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Archive for December 2016

HS2 and slab track

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As well as renewal of the train fleet, the modernisation of Merseyrail includes track, station, and depot upgrades. Renewal of slab track in the unidirectional loop line under central Liverpool is programmed to take place between January and June 2017 in a three-phase process involving protracted closure of the loop and the use of rail-replacement buses.

[‘In 1977 the loop line opened – now it’s time to renew the track’. 3rd January – 18th June 2017, Merseyrail and Network Rail]

Why does the work need to be undertaken?

A total 1.2 km length of concrete track slab – the seven most challenging sections on the ‘loop’ – needs to be replaced for the first time since the loop was opened in the 1970s to ensure that the network remains reliable and safe. Meanwhile, other work is taking place to make the most of the closure. 1100 yards of traditional ballasted track is being replaced under the riverbed as well as other maintenance jobs being carried out, such as the repair of broken sleepers and work to realign track as well as renewal work to switches and crossings which the Merseyrail trains use to switch lines. Doing all this work in one go means that passengers are less likely to be inconvenienced in future. The new track slab is expected to last for up to 60 years.

The old loop slab track ‘needs replacement after 40 years’, but the new slab is expected to last ‘up to 60 years’. So how long was the old slab ‘expected to last’?

According to a September 2016 story from New Civil Engineer, a decision on whether to use slab track on HS2 phase one was ‘expected in November’ (2016).

[Slab track confirmed for High Speed 2, , NCE, 23 September 2016]

Speaking at New Civil Engineer’s Future Tech Forum Mark Morris, High Speed 2’s director of asset management, railway operations said that the first London to Birmingham phase of the £32 bn rail line was set to be built using a concrete slabtrack system, with a ballasted track bed set to be favoured for phase 2 from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester.

The choice of trackbed technology has been the subject of heated lobbying. Proponents of slabtrack system have argued that ballasted track systems are noisy in use, expensive to maintain and even pose safety risks with individual ballast particles liable to be dislodged by the turbulent air caused by the passing high speed trains.

Conversely advocates of ballast-based systems point to the much lower cost and flexibility in use afforded by such systems.

400-odd km of HS2 slab track would be much more intensively used than Merseyrail’s “1.2 km”. So how long would it last? When it needed replacing, how could HS2 continue to operate?

Digging out and replacing sections of high speed rail track slab is not really a ‘weekend job’, is it?

Slab track of type 'Rheda 2000' (picture from

Written by beleben

December 19, 2016 at 5:24 pm

Posted in Liverpool, Planning

Renewal of the Merseyrail fleet

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On 16 December, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority announced its intention to replace 59 Merseyrail PEP-derived trains with 52 Stadler bespoke trainsets equipped for ‘driver controlled operation’.

Stadler four-section trainset for Merseytravel is intended to enter service around 2020 and be upgradable to bi-mode (third rail and 25kV ac overhead) operation

Yellow sides, grey front?

[Merseytravel reveals new £460m train fleet plans – with no train guards, ALISTAIR HOUGHTON, Liverpool Echo, 16 Dec 2016]

But the new trains will also see guards removed from trains, as each one will be controlled solely by its driver.

That means the jobs of more than 200 guards will cease to exist, though more than 60 new on-board customer service roles will be created.

Plans to introduce such driver-controlled trains on the Southern Railway network of commuter trains into London have led to a series of strikes and a bitter dispute between unions and train bosses.

Today, Southern commuters are enduring their third strike within a week as ASLEF and the RMT battle what they say is an unsafe way of operating trains.
Mayor Joe Anderson said he did not believe that safety on trains would be compromised with the new driver-only operation, highlighting the new trains’ improved CCTV and other improvements.

The partition between driver's cab and passenger space would be partially glazed, giving a (limited) forward view

‘Distraction risk’, or ‘passenger benefit’?

According to Merseytravel, “Roving Customer Service staff will be available on trains, targeted at key locations and times. This is in addition to other on-board staff which may include the British Transport Police, security staff, revenue protection officers and on-board cleaners as well as station staff, with all stations on the network staffed first to last train.”

Proposed train interior, intersection

Proposed train interior, intersection


Key features of the new trains:-

* More space for bikes, buggies, disabled passengers and luggage; intelligent air conditioning; a bright, open and airy saloon, and a mix of seating types.

* Easier to get on and off. This will be achieved through reducing the ‘gap’ between the train and platform through: a train body configured specifically for our network; lower train floors; platform and track improvements and a ‘sliding step’ from the train – this combination gives almost ‘level access’ in a first for the UK.

* On-board safety – the train will be a ‘safe space’ forming one continuous space with no dividing doors; CCTV with images broadcast within the train saloon and to the driver and control room; a direct link to the driver and control room; the driver visible through a transparent cab door; on-board customer service staff, supplementing other on-board staff and staffed stations.

