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The low-down on HS2 value

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According to its April 2020 phase one Final Business Case [FBC], High Speed Two offers ‘value for the taxpayer under all but the most extreme scenarios’.

But what kind of ‘value for the taxpayer’?

Forecast benefit cost of the Y network, DfT HS2 phase two economic case, July 2017, Figure 7

In July 2017, the Department for Transport claimed that the full HS2 Y network had a ‘68% chance of having a benefit cost ratio (BCR) above 2’ and a ‘92% chance of a BCR above 1.5’.

[HS2 Phase Two Economic Case | July 2017][…]

Phases 2a and 2b demonstrate high value for money, contributing to a full network BCR of 2.3 with WEIs and 1.9 excluding WEIs.

The Department’s value for money framework (2015) stated that in ‘standard cases’, a BCR of between 1.0 and 1.5 would indicate ‘Low’ value for money (VfM), a BCR between 1.5 and 2.0 would indicate ‘Medium’ VfM, and a BCR between 2.0 and 4.0 would indicate ‘High’ VfM.

DfT VfM framework, 2015, category definitions

[DfT value for money framework]

“[…] However it may be more appropriate to report a hybrid category (e.g. ‘Medium-High’) in cases where it is likely and reasonable to believe, that a proposal may fall into another category, based on analysis using ‘switching values’.”

In the April 2020 FBC the updated benefit-cost ratio for phase one (and for phase one-plus-2b taken together) was 1.2, when wider economic impacts (WEIs) are included. For the larger Y network (phase-one-plus-phase-2a-and-2b), the figure was 1.49, including WEIs.

HS2 phase one full business case, 15 April 2020, Table 2.1

On closer examination, the gulf between the ‘July 2017’ and ‘April 2020’ BCRs turns out to be even wider. One of the changes made for the FBC was that “spend up to the end of 2019 has been treated as sunk and excluded […] except for purchase costs on land and property that could be recoverable were HS2 not to go ahead“.

www.parliament.uk, written question on HS2 sunk costs, House of Lords, 2020-04-22

On 6 May, the government stated that had the ‘newly-declared-sunk’ costs not been excluded in the FBC,

  • the BCR for phase one would have been 0.8 without WEIs, and 1.0 with WEIs [i.e., ‘Poor’ value for money]
  • the Y network BCR would have been 1.1 without WEIs, and 1.3 with WEIs [‘Low’ value for money].

From the start, the Beleben blog has taken the view that the economic case for HS2 has been fabricated and manipulated to serve the political purpose of keeping the project going. This has been borne out by events.

BBC News, 27 Aug 2019, 'Ministers know HS2 was over budget years ago'

Manipulation of the economic case is still happening, and if anything, the HS2 project is becoming less, rather than more, transparent.

Written by beleben

May 15, 2020 at 11:31 am

Deep concerns over objectivity

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What appear to be more emanations of HS2 Ltd’s war on transparency are mentioned in an article by Stuart Spray on the Byline Times website.

According to the article, Mr Spray is an investigative environmental journalist and a fully paid-up member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), who graduated with an MA in investigative broadcast journalism in 2019.

[Why is HS2’s Press Office Blocking a Journalist from Doing their Job? | Stuart Spray | 17 April 2020]

For the past three weeks, I have been in regular contact with HS2’s press office requesting comments, statements and evidence in support of some of its ‘innovative’ approaches to wildlife management. But it appears that it has had enough of my line of questioning.

Two days ago, following a seemingly innocuous request for a comment regarding nesting birds in an ancient woodland which is currently in the process of being felled, a member of the press team told me that “for this information, I’d recommend contacting our Helpdesk or FOI [Freedom of Information] team. Our press office is for accredited journalists only”.

In a follow-up email to one of Byline Times’ executive editors, the press team clarified its position, explaining that it had “deep concerns” over my “objectivity as a journalist” and questioned my “motives for asking the questions in the first place”. They referred to my apparent support for the naturalist Chris Packham and Extinction Rebellion (XR) on social media.

Written by beleben

April 17, 2020 at 2:41 pm

Posted in High speed rail

HS2 ignorance is grand

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According to HS2 Ltd, “there are suggestions to upgrade existing routes, like the Grand Central route between the Midlands and London. The Government is investing £40bn in the existing network, but this cannot provide all the additional capacity required for the future.”

hs2ltd-there-are-proposals-to-upgrade-existing-routes-like-the-grand-central

So, people are expected to believe the Grand Central [sic] is part of the “existing network”, which the government “is investing £40bn in”.

