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Archive for February 2016

Commissioned by Joe

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Apparently, Respublica’s Ticket to Ride report was commissioned by Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson. Does that mean that its costs were met from public funds?

We’re happy to dig tunnels in London, but not to properly connect our northern cities, by Joe Anderson, Labour Uncut, 25 Feb 2016]

On Tuesday, while her Majesty the Queen was officially naming the new Crossrail line, I was in Parliament, speaking at the launch of a major new report making the case for Liverpool’s key rail infrastructure.

A report I commissioned by the think tank ResPublica, Ticket to Ride: How high speed rail for Liverpool can realise the Northern Powerhouse, makes the case for extending the proposed HS2 line into Liverpool City Centre. Most people I speak to are amazed to learn that it isn’t already scheduled to.

But it isn’t (it stops at Crewe). Ministers, worried about the allegation of profligacy surrounding HS2 have tried to rein-in project costs, meaning that sensible, evidence-based proposals to extend the line to Liverpool, or to run it into the centre of Sheffield, have been ruled out by the timorous souls at HS2 Limited.

The contrast with Crossrail is instructive. Here we have a tale of two projects. On the one hand, the £14 billion invested in Crossrail has attracted few hostile headlines in our London-based national newspapers. (The same people, no doubt, who will make use of the line?)

Yet the case for HS2 – the single most important infrastructure project in the country – and a vital new economic artery for our Northern conurbations – has to be fought and refought with irritating frequency from ill-informed naysayers.

So much so, that we are left making what I believe is a compelling and vital case even at the eleventh hour, just months before work on the line is due to commence.

But as the report makes clear, that there are massive benefits from doing so, not just for Liverpool, but for the wider Northern economy and the UK as a whole. Let me give you just one example.

The Superport proposals we have developed in Merseyside will lead to a renaissance of the Liverpool dockside, with a predicted trebling of freight in future years, as we become the only port on the west coast of Britain which can accommodate the vast new container ships that can now negotiate the widened Panama Canal.

This opens up new markets for Northern exporters, including major companies such as Jaguar Land Rover in Liverpool and Nissan in Sunderland, but the potential is there for it to become an asset for the whole country.

But we only realise this potential fully if we have a high-speed rail connection from Liverpool.

Does the Respublica report actually contain “sensible, evidence-based proposals”? Where is the evidence that building high speed tracks into Lime Street could be done for £3 billion? How would it be possible to run trains between Liverpool and Manchester, via Manchester airport, in 20 minutes? And why would it be necessary to spend billions of pounds to run more railfreight from Seaforth?

MDS Transmodal, Liverpool city railfreight, 2011 and 2020 forecast

There would appear to be numerous ways of accommodating additional Liverpool railfreight, without frittering away billions of pounds.

Written by beleben

February 26, 2016 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Freight, HS2, Liverpool

Dear imprudence

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In July 2014 Phillip Blond said bringing HS2 to Liverpool would cost between £1.5 bn and £2.5 bn. Now, his think tank says it would cost £3 bn.

Liverpool mayor, Joe Anderson, and the ‘chair’ of the transport select committee, Louise Ellman, have endorsed Ticket to Ride, a report for Phillip Blond’s thinktank Respublica, which puts the case for a “£3 billion” new high-speed rail link to Liverpool.

[Liverpool offers £2bn to be included in HS2 network, Gwyn Topham, The Guardian, 23 Feb 2016]

The plan would see a dedicated high-speed line linking Liverpool to the HS2 route north of Crewe, connecting to Manchester and its airport. The link would form the western point of a HS3 route of fast east-west links across the cities of the north.

The report puts the cost of extending HS2 to Liverpool at £3bn and says the city could cover two thirds of that sum through increased revenue in business rates and employment that the line would stimulate over several decades.

(£3 billion = about fifteen Library_of_Birminghams.)

Respublica HS2 into Liverpool, proposed route, Feb 2016

According to page 19 of the report, there are 1.05 million journeys ‘directly’ between Liverpool and Manchester each year. So, if the “£3 billion” costs of the Liverpool link were apportioned equally between HS2 and TransNorth ‘HS3’ travellers, with an interest rate of 1%, the cost per Manchester journey would be (£1.5 billion * 0.01) / 1.05 million = £14.28, before operating costs (and assuming the new line carried 100% of the current rail journeys).

