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Archive for May 2018

Looking at ways to pay

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Speaking at Transport Times’ Infrastructure Summit, HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston said the client would be looking at ways to pay for the high speed line north of Birmingham in the coming months, and that a private funding model could be an option.

'HS2 eyes private funding for £21bn phase two', CN, 29 May 2018

The UK private finance initiative debt mountain

[‘HS2 eyes private funding for £21bn phase two’, CN, 29 May, 2018, By Jack Simpson]

[…] Mr Thurston said: “The thing we can do through phase one is get a much better understanding of what it actually costs and what the demand will be, so we can start building that into the model for phase two; it’s very much a question mark for us, it’s a good challenge.”

Mr Thurston dismissed claims that the conventionally-funded phase one of the project alone could cost up to £51.25 billion.

[CN, 29 May]

He said: “We are confident that we will build it within that [£24.3 billion] budget, we wouldn’t say anything else in a public forum”.

Written by beleben

May 31, 2018 at 11:49 am

Posted in HS2

Loopy Richard and fuelish Jim

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The debate on high-speed rail is accelerating, with proponents of competing schemes insisting they have the best solution for the UK (wrote travel correspondent Simon Calder).

[‘Richard Branson says Britain needs 700mph hyperloop trains’, Simon Calder, The Independent, 29 May 2018]

Sir Richard Branson has laid out plans for a “hyperloop” network across Britain, carrying passengers at nearly 700mph.

The system proposed by the Virgin founder involves pods travelling over an electro-magnetic track enclosed in a low-resistance tube with very low air pressure.

Virgin Hyperloop One is intended to have a top speed of 670mph, with some other developers promising even higher speeds.
“The cost of building Virgin Hyperloop would be, I think, about a third of building high-speed rail, and much, much quicker.

“It can either be underground, it can be on the ground or it can be above the ground.”
'Oh dearie me'Meanwhile the environmental transport think tank, Greengauge 21, has called for a conventional high-speed rail network connecting Britain by 2050.

A new report, Beyond HS2, says that the move would put “rocket fuel in Britain’s economy”. It would also reduce the relative advantages of London by lowering journey times between other cities.
Jim Steer, founder and director of Greengauge 21, said: “Fundamentally, we need to completely re-orientate the railway from a ‘hub-and-spoke’ centred on London to a fully national network.
“We need a plan to put rocket fuel into our economic productivity and today’s report sets out proposals to do so.”

Apologies to Mr Calder, but

1. is Greengauge 21 an ‘environmental transport think tank’?

2. has Mr Branson really ‘laid out plans’ for a hyperloop network across Britain?


Written by beleben

May 30, 2018 at 8:42 am

Posted in HS2

From social security to social precarity

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After eight years of budget cutting, Britain is looking less like the rest of [western] Europe and more like the United States, with a shrinking welfare state and spreading poverty, observed Peter S Goodman, in an exposition of the precaritisation of British society.

[In Britain, Austerity Is Changing Everything, Peter S Goodman, The New York Times, 28 May 2018]

[…] The National Health Service has supposedly been spared from budget cuts. But spending has been frozen in many areas, resulting in cuts per patient. At public hospitals, people have grown resigned to waiting for hours for emergency care, and weeks for referrals to specialists.

“I think the government wants to run it down so the whole thing crumbles and they don’t have to worry about it anymore,” says Kenneth Buckle, a retired postal worker who has been waiting three months for a referral for a double knee replacement. “Everything takes forever now.”

[…] Whatever the operative thinking, austerity’s manifestations are palpable and omnipresent. It has refashioned British society, making it less like the rest of Western Europe, with its generous social safety nets and egalitarian ethos, and more like the United States, where millions lack health care and job loss can set off a precipitous plunge in fortunes.

Written by beleben

May 29, 2018 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Great Britain, Politics

West Coast capacity uncrunched

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According to the Department for Transport, the ‘scale of growth’ on the West Coast Main Line between 2008 and 2015 means that “two thirds of the additional inter-city seat capacity provided by the decade-long upgrade is already being utilised”.

What this statement means is not clear, because the total ‘seat capacity provided by the upgrade’, is difficult to establish. A substantial amount of ‘seat capacity’ has come from increasing the number of carriages, or the number of seats on trains, rather than from infrastructure interventions.

