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Archive for September 2015

Decoding the ‘unpause’

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Work to electrify the TransPennine North and Midland Main Line is to be ‘unpaused’ under plans announced today, the Department for Transport claimed.

[TransPennine and Midland Mainline electrification works to resume, DfT, 30 September 2015]

Sir Peter Hendy has outlined to the Secretary of State for Transport how work could continue. The Secretary of State has replied to the Chair of Network Rail asking Network Rail to un-pause this work.

Network Rail will work with the Department for Transport (DfT) and Rail North to develop a new plan for electrification of the TransPennine line between Stalybridge and Leeds and on to York and Selby to focus on delivering key passenger benefits as quickly as possible. This is an improvement on the previous plan which only changed the power supply of the trains.

The new plan will deliver faster journey times and significantly more capacity between Manchester, Leeds and York. The upgrade is expected to provide capacity for 6 fast or semi-fast trains per hour, take up to 15 minutes off today’s journey time between Manchester and York and be complete by 2022. When the work is finished, the whole route from Liverpool to Newcastle (via Manchester, Leeds and York) will be fully electrified and journey times will be significantly reduced compared to today’s railway.

Network Rail will also recommence work to electrify Midland Mainline, the vital long-distance corridor which serves the UK’s industrial heartland. Sir Peter Hendy is proposing that line speed and capacity improvement works already in hand are added to, with electrification of the line north of Bedford to Kettering and Corby by 2019 and the line North of Kettering to Leicester, Derby/Nottingham and Sheffield by 2023.

New Northern and TransPennine rail franchise awards will be announced before the end of the year.

[…] Chairman of Network Rail Sir Peter Hendy said:

“The temporary pause in the programme has given us the space to develop a better plan for passengers. People can expect more services and faster journeys. We face some difficult challenges, and there is more work still to do, but the Secretary of State’s decision means we can now move forward with our plans to electrify TransPennine and Midland Mainline”.

But the “temporary pause in the TPN programme to give the space to develop a better plan for passengers” actually seems to be set to continue until 2017.

[Extract from Peter Hendy’s letter to Patrick McLoughlin, 29 Sep 2015]


Network Rail is already carrying out, and has not paused, significant interventions in the route to improve journey times and speed, and this will continue.

However, in order to ensure expenditure is not wasted on abortive works, my advice is that a full planning exercise should start immediately with all the relevant parties — Network Rail, Department for Transport and Transport for the North – involved. This will establish a firm detailed design which increases benefits to passengers compared to the previous paused scheme, and this will be concluded by the end of 2017. During this time we should also explore the best methods of delivery on the Trans-Pennine route, bearing in mind the need to keep the railway operational, but also the need for necessary access to the railway for the works. My advice is that commencing electrification at the beginning of 2018 (with some enabling works carried out before then) could result in delivery by end 2022. Hence while this is a decision for you, my advice is that the project can be un-paused with immediate effect.

Peter Hendy's letter to Patrick McLoughlin, 29 Sep 2015

Peter Hendy’s letter to Patrick McLoughlin, 29 Sep 2015 (extract)

Judging by Mr Hendy’s letter to Patrick McLoughlin, the MML electrification unpause is being replaced by a MML electrification go-very-slow.

There’s no information about the knock-on or budgetary effects, but Control Period 6 seems to be becoming the new Control Period 5.

Midland Main Line electrification schedule, before the 'pause'

Written by beleben

September 30, 2015 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Environment

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Shortcomings of the Gateway, part three

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Although well over £600 million has been spent on the Birmingham New Street Gateway scheme, there have been few improvements in the realm of health and safety.

For example, directly outside the station entrance in Stephenson Street, the newly-installed deep kerb is an obvious hazard.

Entrance to New Street station in Stephenson Street, Birmingham

Entrance to New Street station in Stephenson Street, Birmingham

At platform level, the station environment is much the same as it was twenty years ago, with the fumes from diesel trains continuing to be trapped by the low ceiling. No information is available about the efficacy of the ventilation system, or the levels of diesel pollutants on the platforms.

Equally problematic for fumes is the confined space of the Hill Street Drop and Go, which is used by large numbers of diesel vehicles, including taxis.