The report also claims that “depending on the exact route followed by the new infrastructure”, it should be possible to achieve a journey time to Manchester Airport of around 15 minutes, and to Manchester city centre of around 20 minutes. But those figures look unachievable with Respublica’s favoured route (above).

So, just as might be expected, the Blond / Anderson / Volterra ‘Ticket to Ride’ proposal is 100% wack.

September 2015 Liverpool Echo story about Mayor Joe Anderson's support for an oddly sited new station in the city

Written by beleben

February 23, 2016 at 2:35 pm

Posted in HS2, Liverpool

Particularly troubling findings

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The 22 February edition of Channel 4 Television’s Dispatches show asked, “What’s Really in Our Air?”. One of the NOx-and-particulate pollution hotspots looked at by presenter Morland Sanders was Birmingham’s recently-renovated New Street railway station.

Alice Hickman researching air quality at New Street station (C4 Dispatches, 22 Feb 2016)

Professor John Thornes of Birmingham University told the programme of his concerns about air quality at New Street. He suggested that Network Rail needed to facilitate formal monitoring.

Professor John Thornes discussing air quality at New Street station (Dispatches, C4, Tx 2016-02-22)

The low-ceiling platforms at New Street are used by many diesel trains, and the recent £600+ million renovation appears to have done little to improve ventilation.

Network Rail, electrified track shown coloured green, 2009, Birmingham area

Network Rail told Dispatches it wanted the station to be a “safe and healthy environment” and that in the coming years “they will shift to less polluting electric trains”.

But the reality is that in ten years’ time, the number of diesel trains using New Street is likely to be much the same as it is now.

The programme did not look at Snow Hill, but given that station’s layout, it seems possible that similar air quality issues could be present there.

Of course, cleaning up Birmingham’s transport is not just a problem for the rail sector. Sadly, progress is likely to be glacial unless there is a change of priorities away from wack projects like ‘Airport Midland Metro’ and HS2.

Network Rail's HLOS electrification programme is unlikely to have much effect on air quality at Birmingham New Street

Written by beleben

February 23, 2016 at 10:01 am

Posted in Environment

Don’t be wacko, listen to Jacco

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Government figures for the HS2 high speed rail project just don’t add up, according to York University mathematical economics and operational research Professor Jacco Thijssen.

[Has the economic case for HS2 come off the rails?, York University, 16 February 2016]

An economist at York has developed a mathematical model to help politicians and policymakers decide whether to go ahead with expensive and time-consuming construction projects.

The model has applications for major infrastructure projects such as the controversial HS2 high speed rail link – and it concludes that the case for the multimillion pound north-south transport link just doesn’t add up.
“What we are doing at York in terms of mathematical modelling is far more advanced than anything that is currently available to the government or most of the private sector,” [Prof Thijssen] explains.

Written by beleben

February 22, 2016 at 5:05 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Have faith in pie in the sky

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Journeys by category in the Manchester - Leeds corridor, 2007

There is no guarantee that investing billions in infrastructure will help the North of England, Transport for the North (TfN) ‘chair’ John Cridland, told the BBC.

[Northern Powerhouse ‘a leap of faith’, Roger Harrabin, BBC,
22 February 2016]

But former CBI chief told the BBC that people should take a “leap of faith” on new roads and railways.

He said he believed reducing journey times between northern cities would improve the economy.

But critics say the money might be better spent on training and skills – or on transport within cities.

Mr Cridland’s quango is due to publish its first report soon.

The chancellor’s advisory National Infrastructure Commission also will make recommendations on Northern transport.

The bodies have been considering transport options such as a motorway running under the Peak District from Sheffield to Manchester, or an HS3 rail link between Leeds and Manchester.

But Anne Robinson, from Friends of the Peak District, told BBC News: “These are just pie-in-the-sky schemes. We haven’t been given the slightest shred of evidence that they will do any good.”

She warned that the motorway scheme – running more than 30 miles underground – would cost a fortune, as well as creating congestion in roads at either end of the tunnel and potentially disrupting the ecology of the Peaks National Park.

Mr Cridland said ambitious infrastructure should be on the agenda: “I’m not claiming there is perfect science here”.

Obviously, with schemes like HS3 TransNorth Northern powerhouse rail in favour, the potential for nugatory expenditure, and environmental degradation, is enormous. TfN urgently needs to get independent advice.

Written by beleben

February 22, 2016 at 11:04 am

Bigger boondoggles to come

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Monthly interest payments on the Library of Birmingham cost £1 million every month, wrote the Birmingham Mail’s Graeme Brown.

