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Archive for September 2018

Dites oui aux gâchis, says Henri

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You need to build HS2 to be able to complete ‘Northern powerhouse rail’, confirmed Henri Murison, who ‘spends his life working on infrastructure policy’ for George Osborne.


The unevidenced and unconvincing claim behind NPR is that economic underperformance in Northern England can be reversed by making rail travel from Manchester to Liverpool and Leeds 10 minutes faster.

Apparently, this would be done by building a new line from Liverpool to the HS2 Manchester spur with a station somewhere in Warrington, and a new line from Manchester to Leeds, via Bradford.

The total cost of HS2-plus-NPR would be over £100 billion, with the Liverpool link costing ~£4 billion (or more).

How NPR could be faster than the existing Chat Moss line, is yet to be explained. Because of the low demand for Liverpool to Manchester end-to-end travel, all NPR trains would likely need to stop at ‘Warrington’, and Davenport Green (the ‘Manchester Airport’ station).

Written by beleben

September 30, 2018 at 12:00 pm

HS2 chaos is one broken cable away

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Hundreds of delegates struggled to get home from the Labour party conference in Liverpool as trains to London were disrupted for a period on 26 September.

A ‘broken signal cable’ at Wembley meant no trains could operate between Watford and London Euston, with the knock-on effects emanating up to the Midlands and the North West.

Of course, signal cables are not the only items of railway equipment that can get broken or damaged. Trains can fail, rails can crack, and overhead power lines can be put out of action by balloons, trampolines, birds, malfunctioning pantographs, etc.

The amount of disruption which then ensues depends on various factors, such as where the fault happens, how well-prepared the operator is, and how much traffic depends on the route being open. Even on lightly trafficked routes, the disruption can be massive, if the operator is not well-prepared. In 2014, more than 1,200 Eurostar passengers were stranded for hours overnight near Lille on trains following an overhead cable problem, and were only able to complete their journey when diesel locos turned up to tow the stricken trains to their destinations.

A single broken cable on HS2 could throw rail services to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield into chaos (map: wikipedia)

If you were designing a railway network for resilience, you probably wouldn’t want to use the same line to link a country’s capital to its second, third and fourth largest metropolitan areas, and load it with 18 trains an hour, running at 360 km/h. But the government’s proposed HS2 railway would (supposedly) do just that.

Channelling all premier intercity traffic to and from the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire onto a single pair of tracks between Water Orton and London would bring chaos one broken cable, or cracked rail, away.

In the event of such HS2 disruption, say 25 km out of London, the legacy West Coast Main Line would be of very limited help. The government’s intention is reconfigure the WMCL for more commuter services, and reduce the capacity at Euston from 18 to 13 platforms. The idea that the WCML could be instantly switched back into a full-service intercity railway when HS2 is disrupted, is a fantasy.

Implementing HS2 means reducing West Coast Main Line intercity capacity, and reducing classic platforms at Euston from 18 to 13

Written by beleben

September 28, 2018 at 11:04 am

Posted in HS2, London, Planning, Politics

Sum to put forward

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‘Unthinking populism’ has led ‘some to put forward scrapping HS2 as a solution to worrying projections of economic losses from Brexit’, according to the high speed rail lobbyists Greengauge 21.

[HS2: a magic money tree?, GG21, 27 September, 2018]

‘Here’s £50bn we could save and spend instead on (say) the NHS’.

But scrapping HS2 does not create a magic money tree.

Rather, it would be an act of extreme short-termism, signalling no belief in the future of the UK.

For a start, aborting the capital spend on HS2 means losing the stream of economic benefits it generates at roundly the rate of £2 benefit of every £1 outlay.

The claim that ‘HS2 would create £2 of benefits for every £1 spent’, assumes that the costs and benefits set out in the HS2 economic case from five years ago are correct. That is a very dangerous assumption.

For example, the economic case monetised the benefits of the Davenport Green (Manchester airport) HS2 station, but not the costs of building it (confirmed by FoI response).

