die belebende Bedenkung

His difficulty with facts

with 4 comments

On 3 July 2015 the Financial Times gave Labour infrastructure charlatan Andrew Adonis another opportunity to air his views about Heathrow airport expansion, and high speed rail.

Adonis at the Euston ball

[Heathrow backers take hope: the expansion will be built, Andrew Adonis, FT, July 3, 2015]

High speed rail is a similar story of prevarication followed by decisive action at crisis point. For decades, Britain stood out from the international trend to build entirely new rail lines to tackle congestion and connectivity, apart from the short Channel tunnel Rail Link (HS1). Instead we spent billions on upgrading old Victorian lines.

The turning point was the last modernisation of the West Coast main line, which links London, Birmingham and Manchester. Costing nearly £10bn, yet delivering only incremental capacity benefits on a railway infrastructure close to breaking point, it concentrated the minds of transport planners on the need for a completely new line to meet future capacity demands.

Similar challenges led Japan to open the world’s first high-speed line, between Tokyo and Osaka, as long ago as 1964.

In the late 1950s, or at any later time, there was no practical means of upgrading the old 1067mm railway between Tokyo and Osaka to match the speed and capacity of lines in Western Europe. With Britain’s West Coast Main Line, the situation was, and is, entirely different.

When it comes to railways, Mr Adonis seems to be incapable of distinguishing between fact and fiction. On more than one occasion, he claimed that Wales and Albania were the only countries in Europe without an electrified railway track.

Far from delivering “only incremental capacity benefits”, the West Coast Modernisation was designed to increase intercity paths “by 80%” (Railway Gazette, 1 Sep 2003). The value of the upgrade component was less than £3 billion, not £10 billion.

Written by beleben

July 7, 2015 at 3:11 pm

Posted in HS2

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  1. Using a 2003 article from Railway Gazette when the WCRM was actually completed with a different specification and a different set of outputs, with a different budget some 5 years later is a tad disingenuous.
    I joined the WCRM project in 2003, and was part of the Clients Agent team responsible for reigning in the costs and re-defining the outputs, whilst simultaneously renegotiating the Track Access Contract with Virgin.

    Andrew Adonis (and don’t you always want to put the adjective “bronzed” in there somewhere – nice picture by the way!) is also being less than truthful by calling the improvements in both journey time and frequency “incremental”, unless he is thinking of some very big increments. The cost of the WCRM is generally reckoned to have been about £9+bn, although with so much budget shifting and scope change carrying on, it is hard to be definitive.

    Perhaps it is because of my experience with WCRM that I am inherently sceptical of any proposals to upgrade classic lines to run fantastical numbers of trains per hour, undertaking the works without disturbing the existing railway, and for a ridiculously low cost. You can call that “bias” or “experience” according to your standpoint.

    Jeff Hawken

    July 7, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    • Had the Northampton – Bedford line been re-opened (say for a few £100mn) before the WCML upgrade, how much of the £9+bn could have been saved by diverting trains onto the Midland route ?


      July 7, 2015 at 11:24 pm

      • In the 1960s, to reduce disruption, extensive use was made of alternative routes during Manchester – Liverpool – Euston electrification, but a few years later, the diversionary capability had been severely downgraded. In 2009, the Guardian reported that the £500+ million Network Rail had paid in compensation to West Coast train operators — just during the route modernisation — could have been “avoided with a £100m investment in extra lines that could have bypassed work around vital junctions such as Rugby”.

        In the view of this blog, routes such as Northampton — Bedford should be regarded as key missing infrastructure.


        July 8, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    • Interesting to get another point of view. But I don’t think you’ve made a case for a new rail line north of London-Bedford or London-Milton Keynes, or a case for a non-classic rail line. (I’m a complete layman. Feel free to educate me.)


      July 8, 2015 at 8:58 am

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