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Northern rail delusions

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According to the publicity for today’s Bauer ‘National Rail Conference’ – titled “The North: Leading The Way” – a world class rail service has been promised to the north of England.

Bauer national rail conference, 1 Nov 2016, website

Opening the conference, at a hotel in Manchester, Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne reportedly claimed that “Britain runs on rails”.

Twitter, @anderberg66:  'Britain runs on rails' says Mark Carne when opening the 2016 Bauer 'national rail conference'

But to what extent does Britain – and the north of England – really ‘run on rail’?

Rail journeys in England, 2014 statistics (

Government data suggests that Great Britain, as a whole, could not realistically be said to run on rail. And in the north of England, due to a number of factors, use of rail is below the national average. In cities like Sheffield and Hull, local rail’s market share is close to zero, and there is no likelihood of that changing.

In other parts of the north, such as West Yorkshire, there would be the possibility of significantly increasing the use of local rail, but there are many obstacles. One of the issues is that trains just do not run anything like often enough, to be of much use.

Sadly, solutions to such problems are very unlikely to emerge from today’s conference in Manchester. Its focus seems to be on vanity projects, such as ‘HS3’.

Written by beleben

November 1, 2016 at 12:40 pm

The weight of water

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bbc-manc-vic-roof-damage-dementedmanc-picture-18oct2016On 18 October, two rail commuters were ‘lightly’ injured by a deluge of rainwater after a roof ‘cushion’ ruptured at Manchester’s Victoria railway station. The £20 million roof over the tracks, recently installed as part of a wider £44 million revamp of the station, consists of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) cushions supported by a steel frame.

The cause of the incident is under investigation, but the Beleben blog would posit that if rain were somehow able to enter some of the cushions from above, the weight of water build-up would cause their lower membranes to distort, and eventually give way. The ETFE film is very light (and very thin), which ‘reduces the amount of steelwork required’ (compared with glass).

Manchester Victoria station, artist's impression, showing new ETFE roof

Presumably, in wintry weather conditions, there could be a build-up of snow on the topside of the roof, which might lead to a much worse outcome.
The new roof was intended to flood the station with light, not rain

On the information available to the Beleben blog, there was no need to demolish the old roof to enhance or modernise the station.

The designers of the Manchester Victoria revamp claim they 'eliminate risk to their projects'

Written by beleben

October 19, 2016 at 8:59 am

Posted in Manchester, Planning

Throwing away the key

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At St Pancras, Arup’s botched redevelopment of the Barlow trainshed created a ‘lasting legacy’ of Midland Main Line incapacity. At Snow Hill, Birmingham city council’s approval of the Ballymore office blocks, on the eastern side of the station footprint, created a lasting legacy of disconnectivity. Now, Manchester city council intends to follow suit with its own incapacity legacy, by putting the ‘key’ Mayfield station site beyond transport use.

[The £850m redevelopment of Mayfield Depot ‘will create thousands’ of new jobs, Andrew Bardsley, Manchester Evening News, 21 Sep 2016]

A huge £850m project to redevelop the Mayfield Depot will ‘breathe new life’ into the area and create 7,500 jobs, according to developers.

London based U+I were speaking out after being confirmed as the developers behind the scheme following a tendering process.
Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester council, said: “We are pleased to have appointed U+I as our development partner for Mayfield.

“It was a challenging decision given the exceptionally high calibre of candidates; however, we were particularly impressed by U+I’s innovative approach.

“The regeneration of this key gateway site, along with the proposed Network Rail Northern Hub scheme and HS2 station will ensure a lasting legacy for Manchester and over time contribute towards fulfilling the Northern Powerhouse growth agenda.

The disused Mayfield station lies south of Manchester Piccadilly (Bing maps, aerial view)

Written by beleben

September 23, 2016 at 9:30 am

Posted in HS2, Manchester

A case of too little demand

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The government has “suggested cutting the number of fast trains between Coventry and London – just to speed up journey times between the capital and Birmingham”, the Coventry Telegraph reported on 12 May.

