Archive for March 2017
An explosive leaked document exposes how a national lack of funding has forced Britain’s rail bosses to cancel a vast array of track upgrades in a bid to save millions of pounds, The Independent reported.
[UK rail passengers ‘endangered’ by biggest spending cuts since 2008 financial crash, Joe Watts, Andy Grice, The Independent, 31 March 2017]
The scale of axed projects has led to serious concerns over track safety and also threatens devastating consequences for the rail industry with contractors “hardest hit”.
But it is only the latest blow in a broader darkening picture for Britain’s public services – with the NHS effectively ditching operation waiting time targets, defence chiefs considering downsizing the Royal Marines and schools facing the deepest cuts since the 1980s.
The Independent was passed a letter penned by senior Network Rail official Ben Brooks in which he soberly sets out the “testing times” up to 2019, the remainder of the organisation’s “control period 5”.
Mr Brooks wrote: “Because of significant overspends in some areas, including some enhancement schemes and the fact that the routes are more expensive to run than predicted, there is simply not enough money left in CP5 to continue as we have been.
He adds: “The last time the track renewals industry had a cost challenge of this magnitude, 7-8 years ago, the supply chain suffered massively (we lost a principal contractor and many second tier suppliers)… this is going to be a tough couple of years for the whole industry.”
HS2 Ltd cannot tell what “rail passengers will want and need in 2026”. So it ‘needs help‘ from the rolling stock industry to collaborate in a design process “that presents ideas early, allows time for failure while its cheap [sic] and delivers a great end product for people to enjoy.”
[HS2 Ltd, Rolling Stock Industry Event, 27 March 2017]
[Iain Smith:] Obviously trains – we will be looking for a minimum of 54 trains to deliver the initial services. Once we’ve finalised the service patterns for Phases 1 and 2a, some more of the same may be needed. Options will not include the full Phase 2 fleets, which will be the subject of a second procurement.
We may introduce private finance at any time after contract award but until that time, HS2 will remain the owner of the trains. We will also be looking for the manufacturer and their suppliers to maintain the fleet for at least the first 12 years, but with a promise to cover the whole life of the train.
This could be the start of a contract which will last until 2060!
This maintenance will include everything apart from daily servicing and cleaning, delivery of which will be a decision for the Operator. As you would expect, we will want major spares and tools to help keep the fleet in service for our passengers. We will also be looking for the necessary driving simulators and training so the Operator will be able to make full use of the trains.
And, last but certainly not least, we need a delivery partner for the new high speed Depot, ensuring it is fit to support the trains in service. The Washwood Heath Depot site is key to the construction of the main HS2 route. We will therefore be building the Washwood Heath maintenance depot in close co-operation with the Rolling Stock manufacturer. We do expect the manufacturer to fit out the Depot to their needs.
[Tom Williamson:] Robust and precise operation is essential to delivering the capacity and customer experience we’ve promised. That means we’re going to have to automate our railway in a way that hasn’t been done before, certainly on high speed railways. For example, trains will need to split and join on route, a process which currently takes several minutes and is confusing for passengers as trains stop and move multiple times. Technology could allow safe and seamless automation of this process, saving valuable minutes and making the service more intuitive for our customers. Dispatching trains from platforms is another area we are seeking to improve, supporting both the safety and resilience of our railway. The system must be simple and intuitive to all users, including staff.
The fleet is likely to be in operation until the late 2050s. User needs will change during that time, as will the use of the trains. Even on day one, the trains will need to be suited for journeys of anything from 45 minutes London to Birmingham to over 3.5 hours to Scotland. And the design would ideally be adaptable to support changes in use during the week or even during a single day. Spaces that can adapt to different user needs would contribute to delivering an exceptional user-focused service. So how do we deliver spaces for business travellers in the week and for families and groups of leisure travellers at weekends or holidays? How do we deliver the right capacity for bulky luggage on a Sunday evening without sacrificing seats on Monday morning? These are the type of challenges we need you to find solutions to.
How realistic, or sensible, is all this? There seems to be plenty of scope for egg on face.
To give one example: most stations served by HS2 trains would be on the existing (legacy) network.
Their platforms are of varying height, and curvature.
So, how achievable, or cost-effective, is HS2’s ‘requirement’ for ‘level boarding’?
CH2M chief executive Jacqueline Hinman has written to HS2 Ltd chairman David Higgins to “formally advise him of their withdrawal of interest” in the Phase 2b development partner contract, the Daily Mirror reported today.
