Archive for October 2016
In its “Taking root” report (31 October 2016), HS2 Ltd claimed to set out “some of the concrete actions being taken to prepare for the arrival of HS2 services” in the Midlands and north of England. Below is an example of the content.
[HS2 Ltd, ‘Taking root’ (extract), 31 Oct 2016]
Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region are already enjoying the benefits of HS2. Through the largest devolution deal to date, the West Midlands Combined Authority has been given responsibility for an investment package worth more than £4bn to deliver the Midlands HS2 Growth Strategy with the potential to add £14bn to the economy and to create and support 100,000 jobs. The government has underlined its commitment to seeing the Midlands as a whole develop by announcing a £12m three year funding deal to help the Midland Connect partnership maximise the economic potential that HS2 will release in the region.
Construction of the National College for High Speed Rail in Birmingham is underway and is due to open in September 2017. Growth hubs across the West Midlands have joined forces and developed a programme of support to help local businesses win HS2-related work. A £20m Rail Growth Supply Fund was recently launched, providing loans of up to £2m to rail supply chain firms. The Midland Metro’s city centre extension to Birmingham New Street recently opened, with further connectivity improvements lined up.
Two new HS2 stations – Interchange at Solihull and Curzon Street in Birmingham city centre – are set to follow, with Birmingham also set to host a maintenance depot and state-of-the-art control centre. HS2’s headquarters is already in the city and will employ around 1,000 people. The recently announced Curzon Investment Plan, worth almost £1bn, is designed to regenerate the area around the planned HS2 station; creating 36,000 jobs, 4,000 new homes and 600,000m2 of commercial floor space.
Interchange station will create a world-class development opportunity for UK Central, Solihull. Plans are being developed for a global business hub, ‘Arden Cross’, with the potential to deliver 20,000 jobs and 2,000 new homes. Within the wider UK Central area, forthcoming masterplans from Birmingham Airport, the NEC and Jaguar Land Rover will seek to make sure that the opportunities of the new HS2 station are fully realised. The West Midlands Combined Authority Devolution Agreement has secured £348m investment for Interchange and other new transport links, in addition to identified sources of £288m for wider UK Central infrastructure.
In 2006, Conservative MP Chris Grayling said, “You’ve all seen the bits of our Cities that need to be brought back to life. It’s not the City Centres.” But following the 2010 election, the Conservative / Liberal Democrat government set up ‘local enterprise partnerships’ controlled by big business, and gave some of them the power to decide where a regenerative ‘enterprise zone’ should be located in their area.
So what area did the Birmingham “and Solihull” LEP select as the location for its “enterprise zone”? Surprise, surprise, it chose none other than Birmingham city centre. But as Chris Grayling MP said in 2006, it’s not the centres of big cities that are in need of regenerating.
The Birmingham enterprise zone has been extended to cover the site of the Curzon Street HS2 station, to suit the LEP, and the local press is lined up with these special interests. Plainly, bringing HS2 to Curzon Street is not going to ‘regenerate the West Midlands’, or even just Birmingham. But it may well make lots of money for the special interests and politicians connected with the scheme.
People may have been under the impression that spending £20 billion on a new railway from London to Birmingham would lead to ‘organic’ private sector regeneration of the second city. But if that were the case, why is there a need for enterprise zone tax breaks, and a “£4bn Midlands HS2 Growth Strategy” as well? Shouldn’t this type of ‘£4 billion expenditure’ be included in the real cost of HS2? The real cost of the ‘Y network’ to the public purse must be much more than “£55.7 billion”.
Although the government is now saying HS2 is “not about speed, it’s about capacity“, the ‘Root’ report seems not to have got the message. Apart from regeneration waffle, the content is largely comprised of graphics of cherry-picked rail journey times ‘now, and with HS2’. But there is no information as to how many people actually make these journeys, or would want to in the future.
Indications from other sources suggest that current and anticipated future travel demand does not support provision of “8,800 seats a day between Durham and Birmingham”, or suchlike. The ‘Root’ report completely ignores the fact that the provision of enormous unusable HS2 overcapacity would come with equally enormous opportunity costs.
Most of the members of the Community of European Railways (CER) are not enthused by HS2 Ltd’s proposal for a 1200mm platform height to be brought into European ‘Technical Standards for Interoperability’.
If ‘Brexit means Brexit’ (?), will HS2 continue to be designed around obsolescent and inappropriate European “standards”?
Railways in the north of England have a high cost base, and a low user base. They tend not to provide satisfactory connectivity. But PR-led initiatives like replacing ‘Pacer’ trains are unlikely to change the fundamentals.
