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Archive for August 2014

What the fear is

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Yesterday’s Guardian report on the so-called September 2014 ‘renationalisation’ of Network Rail stated that “the track operator appears likely to be [i.e., remain] excluded from Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation”.

[“Network Rail joins the public sector: but don’t call it ‘nationalisation'”, Gwyn Topham, The Guardian, 28 August 2014]

[…] On the railway side, one well placed Network Rail source admits: “The fear is that there will be real scrutiny of spending.”

Written by beleben

August 29, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways

Hope of deliverance

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Yougov on HS3, June 2014

Yougov, 25 June 2014

Written by beleben

August 29, 2014 at 11:23 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

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A comprehensive improvement of the track itself

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In the foreword to Electric All The Way, the 1974 information booklet about the completion of West Coast electrification north of Weaver Junction, British Rail chairman Richard Marsh remarked that the London to Glasgow journey time had been reduced by 100 minutes at a cost of £74 million (compare with the 30 minutes of the £50 billion HS2).

The 1974 upgrade had been completed at a cost within 3 per cent over the estimates made in 1968.


[Foreword by Richard Marsh]

The extension of the electrification of the main line from Crewe to Glasgow marks another important stage in the continuing improvement of rail transport between England and Scotland. The project has involved a comprehensive improvement of the track itself, with complete resignalling, as well as the electrification of the line, so that this 400 miles long trunk route is now among the most modern in the World.

Bear in mind, too, that the train services have continued to run throughout the period of very substantial building and construction work. In round figures the rebuilding of 200 miles of route has cost £38 [million] (£200,000 a mile) and the electrification £36 [million]. There have been some small changes in the scope of the scheme, and substantial inflation but these factors apart, the whole of the work has been completed within 3 per cent over the estimates made in 1968.

Daytime journey times have been reduced substantially below those achieved before the project started – by 100 minutes between London and Glasgow, by 100 minutes between Birmingham and Glasgow, and by 60 minutes between Manchester / Liverpool and Glasgow — and frequency of service has been improved.

In the 1980s, British Rail obtained government funding to electrify the East Coast route to Edinburgh and Leeds. That ~£400 million project was also completed more or less within the anticipated budget and timescale — in fact, commissioning generally ran ahead of schedule.

In the mid 1990s, the government and the newly-privatised rail industry embarked on a project to upgrade the West Coast Main Line (‘PUG2’). It was intended was to deliver a 140 mph railway at a cost of around £2 billion. In 2008, it was announced that the de-scoped (no-140-mph) and re-named West Coast Route Modernisation had been ‘completed’, at a cost of something like £9.5 billion.

One might ask, why were the 1970s and 1980s BR main line modernisation projects so much more successful than the late-1990s West Coast scheme?

Project Cost (unadjusted) £m Glasgow London Journey time reduction (mins) Cost/minute (£m)
North of Weaver Junction upgrade (1974) 74 100 0.74
HS2 (2011 prices) 50,100 30 1670

Written by beleben

August 29, 2014 at 9:17 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Cost-effective capacity uplift on West Coast, part two

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Part one

In the Huffington Post article ‘How Rail Companies Could Avoid Increasing Train Fares‘, Henry Stewart questioned whether first class passengers on GB rail pay their way. On the (currently FoI-able) East Coast service, first class carriages appear to produce substantially less income.

[25 Aug 2014]

[…] It was reported earlier this year that the government was to pay one operator (First Great Western) to convert a first class carriage to standard class. However it is not clear why government subsidy is needed to make a change that seems to make blindingly obvious business sense.

If standard class carriages generate 61% more income, then it would seem to be a simple financial decision to start converting first class carriages on their own initiative? This does depend on more demand being created for standard class. But, given the crowded nature of many services, and the fact that first class use is normally such that it could be fitted into less carriages, it seems likely to lead to extra income.

This also adds weight to the argument of those campaigning against HS2 that an easier way to increase capacity would be to convert first class carriages to standard class on the lines to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.

So we seem to have a case of all rail operators (except Chiltern, who did remove nearly all their first class carriages) pursuing a policy that annoys and disrupts the majority of its customers (those packed into standard class) and makes no financial sense at all. Instead of increasing rail fares still further, converting first class carriages to standard class could be a direct way to increase income.

None of this should come as a surprise to readers of the Beleben blog.

[Beleben blog, July 2011]

there’s no evidence […] that First Class is a cash cow that subsidises Second Class travellers.

