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Archive for March 2017

Is Midland Metro ‘a proven catalyst for economic growth’?

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Midland Metro carries far fewer passengers than Centro forecast 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.

Written by beleben

March 23, 2017 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Birmingham, Centro, Politics

Yesterday’s solutions and today’s fantasies

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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.

'Northern strategy must embrace the future', Richard Threlfall, KPMG

‘Northern strategy must embrace the future’, KPMG, December 2016

[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 [2017] 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.

'An Italian rapper, a hangman's noose and a $250m lawsuit: the chaotic race to build Elon Musk's hyperloop', Wired, 6 Oct 2016

Written by beleben

March 20, 2017 at 10:31 am

Bad decisions beget bad connectivity

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In the last few years, Birmingham city council has allowed

  • the goods yard at Moor Street railway station to be redeveloped for the Bullring shopping centre
  • property company Ballymore to build offices on the east side of the old Snow Hill station site.

As a result of these decisions, the options for increasing railway capacity and connectivity in the West Midlands have been much reduced.

Three Snowhill is one of three office buildings which prevent capacity expansion at Snow Hill railway station

Three Snowhill is one of three newly-built office buildings which prevent capacity expansion at Snow Hill railway station

If HS2 is built as planned in Leeds and Manchester, the regional connectivity disbenefits could be even larger than in Birmingham. Implementation of city ‘S-Bahn’ systems in Manchester and Leeds would probably become unaffordable and infeasible.

If the Piccadilly / Mayfield station area is redeveloped in the way intended by Manchester council, it is unlikely that a Manchester 'S-Bahn' could ever be implemented

If the Piccadilly / Mayfield station area is redeveloped in the way intended by Manchester council, it is unlikely that a Manchester ‘S-Bahn’ could ever be implemented

With its capacity-sapping flat junctions, Network Rail’s Ordsall chord is in no way a substitute for a Leipzig-style Piccadilly – Victoria interconnector (‘Picvic 21’).

With its flat junctions, the Ordsall chord could not enable a high frequency Manchester regional 'S-Bahn'

With its flat junctions, the Ordsall chord could not enable a high frequency Manchester regional ‘S-Bahn’

Written by beleben

March 16, 2017 at 2:13 pm

Posted in HS2

Crewe to be ‘HS2 central hub’

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Malcolm Smith, ‘director of international masterplanner Arup’, said ‘Crewe will be a different place in 10 years, reinvigorated by HS2 and the town’s status renewed as the central hub of the national rail network’ (reported Place North West).

Crewe will be the busiest stop on the HS2 railway, according to Cheshire East council leader Rachel Bailey

Crewe will be the ‘busiest stop on the HS2 railway’, according to Cheshire East council leader Rachel Bailey (reported Place North West)

Written by beleben

March 16, 2017 at 11:49 am

Posted in gibberish, Politics

HS2 and national rail demand

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HS2 is needed because the number of rail passenger journeys has doubled since the last day of British Rail, when 800 million travelled (claimed Nigel Harris of ‘Rail’ magazine, in a BBC Inside Out West Midlands interview).

Nigel Harris on BBC Inside Out West Midlands, broadcast 6 March 2017

Nigel Harris on BBC Inside Out West Midlands, broadcast 6 March 2017

This is a curious argument. If 800 million extra annual journeys have been accommodated without building a new line, who is to say another 800 million couldn’t be accommodated without building a new line?

It turns out that Network Rail are forecasting a lot more than 800 million extra passengers in the future on the existing railway, and this is “more than the current infrastructure was ever designed for”. But did George Stephenson or Isambard Kingdom Brunel “design for” a particular number of passengers?

[Network Rail]

“Passenger numbers have doubled in the last 20 years – this is more than the current infrastructure was ever designed for.

That number’s set to double again in the next 25 years.”

HS2 is “designed for” future intercity demand between Birmingham and London, Manchester and London, and Leeds and London. But intercity is a small proportion of rail travel, and all the indications are that existing lines would be able to meet its future demand.

Together, annual rail volume between London and the three provincial HS2 cities is less than 10 million journeys (on the figures used by Mr Harris, about 0.6 per cent of the national total).