The scale of change required is much greater, but government does not seem to have a plan, or funding, in place. ‘Transport for the North’ seems to be away with the fairies.
The additional £12 million from central government, announced at the Conservative Party conference (2 – 5 October 2016), ‘will keep Midlands Connect – the transport partner of Midlands Engine – running until at least 2020’ (wrote Maria Machancoses, ‘programme director at Midlands Connect and director at Midlands Engine’).
[If the Midlands makes the most of HS2, the UK will get most out of the Midlands, Maria Machancoses, RTM, 2016-10-25]
These funds will enable Midlands Connect to implement its transport strategy beyond March 2017. Key to this will be ensuring the Midlands is ready for the arrival of HS2 in 2026. These measures include smart payment systems, additional coaches on trains and regeneration around HS2 stations. Prime minister Theresa May has already openly praised forward-thinking investments such as the £900m commitment to build 4,000 houses at a revamped HS2-ready Curzon Street station in Birmingham City Centre.
For one, HS2 will increase passenger capacity for rail journeys, and we plan to push for 10 extra carriages to each train, helping to relieve pressure on the Midlands motorway grid. Additionally, our recommended improvements for freight transportation via rail will be essential to business in the future.
We are working closely with HS2 and Network Rail to identify schemes that have the ability to unlock economic growth and network capacity. In terms of rail, it is not about the Midlands investing in miles of track. Actions of intent, such as building 4,000 houses at Birmingham’s revamped HS2-ready Curzon Street Station, need to be carried out.
Why is “building 4,000 houses” at Curzon Street station so important that it is mentioned twice in an article about regional connectivity? Is there even room to build “4,000 houses” at Curzon Street? And just how is it possible to “push for 10 extra carriages to each train”?
So far as can be established, ‘Midlands Connect’ is a motley collection of dud projects. It makes no sense to design local transport around ‘HS2 connectivity’, because the vast majority of everyday journeys in the Midlands do not involve travelling to London or Manchester by train.
The special interests who pull the strings of HS2 Ltd are opposed to having Old Oak Common as the terminus for their high speed rail line. But as can be seen from HS2 Ltd’s own illustration, a terminal would be feasible, and the footprint of a 12-platform station at Old Oak would be small, in terms of the overall railway lands and development area. And the costs of relocating the Crossrail depot would be a minuscule fraction of the amount needed to build through to Euston.
The HS2 Ltd estimated footprint can be compared with earlier extreme scaremongering.
If the eastern leg of HS2 were cancelled, the platform requirement, and space needed, would reduce further.
But the best option would be to cancel HS2 altogether, and create a combined Chiltern and Great Western through station, at Old Oak.
Re-routeing the London Underground Central Line to Willesden, via Old Oak, would improve the substandard connections in that part of west London. With platform screens and automation, the train frequency on the city section of the Central Line could be increased to around 40 per hour.
The suburban sections of the Central Line in the east and the west might be better developed as parts of other railways.
- The section to the west of Acton could become part of a tram-train linking Old Oak, Ruislip, and Uxbridge.
- The eastern suburban stretch of the Central Line, which was at one time intended to form part of a Chelsea – Hackney tube, could become part of a ‘national rail’ route to Stansted airport, or ‘Crossrail_X2’.
On 11 October, the House of Lords HS2 LWM committee were advised of the demerits of the flawed ‘Euston Express’ concept for accommodating high speed trains at Euston, by advocates of the flawed HS2 Ltd concept for accommodating high speed trains at Euston.
According to James Strachan QC, Department for Transport Counsel, ‘Euston Express train service options would be very limited, comprising, say, Birmingham / Manchester and Scotland or else the other destinations, but not both’.
[James Strachan QC] 123. […]You could either have a very limited 200-metre-long classic compatible service, with less capacity than the current West Coast Main Line – the benefits wouldn’t actually then justify the cost of the tunnel – or a five-to-six-platform station, which would incur most of the property demolition, an adverse environmental effect and cost,for a much reduced HS2 train station to Euston.
Of course, the “very limited 200-metre-long classic compatible service” mentioned by Mr Strachan, is actually the official HS2 Ltd proposition for trains from London to the busiest Country HS2 destinations – Birmingham and Manchester – during most of the day.
Mr Strachan claimed that the benefits of the Euston Express tunnel works ‘wouldn’t justify their cost’. But far more trains would use those tunnels, than would use the ridiculous, and hugely expensive, HS2 Ltd tunnels proposed in south Manchester.