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The wrong kind of rail investment for the North

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The Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which is chaired by Evening Standard editor and former chancellor George Osborne, wants the government to redesign the second phase of HS2 to “remodel” four junctions for connections to ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ (the BBC reported). He has urged Prime Minister Theresa May ‘to commit to building high-speed rail lines across the north of England, from Liverpool to Hull’, saying it would “transform” the economy.

But does the Northern Powerhouse Partnership have any evidence that building ‘HS3’ / Northern Powerhouse Rail would transform the economy?

According to Paul Swinney of the Centre for Cities, “research shows that commuting between city regions in the Randstad [Netherlands] and Rhine-Ruhr [Germany] is not significantly greater than across city regions in [northern England], nor are train links much quicker”. The success of those regions “does not appear to be based on the strength of their transport links”.

Coverage of the Centre for Cities report about the relative importance of transport links in The Guardian, June 2016

In the view of the Beleben blog, HS3 / Northern Powerhouse Rail is the wrong kind of rail investment for the North, and the potential waste of public funds is much bigger than with Boris Johnson’s recently-abandoned London garden bridge.

'George Osborne avoided official channels with London's garden bridge scheme', The Guardian, 16 Jan 2016

Written by beleben

August 22, 2017 at 11:12 am

Will high scam

with 6 comments

twitter_WilliamBarter1, 'Conventional rail might match the capacity of a high speed line with rigid separation'

With [1] “rigid segregation” (?) conventional rail might match the capacity of a high speed line, according to HS2 ‘evangelist’ William Barter. But [2] it would cost nearly as much, and only provide [3] a fraction of the benefits.

But where is the evidence for statements [1], [2] and [3]?

Où? Wo? ¿Dónde?

Bombardier capacity evaluation for HS2 Ltd, 2011, 'Figure 3'

Consider claim [1]. According to Bombardier, the line capacity of high speed rail is lower, not higher, than conventional speed rail.

Mr Barter’s response to the Bombardier diagram was to pretty much ignore its whole point, and claim that headway on plain line rarely, if ever, presents the binding constraint on rail capacity.

@williambarter1, twitter, 'Headway on plain line rarely, if ever, presents the binding constraint on rail capacity'

But high speed trains don’t travel into or out of terminals at ‘high speed’, and can’t change tracks at high speed (turnouts are limited to circa 230 km/h). So where could Mr Barter’s capacity advantage come from?

The answer is, there is no capacity advantage. As the Bombardier diagram shows, there is a capacity disadvantage, which comes from running at very high speed, on plain line.

Written by beleben

August 15, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Ex post in vacuo

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Improving public transport and encouraging car-pooling, walking and cycling are best for taking cars off the road. There is little robust evaluation evidence on the impact road schemes have on local economic development, wrote Centre for Cities researcher Adeline Bailly on the Centre for Cities blog.

[Is road investment the route to local economic growth?, Centre for Cities, 2 Aug 2017]

The What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth reviewed 2,300 evaluations of the local economic impact of transport projects, and found only 17 robust evaluations looking at the local economic impact of roads – and the findings on impacts are rather mixed.

twitter, @CentreforCities: 'How to reduce congestion? Improve public transport, encourage car-pooling, walking & cycling but not road investment '

But the July 2015 What Works evidence review was mainly concerned with economic outcomes, rather than congestion, and does not really argue the effectiveness of measures for congestion relief.

What Works Growth, Policy Reviews, Transport (extract)

[WWG Evidence Review: Transport – July 2015, extract]

• We found no high quality evaluations that provide evidence on the impact of rail infrastructure on employment, and only a limited number of evaluations showing that road projects have a positive effect.

• We found no high quality evaluations that provide evidence on the impacts of trams, buses, cycling and walking schemes on any economic outcomes.

• Even when studies are able to identify a positive impact on employment, the extent to which this is a result of displacement from other nearby locations is still unresolved. More generally, the spatial scale of any employment effects varies and we do not have enough evidence to be able to generalise about the spatial distribution of effects if they occur. The same is true for other outcomes. The scale at which the studies evaluate impact varies from adjacent neighbourhoods to much larger US counties.

