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Archive for July 2017

What is the HS2 Wider Programme?

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Chris Grayling has been accused of “hiding” details of the budgets and timescales for HS2 from an official document amid rising concerns about the cost of the project (reported

[Chris Grayling accused of ‘hiding’ details of HS2 budgets, Dean Kirby, The i News, 28 July 2017]

The 196-page Development Agreement between the Transport Secretary and HS2 Ltd drawn up in 2014 and updated earlier this month sets out how the project will be managed and delivered. But key pages in the document including the “baseline delivery schedule” and the “cost model” for the first phase of the scheme have been redacted, along with an annex of “budget envelopes” and “target prices”. Even the definition of the term “budget envelope” has also been redacted.

HS2 Development Agreement July 2017, 'Core and Wider programmes'

The July 2017 Agreement states that the HS2 ‘Core Programme‘ means “the High Speed 2 project (comprised of Phase One, Phase 2a and Phase 2b) for the design, procurement, construction, commissioning, operation and maintenance of a new Railway, and includes all the work and functions to be carried out by HS2 Ltd in accordance with this Agreement, and any reference to the ‘Core Programme’ includes a reference to a part thereof. The Core Programme will deliver the benefits set out in the Business Case.”

But it states that “the SoS has initiated a wider programme (the ‘Wider Programme‘) to ensure that HS2 Ltd helps to deliver the government’s objectives for growth and regeneration. The Wider Programme will deliver benefits beyond those set out in the Business Case.”

The official £55.7 billion cost of HS2 refers to the Core Programme, but the costs of the Wider Programme – whatever that is – do not appear to have any numbers attached.

In the view of the Beleben blog, the cost of the so-called Core Programme looks likely to exceed £55.7 billion, for a number of reasons, with Mr Grayling’s penchant for ‘financialisation’ having the potential to add billions to the expenditure.

Coming clean about the cost, before substantive construction has commenced, might well lead to public and political pressure to cancel the entire project. It seems likely that the disclosure policy for cost escalations would be to ‘drip-feed’, and defer for as long as possible.

Financialisation can add billions to public expenditure

Financialisation, for example private-finance-initiative schemes, can add billions to public expenditure

Written by beleben

July 31, 2017 at 9:54 am

Posted in HS2, Politics

Plan to ban

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The centrepiece of forthcoming British government strategy on air quality will be a ‘plan to ban diesel and petrol car and van sales completely by 2040’, the Guardian reported.

'Britain to ban sale of all diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040', The Guardian

If this ‘ban on small petrol and diesel road vehicles’ is true, it would seem a little odd for the government to have been encouraging new-build diesel trains across the national rail network, and cutting back main line electrification only last week. With the life of trains generally being a lot longer than for automobiles, rolling stock ordered today could be in use well beyond 2040.

Written by beleben

July 26, 2017 at 9:25 am

Posted in Environment, Politics

People in orange

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The UK’s “full-to-capacity railway infrastructure” is a problem that “we cannot build our way out of – we have to innovate our way out of”, according to Network Rail Digital Railway group managing director David Waboso (quoted by

[‘Our systems are at capacity; we cannot build our way out – we must innovate’ – Digital Railway chief, Sam Trendall,, 20 July 2017]

[…] “A lot of our systems are at capacity. We cannot speed more trains through Manchester, London, or Leeds,” Waboso said. “We cannot build our way out of this – and HS2 or a Crossrail are once-in-a-generation projects.

“We need to innovate our way out of it.”
“We have an army of people in orange crawling over the infrastructure,” he added. “We have to really challenge ourselves – is that really necessary?”


On a visit to Manchester last week, transport secretary Chris Grayling said the railway between Leeds and Manchester is ‘unlikely to be fully electrified’, and he was ‘reviewing a plan to build two platforms at Manchester Piccadilly station to cope with extra trains‘.

[Leeds to Manchester railway unlikely to be fully electrified, says Chris Grayling, Andy Bounds, FT, 21 July 2017]

Rail improvements the government has previously deemed vital to its Northern Powerhouse plan to tackle the north-south divide may not go ahead, the transport secretary said on Friday.
He said that instead trains that could switch between electric and diesel power, called bi-mode locomotives, were likely to operate on the Leeds to Manchester route.
Mr Grayling said he had ordered Network Rail, owner of the rail infrastructure, to review plans to build two platforms as part of a £600m “Northern Hub” plan that includes connecting Victoria and Piccadilly stations in Manchester.
Mr Grayling said: “I want them [Network Rail] to see if it is question of additional platforms or whether they can do something with digital technology that actually increases capacity.”

Whether ‘Northern Hub Two Extra Platforms’ or ‘Digital Railway’ are a real solution to the conflicting movements and flat junctions in Manchester, is questionable. The definitive solution would probably entail a Leipzig-style underground connection between Victoria and Piccadilly (in other words, a 21st century version of the 1970s Picc-Vic scheme), but no Northern politicians seem to be interested.

Written by beleben

July 25, 2017 at 10:23 am

Posted in HS2, Politics, Railways

They seldom deliberate

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The saga of delayed and failed rail electrification suggests British politicians and officials are more comfortable with talking than with deliberation (wrote Ian Jack).