[Library of Birmingham might be unworkable – but that’s no reason not to try, Birmingham Mail, 11 Feb 2016]

That is £33,000 every day or £1,370 every hour for interest alone. Permit me a tabloid moment: FOR INTEREST ALONE.

If the Library of Birmingham “costs more than £70,000 a day, with an average attendance of about 5,000”, the cost per visitor is around £14. But the build cost of the Library of Birmingham was “only” £188 million. There are much bigger boondoggles to come, and not just in Birmingham.

For example, Centro and Birmingham council want to build a circuitous Midland Metro line to Birmingham Airport, at a cost of around £500 million (or “2.65 LoBs”).

And the track and tunnel just to bring HS2 into Manchester Piccadilly would cost more than a billion pounds (i.e., more than five LoBs).

Birmingham council’s “scorched earth” policy of cancelling most newspapers and periodicals seems not to be helping library visitor numbers. When set against the LoB’s £1,370-per-hour interest charge, how cancelling the Guardian and / or Times at branch libraries is supposed to make a difference, has not been explained.

Written by beleben

February 19, 2016 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Birmingham, HS2, Manchester

Tagged with

Does Patrick McLoughlin “feel lucky” about Euston HS2?

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The proposed redevelopment of Euston station for HS2 high-speed trains risks inflicting years of misery on London commuters, one of the UK’s largest train operators has warned (wrote Gwyn Topham).

[Euston station upgrade risks years of misery, says train operator, Gwyn Topham, The Guardian, 18 Feb 2016]

David Brown, the chief executive of Go-Ahead, which operates the London Midland franchise out of Euston as a joint venture with French company Keolis, expressed concern about the £2.25bn upgrade to turn the station into the southern terminus of HS2. He said it could afflict commuters as much as the five-year upgrade of London Bridge.

The redevelopment of London Bridge has caused punctuality and passenger satisfaction to plummet for Go-Ahead’s Thameslink and Southeastern services using the station on the South Bank of the Thames.

[…] He said Go-Ahead were in discussions about how to manage the disruption, should HS2 go ahead as planned. Asked if he was confident that a repeat of London Bridge could be averted, Brown said: “I’m hoping everyone is very focused on making sure that doesn’t happen.”

Go-Ahead’s London Midland trains bring passengers in from the home counties and west midlands to Euston station, which will be significantly redeveloped for the £55bn HS2 network. In its financial statements, Go-Ahead said HS2 could “significantly impact on our ability to run our services reliably, meet contractual obligations, and performance targets, or damage customer reputation”.


Written by beleben

February 19, 2016 at 11:22 am

Posted in HS2, London

The longest autumn

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Birmingham Mail story about the opening of the Midland Metro City Centre extension, 3 June 2015

In June 2015, the Birmingham Mail reported that construction work on the Midland Metro Birmingham City Centre Extension (BCCE) between Snow Hill and New Street was on time, ‘with full passenger service up and running by the end of year’.

Centro, and the Birmingham Mail, must surely have known that full passenger service was not going to be ‘up and running by the end of 2015’. That would have been obvious from a walk along Corporation Street, anytime during the summer of 2015.

Now Centro have issued a press release stating that the “go-ahead for a series of crucial safety checks has been secured, paving the way for a spring (2016) opening”.

[Centro press release: Spring opening for next leg of city centre tram extension, 18 Feb 2016]

[…] Centro, the region’s transport delivery body, has been given the green light by Network Rail to run essential overnight testing of the electrical systems along the new Midland Metro route on April 23.

The granting of the ‘possession’ will ensure that the Metro’s electronic systems do not interfere with those controlling trains using New Street Station. The work will also check that Network Rail’s systems do not interfere with the Metro.

Centro’s Metro programme director, Phil Hewitt, said: “The only way we can carry out this work is by getting a possession, when no trains are running, from Network Rail and we are grateful to them for speeding up the process and cutting the length of time you usually have to wait.

“This is a crucial piece of work because once done it clears the way for us to carry out the final testing, commissioning of, and staff training for the new extension. Once that process is completed we can start running trams down to New Street Station.”

Trams returned to the streets of Birmingham for the first time in more than 60 years in December when the Midland Metro started running to a new stop in Bull Street.

But work to complete the remainder of the route along Corporation Street and Stephenson Street to New Street Station was suspended for eight weeks in the run up to Christmas to provide a more attractive environment for shoppers. Work restarted in the New Year.

