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Archive for February 2020

How evidence is ignored in favour of Gareth

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Dr Kevin Tennent‘s @ConversationUK piece on high speed rail – titled ‘HS2 debate shows how evidence is ignored in favour of politics’ (10 February 2020) – owes an ‘intellectual debt to @GarethDennis‘.

That’s Gareth Dennis, of HS2 contractor Arcadis, ‘Rail’ magazine, NCHSR, and ‘Permanent Rail Engineering’ infamy.

twitter, @Kevin_D_Tennent, '[...] New @ConversationUK  piece on #HS2 and the wildlife v carbon debate - owes an intellectual debt to @GarethDennis  but does reflect my research thinking in #publictransport generally'

In his article, co-written with Lindsay Hamilton, Dr Tennent claimed HS2 would “increase capacity on existing rail routes” and “research” by Midlands Connect found that ‘as many as 73 stations would benefit from increased rail capacity’.

Obviously, there is no evidence that HS2 would increase capacity on existing rail routes, and no evidence of genuine ‘research’ by Midlands Connect about ‘released capacity’ on the rail network. Midlands Connect doesn’t actually have ‘researchers’, it has PR people (Sophie Zumbe, David Blackadder-Weinstein, James Bovill, et al).

Nor is there any evidence that HS2 being a ‘wildlife v carbon debate’. HS2 combines the destruction of flora and fauna, with increased carbon emissions.

HS2 Ltd, phase one and phase 2a carbon emissions forecast

[HS2 debate shows how evidence is ignored in favour of politics | 10 February 2020 | Lindsay Hamilton, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Ethnography, University of York | Kevin Tennent, Senior Lecturer in Management, University of York | Creative Commons]

A recent report commissioned and published by The Wildlife Trusts drew attention to the habitat loss threatened by HS2, the UK’s proposed new high-speed rail network. The report claims as many as 693 classified wildlife sites within 500 metres of the line will be impacted, something echoed by Extinction Rebellion and Stop HS2 activists:

‘Using guile, deceit, lies, fraud, coercion, blackmail and immensely destructive practices, HS2 wish to put an end to all we hold dear and our most important legacy to our children. This is our rainforest. Right now we desperately need tree climbers. We desperately need people. People really scare HS2.’

This emotive language, playing to historic fears of destruction, pits HS2 against conservation. The pressure from environmental groups adds to that from those politicians who want the government to cancel or alter the project in favour of schemes that provide more benefit to their local areas. As a result, the future of the scheme has been uncertain, even with government backing.

Yet, like many projects with importance for wildlife, HS2 is by no means a clear-cut choice between obliteration and preservation. The problem is that human politics is central in defining the outcome of such planned projects and scientific knowledge is too often displaced by binary thinking.

The purpose of HS2 is partly to provide faster rail services between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds (and, in turn, to other follow-on destinations). But it will also increase capacity on existing rail routes by taking current fast intercity trains off those lines, making space for more local commuter and freight services.

Research by the transport development organisation Midlands Connect found that as many as 73 stations would benefit from increased rail capacity, 54 of which are not directly served by the new lines. In short, HS2 will streamline a large proportion of the UK’s rail network.

The provision of frequent, accessible and attractive public transport is needed to encourage a “modal shift” away from the country’s reliance on CO₂-producing cars, lorries and planes. HS2 offers the UK a major opportunity to follow the examples demonstrated elsewhere in Europe and Asia. High-speed rail has reduced air travel’s modal share everywhere it has been introduced and can also reduce car use, especially over long distances, helping to create a new vision for long-distance travel.

Without this kind of change, we face runaway climate change and a significant threat to exactly the biodiversity that environmental groups want to protect – and not just in the area around HS2’s tracks. Research has shown how overall biodiversity can benefit even from measures to address climate change that might damage it on a small scale.

Yet the research is too often overlooked when political debates descend into simplistic narratives of development versus destruction, preservation versus loss. The picture is always more complex.

HS2 is not an isolated example of politics taking precedence over evidence. Take, for instance, the UK government’s current strategy for eradicating bovine tuberculosis, which involves the culling of infected cattle and, in some regions, other species that can spread the disease, such as badgers.

