die belebende Bedenkung

HS2 and ‘capacity pressure’

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The 4 March 2014 blogpost Manner, form and timing mentioned the Department for Transport’s reluctance to publish an SDG report about “capacity pressure” on (some) North – South railways. The report was commissioned as part of the Department’s efforts to promote the £50 billion HS2 railway.

Lo and behold, on 6 March, DfT published the report, called Capacity on North-South Main Lines, and dated October 2013. Why the Department did not publish it at the same time as the October 2013 Strategic Case, has not been explained.

Also on 6 March, DfT published further HS2 “supporting documents“. It is possible there is other unpublished material.

The 19-page capacity pressure document is a somewhat underwhelming read, and anyone expecting a detailed explanation of SDG’s colour-coding assessment is surely going to be disappointed. There doesn’t seem to be a robust, or numerical basis for it. SDG suggested that measures such as paths-per-hour and ‘Capacity Utilisation Index’ are not adequate for decision making purposes, but much the same could be said about their subjective and arbitrary colour coding system.

One might ask what changes HS2 would bring about in the classic lines’ colour coding, and what colour the HS2 lines themselves would be. Surely, with 18 trains per hour on the trunk section, HS2 would itself attract the red colouring of being under ‘High capacity pressure’.

Capacity pressure 'nirvana' - neither achievable with HS2, nor desirable from a public policy perspective

Capacity pressure ‘nirvana’ – neither achievable with HS2, nor desirable from a public policy perspective

Because excess railway capacity is expensive to maintain, British Rail undertook line closures and track rationalisation in every decade of its existence. So in any event, it is not necessarily resource-efficient to attempt to create and maintain a situation where all sections of Britain’s main railways have large amounts of spare capacity. After all, car factories, hotels, restaurants, etc, are not run that way.


Written by beleben

March 10, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2, Politics

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One Response

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  1. Quote from SDG report para 1.4
    “The mix of train types (Intercity, commuter and freight) is therefore a very important factor: this is particularly clear on the gradients at the North end of the West Coast Main Line between Preston and
    Glasgow where diesel hauled freight services (with maximum speeds of 60 or 75mph, and in practice
    lower speeds because of lengthy gradients) interact with fast London/Birmingham-Glasgow trains travelling at 125mph.”

    Isn’t that line electified? Surely wherever diesel trains travel for any significant distance on an electrified line where capacity is deemed to be a problem because of slow trains or poor acceleration then the first step should be to ensure that all trains use electric propulsion. In a similar vein, why do we continue to use HSTs under the wires on the ECML when they could be used on non-electrified lines?

    Another thought. How feasible would it be to use something like a 12 car formation Hitachi 395 for some commuter services on the southern end of the WCML, making use of its higher potential speed on the straighter bits to compensate for the Enhanced Permitted Speed of the Pendos?


    March 11, 2014 at 1:24 pm

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