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Archive for October 2013

Making the evidence fit the policy

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BBC tv’s Newsnight report on HS2, Tx 29 October 2013.

Written by beleben

October 31, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

HS2 scaremongering falls flat

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Yougov, Oct 2013.


By 40% to 27%, the public prefer increasing existing capacity ‘even if this requires long term disruption to weekend train services’ to building HS2, the more expensive option. Additionally, another 19% would prefer if train capacity were not upgraded at all, meaning a combined 59% would prefer an alternative to HS2. 14% don’t know which option they prefer.

Written by beleben

October 31, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Wrong on every count

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Great Central intercity in the RP6 concept

On 27 October the Daily Telegraph reported Kelvin Hopkins, the Labour MP for Luton North, had joined ‘leading supermarket groups, and hauliers to draw up plans to reopen the old Great Central Main Line instead of committing to HS2’.

He has handed his plans to individuals including [Ed] Balls and is said to have received a positive response.
Mr Hopkins said reopening the central railway would cost an estimated £6 billion and would avoid many environmental concerns associated with HS2.

“We have a very precise route, we have been working on it for a very long time and we are carefully trying to get political support,” he said.

Unlike the RP6 Great Central Reactivation concept, almost no information about Mr Hopkins’ scheme is available. But according to Railnews’ Alan Marshall, the idea of using the former Great Central Railway as an alternative to HS2 makes absolutely no sense.

He is wrong on every count.

[Alan Marshall] For a start [GC reactivation] would involve the same sort of ‘nimby’ objections as HS2. A few years ago, the line was proposed for reopening as part of a new freight route, which it seems to me is what MP Kelvin Hopkins really seems to want it used for now. But there were massive objections from people living near the line in places such as Rugby, Leicester and Nottingham.

Any proposal for building (or re-building) infrastructure, is likely to involve disruption to people and the environment.

For example, building another runway at, say, Stansted, would affect thousands of people. But building another runway at Heathrow would affect millions of people.

As with Stansted-versus-Heathrow, the difference between HS2 and Great Central Reactivation lies in the number of people affected, and the scale of the environmental impacts. In the case of the Great Central, the earthworks and tunneling are already there, and the operating impacts would be far lower too. So compared with HS2, the human and environmental impacts of GC Reactivation are negligible.

The Great Central route had one advantage over the rest of Britain’s railways – it was built to a larger structure gauge than other routes, hence its possible attraction now to supermarkets and hauliers wanting to shift more goods from road to rail.

Otherwise, the GC route has considerable disadvantages for passenger services. For example, the GC station in Nottingham is now the Victoria shopping centre, and another part of the route has been incorporated into the city’s tram system.

To what extent the structure gauge of the GC is an advantage, is not really clear. If I recall correctly, the old Central Railway proposal was for a *single track* freight line.

While it might somehow be made to serve Nottingham and could pass through Sheffield, it goes nowhere near the West Midlands, which is the UK’s primary manufacturing centre with rapidly growing exports and economic growth.

In the RP6 concept, the reactivated Great Central trunk would be connected into the Midland Main Line near Wigston. There is no difficulty for trains reaching Nottingham or Sheffield.

Why would the Great Central need to go ‘near the West Midlands’? Moving some North West trains onto it would release capacity on other lines.

And the GC route is a tortuous way of getting to Manchester, the city that vies with Birmingham to the claim of being England’s second city. Nor does it provide a direct link to Liverpool.

In the RP6 proposition, the route is a certainly not ‘a tortuous way’ of getting to Manchester. GC trains from London would transfer to the West Coast route to Manchester by a connection near Rugby.

[…] But even if all these obstacles were of no consequence, there is one overriding reason why the Great Central could not function as an alternative to HS2. What would happen to high speed trains from the north when they reached Aylesbury?

Would they have to form an orderly queue behind Chiltern and Metropolitan Line trains calling at local stations to either Marylebone or Baker Street? Following a Chiltern train from Aylesbury taking 57 minutes to reach Marylebone would hardly amount to a high speed service.