The government describes this approach as “science-led”. Yet as with HS2, the whole picture is complex and coloured by politics. While culling might seem a good solution, and is popular with practitioners, it is only fair to say that the scientific evidence shows a mixed picture.

Many environmental activists argue that the limited evidence for culling means the animals suffer needlessly. On the other hand, in some places the culling of badgers can have a positive impact on species they prey on, such as hedgehogs.

As for cattle, the government itself recognises that the risks of people catching TB from milk or meat from infected cows are extremely low. But because of restrictions in other countries, bovine TB impacts the UK’s ability to sell its produce abroad, which is increasingly important following Brexit and the opening of new trade negotiations around the world.

In a climate where politicians and commentators polarise the debate, members of the public can find it understandably difficult to judge the worth of various policies that impact wildlife. And the rejection of expert and practitioner knowledge also makes it difficult for policy-makers to make pragmatic judgements.

What we actually need is more, not less, scientific knowledge. Politicians, activists, journalists and the general public need to take a closer look at the empirical and scientific evidence to make a balanced judgement when evaluating difficult ecological problems that arise in the wake of infrastructure planning. Now more than ever, we need to move beyond human politics to investigate the facts that support sustainable policy decisions.

On 7 February, Adam Cormack, of the Woodland Trust, commented on @PermanentRail, which is run by Gareth Dennis. Obviously, the ‘Permanent Rail Engineering’ twitter account is an unreliable source.

twitter, @AdamCormack, thread on claims by THe Guardian and @PermanentRail Engineering (a.k.a. Gareth Dennis) on HS2 woodland take

Written by beleben

February 10, 2020 at 9:31 pm

Posted in HS2

Two vee oak not to vee

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The Department for Transport has admitted that after receiving Douglas Oakervee’s ‘draft’ HS2 report, it tasked officials to carry out ‘further research’, but denied this would see them work on the report itself, Transport Network reported on 5 February.

[Sexed-up? HS2 report being rewritten,
Dom Browne and Chris Ames, Feb 5, 2020][…]

When asked whether the work of these officials would influence the final report, a press officer stated that ‘Oakervee is writing the report’ but refused to say whether the DfT would edit the report or ask Mr Oakervee to do so on the basis of this further work.

When asked to confirm or deny whether the department would make an changes to the draft or final report, the spokesman repeated the phrase ‘Oakervee is writing the report’ and once again refused to engage with the question of influence or editing.

The spokesman also claimed that the report was still in draft reform – and so running months late – because of the general election, depite the fact the final report was due to be handed in before the election in the autumn, that the case for HS2 predates the general election anouncement by some years and the fact that the review was supposed to be ‘independent’ of politics.

Transport Network, 'Oakervee report 'edited' in favour of HS2', 05 Feb 2020

Oakervee review member Lord Tony Berkeley, who has published his own dissenting report on HS2, described the official review as a whitewash, and suspected there has been ‘continuous improvement’ of it ‘without anyone knowing’.

It remains unclear whether excerpts tweeted from the Oakervee report by BBC transport correspondent Tom Burridge on 3 and 4 February are from the final version of the document.

Written by beleben

February 7, 2020 at 10:54 am

Posted in HS2

Misinformation abounds in The Guardian’s coverage of HS2

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As previously mentioned, the Guardian has this week ‘attempted to capture the key issues’ about High Speed Two in an error-prone series of articles, called ‘HS2: who’s right?‘.

In this blogpost, the focus is on some claims from Patrick Barkham’s article of 2 February, and the Editorial of 5 February.

1. Patrick Barkham article (2 February)

Mr Barkham wrote that ‘the European average for high speed rail modal shift is 15% from cars and 30% from planes’,  and ‘HS2’s forecasts do not include carbon-saving from increased use of local passenger rail’.

