Archive for September 2013
At the Conservative party conference in Manchester, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that the HS2 railway would make more room for freight on rail, bringing the same capacity as a new 12-lane motorway. It was “bad for the nation that travellers could take a high-speed train from London to Lille or the Alps – but not from the capital to Manchester”.
[‘Patrick McLoughlin dismisses High Speed 2 rail link critics’, Jim Pickard, Financial Times, 30 Sep 2013]
One notable omission from Mr McLoughlin’s speech in Manchester was a claim he made earlier this month that the high-speed rail line would boost the UK economy by up to £15bn annually. The claim, which was due to form a key part of the business case for HS2, was undermined after heavy criticism by some of the government’s top economic advisers of the methodology used by KPMG to produce the estimate.
Would HS2 have the capacity of a two by six-lane motorway?
Over a 14-hour period, the theoretical car-borne capacity of six lanes would be around 6 * 1900 * 4 * 14 = 638,400 persons (assuming 4 occupants in a car). For the HS2 track, the theoretical capacity would be around 1100 * 18 * 14 = 277,200 persons (assuming every seat in a 1100-seat train is occupied).
In reality, actual capacity utilisation on road and rail is much lower than 100%, for a variety of reasons, even in the peak hours. The likelihood is that most of the capacity of HS2 would turn out to be unusable. As a result of its Y configuration, there would be more HS2 path capacity north of Birmingham than south of it — rather unfortunate, given that demand is most pressing on the London approach.
In an interview for the BBC tv Sunday Politics show (29 September 2013) prime minister David Cameron said that the government had been ‘clear’ that the ‘overall cost’ of HS2 is £42 billion. But that figure does not include the trains. They’d be £7.5 billion extra (official estimate).
Mr Cameron also claimed that the government was prepared to spend up to £14,000 on getting someone a job through its Work Programme. According to Leo Eyles’s report for Greengauge 21, the cost per job created through the HS2 project would be around £500,000.
in technical terms, a business trip between Manchester or Birmingham and London involves that unit of time which we businesspeople call ‘a day out of the office’, wrote Rory Sutherland (The Spectator, 28 Sep 2013)
[…] And 20 years hence, after £40 billion pounds has been spent [on HS2], that same trip will involve, um, ‘a day out of the office’. True, you may get home a bit earlier. You may start the meeting a bit earlier. But in human terms, as distinct from engineering terms, nothing has changed. Edinburgh, a four-hour journey, is different. You can’t do that train journey twice in a day. Hence the need for flights.
Frankly, most businesspeople rather enjoy two hours on a train. You can read, write and look out of the window just as you do in an office — with the additional advantage that the view’s better and nobody knocks on your door to ask silly questions.
And it seems HS2 proponents acknowledge this argument. They now claim HS2 is about capacity, not speed. Well, if that’s the case, why not build a lower-speed railway where trains can actually stop to pick up passengers more than once every 120 miles?
Between London and Manchester, the HS2 railway would serve just one intermediate point — Middle Bickenhill, in the borough of Solihull, about 2 kilometres from Elmdon Airport. There would be three trains an hour with “up to 1100 passengers”. Or perhaps more accurately, ‘three trains an hour, with up to 1100 seats’. So, in aviation terms, it’d be something like flying an Airbus A380 from Heathrow to Ringway, every 20 minutes.
The British government’s “fightback” on HS2 has emphasised alleged passenger and freight capacity benefits with more and more outlandish claims. Only a few days ago, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin’s speech to the Institution of Civil Engineers included a reference to ‘one estimate’ saying ‘HS2 will mean 500,000 fewer lorry trips a day on our main motorways’.
Mr McLoughlin’s response to HS2 critics on BBC Radio 4’s The World At One (26 September 2013, 6 minutes 23 seconds long) on Audioboo included reference to passenger benefits.
[4 min 45 sec] “At the moment, every morning, arriving at Euston station, four thousand people are standing… every day at the moment at New Street station in Birmingham, five thousand people are standing.”
