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Add nearly thirty

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Liverpool Lime Street by el pollock (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

‘Cancelling electrification projects around the country will add nearly 30 minutes to journeys between Manchester and Liverpool’ (Labour press)

Cancelling electrification works will lengthen journey times, increase carbon emissions and raise the cost of running Britain’s rail network, the Labour party warned on 2 August.

Labour press release on rail electrification, 02 Aug 2017

[Labour press release, 2 Aug 2017]

Cancelling electrification projects around the country will add significantly to journey times:

* Journeys between Manchester and Liverpool will add nearly 30 minutes

* Journeys between Leeds and Newcastle will add over 20 minutes.

* Cancelling the electrification of the Cardiff to Swansea section of the Great Western Mainline puts at risk the estimated journey time saving between Swansea and London with Super Express trains of 19 minutes.

Labour has made a £10 billion commitment to “Crossrail for the North” to reverse decades of underinvestment in Northern transport infrastructure that has undermined the economic potential of the north of England and help deliver 850,000 new jobs by 2050.

Network Rail estimates that electrification and the running of electric vehicles can help to reduce CO2 emissions by an average of 20 to 30 per cent compared to their diesel counterparts and the maintenance costs for electric trains are 33 per cent lower than for diesel.

Unfortunately, the press release has a fairly tenuous relationship with the actuality. For example, the Liverpool to Manchester ‘Chat Moss’ electrification has already been completed, so it is hard to see how “Journeys between Manchester and Liverpool will add nearly 30 minutes”.

Again, with the Swansea – Cardiff cancellation, it is difficult to understand how “the estimated journey time saving between Swansea and London with Super Express trains of 19 minutes” is put at risk.

As the new intercity trains for the Swansea – London service are all being fitted with underfloor diesel engines, the Beleben blog cannot understand how their maintenance costs “are 33% lower” than diesels.

Because they are diesels. Electro-diesels.

Electro-diesel (bi-mode) trains were part of the project from the outset. The Great Western electrification shows what can happen when a scheme is poorly specified and designed. It went wrong from the word go, and as the transport secretary at the time, Andrew Adonis must be largely responsible.


Written by beleben

August 3, 2017 at 9:06 am

Vanity rail projects take funding away from existing railways

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Railways in the north of England have a high cost base, and a low user base. They tend not to provide satisfactory connectivity. But PR-led initiatives like replacing ‘Pacer’ trains are unlikely to change the fundamentals.

Could HS2 or HS3 fix rail travel in the north of England?

Could HS2 or HS3 really fix rail travel in the north of England?

The scale of change required is much greater, but government does not seem to have a plan, or funding, in place. ‘Transport for the North’ seems to be away with the fairies.

Outdated and uncompetitive rail transport in the North: Kirkby station, Merseyside, by Raymond Knapman (Creative Commons)

SDG gave Leeds to Manchester as an example of an existing 'quick, frequent, and comfortable rail journey experience'  but that corridor is the linchpin of the proposed 'HS3' vanity project

SDG gave Leeds to Manchester as an example of an existing ‘quick, frequent, and comfortable rail journey experience’ – but that corridor is the linchpin of the ‘HS3’ vanity project

Written by beleben

October 30, 2016 at 2:30 pm

The next fastest train

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The next fastest train display at Birmingham New Street At Birmingham’s refurbished New Street railway station, there is a screen which displays the next fastest train to various destinations.

The next fastest train.” What does that mean?

Presumably, it is not intended to mean, “the second fastest train”.

So why isn’t the screen just labelled “Next fast train”?

On the west side of the station, near the main taxi rank, Network Rail provided a “Dog Spend”. It turns out that “Dog Spend” is Network Railspeak for a canine toilet.

As well as bizarre and bombastic terms such as “Dog Spend”, “conditional outputs”, and “High Level Output Specification”, Network Railspeak also features the use of the word “route” to denote a geographical operating area. In other words, a Network Rail “route” is what most other railway administrations would call a ‘region’.

Written by beleben

April 15, 2016 at 8:30 am

A clever supply model

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HS2 Ltd “have insisted whoever is granted the £4bn contract to build superfast trains for the HS2 rail line should hold a strong UK presence to boost domestic jobs”. Politics Home reported.

And Terence Watson, the Alstom UK chief and Rail Supply Group ‘co-chair’, has ‘laid out the case for bolstering Britain’s rail exports’. Alstom’s ‘hiatus from train making in Britain was ended after the company filed a planning application worth between £80m and £100m for a technology facility in Widnes’.

[‘High-speed technology is our DNA: Alstom plans to resume train building in the UK after a near 15 year hiatus. Country president Terence Watson talks to Sebastian Whale about what drew the company back to Britain.’ Politics Home, 3 March 2016]

The rail transportation heavyweight closed its UK train building operations at the completion of its contract building Pendolino tilting trains for Virgin Rail 15 years ago. The previous “fit and start” nature of the rail industry in Britain, reliant on short-term contracts, meant cashflow was an omnipresent concern, [Mr Watson] says.