Birmingham New Street Drop and Go, entrance

Written by beleben

September 30, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Birmingham

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Don’t mention HS2 to Conference

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'Straight talking' Lilian Greenwood

‘Straight talking’ ?

Lilian Greenwood, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, told Labour’s annual conference in Brighton that “as part of a modern railway, we need to build 21st century infrastructure to revolutionise the links between the cities of the Midlands and the North, to free up space for new commuter services, and take more lorries off our congested roads”.

[Lilian Greenwood]

[…] So let’s invest in high speed rail – and let’s make sure it can be run under public ownership, as a public service: an integrated national asset that the country can be proud of.

But she did not mention “High Speed Two” or “HS2”, even though that is undoubtedly what she was referring to. What transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin calls the “new north-south line” is a laughably ineffective way of ‘freeing up space for new commuter services’ and ‘taking lorries off our congested roads’. The so-called released capacity effects of HS2 have been thoroughly debunked on the Beleben blog.

Written by beleben

September 29, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

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Shortcomings of the Gateway, part two

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Part one

Network Rail’s website states that “When the [Birmingham New Street Gateway] project is completed in 2015, the station will be enclosed by a giant atrium, allowing natural light throughout the station and to all 12 refurbished platforms“.

Network Rail

Network Rail

But the ‘value engineered’ atrium could not and does not allow natural light “throughout the station”, because it makes up only a small part of the roof. At platform level, there is probably less natural light than there was before (because parts of the tracks on the eastern side of the station were decked over, to create the new pedestrian approaches).

New Street station atrium

New Street station atrium: value engineering at its, er, best

Network Rail said that implementing architect Alejandro Zaera-Polo’s idea for the atrium “would have been impossible, given the amount of movement needed in the roof: the new vaults spring from existing concrete columns, each of which are part of a separate structure and so move by up to 125mm”.

[Birmingham New Street station review: a ‘value-engineered’ icon of compromise, Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian, 28 Sep 2015]

Plasterboard would have cracked, they say, or required 14 different movement joints. The contractors simply planned to leave the steelwork exposed, but were eventually convinced to cover it with fabric.

Birmingham New Street Gateway - Never mind the engineering, look at the value

Birmingham New Street Gateway – Never mind the engineering, look at the value

Written by beleben

September 29, 2015 at 11:45 am

The wei network, part two

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Gideon in a Chinese high speed train

HS2 in the PRC flag (Beleben)Chancellor George Osborne has urged Chinese investors to bid for contracts to build HS2, as he opened the bidding process for the high-speed rail line, the BBC reported.

[HS2: George Osborne urges China to pitch for £11.8bn contracts, BBC News, 24 Sep 2015]

Speaking in China, he urged firms to bid for seven contracts worth £11.8bn in total – covering the first phase of HS2, between London and Birmingham.

Mr Osborne also invited bids for £24bn of investment in northern England.

The government has already turned to Chinese investors to finance another piece of “subprime” infrastructure — the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

[With Hinkley Point, squandermania has reached dangerous new heights,
Simon Jenkins, The Guardian, 23 Sep 2015]

[…] The hapless new energy secretary, Amber Rudd, has been forced to describe Hinkley Point as “value for money”. She must be speaking Chinese. Like the transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, with his benighted HS2, she is trapped by the chancellor’s infatuation with big construction. Rudd and McLoughlin know that their future in the Osborne universe depends not on cutting spending but on cutting ribbons.

Written by beleben

September 24, 2015 at 10:06 am

Posted in HS2

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Fast and frequent dissemblance

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A Network Rail press release dated 19 January 2012 stated that HS2 would free up space for faster, more frequent trains on the West Coast Main Line.

[Network Rail]

Passengers on Britain’s busiest rail route could benefit from faster, more frequent trains, less crowding and better connections if the first phase of the proposed high-speed rail line is built between London and Birmingham.

Network Rail: 'HS2 frees up space for faster, more frequent trains'

Network Rail: ‘HS2 frees up space for faster, more frequent trains’

But how true are those claims?

