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Archive for February 2017

HS2 speed and capacity loss

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On 23 February 2017 the HS2 London West Midlands bill gained royal assent after ‘3 years of Parliamentary scrutiny’.

But how effectual was the ‘scrutiny’?

And how competent are HS2’s senior officers – such as the chairman?

On 17 November 2014, HS2 Ltd’s David Higgins told the House of Commons transport committee that “a railway line where trains travel at 220 miles an hour as opposed to 120 miles an hour clearly has nearly twice the capacity because you can have twice as many trains on it. Once we started talking about capacity, then people started to get it.

Extract from David Higgins' comments about high speed rail capacity to the Commons transport committee, November 2014

David Higgins’ claim was utter nonsense. But no-one on the transport committee challenged him about it. And unlike the Beleben blog, the ‘technical’ railway press has never challenged or debunked the claim.

On 13 January 2015, Mr Higgins again paraded his technical illiteracy, this time before the House of Lords economic affairs committee.

Extract from David Higgins' comments about high speed rail capacity to the Lords economic affairs committee, January 2015

Someone at HS2 Ltd must have known that David Higgins was giving misleading and inaccurate information to Parliamentary committees. Because Bombardier’s 2011 high speed rail capacity report was written for the company.

'Figure 3: Headway as a function of block section length on level track', Bombardier Transportation capacity report for HS2 Ltd, 2011

‘Figure 3: Headway as a function of block section length on level track’, Bombardier Transportation capacity report for HS2 Ltd, 2011

According to Bombardier’s diagram, the capacity loss from running at 360 km/h compared to 200 km/h, could be thought of as (Z – Y), with 400 metre signalling blocks. Plainly, with other block lengths, capacity is also lower at 360 km/h than at 200 km/h.

With 400 km/h operation, the capacity loss is exacerbated further.

Written by beleben

February 28, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Posted in HS2

Who wood believe them?

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About four years ago, as part of the Midland Metro ‘Birmingham city centre extension’ to Stephenson Street, the council had all the trees cut down in Upper Bull Street, Corporation Street, and Stephenson Place. This morning (25 February 2017), as part of the advance works for a further extension of the tramway and ‘redevelopment’ of Centenary Square, contractors cut down one of the oldest remaining trees in the city centre.

[Birmingham council and Transport for the West Midlands (Centro) statement]

“We have looked long and hard at all the options to retain this particular tree but because the Metro extension and the Centenary Square development, with its in-built anti-terror measures, have been designed as one integrated scheme it has sadly not been possible.”

But who would believe them?

Everything points to TfWM and the council just wanting rid of the tree. There was, and is, plenty of room to run their boondoggle tramway between where the tree stood, and the Municipal Bank. And to claim that the destruction was necessary for ‘anti-terror’ purposes, is absurd.

The tree was surrounded by metal screens, presumably to limit people's view of what was going on

View of the tree destruction compound from above

Tree destruction in progress

A worker cutting down the branches

The tree succumbs to the chainsaw

The tree is attacked by a workman

A section of the doomed tree is lowered to the ground

Cutting down the trunk

The felled trunk of the tree

The  remains of the tree were loaded onto a lorry

Written by beleben

February 25, 2017 at 5:42 pm

A progressive take on nonsense

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Britain’s railway network is a national success story, and Labour’s policy of renationalisation is just an ideological comfort blanket, wrote Labour ‘Progressive’ James Wood.

[‘Labour’s nonexistent rail policy’, James Wood, Progress, 2017-02-13]

On 23 February this year (touch wood) we will celebrate 10 years since a passenger was killed on the rail network, a thankfully long way from the appalling regularity of high-fatality crashes of the eighties and nineties.

[…] In 2012 – 2013, GB train operating company profits were £250 m […against] TOC costs of £6.2 bn, ticket revenue of £7.7 bn and industry-wide costs of £13 bn. If the £250 million TOC profits were directly deducted from UK farebox income, that would only fund a one-off two per cent cut in ticket prices. Simply removing the private sector from the railways will not create a railway with high investment and low fares.

'Labour's non existent rail policy'

Sadly, the article is based on inaccurate and incomplete information, and muddled thinking. Unfortunately

  • it is not “10 years since a passenger was killed on the rail network”
  • the idea that ditching the current industry structure would only permit ‘a one-off two per cent cut in ticket prices’, is absurd.