It’s unclear how Mr McLoughlin could know the number of standee passengers arriving at Euston or Birmingham New street “at the moment”.
The figures quoted by Mr McLoughlin appear to be approximations of year 2011 data. The government’s HS2 “guidance” stated, “In 2011, during the morning peak, there were on average 4,000 people standing on arrival into London Euston; and 5,000 people standing on arrival into Birmingham.”
As can be seen from the Department for Transport data for the year 2011 (above), there were 3,716 Euston standing passengers in the morning peak. But in the year 2012 data, the figure was 2,821; nearer three thousand, than four thousand.
For Birmingham New Street, at the time of writing, there do not seem to be any year 2012 figures due to an ‘issue’ with the count. For the year 2011, its morning peak standee count was 4,724, on 177 services.
What is the relevance of ‘5,000 standing passengers at Birmingham New Street
at the moment‘ in 2011, for the case for building HS2?
The New Street 5,000 figure is ‘tous azimuts’, i.e., it includes standing passengers arriving on local and long distance trains from Derby, Bristol, Redditch, Tamworth, Walsall, etc — not just from the Coventry / London corridor that would supposedly be relieved by HS2 in 2026.
Likewise, the Euston standees figure would presumably include those on the urban (‘DC’) lines, as well as London Midland and long distance.
Euston accounts for just over 5% of the capital’s rail peak passenger volume. Far from supporting the case for HS2, the DfT statistical tables suggest that standing / capacity issues are much more acute on other commuter lines (such as those south of the Thames).
The British government’s already weak case for High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) is continuing to unravel, The TaxPayers’ Alliance has claimed.
[TPA statement, 26 Sep 2013]
Our latest research reveals that the Government’s already weak case for High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) is continuing to unravel. The research demonstrates that the line would not address the most pressing capacity issues on the UK rail network, despite the enormous cost.
With official estimates of the cost rising dramatically and many business leaders and politicians calling for it to be scrapped, the proponents of HS2 have stopped arguing for it in terms of faster journeys and instead are claiming HS2 is needed to address a lack of rail capacity. But the new report challenges the Government’s argument that HS2 is required to provide extra capacity on West Coast Main Line (WCML), because:
Network Rail’s own figures show the WCML to be the least crowded long distance line to London, while routes such as the main lines into Waterloo, Victoria and Liverpool Street and key commuter routes into cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds are already full
Capacity on the WCML could be increased far more quickly and cheaply by reducing the number of first class carriages and increasing the length of trains
Meanwhile, the report updates earlier research to identify the extent to which dozens of towns and cities would see a worse service if HS2 goes ahead:
Phase 1 would ensure longer journey times or fewer services to Coventry, Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Dudley, Stoke on Trent, Stockport, Wilmslow, the commuter route between Euston and Northampton, the West Midlands suburban network via Birmingham New Street, Shrewsbury, Wrexham, Mid Wales, and all trains linking London Paddington with the Thames Valley, South Wales and the West of England.
Phase 2 would mean longer journey times or fewer services toLancaster, Oxenholme, Penrith, Carlisle, Leicester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby, Chesterfield, Doncaster, Wakefield, Durham, Berwick upon Tweed,Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Dundee.
The report also demonstrates that since we last published analysis of HS2 in 2011, there has been a dramatic deterioration in its business case. There have been increases in capital costs and a number of additional costs that would have to be incurred in order to live up to ministers’ promises for the new line.
The Government’s business case remains flawed, since it still assumes that those travelling on trains have zero productivity, which is increasingly unrealistic with advances in information technology. The additional costs over and above the Government’s estimates include:
The HS2 business case includes a total saving of £5.4 billion for reductions to existing services. If those services are not reduced, the cost of the scheme to taxpayers will rise
Competition on the route would mean a reduction in revenues of at least £10 billion over the life of the project
Building a new line in London to address the expected increase in passenger demand at Euston caused by HS2 (Crossrail 2) is likely to cost at least £10 billion
Major infrastructure expenditure needed to provide access to other HS2 stations will cost a further £2 billion
Further mitigation of the environmental impact of the route is likely to cost at least an additional £2 billion
But the report did not find favour with HS2 proponents Toby Rackliff (Centro) and Nick Kingsley (rail journalist).