Written by beleben

December 11, 2019 at 5:16 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Many weaknesses and huge opposition

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There is “little public support for but huge opposition against HS2”, according to  Professor Roderick Smith, who has become “increasingly concerned about the sub-optimal ways in which [the project] has evolved”.

roderick-smith-how-to-rescue-britains-hs2-project-28nov2019

[How to rescue Britain’s HS2 project, Professor Roderick Smith, IRJ, 28 Nov 2019]

[…] My suggestions imply criticism of the engineering staff of HS2. I know many of them well and I am aware that many are concerned by the weaknesses of the present design. They feel constrained by orders from above, but from whom the orders originate it is not clear.

Written by beleben

November 29, 2019 at 9:40 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

No opportunity to influence

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twitter, @tonyberkeley1, 2 Nov 2019, 'My role as dep chair of the Oakervee Report on HS2 finished yesterday.   Report not finished and no opportunity to influence conclusions.  We are told that, when completed by Doug O and the DfT secretariat, it will be locked into the DfT vaults for the new S of S to publish.'

Written by beleben

November 2, 2019 at 2:22 pm

‘Defaffinating’ northern rail

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Although it is not true to say that rail lines on the prime routes are already dominant in those transport corridors, concentration on expanding the existing large traffic flows, such as London – Birmingham, London – Manchester, London – Leeds, etc will not achieve a major modal shift – mainly because rail already has a significant slice of the market on those routes which, by themselves, do not constitute the majority of passenger travel in the UK (noted Professor Roger Kemp in his paper ‘Scope for reduction in transport CO2 emissions by modal shift’).

However, this idea of “expanding the existing large traffic flows” lies at the heart of the proposed HS2 railway. Another fundamental problem with HS2 is its inability to free up (or create) more capacity for local travel in conurbations like Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, and Nottingham.

Roger Kemp. 'Scope for reduction in transport CO2', Manchester - Leeds example

‘Northern powerhouse rail’ is supposed to reduce the rail journey time between Manchester and Leeds by spending billions of pounds on a new line, but as Professor Kemp noted, the existing weekday service is four ‘reasonably fast’ trains per hour.

The problem is generally not the in-vehicle time on the intercity portion of such trips, but the ‘faff’ and unreliability associated with real point-to-point travel, which doesn’t start and finish at big-city ‘hauptbahnhof’ stations.

Sadly, these facts are completely lost on many northern and London politicians, and public sector bodies like Transport for the North.

Written by beleben

August 26, 2019 at 9:12 am

Northern powerhouse rail and commutability

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In June 2019, Boris Johnson ‘pledged‘ he would be the PM who builds ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’.

But is the ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ concept a good fit with travel patterns in the north of England, and the levels of transport demand seen there?

Some Northern England inter-city modal share comparisons, 2011 census, Alasdair Rae

The available information suggests that the spatial distribution of people — and the diffuse travel patterns — limit the role that rail could play in northern commuting. Spending £39 billion on ‘Northern powerhouse rail’ would be very unlikely to change that.

The best opportunities for rail would come from creating S-Bahn systems in Manchester and Leeds, but this would require the existing, NPR-focused, policy to be torn up.

NPR is supposed to enable people to ‘commute from one city to another’, but most people do not live in city centres.

Consider a more realistic inter-city commute, from Crosby (Merseyside) to Salford Quays (Greater Manchester) using existing rail, and new-build ‘HS3 Northern powerhouse rail’.

1. Crosby (Merseyside) to Salford Quays (Greater Manchester) using existing rail

Outbound commuting activity steps
1. Walk / bus to Crosby station.
2. Wait.
3. Train (Merseyrail) to Central station.
4. Walk to Lime Street station.
5. Wait.
6. Train to Eccles station.
7. Wait.
8. Tram to Salford Quays.
9. Walk to end destination.

Crosby to Salford Quays commute with the existing railway (base map: OpenStreetMap)

2. Crosby (Merseyside) to Salford Quays (Greater Manchester) using ‘Northern powerhouse rail’

(For the purposes of this comparison, it is assumed the Liverpool NPR station is at Lime Street, and the Manchester NPR station is at Piccadilly.)

Outbound commuting activity steps
1. Walk / bus to Crosby station.
2. Wait.
3. Train (Merseyrail) to Central station.
4. Walk to Lime Street station.
5. Wait.
6. Train (Npr) to Piccadilly station.
7. Wait.
8. Tram to Salford Quays.
9. Walk to end destination.

Crosby to Salford Quays commute with conceptual 'Northern powerhouse rail' (base map: OpenStreetMap)

It should be apparent that for journeys like this, Northern powerhouse rail would make very little difference to commutability.

Written by beleben

August 22, 2019 at 3:37 pm

Beleben visits some fake HS2 claims

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“Just outside Paddington” is a vast building site turning a run down industrial area and old railway depot into Old Oak HS2 railway station, according to the IanVisits blog (20 Aug 2019), which was given site access to take pictures of dumper trucks and rubble.

twitter, @ianvisits, 'Taking a look at HS2's huge Old Oak Common station' … Just outside Paddington is a vast building site - turning a run down industrial area and old railway depot into a major HS2 railway station.