[Will HS2 really help cut the UK’s carbon footprint?, Patrick Barkham, The Guardian, 2 Feb 2020]
In practice, the European average for high speed rail modal shift is 15% from cars and 30% from planes. Furthermore, HS2’s forecasts do not include carbon-saving from increased use of local passenger rail, with HS2 freeing up lines such as the west coast mainline to provide better local services.[…]

No source was given by Mr Barkham for the ‘European average modal shift’ figures. As for his statement that ‘HS2’s forecasts do not include carbon-saving from increased use of local passenger rail’, the phase one information paper E10 contradicts this, stating HS2 Ltd’s forecasts ‘include carbon mitigation from released capacity on the classic network’.

When the operational and construction carbon footprints of the Proposed Scheme are combined to form a total carbon footprint over the 60 year assessment period (plus the 10 years of construction), the residual carbon ranges between 2,595,000 tCO2e and 3,155,000 tCO2e. This includes all emissions associated with construction, operation and maintenance of the Proposed Scheme, as well as modal shift, carbon mitigation from tree planting and freight benefits from released capacity on the classic network. If the same assumptions for the first 60 years of assessment are extended for another 60 years to align with the 120 year design life of the Proposed Scheme, the footprint ranges from 305,000 tCO2e to 815,000 tCO2e.

The Beleben blog asked Mr Barkham about the provenance of his “HS2’s forecasts do not include carbon-saving from increased use of local passenger rail” statement. There was no response.

twitter, @belebenso asks Mr Patrick Barkham about his statement that HS2’s forecasts do not include carbon-saving from increased use of local passenger rail

2. The Guardian Editorial (5 February)

The Guardian, HS2 editorial (extract), 5 Feb 2020

The Editorial stated that “By segregating the high-speed operator on to its own railway, more services can run on lines that currently have to deal with a complex – and inevitably sluggish – mixture of slow and fast trains”.

[The Guardian view on HS2: let the train take the strain | Editorial, Opinion, The Guardian, 5 Feb 2020]
The mistake is to see HS2 solely as a high-speed service to and from London. In fact the new railway’s hidden worth is that it frees up capacity on lines that are almost full and run into cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. By segregating the high-speed operator on to its own railway, more services can run on lines that currently have to deal with a complex – and inevitably sluggish – mixture of slow and fast trains. That is why city leaders back HS2 even though its first phase does not reach them.[…]

Actually, the ‘mistake’ is to see HS2 as an enabler of more services running on existing lines into cities like Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds, without any supporting evidence. Because there doesn’t appear to be any.

In the case of the southern section of the West Coast Main Line, fast and slow trains already have their own pairs of tracks. The Department for Transport has stated that it ‘does not hold any detailed capacity study’ of the classic train service assumed in its (HS2) ‘Planet Forecasting Model 7.1’, but the total number of of passenger trains operating on WCML South in the with-HS2 scenario is ‘fewer than at present’.

DfT confirmation of fewer (not more) trains on WCML South, in HS2 scenarios

“Fewer”, not “more”.

Written by beleben

February 6, 2020 at 9:13 pm

Posted in HS2

Licensed to spin

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If HS2 doesn’t happen, you’ll need to build twenty-five new motorways, according to former BBC showbiz correspondent Robert Nisbet, who is now ‘director of nations and regions’ for the ‘Rail Delivery Group’ (speaking on RTM podcast 007).

Robert Nisbet, RTM podcast 007

Written by beleben

February 5, 2020 at 4:59 pm

Posted in HS2

Andy Street’s ‘2040 metro and rail plan’

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Andy Street at Aldridge transport museum (picture from @Andy4WM twitter)

On 4 February, West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street launched his ‘2040 plan for metro and rail in the West Midlands’ at Aldridge Transport Museum, before an audience which appeared to largely consist of museum staff and volunteers (?).

twitter, @andy4wm, 'Today I unveiled my 20 year plan to transform our metro and rail networks into a world-class comprehensive tube-style system serving our entire region. This plan is already underway with: Major expansion of the Metro in Birmingham and the Black Country.'

The event, part of Mr Street’s campaign for re-election, was not mentioned on that evening’s 6.30 pm BBC tv Midlands Today, but was briefly featured about halfway through ITV’s 6 pm Central News.

