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Tracks are empty most of the time

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While engineers and operators declare that Britain’s railway is capacity-constrained, tracks are empty most of the time, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers has admitted.


Therefore, understanding how to fill them with more trains needs to be a priority.

Challenged by road transport initiatives such as automated cars and freight vehicle platooning, ‘Closer Running’ is a RSSB research workstream which considers two trains running together and, ultimately, communicating with each other instead of a signalling system. Taking closeness to the point of trains coupling up while running would enable radically longer, and variable length, trains. The potential benefits are across all 4 Cs: double Capacity, increased Customer satisfaction by providing through-journeys (without the pain point of changing trains), plus Carbon reduction through reduced stop-start, and Cost reduction through increasing load factors off peak and reducing numbers of carriages needed). The next stage will be to test the feasibility of potential options and explore implementation costs.

Concepts such as Closer Running require fundamental step changes in how we use railways.

Despite this ‘insight’, IMechE is backing the wasteful, inefficient and vainglorious HS2 project, which is based on mid-20th century thinking.


Case study 4: HS2

Despite the name, the rationale for HS2 is:

• Increased capacity (to relieve congestion on other north-south rail routes for mixed traffic),

• Creation of a high speed line with infrastructure future-proofed for 400km/h, although trains will not run at this speed initially, and

• Enhanced service quality.

All three improvements will promote modal shift from air and car, unlocking carbon benefits.

According to HS2 Ltd, most of its passengers would have previously used classic rail for their journey, and the scope for modal shift from car, or aeroplane, is very limited.

As for ‘carbon benefits’, they are negative. HS2 Ltd has admitted that the new line would increase CO2 emissions.

HS2 consultation factsheet, 'carbon emissions'

High speed is needed to maximise efficient rolling stock utilisation, minimising the total number of trains,

Rolling stock is only about 10% of the cost of HS2, and a large part of the high speed fleet would be tied up in providing services at ‘conventional’ speeds on ‘conventional’ tracks (e.g. between Wigan and Glasgow).

‘Efficient rolling stock utilisation’, and ‘building HS2’, are mutually exclusive objectives. Because HS2 could not serve most places on the intercity network (e.g. Peterborough, Wakefield, Coventry, Doncaster, etc), trains still have to be provided for the classic network, resulting in a much larger rolling stock fleet overall.

To ‘minimise the total number of trains’, the best option would be: ‘Do not build HS2, Lengthen existing trains where needed‘.

and for journey time reductions, aspiring to three hours for London – Scotland, in order to achieve maximum modal shift from air – as Eurostar has achieved for London – Paris.

The economic case for extending HS2 for a ‘three hour journey’ to Scotland is so bad, the Transport Scotland / HS2 Ltd ‘Broad options’ study did not even give the benefit cost ratio.

In system terms, compared to our other three case studies, HS2 has the great advantage of being designed from scratch for tomorrow’s needs, but with Phase 2 not due to open until 2033. HS2 will go beyond responding to needs, creating new demand with the explicit aim of helping to rebalance the economy to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds from London and the South East, on the same principles set out in Case Study 3.

Consonant with our definition of capacity, the aim is to provide a throughput of not so much 18tph, but of 20,000pph. This aim drives whole-system design. For example, flows through stations are critical to enable efficient boarding onto and alighting from trains, aiming to achieve station dwell times of a maximum of 120 seconds and enable tight headways between trains. To keep dwell times within the threshold, HS2 plans side platforms and step-free platform-train interfaces (providing accessibility for all), plus even distribution of passengers along the train. This will be facilitated by:

• Lifts and escalators spaced every 100m along the train
• Passenger information to optimise their use
• Gate numbers rather than a single platform number
• Seat reservations spread along the train
• Vehicles that welcome passengers carrying luggage

Bearing in mind that HS2 claim that “300,000 passengers a day” would use their services, how realistic, even with so-called ‘level boarding’, is a 120-second stop-to-start?

Engineering and operational thinking has sought to optimise key design parameters. For the train design, the need to operate many services onto the
existing ‘classic’ infrastructure – beyond the new HS2 Phase 1 and 2 lines – precludes the purchase exclusively of vehicles built to the larger European
body size. Rather than mix the initial fleet, HS2 will procure only ‘classic-compatible’ trains for Phase 1. For Phase 2, a mix of standard GB size
classic-compatible and larger Euro-size trains will be procured. HS2 aims to make the two train types as similar as possible (top speed 360km/hr, same acceleration and braking characteristics) to maximise capacity on the tph measure. HS2 may depart from their initial plan for all trains to be 200m long and able to run with two trains coupled together – as is TGV practice.

Procuring ‘Euro-size’ trains for any phase of HS2, makes no sense. The Beleben blog has previously pointed out the absurdity of HS2 Ltd’s obsession with 200 metre trainsets, and having a separate fleet of ‘captive’ trains.

[IMechE:] Cost and capacity optimisation suggests some trains will be built 275m long for Phase 1, in order to provide greater flexibility. Platform heights may be difficult to optimise as will platform screen doors, which might enhance safe and prompt passenger flow onto large vehicles, but might not fit the standard classic-compatible fleet.

It would appear that HS2 Ltd has done another U-turn, because it had previously abandoned plans for a sub-fleet of 260-metre trainsets in favour of an all-200-metre fleet.

However, a 275-metre sub-fleet might well be a few metres too long to be fit on the classic network as-is. Presumably, platforms would have to be lengthened, at an unknown cost.

Whatever the train length choice, HS2’s inescapable problem is the requirement to build, and maintain, billions of pounds’ worth of infrastructure and rolling stock, for which there is no need.

Generally, though, in contrast with projects such as West Coast Route Modernisation, but more in common with Crossrail, HS2 can largely be built
without disturbing existing infrastructure except at key interconnecting nodes and stations. […]

Building HS2 is likely to mean massive disruption at multiple locations on the rail network (most notably, at Euston).

To increase capacity with no on-track disruption, the best option would be to use trainsets with 26-metre carriages (like the IEP) on the existing West Coast tracks.

With the Department for Transport’s year-2033 ‘Higher Growth scenario’, operating Inter City West Coast with 260-metre IEP-type-trains would yield a ‘passengers in excess of capacity’ (PiXC) count of zero, at all times of the day and week.


Written by beleben

January 6, 2017 at 3:23 pm

Posted in HS2, Politics

One Response

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  1. Re the statement “Taking closeness to the point of trains coupling up while running would enable radically longer, and variable length, trains.”, consider a WCML service to Scotland via Wolverhampton.
    The through train would pass through the station at line speed on the main line and the “connecting” train would start from a standstill. The “connecting” train could follow on the same line, in which case the through train would have to reduce speed so that it could catch up. How many miles does it take a Pendolino to get from 0 mph to line speed? On the other hand there could be a new parallel “acceleration” line in which case the “connecting” train could already be moving as the through train went through. Again, the through train would have to reduce speed. How many miles of new track would be needed for this? Just short of the points both parts of the train will be moving at much the same speed towerds a single line – what happens if the through train has to make an emergency stop?
    In either case, what happens if the through train is late or cancelled, are the passengers on the connectiong train told to get off?
    Working the other way around, dropping of carraiges en route (slip carraiges) might now be feasible. The GWR and BR(W) were past masters at this, with up to three slips to a train, which would then be taken up a branch line or worked as a stopper by a locomotive. The problem back then was working the unpowered carraiges back to the starting point, but that dissapeared with d/emu’s.


    January 6, 2017 at 4:22 pm

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