* Door safety – there will be traffic light system door illuminations indicating when it’s safe to get on and off; sensitive door edges that will detect ‘the pull’ from something as narrow as a tie or finger, stopping the train from moving or bringing it to a stop.

* Wider aisles, larger areas at the doorways and many more grab handles, making the train much easier to move around and safer for standing passengers.

Proposed internal layout

“More space for bikes”, where?

Written by beleben

December 19, 2016 at 11:36 am

Posted in Politics, Railways

The semi-detached HS2 chairman

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HS2 Ltd chairman David Higgins is to become chairman of Gatwick airport next month, leaving the high-speed rail project “with an increasingly occupied figurehead and no permanent chief executive”.

[HS2 chairman takes job at Gatwick, Gwyn Topham, The Guardian,`15 December 2016]

Higgins, who also spends time working in Australia as a director of the Commonwealth Bank, will take over from Sir Roy McNulty on 1 January at the Sussex airport.

He is paid £240,000 for three days a week at HS2 and is understood to be remaining in post as chair for up to a year, until a replacement is found and as the search for a new chief executive continues.
HS2 said the extra work would not affect or conflict with Higgins’s current role at HS2.

When he spoke to the House of Commons transport select committee on 12 December 2016, Mr Higgins made no mention of his new Gatwick job. He also omitted to explain that his remarks to the committee, on 17 November 2014, about the relationship between railway speed and capacity, were misleading and inaccurate.

David Higgins told the transport select committee on 17 November 2014 that 'a 220-mph railway can have twice as many trains on it'

In 2013, HS2 Ltd finally admitted that its new line would increase carbon emissions. But on Monday, Mr Higgins told the committee that HS2 was carbon-beneficial (although he had no figures to back that up).

[Transport Select Committee, 12 Dec 2016]

[Chair:] Will High Speed 2 result in a reduction of carbon in the environment?

[Sir David Higgins:] It should, because it is a very carbon-efficient way of moving people. The railway can move 18,000 people an hour so it is very carbon efficient in terms of delivery. I remember seeing the stats. If you compare trains with buses — obviously it depends on the occupancy of the trains themselves — they are much more efficient.

[Chair:] What is the latest estimate for carbon reduction?

[Sir David Higgins:] I do not know that. I do not want to tell you a figure off the top of my head. I will get my experts behind me to write to you about that.

[Chair:] We would like to have that information, please.

In 2013 HS2 Ltd finally admitted that its new line would increase carbon emissions

An internal HS2 Ltd document on aspirations for ‘level boarding’ from platform to train stated “there are no obvious grounds” for a European ‘Technical Standards for Interoperability’ derogation. But when asked on 12 December if HS2 were seeking a derogation, Mr Higgins replied, ‘Yes’.

[Transport Select Committee, 12 Dec 2016]

[Graham Stringer MP:] There was a report in The Sunday Times yesterday that European regulations mean that the platform heights on HS2 will make it difficult for disabled people. Is that story true?

[Sir David Higgins:] I saw the article. The answer is that we are going to build platform heights between 1.1 and 1.2 metres, which will allow full access for disabled people. We have to get regulation exemptions from the current ones, and we are having that whole discussion with the European Commission. It does not make any sense whatsoever to build platforms at a low height when we want speed of access and proper disabled access to the station. I am really clear where the Government are on this. We want to discuss it with Europe and the Commission very carefully, but we do not want to build a platform height that does not deliver proper access. We will never get the turn-round times if we do that either.

[Graham Stringer MP:] Getting the platforms at the right height effectively depends on getting a derogation from the regulations?

[Sir David Higgins:] Correct.

Internal HS2 Ltd document about level boarding stating there are no obvious grounds for a 'TSI derogation'

Internal HS2 Ltd document about level boarding stating there are no obvious grounds for a TSI derogation

Written by beleben

December 16, 2016 at 10:54 am

Posted in HS2, Industry, Transport

Making things ‘work better’

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On 1 September, transport secretary Chris Grayling MP wrote about the “urgent changes” needed on Southern rail to ‘make things work better’.

[Chris Grayling: My new team will help solve the problems on Southern rail, Evening Standard, 2016-09-01]

I am a daily commuter and know what pain this disruption will have caused. When I became Transport Secretary six weeks ago I made the Southern issue my priority.

It’s true that its routes are being disrupted by totally unnecessary strikes and unofficial action by unions who are opposed to the continued modernisation of the railways and desperately cling to 1970s working practices.

That is mainly why journeys have been disrupted for months. Train guards  have been calling in sick in unprecedented numbers and at short notice as part of what is clearly an organised attempt to disrupt services — and that’s on the days without strikes. Southern’s parent company GTR and the unions need to reach an agreement soon so its passengers can travel on time.

