Archive for July 2013
Network Rail has produced a number of ‘factsheets’ as part of its support for the British government’s HS2 high speed rail programme. According to the Milton Keynes HS2 factsheet
Without building a new line, even upgrading the West Coast Main Line to its maximum possible capacity would only allow one extra peak-time train an hour to serve Milton Keynes.
However, Network Rail’s “New Lines Programme Capacity Analysis” stated that the current timings of Manchester and Birmingham trains alone were responsible for a capacity loss of 2 trains per hour.
With at one or more repeating 20 minute even interval services in each hour the theoretical quantum is reduced by 2 tph.
Path throughput on West Coast is poor compared to other main lines in Britain (such as the Great Western). But path takeup is only part of the story; there are other ways of increasing capacity. At present, London Midland ‘Project 110’ trains are limited to just four carriages, but most platforms between Milton Keynes and London were lengthened to take 12 carriages.
Six people were killed and nearly two hundred injured on 12 July 2013, in France’s most serious rail accident in two decades, at Brétigny in the Paris suburbs.
La SNCF a identifié l’origine du déraillement du train. Cette catastrophe tombe au pire moment, alors que de nombreux experts soulignent que la grande vitesse a été développée au dépend des réseaux classiques.
L’accident de Brétigny pourrait définitivement sonner le glas de la politique dite du « tout TGV ». Le tournant était amorcé depuis longtemps, grosso modo depuis le rapport Rivier de 2005 et le plan de modernisation de 2008, mais il n’est assumé comme priorité politique que depuis le discours de Jean-Marc Ayrault du 9 juillet. Brétigny rend irréversible la priorité donnée à la modernisation.
By developing existing rail lines, intra-regional connectivity could be improved. The one seat ride, a key feature of the RP6 concept, would allow no-change journeys between Bradford and Peterborough, Stoke-on-Trent and Bolton, and Shrewsbury and Coventry. By contrast, the HS2 concept requires travellers to change trains more often, as a result of the small number of access points (1 in the West Midlands Urban Area, 1 in West Yorkshire, and 2 in Greater Manchester).
HS2 is designed to connect Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds to London, and so panders to the idea of Londoncentricity. The “need” to travel to London is a result of decades of public and private policy and cash to centralise functions there and to avoid the idea that Newcastle upon Tyne, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool could operate as high-level attractive financial, cultural, corporate HQ and media centres, just as Frankfurt, Munich and Hamburg do in Germany.
[J Whitelegg, 29 Apr 2009]
Supporters of HSR talk about a total bill of £11 bn from public funds. This is likely to be a considerable underestimate, but even if correct it is a huge commitment to something regressive.
Britain’s East Coast Main Line (ECML) is one of two railways linking London to the Scottish central belt. Like the West Coast Main Line, it carries a mix of traffic types, with long distance, commuter, and freight trains having to share the same tracks in places. The last major modernisation was took place in the late 1980s, when electrification was extended from Hitchin to Leeds and Edinburgh.
Network Rail’s East Coast 2016 capacity review showed that capacity utilisation on the route is inefficient. If the HS2 rail project were suspended, there would be the possibility of resource re-allocation
- to de-bottleneck the East Coast Main Line,
- and re-engineer associated lines to improve Anglo-Scottish connectivity, and freight capacity.
Resolving the handling of railfreight flows is a key issue for maximising the value of the ECML. The GN/GE Joint line runs roughly parallel to the East Coast Main Line between Doncaster and March. Unfortunately, British Rail closed the section between March and Spalding in 1982, and rationalised the trackage in Lincoln a couple of years later. Improving movements across Lincoln and re-opening of the March — Spalding missing link are essential for GN/GE to function as a North-South freight byway.
