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Tactical failures

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BBC news reported British prime minister David Cameron’s comments that police had admitted they had the wrong tactics in the recent riots in cities across England, and there were “far too few police” on the streets.

He announced a crackdown on facemasks and a review of curfews during an emergency recall of Parliament.
Mr Cameron told MPs that it had become clear there had been problems in the initial police response to the disorder.

Former Cabinet minister Sir Malcolm Rifkind also raised concerns that officers were instructed to “stand and observe looting”.

Mr Cameron told MPs: “There were simply far too few police deployed on to our streets and the tactics they were using weren’t working.

“Police chiefs have been frank with me about why this happened.

“Initially the police treated the situation too much as a public order issue – rather than essentially one of crime.

“The truth is that the police have been facing a new and unique challenge with different people doing the same thing – basically looting – in different places all at the same time.”

Some people have claimed that the police ineffectiveness was ‘deliberate’, with senior officers intending to demonstrate the need to reverse cuts in police manpower and budgets. This is impossible to prove or disprove, but having observed things at first hand, the failures are more plausibly explained by unsuitable tactics and operating practices, and poor command, control, and real-time intelligence.

Manpower was insufficient, because tactics were inefficient. So the size of police forces should not be determined by these riots, there needs to be new operating procedures. Manpower spikes required for such situations would be best provided by using the Army for static cordon and access management. Unfortunately, large parts of the Army are thousands of miles away, for reasons I’m not really clear about.

Written by beleben

August 11, 2011 at 5:14 pm

To Marylebone, and beyond

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Chiltern Railways’ Evergreen 3 scheme includes the creation of a second rail access to Oxford from London, using a new junction at Bicester. But the Chiltern Railways routes would also allow creation of a secondary rail access to Bletchley, in the city of Milton Keynes. This would entail extending services beyond Aylesbury Parkway onto the disused Varsity Line, which passes through Bletchley.

Options include

  1. creation of a new parkway station on the Varsity Line, for MK commuters, and
  2. integrating a limited stop MK service into the Metropolitan Line, with London Overground type bi-system electric trains. (Many years ago, the Metropolitan’s steam trains used to run as far as Aylesbury.)

In general, parkway stations aren’t really desirable, but here it would seem to be the best option. And certainly more sensible than spending £17,000,000,000 on a high speed railway to ‘solve’ a peak period unidirectional capacity shortage on the West Coast Main Line.

Milton Keynes is a low density, car-dependent, polycentric city, where people typically have to travel some distance just to reach a railway station. So exactly where they board a train, is of lesser importance than would be the case elsewhere.

Riots in Birmingham

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An arrest in Birmingham's Smallbrook QueenswayOver the last few days, civil disturbance and mob violence has spread from London to provincial British towns such as Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, and Bristol. In the Midlands, Birmingham was one of several boroughs affected, with both its central business district and suburban centres (such as the Soho Road) impacted by vandalism, mugging, arson, and looting.
Santander (former Abbey National) bank, upper New Street, Birmingham
At the national level, the government was completely unprepared, and its sluggish response exacerbated by uncertainty as to what to do. Similar vacillation and confusion was also evident in Birmingham itself. On its local radio today, a police spokesman spoke of “troublemaking tourists” getting in their way, implying that people should stay out of the city centre. At the same time, Jerry Blackett, of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, was suggesting people should come into the city centre. Interviewed on television, Mr Blackett said that city centre trade was about fifty per cent down, but such was the success of the clean-up, that visitors wouldn’t even know that rioting had taken place. A fatuous remark, given that he was interviewed in front of one of the numerous boarded-up windows in the city centre.
Pallasades closed
Yesterday (9th August), some city centre shops did not open at all, and others closed early. By 1700, normal commercial activity had ceased, with groups of prospective rioters engaged in stand-offs with police at the Bull Ring, and adjacent streets. Although previously classed as a public right of way, the Stephenson Place access to New Street railway station was shuttered. The Bullring and Pallasades shopping centres were closed down, Birmingham Central Library closed early, and most West Midlands buses were off the road by 2130. Today, West Midlands Police (WMP) chief constable Chris Sims said that “We have had another very difficult night in Birmingham and across the West Midlands”.

