Archive for February 2017
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘Unlike the Tories, the Labour party is committed to delivering the west – east rail link connecting the great cities of the north’.
But what exactly is Labour’s “west – east rail link”? Is it ‘HS3’?
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.
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.
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.
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‘.
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?
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.
In practice, the best capacity uplifts would likely arise from combining ‘Digital Railway’ technologies with ‘old-school’ infrastructure improvements (such as grade separated junctions).
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.
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.
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.