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Archive for November 2017

Bombast and the bailout

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Christmas in November

Christmas came early for Stagecoach and Virgin on 29 November, when the Department for Transport announced secretary of state Chris Grayling’s ‘new strategic vision‘ for railways.

gov.uk, strategic vision for rail, 29 Nov 2017

The announcement was bundled with a government bailout for (Stagecoach) Virgin Trains East Coast, the operator of nearly all long distance services out of Kings Cross since 2015.

Investment bank Liberum believes the risk of Stagecoach defaulting on the franchise has been ‘removed’ – perhaps not surprisingly, given that inconvenient back-loaded payment obligations which won VTEC the franchise competition seem to have been ‘disappeared’. In GB rail, ‘competition for the market’ seems to amount to which bidder has the rosiest spectacles, or the best cock and bull story.

East Coast bailout story in the Guardian, 29 Nov 2017

ITV News at 6.30 pm did not mention the bailout, and mainstream media coverage was distracted by the guff about ‘reversing Beeching’.

Daily Express 'reversing Beeching' twaddle, 29 November 2017

Stagecoach East Coast bailout story, Financial Times 29 Nov 2017

Written by beleben

November 30, 2017 at 12:28 pm

Trashing of ancient woodland for HS2 is ‘a crime against the natural world’

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Britain’s political establishment has got itself so obsessed with the ‘H projects’ (HS2, Hinkley and the Heathrow expansion), that it seems to have forgotten that spending smaller amounts of money locally and effectively would improve the lives of a far greater number of people in far greater ways (wrote Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party).

Woodland Trust, HS2 phase 1 woodland threat

[Jonathan Bartley: HS2 is an environmental disaster – we have to stop it in its tracks, Left Foot Forward, 29 Nov 2017]

Why I’m backing direct action against this expensive attack on nature

[…] The construction for HS2 threatens just under a hundred ancient woodlands across the country. The people of Hillingdon are determined to protect theirs, along with the waterways of the Colne Valley which provide over 20% of London’s drinking water, and the meadows which protect people’s homes from flooding.

This is our countryside, and the government is going to cover it in concrete. Nothing of this scale has ever been attempted before. Nobody fully understands the ramifications or possible consequences.

Beyond the impact on people, the trashing of ancient woodland is a crime against the natural world. The local woods are home to a huge range of irreplaceable species, ecosystems and habitats. From slow worms, to voles, to badgers, to bats, HS2 contractors routinely ignore evidence of the abundance of wildlife and plough on with the destruction.

With such brazen disregard for the local wildlife, activists believe that the construction is actually illegal – a clear breach of the EU habitats directive.

There’s also the small matter that this is all costing an eye watering £56 billion – equivalent to nearly half the entire NHS budget. But of course no one can put a price on the real cost of the environmental destruction.

Woodland Trust, HS2 phase 2 woodland threat

Written by beleben

November 29, 2017 at 4:37 pm

Posted in Environment, HS2, Politics

HS2 is a carbon-intensive project

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‘Experts’ behind the building of HS2 have said they had an ‘obligation to reduce their carbon impact and were insisting that all their Tier 1 contractors were PAS2080 accredited within 12 months of contract award’, according to Construction Europe (27 November 2017).

The inescapable reality is, by its very nature, HS2 would be a carbon-intensive megaproject, in both its construction and operation phases. For example,

  • thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases would have to be released just to push earth around to create the alignment for HS2 track (a completely unnecessary activity, because a ‘ready-made’ alignment for 200 – 225 km/h trains exists, in the form of the Great Central Main Line to Rugby and the East Midlands)
  • running trains at ‘HS2 speeds’ (330+ km/h) vastly increases the traction energy requirement, and hence the carbon emissions
  • the environmental impact of concrete production is significant, but HS2 would require enormous quantities, for tunnels, slab track, viaducts, and so forth.

In July 2017 the government announced plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040. Accelerated change in the energy mix of road vehicles must further reduce the chances of HS2 ever achieving ‘CO2 neutrality’.

Written by beleben

November 28, 2017 at 11:27 am

Posted in HS2

Get trucks off rail

with 2 comments

@Andrew_Adonis, get trucks off rail

@Andrew_Adonis, lorry platooning likely soon

Written by beleben

November 26, 2017 at 10:38 am

No mention of a design capacity

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London’s first inter-city train station, Euston, now caters for around 42 million passengers a year – more than double the design capacity of the current station which was built in 1968. That’s according to the government, and HS2 Ltd’s Rupert Walker.