East Coast Main Line express (picture by Beleben)

Written by beleben

August 28, 2014 at 11:18 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Mimic Transport for London, and get lower bus fares

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Millions of bus passengers outside London are getting overcharged as local authorities do not have the necessary powers to control fares, the Institute of Public Policy Research has warned in its report “Greasing the Wheels” (Mark Rowney and Will Straw, August 2014).

[“Bus fares soar due to ‘lack of local powers’, Dom Browne, Transport Network, 26 August 2014]

Fares in England outside the capital have increased at least a third more than inflation in the past two decades […] This has hit many of the country’s poorest the hardest as they rely on buses the most.

Outside London fares increased by 35% above inflation between 1995 and 2013, by 34% in Wales and 20% in Scotland, with a lack of local competition also preventing prices being held in check.

In response IPPR has called on the Government to give greater powers and responsibilities to local bodies to shape local bus markets replicating the Transport for London (TfL) model at the city-region and combined authority level.

So, if other areas had TfL-style authorities and subsidies, their citizens could enjoy the lower bus fare increases of the capital.

Unfortunately, the evidence from the Office of National Statistics and Department for Transport suggests that

  • in London, fare increases in recent years have not been much different from other English metropolitan areas;
  • fare increases in shire counties were substantially lower than in metropolitan areas.
Bus fare increases in and outside London

Bus fare increases in and outside London

In other words, areas without passenger transport authorities had the lowest fare increases — the opposite of the impression given by the IPPR.

This does not mean that there is no useful role for municipal involvement in local transport. But it does mean that things are way more complicated than Mr Rowney and Mr Straw would suggest.

Written by beleben

August 27, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Posted in Local government, London

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Definitely not a hypocrite or a Nimby

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The arguments in favour of HS2’s Wigan spur — the location of a goods yard and 10 minutes off the journey to Glasgow — do not stack up to £1 billion, according to Warrington South Conservative MP David Mowat, who most definitely isn’t a Nimby.

Definitely Not a Nimby.


Not a Nimby, definitely and for sure

typeof (hypocrisy) = NaN

Identification of a Nimby, by Stop HS2

Identification of a Nimby, by Stop HS2

So, to be, er, clear:

1. Anyone in the Midlands (whether they live near the HS2 route, or not), who says “20 minutes off the journey from London to Birmingham is not worth £20,000,000,000”, is a Nimby.

2. But anyone in the North (who happens to be MP for part of Warrington), who says “10 minutes off the journey to Glasgow is not worth £1 billion”, is definitely not a Nimby.

Written by beleben

August 26, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Post for growth

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The first round of the returned Birmingham Post Growth Fund has opened, with businesses able to bid for up to £100,000 to unlock investment plans, the Birmingham Post reported.

[‘The Birmingham Post Growth Fund returns’, 26 Aug 2014]

The Post has promised to help create hundreds of jobs all over again after being awarded £5 million from the Regional Growth Fund for a second time.

[…] The funding comes from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund (RGF).

The funding comes from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund. So why is it called the “Birmingham Post Growth Fund”?

Written by beleben

August 26, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Birmingham

Cats on the table

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Having been unable to meet HS2 criticism head-on, the coalition has increasingly favoured a ‘dead cat’ approach to communications.

[‘The dead cat strategy: How Tories hope to win the next election’, Adam Bienkov,, 24 November 2013]

“Let us suppose you are losing an argument,” Boris Johnson wrote earlier this year.

“The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case.

“Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as ‘throwing a dead cat on the table, mate’.”

Going on to describe the manoeuvre he explains: “The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

‘HS2 Plus’, the ‘Growth Task Force’, ‘HS2 College’, and ‘Northern Powerhouse’ initiatives can all be seen as manifestations of this kind of distraction strategy. The launch of David Higgins’ HS2 Plus report at Manchester town hall on 17 March 2014 was quintessential dead cat.

In mid 2013 there was disquiet on the government and Opposition benches following the announcement that the budget for HS2 had been raised to £50.1 billion. On 4 November 2013, the Department for Transport announced that David Higgins had been tasked with ‘driving down the cost of HS2’.

But when David Higgins presented his report, most people forgot it was supposed to be about cost reduction. Instead, HS2 Plus was largely about how high speed rail could facilitate ‘connectivity in the North’. The HS2 chairman had just thrown a dead cat on the table.

