Archive for November 2013
Instead of “nonsensical talk about trying to upgrade the existing 175-year-old railway infrastructure”, would it not be better to follow Baroness Kramer’s advice (wrote Railnews’s editorial director Alan Marshall on the Go HS2 weblog).
[Susan Kramer quoted by Alan Marshall]
“Let us protect the Victorian spirit that built our railroads,” she said, “but let us look for an infrastructure that is not Victorian but modern and 21st-century so that we can build the economy of the future.”
London St Pancras, which was ‘upgraded’ for HS1 trains, is 145 years old, and parts of the Midland route from St Pancras to Derby, are older still. But the Midland is being electrified as part of a multi-billion pound upgrade — which Railnews is apparently in favour of. So what point Mr Marshall was making, or why Ms Kramer used the American term ‘railroad’, is not clear. For some reason, Mr Marshall also mentioned former chancellor Norman Lamont, who is apparently opposed to HS2.
Instead of listening to economists like Dr Richard Wellings of the Institute of Economic Affairs — “who forecast HS2 could cost £80 billion by including the price of building another Crossrail in London and a new line to Liverpool that is not even planned — perhaps we should note that HS2 Ltd has actually reduced the expected cost of building the first stage from London to Lichfield, and the branch line into Birmingham”, claimed Mr Marshall.
[…]At the close of the recent House of Lords debate Transport Minister Baroness Kramer said HS2 Ltd “now estimates that, without any contingency, it could bring in phase 1 at £15.6 billion.” However, she added, the Transport Secretary had decided to include “a little contingency” — 10 per cent — so the target budget for the first stage, extending over some 150 miles and including more than half the route in tunnels or deep cuttings, is now £17.16 billion. This could be reduced further after Sir David Higgins takes charge of the project next year and, as Lord Heseltine proposed, there is the opportunity to offset perhaps £5 billion of the cost of stage 1 by negotiating a 30-year concession with a private sector infrastructure manager, as has happened with HS1.
The claim that HS2 Ltd have costs under control is not particularly persuasive.
But the notion that HS2 could involve total expenditures of around £80 billion, is quite plausible. There is bound to be strong pressure for additional mitigation of various sorts, and add-on funding for developments attached to the HS2 project. For example, schemes such as the recently proposed Birmingham — Bickenhill — Coventry Midland Metro (£800 million at the very least) could have no other purpose than attempt to provide local access to the proposed HS2 ‘parkway’ station. And the costs of additional commuter trains for Milton Keynes (so-called-released-capacity) are not in the October 2013 ‘e-Conomic’ case. Of course, the value of “a 30-year concession” to a private sector infrastructure manager is entirely dependent on the levels of guaranteed track access fees over the concession period. A large proportion, possibly a majority, of those track access fees would be from government subsidies.
HS2 Digest, an ‘offshoot’ of the Beleben blog, features additional coverage of HS2 issues.
Even today, parts of the West Coast Mainline are full, and unable to carry any more trains, according to a post on the tumblr blog ‘hs2northsouthrailline’ carrying the name of transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin.
[25 November 2013]
[…] After both the Commons and the Lords gave overwhelming cross party support for the HS2 Paving Act recently, the high speed rail programme has taken another huge step forward today with the publication of the phase one hybrid bill. This is effectively the government’s planning application for HS2, to give us powers to build and run the railway between London and Birmingham. It is a significant milestone for the project, and one which moves the focus of the HS2 debate from ambition to reality, and from concept to delivery.
Once Royal Assent has been given, we expect to start construction in 2017. That date cannot come too soon because we are already in urgent need of the extra capacity that HS2 will provide.
But I also want opponents of HS2 to consider what we would do as an alternative. We face a very real capacity crisis in this country, and any further short term measures to patch up the current railway would only delay the need for a bigger commitment by a few years, costing us even more in the long run.
Unsurprisingly enough, the hs2northsouthrailline blogpost didn’t identify which parts of the West Coast Main Line are currently ‘full’. Certainly, the Euston — Milton Keynes section is not full (otherwise the forthcoming London Midland Project 110 path increase could not happen). The idea that HS2 provides rail capacity when and where it is most needed, or avoids ‘patching up’ the current railway, has no basis in reality. According to a spokesman for rail industry body the Rail Delivery Group,
[‘HS2 Bill: Parliament gets first glimpse of high speed rail ‘planning application’ as MPs are warned to keep costs down’, Adam Withnall, The Independent, 25 Nov 2013]
“There are a million more services and half a billion more passengers on the railway this year than there were a decade ago. By 2020, a further 400 million journeys will be made annually.
HS2 cannot enable 400 million more journeys to be accommodated on the rail network by 2020. It wouldn’t open until 2026, and in any case, most of those extra journeys would be short distance, and not on lines supposedly relieved by HS2. The whole project is based on misunderstanding and misinformation, and is being driven forward by special interests.
One of the most disconcerting aspects of the HS2 rail project is the lack of knowledge of politicians discussing and implementing it. For example, at a recent Birmingham city council committee meeting, Edgbaston councillor Deirdre Alden was dismayed to discover that the proposed HS2 trains from London to Birmingham were not additional to the existing West Coast Main Line services.