Watches of Switzerland shop, BirminghamPolice played a cat and mouse game with gangs of yobs across the wider city centre, with looting and mayhem continuing from late afternoon into the early hours. WMP’s failure to establish area dominance was caused by a combination of factors, but its options were clearly limited by personnel constraints. Although WMP was reinforced by bobbies from at least one other force (West Mercia), there were not enough to stop yobs, many with covered faces, moving into and around the city centre. British Transport Police, positioned at the main entrance of New Street station, could not intervene as electronics shops in Smallbrook Queensway (less than 300 metres away) were looted, for fear of leaving the station itself open to attack. A mob in upper New Street uprooted an iron litter bin to try to break into a Swiss watch shop, but there was no police in that part of the street at all.

Birmingham’s geography is riot-friendly, and enabling crime-by-design has been a feature of its built environment for decades (as anyone familiar with pedestrian underpasses or ‘subways’ will know). Recent civic ‘improvements’ have included filling streets with junk such as J C Decaux advertising panels, morris columns and suchlike, obstructing pedestrian (and emergency vehicle) movement, and blocking sightlines. And although the city is peppered with closed circuit television cameras, they don’t seem to have been much use in crime prevention. The West Midlands Police intention seems to be centred on using CCTV to ‘hopefully’ identify hooded and masked rioters after the event, rather than for real time intervention.

Written by beleben

August 10, 2011 at 5:18 pm

HS2 challenge panels

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Strategic Challenge Panel | Analytical Challenge Panel | Technical Expert Panel |
Consultation Peer Review Group | Meetings

Extract from HS2 Analytical Challenge Panel 17 Aug 2010 minutes - redacted

HS2 Ltd’s website outlines the HS2 project’s External Challenge Groups.

The External Challenge Groups have been set up to ensure that HS2’s approach to High Speed Rail is rigorously scrutinised at every stage. They are comprised of panels of independent experts specialising in the groups’ respective areas of focus and they challenge and reinforce; they will challenge and reinforce HS2’s strategic, technical and analytical approaches.

If you are interested in the work of any of our panels, please contact us on or by any of the methods listed on our contacts page. We respectfully ask that you do not approach any of our panel members directly.

Strategic Challenge Panel

The Strategic Panel provides strategic challenge and an independent perspective on how HS2 develops proposals for a new railway line from London to the West Midlands and potentially beyond. It also scrutinises the proposal themselves and their fit with the strategic objectives.

In particular, the panel will provide views on:

HS2’s overall approach – from option generation to stakeholder involvement – to ensure it is fit for purpose and will ultimately deliver results that are sufficiently robust and comprehensive;
whether all relevant factors, including wider economic impacts, are being taken into account in our sifting and appraisal methodologies to ensure that the outputs are reliable and take account of the wider costs and benefits;
whether the option selection process is both sensible and publicly defensible;
whether the proposals generated are appropriate solutions to our strategic objectives;
HS2’s assessment of corridors for potential development of a high speed line.

Expert Panel Members:

Kate Barker CBE – Monetary Policy Committee Member, Bank of England
Prof. David Begg – Chair of the Northern Way Transport Compact
Richard Brown CBE – Chief Executive, Eurostar
Tony Collins – Chief Executive, Virgin Trains
Iain Coucher – Chief Executive, Network Rail
Stephen Joseph OBE – Executive Director, Campaign for Better Transport
David Leeder – Vice Chair, Commission for Integrated Transport
Sir Michael Lyons – Chairman of the BBC Trust
Anthony Smith – Chief Executive, Passenger Focus
Tony Travers – Director, Greater London Group, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Analytical Challenge Panel

The Analytical Challenge Panel scrutinises HS2’s analytical plan and outputs. In particular it provides advice and scrutiny on the models developed, and of specific issues relating to Wider Economic Benefits.

Analytical Panel Members:

Prof. Robert Cochrane – Transport planner and visiting Professor Imperial College London
Prof. Stephen Glaister CBE – Director of the Royal Automobile Club Foundation and Professor of Transport and Infrastructure, Imperial College London
Prof. Peter Mackie – Research Prof. Institute for Transport Studies, Leeds University
Prof. Henry Overman – Director Spatial Economics Research Centre, LSE
Dr. David Simmonds – Director, David Simmonds Consultancy Ltd
Prof. Roger Vickerman – Director of the Centre for European, Regional and Transport Economics, University of Kent

Technical Expert Panel

The Technical Expert Panel will advise and scrutinise HS2’s engineering, operations and environmental impact work plan. In particular it looks at specific issues relating to the railway systems being considered, the interaction with the existing rail network and the relationship of environment and planning with engineering.

