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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

Plan to ban

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The centrepiece of forthcoming British government strategy on air quality will be a ‘plan to ban diesel and petrol car and van sales completely by 2040’, the Guardian reported.

'Britain to ban sale of all diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040', The Guardian

If this ‘ban on small petrol and diesel road vehicles’ is true, it would seem a little odd for the government to have been encouraging new-build diesel trains across the national rail network, and cutting back main line electrification only last week. With the life of trains generally being a lot longer than for automobiles, rolling stock ordered today could be in use well beyond 2040.

Written by beleben

July 26, 2017 at 9:25 am

Posted in Environment, Politics

Six hundred thousand pounds per seat

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In 2013 Tim Mould QC, representing the DfT in the Supreme Court, said: “It is unarguable that high speed rail is environmentally damaging. It has never been disputed that upgrading existing lines is far less damaging environmentally.”

But in terms of transport capacity, is it arguable that high speed rail is better value for money?

All the evidence suggests that for increasing capacity, upgrading existing lines is far more cost-effective (and affordable) than new-build high speed rail.

Credo transport capacity research paper for Invensys (extract), 2007

Each seat of ‘HS2 capacity’ comes at a cost of at least £600,000.

Written by beleben

July 23, 2017 at 11:14 am

Particularly troubling findings

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The 22 February edition of Channel 4 Television’s Dispatches show asked, “What’s Really in Our Air?”. One of the NOx-and-particulate pollution hotspots looked at by presenter Morland Sanders was Birmingham’s recently-renovated New Street railway station.

Alice Hickman researching air quality at New Street station (C4 Dispatches, 22 Feb 2016)

Professor John Thornes of Birmingham University told the programme of his concerns about air quality at New Street. He suggested that Network Rail needed to facilitate formal monitoring.

Professor John Thornes discussing air quality at New Street station (Dispatches, C4, Tx 2016-02-22)

The low-ceiling platforms at New Street are used by many diesel trains, and the recent £600+ million renovation appears to have done little to improve ventilation.

Network Rail, electrified track shown coloured green, 2009, Birmingham area

Network Rail told Dispatches it wanted the station to be a “safe and healthy environment” and that in the coming years “they will shift to less polluting electric trains”.

But the reality is that in ten years’ time, the number of diesel trains using New Street is likely to be much the same as it is now.

The programme did not look at Snow Hill, but given that station’s layout, it seems possible that similar air quality issues could be present there.

Of course, cleaning up Birmingham’s transport is not just a problem for the rail sector. Sadly, progress is likely to be glacial unless there is a change of priorities away from wack projects like ‘Airport Midland Metro’ and HS2.

Network Rail's HLOS electrification programme is unlikely to have much effect on air quality at Birmingham New Street

Written by beleben

February 23, 2016 at 10:01 am

Posted in Environment

Decoding the ‘unpause’

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Work to electrify the TransPennine North and Midland Main Line is to be ‘unpaused’ under plans announced today, the Department for Transport claimed.

[TransPennine and Midland Mainline electrification works to resume, DfT, 30 September 2015]

Sir Peter Hendy has outlined to the Secretary of State for Transport how work could continue. The Secretary of State has replied to the Chair of Network Rail asking Network Rail to un-pause this work.

Network Rail will work with the Department for Transport (DfT) and Rail North to develop a new plan for electrification of the TransPennine line between Stalybridge and Leeds and on to York and Selby to focus on delivering key passenger benefits as quickly as possible. This is an improvement on the previous plan which only changed the power supply of the trains.

The new plan will deliver faster journey times and significantly more capacity between Manchester, Leeds and York. The upgrade is expected to provide capacity for 6 fast or semi-fast trains per hour, take up to 15 minutes off today’s journey time between Manchester and York and be complete by 2022. When the work is finished, the whole route from Liverpool to Newcastle (via Manchester, Leeds and York) will be fully electrified and journey times will be significantly reduced compared to today’s railway.

Network Rail will also recommence work to electrify Midland Mainline, the vital long-distance corridor which serves the UK’s industrial heartland. Sir Peter Hendy is proposing that line speed and capacity improvement works already in hand are added to, with electrification of the line north of Bedford to Kettering and Corby by 2019 and the line North of Kettering to Leicester, Derby/Nottingham and Sheffield by 2023.

New Northern and TransPennine rail franchise awards will be announced before the end of the year.

[…] Chairman of Network Rail Sir Peter Hendy said:

“The temporary pause in the programme has given us the space to develop a better plan for passengers. People can expect more services and faster journeys. We face some difficult challenges, and there is more work still to do, but the Secretary of State’s decision means we can now move forward with our plans to electrify TransPennine and Midland Mainline”.

