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Archive for November 2016

Crewel delusions, part five

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In ‘The tunnel or the hub‘ (14 October 2016), the Beleben blog exclusively reported that HS2 Ltd’s planned tunnel under Crewe, and the HS2 Ltd / Network Rail plan for a ‘hub’ station south of Crewe, were mutually incompatible proposals. The reasons were set out in ‘Crewel delusions part four’ (9 October 2016).

So, was the Beleben blog analysis correct?

Network Rail U-turn on Crewe station relocation revealed in DfT command paper, 15 November 2016: 'if the Crewe Hub scheme is to be taken forward, it should be located at the site of the existing station'

As can be seen, Network Rail have done an embarrassing hard U-turn at Crewe station, and are now ‘recommending’ that their previous recommendations are ignored.

HS2 chairman David Higgins also emerges from the debacle with more egg on his face, after having been completely taken in by Steer Davies Gleave’s absurd ‘case for relocating Crewe station’ report.

'David Higgins backs crewe hub plan' report in Crewe and Nantwich guardian, 2014-03-17

Written by beleben

November 16, 2016 at 12:11 pm

A new link between our major cities

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Today, the government has published some information about its preferred route for ‘phase 2b’ of HS2 from ‘Crewe to Manchester’, and ‘the West Midlands to Leeds’, but many details are still lacking. There are a few minor changes to save money – such as not tunneling under East Midlands airport – but with the post-June 2016 devaluation of sterling by 15%-plus, the overall cost of HS2 must now be in the region of £65 billion., HS2 phase 2b route announcement, 2016-11-15

Although the ‘case for HS2’ is built on egotism, delusion, and misinformation, not everything the government says about the project is untrue. For example, the claim that HS2 would be a ‘link between our major cities’ might be said to be true, according to a map created by the BBC. As can be seen from the map, HS2 would run “between” Derby and Nottingham, and “between” Sheffield and Doncaster. But HS2 trains to London from Leeds, and Manchester, would not stop at any city inbetween.

BBC graphic of the route of HS2 'between major cities'

Written by beleben

November 15, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Northern crock

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Whatever the amount the government has paid outfits such as Westbourne Communications to try to ‘change opinion’ about building the HS2 railway, it seems not to have made much difference with the public. That’s if a survey for ITV’s Tonight tv show is any indication.

[High-Speed Rail: Is It Worth It? , ITV, 10 November 2016]

[In] an exclusive survey for the Tonight programme, less than 20% of respondents thought they would use HS2 when built, and only one in ten people thought the high speed rail link would benefit the majority of commuters.

Additionally, people felt it was mainly a project for London – with only a third of people feeling that HS2 will benefit the north.

The other results of our survey of 2,000 people were as follows:

23% not aware that HS2 is being planned

15% feel that HS2 is worth £56bn

58% don’t think it’s a price worth paying

77% of people would prefer that the money was spent in other areas, like the NHS

In a tragi-comic interview with reporter Jonny Maitland, HS2 Ltd chairman David Higgins likened the project to bailing out a bank. Perhaps not the best way of selling the scheme to the public, when one remembers he was previously chief executive officer of Network Rail – an organisation which awarded bonuses to directors for failure, and which ran up derivatives trading losses of hundreds of millions of pounds.

On the ITV Tonight show, HS2 chairman David Higgins avoided answering the question, 'The price of it... how much higher is going to go?'

On the ITV Tonight show, HS2 chairman David Higgins avoided answering the question, “The price of it… how much higher is it going to go?”

Written by beleben

November 11, 2016 at 2:40 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Barking in suspense

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(What is left of) Network Rail’s electrification of the Great Western main line is supposed to offer ‘improved resilience and reliability’.

But the video for another project – the Gospel Oak to Barking scheme in north London – appears to show it has been designed with non-independent location of the overhead lines.