  • In 2008, the DfT contracted with Alstom for four new Pendolino 11-car trains (44 carriages) and extension of 31 existing units from nine to eleven carriages (62 carriages).
  • In 2015, 21 nine-car Pendolinos had one of their 1st class carriages converted to standard class (creating a net increase of 2,100 seats).

What is clear, is that significant capacity potential out of Euston remains untapped (without recourse to ‘old-school’ infrastructure improvements, or ‘Digital Railway’).

Consider Figure 3 of the July 2017 Strategic Case for HS2, which gave the ‘current’ intercity West Coast peak hour (5pm – 6pm) capacity out of Euston as 5,700 seats.

Euston rail capacity, July 2017 Strategic Case for HS2

Apparently, seven out of eleven intercity departures in that hour were ‘short trains’, mostly nine-car Pendolinos. The Department for Transport decided against lengthening all Pendolino trainsets to eleven carriages, which suggests that forecast demand did not support the expenditure.

The cost of adding capacity by lengthening short trains, or using higher capacity rolling stock, is, in general, far cheaper than building new lines.

On the Great Western and East Coast lines, the introduction of more space-optimised rolling stock has supported a capacity increase of 28% to 40%, according to IEP train manufacturer Hitachi.

On intercity West Coast, the use of space-optimised rolling stock would allow a ~36% increase, without platform lengthening, or the need for significant lineside interventions.

‘Long distance’ services in
5pm – 6pm peak hour out of Euston (with 11 of 15 fast paths allocated to intercity)
‘Current’ seats
(HS2 July 2017
Strategic Case)
Seating with
26 metre carriages
using full
platform length
1 Birmingham New Street 470a 715d
2 Birmingham New Street 470a 715d
3 Glasgow 591b 715d
4 Glasgow 591b 715d
5 Holyhead 512c 630e
6 Lancaster 470a 715d
7 Liverpool 591b 715d
8 Liverpool 470a 715d
9 Manchester 591b 715d
10 Manchester 470a 715d
11 Manchester 470a 715d
Total 5696 7780
a = Pendolino 9-car | b = Pendolino 11-car | c = Voyager 2 * 5-car | d = IEP 10-car | e = IEP 2 * 5-car
Figures sourced from the Department for Transport

Written by beleben

May 29, 2018 at 9:50 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Who dares, saves (£60 billion)

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Philip Aldrick, 'We can stop NHS going off the rails, but who would dare make the call?' (The Times, 26 May 2018, paywall)

Data from the OECD shows that in 2013 the UK spent 8.5 per cent of its GDP on public and private health care. (‘This excludes capital spending equivalent to 0.3 per cent of GDP to make figures comparable with other countries’.)

[How does NHS spending compare with health spending internationally? | The Kings Fund | 20 Jan 2016]

This placed the UK 13th out of the original 15 countries of the EU and 1.7 percentage points lower than the EU-14’s level (ie, treating the whole of the EU-14 (ie, minus the UK) as one country with one GDP and one total spend on health care) of 10.1 per cent of total GDP. (Note: the difference of 1.7ppts is rounded).

Written by beleben

May 28, 2018 at 2:36 pm

Posted in HS2, Politics

The wrath of uppity

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Final plans for a £900 million railway between the Great Western main line and Heathrow Airport have been released, BBC News reported on 11 May.

[‘Heathrow rail link plan unveiled by Network Rail’, BBC]

The most-detailed proposals yet for the link, subject to planning permission, include a 3.1 mile (5km) tunnel from the main line between Langley and Iver railway stations to Heathrow Terminal 5.

The proposal would allow people living to the west of Heathrow to travel direct to the airport, instead of having to go into London.

The consultation will end on 22 June.

Network Rail said journeys from Slough could take “six or seven minutes” to get to the airport, with trains from Reading taking 26 minutes.

The idea for the rail link has been on [the] table since 2012, but plans have been adjusted following previous public consultations and its cost has risen from £500m in 2014.

How do these official estimates compare with those for the government’s high speed rail project?

Scheme Estimate
as of
2014 (£m)
as of
2018 (£m)
Increase (%)
 Heathrow, ‘Wrath’ 500 900 80
 HS2, ‘Core programme’ 50100 55700 11

Written by beleben

May 22, 2018 at 10:22 am

Posted in Railways

Working at breakneck speed

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Another Barry White facepalm momentTransport for the North is aiming to take ‘a fresh approach to transport’ in its forthcoming plan for transport in northern England, chief executive Barry White told the All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group on May 15.

