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Yesterday’s solutions and today’s fantasies

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The tram, the bus, park and ride – these are all potentially yesterday’s solutions to yesterday’s opportunities. City and business leaders today should be thinking about the world in 20 years’ time, when the HS2 network is completed, according to KPMG’s Richard Threlfall.

'Northern strategy must embrace the future', Richard Threlfall, KPMG

‘Northern strategy must embrace the future’, KPMG, December 2016

[Richard Threlfall, 16 December 2016]

High speed rail will conquer the inter-urban market, potentially obliterating domestic aviation. Autonomous vehicles will provide the connections into that network, from the smallest rural hamlet, the remote suburb, or the city-centre transport interchange.

[…] By the end of [2017] Transport for the North should have brought forward a strategy for HS3, which I hope will distinguish the creation of a new high speed inter-city network for the Northern Powerhouse from the upgrading of lines to strengthen commuter flows. I would like to see a dedicated city centre to city centre network, tunneled where necessary, and using a next generation technology such as that being developed by Hyperloop in the US.

But according to global VP of business development at Hyperloop One, Alan James – who previously headed the UK Ultraspeed maglev effort –  hyperloop ‘would be a cheaper and faster alternative to HS2’.

[London to Manchester in 18 minutes? The Hyperloop may be heading to the UK, Oliver Franklin-Wallis, Wired,  5 September 2016]

Hyperloop One told WIRED it has held conversations with the government and private companies about potential UK routes and “there’s been quite a strong response” from the government. UK government representatives also attended Hyperloop One’s much-publicised propulsion test in Nevada, in May 2016.

'An Italian rapper, a hangman's noose and a $250m lawsuit: the chaotic race to build Elon Musk's hyperloop', Wired, 6 Oct 2016

Written by beleben

March 20, 2017 at 10:31 am

Bad decisions beget bad connectivity

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In the last few years, Birmingham city council has allowed

  • the goods yard at Moor Street railway station to be redeveloped for the Bullring shopping centre
  • property company Ballymore to build offices on the east side of the old Snow Hill station site.

As a result of these decisions, the options for increasing railway capacity and connectivity in the West Midlands have been much reduced.

Three Snowhill is one of three office buildings which prevent capacity expansion at Snow Hill railway station

Three Snowhill is one of three newly-built office buildings which prevent capacity expansion at Snow Hill railway station

If HS2 is built as planned in Leeds and Manchester, the regional connectivity disbenefits could be even larger than in Birmingham. Implementation of city ‘S-Bahn’ systems in Manchester and Leeds would probably become unaffordable and infeasible.

If the Piccadilly / Mayfield station area is redeveloped in the way intended by Manchester council, it is unlikely that a Manchester 'S-Bahn' could ever be implemented

If the Piccadilly / Mayfield station area is redeveloped in the way intended by Manchester council, it is unlikely that a Manchester ‘S-Bahn’ could ever be implemented

With its capacity-sapping flat junctions, Network Rail’s Ordsall chord is in no way a substitute for a Leipzig-style Piccadilly – Victoria interconnector (‘Picvic 21’).

With its flat junctions, the Ordsall chord could not enable a high frequency Manchester regional 'S-Bahn'

With its flat junctions, the Ordsall chord could not enable a high frequency Manchester regional ‘S-Bahn’

Written by beleben

March 16, 2017 at 2:13 pm

Posted in HS2

HS2 and national rail demand

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HS2 is needed because the number of rail passenger journeys has doubled since the last day of British Rail, when 800 million travelled (claimed Nigel Harris of ‘Rail’ magazine, in a BBC Inside Out West Midlands interview).

Nigel Harris on BBC Inside Out West Midlands, broadcast 6 March 2017

Nigel Harris on BBC Inside Out West Midlands, broadcast 6 March 2017

This is a curious argument. If 800 million extra annual journeys have been accommodated without building a new line, who is to say another 800 million couldn’t be accommodated without building a new line?