On 24 September, the Nuneaton News reported that MP Marcus Jones had expressed ‘bitter disappointment’ that Nuneaton had been left out of a planned Blackpool — London Virgin Trains service.
Since hearing the news, Mr Jones has held discussions with Virgin, who have looked at the possibility of stopping other fast off-peak services at Nuneaton but as yet have not made any alterations.
He has also held further discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport to see what more can be done to reinstate vital off-peak fast services to Nuneaton.
Marcus Jones said: “I am extremely disappointed with the Virgin decision. Since 2008, when the previous Labour Government allowed Virgin to strip away most of our fast off-peak services, it has been an uphill battle to get services reinstated.
But the ORR statement of July 2013 supports the idea that Network Rail’s poor performance is the root cause of the West Coast path problem.
ORR decision on West Coast track access application
31 July 2013
The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has decided at this stage not to grant access for additional services to Blackpool and Shrewsbury on the West Coast Main Line (WCML).
Extensive analysis of Virgin Trains’ recent application for new passenger services on the WCML showed that there is not currently sufficient space on the line to run all of the additional services. The proposals would have also caused further deterioration in punctuality by adding traffic to what is already a very busy route, on which Network Rail is currently not meeting the punctuality targets it has been funded to deliver. The proposals would have a detrimental impact on the journeys of millions of passengers travelling on the route.
Network Rail and the rail industry are striving to improve performance on the WCML, with work underway to upgrade the line to allow more trains to run, and the scheduled introduction of an enhanced timetable for the route. ORR’s expectation is that this activity will allow opportunities for new services in the future.
ORR Chief Executive, Richard Price said:
“We understand that many people will be disappointed that ORR cannot at this stage give the go-ahead for new direct train services from London to Blackpool and Shrewsbury. We recognise the public support for these proposals, however our analysis shows the introduction of new services would see performance deteriorate on this key route for passengers.
“Although we are unable to grant access right now, we are putting pressure on Network Rail both to improve its performance and to carry out improvements on the West Coast Main Line so that the question of new services from London to Blackpool and Shrewsbury can be looked at again as soon as possible.”
Notes to editors
The Office of Rail Regulation is the independent safety and economic regulator for Great Britain’s railways. Follow the Office of Rail Regulation on Twitter @railregulation
To read ORR’s decision letter and supporting information on the Virgin Trains’ track access application for new services on the WCML, please visit ORR’s website at: http://www.rail-reg.gov.uk/server/show/nav.213
Network Rail is making considerable efforts, in co-operation with train operators, to improve performance to an acceptable level through timetable improvements and infrastructure enhancements. Once this has been achieved and Network Rail can demonstrate that performance has been raised and can be sustained at committed levels, ORR would be prepared to consider applications for the use of any capacity which may be available.
Although Mr Jones said that the Labour Government allowed Virgin to strip away most of [Nuneaton’s] fast off-peak services in 2008, it’s hard to see any effect. The number of people using Nuneaton station was apparently much higher in 2011/2012, than in 2006/2007. On weekdays, there is a no-change hourly service to London.
In the British government’s HS2 rail project, there are about £50 billion of costs, but relatively few non-user benefits. (By contrast, investments such as London’s Victoria underground line were justified in terms of the benefits to non-users.) So, as Peter Detmold hinted in a letter to the Guardian (24 September 2013), HS2 really ought to be paid for by those who are prepared to use it.
The discussion on which designer designed the Intercity 125 (Letters, 13 September) is of little relevance to the current question of whether the UK will have the right train ready at the right price and the right time. The story of the IC 125 began on 14 July 1967, when the British Rail board planning committee gave me the responsibility for specifying in outline a fast train to counter the traffic loss to the motorways and domestic airlines. The choice was between the 155mph advanced passenger train, of highly complex design and uncertain performance; a new Deltic of possibly 6,000hp; or to develop a simple design without radical change.