[From the railways to the NHS – why can’t Britain think anything through?, Ian Jack, The Guardian, 22 July 2017]

In the context of general British incompetence, these railway difficulties amount to only a petty disaster. Towering above them come the examples of the poll tax, the serial reorganisations of the NHS, the Millennium Dome, and the failure of expensive new IT systems in government departments. As the political scientists Anthony King and Ivor Crewe noted in 2014 in their book, The Blunders of Our Governments, there was no letup in Britain’s propensity for the cock-up – if anything, it was getting worse. King and Crewe thought the features of the government system that made the country more blunder-prone included “parliament’s near irrelevance” and the absence in Whitehall of relevant skills, but also what they termed “a deficit of deliberation”.

They wrote: “British politicians meet, discuss, debate, manoeuvre, read submissions, read the newspapers, make speeches, answer questions, visit their constituencies, chair meetings and frequently give interviews, but they seldom deliberate.” They didn’t, in other words, take the time to weigh the claims against the evidence, to ask for more information, to reach out and consult other parties who knew more or would also be affected by the action that might be taken.

Written by beleben

July 24, 2017 at 12:32 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Six hundred thousand pounds per seat

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In 2013 Tim Mould QC, representing the DfT in the Supreme Court, said: “It is unarguable that high speed rail is environmentally damaging. It has never been disputed that upgrading existing lines is far less damaging environmentally.”

But in terms of transport capacity, is it arguable that high speed rail is better value for money?

All the evidence suggests that for increasing capacity, upgrading existing lines is far more cost-effective (and affordable) than new-build high speed rail.

Credo transport capacity research paper for Invensys (extract), 2007

Each seat of ‘HS2 capacity’ comes at a cost of at least £600,000.

Written by beleben

July 23, 2017 at 11:14 am

Taking stock of HS2

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Channel 4 News FactCheck Q&A: How does HS2 compare to other bullet trains?, 21 July 2017

Written by beleben

July 21, 2017 at 7:45 pm

Posted in HS2, Planning

Cuckoo in the nest

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In September 2016 the Beleben blog suggested that “It is difficult to see how Midland [main line rail] electrification, in its present form, could ever be value for money”.

Actually, with current government policy and industry structure, it is hard to see how any substantial electrification in England and Wales, could be value for money (or fundable). Any project would face the multiple obstacles of Network Rail technical inexpertise, Schedule 8 compensation payments, transport secretary Chris Grayling’s discovery of “new technology” (electro-diesel and, er, hydrogen power), and the “£55.7 billion” HS2 cuckoo in the nest.


The proportion of electrified rail track in Great Britain is one of the lowest in Europe (The Swiss network is ~100% electrified, and Denmark is moving ahead of Great Britain)

Written by beleben

July 21, 2017 at 11:33 am

Posted in HS2, Politics

Main line electrification binned by Chris Grayling to pay for HS2

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It was only a matter of time.

'Thanks to  new bi-mode technology disruptive electrification works between Cardiff and Swansea, Kettering, Nottingham and Sheffield, and between Windermere and Oxenholme, will no longer be needed' - Department for Transport, 20 July 2017

Midland Main Line electrification between Kettering and Sheffield was cancelled by transport secretary Chris Grayling MP on 20 July 2017

Midland Main Line electrification between Kettering and Sheffield was cancelled by transport secretary Chris Grayling MP on 20 July 2017

Written by beleben

July 20, 2017 at 12:07 pm

Posted in HS2, Politics

Just a block of grey

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On 17 July 2017, the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP announced his decisions on refinements to the route proposed for HS2 phase two, and a number of documents were published on the HS2 website.

In line with HS2 tradition, the new documents embody doublespeak, sophistry, and incomprehensibility. Consider, for example, what Figure 7 from the “Phase 2 Strategic Case” appears to say. On first glance, this shows that “with HS2 phase 2”, from London to Peterborough the number of seats in the PM High Peak Hour (1700 – 1759) could ‘rise to 11,090’, compared to 5,630 in December 2016.


But on closer inspection, 4,400 of those seats would not be available to Peterborough at all. The number of intercity seats would actually fall by 760.

Of course, capacity on the East Coast Main Line could be increased vastly, without building HS2, for example, by closing Welwyn North station in the peak hours. Another option would be to use the money currently earmarked for HS2’s boondoggle Piccadilly tunnel, to four-track the Welwyn ‘bottleneck‘.

Figure 8 is captioned “Seating capacity from Leeds in Scenario 5”, but the graph itself is labelled “Manchester Piccadilly – PM High Peak Hour” (?)


Another document, titled “Economic case advice”, purports to present the analysis of the costs and benefits of a “Crewe hub”. But where the capital costs (item 7) should be, there is just a block of grey.

Written by beleben

July 19, 2017 at 5:45 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

On diesel or electric

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According to a BBC story about the uncertainty of railway electrification between Swansea and Cardiff, Network Rail expects to accommodate a 110%+ increase in demand for rail travel between South Wales and London, on the existing line.

Network Rail, forecast growth in Wales to London passenger demand

So why does the government claim that the “£55.7 billion” HS2 railway is needed to meet increased demand from Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds?

[Cardiff to Swansea rail electrification commitment urged, Brian Meechan, BBC, 18 July 2017]

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns on Monday took a look inside the new hybrid trains which will start operating on the Great Western service this autumn.
Mr Cairns would not be drawn on further electrification west of Cardiff but said the new [IEP] trains would bring benefits to Swansea passengers sooner than envisaged.

“Passengers won’t know if they’re running on diesel or electric,” he said.

How won’t they know? The IEP trains have diesel engines underneath the carriages. Has MTU invented a noise- and vibration-free diesel engine?

Written by beleben

July 19, 2017 at 11:30 am

Posted in Politics, Railways