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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

Tagged with

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

How wasps got stung

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Prospects for dedicated train services to and from Coventry’s Ricoh Arena station — on the Coventry to Nuneaton line — for football and rugby supporters look bleak, following two trial runs.

[Ricoh Arena matchday trains in doubt after trial runs lose an estimated £30,000, BY SIMON GILBERT, Coventry Telegraph. 16 March 2016]

It is understood London Midland and Wasps suffered losses of around £30,000 after jointly spending a total of about £40,000 on special charter train services for the matches with Harlequins and Leicester Tigers.

The train for the Harlequins game in February is estimated to have lost about £18,000 as just 650 people paid £2.40 for return tickets on the six carriage charter train.

The matchday special for Wasps’ victory over Leicester on Saturday was better used with an estimated 2,000 people taking advantage of the service. But that was still nowhere near enough to cover the running costs – leaving the rugby club and the train operators roughly £15,000 in the red on that day.

Of course, such issues do not just apply to the Coventry — Nuneaton line. Peak-time crowding on rail services in the north of England mostly happens because the train operators would lose money if they ran trains with more carriages.

The root cause of Northern rail crowding is, almost always, the cost of leasing more stock. So the ‘capacity problem’ addressed by the so-called ‘HS3’ scheme, is a problem which doesn’t really exist.

Written by beleben

April 19, 2016 at 10:58 am

Posted in High speed rail

Tagged with ,

The waff of Khan

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HS2, and the Joanna Lumley memorial bridge over the Thames, seem to benefit from the Labour party’s difficulties with the concept of sunk costs.

[Why did Sadiq Khan change his mind over the Garden Bridge? He’s fallen for the sunk costs fallacy, Ben Chu, The Independent, 18 April 2016]

[…] Sadiq Khan, the front-runner to replace Boris Johnson as London Mayor, came out in opposition to the construction of a new £175m Garden Bridge across the Thames last year (with £60m expected to come from public funds). But last week came a change of heart. “It’s going ahead, it’s got the green light,” Khan said. And why? “The money [spent on the design] is spent. Cancelling would mean we lose that money and have nothing.”

Garden bridge, and the Boris Emirates cable car, highlight one of the problems with empowered city mayors, in which ‘local government’ is, to a greater or lesser extent, replaced by ‘decisions taken by a mayor’.

Written by beleben

April 18, 2016 at 10:29 am

The West Coast problem: ‘not enough seats’, or ‘not enough empty seats’?

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MVA Consultancy’s April 2012 Demand and Appraisal Report HS2 London – West Midlands included diagrams showing Passenger Travel (All Modes) and Total Passenger Travel by Rail in Great Britain in the period 1980 – 2010.

But, given the title of the report, there was surprisingly little discussion of rail demand in the London – West Midlands corridor. Beyond diagrams of all-day load factor, scant information was on offer about actual demand between origin and destination pairs.

MVA’s obfuscation of peak and off-peak demand is notable, given that HS2’s intention is to run 200-metre (rather than 400-metre) trains from London to Birmingham and Manchester across most of the day. Such trains would have fewer seats than the Pendolinos currently running between those cities.

Commercial airlines aim to maximise seat occupancy, with some low-cost carriers aiming for 90% or more. And according to French rail chief Guillaume Pepy, “we have a load factor of 83%, which is comparable with the low-cost airlines.”

Curiously, however, MVA report’s report for HS2 Ltd saw high seat occupancy as a problem, not a benefit.

[MVA report, section 3.2.11] In 2010 there were approximately 62,000 long distance passengers per day using inter-city trains on the southern section of the WCML. By 2037 long distance demand on the WCML is expected to approximately double. Although approximately 70% of Pendolino trains currently running on the WCML will have been lengthened to 11 cars, the average train loading at arrival/departure at London would have increased from 54% in 2010 to around 86%. This is an average figure, with trains during the peak times likely to have even higher loadings, many greater than 100%.

Extract from Lord Ahmad's letter to Lord Hollick. According to the government, without HS2, there would not be enough empty seats

As can be seen from page 4 of Lord Ahmad’s letter to Lord Hollick, the Department for Transport seems to view load factors above 60% as undesirable. That implies an objective of running each 200-metre (550-seat) HS2 train with 220 empty seats (or more). To stop passengers ‘beginning to feel negative effects’, a full-length 400-metre HS2 train should run with 440 empty seats.

The seating provision of an 11-car Pendolino in its current configuration is 589. So, the MVA report suggested that without HS2, the average number of empty seats would fall from 270 in 2010, to 82 in 2037, and viewed that as a ‘problem’.

If the average 265-metre Pendolino carried 507 passengers in 2037, that would suggest those same passengers would occupy 71% of the 715 seats of a 260-metre IEP train. So, if MVA’s figures were correct, using IEP-type trains on the West Coast route — without a need for lineside or platform interventions — would result in a year 2037 load factor well below that claimed by Monsieur Pepy for current SNCF services.

Written by beleben

April 18, 2016 at 9:22 am

Posted in HS2