In reality there is no spare capacity on the remaining GC line into London. Either Chiltern and Metropolitan services would have to be decimated, or a new high speed line built alongside the existing tracks, including many of those same places that have already lodged great objections to HS2 – Stoke Mandeville, Wendover, Great Missenden, Amersham, Chalfont & Latimer.

In the RP6 concept, the trains wouldn’t even “reach Aylesbury”; they would run via Ashendon, to Old Oak Common.

[…] And where would the London terminus be located? I don’t think there is any room at either Marylebone or Baker Street for up to another 16 trains, 400-metres long and carrying up to 1,100 people in and out London every hour.

Where would the London terminus be located? Old Oak Common. Some trains could run to Paddington.

Unlike the suggestion that the Great Central line could function as its alternative, HS2′s plans have been carefully thought through to provide the greatest overall uplift in north-south rail network capacity, benefiting most of Britain’s significant city regions, with the minimum of interference to the existing railway and the environment.

HS2 was drawn up on the back of an envelope by Andrew Adonis. There’s nothing “carefully thought through” about it. HS2’s costs and environmental damage are massive. As are the risks, and the opportunity costs.

Great Central interregio in the RP6 concept

Written by beleben

October 31, 2013 at 1:40 pm

A case of shifting focus

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The shift in focus in HS2’s October 2013 Strategic Case to arguments around capacity and overcrowding on parts of the [West Coast] line is confusing for a number of reasons, noted Professor Henry Overman (29 Oct 2013).

First, we have overcrowding on many parts of the network (some of it much more severe than the crowding experienced in to Euston). Second, transport improvements can’t hope to meet all demand so there will always be capacity issues on the network. Third, focusing on crowding per se ignores questions about the value of journeys and the costs of providing that capacity. These should be captured in a good BCR.

Some other points raised by Prof Overman:

  • WEBTAG Unit 3.5.14 (Aug 2012 version) states “Wider Impacts should not be included in the calculation of the Benefit Cost Ratio”. So, the point forecast of the BCR is now 1.4 for LWM and 1.8 for the Y network (not 2.3)
  • when comparing schemes, the kurtosis in the BCR distributions needs to be taken into account
  • the Strategic Case rejected increasing rail fares because that wouldn’t “deliver HS2’s accessibility and growth benefits”. However, increased fares would mean reduced demand, thereby avoiding the costs of building HS2 for “additional capacity”
  • the assessment of the improving existing lines does not monetise or differentiate ‘do minimum’ disruption from ‘upgrade disruption’, or monetise disruption from building HS2
  • the ‘Strategic’ Case is actually only concerned with option generation for fixing capacity problems on North — South train lines. It ignores the benefits foregone by not investing in higher-BCR projects that address other capacity / connectivity problems.

Written by beleben

October 31, 2013 at 10:15 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Passenger demand distribution on West Coast

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Commuters to Milton Keynes and Watford may well increase substantially, and may need more capacity (wrote John Redwood, 28 October 2013).

HS2 would be a very expensive way of trying to do that. For the rest I remain to be convinced there is enough demand to have a viable current WCML, let alone pay for an expensive HS2 as well.

2009/2010 LENNON data on southern WCML traffic volumes

2009/2010 LENNON data on southern WCML traffic volumes

So what is the passenger demand distribution on the West Coast Main Line? The 2011 Network Rail diagram (above) provides some insights.

In essence

  • volume north of the city of Milton Keynes was half that of Hertfordshire / Greater London
  • on WCML tracks north of Stafford and Stone, there were only 5 to 10 million journeys.

If WCML demand were to quadruple, the numbers travelling beyond the London commuter belt would still not be particularly large. Given the low level of demand, intermediate stops on West Coast intercity must be essential for revenue purposes.

Investing billions of pounds in infrastructure for a dedicated high speed line to Manchester makes no sense. Further growth in London commuter traffic should be addressed by providing a second rail access to Bletchley (e.g., the RP6 St Pancras — Sundon– Ridgmont — Bletchley concept). In the short term, the priority should be to improve capacity utilisation on the existing tracks.