On certain sections of the ECML, intercity passenger train operation at 225 km/h should be possible following engineering and signals work. With pendular trains, it should be possible for Kings Cross — Edinburgh services to make the journey in around 215 minutes (with stops at Peterborough, York, Darlington, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne). It might be worth reworking certain aspects of the 1980s electrification to improve resilience, e.g. by replacing some headspan overhead line supports with portals.
As well as being much cheaper, ECML upgrading has important connectivity advantages over the HS2 Y network. The ECML connects the East of England — an important economic growth area — to Northern England and Scotland, but there is no equivalent desserte in the HS2 concept. On balance, having Anglo-Scottish intercities stop at Peterborough would probably be better than a stop at Sandy, despite the latter’s better connectivity to Oxford and Cambridge via a restored Varsity Line.
Another important advantage of the ECML is the one-seat-ride potentially available to and from places like Halifax, Bradford, and Dewsbury to London (see diagram). The HS2 concept is dependent on West Yorkshire travellers having to change trains, and stations, in Leeds. By speeding up what is the most productive part of the journey at the expense of making the local legs longer, the HS2 concept is focused on the wrong problem.
The cost of Britain’s HS2 rail project could end up being ‘more than £70 billion’, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London has claimed.
[“‘Nightmare of consultation and litigation’ will add billion to HS2 says Boris”, Carl Gavaghan, Uxbridge Gazette, Jul 8 2013]
The budget for the line has spiralled up towards £50 billion in recent weeks but writing in today’s (Monday) Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson said that he believed it would go higher still.
He said: “This thing isn’t going to cost £42 billion, my friends. The real cost is going to be way north of that (keep going till you reach £70 billion, and then keep going).
“That is why the Treasury is starting to panic, and the word around the campfire is that Lord Mandelson is actually doing the bidding of some fainthearts in Whitehall who want to stop it now – not the first or second Lords of the Treasury, clearly, but the beancounters.” […]
From its inception, the Beleben blog has pointed out the muddle, delusion, incompetence, and dissemblance embedded in HS2. The 3 April 2013 blogpost conveyed a clear message on the costs.
But when the inevitable admission of HS2 cost ‘misunderestimation’ came, the government chose to ‘jo-moore’ the announcement under the public spending review, and press on almost as if nothing had happened.
Instead of playing down the cost increase, the government had the opportunity of using it as the start point of an HS2 exit strategy. Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin could have announced that the escalating costs, environmental issues, and unresolved connectivity problems meant that the project would need to be subject to an independent review.
Instead, he extended HS2 Ltd’s remit to include “helping make High Speed 2 an Engine for Growth”, and delivering “a comprehensive communications and promotional strategy”.
At the beginning of this year, the HS2 rail project was branded an ‘engine for growth’ that would boost the Northern economy. But the Northern Echo’s parliamentary correspondent Rob Merrick ‘despairs‘ every time David Cameron claims HS2 will “rebalance the economy”.
No, there is nothing to suggest HS2 will shift investment North, but, to repeat, that is not the purpose of the project – which is more trains.
Network Rail explored the alternative of upgrades to the existing East and West coast lines – and utterly demolished them. They would:
 Fail to solve the predicted “capacity gap” on the East Coast line;
 Fail to meet demand for extra commuter services in the South;
 Fail to shift freight traffic off roads and on to rail;
 Require the ripping apart of London’s Euston station, to lengthen platforms – causing massive disruption;
 Require a “sustained period of regular disruption” on the East and West coast routes;
 “Severely worsen” shorter connections – leaving some stations with no trains at all;
 Increase the number of peak-time passengers forced to stand on one jam-packed service out of Euston – from 800 now, to 1,200 (in 2026) and 1,900 (in 2035).
It concluded: “Network Rail considers it unacceptable to undertake a programme of works that would cause this level of disruption….
whilst not solving the overcrowding.”
The fact is that inefficiency in the railway industry, including Network Rail, is largely responsible for the crowding and reliability problems on intercity and commuter lines.
If Network Rail seriously “explored the alternative of upgrades to the existing East and West coast lines”, where is the evidence?