And according to the West Midlands Combined Authority, billions of pounds extra must be spent on a ‘connectivity package’ and ‘growth strategy’ to ‘realise the benefits of HS2’. Without this extra spend, how would people, for example, reach the beetroot ‘Birmingham interchange’ high speed station at Middle Bickenhill?

West Midlands HS2 growth strategy, July 2015, before the airport tramway cost increased to £872 million


Just look at the experience with HS1 (the channel tunnel rail link, as was). Just two years after its completion, it was sold on a long-term concession to a major pension fund. At a stroke, HM Treasury recouped around 40% of the line’s capital cost.

What looking at the experience with HS1 shows, is that the public have been saddled with a debt of £4.8 billion (which is set to double).

BBC News, HS1 leaves £4,800 million debt

Although the sale of the HS1 lease raised just under £2.05 bn for the government, that does not mean that the public purse is £2 billion better off overall.

HS1 is UK government underpinned

Cancelling HS2 would free up funds for the NHS, libraries, museums, schools, and better rail infrastructure across the country (for example, S-Bahnen in Leeds and Manchester, Great Western electrification from Newbury to Plymouth, and a new direct cross-country route from Birmingham to Cambridge via Northampton and Bedford).

Written by beleben

September 27, 2018 at 4:14 pm

Posted in HS2

Milking the Moseley

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twitter @TransportforWM, Chris Grayling photo-opp in Moseley, 26 Sep 2018

On 26 September, transport secretary Chris Grayling paid another visit to Moseley, Birmingham, for more ‘Camp Hill railway’ photo-opps with local bigwigs. The pretext was the ‘unveiling of the designs’ for stations at Moseley, Kings Heath, and Hazelwell (but not Balsall Heath).

According to the TfWM press release, the detailed planning for the stations is yet to take place and the ‘initial’ service will be just two trains per hour in each direction. But in “the longer term, more frequent services may be possible as part of the Midlands Rail Hub project which will build the Camp Hill Chords to link the line to Moor Street Station and allow more trains into Birmingham City Centre”.

TfWM news, designs unveiled for three new rail stations in Birmingham, 26 Sep 2018

Without frequent trains, the decongestion and air quality benefits of Camp Hill local services would be negligible. But as previously mentioned on the Beleben blog, building the chords into Moor Street, in the complicated form supported by TfWM, is a highly unlikely proposition, for several different reasons.

Building a separate Highgate to Moor Street chord would be more technically plausible, but at present, even the chances of that happening are slim.

Written by beleben

September 27, 2018 at 10:03 am

What do you think of our attractive, reliable and efficient tram system?

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South Yorkshire Supertram - Why try harder (Fatboy Slim album cover)

[Sheffield City Region and SYPTE Mass Transit Questionnaire, 24 Sep 2018]

For over 20 years, Supertram has been connecting high numbers of people to jobs, education, shopping and leisure in Sheffield and beyond. Making over 12 million passenger journeys a year, it plays an important role in the wider public transport network within the Region and is recognised as an attractive, reliable and efficient mode of travel.

The tram system reduces congestion, helps improve air quality, and potentially could play an important part in future plans to better connect residents and businesses to our urban centres and major housing, retail, leisure and employment sites within the Sheffield City Region.

Sheffield Supertram consultation, Sheffield city region and SYPTE, 2018

[Sheffield’s Supertram could be axed and replaced by bus network, says survey, The Star, 25 Sep 2018]

Sheffield’s beloved Supertram network could be axed if transport chiefs fail to convince the government to stump up £230 million to renew the system.

South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive revealed the tram system could be closed because the current trams are ‘coming to the end of their working life’ after more than 20 years’ operation and there is not currently any money set aside to rebuild parts of the network or buy new vehicles.

SYPTE is now hoping to raise £230 million from the Department for Transport to allow the tram system to keep running for another 30 years – but warned if the money doesn’t come, the trams could become a thing of the past.

