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The no-evidence base for Northern Powerhouse Rail

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The 'vision' for Northern Powerhouse Rail

According to the ‘Initial Integrated Rail Report, Strategic Transport Plan Evidence Base‘, the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme ‘has been developed with a definitive remit to ultimately deliver the following:’

[Initial Integrated Rail Report, Jacobs and SDG, June 2017]

* The delivery of new and substantially upgraded rail corridors across the North. To release capacity on the existing rail network, which in turn could allow it to be used differently, e.g. for new service patterns, additional local trains or to accommodate more freight traffic;

* To be fully integrated, to allow the benefits of faster journeys to Northern cities to be spread to those places not directly served by new and upgraded routes by through running. NPR stations will become integrated transport hubs, with co-ordinated rail services which also offer convenient connections to local transport services;

* To significantly upgrade hub stations, with more platforms and better facilities for all passengers;

* To mirror HS2 in the integration of NPR within long terms land use planning
considerations around station hubs;

* To drive innovation in rail through the creation of a critical mass for investment in new smart ticketing and information systems which can be used by all rail operators.

Although the ‘Evidence Base’ runs to 83 pages, there is no actual evidence in it which supports the ‘vision‘ for Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The topology is questionable, and the target frequencies, and target journey times (e.g. ‘Sheffield to Manchester in 30 minutes’) seem to be round numbers plucked from the air. Evidence about corridor demand, capacity utilisation on the existing rail lines, etc, is conspicuous by its absence.

In its current form, ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ is a dreadful project which would do almost nothing for everyday transport in the north.

Commuting patterns into Greater Manchester (Paul Swinney, using 2011 Census data)

Commuting patterns into Greater Manchester (Paul Swinney, using 2011 Census data)

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Written by beleben

October 12, 2017 at 11:00 am

HS2 and slab track

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As well as renewal of the train fleet, the modernisation of Merseyrail includes track, station, and depot upgrades. Renewal of slab track in the unidirectional loop line under central Liverpool is programmed to take place between January and June 2017 in a three-phase process involving protracted closure of the loop and the use of rail-replacement buses.

[‘In 1977 the loop line opened – now it’s time to renew the track’. 3rd January – 18th June 2017, Merseyrail and Network Rail]

Why does the work need to be undertaken?

A total 1.2 km length of concrete track slab – the seven most challenging sections on the ‘loop’ – needs to be replaced for the first time since the loop was opened in the 1970s to ensure that the network remains reliable and safe. Meanwhile, other work is taking place to make the most of the closure. 1100 yards of traditional ballasted track is being replaced under the riverbed as well as other maintenance jobs being carried out, such as the repair of broken sleepers and work to realign track as well as renewal work to switches and crossings which the Merseyrail trains use to switch lines. Doing all this work in one go means that passengers are less likely to be inconvenienced in future. The new track slab is expected to last for up to 60 years.

The old loop slab track ‘needs replacement after 40 years’, but the new slab is expected to last ‘up to 60 years’. So how long was the old slab ‘expected to last’?

According to a September 2016 story from New Civil Engineer, a decision on whether to use slab track on HS2 phase one was ‘expected in November’ (2016).

[Slab track confirmed for High Speed 2, , NCE, 23 September 2016]

Speaking at New Civil Engineer’s Future Tech Forum Mark Morris, High Speed 2’s director of asset management, railway operations said that the first London to Birmingham phase of the £32 bn rail line was set to be built using a concrete slabtrack system, with a ballasted track bed set to be favoured for phase 2 from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester.

The choice of trackbed technology has been the subject of heated lobbying. Proponents of slabtrack system have argued that ballasted track systems are noisy in use, expensive to maintain and even pose safety risks with individual ballast particles liable to be dislodged by the turbulent air caused by the passing high speed trains.

Conversely advocates of ballast-based systems point to the much lower cost and flexibility in use afforded by such systems.

400-odd km of HS2 slab track would be much more intensively used than Merseyrail’s “1.2 km”. So how long would it last? When it needed replacing, how could HS2 continue to operate?

Digging out and replacing sections of high speed rail track slab is not really a ‘weekend job’, is it?