The majority of the growth in rail travel has taken place on shorter distance journeys in London and the South East. But there is no evidence of Network Rail having investigated the possibility of new commuter / regional lines for tackling capacity and reliability issues there. Its “New Lines Programme” was solely concerned with the idea of a new long distance high speed line from London to the North (HS2).
Furthermore, the New Lines Programme documentation seems to have been largely the product of Steer Davies Gleave, not Network Rail. In the New Lines Programme ‘Capacity Analysis’ report, SDG is not identified as being the author. So who did what?
The fundamental problem with HS2 is that the scheme was drawn up without any detailed assessment of the need for it, wrote Christian Wolmar in the Evening Standard (9 July 2013).
Yes, trains heading north out of Euston are sometimes full but there is plenty of space left on most of them, as anyone travelling on expensive peak services can testify.
Much of the overcrowding is a result of Virgin Trains’ policy of not allowing Milton Keynes commuters to use their services and of allowing off-peak travellers on cheaper tickets to travel only after 7pm. There is also far too high a proportion of first-class accommodation, making up four out of nine carriages (now 11 on some trains).
Another cause of capacity and reliability problems is Network Rail inefficiency. On the West Coast Main Line (WCML), the largest long distance passenger flows are between
- London and Birmingham, and
- London and Manchester.
The HS2 scheme would provide three very high speed services per direction per hour between London and Manchester, with ‘up to’ 3,300 seats.
According to Network Rail’s “New Lines Study Capacity Analysis”
The entire WCML timetable structure is effectively dictated by the 20-minute even interval service pattern between London Euston and each of Birmingham New Street and Manchester Piccadilly.
This pattern is inherently incompatible with maximum utilisation on key route sections including London Euston and Milton Keynes Central where the RotP planning headway is 3 minutes. With at one or more repeating 20 minute even interval services in each hour the theoretical quantum is reduced by 2tph.
There is, therefore, effectively a cap below 100% by virtue of this passenger presentation and marketing led timetable structure to maximise revenue. Further specific constraints on this route section are:
* the disparate performance of Class 350 and Class 390 formed trains on the fast lines;
* the passenger and franchise requirement for certain fast line services to stop at Watford Junction; and
* freight pathing.
Given 20 technical paths per hour, it should be possible to run 15 or 16 trains on the West Coast Fast Lines, but actual performance is substantially lower. Why that should be the case, has never been explained.
The current WCML operating strategy makes no sense.
If the three hourly West Midlands intercity services moved to the Chiltern Line, there would be the possibility to reorganise WCML services to maximise path utilisation. By timing adjustments to take up the two unused paths mentioned above, and using one of the three freed Birmingham paths, six Manchester intercity trains could run to / from London each hour (i.e., 3534 seats, with the current Pendolino 11-car seating configuration).
The likelihood that Manchester demand would require 3000+ seats per hour in the foreseeable future could be described as remote, even with additional stops en route (the HS2 concept does not have any city station between London and Manchester). A lower frequency of service, or split trains, might be in order. However, if the need arose, platform lengthening is a low-cost option that could be used to increase capacity further.
The number of locations where platform lengthening would be required is fairly small. In the RP6 concept, the longer platform stations would be those served by the current Virgin intercity services (but with the Watford Junction stop discontinued, and Milton Keynes Central replaced by Bletchley, to permit interchange with a future Oxford — Cambridge cross-country service).
Another advantage of Bletchley is that platform lengthening is easier to implement there.
Although based on RP2, the 51m ‘Optimised Alternative’ had a much better assessed benefit-cost ratio than the Atkins scheme. Both the RP2 and 51m packages envisaged extensive platform lengthening along the West Coast route. However, the evidence suggests that there is no short term case for platform lengthening. In the long term, with strong passenger growth, the case for platform lengthening would be restricted to a handful of ICWC stations (those used by the London – Manchester service).