Cross “would have at least two pairs of two platforms (with a further pair possibly justified later)”. I don’t see how a third island platform could be retrofitted, the hugely expensive massive underground complex would have to be built in one go.

Written by beleben

May 24, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

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Shortcomings of the Gateway

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Birmingham New Street Gateway, artist's impression of Foreign Office Architects original design for external cladding

Birmingham New Street Gateway (Smallbrook Queensway side), artist’s impression

Although often described as a ‘rebuild’, the Birmingham Gateway project is a largely cosmetic refurbishment of the city’s 1960s-era New Street railway station (rebuilt from the ground up as part of the London Midland electrification to Liverpool and Manchester).

The £600 million Gateway scheme involves

  • extending the passenger concourse into the old ground-level car park,
  • punching a hole through the old Birmingham (Pallasades) Shopping Centre above the station to let some natural light in,
  • cladding the exterior of the station complex with stainless steel, and
  • building a John Lewis department store on the Station Street (south) side of the site.

The architects are Atkins and Foreign Office Architects, though it is unclear where the design boundary lies. Network Rail Consulting’s role is “Design Manager, Project and Delivery Manager” and Mace is providing “Construction Delivery, Construction Management, Contracting, Community Regeneration, Logistics, Recruitment, Sustainability Consultancy, and Training and Development”.

The need to keep the station operating throughout the refurb has meant that work is being done in two stages, over a “72 month” period stretching to 2015. Demolition of the Stephenson Tower residental block and second Queen’s Drive was completed several months ago, and structural steelwork for the department store is largely complete.

At the end of April 2013, the Half Time Switchover exposed inadequacies in the project quality, and it remains to be seen how many of these can be remediated in phase two.

Dreary grey interior of New Street station, Birmingham

Interior of New Street station, Birmingham (May 2013)

The lack of usable signage and passenger information in and around the station, and dreary grey interior styling, are difficult to understand. The positioning of departure displays right by the entrance doors has led to poor passenger flow, as people entering the station find their way blocked by others looking at the departure lists. And the station’s entrance doors in Stephenson Street are themselves a problem for orderly flow, with people tending to think that a closed door is locked.

Disorderly passenger flow at Birmingham New Street station

As previously mentioned, bicycle parking is inadequate. There are only around twenty stands, and they are too close together (etc).

Inadequate bicycle parking at Birmingham New Street station

Inadequate bicycle parking at Birmingham New Street station

With only four disabled and eleven other spaces, the motorist ‘drop and go’ facility — on the same level as the concourse — is something of a disaster area. Apparently, no-one is allowed to leave their vehicle there unattended, but the short stay car park (on the floor above) is “not suitable for disabled use”.

Birmingham New Street station, drop-and-go disaster area

Birmingham New Street station, drop-and-go

Parking in the short stay entails first driving through the drop and go. Although there are doors between the drop and go and the concourse, they are locked and only usable to exit the station in case of fire. It’s difficult to see how the current arrangements comply with disability legislation.

[Network Rail Consulting project description]

Birmingham New Street Gateway

The original New Street station was formally opened in 1854. It was constructed as a joint station by the London and North Western Railway and the Midland Railway. The station was finally demolished in 1964 and a new station opened in 1967 to coincide with the electrification of the West Coast Mainline.

The station redevelopment led to the first ever sale of ‘air rights’ above the railway by British Rail leading to the construction of the Pallasades Shopping Centre in 1970. By 2011, over 140,000 passengers were using New Street every day (51.1 million per annum), more than double the number it was designed to cater for (60,000 per day).

The completion of the upgrade to the West Coast Main Line has seen increasing number of travellers. To meet the growing demand and expected growth over the next 40 years, the station needed to be redeveloped.

Written by beleben

May 23, 2013 at 3:44 pm