The fragmentation imposed by John Major’s government substantially increased the whole-industry cost base, and the results can be seen to this day. The rolling stock leasing companies created by the Major government are certainly not operating on a ‘2 per cent margin’, for example.

The current industry structure is not really compatible with efficiency or value for money objectives, and there is no sign of transport secretary Chris Grayling knowing how to fix it, or any other country wanting to copy it.

Written by beleben

February 15, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways

HS3 and the new uneconomics

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‘Unlike the Tories, the Labour party is committed to delivering the west – east rail link connecting the great cities of the north’.

'Unlike the Tories, Labour is committed to delivering the west - east rail link'

‘Unlike the Tories, Labour is committed to delivering the west – east rail link’

But what exactly is Labour’s “west – east rail link”? Is it ‘HS3’?

RMT union leader Mick Cash likened HS3 to a costly vanity project

RMT union leader Mick Cash likened HS3 to a costly vanity project

Written by beleben

February 14, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Posted in High speed rail

Going loco for Toto at lo-lo

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HS2 Ltd chairman David Higgins has a ‘vision’ of people travelling to a new city around Toton parkway, at budget airline-style ‘lo-lo’ prices.

[‘Next arrival on the HS2 line: a brand new city’, Mark Hookham, The Sunday Times, 12 Feb 2017]

“Check every Eurostar — it’s always packed. You know why Eurostar is packed? It’s because it’s run on a Ryanair/ easyJet model,” he said.

However, the vision is not shared by Toton’s MP, Anna Soubry.

Anna Soubry MP described David Higgin's Toton 'vision' as irresponsible nonsense

Anna Soubry MP described David Higgin’s Toton ‘vision’ as irresponsible nonsense

Is Eurostar always “packed”?

And is it run anything like a low-cost airline?

The Eurostar service depends on billions of pounds of dedicated high-cost infrastructure (i.e. HS1, the Channel Tunnel, and LGV Nord), which means that commercial ‘low-cost’ operation is not possible.

Although Eurostar managed to take a large part of the Paris and Brussels travel market from airlines, that was only possible because of public subsidies running into billions of pounds.

Eurostar's £2 billion losses reported in the Daily Express, 2010

Eurostar had to be bailed out by the British government

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Higgins predicted that a new city coud be built around the Toton HS2 station.

[‘Next arrival on the HS2 line: a brand new city’, The Sunday Times]

[David Higgins:] “You’ve got two big cities either side of it [Toton HS2]. You’ve got a big university within a very short distance. It will be well under an hour to both London and Leeds. So this is a city.”

Were HS2 to offer travel to ‘a new city’ at Toton at ‘lo-lo prices’ – assuming space for a city could be found – there would be a need for enormous subsidies, to cover HS2’s high fixed infrastructure costs.

Written by beleben

February 13, 2017 at 12:24 pm

Posted in HS1, HS2, Politics

The only way is upgrade

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According to Network Rail, ‘the major increase in rail capacity the UK needs can only come from making the infrastructure we already have more productive‘.

Capacity benefit of moving block signalling, according to Network Rail's Digital Railway initiative

In that case, how important is the £60+ billion new-build HS2 for meeting future demand?

  • According to Network Rail, “there will be 1 billion extra annual rail journeys” by 2030.
  • And according to HS2 Ltd, HS2 ‘will carry 300,000 passengers per day’ when complete
    (i.e., ~110 million per year).

However, HS2 is not scheduled to be complete until about 2033. But if it somehow were fully open by 2030, and carrying its target annual demand – two very big ‘ifs’ – that would still mean that 89% of the forecast ‘billion extra passengers‘ would have to be accommodated on the existing railway.

At present, flows like Birmingham to London, and Manchester to London, amount to fewer than 10 million trips per annum, combined. On a ‘two-and-a-half-billion-passenger’ railway, what would be the sense in building hundreds of kilometres of vanity infrastructure to accommodate, at best, 3 or 4 percent of the traffic?

'There will be 1 billion more rail journeys by 2030', say Network Rail

The capital cost of increasing the capacity of existing railways with digital technology is much lower than building new lines, according to a 2014 Arup corporate article.

Can railway capacity be doubled without building new track?

Can railway capacity be doubled without building new track?

In practice, the best capacity uplifts would likely arise from combining ‘Digital Railway’ technologies with ‘old-school’ infrastructure improvements (such as grade separated junctions).