Andy4WM's metro and rail plan map 2040

The ‘£15 billion plan’ which includes new Metro (tram) lines and rail stations, and driverless pods and ‘very light’ rail, would be funded from central government, property developers, and ‘borrowing against future income from ticket sales’.

twitter, @andy4wm, 'Thank you for the encouragement and support for my 20 year metro and rail plan. We've started work on this job together and the foundations are literally being laid around the region, with the diggers in the ground. There's a long way to go but we are underway!'

An obvious difficulty with the idea of ‘borrowing against future income from ticket sales’ is that most of the additional infrastructure proposed by Mr Street would carry few passengers, generate very little income, and have to be subsidised from public funds.

There must be also be some questions about the disruption which would follow from implementing Mr Street’s scheme. If the HS2 railway is approved, as news reports suggest, there would be extensive transport disruption in central and east Birmingham over the next decade. Building Mr Street’s tram lines would in effect deepen and spread this disruption, across the wider area, for the next twenty years.



Written by beleben

February 5, 2020 at 12:55 pm

The mythtery of how Winsford would benefit from HS2

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This week, the Guardian has ‘attempted to capture the key issues’ about HS2 in a series of articles called ‘HS2: who’s right?‘. How successful this attempt has been, is debatable, however.

Consider, for example, the article titled ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail: backers say HS2 is vital to its success’ (4 Feb 2020).

From this story, one might well get the impression that

  • NPR would create ‘a crucial freight route between the ports of Liverpool and Hull’ and
  • HS2 would ‘free up space for far more local stopping services, as well as freight’ in the north of England. Fast intercity services to London and Birmingham would be ‘removed from the existing mainlines’.

'Northern Powerhouse Rail: backers say HS2 is vital to its success', Helen Pidd, The Guardian, 04 Feb 2020

[Northern Powerhouse Rail: backers say HS2 is vital to its success, Helen Pidd, The Guardian, 4 Feb 2020][…]

To understand how dysfunctional the north’s railways are, Winsford provides a good example. About 33,000 people live in this working-class Cheshire town, built on top of a huge salt mine that provides 50% of the grit used on UK roads each winter. Situated right on the west coast mainline, the busiest mixed-use railway in Europe, Winsford is approximately 30 miles from both Manchester and Liverpool.

But there are no direct trains to Manchester from Winsford. And even during the morning rush-hour there are just two services you would realistically take to get to work for 9am in Liverpool. For most of the day there is one solitary train in each direction per hour – and that’s if they turn up (15% of trains from Winsford were cancelled last month). […]

Of course, HS2 could not mean ‘far more local stopping services, as well as freight’ in the north of England. According to the ‘PFM Assumptions v7.1’ document, it is not envisaged that fast intercity services to London and Birmingham would be ‘removed from the existing mainlines’.

And as far as Winsford is concerned, there would be no change in service levels whatsoever from HS2, or NPR (based on the publicly available information about these schemes).

Winsford station,
Number of trains
to Manchester
per hour, 2020
Number of trains
to Manchester
per hour, with
HS2 phase 2
in operation
Number of trains
to Liverpool
per hour, 2020
Number of trains
to Liverpool
per hour, with
HS2 phase 2
in operation
0 0 1 1

Winsford station in the PFM Assumptions v7.1 document

Written by beleben

February 4, 2020 at 2:43 pm

Posted in HS2

Desperately seeking woo scam

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High Speed Two is ‘shovel ready and, according to Network Rail, the only project that can realistically deliver desperately needed extra capacity across the UK’s rail network’, proclaimed HS2 Ltd’s twitter on 29 January.

twitter, @HS2ltd, 'HS2 is shovel ready and, according to Network Rail, the only project that can realistically deliver desperately needed extra capacity across the UK’s rail network.'

‘Desperately needed’, presumably, means something like ‘urgently needed’. But the first stretch of HS2 is not expected to open before about 2030.

Between two cities which already have two motorways, and two intercity railways, connecting them.

twitter, @belebenso, 'Two motorways to London.  4 fast trains to London each hour, across 2 railways.  And the infrastructure the West Midlands most 'desperately needs' is...  another railway to London'

Written by beleben

February 4, 2020 at 11:38 am

Posted in HS2