(HS2 Ltd’s October 2013 modelled service pattern shows intercity services on West Coast cut from 11 per hour in 2009, to 3 per hour in 2033.)
Another example of misunderstanding was provided by minister of state for transport Susan Kramer’s speech on 21 October 2013.
[speech by Susan Kramer, 21 October 2013]
[…] The overhead wiring on the West Coast line is getting on for 50 years old.
The ’50 years old overhead wires’ claim has also turned up in ‘Railnews‘. HS2 misinformation is being propagated in sections of the railway press (especially Railnews and Rail Magazine), and fed to clueless politicians by staff at HS2 Ltd.
According to the government, the HS2 high speed rail project is intended to help “rebalance Britain’s economy” and benefit ‘the regions’ by allowing businesses to locate outside of London. If the £50 billion Y network were built,
- Manchester would be about as ‘close’ to London as Coventry is today
- and Leeds would be as close to London, as Birmingham is now
in terms of journey time.
So one might expect the company managing the HS2 project to be based somewhere outside the capital, but with good rail connections to it — Birmingham, or Coventry, for example.
But HS2 Ltd is based at Eland House in central London. And as of 31 October 2013, HS2 Ltd employed 557 people, of whom 550 were based in London and seven in Birmingham, said transport minister Robert Goodwill.
On the basis of cost-benefit analysis, HS2 doesn’t wash its face, as the cost is too high and the benefits, in many cases, are spurious (wrote Larry Elliott, The Guardian’s economics editor). It is a gravy train for the construction sector, lawyers, transport consultants, bureaucrats and the rich people who will be able to afford it; and the misery line for just about everybody else.
[‘HS2 will be more London gravy train than locomotive of regional growth’, The Guardian, 24 Nov 2013]
[…] Supporters of HS2 say that cost-benefit analysis is too narrow a way of looking at the project because it does not capture the need to build more capacity on the rail network.
HS2 will help cope with the threat of overcrowding. But so too would alternative solutions, including upgrading existing lines. Economists use a concept called “opportunity cost” in these circumstances. This takes into account alternative uses of the £40bn-plus cost of HS2 to see whether it could be better spent.
Mr Elliott’s use of the term “misery line” is apposite. Spending £50 billion on a passenger-only rail line between London and three provincial cities is bound to mean more crowding on Britain’s most-used commuter railways (in south and east London). And the capacity released from HS2 on existing lines for cargo is pitiful. So there are big carbon opportunity costs from sacrificing higher capacity railfreight options for HS2, such as the ‘Eastern Freight Corridor’ concept (using the GN/GE Joint Line), and dual-purpose Great Central reactivation from Ashendon to Leicester.
According to HS2 Ltd spokesman Ben Ruse, “we must be clear that HS2 will yield hugely significant benefits while addressing the cripplingly strained transport network. Those that oppose HS2 are risking the very future of the country.”
The idea that people that oppose HS2 ‘are risking the very future of the country’ is nonsense. HS2 is a political project that benefits special interests, not the national interest. There is no transport need for HS2, and in cost benefit terms, far better investment options are available.
On other intercity routes, faster journeys and more seats are being provided by modernisation based around the existing infrastructure. On 18 July 2013 transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin confirmed a £1.2 billion order for 270 “state of the art” IEP intercity carriages for the East Coast Main Line, to be “manufactured in Britain” by Hitachi Rail Europe.
Even though the IEP design is not particularly ‘state of the art’, it provides a fairly large seating increase. Most of the capacity increase comes from not having engines above floor level (as in the Class 43 InterCity125) and using longer carriages (reducing the total vestibule area).
On journeys such as Edinburgh — London, the journey time improvement with IEP is lower than would have been the case with tilting trains. The press release gave figures for the predicted average reductions in ‘typical’ journey times (in minutes) on East Coast and Great Western delivered by a combination of “revised timetabling and increased performance” of the IEP (‘Class 800’) trains.
from / to Kings Cross
Year 2013 With IEP Saving Peterborough 45 43 2 Doncaster 96 92 4 Leeds 132 126 6 York 113 104 9 Newcastle 172 155 17 Edinburgh 263 245 18 Great Western, from / to Paddington Reading 25 23 2 Oxford 58 53 5 Worcester Shrub Hill 139 120 19 Cheltenham Spa 135 112 23 Bristol Parkway 81 71 10 Bath Spa 87 79 8 Bristol Temple Meads 105 83 22 Cardiff 121 104 17 Swansea 178 159 19
The IEP journey time reduction to Bristol (the busiest non-London destination on Great Western) of 22 minutes, is about the same as that from the destructive and very costly (£20 billion) HS2 from London to Birmingham. The Curzon Street HS2 station is at least ten minutes further away from Birmingham’s civic quarter (Victoria Square) than New Street station.
Even with the non-tilting IEPs, the London — Edinburgh train time is shown as reduced by 18 minutes, to 4 hours 5 minutes. The gains from further reducing the journey time by spending £50,000,000,000 on the Y network, cannot be justified, because of the low demand.