[…] Currently, GTR runs the trains and Network Rail manages the tracks and signals. The tendency is for those involved to blame each other for problems and not to work together. That must change. I want the Southern network to be run by an integrated team of people working together to ensure passengers get decent journeys and problems are solved quickly. So I am establishing a Project Board, headed by a vastly experienced rail executive, to urgently plan how to create this team.

This is not about corporate reorganisation or change of ownership. That would waste time better spent improving the railway. It’s about a joined-up approach to running the trains and the tracks and making things work better. I want this plan in place by the early autumn.

Southern Railway homepage, 13 December 2016

Making things work better? Southern Railway homepage, 13 December 2016

According to campaigner Paul Davies, the Department for Transport has accepted in writing that it has allowed Southern train operator Govia executives ‘to make money personally from running a penalty fares appeals service that is supposed to be independent and seen to be independent, but is in fact just part of Govia’.

The Guardian, 7 Feb 2016

The Guardian, 7 Feb 2016

On 6 December, Mr Grayling made another announcement on his plans for ‘a more joined-up railway’.

[‘On the future of the rail network’, Written statement to Parliament,, 2016-12-06]

[Chris Grayling:] Our railways need to adapt and change in order to be able to cope with the growth that they have already experienced, and that which lies ahead. […] The Shaw Report made a series of recommendations for change, including that Network Rail devolve responsibility to the route level. I support the principles of the Shaw Report, and I support Network Rail’s reform programme, but there is much more to do.

I intend to press ahead with a recommendation put to the department 5 years ago by Sir Roy McNulty, when he reported to Philip Hammond on how to make the railways run better and more cost-effectively. I will do this initially at an operational level. In order for all those involved to be incentivised to deliver the best possible service for the passenger, I expect the new franchises – starting with South Eastern and East Midlands – to have integrated operating teams between train services and infrastructure. I will also be inviting Transport for London (TfL) to be more closely involved in developing the next South Eastern franchise, through seconding a TfL representative to the franchise specification team.

We will continue to develop the model for greater alignment of track and train as further franchises are renewed – including the option of joint ventures. In the meantime, my department is also publishing an update to the rail franchising schedule which I am placing in the libraries of the House.

I also want to bring new skills into the challenge of upgrading our railways. I will begin by looking at the reopening of the link from Oxford to Cambridge, to support a range of opportunities including housing, science, technology and innovation. I am going to establish East West Rail as a new and separate organisation, to accelerate the permissions needed to reopen the route, and to secure private sector involvement to design, build and operate the route as an integrated organisation.

Written by beleben

December 13, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways

HS2 and policy-based evidence

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From its inception, HS2 has been dependent on a reverse-engineered business case ‘methodology’, in which the starting point for appraisal was the desired conclusion (‘build HS2’).

Examples of policy-based evidence can be seen in the Department for Transport (DfT) November 2015 HS2 strategic case update. According to the Department, the period from 7pm to 8pm is the ‘busiest’ for InterCity West Coast (ICWC) departures from Euston.

For planning purposes, DfT considers the demand peak as extending over four hours, between 4pm and 8pm. In autumn 2014, standing on ICWC trains out of Euston over the 4-hour peak was seven per thousand passengers (on Fridays, 24 per thousand).

DfT HS2 Strategic Case update, November 2015, Figure 5

DfT HS2 Strategic Case update, November 2015, Figure 5

The Department for Transport claimed that in the absence of HS2, if “the 2014 train timetable” were in operation in the year 2033 / 2034

  • weekday peak standing on 11-car ICWC ‘Reconfigured Pendolino’ trains “could” be 20 per thousand – rising to 90 per thousand on Friday evenings – in the ‘Reference scenario’
  • and in the ‘Higher Growth scenario’, weekday peak standing could be 140 per thousand (and 230 per thousand on Friday evenings).

But what if obsolescent Reconfigured Pendolinos were replaced in the forecasts by more space-efficient rolling stock (such as the Hitachi IEP train)? Five and nine-car versions of the IEP have been ordered for the Great Western and East Coast Main Line intercity. In DfT literature, somewhat surprisingly, IEP trains of up to twelve carriages were mentioned as an option for the East Coast Main Line.

Lengthening platforms to ~312 metres at Kings Cross for 12-coach IEP trains would appear to be much more of a challenge than running 10-car IEPs on the West Coast Main Line. A 10-car IEP train, or a similar design, would not require WCML platform lengthening, but with around 594 Standard Class seats, would have 14.6% more than a Reconfigured Pendolino.

In the DfT year-2033 Reference scenario, a 14.6% capacity uplift would result in an average unseated intercity West Coast passenger count of zero, on all evenings of the week.