• Surprisingly, very few evaluations consider the impact of transport investment on productivity (we found just three studies, two for roads and one for rail). Although the use of such productivity effects to calculate ‘wider economic benefits’ in transport appraisal is underpinned by a larger evidence base, it is still worrying that so few evaluations can demonstrate that these effects occur in practice.

• We have little evidence that would allow us to draw conclusions on whether large-scale projects (e.g. high speed rail or motorway construction) have larger economic growth impacts than spending similar amounts on a collection of small-scale projects (e.g. light rail or junction improvements).

• More generally, we do not know how differences in the nature of improvements (e.g. journey time saved or number of additional journeys) affect any local economic outcomes.

The review also noted disconnect in the evaluation of schemes, before and after the fact.

Our review of the literature discovered a large number of ex-post [transport investment] evaluations that appear to live in a vacuum, with no attempt made to link the findings from these reports back to scheme appraisals.

Written by beleben

August 15, 2017 at 8:58 am

On the back of a funding envelope

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Letter from Lord Berkeley to transport secretary Chris Grayling, 31 July 2017, page 01

Letter from Lord Berkeley to transport secretary Chris Grayling, 31 July 2017, page 01

Letter from Lord Berkeley to transport secretary Chris Grayling, 31 July 2017, page 02

'HS2 is on time and on budget' (via @johnsensible)

Written by beleben

August 2, 2017 at 4:05 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

They seldom deliberate

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The saga of delayed and failed rail electrification suggests British politicians and officials are more comfortable with talking than with deliberation (wrote Ian Jack).


[From the railways to the NHS – why can’t Britain think anything through?, Ian Jack, The Guardian, 22 July 2017]

In the context of general British incompetence, these railway difficulties amount to only a petty disaster. Towering above them come the examples of the poll tax, the serial reorganisations of the NHS, the Millennium Dome, and the failure of expensive new IT systems in government departments. As the political scientists Anthony King and Ivor Crewe noted in 2014 in their book, The Blunders of Our Governments, there was no letup in Britain’s propensity for the cock-up – if anything, it was getting worse. King and Crewe thought the features of the government system that made the country more blunder-prone included “parliament’s near irrelevance” and the absence in Whitehall of relevant skills, but also what they termed “a deficit of deliberation”.

They wrote: “British politicians meet, discuss, debate, manoeuvre, read submissions, read the newspapers, make speeches, answer questions, visit their constituencies, chair meetings and frequently give interviews, but they seldom deliberate.” They didn’t, in other words, take the time to weigh the claims against the evidence, to ask for more information, to reach out and consult other parties who knew more or would also be affected by the action that might be taken.

Written by beleben

July 24, 2017 at 12:32 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

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

Just a block of grey

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On 17 July 2017, the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP announced his decisions on refinements to the route proposed for HS2 phase two, and a number of documents were published on the HS2 website.

In line with HS2 tradition, the new documents embody doublespeak, sophistry, and incomprehensibility. Consider, for example, what Figure 7 from the “Phase 2 Strategic Case” appears to say. On first glance, this shows that “with HS2 phase 2”, from London to Peterborough the number of seats in the PM High Peak Hour (1700 – 1759) could ‘rise to 11,090’, compared to 5,630 in December 2016.


But on closer inspection, 4,400 of those seats would not be available to Peterborough at all. The number of intercity seats would actually fall by 760.

Of course, capacity on the East Coast Main Line could be increased vastly, without building HS2, for example, by closing Welwyn North station in the peak hours. Another option would be to use the money currently earmarked for HS2’s boondoggle Piccadilly tunnel, to four-track the Welwyn ‘bottleneck‘.

Figure 8 is captioned “Seating capacity from Leeds in Scenario 5”, but the graph itself is labelled “Manchester Piccadilly – PM High Peak Hour” (?)


Another document, titled “Economic case advice”, purports to present the analysis of the costs and benefits of a “Crewe hub”. But where the capital costs (item 7) should be, there is just a block of grey.

Written by beleben

July 19, 2017 at 5:45 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2