[Railway Gazette, 18 May 2018]

A particular focus is on developing a transport network which would support ‘employment liquidity’, defined as making it easier for people to change jobs and lowering the risk of trying out new opportunities. White said London very successfully provides this liquidity, but in the north of England poor connectivity means people often feel they would need to move house to accept a job in another town, which creates a barrier that is holding back both employees and employers.

Mr White said TfN was ‘working at breakneck speed’ to prepare a high level plan for the cost, scope and business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail which will be submitted to the Secretary of State at the end of this year.

When one is not enough


He stressed these would be ‘high level concepts rather than detailed route options’. Speed is not an end in itself, White emphasised, and is often used in public discussion as a proxy for frequency and capacity. If you are going to build extra capacity, it makes sense to build for speed too, he believes.

The Beleben blog was under the impression that (absurd) ‘high level concepts’ have been in existence for years. In fact, they predate Transport for the North itself. So what this ‘breakneck speed’ cobblers is all about, is anyone’s guess.

Equally perplexing is the ’employment liquidity’ shizzle, which, apparently, was dreamt up after the TfN Strategic Transport Plan was closed to public consultation.

‘Employment liquidity’, for whom?

Written by beleben

May 20, 2018 at 11:09 am

The roll of comparison

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Ever wondered why UK railway electrification costs were high compared to the rest of Europe (aside from issues like density of use of the network), and if a rolling programme of electrification could reduce costs? A graph of annual kilometres electrified in the UK and Germany might start to explain the answers, @NoelDolphin suggested.

twitter, @NoelDolphin, 'Ever wondered why UK electrification costs were high compared to rest of Europe (aside from issues like density of use of our network), and if a rolling programme of electrification could reduce costs. This graph might start to explain the answers'

In Mr Dolphin’s UK – Germany graph, it is not immediately obvious whether ‘kilometres’ means route-km or track-km, or whether ‘Germany’ pre-1991 includes the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). In the 1980s, the Deutsche Reichsbahn der DDR (DR) stepped up electrification of main lines across the country (not westwards, for political reasons).

Stamps_of_Germany_DDR_1985,_MiNr_2970 (Wikipedia)

Regarding the UK plot, questions might arise from the exclusion of HS1 and the effective  ‘re-electrification’ of significant portions of the West Coast Main Line, under its modernisation programme.

Written by beleben

May 18, 2018 at 10:26 am

Posted in Railways

Third time unlucky

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On 16 May transport secretary Chris Grayling announced the termination of the Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) rail franchise — the third failure of Kings Cross intercity franchising in twelve years.

Chris Grayling 'East Coast Rail Update', 16 May 2018

As previously discussed on this blog, the failure was caused by VTEC, and their consultants, getting their numbers wrong — in particular, forecast passenger numbers. The idea that Network Rail’s ‘failure to deliver promised upgrades’ was the cause, has no credibility.

twitter, @philatrail, (Network Rail) delivered what it had promised (in the period during which VTEC operated and failed)

So, why Network Rail’s press team did not come out fighting during this debacle, is difficult to understand. Surely Chris Grayling’s statement that VTEC had got their numbers wrong, meant they had carte blanche to tell it like it is, and rebut the ‘it-wuz-Network-Rail’ claims by Richard Branson, the Seat 61 chappy, et al.

Of course, consultants have been getting their rail passenger forecasts badly wrong for decades. The VTEC collapse is yet more evidence that predicting the future is not something they are getting any better at doing.

twitter, @RichardWellings, 'The East Coast crisis shows how difficult it is to get passenger forecasts right. Yet ministers are prepared to risk tens of billions on #HS2, based on dubious guesses about travel patterns decades in the future.'

Written by beleben

May 17, 2018 at 9:52 am

Posted in Politics, Railways

Released capacity for Whitlocks End

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According to Midlands Connect, HS2 will release capacity on the Derby to Stoke railway, Birmingham’s Cross-City line, and, er, the North Warwickshire line.


This suggests that Midlands Connect does not understand what ‘released capacity’ is.

Perhaps not too surprising, given that they seem to think running a bubble car between Leamington Spa and Coventry once an hour is a ‘step change in capacity in the NUCKLE corridor’.

Written by beleben

May 16, 2018 at 9:12 am

Posted in gibberish, HS2