Network Rail, 'Digital Railway' aspiration

Network Rail ‘Digital Railway’ aspiration

Written by beleben

February 10, 2017 at 11:39 am

Posted in Planning, Railways

Going for cold on Crossrail 2

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London mayor Sadiq Khan has warned that the capital’s transport network will ‘grind to a halt’ under the “unbearable strain” of millions more passengers, unless the government agrees to co-fund the £30 billion (?) Crossrail 2.

What might have prompted that ‘warning’?

[Sadiq Khan: London’s transport network will grind to halt amid ‘unbearable strain’ without Crossrail 2,  PIPPA CRERAR, Evening Standard, 8 Feb 2017]

It comes as Government insiders revealed concerns about stumping up almost half of the current £32 billion cost, with one claiming ministers were “going cold” on the idea.

But the immediate ‘strain’ for Transport for London is an overall fares income ‘down £90 million due to lower passenger volumes’, according to Greater London Assembly Conservatives.

Big-business pressure group London First claimed that Crossrail 2 could be built for

Big-business pressure group London First claimed that Crossrail 2 could be built for “£12 billion”

In the view of the Beleben blog, Crossrail 2, in its present form, is a vanity project, and should not be built.

The full economic case has been kept from the public, but the available summary information indicates that Crossrail 2’s benefit-cost and other metrics are not particularly impressive.

Obviously, transport congestion in central London is not limited to Crossrail 2’s south-west-to-north-east axis. It requires a holistic approach.

On-street trams could relieve the Underground in central London and provide quicker journeys in many cases

On-street trams could relieve the London Underground – and provide quicker journeys, in many cases

With further automation and platform screens, the capacity of existing Underground lines could be increased substantially. And for many journeys in central London, new on-street light rail would be quicker than the tube.

London Crossrail 2 as proposed in 2015

London Crossrail 2 as proposed in 2015

Is Crossrail 2 a housing scheme masquerading as an 'essential' transport scheme?

Written by beleben

February 9, 2017 at 11:36 am

Sublime as the rapture

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Why are megaprojects like HS2 so attractive to decision makers? The answer may be found in the so-called “four sublimes” of megaproject management (wrote Bent Flyvbjerg).

[What You Should Know about Megaprojects and Why: An Overview, Bent Flyvbjerg, Project Management Journal, volume 45, number 2, April – May 2014]

[…] Karen Trapenberg Frick first introduced the term to the study of megaprojects, describing the technological sublime as the rapture engineers and technologists get from building large and innovative projects, like the tallest building or the longest bridge.

[…] Due to the large sums of money involved, principal-agent problems and rent-seeking behavior are common, as is optimism bias.

[…] The common practice of depending on the Hiding Hand or creative error in estimating costs and benefits results in an inverted Darwinism, that is, the “survival of the unfittest.” It is not the best projects that get implemented, but the projects that look best on paper. And the projects that look best on paper are the projects with the largest cost underestimates and benefit overestimates, shortfalls, and risks of nonviability. Thus the projects that have been made to look best on paper become the worst, or unfittest, projects in reality, in the sense that they are the very projects that will encounter the most problems during construction and operations in terms of the largest cost overruns, benefit shortfalls, and risks of nonviability. They have been designed like that, as disasters waiting to happen.

The rapture of the superlative

The rapture of the superlative

Written by beleben

February 8, 2017 at 10:42 am

Posted in Planning, Politics

Behind the idea

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Momentum is gathering behind the idea of including Bradford on a high-speed line between Manchester and Leeds, according to the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority has commissioned Arup to investigate the options.

[‘Plans to transform Bradford Forster Square station remain on track’, Claire Wilde, T&A, 6 Feb 2017]

The T&A has found out that the possible options being explored include:

* A through line for Bradford city centre for the first time in its history;

* Bringing the high-speed line underneath the existing city, using tunnels, cuttings, or both;

* A new underground high-speed platform built beneath Bradford Interchange;

* Possible pedestrian subways linking this to Bradford Forster Square station.

[…] The feasibility study will be fed back to working group Transport for the North (TfN) which has been given £60 million of Government funding to draw up proposals for a high-speed link between Leeds and Manchester, which is now called Northern Powerhouse Rail.

If the government cannot fund the electrification of the Selby to Hull railway, what are the chances of a new ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ line being built between Manchester and Leeds, via Bradford?

Bradford, OpenStreetMap

Before the construction of the Broadway development, there would have been the possibility of an affordable heavy rail link across Bradford city centre. However, the council and Integrated Transport Authority, failed to protect an alignment.