Slab track of type 'Rheda 2000' (picture from railone.com)

Written by beleben

December 19, 2016 at 5:24 pm

Posted in Liverpool, Planning

Northern rail threatened by vanity projects

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‘New research commissioned by Liverpool City Region Combined Authority shows that the high-speed rail links could deliver a £15bn boost to the economy, as well as 20,000 jobs, 10,000 homes and an extra 2.9 million visitors a year’ (reported RTM Magazine on 31 October).

[Liverpool leaders call for £15bn boost from HS2 and HS3 links, RTM, 2016-10-31]

Councillor Liam Robinson, chair of the Merseytravel committee, added that Merseytravel’s aim was to secure “a brand new, twin-track, rail line between Liverpool and Manchester” with direct connections to HS2, and a new station at Liverpool Lime Street capable of receiving HS2 trains.

Cllr Robinson said this would reduce the journey time between Liverpool and Manchester by 50% and between Liverpool and London by 25%.

But where is this “new research” to be found? At the time of writing, it does not feature on what passes for the Combined Authority’s website. And there is no sign of an e-mail address for freedom of information requests.

Current fast trains between Manchester and Liverpool complete the journey in around 32 minutes, and the cost of a new line to cut that “by 50%” would be enormous.

HS2 Linking Liverpool website homepage, viewed 04 Nov 2016 

Councillor Robinson’s “aim” looks like a vanity project in the same vein as the proposed Manchester to Leeds ‘HS3’. If progressed, these absurd schemes could destroy the chances of creating a coherent rail system in the north.

Earlier this year, 'Linking Liverpool' claimed a '£10 billion benefit' from building high speed rail track into Liverpool - now, it seems, the claimed benefit is '£15 billion'

Home page of Liverpool City Region website, viewed 04 Nov 2016

Written by beleben

November 4, 2016 at 10:18 am

All about the vanity

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Politics journalist Michael Crick never ceases to be amazed by Liverpool’s poor rail connectivity.

Twitter, @michaellcrick never ceases to be amazed by Liverpool's poor rail connectivity

Regional connectivity is poor, because politicians prefer vanity megaprojects, like HS2 and ‘HS3’, to everyday transport.

In the 1970s, there was a plan for a big upgrade of Merseyside passenger rail, but most of it was never implemented.

The 1970s plan to upgrade Merseyside rail was extensively de-scoped

It is more than just a Liverpool problem. In Manchester, the city council wants to lock in the shortcomings of the local rail system, by disposing of the Mayfield station site.

Written by beleben

September 28, 2016 at 3:28 pm

Posted in HS2, Liverpool, Politics

Arrive at the appropriate conclusions

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On 3 March, the publicly-funded HS2 Linking Liverpool PR campaign announced that ‘High Speed Rail proposals put forward by Liverpool City Region will deliver a £10 billion boost to the local economy’, according to a new report supposedly ‘released’ on that day.

But the report was not ‘released’ on that day. And Merseytravel are (surprise, surprise) refusing to release it, on the grounds that it is a “draft version rather than the finalised document”.

Enquiries for the Beleben blog have also established that Merseytravel handed Steer Davies Gleave £35,000 of public cash to work on the report, without having to face any competing bids.

[Merseytravel’s refusal to release the report, March 2016]

Merseytravel can confirm that Steer Davis [sic] Gleave were appointed by Delegated Decision due to their experience in the field, at a cost of £35,000 (excluding VAT).

While Merseytravel can also confirm that while a copy of the report is held (from which the figures referred to in the Liverpool Echo article are derived), this is a draft version rather than the finalised document. Consideration must therefore be given to Regulation 12(4)(d), ‘Material in the course of completion, unfinished documents and incomplete data’.
[…]
Given the potential impact of the on-going HS2 project and the Linking Liverpool campaign, due importance must be placed on the need to allow the organisation the room to arrive at the appropriate conclusions.
[…]
On this occasion, Merseytravel considers that the factors for withholding the requested information outweigh those in favour of disclosure. The draft report by Steer Davis Gleave is therefore withheld in accordance with Regulation 12(4)(d) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

Merseytravel can confirm that it intends to publish the finalised version of the report after it has been received from Steer Davis Gleave.