First we estimated the desired journey time for each route and the revenue it was likely to attract, choosing the largest net gain. The key decision was to set aside some of the funding to improve the track where the need to slow down could be reduced at low expense. This lowered the target maximum speed for the train to achieve the desired performance, simplifying its design. The next step was to discuss with the chief engineer the maximum axle load he was prepared to accept for running at 125mph – 16.5 (long) tons as it turned out. The result? The power was divided into two units, one at each end of the train. Lengthening the cars achieved further weight reduction. These basic features were in my report dated July 1968 and were accepted soon after. Walter Jowett’s excellent train met its specification splendidly. Approximately a hundred sets took over most major diesel powered routes. BR held on to its traffic.
The point is that economics and engineering are phases in one process. High speed must be paid for by those who are prepared to use it. A transport system that lets politicians use vanity projects for vote-getting without clear understanding of the purpose that justifies some gigantic expense is something no country can afford.
Baie d’Urfe, Quebec
However, there seems to be a big gap between the imputed value of user benefits in HS2, and what users would, in practice, be prepared to pay. The divergence can also be seen in road projects, such as the M6 Toll.
By 2020, the government hopes to have completed widening sections of the A14 and A1 roads and a new bypass south of Huntingdon. The Campaign for Better Transport’s Stephen Joseph recounted that road users were unwilling to pay much for the benefits claimed for the scheme.
The Highways Agency’s consultation is a glossy summary of findings from a Government-commissioned report by the consultants, Atkins, published in November last year. You would not know it from the consultation, but the Financial Times (£) concluded that Atkins had ‘struggled to produce an economically viable option’ for tolling on the A14.
Atkins modelled the effect of tolls, starting with a £2 charge for cars and a £4 charge for HGVs – a rate based on the theoretical value of the time saved by drivers using the new road. But this charge pushed so many vehicles onto alternative routes that the vast majority of economic benefits from the scheme were lost.
“HS2 is a stupid project. It was a contractors’ fantasy sold by lobbyists to Labour’s transport guru, Lord Adonis, and then to David Cameron, somehow as an alternative to a third runway at Heathrow. […] The project has now been dumped on transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, who seems miserable with it.”
But if, for any mad reason, HS2 were to go ahead, at least London could inject some sanity into it. Bring passengers into Old Oak Common and on to Crossrail, and one day take them to France. Save London a decade of pointless misery at Euston, wrote Simon Jenkins (Evening Standard, 24 September 2013).
Crossrail has been expensively over-engineered precisely so as to take mainline trains. Why not let it? Whatever the cost, it would be less than HS2 to Euston.
Adapting Crossrail to come to the aid of both HS1 and HS2 through London makes sense. If Crossrail connected with HS1 in Stratford, which it will not as planned, that would enable trains one day to run from Scotland and the north through London to the Continent. This would correct the mistake made when HS1 was diverted east through Stratford into St Pancras, rather than coming directly north under London and on up to Scotland, as originally planned in the Eighties. […]
Crossrail has been designed as a 24-trains-per hour regional metro running from west to east London, with stations (with platform screen doors) in central London being served by trains of a standard type. At one stage in the project, the intention was for Crossrail trains to reach Ebbsfleet (which is on the HS1 line), but the current south-east terminal is Abbey Wood.
Being able to route long distance trains into London Crossrail would have made a lot of sense, but it’s already too late to provide such capability in a cost-effective way. Even turning Crossrail into a Thameslink-style regional express system (Superlink) is likely to prove quite difficult. It’s likely that Crossrail’s tunnel internal diameters (6 metres?) are not compatible with the Technical Specifications for Interoperability for high speed rail.
The only option which makes economic sense is to terminate the HS2 project, but are there any politicians prepared to grasp the nettle?