But the “temporary pause in the TPN programme to give the space to develop a better plan for passengers” actually seems to be set to continue until 2017.

[Extract from Peter Hendy’s letter to Patrick McLoughlin, 29 Sep 2015]


Network Rail is already carrying out, and has not paused, significant interventions in the route to improve journey times and speed, and this will continue.

However, in order to ensure expenditure is not wasted on abortive works, my advice is that a full planning exercise should start immediately with all the relevant parties — Network Rail, Department for Transport and Transport for the North – involved. This will establish a firm detailed design which increases benefits to passengers compared to the previous paused scheme, and this will be concluded by the end of 2017. During this time we should also explore the best methods of delivery on the Trans-Pennine route, bearing in mind the need to keep the railway operational, but also the need for necessary access to the railway for the works. My advice is that commencing electrification at the beginning of 2018 (with some enabling works carried out before then) could result in delivery by end 2022. Hence while this is a decision for you, my advice is that the project can be un-paused with immediate effect.

Peter Hendy's letter to Patrick McLoughlin, 29 Sep 2015

Peter Hendy’s letter to Patrick McLoughlin, 29 Sep 2015 (extract)

Judging by Mr Hendy’s letter to Patrick McLoughlin, the MML electrification unpause is being replaced by a MML electrification go-very-slow.

There’s no information about the knock-on or budgetary effects, but Control Period 6 seems to be becoming the new Control Period 5.

Midland Main Line electrification schedule, before the 'pause'

Written by beleben

September 30, 2015 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Environment

Tagged with

Dawlish random numbers

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Network Rail claim that the current Meldon viaduct could not be restored for railway use

Network Rail claim that the current Meldon viaduct (in Option 3) could not be restored for railway use

Network Rail has provided transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin with its West of Exeter Route Resilience Study, which was established following the storm damage at Dawlish earlier this year. But who actually undertook the study, is not apparent.

[Network Rail]

Appraisal work was commissioned by Network Rail to assess the outline business case for each of the seven potential diversionary routes described in the previous section. The scope of this appraisal activity can be summarised as follows:

• To establish a base case, the existing railway via Dawlish would remain the only rail route between Plymouth and Exeter as now. This base case also includes review of the extent to which the Dawlish route could be expected not to be available for traffic due to planned engineering possessions and unplanned disruption, and the road replacement services to be assumed

• To identify the scale of disruption compensation costs for the base case, which potentially could be avoided were an alternative/diversionary route to be available

• To devise appropriate train service specifications for each route option, taking advantage of the new route:

– For planned train services only where it offers journey time savings compared with the existing route via Dawlish

– For diversions on those occasions when the route via Dawlish is not available for traffic

• To assess the likely scale of passenger demand and revenue impacts for each option

• To assess the annual operating costs for each option

• To prepare an outline UK rail financial business case appraisal and DfT WebTAG compliant transport economic appraisal, including unpriced user and non-user benefits. The appraisal compares the seven alternative/diversionary route options against the base case

• To test the extent to which stakeholders’ aspirational higher train service level scenario would change the appraisal results, together with appropriate sensitivity testing to illustrate the robustness of the results and conclusions.

In all the options, the route via Dawlish is retained with existing calls at the intermediate stations maintained. It is assumed that in the short to medium term works will have been undertaken to the route to ensure comparable standards of resilience to levels of risk similar to the average over the last 40 years.

Network Rail Great Western route to West Devon and Cornwall, west of Exeter resilience options, 2014

The study considered the following courses of action:

• Option 1, Base Case (maintenance / repair / operating regime same as pre-breach)

• Option 2, Strengthening the existing railway, is the subject of a separate Network Rail study, due to report in the first part of 2015. An early estimated cost of between £398 million and £659 million would be spread over four Control Periods with a series of trigger and hold points to reflect funding availability, spend profile and achieved level of resilience

• Option 3, Alternative Route A – rebuild the former London & South Western Railway route from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock at an estimated cost of £875 million

• Option 4, Alternative Route B – constructing a modern double track railway on the alignment of the former Teign Valley branch line from Exeter to Newton Abbot. This has an estimated cost of £470 million. There is doubt as to whether a resilient railway is practical on this route

• Option 5, Alternative Routes C (C1 – C5) – five alternative direct routes to provide a new line between Exeter and Newton Abbot at an estimated cost between £1.49 billion and £3.10 billion.

The study found that Options 3, 4, and 5 represented very poor value for money, while the VfM of Option 2 was “To be assessed”.

