beleben

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The failure to analyse

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The House of Commons transport committee is dominated by pro-HS2 MPs, so it should come as no surprise to find its December 2013 report High speed rail: on track? failing to effectively analyse capacity and connectivity.

Committee ‘chair’ Louise Ellman is a longtime supporter of high speed rail, but her academic background (Sociology and History at Hull University and Social Administration at York University) is perhaps not ideal for passing judgment on rail project feasibility, or economic forecasts.

[‘High speed rail: on track?’, 9 December 2013]

[…we] stand by our conclusion that HS2 is needed to provide a long-term increase in the capacity of the railway and that alternative proposals to increase capacity are not sufficient to accommodate long-term forecast demand.
[…]
10. None of the arguments which challenge the capacity argument for HS2 is new: we discussed them all in our 2011 report. For example, we pressed Network Rail to explain what it meant for a rail line to be “full” and were told that it meant that demand for additional train paths at peak times could not be met. It is not necessary for every train leaving and arriving at Euston to be full for there to be a capacity problem with the West Coast Main Line.

There are “capacity problems” on lots of roads and railways in Britain. Those on West Coast are nothing particularly special, and certainly nowhere near serious enough to justify expenditure in the £40 to £50 billion range. There is a lot of unused capacity on West Coast — even in the peaks.

Most of the demand, and crowding, is on journeys wholly south of Milton Keynes. In general, WCML crowding can be traced to inefficient path utilisation, and in the case of London Midland, shortage of rolling stock.

On other corridors, capacity problems are far more pressing. But no-one is offering their commuters £50 billion of completely new railway just to take away some of their long distance traffic.

11. The key issue is whether there are cheaper alternatives to HS2 which could meet forecast future demand. We analysed the package of alternative measures put forward by 51m, a group of local authorities challenging HS2, and found that although it might meet forecast average daily demand in 2043 it would not be able to accommodate higher growth or deal with peak period crowding. We concluded that HS2 would provide a step change in capacity that would improve the connectivity of some of the UK’s largest cities and free up space on the West Coast Main Line for commuter and freight traffic.

Spreading investment across existing lines would provide greater capacity uplift than HS2, and in a shorter timespan.

  • In 2033, HS2 would provide 11 long distance high speed (LDHS) paths to West Coast destinations, with 3 LDHS paths being retained on the classic line. So the net increase in West Coast LDHS (HS2 + retained WCML) paths over the year 2009 baseline is just 3.
  • On the evidence available, at least 3 of the 11 HS2 paths to West Coast destinations would be formed with half trains (of lower capacity than an 11-car Pendolino).
  • By far the largest flows on Intercity West Coast are London — Manchester, and London — Birmingham.
  • In HS2 stage one (2026) capacity on the London — Manchester service is more likely to decrease than increase (as a result of using 200-metre classic compatible trainsets).
  • For both the Manchester and Birmingham flows, scalable capacity uplift options, using the existing line, are available, and implementable well before 2026.
  • Those uplift options can provide the same capacity uplift in the peak as that provided by HS2.
  • The average number of passengers on a Virgin Train was just 167 (Stephen Hammond MP revealed in October 2013).

[…] 13. Recently, Network Rail published an analysis of the work required to upgrade the East Coast, West Coast and Midland Main Lines, as an alternative package to HS2. The headline from this work, quoted by the Government in its evidence to us, was that this work would entail 14 years of weekend line closures. 51m pointed out that some of this work is due to go ahead anyway; closures could be concurrent rather than sequential; and there are less disruptive alternatives to weekend closures for engineering work. The HS2 Action Alliance described the analysis as a “complete fabrication”. However, this debate should not obscure the central issue. Even if existing lines could be upgraded more easily than Network Rail and the Government think, they would not provide anything like the extra capacity of HS2.

The capacity addable from HS2 is constrained both by the long two track section from Old Oak to Bickenhill, and the unnecessarily high linespeed. By spreading investment over existing lines, capacity can be increased faster, and further, than with HS2.

A particular weakness of the HS2 investment is the low railfreight capacity uplift. According to the Strategic Case, just 20 additional North – South freight paths would be freed on the legacy track.

The committee’s limited understanding of economic appraisal was evident during questioning of KPMG’s Lewis Atter and Richard Threlfall, and from comments in the ‘High speed rail: on track?’ report.

We recommend that the Government review the appropriateness of applying its standard appraisal methodology to large projects with national significance, with the aim of ensuring that the appraisal of such projects in future is not unduly based on benefits accruing to individual travellers rather than wider society.