According to the IV blogpost, “The biggest problem affecting the railways today is a lack of capacity to handle the surging numbers of people who want to travel by train. So something needs to be done. Yes, they could upgrade the existing lines, but that was tried with the West Coast Mainline Upgrade, and it delivered a fairly modest upgrade at a massive £14.5 billion cost.”

Ian Visits, 'the West Coast Mainline Upgrade delivered a fairly modest upgrade at a massive £14.5 billion cost'

The West Coast Route Modernisation did not cost £14.5 billion, and its upgrade component (£2.5 billion) enabled large increases in capacity (e.g., London to Manchester intercity went from one train per hour, to three).

DfT: WCML modernisation had an upgrade component of £2.5 billion

At Euston, “it’s about fixing the bottleneck on the approach to the station”, according to the IV blog.

Ian Visits, 'Building not just more platforms for HS2, but critically, the extra tunnels for those trains to use shifts intercity services to the HS2 line, releasing lots of capacity in the old tunnels for suburban services.If that doesn’t sound too important, then where’s the UK’s most congested train… it’s the 17:46 out of Euston which carries more than twice the number of passengers that it’s designed for.'

[Taking a look at HS2’s huge Old Oak Common station, Ian Visits blog, 20 Aug 2019]

The station has enough platforms, but not enough railway tracks to get in and out, so trains have to wait for space in the tunnels to get into the station. And back out again. That’s a huge impediment to increasing the numbers of trains that commuters from North London and beyond can use.

Building not just more platforms for HS2, but critically, the extra tunnels for those trains to use shifts intercity services to the HS2 line, releasing lots of capacity in the old tunnels for suburban services.If that doesn’t sound too important, then where’s the UK’s most congested train… it’s the 17:46 out of Euston which carries more than twice the number of passengers that it’s designed for. When completed, HS2 is expected to more than double the number of seats out of Euston station during peak hours.

Actually, constructing HS2 into Euston appears to require a permanent reduction in classic capacity into the station. There is no sign of a “releasing lots of capacity in the old tunnels for suburban services”.

HS2 Ltd, changes to Euston approach tracks

Crowding on Euston commuter trains is not a problem best addressed by spending £60 to £105 (?) billion on HS2. The first go-to should be the use of space efficient rolling stock, as on Thameslink and Greater Anglia. If the 17:46 out of Euston in 2018 had been operated by a 10-carriage Greater Anglia ‘Aventra’, what would the load factor have been ?

Greater Anglia, new commuter trains

[Taking a look at HS2’s huge Old Oak Common station, Ian Visits blog, 20 Aug 2019]

It’s been badly branded as a high-speed line — derided as shaving a few insignificant minutes off trips for rich businessmen. No one ever seems to complain about making it easier for families visiting each other, it’s always the rich business men.

The HS2 business case is built around time savings for business users, and a supposed shortage of capacity in the peaks. How many families travel by rail, in the peaks, to visit each other?

Written by beleben

August 20, 2019 at 10:50 am

Make Central Great at the Common

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Reactivating the Great Central route to Rugby and Leicester with new connections to the West Coast and Midland Main lines would be much cheaper, less disruptive, and greener than building HS2. But how could trains from ‘GCR2’ be accommodated in London?

The Old Oak site intended for HS2 has room for a 12-platform long distance station, as can be seen by HS2 Ltd’s visualisation of the footprint of a twelve platform HS2 terminus station at Old Oak.

Old Oak, footprint of a 12 platform long distance station (HS2 Ltd, 2016)

A new long-distance (non-HS2) station at Old Oak could be built with through tracks to Paddington, but how many trains could continue to Paddington would depend on Crossrail enabling vacation of more surface platforms there. At present, Crossrail is being planned as a lop-sided project, with more services operating in east London, than in the west.

Written by beleben

August 16, 2019 at 10:51 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Woodland of confusion

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The UK has roughly one million hectares of ancient woodland, according to an article attributed to Ian Walmsley (Modern Railways magazine, presumably August 2019).

The UK has roughly 1 million hectares of ancient woodland, according to an article attributed to Ian Walmsley of Modern Railways magazine

But according to the Woodland Trust (2000), the figure is more like 309,000 hectares (excluding Northern Ireland).

No doubt a fair bit of the remaining ancient woodland must be in Scotland. Figures for how much there is in England, do not seem to be readily available.

The Woodland Trust (2000), there around 309,000 ha of ancient woodland in Great Britain

Written by beleben

August 16, 2019 at 8:11 am