The transport group has now launched a consultation asking members of the public for their opinions on the future of the trams which will help inform their ‘business case’ to take to Whitehall.

“If we are unsuccessful in securing future funding for a mass transit solution the Supertram network may have to be closed and decommissioned, the cost of which would have to be covered by the region. Closure would also prevent any future network extensions.”

Written by beleben

September 26, 2018 at 9:00 am

Elmdon drivel is good to hear

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twitter, @_DSlade, HS2 would make Birmingham airport faster to reach from Euston than Heathrow

Does Wolverhampton councillor Roger Lawrence really believe that, from Euston, HS2 would make Birmingham airport quicker to reach than Heathrow?

The government’s plans for HS2 have never included a station at Birmingham airport. The nearest high speed station would be in Middle Bickenhill, 2 km away, so some form of onward transport would be necessary.

Since all HS2 trains out of Euston would stop at Old Oak, it would be way quicker to reach Heathrow. By getting off there, and switching to Crossrail.

With or without HS2, Birmingham airport is not going to be quicker to reach than Heathrow.

Written by beleben

September 25, 2018 at 12:31 pm

Posted in London, Politics, Railways

Jack versus history

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Jack Brereton MP, a member of the Commons transport select committee, has welcomed the ‘root and branch review‘ of rail announced by the government on 20 September.

[Jack Brereton: It isn’t too late to save the railway from the disaster of re-nationalisation, Conservative Home, published on  September 22, 2018]

Yesterday morning, the Government launched a review of the rail industry.

After a summer of timetabling chaos, the collapse of the East Coast franchise and rising ticket prices, a review of the current franchise model is welcome and will help focus on getting private sector dynamism in our railway back on track.

But to focus solely on improvements to franchising would be a missed opportunity to think radically about widening open access in place of franchising. There are difficult and challenging questions to be asked, and any review should be prepared to ask them.

The transport secretary Chris Grayling has indicated he wants to see train operation integrated more closely with the railway itself. How would ‘open access’, or on-track competition between operators, be compatible with Chris Grayling’s ‘vision’ of  ‘deep alliancing’, or whatever?

[JB:] A quarter of a century has elapsed since the Conservatives won the 1992 election with a mandate to privatise our railway. And it should be remembered here that it was commercial investment in rail travel that restored it as a viable and dynamic competitor to the car – with the private sector delivering massive increases in passenger miles that had seemed utterly impossible under British Rail.

This was a complete turnaround. Many officials had previously believed that rail had had its day and had no part in our future transport network – a view they held because of the abject failure of railway nationalisation.

Is the rate of growth of passenger journeys on the ‘privatised railway’ since the mid 1990s, much different to the growth on the ‘unprivatised railway’ (London Underground and Translink) over the same period?

[JB:] However, the private sector reforms introduced by the John Major government soon fell foul of the meddling governments of Blair and Brown, and we have yet to revive fully the dynamism that has been lost in the prescriptive nature of the current franchise model.

What was the ‘meddling’ of the Blair and Brown governments that the private sector reforms fell foul of? The establishment of the Strategic Rail Authority? The placing of Railtrack in Railway Administration when it ran out of money? Or something else?

According to press reports, a revival of the ‘New Labour’ SRA, in some form, is being viewed as an alternative to the ‘Jeremy Corbyn Labour’ policy of renationalisation.

[JB:] We travel further and more frequently for work than previous generations, journeys best suited to rail. Tourism, both for domestic and international visitors, is booming – again a great opportunity for rail. And our railway will play an increasingly important role in moving freight, including to and from our ports – a particularly important consideration for Global Britain.

Now is the time to be bold once again and restore competitive dynamism to the marketplace. It’s time for an overhaul. Reforms that will deliver the railway Britain deserves for generations to come. A system that will deliver for passengers, businesses, communities and taxpayers nationwide.