Written by beleben

October 30, 2013 at 10:51 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

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A wee bit more spin

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The Oct 2013 HS2 Y network benefit cost ratio (2.3) is unimpressive, compared to the (non-optimised) 51m scheme

The October 2013 HS2 Y network benefit cost ratio (2.3) is unimpressive, compared to the (non-optimised) 51m scheme

As part of its high speed rail ‘fightback’, the government has today published ‘The strategic case for HS2‘, Atkins’ Appraisal of rail alternatives to HS2, and Network Rail’s Possible enhancements to the existing rail network. HS2’s Ltd website has also been updated with the October 2013 Economic Case and supporting documents.

According to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, “the new analysis shows that the Y network delivers a good return on investment, with a standard cost benefit ratio of 2.3”.

He stated that HS2 has been allocated a funding envelope of £42.6 billion in the 2015 Spending Review and ‘will not exceed‘ that allocation.

[…] It includes £14.4 billion of contingency, which I am determined to bear down on and I have put in place rigorous controls, including a target price for HS2.

Why Mr McLoughlin continues to exclude rolling stock costs from the HS2 project, is not clear. Whether leased or bought, the trains do have a present value cost. There is no alternate use for the trains, and existing ones cannot operate the proposed service. So, train costs should be included.

Channel 4 Fact Check examined how HS2’s BCRs compared with other rail projects.

The BCR for the first phase of HS2 (London to Birmingham) remains the same at a more modest 1.7 to 1. That’s “medium” value, in government jargon.

The government sought to put these headline figures into context today when it said in a statement: “This is similar to Crossrail and higher than the benefit cost ratio for some other major projects when approved, such as Thameslink and the Jubilee Line extension.”

But that’s putting a wee bit of spin on the facts.

The BCR for HS2 includes estimates of “wider economic benefits” that will hopefully be generated by the railway. This pushes the total benefits up and makes the BCR more optimistic.

When the costs and benefits of those other big rail projects – Crossrail, Thameslink and the Jubilee Line extension – were done, wider economic benefits were not included.
When you compare like with like, HS2 doesn’t exactly beat other big rail projects into a cocked hat when it comes to value for money.

But note that 2.3 to 1 is still at the upper end of the scale. That’s if any of this analysis bears any relation to reality – something of which we are yet to be convinced.

Another important difference between Jubilee Line extension and HS2 is the valuation of time. The latter’s benefits largely accrue from inflated coefficients used for business travel. It’s not really true to say that a BCR of 2.3 “is still at the upper end of the scale”, either. The (sub-optimal) 51m scheme’s BCR was stated as 5.2 in HS2 Ltd’s January 2012 Value for Money statement.

Written by beleben

October 29, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

The role of scaremongering and false dichotomy in HS2 fable

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Rail upgrades scaremongering story in The Guardian, 28 Oct 2013As the shortcomings and costs of HS2 have become clearer, support for the project has decreased. On 9 September 2013, Yougov reported that a majority (55%) of the British public now opposed HS2, including at least half of voters from every major party.

The case for HS2 has always depended on misrepresentation and false dichotomies, e.g.

  1. “the West Coast Line is full / effectively full / will be full by [2020 / 2024 / 2026]”,
  2. without HS2 the UK risks being left behind in the global race”,
  3. cancelling HS2 would be an act of self mutilation
  4. either we build another similar-sized network of roads or we invest in HS2“,


Although rail commuters supposedly benefiting from ‘released capacity’ seem not to believe HS2 dissemblance, MPs may be more impressionable.

[‘Weekend rail closures for up to 14 years if HS2 is scrapped’, The Guardian, 27 Oct 2013]

Alternatives to building Britain’s second high-speed rail link which would instead upgrade existing lines could need 14 years of weekend closures to complete, according to government-sponsored studies released on Monday.
The studies, prepared by Network Rail and the management consultancy Atkins, found that the east coast mainline, midland mainline and west coast mainline would require 2,770 weekend closures (144,000 hours of work) if they were to be improved so they could replace the intended capacity of HS2.