[Coventry’s fast trains to London could be cut to improve journey times from Birmingham, Jonathan Walker and Simon Gilbert, Coventry Telegraph 12 May 2016]

Department for Transport is suggesting fewer trains should stop at “intermediate” stations to speed up journeys and cut overcrowding

Plans to chop the number of long-distance services that stop at “intermediate” stations such as Coventry and Rugby are revealed in a government consultation on the future of the West Coast Main Line.

It is another potential blow to the city which is already set to be bypassed by the controversial multi-billion pound HS2 project which will build a new high-speed line through Warwickshire to link London to Birmingham and the north of England.

[…] The document makes it clear that the focus of the service is long distance services “between London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, North Wales, Glasgow and Edinburgh.”

The recommendations have been described as ‘very worrying’ by one transport organisation which says the government should be encouraging increased services to smaller stations.

So are the recommendations to cut the number of fast trains between Coventry and London (a) “just to speed up journey times between the capital and Birmingham”, or (b) “to speed up journeys and cut overcrowding”? Are there recommendations to cut the number of fast trains between Coventry and London?

Control effing the consultation document produced zero mentions for “recommend”, and just one for “overcrowd” (in the phrase “dealing with overcrowding of the concourse and train boarding issues at Euston Station”).

[DfT consultation, May 2016]

[3.17] Whilst some services are highly used in the peak (the times in the morning and evening when most people travel), or just outside of peak hours, there are times of the day where the level of service might not reflect the level of demand at stations. In these cases we are interested in understanding whether there may be opportunities to adjust the level of service at stations which might enable wider benefits to be delivered elsewhere. For example reducing the number of stops required at intermediate stations (each stop could increase the overall journey time by several minutes) could enable reductions in the overall journey time to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool or Glasgow or for potential new journeys to be offered.

[3.18] Whilst providing a large number of end to end journeys, ICWC services also serve a number of highly used and important connections to local services at major stations such as Birmingham New Street and Manchester Piccadilly. We know that changing trains can make travelling by rail feel complicated and increase uncertainty for some passengers; discouraging people from using the railway.

At the start of the West Coast modernisation process, the intention was to run four 8-car Pendolino services each hour from London to Birmingham, and four from London to Manchester. Today, the service is generally three 11-car trains each hour to each city.

Why is there no appetite at Virgin to request a re-cast of the route timetable to allow four trains an hour to run? The likeliest explanation is that there is insufficient demand to justify a more intensive service, so costs would increase faster than revenue.

Written by beleben

June 3, 2016 at 10:12 am

Distortion and encumbrance

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In the National Infrastructure Commission ‘High Speed North’ report, Andrew Adonis stated that “connectivity between the northern cities should be improved in stages, by kick‑starting HS3, integrating it with HS2 and planning for the redevelopment of the North’s gateway stations”.

National Infrastructure Commission-funded Arup 'fruitcake' proposals for underground loops under Manchester, to make HS3 track point the right way

The report attempted to redefine ‘HS3’ as “a vision for a network of transformed inter‑city rail links… which can meet the aspirations of the northern city regions for shorter journey times, and for increased capacity and frequencies”.

However, those “aspirations” make no sense, and the proposed HS2 infrastructure is the biggest encumbrance to improving rail connectivity in northern England.

Northern transport planning is being distorted and encumbered by the political need to integrate high speed infrastructure with regional rail. The design of the western leg of HS2 is not suited to improving northern connectivity, and there is no cost-effective way of adapting it.

A ‘high speed’ journey from Manchester to Liverpool using the HS2 infrastructure would take about the same time as a trip on the Chat Moss line. The dead-end Manchester Piccadilly HS2 station was not designed to facilitate fast Transpennine journeys, so the National Infrastructure Commission funded Arup to produce ‘fruitcake’ proposals for underground loops under Manchester, to make HS3 track ‘point the right way’.