Screengrab from Network Rail, Gospel Oak Barking electrification video, showing tension-located overhead lines

Written by beleben

November 11, 2016 at 12:22 pm

Posted in London, Railways

West botch yet

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On 23 July 2009, the then transport secretary Andrew Adonis announced an ‘immediate’ start of detailed planning for electrification of the Great Western Main Line. But according to the National Audit Office report ‘Modernising the Great Western railway’ (9 November 2016), Network Rail was still “determining the most appropriate way of meeting the Department for Transport’s requirements” four years later.

National Audit Office report on Great Western rail modernisation, Nov 2016, showing cost changes

[Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 9 November 2016]

“The modernisation of the route has potential to deliver significant benefits for passengers but this is a case study in how not to manage a major programme. The Department’s failure to plan and manage all the projects which now make up the Great Western Route Modernisation industry programme in a sufficiently joined up way, combined with weaknesses in Network Rail’s management of the infrastructure programme, has led to additional costs for the taxpayer. It is encouraging that since 2015 the Department and Network Rail have a better grip and put in place structures to manage the programme in an integrated way. However significant challenges to the timetable still remain and there is more to do to achieve value for money.”

The NAO mentioned the design of overhead line structures for 225 km/h running (rather than 200) as one source of confusion and increased cost.


Network Rail did not initially understand whether the Department wanted trains to run at a maximum speed of 125 [200 km/h] or 140 miles per hour [225 km/h]. This has implications for the strength of the steelwork supporting the electric wires.

In January 2014 the Department instructed Network Rail that the maximum speed should be 125 miles per hour. By this point, design work was well underway and Network Rail expected to complete it in March 2014.

In September 2014, the main design contractor was still working to a specification of 140 miles per hour.

According to HS2 Ltd, ‘high speed infrastructure’ for 300+ km/h, is only ‘10% more expensive’ to provide than conventional infrastructure (200 km/h). But in the case of the Great Western electrification, a speed increase of just 25 km/h appears to have had costly ‘implications for the steelwork’. What ’18 trains per hour at 360 km/h’ means for HS2 overhead line support, is yet to be revealed.

It seems likely that if the government proceeds with HS2, the modernisation and electrification of classic lines will be downscaled massively, to pay for it.

Written by beleben

November 10, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Posted in HS2, Planning, Politics

Misinformation is not a service

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One of the most troubling aspects of the HS2 project has been the torrent of misinformation emanating from official sources. This has even included false statements by HS2 Ltd chairman David Higgins to parliamentary committees.

Statement made by HS2 chairman David Higgins to the Lords Economic Affairs Committee

Statement made by David Higgins to the Commons Transport Select Committee

In August 2016, a complaint was made to HS2 Ltd about misleading and inaccurate statements made by David Higgins and chief executive Simon Kirby. The complaint asked HS2 Ltd to withdraw the statements, and provide accurate information.

HS2 Ltd did not respond to the complaint until November. As can be seen, the company’s view seems to be that complaints can only be made about HS2 Ltd’s “service”. And, apparently, inaccurate and misleading statements made by the company chairman to parliamentary committees are not part of that “service”, so no complaint can be recorded.

[HS2 Ltd response to complaint, Nov 2016]

Thank you for your email to HS2 Ltd. Please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in responding. There was an error in sending the reply below to you which unfortunately was only picked up earlier this week. I note that you originally requested your email to be treated as a complaint. Please be advised that our complaints process covers the service that HS2 Ltd provides and we do not consider that your email request is a complaint about HS2 Ltd’s service. We have therefore treated your email as a general enquiry and our response follows.

The statements that you refer to made by David Higgins and Simon Kirby relate to the broader strategic context for high speed rail rather than a detailed plan for the operation of HS2.