I welcome today’s launch, and I hope to see a root-and-branch review both of the way our railway works today, and how it should be reformed for a successful future as a dynamic, customer-focused, competitive industry.

Labour’s renationalisation proposals risk taking our railway backwards. Back to before the private sector, when we had one of the worst safety records in Europe, out-of-control running costs, and the detrimental Beeching cuts because politicians were mismanaging the system.

But did British Rail have one of the ‘worst safety records in Europe’, and ‘out-of-control running costs’? Were the Beeching cuts caused by politicians mismanaging the system?

[JB:] To go forward we need competition to unlock new technology, provide more customer-focused services, and reduce costs. The innovation required on rail to meet rapidly changing economic and social needs can only come from a properly functioning, competitive market, not the failed economics of nationalisation.

It’s time for honesty about the limitations of the current franchise model, and a full, independent look at promoting enterprise, competition and innovation in our railway and how it should be set up to deliver for everyone in Britain and for future generations to come. The country expects nothing less.

Sunday Telegraph, Jo Johnson MP favours competitive open access rail

Written by beleben

September 24, 2018 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways

Saturate before schmoozing

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Apparently, in the view of Shadow rail minister Rachael Maskell MP, getting some businessmen to London ~20 minutes earlier is so important, that £60+ billion of public cash needs to be spent on HS2.

@railleaders, twitter, today we will be mostly schmoozing with Rachael

On the other hand, what does it matter if people have to wait another week for a doctor’s appointment? That is, apparently, less important than bringing in more migrants, until ‘saturation point’ (?) is reached.

York MP Rachael Buckle: bring in more migrants until saturation point is reached

High Speed Two is another manifestation of ‘Robin-Hood-in-reverse’ politics. The target clientele for HS2 are probably inscribed with BUPA and suchlike, so presumably, in Rachael world, they wouldn’t be the ones having to wait another week for their doctor’s appointment.

Written by beleben

September 24, 2018 at 10:22 am

Posted in HS2

Without the need

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At the Innotrans 2018 show in Berlin last week, the Stadler company exhibited one of the Class 755 Flirt UK 3/4-car bi-mode trains it is supplying to the Greater Anglia franchise.

The GA rolling stock renewal programme also includes future operation of 12-car electric Flirts between London and Norwich (Class 745/0, 752 seats) and London and Stansted airport (Class 745/1, 748 seats).

Stadler Flirt 200

Class 745 is specified for 160 km/h operation, but according to Stadler, intercity Flirts can be built for 200 km/h.

On the West Coast Main line, a 12-car 200-km/h version of the Flirt could provide an ‘instant’ capacity uplift of 26% (compared to an 11-car Pendolino), which would eliminate all the intercity crowding out of Euston forecast in the Department for Transport’s ‘Higher Growth’ scenario.

Without the need to ‘widen the West Coast line to six tracks’, ‘rebuild the WCML for double deck trains’, or spend at least £60 billion on HS2.

Written by beleben

September 23, 2018 at 2:00 pm

Northern powerhouse rail and labour mobility

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[From Five facts about the Randstad and Rhine-Ruhr, with comparison to the Northern Powerhouse, Paul Swinney | Centre for Cities | 1 June 2016]

An argument often put forward about both the Randstad and Rhine-Ruhr is that their transport links allow people to live in one city but work in another, suggesting that there would be benefits for the North of England in strengthening transport links between cities. But the data suggests that people don’t use the transport links in this way.

The travel patterns across all three areas, appear to suggest that if a worker wants to live in a city, they will mostly choose to live in the city that they work within. Otherwise they will choose to live in the countryside surrounding the city they work in, rather than another city.

Centre for Cities, distribution of Greater Manchester High Skill Commuting

[Paul Swinney]

The speeds achieved by intercity rail connections between the cities of the Randstad and Rhine-Ruhr are not a great deal quicker than between cities in the Northern Powerhouse.

Written by beleben

September 21, 2018 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Leeds, Manchester, Railways