Archive for February 2016
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?
There would appear to be numerous ways of accommodating additional Liverpool railfreight, without frittering away billions of pounds.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.