Bradford's Forster Square and Exchange stations (1947)

In 1947 Bradford’s Forster Square and Exchange stations were closer together than they are now

Written by beleben

February 7, 2017 at 12:37 pm

May the farce be with you

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Prime minister Theresa May wanted to cancel the HS2 project, but was told it was ‘too late’ to do so, claimed Lord Framlingham in a House of Lords debate on 31 January.

[House of Lords, HS2 LWM Bill, 2017-01-31]

[Lord Framlingham:] I have followed this issue [HS2] carefully since it arrived in this House. I spoke against it at Second Reading, during the Queen’s Speech debate and in Committee. During all those stages I heard nothing but criticism of the project from every corner of the House, but noble Lords were still, for some reason, reluctant to speak against it in principle. So we arrive at the situation we face today — all the scheme’s credibility has long since gone, yet it is still bowling along with a momentum all of its own. It has been compared to Alice in Wonderland or the emperor’s new clothes. One journalist described it as the “zombie railway” that refuses to die. How has it got so far?

[…] I have it on good authority that the Prime Minister, when she assumed office, wanted to abandon the scheme but was told that she could not because it was too late. It is never too late. There is an old adage about throwing good money after bad and although it may well be necessary to write off considerable moneys already spent, these sums have to be compared with the billions of pounds that would be spent in the future, not to mention the 10 years it is going to take to build, the massive disruption to Euston station and the surrounding area in London and, of course, the devastating effect it will have on our countryside.

In the debate, the Baron of Camden Town took the opportunity to repeat his stock wibble about ‘open heart surgery’, ‘upgrading the West Coast main line cost £10 billion’, and so forth.

[Andrew Adonis:] Upgrading a pre-Victorian railway is a very difficult task. It has been described to me as like performing open-heart surgery on a moving patient. It is also very expensive and complex. The completion of the last upgrade of the west coast main line, which produced only a fraction of the additional capacity that HS2 will produce, cost, in pre-2010 prices, £10 billion — in post-2010 prices that figure would be significantly higher. Of that £10 billion, £1 billion alone was for paying the railway company not to operate services at all in compensation for the disruption. For HS2, with the scale of the work that would be required, the proportionate figure would be larger still.

'AJNTSA'If an alternative scenario to HS2 were to be carried out — upgrading the existing railway — the estimate that was made for me by officials in 2010, and which has been done again since, is that you would have to spend half as much as on HS2 for a quarter of the capacity, and of course the sum is a moving target because of construction costs and inflation.

I should add that the alternative scheme involved the complete rebuilding of Euston station, which will need to be done anyway. The great monstrosity that is Euston station was built for half its current capacity in the 1960s. I am glad to say, for those with a sense of history, that the Euston arch will come back when the station is rebuilt. The scheme also required hugely difficult and expensive work that would involve weeks on end of closures to realign tracks and signalling, extend platforms at all the main stations going north from Euston and so on. 'That's so informative, Andrewzzz'Those of your Lordships who used the west coast main line when the last work was being conducted will know that the disruption was chronic for the best part of a decade. We would be looking at something significantly worse than that if we were to seek to modernise the west coast main line on the scale required for the additional capacity.

It is not just the west coast main line that would be affected. In order to provide that 25% extra capacity, the Chiltern line would need to be substantially four-tracked throughout.


According to the Department for Transport, the ‘£9 billion WCML renewal and modernisation programme’ included £2.5 billion of investment on upgrades and £6.5 billion on renewals. But Andrew Adonis claims £10 billion was spent on upgrades

On intercity West Coast, it would be possible to increase Standard class capacity by a lot more than “25%”, without doing any ‘disruptive infrastructure work’ at all (e.g. by replacing each 9-car and 11-car Pendolino with a 10-car Class 800 variant).

On Chiltern, the “quick ‘n easy” no-disruption capacity uplift would also be a great deal more than 25%, if short loco-hauled trains and suchlike were replaced by full-length multiple units.

Judging from photographs, the Euston “arch” (propylaeum) was one of the least attractive parts of the old station. And when asked about claims like ‘the 1960s Euston was built for half its current capacity’, HS2 Ltd stated they held no information. If anyone can give a reference to an official 1960s British Railways statement about the design capacity of the station, the Beleben blog would be interested to see it.

In spite of Lord Framlingham’s efforts, the HS2 LWM Bill passed its Third Reading in the Lords. So HS2 continues to run on empty.

Written by beleben

February 2, 2017 at 11:07 am

Posted in HS2, Politics