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Archive for April 2016

Empty seats as a strategic objective

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In the November 2015 Supplement to the October 2013 Strategic Case for HS2, the Department for Transport stated that research showed that “passengers start to perceive negative impacts” from crowding at 80 per cent load factors”.

DfT November 2015 supplement to the October 2013 HS2 strategic case, paragraph 3.30

But in his letter to Lord Hollick dated 25 September 2015, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport Lord Ahmad stated, “Behavioural research shows that on long distance services passengers begin to feel negative effects from crowding at between 60% and 70% loading”.

So, do passengers start to feel ‘negative effects’ at 60% loading, or at 80% loading? But isn’t this whole line of reasoning a bit odd? Do clients in a restaurant start to feel ‘negative effects’ if the adjacent tables also have customers? What about the length of waits in hospital accident and emergency? After how many minutes in A&E triage do ‘negative effects’ set in?

Obviously, £50-billion-spent-on-HS2 must mean £50-billion-not-spent-on-other-things (like metropolitan transport, hospital A&E, medical research, etc).

The ‘shadow objective’ of avoiding “passengers starting to feel negative effects” by running intercity trains 40% empty — in the peak — must be one of the oddest features of the HS2 project.

Written by beleben

April 29, 2016 at 11:48 am

Posted in HS2

Aesthetically challenged electrification

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In 1981, the Department of Transport and British Railways Board stated that there had been ‘substantial progress’ in the design of overhead line equipment for railway electrification. Wire headspans and shorter masts were reducing the visual intrusion caused by electrification works.

Department of Transport and British Railways Board, discussion of visual intrusion from railway electrification, 1981

Network Rail’s aesthetically challenged electrification of the Great Western main line is a good example of the need for a re-think of design across the railway. There is no reason why ‘reliable infrastructure’ should mean ugly infrastructure.

GWML electrification gantries near Lower Basildon, West Berkshire, © Copyright Andrew Bodman, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons, CC-BY-SA 2.0

Written by beleben

April 28, 2016 at 9:52 am

Posted in Planning

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An omission of the exposition

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On 19 November 2014, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin wrote to the House of Lords Economics Committee chairman, Clive Hollick, about HS2 and rail capacity.

Figure 10 from the letter gave the seats and standing capacity of London Midland commuter trains at Euston.

Figure 10 from Patrick McLoughlin's letter to Lord Hollick (November 2014)

Or rather, it didn’t.

As can be seen, there was no exposition of the standing capacity.

Written by beleben

April 27, 2016 at 1:36 pm

Seven per thousand

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Friday seats to spare, with higher capacity trains

According to the Department for Transport’s HS2 technical index supplement (November 2015), Autumn 2014 count data indicates that at present, 0.7 per cent of Virgin West Coast passengers across the AM and PM peaks are standing as trains arrive at/depart Euston. This rises to 2.4 per cent on a Friday PM peak.

So, in general, just seven in every thousand Euston peak passengers are standing.

But the Department claims that “Standing will become a major issue on ICWC services by 2033/34”.

In fact, the indications are that by using higher capacity IEP-type trains, standing on ICWC services would be zero by 2033/34.

Peak standing would go from nought point seven per cent, to nought point nought per cent, Fridays included.

Written by beleben

April 25, 2016 at 11:09 am

Posted in HS2

West Coast commuter capacity discrepancies

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According to the Department for Transport, the November 2015 technical annex to the HS2 Strategic Case showed that ‘infrastructure investment contained within the [Atkins] Strategic Alternative only allows a 4.7 per cent increase in [London Midland] morning peak capacity into Euston over and above running all of today’s services with 12-cars’.

Reference London Midland capacity scenario Number of LM services Standard class seats Standard class capacity
i No HS2, Dec 2014 28 (stated by DfT) 15132 (stated by DfT) 20234 (stated by DfT)
ii No HS2, All 12-carriage 28 (stated by DfT) 19344 (stated by DfT), 20412 (arithmetic*) 25884 (stated by DfT)
iii With Atkins “Strategic” Alternative and No HS2 30 (stated by DfT) 20580 (stated by DfT), 21870 (arithmetic*) 27120 (stated by DfT)
iv With HS2 41 (stated by DfT) 30330 (stated by DfT), 29889 (arithmetic*) 41103 (stated by DfT)
v No HS2,
No classic lineside works,
Run 12 trains in the three peak hours
36 (see discussion below) 26244 (arithmetic*)
* = assuming 243 Standard Class seats in a 4-car Class 350/2 unit, i.e. 729 seats in a 12-car train


  • the figures given do not seem to match those from publicly available train data,
  • the Department does not include First Class in its assessment of commuter capacity,
  • the ‘Strategic Alternative’ is a “straw man” proposal, commissioned by the government purely to bolster the case for HS2. Much better “alternatives” could be, and have been, designed.