According to the Financial Times (28 March), CH2M had been told “that they either stand down or they will be kicked off. It is going to happen this week.”
[‘HS2 engineering firm pulls out a month after being handed £170m deal’, Daily Mirror, 29 March]
Lib Dem transport spokesperson Jenny Randerson said: “The Government have made a clear error by not undertaking a thorough or proper process.
“Liberal Democrats have been calling for greater transparency in terms of how much the project is going to cost. We also need to know who will be carrying it out – the government have serious questions to answer about how this all happened. It is total chaos.”
HS2 Ltd’s freedom of information manager can confirm that neither HS2 Ltd’s Chairman, David Higgins’ office nor HS2 Ltd’s Public Affairs team hold any correspondence between HS2 Ltd and DfT that references or relates to the statements made by David Higgins in relation to speed and capacity at parliamentary select committees on 17 November 2014 and 13 January 2015. That is according to the company’s response on 28 March 2017, to an information request made by Dr Paul Thornton.
The false capacity claims made by David Higgins at the select committees are the subject of a complaint to HS2 Ltd. But the company says the complaint is ‘not a complaint‘, because it is not concerned with “a service provided by HS2 Ltd”.
In November 2016 David Prout, Director General of the High Speed Two Group at the Department for Transport, stated he would try to get the complaint “sorted”. But according to the 28 March information response,
- attempts to ‘sort’ the complaint have not entailed any correspondence between DfT and HS2 Ltd
- HS2 Ltd has not contacted the select committees to correct the capacity misinformation given to them by David Higgins.
With growing demand for travel on Britain’s existing conventional-speed railway, there is not enough capacity, so a new railway is needed (according to HS2 Ltd).
But if a new ‘conventional’ line were built, it would attract fewer passengers. So it would not be commercially rational to offer so many services which would result in less new capacity being introduced, unless the new railway was very high speed (according to HS2 Ltd).
So the expected future demand is ‘too much’, and ‘not enough’ – at the same time.
This contradictory gobbledygook appeared in a November 2016 letter supposedly written by HS2 then-chief executive Simon Kirby, aimed at explaining away misinformation given to parliamentary committees and a railway magazine.
[Extract from letter by HS2 CEO Simon Kirby dated 24 November 2016, but not sent out until February 2017]
The rationale for the quotes by David Higgins and myself is established in the report ‘HS2 Strategic Alternatives’ published in October 2013. This report shows that a conventional speed line would attract significantly fewer passengers from existing services and from alternative modes. Unlike HS2, a conventional speed line would not lead to the release of significant additional capacity on existing lines. A conventional speed line would also generate less demand from new growth and so fail to achieve the strategic purpose of HS2 which is to rebalance Britain. Because it would attract fewer passengers it would not be commercially rational to offer so many services which would result in less new capacity being introduced.
Transport for West Midlands (formerly Centro) is to take over operation of the Midland Metro tramway from October 2018, ‘to plough millions of pounds of future profits back into expanding the network’.
[TfWM to take direct control of Midland Metro services, TfWM, Wednesday 22 March 2017]
Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) is to take over the day-to-day running of its Midland Metro trams from October 2018 when the current concession, held by National Express, finishes. The move will enable TfWM, which is the transport arm of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), to plough millions of pounds of future profits back into expanding the network.
Existing National Express staff will be transferred over to a new subsidiary company – Midland Metro Ltd – which will be wholly owned by the WMCA.
The combined authority is set to start a number of extensions which will see the network triple in size over the next decade, with passenger numbers forecast to increase from around 6.5 million at present to more than 30 million. That is expected to generate profits of around £50 million over the first 11 years which the WMCA will be able to channel back into the network for the benefit of passengers and the local economy.
Cllr Roger Lawrence, WMCA lead for transport, said: “Metro is a fundamental part of our future plans not only for transport but for the West Midlands economy as a whole. “It is a proven catalyst for economic growth and is critical to best connect and feed into HS2 so we can reap the maximum economic benefits possible from the high speed rail line. “That’s why Metro is embarking on an unprecedented period of expansion and we believe bringing services in house will provide the extra flexibility and adaptability needed to meet this exciting new chapter while generating millions of pounds for the benefit of passengers and taxpayers. “I’d like to thank all National Express staff for operating the Midland Metro for the last 18 years. Through their hard work and dedication, tram passenger numbers have grown significantly and they have been nationally recognised for the high level of customer service they provide.”