Expert Panel Members:

Ted Allett – Formerly Planning Director of Union Railways and expert on route development, planning and environmental assessment
Mike Ash CBE, MRTPI – Formerly Chief Planner at the Department for Communities and Local Government
Keith Berryman – Engineering Advisor to Crossrail
Clive Burrows FREng – Director of Engineering, First Group
Prof Andy Collop – Head of Civil Engineering Dept at Nottingham University
Alan Dyke – Former Chief Engineer and Managing Director of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Project (HS1), now an Independent Consultant
Prof Robert Mair FREng FRS – Cambridge University
Hugh Norrie OBE FREng – Government’s Agent for Channel Tunnel Rail Link
Prof Roderick Smith FREng – Chair of Future Rail Studies at Imperial College, London and Vice President of the IMechE

Consultation Peer Review Group

The Consultation Peer Review Group webpage does not define its purpose or identify who its members are.


The challenge panels’ meetings with HS2 Ltd have also included staff from other organisations, such as the consultancy company Atkins. However, there are no detailed minutes, and even the names of people attending have been replaced by ‘XXXX’.


[Edit: HS2 Ltd altered the Consultation Peer Review Group page to include the following (as at 23 Feb 2012)]

We set up an independent peer review group to challenge the planning and implementation of our consultations and engagement. Panel members will be independent professionals who have experience of consultations, transport infrastructure projects or communications.

The panel will provide:

feedback on key aspects of our strategy

an independent view

checks that our consultations are fit for purpose, comply with Cabinet office guidelines and are consistent with consultation best practice

advice on consultation delivery

checks to ensure that plans are followed

feedback on response analysis processes

HS2 and Heathrow, part 3

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Greengauge 21‘s February 2010 report The Heathrow Opportunity stated that “There is clear evidence that what is needed is for high-speed rail services to operate directly to (Heathrow) airport“. It contained a diagram showing Heathrow lying north of the Great Western Main Line, with a station at the airport itself, linked to HS2 by both north-facing and London-facing connections, as well as south-facing connections to the Brighton and Portsmouth lines.
Greengauge 21's diagram of its Heathrow high speed rail concept

But on any one day, the number of people travelling to airports is very small, as a proportion of all transport movements. So building high speed rail into them, or stopping high speed trains to serve them, is unlikely to make environmental or economic sense. Even stopping conventional speed trains to serve them doesn’t necessarily make sense, according to the Association of Train Operating Companies‘ Response to the Department for Transport HS2 consultation:

ATOC notes that the proposed Crossrail Interchange station at Old Oak Common would provide links into the Central London business district, the City and to Heathrow. However, it believes the longer-term business case for all HS2 and most Great Western trains to call at this station needs to be examined carefully with consideration given to the impact on journey times and any benefit associated with the interchange opportunities created. The proposed strategy would undermine the journey time benefits of HS2 and lead to an increase in journey times on the Great Western from London to Reading, Bristol, South Wales and the South West if stops on all Great Western trains were introduced. In the future, following development of a Heathrow spur, some of the advantages of Old Oak Common as an HS2 interchange station for high speed services would naturally disappear and an overall balance therefore needs to be struck between interchange benefits, journey time disbenefits and the timing of any eventual direct link to Heathrow.

Similar sentiments were also expressed in October 2010’s High Speed Lines: ATOC’s view:

“ATOC is not convinced that a Crossrail Interchange station at Old Oak Common and for all HS trains to call, is the right solution to serve Heathrow as it will undermine the journey time benefits of HS2.”

Written by beleben

August 1, 2011 at 9:44 pm

HS2 and Heathrow, part 2

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The British government’s plans for linking Heathrow into high speed rail are informed by huge vested interests, and fixated with the notion that a high speed link should draw in more traffic to an already overloaded airport. Not my words, but those of a Birmingham Airport press release, ‘Mawhinney Report Misses the Point‘, dated 22 July 2010.

Birmingham Airport expresses mixed opinions over the report by Lord Mawhinney into High Speed Rail Links to Heathrow, whilst noting that Lord Mawhinney has not unequivocally recommended such a link.