Written by beleben

August 22, 2014 at 8:53 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Patrick’s standing ovation

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Tring railway station, by Jack Hill (

Tring railway station, by Jack Hill – From (Creative Commons)

In a move smacking of desperation, on 7 August 2014 transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced a study into extending London’s Crossrail 1 to Hertfordshire on the West Coast Main Line, to make it easier to ‘improve Euston’ for HS2. Instead of turning back at Paddington, “short run” Crossrail services would continue westwards over a new connection in the vicinity of Old Oak to reach the WCML Slow lines.

The Beleben blog analysis noted that

  • as Crossrail has been designed as an inner-suburban regional metro rather than a regional express, there would be problems with adaptation, capacity, and passenger experience
  • more people would likely end up standing on WCML outer suburban services
  • worthwhile disruption relief for Euston HS2 could only happen if services stopping at Milton Keynes (i.e. Buckinghamshire not Hertfordshire) were included in the Crossrail diversion.

In an 21 August 2014 blogpost called ‘Buckinghamshire is to be an HS2 beneficiary’, Greengauge 21 (a.k.a. Jim Steer) seemed to suggest that extension of Crossrail 1 was a more of a done deal than a ‘study’, and that services beyond Tring would indeed be involved. The blogpost also referenced some mumbo-jumbo from Network Rail’s 2011 London and South East Route Utilisation Strategy and a Greengauge 21 workshop in 2010.

[‘Buckinghamshire is to be an HS2 beneficiary‘, Greengauge 21, 21 August 2014]

In a case of better late than never, the announcement of a DfT study into a connection between Crossrail and the West Coast Main Line is most welcome. […]

The importance of this scheme to HS2 is that it will allow a substantial reduction in the rail passenger throughput at Euston station that can be sustained into the longer term. This will ease pressure on the access transport system at Euston – a major concern for the London Mayor and for TfL – and provided it can be implemented promptly, will permit a much better programme for redevelopment of Euston to incorporate HS2. The hyperbole still being used to describe post-HS2 travel conditions in the Euston area will no longer apply. […]

In DfT’s press release, the headline is all about benefits to Hertfordshire commuters. In fact the West Coast Main Line over which we can now expect Crossrail services to run follows the Hertfordshire / Buckinghamshire border and many of the benefits will accrue in Buckinghamshire. This is worthy of emphasis because it is Buckinghamshire that has been a major focus of local authority and action group opposition to HS2. This is now an area for which it will no longer be possible to claim in relation to HS2 that ‘we get no benefit’. […]

It is only happening because of HS2

In earlier stages of the development of the Crossrail project in 2003, the idea of a Crossrail connection to the ‘DC lines’ that parallel the West Coast Main Line from Watford Junction to Euston was considered but ruled out on cost and value for money grounds. Now, assuming HS2 proceeds, Network Rail has established a good business case exists, and around 8 trains an hour that operate over the WCML slow lines would join the Crossrail network, delivering full value from the 24 train paths/hour across Crossrail’s central section.

[…] The fundamental reason why it would not be built without HS2 is that the business case depends on HS2. Referring again to the Network Rail report that examined this option both with and without HS2:

“The appraisal in a post – HS2 scenario shows greater rail user benefits and additional revenue, such that the [benefit cost ratio] BCR range is 2.2 – 2.6. The scheme is therefore high value for money.”

In contrast, the BCRs for the no-HS2 case were in the range 1.6 – 1.8. In short: with HS2, high value for money; without it, medium value for money. The difference arises because in the with-HS2 case there are additional crowding relief benefits in the environs of Euston station.

Of course, the ‘benefits’, such as they are, to Buckinghamshire would arise from the Crossrail extension, rather than HS2 itself. However, congestion problems at Euston from HS2 would not just occur during the construction phase, because there would be a permanent reduction in classic platforming capacity.

In effect, the Y network is a halfbaked attempt to stuff long distance traffic from three separate north-of-London main lines, onto a single pair of tracks ending at Euston. The problems created by dumping passengers — currently handled by St Pancras and Kings Cross — at Euston HS2, then trigger the need for bizarre and extremely expensive alleviatory measures of the type applauded by Mr Steer.

Network Rail: possible Crossrail 1 extensions, 2011

Network Rail: possible Crossrail 1 extensions, 2011

Written by beleben

August 21, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

It’s about eighty

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Written by beleben

August 20, 2014 at 11:43 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2