It turns out that Network Rail are forecasting a lot more than 800 million extra passengers in the future on the existing railway, and this is “more than the current infrastructure was ever designed for”. But did George Stephenson or Isambard Kingdom Brunel “design for” a particular number of passengers?

[Network Rail]

“Passenger numbers have doubled in the last 20 years – this is more than the current infrastructure was ever designed for.

That number’s set to double again in the next 25 years.”

HS2 is “designed for” future intercity demand between Birmingham and London, Manchester and London, and Leeds and London. But intercity is a small proportion of rail travel, and all the indications are that existing lines would be able to meet its future demand.

Together, annual rail volume between London and the three provincial HS2 cities is less than 10 million journeys (on the figures used by Mr Harris, about 0.6 per cent of the national total).

Written by beleben

March 10, 2017 at 4:38 pm

Posted in HS2

Midland connection and aspiration

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The ‘Midlands Connect Strategy’, published on 9 March 2017, states that Midlands Connect is a ‘voluntary pan-Midlands partnership of local transport authorities, local enterprise partnerships and local business representatives working with the Department for Transport and its key delivery bodies.’

'Midlands Engine' area, 2017

[Midlands Connect strategy, Mar 2017]

The Partnership now forms the transport component of the Midlands Engine for Growth. Leadership and accountability is provided by the Strategic Board comprising an independent chair, Sir John Peace, elected members from six local authorities, four LEP chairs and representatives of HS2 Ltd, Network Rail and Highways England.
[…]
Whist our vision is ambitious, it is built on a strong technical evidence base and does not assume unlimited financial resources. In addition to implementing existing commitments, we set out a limited number of priorities which we will develop further over the next three years, making use of the additional £17 million of Government funding announced in autumn 2016, to enable delivery to start in the period 2020-25. We also provide a set of longer term interventions for development and delivery over the following years.

Our objective is to establish a rolling 25-year programme of strategic road and rail improvements, split into five year ‘blocks’ consistent with expected road and rail investment periods and the implementation of HS2. This comprehensive long term approach will give much-needed certainty to businesses, communities and investors whilst also improving quality of life, improving skills and enhancing access to new opportunities – both within the Midlands and beyond.

According to the Strategy,

  • an average speed of 60 mph (96 km/h) on the Strategic Road Network should be available between ‘our key centres’
  • a highway journey should be no more than 20% longer than the average
  • rail journeys between key centres should have end to end speeds of 70 mph (112 km/h) where possible
  • in the peak, people should not have to stand on trains for more than 20 minutes.
Midlands Connect Strategy aspirations, March 2017

Midlands Connect Strategy aspirations, March 2017

But are these aspirations realistic, or desirable?

For example, why might it be acceptable to stand for 19 minutes, but not for 21? What are the societal costs of ‘100% of travellers seated, for every rail journey over 20 minutes’?

The document also outlines plans to increase Birmingham rail capacity by implementing the ‘Midlands Rail Hub’. This appears to be a rebranding of the old scheme to implement two new chords at Camp Hill.

Is the Midlands Rail Hub concept little more than a re-branding of the Camp Hill chords scheme?

In the view of the Beleben blog, the likelihood of significant capacity uplift just from building the Camp Hill chords, is questionable.

The Benson Road and Adderley chords are not part of the Midlands Connect Strategy

The Benson Road and Adderley chords are not part of the Midlands Connect Strategy

Birmingham to Lincoln by train is about 89 miles and takes two and a half hours, so the end to end speed is ~35 mph. Is that really ‘holding back regional productivity’? Or are other factors, like ‘human capital’, much more important?

'Average speeds on SRN, 2014'

‘Average speeds on SRN, 2014’

Written by beleben

March 9, 2017 at 11:40 am

Posted in Business, HS2, Planning, Politics

The hordes of Aldridge

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In an article for Rail Engineer (3 January 2014), Andrew McNaughton, Technical Director of HS2 Ltd, stated that “The first phase of HS2 will be most useful in releasing capacity to recast the south end of the WCML and the corridor through Coventry into Birmingham. The former will then accommodate the growth into London and the latter high frequency metro style services that Centro envisages.”