HS2 chief engineer Andrew McNaughton’s February 2015 presentation on West Coast Main Line capacity showed that following the introduction of HS2, the number of Euston trains would fall, not increase.

Andrew McNaughton's presentation on West Coast Main Line capacity

What would be the speed and frequency benefit between Birmingham and Coventry? With HS2, the WCML London intercity service would reduce from three to two per hour (according to HS2 Ltd). According to SLC Rail, that would allow a net increase of just one train each hour between the two cities.

SLC Rail, visualisation of post-HS2 Birmingham to Coventry passenger services

It would be helpful if Network Rail could provide actual figures for ‘speeded up’ journeys, for example, for the trips listed below.

Journey ‘Fast’ journey
time in 2015
‘Fast’ journey
time with
‘HS2 released
in 2033
London to Milton Keynes
London to Coventry
London to Northampton
London to Tring
London to Watford
Birmingham to Coventry
Birmingham to Liverpool
Birmingham to Wolverhampton
Birmingham to Milton Keynes

Written by beleben

September 23, 2015 at 2:33 pm

Posted in Freight, HS2

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Construction manager as design leader

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Birmingham New Street Gateway exterior, early artist's impressionOn 07:30 on 20 September the redeveloped New Street station in central Birmingham was declared open (although any visitor can see that it is not finished). Tomorrow (24 September at 10:00), the Grand Central shopping centre above the station will be opened to the public.

The architect behind the station refurb said that it ‘could have been much better’ and that lessons must be learned, Architect’s Journal reported.

[Birmingham New Street falls short says scheme’s architect, Richard Waite, AJ, 23 September, 2015 (paywall)]

Alejandro Zaera-Polo landed the £750 million job following an international competition seven years ago while jointly heading up Foreign Office Architects and retained the project when he set up his new practice, AZPML.

However the Madrid-born designer walked away from the centrepiece atrium project at the heart of the redevelopment of the 1960s station after refusing to value-engineer its designs. Haskoll took over that part of the project early last year (AJ 20.02.14) with Atkins acting as project architects.

Zaera-Polo told the AJ: ‘While we are proud of our involvement in this project, which has recycled an old infrastructure instead of building a new one … we believe that it could have been much better.

[…] He added: ‘The fundamental problem in this project arose from the fact that, after the bids had been awarded to subcontractors, the construction manager was formally appointed as design leader of the project. So, rather than concentrating on delivering what had been already agreed, bid for and awarded to the subcontractors, they attempted to down-spec different packages.

‘That was, in my view, a serious strategic mistake that produced several problems.’

Project data

Concept & Architects: AZPML

Location: Birmingham

Type Of Project: Refurbishment

Structural engineer for atrium and external skin: AKTII

Engineers: Atkins M&E Engineers Atkins

Project Architect: Atkins

Design Team: Retail design team Haskoll and Hoare Lea

Client: Network Rail

Funding: Birmingham City Council, Network Rail, Department for Transport, Centro, Department for Business Innovation and Skills, European Regional Development Fund

Tender date: 2008 & 2009

Start on site date: 2009

Contract duration: 2009-2015 – Mace appointed principal contractor 2010. Platform works continue to 2016.

Gross internal floor area: Lower mezzanine – 3,000m²; platforms – 8,000m²; concourse – 20,000m²; upper mezzanine – 4,500m²; grand central – 17,000m²; JLP – 24,000m²; upper retail – 15,000m²; total – 91,500m²

Form of contract and/or procurement: Construction Management

Total cost: £750 million

M&e consultant: Atkins

Quantity surveyor: Faithful & Gould

Lighting consultant: Atkins and Hoare Lea

Principal contractor: Mace

Selected subcontractors and suppliers: NG Bailey, Coleman & Company, Elliott Thomas, Martifer UK, Fireclad, MPB, SAS, Vector Foiltech, Glazzard.

Written by beleben

September 23, 2015 at 11:26 am

Posted in Birmingham

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The platforms and the trains

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In the House of Lords HS2 debate on 16 September Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon assured those present that the new railway would not reduce the number of platforms at Euston.