Although not stated explicitly in the study, in conventional transport economic terms, the best performing option would be the current, “reactive” Option 1, but the wider economic impacts question was not really addressed. The Great Western Main Line is not an “economic lifeline” for the South West, but the option of closing all lines west of Exeter was not on the table.

Currently, the vast majority of passenger travel to and from the peninsula is by road, and railfreight volume is negligible. But if South West rail access is to be maintained and developed, the best long term option would probably be to abandon the coastal alignment at Dawlish, and build something like Option C5. The Option 2 notion that the coastal route could be made storm-proof, sea-level-proof, and electrification-ready, for “£659 million”, looks highly suspect.

According to Network Rail, Option 3 is unattractive for a number of reasons. Construction of a new viaduct at Meldon would be required, and the running of stopping trains between Plymouth, Okehampton and Exeter would generate minuscule economic benefits and revenue.

Shortcomings in the study include the lack of detail about what Option 2 would actually involve, and the absence of a cost breakdown of Option 3. The storm damage in early 2014 cut off rail access to the South West for around eight weeks in the off season, but the cumulative sum of disruption from meaningful hardening of the existing route over four Control Periods (i.e. two decades) would probably be a large multiple of that. So, in the humble view of the Beleben blog, Option 2 is likely, in disruption terms, to prove a cure worse than the disease.

Network Rail west of Exeter assessed options, 2014

Network Rail west of Exeter options, 2014. Note the curious absence of a VfM assessment for Option 2

Politically and publicly, do nothing (Option 1) is ‘not an option’, but significantly improving the resilience of the existing railway (Option 2) is not achievable without effectively rebuilding it over a distance of several miles. The study glosses over that fact, which would tend to suggest an ‘Option 2 Lite’ (Option 1 dressed up as Option 2) is the preferred option.

Written by beleben

July 16, 2014 at 11:04 am

The men who stare at waves

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Patrick McLoughlin in 'The men who stare at waves'

Network Rail Media Centre “has appealed for help from the public to stay away” from the site of the severance of the Great Western at Dawlish, “as the combination of heavy machinery, concrete spraying, and the waves means it is not safe to be around”. However, it was apparently safe enough for lumbering transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin to be pointlessly shown around the site on 7 February. A makeshift line of containers has been placed along the seafront in a bid to prevent the breach from worsening.

Written by beleben

February 9, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Robustification of Cornish rail connectivity, part two

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Part one

GW severance at Dawlish (Western Morning News)Prior to being appointed transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin showed little interest in railways or transport, so this week’s Great Western severance at Dawlish must have come as a bit of a shock to him. Today he announced a “rigorous review” of alternatives to the coastal Great Western line, raising hopes of “dusting off a £100 million inland link to avoid storm damage”, the Western Morning News reported.

The announcement was probably designed to shore up parliamentary support for the prestige £50 billion HS2 railway intended to run between London, Birmingham, and two Northern cities.

[‘Minister commissions report into battered Dawlish line alternative’, G Demianyk, Western Morning News, February 6, 2014]

Most [South West MPs] want “dual lines” – meaning a new inland route would complement the Dawlish line, as ditching the vulnerable coastal path would leave South Devon cut off and bring the demise of one of Britain’s best-loved journeys.

There are many options that could be considered for re-routing, including reviving a 50-mile stretch from Exeter to Newton Abbot, which closed in 1958.
At Transport Questions in the House of Commons this morning, the Secretary of State Mr McLoughlin said he wanted the service restored “as quickly as possible”, but also pledged a “more rigorous review of some of the other alternatives that may be available”.

In 2006, Labour ministers ruled out the idea of re-routing, arguing Network Rail believed seafront defences in Dawlish were unlikely to fail “in the foreseeable future”.

There must be a question mark over the longer term viability of the Great Western railway on its current course via Dawlish and 25kV ac overhead electrification to Plymouth would pose immense problems. The Beleben view is that an inland link would cost a lot more than £100 million, but be relatively simple compared with, say, the re-routeing of the Nice to Genova railway in Monaco and Sanremo (which was not done for weather resilience).

Protecting the entirety of the Great Western in South Devon from ‘extreme’ weather would be prohibitively expensive. There would seem to be a case for both constructing a shadow route to maintain connectivity to South Devon resorts, and rebuilding the LSWR route to Plymouth via Okehampton. Extending Waterloo — Exeter trains into Mid Devon would certainly benefit its economy.