Written by beleben

March 22, 2016 at 10:14 am

Linking Liverpool with HS2, part four

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On 3 March, the publicly-funded HS2 Linking Liverpool PR campaign announced that ‘High Speed Rail proposals put forward by Liverpool City Region will deliver a £10 billion boost to the local economy’, according to a new report ‘released’ on that day.

'HS2 Linking Liverpool' PR campaign announcement, 03 Mar 2016

At the time of writing, the ‘new report’ was not available on the ‘Linking Liverpool’ website. However, a Steer Davies Gleave report dated July 2014, was available.

'HS2 Linking Liverpool' PR campaign 'independent' economics study July 2014, extracts

The July 2014 report stated that building a high speed line into Liverpool could reduce the ‘best’ time to London by 24 minutes, to 72 minutes, and result in a Gross Value Added uplift of  £459 million (see ‘Increase in GVA’ in Table 1 above). The Linking Liverpool campaign attempted to portray the uplift as £8,342 million, and now they are saying £10,000 million.

Linking Liverpool are continuing to claim there are tens of thousands of people who can’t be bothered to visit the city now, but who would visit if the (London) journey time was all of 24 minutes shorter. Altogether, these ‘easily distracted’ visitors would make three quarters of a million trips to Liverpool.

So, the usual crazy nonsense. In the view of the Beleben blog, the capital cost of extending HS2 into Liverpool Lime Street would be around £4,000 million. If the Liverpool HS2 spur was also used to run ‘HS3’ trains to Manchester, there would be further costs on top.

Written by beleben

March 5, 2016 at 10:11 am

Posted in HS2, Liverpool

Commissioned by Joe

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Apparently, Respublica’s Ticket to Ride report was commissioned by Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson. Does that mean that its costs were met from public funds?

We’re happy to dig tunnels in London, but not to properly connect our northern cities, by Joe Anderson, Labour Uncut, 25 Feb 2016]

On Tuesday, while her Majesty the Queen was officially naming the new Crossrail line, I was in Parliament, speaking at the launch of a major new report making the case for Liverpool’s key rail infrastructure.

A report I commissioned by the think tank ResPublica, Ticket to Ride: How high speed rail for Liverpool can realise the Northern Powerhouse, makes the case for extending the proposed HS2 line into Liverpool City Centre. Most people I speak to are amazed to learn that it isn’t already scheduled to.

But it isn’t (it stops at Crewe). Ministers, worried about the allegation of profligacy surrounding HS2 have tried to rein-in project costs, meaning that sensible, evidence-based proposals to extend the line to Liverpool, or to run it into the centre of Sheffield, have been ruled out by the timorous souls at HS2 Limited.

The contrast with Crossrail is instructive. Here we have a tale of two projects. On the one hand, the £14 billion invested in Crossrail has attracted few hostile headlines in our London-based national newspapers. (The same people, no doubt, who will make use of the line?)

Yet the case for HS2 – the single most important infrastructure project in the country – and a vital new economic artery for our Northern conurbations – has to be fought and refought with irritating frequency from ill-informed naysayers.

So much so, that we are left making what I believe is a compelling and vital case even at the eleventh hour, just months before work on the line is due to commence.

But as the report makes clear, that there are massive benefits from doing so, not just for Liverpool, but for the wider Northern economy and the UK as a whole. Let me give you just one example.

The Superport proposals we have developed in Merseyside will lead to a renaissance of the Liverpool dockside, with a predicted trebling of freight in future years, as we become the only port on the west coast of Britain which can accommodate the vast new container ships that can now negotiate the widened Panama Canal.

This opens up new markets for Northern exporters, including major companies such as Jaguar Land Rover in Liverpool and Nissan in Sunderland, but the potential is there for it to become an asset for the whole country.

But we only realise this potential fully if we have a high-speed rail connection from Liverpool.

Does the Respublica report actually contain “sensible, evidence-based proposals”? Where is the evidence that building high speed tracks into Lime Street could be done for £3 billion? How would it be possible to run trains between Liverpool and Manchester, via Manchester airport, in 20 minutes? And why would it be necessary to spend billions of pounds to run more railfreight from Seaforth?

MDS Transmodal, Liverpool city railfreight, 2011 and 2020 forecast

There would appear to be numerous ways of accommodating additional Liverpool railfreight, without frittering away billions of pounds.

Written by beleben

February 26, 2016 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Freight, HS2, Liverpool