[Lord Ahmad, House of Lords HS2 debate, 16 September 2015]

[…HS2] will deliver 11 new high-speed platforms and 11 for the existing network. That is a total of 22 platforms, which is four higher than the current 18 platforms.

Andrew McNaughton, West Coast released capacity slide, Feb 2015

In the “Smoker’s Fingernail” Euston 4.0 design, the number of West Coast platforms at Euston would fall from 18 to 11, but the number of West Coast peak services would be similar to the current volume (see Andrew McNaughton’s diagram above). To claim West Coast platforming capacity would increase from 18 to 22 is nonsense.

In the same way, the rebuild of St Pancras ‘increased the total number of platforms at that station’, but it drastically cut the number of Midland Main Line platforms. Repeating the design and capacity mistakes of St Pancras makes no sense, but Euston 4.0 would take botching to a whole new level.

In the HoL debate Lord Greaves stated that “Some people think that the existing network can be fettled in such a way as to cater for the required extra capacity, but that would need the extra rolling stock anyway”, so at least some of the cost of the HS2 rolling stock “is to be discounted”.

Building HS2 would create a need for billions of pounds of additional rolling stock expenditure.

  • High speed trains are more expensive to buy.
  • If high speed rail service results in extra generated journeys, that would probably require a larger overall trainfleet.
  • The Y network concept is based on using 200 metre trainsets, which is extremely inefficient. For example, about half the captive HS2 units would be used only in peak hours.
  • In effect, the Y network concept requires large-scale duplication of rolling stock provision. For example, between Birmingham and Leeds and Birmingham and Manchester, 200-metre HS2 trains would run largely empty. But the classic trains between those places could not be withdrawn, because of the need to maintain connectivity for Chesterfield, Burton on Trent, Stafford, etc.

Written by beleben

September 18, 2015 at 9:41 am

Posted in HS2

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‘Virtually every tunnel, viaduct, bridge and embankment’

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On 16 September, there was a House of Lords debate about the economics of HS2. In her ‘six minute’ contribution, Baroness Kramer claimed that “the alternatives [to HS2] offer only about one-third of the capacity that HS2 offers. Consider the impact of delivering those alternatives. They require virtually every tunnel, viaduct, bridge and embankment to be rebuilt, taking virtually every weekend, year in, year out, causing the most extraordinary disruption“.

Baroness Kramer: 'alternatives to HS2 require virtually every tunnel, viaduct, bridge and embankment to be rebuilt, taking virtually every weekend, year in, year out'

Baroness Kramer: ‘alternatives to HS2 require virtually every tunnel, viaduct, bridge and embankment to be rebuilt, taking virtually every weekend, year in, year out’

Her claims, of course, are utter nonsense. Capacity enhancement on the north to south rail corridors would not require lineside interventions along the entire line of route. So far, neither the Department for Transport nor Network Rail have been able to come up with an explanation for the so-called ’14 years of weekend closures to upgrade existing lines’.

Building HS2 would be far more disruptive than well-planned incremental enhancements. On the West Coast Main Line, long distance capacity could be increased by around 30%, without any lineside interventions at all. Larger capacity increases would require a handful of interventions (mainly, lengthening platforms).

On the Midland Main Line, capacity enhancement could be carried out simultaneously with the (currently paused) electrification. The net increase in disruption over electrification_alone, would be minimal.

In the longer term, it would make sense to fix the East Coast Main Line Welwyn / Digswell bottleneck, but a cost-effective way of increasing capacity in the short term would simply involve suspending weekday stops at Welwyn North station.

Written by beleben

September 17, 2015 at 11:12 am

Posted in HS2

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Kings Cross is not a “new station”

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According to HS2’s Rupert Walker, “the redevelopment at Kings Cross has shown us what you can do with a new station”.

But Kings Cross is not a ‘new station’. In March 2012 a new concourse — structurally independent of the station itself — replaced the 1970s one. Apart from the commissioning of ‘platform 0’, relatively little of the station has changed. What did change, was the area around the station.

There is no valid comparison to be made between the development at Kings Cross, and the proposed rebuild of Euston for HS2.

Written by beleben

September 17, 2015 at 10:06 am

Posted in HS2

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