Plymouth (population 256,000 [2011 Census]) is one of many towns cut off from the rail network by the severance at Dawlish, but HS2 lobbyist Alex Burrows attacked Devon / Cornwall rail resilience concerns

Written by beleben

February 6, 2014 at 9:31 pm

The Chiltern advantage

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West London separation of Chiltern local (Marylebone) and intercity (Old Oak Common) services in the Rail Package 6 concept

In the HS2 Paving Bill debate, Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour) suggested upgrading the Chiltern Main Line (CML) as an alternative to building HS2.

[Kelvin Hopkins]

The core of all the problems of capacity is London to Birmingham and there is an alternative, which is to upgrade the route between Paddington and Birmingham Snow Hill via Banbury. That could double capacity between London and Birmingham, and also would go to a very sensible terminus at Paddington, which is of course on Crossrail. At the Birmingham end, Snow Hill is in the town centre. The station for HS2 will be away from the town centre, so much of the advantage of speed will be lost in extra transport from that station into the town centre, but Snow Hill is in the centre. That would be a great advantage.

Electrification of the central section of the CML, between Banbury and Leamington Spa, is now part of the government’s Electric Spine project, so the do-minimum baseline for Chiltern upgrading has decreased. In the Chiltern Rail Package 6 concept, the West Midlands capacity uplift available would easily exceed 100%, even if Paddington (rather than Old Oak Common), were used as the London terminus.

On the Bicester cut-off, restoring separate platform and through tracks at stations would provide significant capacity benefits. And for the first 30 kilometres out of London, and 20 kilometres out of Birmingham, intercity trains could run on their own tracks (separate from commuter services), by using historic railway land.

Another way of enhancing passenger capacity would be to divert Southampton — Midlands railfreight onto the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton railway.

Written by beleben

June 28, 2013 at 5:47 pm

British railfreight competitiveness

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Freight is rarely cited in rows over the effects of rail privatisation in the 1990s, yet rail freight is growing an excellent argument for railway reform, according to The Economist (from the print edition of 22 June 2013).

Between 1965 and 1985 rail freight slumped from 25 billion net tonne kilometres a year (a measure of the weight and distance of goods carried) to 15 billion. All of the freight businesses were then owned by British Rail, which invested little in them. Road hauliers were eating into their business, helped by a liberalised market and new licensing rules for lorries.

Since privatisation in 1994, though, £1.5 billion ($2.4 billion) has been invested in rail wagons, locomotives and other improvements. The amount of freight moved increased by 65% between 1995 and 2006. Volumes dipped following the financial crisis, but have recovered. The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) estimates that the market will grow at least 10% more by 2019. Freight has become far more efficient. Between 1998 and 2008 the number of staff per freight train million kilometres travelled fell from 100 to 65. On passenger railways, by contrast, the number of staff per train kilometres increased slightly. “It is the most transformed sector in the rail industry since privatisation,” says Richard Price, the chief executive of ORR.

The business has become far more competitive. Seven freight rail companies directly compete with each other on the tracks, as well as with road haulage companies. Unlike passenger networks, they receive no direct subsidy and are not franchised. Whereas their passenger equivalents tend to monopolise regions, freight networks can charge up and down the country. Rail freight is not encumbered by the short-term contracts common in the passenger railway system, which make train companies petrified of strikes and strengthen the hand of drivers’ unions.

Raw materials have long been moved by rail, but so, these days, are consumer goods. Between 2001 and 2011 the amount of containerised goods transported by rail increased by 80%. At Felixstowe, Britain’s largest container port, the proportion of containers leaving by rail has jumped from 14% in 2002 to 27% now. Two weeks ago a third terminal was opened there which should double the number of containers sent out by rail again.[…]

Whether rail cargo companies receive ‘direct’ subsidy does not determine whether railfreight is efficient, or competitive. The Office of Rail Regulation press release of 11 January 2013 stated that without rail freight, there would have been an additional 6.7 million road journeys in 2007 – 2008. However, ORR’s work also showed that rail freight traffic creates costs of £280 – 400 million each year through factors such as the wear and tear on the tracks.

Under the current charging regime freight companies only pay a small proportion of those costs, around 21 – 28%, with passengers and taxpayers covering the shortfall. Freight train operators currently pay minimal fixed costs, whereas in 2011 – 2012 passenger train operators paid £887 million in fixed charges to Network Rail.

Much of Britain’s rail cargo infrastructure is publicly funded in one way or another. For example, new facilities at Felixstowe were co-financed by the European Union’s Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) programme.

In the 1960s and 1990s, there was substantial public expenditure on railfreight infrastructure, that ended up being barely used. In the absence of a coherent national transport plan, the chances of further wasted investment are not insignificant.

Written by beleben

June 24, 2013 at 10:53 am

Posted in Environment, Freight

Tagged with