Unfortunately, the report seems fixated with the notion that a High Speed link should draw in more traffic to Heathrow, rather than distribute the excessive demand elsewhere. Whilst this may be good news for BAA shareholders, it may not be such good news for regional economies.

The point of High Speed Rail in the UK is not to benefit one already-overloaded Airport in the South East, or indeed be seen solely in an aviation context. HS2 must have an equitable effect for the Country as a whole, and generate opportunity for more jobs and prosperity in the regions. The Mawhinney report, presumably informed by huge vested interest, thus compounds the ‘Heathrow Myth’.

The biggest myth is the erroneous assumption that Heathrow has to continue to be the UK’s ‘only Hub Airport’. Of course, Heathrow is a hub for British Airways but that’s about it. Other forward-looking Countries (for example, Germany) have chosen to spread aviation demand across a number of major airports, and often to link those Airports and other key centres with excellent surface access, sometimes including High Speed Rail.

Here’s the background. Before the May 2010 general election, the Conservative party was very keen on bringing Heathrow to the high speed rail centre-stage, seemingly viewing HS2 as a sort of substitute for a third runway. The January 2010 Bow Group report ‘The Right Track: Delivering the Conservatives’ Vision for High Speed Rail‘ had stated that “A successful national high speed rail network should directly connect all of Britain’s major airports”.

After the election, as part of the coalition government’s review of the HS2 plans inherited from Labour, Brian Mawhinney examined HS2 access to Heathrow, and to the Channel tunnel line (HS1). His report effectively recommended the Labour party policy of having an interchange on the HS2 line, well away from the airport, meaning that high speed rail passengers would have to change to a connecting conventional train to access Heathrow. Mawhinney recommended that a high speed rail link into the airport itself should only be considered for a larger national high speed rail system (the Y network).

On 2 December 2010, a BAA press release announced the appointment of David Begg as a non-executive director of BAA, which operates Heathrow Airport.

In March 2011, Mr Begg founded the Campaign for High Speed Rail (Biz4HS2) to mobilise business support for the government’s HS2 scheme. One of the companies voicing support for Biz4HS2 was none other than Birmingham Airport, whose Head of Government and Industry Affairs, John Morris, was featured prominently in its June 2011 photocall in Victoria Square.

M6 Toll and HS2

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The privately financed M6 Toll road was designed and implemented to increase capacity, and speed up journeys, on the M6 motorway north of Birmingham.

But it has never lived up to expectations. The evidence is that not enough people are prepared to pay the tolls, and the company running M6 Toll have just announced losses of £50 million.

The future value of the income from tolls is unlikely to be very large, so the road isn’t worth very much. The government could buy out the operator, and make the road part of the free-at-the-point-of-use national network. That way, there’d be at least something to be salvaged from the experiment. In the meantime, M6 Toll is yet another warning for people not to be swayed by the ‘time savings’ and ‘increased capacity’ propaganda of HS2 lobbyists.

Written by beleben

July 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm

The viable part of HS2

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The latest dollop of tripe from Greengauge21 concerns the “return” that “could” arise from the government selling HS2 around 2029 (which turns out to mean half the capital invested is deemed wiped out at privatisation). No-one can forecast what the proceeds of a sale of a HS2 lease would be, so it’s all rather silly.

But the real silliness action isn’t in the finances of the sale of a HS2 lease, but in the HS2 economic case:

1. In its most extensive form, HS2 is envisaged as a dedicated high speed line linking Scotland, the North of England, and the Midlands to London. Because of the short distances between urban centres, it’s only on journeys between London and Scotland that high speed rail could provide significant time savings, but the demand on that sector isn’t very large, compared with flows in south central England. Between Manchester, Birmingham, and London, rail travel demand is much stronger, but there the time savings provided by HS2 would be minimal, as discussed in earlier blogposts.

2. If the second stage of HS2 (the Y-network to Leeds and Manchester, and link to Heathrow Airport) were not built, the project’s cost benefit numbers would be likely to be much improved. But the HS2 to HS1 link’s 4,850 daily passengers amount to a laughable/pitiful 3 full trainloads in each direction. So cancelling that, along with the hugely expensive Euston rebuild and tunnel to Old Oak Common, has a massively positive effect on cost-benefit numbers.