Inter City West Coast, standee forecast with 260 metre, 594-standard-seat, IEP trains

Inter City West Coast, standee forecast with 260 metre, 594-standard-seat, IEP trains

In the DfT year-2033 Higher Growth scenario, there would still be some standing passengers on Friday evenings, with the 2014 timetable. However, in 2014, there were only 19 ICWC departures between 6pm and 8pm, compared to 22 between 4pm and 6pm.

Intercity West Coast departures from Euston, weekday evening peak hours, autumn 2014 timetable

If available paths were used, the available data suggests an average unseated passenger count of zero, in the year 2033 ‘Higher Growth’ scenario, on all evenings of the week.

Written by beleben

December 9, 2016 at 12:40 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Boon versus doggle

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HS2 is an unaffordable project with a fundamentally flawed business case, and its benefits to regional economies have been “vastly inflated”, according to Emma Boon (2012).

Daily Telegraph 2012 HS2 debate speaker Emma Boon

Daily Telegraph 2012 HS2 debate speaker Emma Boon

On 31 August 2016, Public Affairs News reported, “New transport secretary Chris Grayling has snared the highly-rated Emma Boon as his special adviser. Boon worked for top financial lobbying firm Brunswick before becoming a special adviser in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2015.”

Emma Boon, LinkedIn (extract)

Emma Boon, LinkedIn (extract)

ITV News, Chris Grayling 'urging the government to get on with HS2', 3 October 2016

ITV News, Chris Grayling ‘urging the government to get on with HS2’, 3 October 2016

Written by beleben

December 8, 2016 at 3:15 pm

Posted in HS2, Politics

The tramway in Stephenson Place

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With its abrupt bend at the foot of a steep gradient, the Midland Metro in Birmingham’s Stephenson Place must be one of the most hazardous sections of track in Great Britain. This month has seen the posting of wardens in hi-vis at the top and bottom of the incline, apparently to try to manage pedestrian flow in the busiest times of the Christmas period.

Street warden at top of Stephenson Place, December 2016

Street warden at top of Stephenson Place, December 2016

The curve at Stephenson Place is potentially as hazardous as the one at Sandilands on Croydon Tramlink, where a derailment on 9 November of a tram travelling at excess speed resulted in deaths and serious injuries. The Croydon derailment, which received extensive press coverage, is the subject of an investigation by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.

Street warden at bottom of Stephenson Place, December 2016

Street warden at bottom of Stephenson Place, December 2016. The CAF trams used on Midland Metro are fitted with various types of glazing made in France, Spain, and the Czech Republic

In the view of the Beleben blog, there are questions to be asked about the crashworthiness of the vehicles used on Tramlink, and other GB systems.

Written by beleben

December 7, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Capacity unbecoming

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Publicity about ‘capacity released‘ on the West Coast Main Line ‘becoming available for freight’ is misleading, according to Professor Tony May and Jonathan Tyler.

[HS2 and the railway network : the case for a review, Tony May and Jonathan Tyler, with contributions from Richard Allsop, James Croll and Stephen Plowden, 2016]

[It] should be noted that publicity about capacity released on the West Coast Main Line [WCML] becoming available for freight is misleading. Many of the constraints on freight paths will remain, especially north of Preston, and maintaining good passenger services for places like Stoke-on-Trent and Coventry while simultaneously satisfying the outer-London commuter demand would in practice mean no increase in paths for freight south of Rugby.

Professor Tony May discussed HS2 on the ITV Tonight show, November 2016

Professor Tony May discussed HS2 on the ITV Tonight show, November 2016

On ITV’s Tonight show about high speed rail, broadcast last month, Professor May recounted some of his doubts about HS2, noting that alternatives had not been properly investigated.

[From ‘HS2 and the railway network : the case for a review‘, Tony May and Jonathan Tyler, with contributions from Richard Allsop, James Croll and Stephen Plowden, 2016]

Significant improvements to capacity could be achieved at a much lower cost and much more rapidly.
In the case for HS2 it is assumed that additional capacity is needed, particularly on the main routes north of London. However, Euston, King’s Cross and Marylebone are the three least crowded of all London termini, with a load factor on Virgin West Coast of less than 40%.

The need for additional capacity is thus based on predictions that passenger demand will continue to grow at rates similar to the recent past. Easing price restrictions would spread the load since Virgin’s most crowded trains are outside the peak. Increasing the proportion of standard-class seats and using 12 car trains could increase capacity by approximately 25%.

HS2 would undoubtedly add to capacity, but two tracks with limited provision for passing are not a resilient way of doing so. HS2 Ltd bases its prospectus on operating up to 18 trains/hour each way when the scheme is complete. This is four more than any other high-speed line has achieved, and given that it involves both “captive” trains and “classic-compatible” stock which will run from and to the existing rail network it assumes a degree of signalling sophistication and operational discipline that may be difficult to achieve.

Written by beleben

December 1, 2016 at 2:33 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2