However, all the evidence suggests that

  • HS2 would not enable a high frequency local rail service into Birmingham
  • what Centro (now TfWM) “envisages”, is certainly not a “metro style” service.

According to a listing of sample post-HS2 departures prepared by Centro’s Toby Rackliff, there would no longer be direct trains between Coventry, and stations like Marston Green and Stechford.

But there would be a direct train between Coventry and Aldridge, presumably for the ‘hordes’ of people wanting to commute between those places.

Potential post-HS2 Coventry station departures in a sample one-hour period, presented by Toby Rackliff of Centro

Potential post-HS2 Coventry station departures in a sample one-hour period, presented by Toby Rackliff of Centro

Centro's post-HS2 recast of Coventry trains ending direct service to Marston Green, Lea Hall, Stechford, and Adderley Park, but allowing a through service to Aldridge

Written by beleben

March 7, 2017 at 11:40 am

Posted in HS2, Politics

Look amazing and make a statement

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How could a Sheffield city HS2 station like this be built at the Midland site?

How could a Sheffield city HS2 station like this be built at the Midland site without massive disruption?

Scores of Sheffield business and city leaders attended a special event to design a city centre railway station that looks amazing, makes a statement, acts as a marketing tool and creates wealth for the region, the Sheffield Star reported. Ideas from the event, held at the Millennium Galleries, are to be sent to HS2 ahead of public consultation on the phase two route closing on 9 March.

Sheffield Star,'Big dreams at HS2 station design day in Sheffield', 02 March 2017

Sheffield Star,’Big dreams at HS2 station design day in Sheffield’, 02 March 2017

The government’s preference is for running Sheffield trains into the existing Midland station, but not “on a loop off a mainline through Doncaster”, as The Star claimed. Such trains would be unlikely “to be up to 400 metres long”, and the station would not have to be expanded to house them. Needless to say, if Midland station were to be extensively rebuilt and the Supertram diverted, the cost and disruption would be enormous.

Written by beleben

March 3, 2017 at 11:22 am

Posted in HS2

HS2 speed and capacity loss

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On 23 February 2017 the HS2 London West Midlands bill gained royal assent after ‘3 years of Parliamentary scrutiny’.

But how effectual was the ‘scrutiny’?

And how competent are HS2’s senior officers – such as the chairman?

On 17 November 2014, HS2 Ltd’s David Higgins told the House of Commons transport committee that “a railway line where trains travel at 220 miles an hour as opposed to 120 miles an hour clearly has nearly twice the capacity because you can have twice as many trains on it. Once we started talking about capacity, then people started to get it.

Extract from David Higgins' comments about high speed rail capacity to the Commons transport committee, November 2014

David Higgins’ claim was utter nonsense. But no-one on the transport committee challenged him about it. And unlike the Beleben blog, the ‘technical’ railway press has never challenged or debunked the claim.

On 13 January 2015, Mr Higgins again paraded his technical illiteracy, this time before the House of Lords economic affairs committee.

Extract from David Higgins' comments about high speed rail capacity to the Lords economic affairs committee, January 2015

Someone at HS2 Ltd must have known that David Higgins was giving misleading and inaccurate information to Parliamentary committees. Because Bombardier’s 2011 high speed rail capacity report was written for the company.

'Figure 3: Headway as a function of block section length on level track', Bombardier Transportation capacity report for HS2 Ltd, 2011

‘Figure 3: Headway as a function of block section length on level track’, Bombardier Transportation capacity report for HS2 Ltd, 2011

According to Bombardier’s diagram, the capacity loss from running at 360 km/h compared to 200 km/h, could be thought of as (Z – Y), with 400 metre signalling blocks. Plainly, with other block lengths, capacity is also lower at 360 km/h than at 200 km/h.

With 400 km/h operation, the capacity loss is exacerbated further.

Written by beleben

February 28, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Posted in HS2