'HS2 plans can unlock Euston potential' press release (8 Sep 2015)

However, according to freedom of information responses from HS2 Ltd and Network Rail, those organisations hold no documents from the time Euston was rebuilt, which mention a ‘design capacity’.

Written by beleben

November 24, 2017 at 12:51 pm

HS2 and decreased capacity

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According to Network Rail, HS2 ‘releases capacity’ for ‘faster, more frequent trains’ on the West Coast Main Line.

Network Rail claims HS2 releases capacity for faster, more frequent trains

However, the available evidence suggests that HS2 is more about ‘decreased capacity’ than ‘released capacity’.

On the busiest section of the West Coast Main Line – the London approach – the number of tracks would be permanently reduced from six to five, so at any one time, inbound and outbound capacity would not be equal.

HS2 Ltd, Euston overview, approach track diagrams 2018 to 2026

This problem would be compounded by the number of classic platforms at Euston reducing from 18 to 13.

Euston platform build sequencing, AP3 (HS2 Ltd)

At St Pancras, hundreds of millions of pounds were spent on a cack-handed redesign of the station, which left the Midland Main Line with just four platforms. Despite growing commuter demand from the east of London, half the capacity of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (HS1) goes unused, because it, and New St Pancras, was not designed to take trains from Essex.

Is Theresa May’s government really going to proceed with an even bigger botch?

Written by beleben

November 22, 2017 at 12:49 pm

Adonis golden arrow delusion

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Andrew Adonis 'golden arrow' delusionThe theoretical throughput of HS2 is about 19,000 passengers per hour, in each direction. So if its entire capacity were used for commuting in the 2-hour morning peak, HS2 would allow a one-time increase of just 38,000 commuters to London, from everywhere served by its trains.

The capital’s population is reportedly growing at around ‘100,000 per year‘, but according to Andrew Adonis, ‘HS2 helps fix the housing crisis by bringing more homes within easy distance of London’.

[We need a ‘golden arrow’ to link London and the north, Evening Standard, 16 Nov 2017]

[Andrew Adonis:] With HS2, you could live on the outskirts of Manchester and easily commute daily, or a few times a week, to Birmingham or London.

In the opinion of Mr Adonis, “In respect of London, there is a readiness to commute up to three hours a day – an hour and a half each way – provided that all-told quality of life is good enough, that is, whatever the trade-off between housing costs and amenities that works for each individual and family”. But, he says, it’s “critical” that “each of the HS2 stations also have good metro and other fast, high capacity connections to get passengers from the HS2 stations across the respective cities and regions”.

HS2 is supposed to connect Manchester Piccadilly to Euston in ~68 minutes. So how would anyone living on the ‘outskirts’ of Manchester, ‘easily commute’ to a London workplace in ‘an hour and a half each way’?

The Black Country tram extension, approved by the government yesterday, is part of the Transport for West Midlands so-called ‘HS2 connectivity package’. But how long would it take to commute from Brierley Hill to a London office, with a 25 km tram ride, and HS2?

Written by beleben

November 21, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Joy and bunkum

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In December 2004, West Midlands transport authority Centro “responded with joy” at the announcement of government approval for extension of the Midland Metro to Brierley Hill. It claimed the extension could “create more than 750 jobs“.

'Responding with joy' in 2004

‘Responding with joy’ in 2004

On 20 November 2017, the Birmingham Mail reported that “A major extension of the Midland Metro funded with a £250 million government grant is set to create 8,000 new jobs”.

So, what is this “major extension”?

[Jonathan Walker, Birmingham Mail, 2017-11-20]

Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the West Midlands will be the first to benefit from a new £1.7 billion “Transforming Cities” designed to improve transport within regions across the country, as she visited the EEF Technology Hub in Birmingham.

The West Midlands Combined Authority will receive the grant and is set to use it to fund a new metro line from Wednesbury to the new “DY5 Enterprise Zone” for high-tech businesses at Brierley Hill, running through Great Bridge, Horseley Heath, Dudley Port, Dudley town centre, the Waterfront and Merry Hill, before terminating at Brierley Hill town centre.

[David Wood, Conservative MP for Dudley South] said: “Independent analysis suggests it’s worth just over 8,000 permanent jobs.

“It means about 15,000 extra houses a year. Brownfield sites will become viable for housing development because of the improved transport connections.”

It’s the same Brierley Hill extension that ‘created joy’ at Centro in 2004. But now, apparently, it’s going to create ‘8,000 jobs’, rather than ‘750 jobs’.