Modelling a typical weekend, the reports argue that a journey from London to Leeds could be increased by two hours and 10 minutes to more than four and a half hours while the work is completed. A journey between Huntingdon and Peterborough would be doubled to an hour.
A government source said that the studies’ evidence should help to persuade MPs of the scheme’s merits. “We need to do something because our railways are nearly full, but the alternative to HS2 is a patch and mend job that would cause 14 years of gridlock, hellish journeys and rail replacement buses. The three main routes to the north would be crippled and the economy would be damaged.”

The government’s business case, which will be released in full on Tuesday, argues that the alternative plans are unworkable.

“Network Rail’s judgment is that the scale of service closures involved across three main lines makes the alternatives very unattractive.

“While some works could be programmed to coincide in terms of network downtime, this scale of work on the existing network would entail 14 years of weekend closures to allow the necessary upgrade works to be carried out. With work on multiple (parallel) routes, the scope to use adjacent main lines for diversionary routes is also diminished,” it states.

According to extracts from the Network Rail report, consultants examined a number of possible schemes as ways of expanding capacity.

“During construction, the effect of these schemes occurring simultaneously could be to increase the weekend journey time from Leeds to London by 130 minutes or more, almost double the normal scheduled time and possibly transferring to bus replacement services,” it found.

Atkins added that the upgrades would also cause properties to be torn down. “Addition schemes are likely to require some demolition of residential and commercial properties at specific locations, for example four-tracking schemes are likely to acquire land outside the existing railway boundary which could result in property demolition.”

Not long ago, Network Rail were saying only HS2 ‘could deliver the required capacity’. Now, according to the Guardian, they are saying the East Coast Main Line, Midland Main Line and West Coast Main Line could replace the intended capacity of HS2 — but the ‘necessary upgrades’ would involve numerous closures.

Of course, Network Rail don’t seem to be keen to say what those ‘necessary upgrade’ works are, or how they would be more disruptive than building HS2. Regardless of HS2, it is certain that the WCML, MML, and ECML are going to be subject to numerous future closures at night and at weekends, for maintenance and upgrades programmed by Network Rail itself. For example, in the period to 2021, the Midland Main Line (MML) is to be electrified from Bedford to Sheffield, and the WCML is to receive capacity enhancements such as the Stafford Area Improvement Programme.

A key issue in rail upgrading is the efficient management of planning and engineering possessions. In most cases it would be perfectly possible, and sensible, to combine capacity enhancements with other works (e.g. electrification on the MML). It’s curious that Network Rail should present the existence of “adjacent main lines for diversionary routes” as a disadvantage. Obviously, the opposite is true.

There is no reason why any weekend journey from Leeds to London should take “four and a half hours”. If weekend work were being done on all four tracks of the East Coast line, trains could diverted onto the (entirely separate) Midland Main Line, or vice versa. (Another viable option for weekend traffic volumes would be to run a service via Stalybridge.)

In the 1960s to the 1980s, British Rail removed large amounts of track from the Chiltern and Midland Main Lines, with knock-on effects for maintenance, re-signalling, and infrastructure. For example, at Bicester North, an enormous wide platform was built to cover up removal of the through lines. Obviously, such downgrade works must have been disruptive to services, but it’s only upgrading that Network Rail presents as being disruptive. British Rail did not generally have to acquire land outside the railway boundary to take tracks away, it’s not clear why Network Rail would need to do so, to put track back in place.

Any unbiased assessment of the disruption arising from upgrading existing lines would need to include comparison with the disruption involved in building HS2. The latter would would be more disruptive to the highway network, and in all likelihood, to the railway network. It would require interventions at Euston station, Camden (North London Line), Old Oak Common, Lichfield, Manchester, Golborne, Crewe, Church Fenton, Meadowhall, Birmingham, Golborne, Preston, and Carstairs.

Written by beleben

October 28, 2013 at 9:23 am

Posted in HS2

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