3. Because the Chiltern line is largely empty, and could accommodate 16-carriage trains between Birmingham and London, there’s no capacity-based justification to build the HS2 trunk from London to the West Midlands. So HS2 money could be reassigned to electrification of the Chiltern and Midland Main Lines, re-opening the Varsity Line (and linking in Bletchley to Marylebone), Uckfield to Lewes reopening, and metropolitan transport improvements, such as Birmingham Crossrail.

4. This leaves the viable part of HS2, which amounts to just one thing: Old Oak Common interchange. This could become the southern terminus for intercity trains routed by the (currently half-empty) Chiltern line, to Birmingham and beyond.

Oxbridging the gap

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Transport links between the eastern and western sides of England tend not to receive much attention in the media, but the idea of a motorway between Oxford and Cambridge was a recent exception. However, there is another way of enhancing transport on the Oxbridge axis, with a much lower environmental impact.

Varsity Line
Varsity Line, showing relatively intact western section (green), abandoned eastern section (red), alternate route using existing track (grey). Based on Open Street Map CC-SA 2.0 licence.

London does not have any equivalent of the distributor ring railways of Berlin and Paris, and as a result, there is presently no possibility of providing an efficient east-to-west rail conduit in south central England. The railway network in London itself is heavily used, and could not take on such a role.

Although it wasn’t listed for closure in Beeching’s Reshaping report, the Varsity Line (Oxford to Cambridge railway) was severed in 1968, and the section east of Bletchley Bedford [see below], completely abandoned. Re-use of former railway land along the eastern section has added to the complexity of restoring an Oxbridge link, and no meaningful progress has been made. But a restored Varsity Line has significant potential for passengers, and as a freight route for the Haven ports.

The East-West rail consortium has proposed bridging the eastern gap by using the East Coast Main Line (ECML) from Sandy to Hitchin, where a curve would take trains onto the existing London to Cambridge railway. Apart from being considerably longer, this route conflicts with existing traffic, especially on the ECML.

The more expensive option is to reconstruct a direct railway following the pre-1968 corridor. This would avoid conflicts with traffic on existing lines, and the shorter route facilitates lower carbon emissions from freight movements. The journey time for passenger services between Oxford, Bletchley, Bedford, Sandy, and Cambridge can be competitive with private cars.

Economy, capacity, scalability, and resilience

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Evergreen++ | Coventry | Milton Keynes

Chiltern intercity to the West Midlands, West Coast Main Line, Varsity Line


In previous blogposts, I discussed the transfer of London – West Midlands intercity rail traffic to the Chiltern Main Line. The diagram above shows the reconfiguration of services supporting this ‘Evergreen++’ concept – which is scalable, resilient, environment-friendly, and less expensive than HS2.

Unlike Atkins’ Scenario C, Evergreen++

  • maximises the use of the Chiltern Main Line through the use of long trains – longer, in fact, than those currently operating between Euston, Birmingham, and Wolverhampton
  • uses Snow Hill, not Moor Street, as the Birmingham stopping point
  • uses Paddington, not Marylebone, as the London stopping point
  • allows for a very high capacity future London to Birmingham service (using a station at Old Oak Common as an alternative to reconstruction of Paddington)
  • does not include cruft – such as a £3.44 billion tunnel between Seer Green and Saunderton
  • provides the potential for through (no-change-of-train) service between London and Black Country towns such as Walsall and West Bromwich.

The Black Country accounts for around half of the population of the West Midlands Urban Area. Because there is no change of train needed for Black Country towns, Evergreen++ is able to compete with HS2 on journey times to London.


The Evergreen++ concept is about providing versatile, resilient, and interoperable infrastructure. The upgrade and electrification of the Coventry to Leamington Spa railway maximises realisation of these objectives.

However, it’s likely that the West Coast Main Line could continue to be used for Coventry services, by splitting a future interregio-type service on the WCML, at Rugby. Intercity trains would not run from London to Birmingham on the WCML, however; their paths would be freed for other use.

Milton Keynes

On the West Coast Main Line, upgrade works (e.g. junction grade separation) could robustify capacity between Euston and Milton Keynes.

But it’s also possible to provide a second access to southern Milton Keynes, by extending passenger services from Marylebone beyond Aylesbury, using part of the Oxford – Cambridge Varsity Line.