Centro press releases always seem to be fighting a losing battle with the truth. Did work really “stop for eight weeks” in the Christmas period? If so, what was the “stop” date?

Written by beleben

February 18, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Birmingham, Centro

Mapsolute madness

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High Speed UK (HSUK), an alternative to the Government’s planned High Speed 2 railway, has brought in public affairs agency Media House International to promote the scheme, PRWeek reported.

[High Speed 2 alternative HSUK appoints Media House in £250,000 contract, Anna Reynolds, PRWeek, February 15, 2016]

[…] London-based Media House International has been brought in on a one-year contract it told PRWeek was worth £250,000, to promote HSUK through PR and social media. The agency said it was chosen following its work on the Cut Tourism VAT campaign.

HSUK has claimed that it has 1:25,000 scale plans of its proposed route, but does not have the money for a licence from the Ordnance Survey to publish them.

Apparently, then, HSUK doesn’t have the money to publish area maps based on the Ordnance Survey — or even OpenStreetMap — but they do have the money to pay a PR company 680 quid a day.

Written by beleben

February 18, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Rail capacity in south London

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According to the Department for Transport, “Only HS2 can deliver the step change in long term capacity that is needed” on Britain’s rail network.

However, the rail corridors supposedly relieved by HS2 are not particularly busy.

Network Rail, journeys to London, 2007 capacity analysis

Most rail journeys are short-distance, and take place in south-east England.

GB regional rail usage 2012 - 2013 (ORR)

Although rail capacity shortcomings are most acute on the corridors from Essex, Kent, and Surrey into London, the government and Network Rail have not proposed building new lines in those counties to provide “the step change in long term capacity that is needed”. The plans for increasing London rail commuter capacity are based around upgrading existing trackage.

For example, the Centre for London’s recently published Turning South London Orange report, which “makes the case for adapting the Overground model to the suburban rail network in south London”, claims that upgrading the south London suburban rail network could deliver “around 130 per cent additional capacity“.

Sam Sims, Jonathan Roberts, Brell Wilson, Centre for London, January 2016]

[…] Despite congestion on nearby bus routes and the tube reaching capacity, the suburban rail network in south London is currently not delivering on its potential. For example, while Brixton station on the Victoria line sees twenty-nine million entries and exits per year, the nearby suburban rail station gets just one million. Similarly, while Morden underground station sees almost nine million entries and exits per year, nearby Morden South mainline station sees only one hundred thousand. Transport for London estimates that by 2050 demand for travel on the London rail network will grow by 80 per cent. We estimate that in south London demand growth could be 100 per cent. Accommodating this increased demand will require the suburban rail network to become, in the words of Isabel Dedring, a “second Underground”.

This will not be easy. The track layout, station facilities and rolling stock currently used on these services are not designed for a modern high-frequency
urban rail system. But our research with Thales and Jonathan Roberts Consulting suggests that an ambitious package of upgrades could deliver an orange-standard, high-frequency service in south London.

[…] The key transport benefit of turning south London orange is increased frequency and therefore capacity. We estimate that with a radical modernisation of the network, including automatic train operation, the south London suburban rail network could deliver around 130 per cent additional capacity.

[…] The public investment required would also be significant: our high-level estimates, using similar projects as benchmarks, suggest that total costs would be higher than Thameslink (circa £6.5bn) but below Crossrail (circa £14.8bn). In order to contextualise these costs, it is worth thinking through the alternatives. Failing to provide for a doubling of rail demand would likely cause severe crowding and congestion in south London, as well as constraining housing and employment growth. On the other hand, accommodating a doubling in demand without upgrading the existing network would require a new tunnelled mainline through London, effectively another Crossrail, with far higher costs.

In summary, the Centre for London report is claiming that

  • very large amounts of passenger capacity (much more than that provided by HS2) can be added to the existing rail network by upgrading and reconfiguration of existing infrastructure; and
  • accommodating a doubling in demand by building a new line, instead of upgrading the existing network, would be much more expensive.

These conclusions are clearly at odds with HS2 tropes (‘upgrading existing track cannot provide the step change needed in capacity’, ‘upgrading is more expensive’, ‘upgrading is open heart surgery on a live railway’, etc). The number of people coming by rail from Birmingham and Manchester into London is minuscule compared to the number coming from a 50 km radius of the capital. The idea that £56+ billion should be set aside in special provision for such modest traffic, makes no sense.

Written by beleben

February 17, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Posted in HS2, London