The technical annex also claimed that, with HS2 Phase One, route capacity released from running fewer inter-city services on the West Coast Main Line would allow the number of London Midland morning peak arrivals to increase from 28 to 41.

But how dependent is London Midland capacity on HS2? The company’s December 2015 – May 2016 timetable showed that, in the three hour weekday morning peak,

  • only seven Commuter trains arrived at Euston between between 07:01 and 08:00, thirteen arrived between 08:01 and 09:00, and eight arrived between 09:01 and 10:00; and
  • most were ‘Commuter Slow’ — running on the slow lines not used by inter-city trains.
Dec 2015 – May 2016 timetable (weekday)
Time of arrival at Euston Between
07:01 – 08:00
08:01 – 09:00
09:01 – 10:00
Quantum of London Midland trains 7 13 8

If thirteen London Midland commuter trains can be accommodated between 8am and 9am, what would be the difficulty in accommodating twelve between 7am and 8am, or between 9am and 10am? Many ‘flexitime’ workers would use shoulder peak services, if cheaper fares were on offer.

Written by beleben

April 25, 2016 at 10:37 am

Posted in HS2, London

More advanced than what you see

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HS2 “will be more advanced than what you see across Europe and the Far East”, HS2 Ltd chief executive Simon Kirby told Construction News.

HS2 Ltd's Simon Kirby and Beth West

[Exclusive: Simon Kirby on safety, skills, cost savings and HS2’s future, JACK SIMPSON, CN, 21 APRIL 2016]

[…] Phase one of the high-speed line will stretch 225 km from London Euston to Birmingham [sic], with a further 318 km to be laid as part of phase two.

[…] Excluding rolling stock, the estimated cost of HS2 currently stands at £78.4m per kilometre.

This would make it the most expensive high-speed rail link in the world – three times the cost per kilometre of high-speed lines in Germany and 10 times higher than in France and Spain.

While Mr Kirby believes some of this can be attributed to the extra station work required on HS2 when compared with French or Spanish projects, he believes a large proportion is down to the UK’s approach to construction.

Is the kilometric cost of high speed lines in Germany three times that of Spain or France? Most of Germany’s high speed rail network is upgraded existing line (Ausbaustrecke), not new-build.

According to Die Welt (22 October 2002), the upgrade of the 284 km Hamburg to Berlin route for 230 km/h operation was costed at just 638.7 million euro (£500 million, at the current exchange rate). £500 million would not buy even 10 km of HS2 track.

If, in Britain, existing track were upgraded instead of building HS2, the savings would run into tens of billions of pounds, and the environmental impact and disruption would be minimal.

No high speed line anywhere in the world has the specification and complexity of HS2, so it would indeed have to be “more advanced than what you see across Europe and the Far East”. But in an April 2013 interview with E&T Magazine, HS2 chief engineer Andrew McNaughton said

[HS2: the need for speed
Sean Davies, E&T, 12 April 2013]

[A McN:] “The guardian principle is that I want the best three-year-old railway technology that I can buy in 2026. I don’t actually want to have invented anything.”

So, HS2 is supposed to be both built on off-the-shelf technology, and “more advanced than what you see across Europe and the Far East”. How would ‘three-year-old’ technology, bought in from overseas suppliers, be ‘exportable’ by HS2 Ltd? How could they own the intellectual property?

Written by beleben

April 22, 2016 at 10:47 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

HS2 and Milton Keynes commuting, part two

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Neither the government, nor London Midland train operating company, will give station by station details of current rail commuting. However, it is clear that the city of Milton Keynes is by far the biggest ‘commuter town’ on the West Coast Main Line.

According to Milton Keynes council, in 2001, there were around three and a half thousand people commuting from MK to Brent, Camden, Islington, Tower Hamlets, Westminster, Hillingdon, and the City of London. Although the quantum has increased since then, the council’s 2001 figures give an insight into the pattern and size of commuter flows.

Milton Keynes, out of town commuting patterns 2001 (other London boroughs do not show, because only boroughs receiving 200 or more commuters were included)

But most out-of-town commuting from Milton Keynes does not have London as the destination.

Suppose all the people counted as ‘commuting from MK to London’ in 2001 used London Midland rail for their journey (i.e., no-one went by Virgin Trains, coach, or car). How many ‘equivalent trains’ would be needed to carry them all (without a single person having to stand)?

A 12-coach Class 350/2 train has 828 seats. So, the entire 2001 MK-to-London commuter volume would fit, ‘comfortably’, into five trains. Across the three hour morning peak, that is the equivalent of just 1.67 trains per hour.

How does that compare with the actual number of paths available on the West Coast fast, and slow, lines into Euston?

Did someone try to claim there was a ‘commuter capacity’ case for HS2?

Written by beleben

April 19, 2016 at 1:13 pm

Posted in HS2