Written by beleben

March 10, 2017 at 4:38 pm

Posted in HS2

Midland connection and aspiration

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The ‘Midlands Connect Strategy’, published on 9 March 2017, states that Midlands Connect is a ‘voluntary pan-Midlands partnership of local transport authorities, local enterprise partnerships and local business representatives working with the Department for Transport and its key delivery bodies.’

'Midlands Engine' area, 2017

[Midlands Connect strategy, Mar 2017]

The Partnership now forms the transport component of the Midlands Engine for Growth. Leadership and accountability is provided by the Strategic Board comprising an independent chair, Sir John Peace, elected members from six local authorities, four LEP chairs and representatives of HS2 Ltd, Network Rail and Highways England.
[…]
Whist our vision is ambitious, it is built on a strong technical evidence base and does not assume unlimited financial resources. In addition to implementing existing commitments, we set out a limited number of priorities which we will develop further over the next three years, making use of the additional £17 million of Government funding announced in autumn 2016, to enable delivery to start in the period 2020-25. We also provide a set of longer term interventions for development and delivery over the following years.

Our objective is to establish a rolling 25-year programme of strategic road and rail improvements, split into five year ‘blocks’ consistent with expected road and rail investment periods and the implementation of HS2. This comprehensive long term approach will give much-needed certainty to businesses, communities and investors whilst also improving quality of life, improving skills and enhancing access to new opportunities – both within the Midlands and beyond.

According to the Strategy,

  • an average speed of 60 mph (96 km/h) on the Strategic Road Network should be available between ‘our key centres’
  • a highway journey should be no more than 20% longer than the average
  • rail journeys between key centres should have end to end speeds of 70 mph (112 km/h) where possible
  • in the peak, people should not have to stand on trains for more than 20 minutes.
Midlands Connect Strategy aspirations, March 2017

Midlands Connect Strategy aspirations, March 2017

But are these aspirations realistic, or desirable?

For example, why might it be acceptable to stand for 19 minutes, but not for 21? What are the societal costs of ‘100% of travellers seated, for every rail journey over 20 minutes’?

The document also outlines plans to increase Birmingham rail capacity by implementing the ‘Midlands Rail Hub’. This appears to be a rebranding of the old scheme to implement two new chords at Camp Hill.

Is the Midlands Rail Hub concept little more than a re-branding of the Camp Hill chords scheme?

In the view of the Beleben blog, the likelihood of significant capacity uplift just from building the Camp Hill chords, is questionable.

The Benson Road and Adderley chords are not part of the Midlands Connect Strategy

The Benson Road and Adderley chords are not part of the Midlands Connect Strategy

Birmingham to Lincoln by train is about 89 miles and takes two and a half hours, so the end to end speed is ~35 mph. Is that really ‘holding back regional productivity’? Or are other factors, like ‘human capital’, much more important?

'Average speeds on SRN, 2014'

‘Average speeds on SRN, 2014’

Written by beleben

March 9, 2017 at 11:40 am

Posted in Business, HS2, Planning, Politics

The hordes of Aldridge

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In an article for Rail Engineer (3 January 2014), Andrew McNaughton, Technical Director of HS2 Ltd, stated that “The first phase of HS2 will be most useful in releasing capacity to recast the south end of the WCML and the corridor through Coventry into Birmingham. The former will then accommodate the growth into London and the latter high frequency metro style services that Centro envisages.”

However, all the evidence suggests that

  • HS2 would not enable a high frequency local rail service into Birmingham
  • what Centro (now TfWM) “envisages”, is certainly not a “metro style” service.

According to a listing of sample post-HS2 departures prepared by Centro’s Toby Rackliff, there would no longer be direct trains between Coventry, and stations like Marston Green and Stechford.

But there would be a direct train between Coventry and Aldridge, presumably for the ‘hordes’ of people wanting to commute between those places.

Potential post-HS2 Coventry station departures in a sample one-hour period, presented by Toby Rackliff of Centro

Potential post-HS2 Coventry station departures in a sample one-hour period, presented by Toby Rackliff of Centro

Centro's post-HS2 recast of Coventry trains ending direct service to Marston Green, Lea Hall, Stechford, and Adderley Park, but allowing a through service to Aldridge

Written by beleben

March 7, 2017 at 11:40 am

Posted in HS2, Politics