The construction would be built in three phases, the first a near 28,000 sq m facility fit with car parking, service yards, rail sidings, landscaping and associated engineering operations. The later phases have the potential to include a new British factory, which would build HS2 trains if Alstom were to win that order.

[…] “We reached a point around a year ago where a clever supply model, assembling in Britain, roughly matches the price of a product shipped in from, for example, India in total. In other words we’ve reached that point of inflection. It is now, again, a reasonable proposition to make things in Britain competitively,” he says.

In fact, the hiatus hasn’t ended. Alstom isn’t making trains in Britain. It seems to be offering to assemble HS2 trains in Britain in the future, if it won the order, because of the government requirement to demonstrate some domestic employment benefit, no matter how minimal.

That requirement does not exist for other GB train orders — such as the Merseyrail fleet replacement, where Alstom has teamed up with Japan’s Mitsui and J-Trec to bid against Siemens, CAF, Bombardier, and Stadler.

If Alstom UK  was ‘too reliant’ on the “fit and start” nature of the rail industry in Britain, one might well ask why it didn’t try to seek out export business, instead of closing its factory.

Written by beleben

March 14, 2016 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Great Britain, Industry

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HS2 and population

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Britain’s fastest growing cities are all in the south, and its shrinking ones all in the north, wrote Citymetric’s Jonn Elledge (14 Aug 2015).


The main point to notice is that only one of Britain’s boom towns is above the line from the Bristol Channel to the Wash: that’s Telford, in the Midlands. All of the others are pretty comfortably within London’s orbit.

And as can be seen from SLC Rail’s regional population trends table (below), population growth in London and the South East is expected to be considerably higher than in the West Midlands and North West.

SLC Rail: UK regional population trends

SLC Rail: UK regional population trends

Contrary to the impression given by HS2 ‘blobbyists’, the primary need for additional rail capacity is going to be in the south east of England. Spending £56+ billion on 560-odd kilometres of HS2 track to Manchester and Leeds makes no sense in capacity terms, and is bound to crowd out improvements for places where capacity is actually needed.

Written by beleben

August 17, 2015 at 10:24 am

Developing Great Central connectivity

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Calvert interchange concept (Beleben)

Indicative Calvert GC / Varsity interchange station concept (Beleben)

One of the many shortcomings of HS2 is the lack of connectivity benefits for places between Birmingham and London. If the Great Central route between Calvert and Leicester were reactivated, it would be possible to provide connectivity for points such as Woodford, Brackley, and Calvert.

Indicative WCML - Great Central East of Rugby interconnection concept (Beleben)

Indicative WCML – Great Central East of Rugby interconnection concept (Beleben)

Interconnection of the Great Central with the West Coast Coast Main Line could be implemented by a chord running to the east, or west, of Rugby.

Written by beleben

December 7, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Great Britain, HS2, Planning

The legend of extra capacity

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From 2017, Intercity Express Programme trains built in Japan and fitted out in Newton Aycliffe, county Durham, are scheduled to replace most of the InterCity 125 and 225 formations operating on the Great Western and East Coast routes. Hitachi invited the British press to Japan to see the Class 800 IEP roll-out on 13 November.

Hitachi IEP roll-out

Hitachi IEP roll-out

The IEP’s thinner seats and longer carriages allow it to carry more people per unit length than current GB intercity trains. A ten-carriage train with the IEP layout could seat 715 people between London and Birmingham without any need to lengthen platforms (the tilt feature of Pendolinos is of limited value on the West Coast Main Line south of Birmingham).

West Coast Main Line, efficient use, no-resignal scenario

West Coast Main Line, efficient use, no-resignal scenario

As can be seen from the example above, a wider process of rolling stock optimisation on the West Coast Fast Lines would allow a passenger capacity increase of around 40%, with few infrastructure changes, and every fifth path unused, to allow recovery. In the example presented, ‘Ledburn’ suburban capacity would be doubled, with small trade-offs (affecting Watford, Milton Keynes and North Wales intercity). Various permutations are possible; much larger increases could be achieved by wider infrastructure upgrades.

(Legend for diagram above)

Green  – IEP type intercity train, 225 km/h, ~715 seats

Orange – New generation commuter train, capable of 225 km/h, 830 seats (Desiro replacement)

Dark red – Pendular 265-metre intercity train (Pendolino type, 11 car)

Blue – Pendular 290-metre intercity train (Pendolino type, 12 car – would potentially require platform lengthening at up to 5 stations)

Brown – Pendular 145-metre intercity train  (Pendolino type, 6 car – would potentially require platform lengthening at up to 5 stations for paired portion working)

Written by beleben

November 13, 2014 at 9:36 pm