The remainder of the response was “look over there” off-topic waffle:

[HS2 Ltd, Nov 2016]

The Strategic Case for HS2, published in October 2013, sets out how additional capacity will be created by building a new high speed railway line which will free space on the existing network. The “Supplement to the October 2013 Strategic Case for HS2”, published in November 2015, provides an update to some of the evidence set out in the 2013 Strategic Case. The supplementary report details that HS2 Phase One could increase the combined capacity for fast trains on HS2 and the West Coast fast lines into/from London Euston from 15tph to 23tph. In turn, increasing the number of outer suburban commuter trains on the fast lines would allow a more even stopping pattern on the WCML slow lines.

The findings of a study on whether strategic alternatives to HS2 could meet HS2’s strategic objectives of increasing capacity and improving connectivity were published in October 2013 in the “HS2 Strategic Alternatives” report. This work is summarised in Chapter 4 of the “Supplement to the October 2013 Strategic Case for HS2”. HS2 would provide a step change in route capacity by having a new dedicated high speed line which would allow crowding issues on the inter-city services on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) to be solved for the long term. In both the AM and PM peak, HS2 offers the potential to operate around 60-70 per cent additional inter-city services. HS2 would also provide a step change in commuter capacity on the WCML. This is because capacity released by operating much of today’s inter-city services on dedicated high speed lines could allow the number of West Midlands franchise services in the AM peak to increase from 28 to 41. Table 3 shows the increase in the number of seats that could be provided in the scenarios with HS2 compared with the strategic alternatives.

Further information is available in the “Supplement to the October 2013 Strategic Case for HS2” which is can be found on the HS2 website via the following link:

The Department for Transport have been notified of the situation, so it will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens.

HS2 Ltd's Beth West stands in front of HS2 Ltd's 'culture'

Written by beleben

November 9, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Lil’ Western electrification

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If HS2 goes ahead, enhancement projects on the existing network are likely to be cancelled, 'paused', 'deferred', or de-scoped (as with GWML electrification)

As a result of “scrutiny from the Hendy review”, rail minister Paul Maynard has decided to “defer” electrification projects that are part of the ‘£2.8 billion’ programme of work along the Great Western route, between

  1. Oxford and Didcot Parkway,
  2. Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads (Filton Bank),
  3. Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads (i.e. west of Thingley Junction),
  4. Slough and Windsor, and
  5. Twyford and Henley on Thames.

[Written statement to Parliament by Paul Maynard MP, 2016-11-08]

I wish to update the House on the programme of rail investment in the Great Western route and the steps we are taking to ensure this improves services to passengers while getting the best deal for taxpayers.

[…] It is a project unprecedented in scale that is building on and around ageing assets in constant use. This is an ambitious and challenging undertaking, but real progress is being made in delivering it.

[…] We have been clear that there have been difficulties with this programme. These were set out last year in the review of Network Rail’s delivery plan by Sir Peter Hendy. Following the re-planning of work that followed this review, the programme has been placed on a more efficient footing. A key part of this is the ongoing assessment of investment decisions so that passengers and taxpayers get maximum value.
[The deferral] is because we can bring in the benefits expected by passengers – newer trains with more capacity – without requiring costly and disruptive electrification works. This will provide between £146 million to £165 million in this spending period, to be focused on improvements that will deliver additional benefits to passengers. We remain committed to modernising the Great Western mainline and ensuring that passenger benefits are achieved.

This decision underscores the government’s approach to wider rail investment; that passenger outcomes must be delivered in conjunction with achieving the best value from every pound spent.

Is Great Western electrification really ‘a project unprecedented in scale‘? How does it compare in scale with the London Midland electrification of the 1960s, or electrification of the Trans-siberian railway to Vladivostok?

What must be “unprecedented”, is the scale of the incompetence of the politicians and decision-makers responsible for turning ‘Great Western electrification’ into a fiasco. It seems likely that more such ‘deferrals’ will follow, as the government diverts resources to the white-elephant HS2 project, whose ‘£56 billion’ scale and absurdity really is without precedent.

Written by beleben

November 8, 2016 at 12:26 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2, Politics

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