Written by beleben

November 20, 2017 at 4:10 pm

More (m)or(e) less

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According to Network Rail, HS2 ‘frees up space’ for ‘faster, more frequent trains on the West Coast Main Line’.

Network Rail, 'HS2 frees up space for faster, more frequent trains'

According to rail consultant and HS2 enthusiast William Barter, running more West Coast trains into Euston would require enlargement of WCML Euston.

@WilliamBarter1, running more West Coast trains into Euston would require enlargement of WCML Euston

According to AJ magazine, WCML Euston is to be reduced from 18 to 13 platforms, to make room for HS2.

Architects Journal, HS2 seeks architects for stations contracts

On the evidence available, at Euston, HS2 ‘takes up space’, meaning fewer, less frequent trains on the West Coast Main Line.

Written by beleben

November 16, 2017 at 11:24 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Plummeting from infinity

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In October 2009, Network Rail described the benefit-cost ratio for electrification of the Midland Main Line as “effectively infinite“.

On 16 July 2012, the coalition announced £4.2 billion for new rail schemes, including electrification of the Midland Main Line from Bedford to Sheffield, Nottingham and Corby.

In July 2015, the then-rail-minister Claire Perry MP said that ‘initial work’ considering the overall MML upgrade, “including electrification and other works indicates that for options which retain or improve fast intercity rolling stock, on all MML services the benefit cost ratio (BCR) would be in a range between 4.7 and 7.2 dependent on train length and train type.”

On 13 September 2016, the Beleben blog stated, “It is difficult to see how Midland electrification, in its present form, could ever be value for money. It might make sense if it were designed to cater for railfreight, and future passenger journeys from the West Riding and D2N2 to London. The government’s current intention is for such journeys to be transferred to the eastern leg of HS2.

In a Commons debate on 7 November 2016, Nigel Mills MP (Amber Valley) spoke of the “strong” benefit cost ratio for Midland electrification. Nicky Morgan MP (Loughborough) said, “The point I will come on to in a moment is that [the Midland electrification and HS2] schemes go together”. She invited rail minister Paul Maynard “to address the benefit-cost ratio”.

But in his waffle-prone contribution to the debate, Mr Maynard kept schtum about benefit-cost.

On 19 July 2017, transport secretary Chris Grayling cancelled the North-of-Kettering [NoK] element of the programme. In October 2017, he gave ‘new’ figures stating NoK had a net present value of -£129 million and a BCR of 0.77.

Midland Main Line appraisal, Oct 2017, Chris Grayling’s figures
Option Capacity
programme &
full
electrification
Incremental
electrification
north of
Kettering
Capacity
programme &
electrification
to Corby
NPV (£m, 2010 PV) 209 -129 337
BCR 1.21 0.77 1.78

Those bewildered by these ‘bad numbers’ included shadow transport secretary Lilian Greenwood.

Plummeting MML electrification VfM 'raises more questions than it answers' - @liliangreenwood

The Beleben blog can reveal that the cryptic clue to the ‘mystery of the plunging BCR’ lies in the seemingly-innocuous statement, “All three scenarios take account of the assumed impact of HS2 Phase 2 on the Midland Main Line upgrade programme.

Chris Grayling, updated MML electrification VfM takes account of HS2

According to a ‘sensitive’ document created for the Department for Transport in 2016, “the introduction of HS2 Phase 2 would have a material impact on the value-for-money of the Midland Mainline Upgrade Programme, reducing the BCR from 9.4 to 1.2” (i.e., low value for money).

Updated appraisal of the MML upgrade for the Department for Transport in 2016

In other words, contrary to the claims of Nicky Morgan, and the hopes of Lilian Greenwood, the Midland electrification and HS2 certainly do not “go together”.

As the Beleben blog stated in September 2016, the case for Midland electrification is completely undermined by HS2. Actually, HS2’s deleterious effects could be expected to impact other enhancement projects, such those backed by the ‘Consortium of East Coast Main Line Authorities‘ for the East Coast Main Line.

If HS2 were built, the government could not allow competition for long distance passengers with classic rail (which would have lower costs). The political embarrassment from such passengers choosing to keep using the existing railway would be immense.

So, what lies behind HS2 phase 2? On the evidence available, it is not a transport project, but a London real-estate project, ‘needed’ to justify the land grab (for over-platform development) at Euston. The ‘imperative’ of the Camden land-grab would also explain the government’s determination to avoid having Old Oak Common as its HS2 terminus.

De-scoped Midland Main Line electrification is a consequence of the government's obsession with its £60+ billion HS2 vanity project (picture: Network Rail)

Written by beleben

November 13, 2017 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Planning, Railways