Cost-benefit analysis is already intended to capture benefits to wider society. Tilting the methodology for ‘large projects’, or to suit outcomes preferred by Louise Ellman, makes no sense.

We recommend that, as soon as possible after receiving the Growth Taskforce’s report, the Government publish a strategy for ensuring that UK firms and workers gain maximum benefit from HS2, building on current experience with the Crossrail project. This work should help ensure that the benefits of HS2 are spread throughout the UK and are seen to be relevant to the whole of the country.

How is the government going to be able to publish a meaningful “strategy for ensuring that UK firms and workers gain maximum benefit from HS2, building on current experience with the Crossrail project”? It has all the substance of Gordon Brown’s “British jobs for British workers”.

DfT’s communications about HS2 should emphasise that the estimated cost is £28 billion, not £50 billion, and that cost increases to date have largely been due to the decision to undertake more tunnelling and other work to mitigate the impact of the project on people living near the route.

It is well known that large rail projects tend to overrun their budget, and be delivered late (e.g. Edinburgh Trams). The claim that “cost increases have largely been due to the decision to undertake more tunnelling and other work to mitigate the impact of the project on people living near the route” is dubious. For example, HS2 Ltd have claimed that additional tunnelling in west London reduced the cost of building the line. On the whole, the evidence suggests HS2 costs were underestimated at the outset, to get the project started.

The committee said it was ‘concerned’ about how Heathrow would be incorporated into HS2, and what impact the airport spur would have on the budget.

It is clear from HS2 Ltd’s documents that the potential demand for a Heathrow spur is too small to justify the expense, even if the airport were to double in size. Any northern or western Heathrow rail access needs to be low-cost, and aimed primarily at places in the hinterland (e.g. Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, and Buckinghamshire).

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Written by beleben

December 13, 2013 at 11:31 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

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  1. It is clear that the Transport Select Committee are unable or unwilling to look at the facts and subject the many falacious arguments of DfT/HS2 Ltd to proper scrutiny. It is amazing how politicians can be won over to spend £50 billion (or even “only” £28 billion if that is what the TSC say it should be) without some basic scrutiny. Now that the value of time has been discredited it is ludicrous to continue to persist with the construction of a new railway line, with what was always going to be a ridiculously high design speed for any country, let alone one so compact and densely populated as Britain.

    The quest for speed at any price reduces the capacity of the line and means that its benefits are extremely limited. The headline journey time reductions relate to start-to-stop times. They completely ignore the time taken within the stations and waiting times which are dependent on train frequency. This could add at least 20 minutes to the station entrance to exit times so the reduction in station to station times would not look so good. When travelling by air, flight times can look very impressive but when you add on all the airport times a completely different picture emerges. Journeys don’t start and finish at stations (or airports) and the actual time saving from travelling at very high speeds could equally be achieved by improving the transport system to the stations, which would benefit far more people than just the train travellers.

    Conclusion 5 of the TSC report.
    “…However, it is essential that the benefits are spread as widely as possible. This could be achieved by prioritising rail projects which enable trains from a wider range of areas than is currently envisaged gaining access to the high speed network (for example, services from the south west to London and the north); building additional links between the conventional and high speed networks; and bringing forward projects to speed up journey times on the conventional network, perhaps using the HS2 brand.”

    So the TSC think want more links to HS2 which would put up the cost. They also appear to want additional train services to run on the High Speed line even though it lacks the capacity to carry the service pattern used for the economic analysis.

    The Government and HS2L have made much of the fact that the consultation process on Phase 1 has resulted in some changes being made to the scheme. Most of these seem to be mitigation measures that have pushed the cost up considerably and are likely to go up even higher. Adding more mitigation measures to Phase 2 is also going to push up the cost, and it would be foolish to think otherwise.

    It seems we are unwilling to learn from the failure of HS1 to meet its projections so we need to build HS2 to make sure we got it wrong. What the promoters want is a blank cheque and unless there is much greater scrutiny their wish will be granted. I am sure nobody wants a long drawn out public inquiry but there needs to be some way that at least the “evidence” supporting the basic case for major schemes can be rigorously tested by an knowledgeable independent scrutiny panel.

    Alternatively, I just hope that sense prevails and that someone has the courage to look at the arguments and the alternatives and stop HS2 before too much more money gets wasted. Has anyone seriously looked at the Swiss way of doing things? Design a timetable and then put in place the measures needed to make it work.

    johnma

    December 13, 2013 at 5:45 pm


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