Cllr Lawrence said the move and the transfer of staff over from National Express would ensure existing skills and expertise were retained helping to ensure the Metro’s 99 per cent reliability and its other strengths were taken forward. Bringing operations ‘in house’ would also enable TfWM to introduce new lines, trams, technology and operational practices safely, efficiently and with best value to the public purse, he said. In taking the decision, the WMCA board was told that if it decided to continue outsourcing tram services from October next year then the tendering process alone to appoint a private operator would cost taxpayers several million pounds.
Laura Shoaf, managing director of TfWM, said: “The end of the existing concession provides us with an ideal opportunity to change the way we operate services to better meet the needs of passengers, the wider community and ultimately the economy. “If we didn’t do this and instead outsourced operations to a private company at a time of such major expansion then it would be extremely difficult to accurately define the scope of services required from the operator. “That would lead to continuous and expensive commercial negotiations to agree the price for the delivery of those network changes. “So while bringing operations in house is not without risk we believe those risks are far outweighed by the advantages and that ultimately the move is good for passengers, good for taxpayers and good for the future prosperity of the West Midlands.”
Colin Saward, general manager of National Express Midlands Metro, added: “It’s disappointing we won’t get the chance to run the tram service when our current contract is up next year. But we appreciate TfWM’s reasons for taking services back in house when the network is about to change so much. “We will continue to work closely with TfWM to ensure a safe handover that is as smooth as possible for passengers and staff.”
The planned expansion of the Midland Metro network includes an extension of the route from New Street Station to Centenary Square, with services expected to start running in 2019. At its meeting last Friday (March 17) the WMCA board authorised TfWM and the Midland Metro Alliance to submit a Transport and Works Act Order application for the Centenary Square line to go further along Broad Street, past Five Ways and on to Edgbaston by 2021 and confirmed funding of £59 million towards the cost of the extension.
A Transport and Works Act Order has also been submitted for an extension through Digbeth in Birmingham, running from Bull Street via Albert Street and on to the forthcoming HS2 high speed rail station at Curzon Street. From there it would go along New Canal Street and Meriden Street into High Street Deritend, stopping at Digbeth Coach Station and the Custard Factory. It is anticipated the line could be open by 2023. In Wolverhampton work is set to start on an extension through the city centre as part of the £51.8 million Wolverhampton Interchange project. The route will take trams along Pipers Row, stopping directly outside the bus station before continuing on to the railway station which is also being redeveloped as part of the project. The line is expected to open in 2019.
Meanwhile a business case is also being prepared to extend the Metro from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill. Forthcoming extensions of the tram network will be built by the Midland Metro Alliance, a new partnership set up by WMCA. The Alliance consists of the WMCA, rail construction specialists Colas Rail and a consortium of design experts from Egis, Tony Gee and Pell Frischmann.
The Midland Metro currently runs from Wolverhampton St Georges to New Street Station via Bilston, Wednesbury, West Bromwich, the Jewellery Quarter and Snow Hill Station.
The tram, the bus, park and ride – these are all potentially yesterday’s solutions to yesterday’s opportunities. City and business leaders today should be thinking about the world in 20 years’ time, when the HS2 network is completed, according to KPMG’s Richard Threlfall.
[Richard Threlfall, 16 December 2016]
High speed rail will conquer the inter-urban market, potentially obliterating domestic aviation. Autonomous vehicles will provide the connections into that network, from the smallest rural hamlet, the remote suburb, or the city-centre transport interchange.
[…] By the end of  Transport for the North should have brought forward a strategy for HS3, which I hope will distinguish the creation of a new high speed inter-city network for the Northern Powerhouse from the upgrading of lines to strengthen commuter flows. I would like to see a dedicated city centre to city centre network, tunneled where necessary, and using a next generation technology such as that being developed by Hyperloop in the US.
But according to global VP of business development at Hyperloop One, Alan James – who previously headed the UK Ultraspeed maglev effort – hyperloop ‘would be a cheaper and faster alternative to HS2’.
[London to Manchester in 18 minutes? The Hyperloop may be heading to the UK, Oliver Franklin-Wallis, Wired, 5 September 2016]
Hyperloop One told WIRED it has held conversations with the government and private companies about potential UK routes and “there’s been quite a strong response” from the government. UK government representatives also attended Hyperloop One’s much-publicised propulsion test in Nevada, in May 2016.