The design of the eastern leg of HS2 is likewise unsuited to improving northern connectivity, and there is no cost-effective way of adapting it. The costs of connecting HS2 to the classic rail tracks at Meadowhall, or elsewhere, is unknown.

What is known, is that “Leeds Mk2” high speed station was designed as a dead-end, with no capacity provision for any regional or Transpennine traffic.

Written by beleben

April 7, 2016 at 9:46 am

A victory for common nonsense

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The Ordsall chord actuality

Network Rail has emerged victorious in a court battle with engineer Mark Whitby, who was set on stopping the company’s £85 million Ordsall chord being built, the Manchester Evening News reported.

[One man battle to derail Ordsall Chord finally comes to an end as Judge dismisses appeal, Charlotte Cox, 23 Mar 2016]

Work has already started on the major scheme, which Network Rail says will speed up travel times and increase capacity.

However the legal row has set the completion date back from December 2016 to the end of 2017.

Rail expert Mark Whitby first brought a case to against Network Rail last year, claiming the planning permission process for the project had been flawed.

Mr Whitby, who had initially been a consultant on the project for Network Rail, also claimed there was an alternative route which would do less damage to Manchester’s rail heritage.

But a judge ruled in October that the Ordsall Chord could go ahead and work began.

However in January, Mr Whitby won his right to appeal and a further case was heard.

But today Judge Simon, sitting at the London Court of Appeal, decided to dismiss Mr Whitby’s three appeals.

Two were statutory challenges of the Transport and Works Act order of Listed Building Consent and one was a judicial review of the planning permission.

The chord is part of Network Rail’s wider Manchester Northern Hub programme, but the evidence for the Ordsall chord ‘speeding up travel times and increasing capacity’ is graphene thin.

In a November 2011 article for Rail Technology Magazine, Peter Johnston, former Greater Manchester PTE Rail Services Officer, pointed out that Ordsall’s capacity benefits were largely illusory, and it would make journeys from the north to the airport longer, not shorter.

Clearly, the Ordsall chord is in no way a substitute for well-designed rail connectivity across Greater Manchester. But the outlook is bleak. Amanda White, Transport for Greater Manchester’s “head of rail”, engineered the preposterous HS2 route into the city.

How does adding flat junctions increase capacity utilisation?

Written by beleben

March 23, 2016 at 9:29 pm

Posted in Manchester

Have faith in pie in the sky

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Journeys by category in the Manchester - Leeds corridor, 2007

There is no guarantee that investing billions in infrastructure will help the North of England, Transport for the North (TfN) ‘chair’ John Cridland, told the BBC.

[Northern Powerhouse ‘a leap of faith’, Roger Harrabin, BBC,
22 February 2016]

But former CBI chief told the BBC that people should take a “leap of faith” on new roads and railways.

He said he believed reducing journey times between northern cities would improve the economy.

But critics say the money might be better spent on training and skills – or on transport within cities.

Mr Cridland’s quango is due to publish its first report soon.

The chancellor’s advisory National Infrastructure Commission also will make recommendations on Northern transport.

The bodies have been considering transport options such as a motorway running under the Peak District from Sheffield to Manchester, or an HS3 rail link between Leeds and Manchester.

But Anne Robinson, from Friends of the Peak District, told BBC News: “These are just pie-in-the-sky schemes. We haven’t been given the slightest shred of evidence that they will do any good.”

She warned that the motorway scheme – running more than 30 miles underground – would cost a fortune, as well as creating congestion in roads at either end of the tunnel and potentially disrupting the ecology of the Peaks National Park.

Mr Cridland said ambitious infrastructure should be on the agenda: “I’m not claiming there is perfect science here”.

Obviously, with schemes like HS3 TransNorth Northern powerhouse rail in favour, the potential for nugatory expenditure, and environmental degradation, is enormous. TfN urgently needs to get independent advice.

Written by beleben

February 22, 2016 at 11:04 am