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On the absence of a strategy

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HS2 provides “an excellent illustration of the challenges of making infrastructure decisions in the absence of a strategy”, according to a report published by the Institute for Government.

IFG, What's wrong with infrastructure decision making' (extract)

[“What’s wrong with infrastructure decision making? Conclusions from six UK case studies”, Graham Atkins, Chris Wajzer, Raphael Hogarth, Nick Davies, Emma Norris]

[…] Since it was first mooted in 2008, HS2 has repeatedly been criticised as a ‘solution looking for a problem’. Its objectives have repeatedly seemed to shift. Initially suggested as an employment stimulus, it has subsequently been sold as a way to cut travel time, reduce overcrowding on the West Coast Mainline and regenerate the West Midlands. The lack of clarity over the purpose of HS2 has led to lengthy delays in decision making, as the Government has reworked its analysis and communications strategy, at significant cost, to deal with parliamentary and public opposition. On top of this, critical public and parliamentary stakeholders remain uncertain about whether HS2 represents the most cost-effective solution (not least because there is such disagreement about which problem it is aiming to solve), or good value for money.

Oddly enough, the IFG website states that ‘HS2 pioneer’ Andrew Adonis is ‘director of the Institute for Government’.

'Andrew Adonis is director of the IFG, according to its website

Twitter @instituteforgov, What's wrong with UK infrastructure decision-making

Written by beleben

July 3, 2017 at 4:50 pm

Posted in HS2, Planning, Politics

Disparately seeking capacity

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Train journeys from the East Midlands and Sheffield to London could take longer from next year, the Nottingham Post reported. For Derby and Sheffield, the journey to London on the Midland Main Line might take an extra 12 minutes, and for Nottingham, an extra 9 minutes.

[‘Another kick in the teeth’ as journeys from Nottingham to London to get longer, by Tresidder, Nottingham Post, May 04, 2017]

This is a story of fast trains, slow trains and congested rail lines south of Bedford to St Pancras. Next year, Thameslink, the services south of Bedford to Brighton which embrace London suburbs and its commuter belt, will see the completion a £7 billion modernisation programme including new stations, extended platforms, new and longer trains and more frequent services.

So, 'running trains with disparate performance characteristics, reduces capacity'. Who knew?Thameslink plans to step up the frequency of trains running out of London to Bedford, Luton and St Albans using the Midland Mainline to 16 trains an hour.
Rail industry experts are trying to work out a timetable which fits the 16 Thameslink trains and EMT’s existing services onto the same tracks while maintaining timetables.

The problem is that new electric Class 700 trains ordered for Thameslink – 115 are on order – do not go as fast as those used by East Midlands Trains, the 15 year old Meridian fleet and ageing High Speed Trains (Intercity 125), now nearly 40 years old. EMT trains run at 125mph and Thameslink’s Siemens Class 700 at 100mph.
The complexity does not stop there. First, the trains are timetabled together to Bedford but going north to Leicester, Nottingham and beyond, EMT’s trains will have to weave round other trains and freight, possibly missing their timetable path.

A third issue which has the potential to become a fiasco is the significant investment already made in the Midland Mainline ahead of the widely anticipated electrification to increase the frequency of East Midlands Trains, reduce journey times and achieve ‘Nottingham [to London] in Ninety [minutes]’.

So, ‘running trains with disparate performance characteristics, reduces capacity’. Who knew?

Of course, a few years ago, the government of the time decided to equip the West Coast Main Line with commuter trains limited to 100 mph [160 km/h], creating a speed mismatch with intercity trains running on the same tracks. Some of those trains were subsequently modified to run at 110 mph [177 km/h], but there is still an ongoing capacity loss from the performance mismatch.

Even if the 1980s Midland Main Line electrification between London and Bedford had been ‘done right’ (allowing electric commuter trains to run at 200 km/h), Thameslink would still be an overly ambitious project. In the view of the Beleben blog, the proposed future Thameslink service pattern is too complicated, and the TSGN ‘franchise’ is too large to be effectively managed.

Written by beleben

May 4, 2017 at 11:41 am

The principles of banality

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'Trains need to be compatible with the platforms that they use and the method of operation at these platforms.'On 5 April the Office of Rail and Road published the ‘high level principles’ it expects train companies ‘to follow when rolling out and managing Driver Controlled Operation of trains’.

[‘Rail Regulator publishes principles for driver controlled operation’,
5 April 2017, ORR]

Six high level principles have been drawn up in consultation with industry and the trade unions. They are designed as a framework for train companies who are considering introducing, or who are operating, DCO.

The Principles set out that DCO schemes need to be well planned, with appropriate implementation timescales and developed against a shared understanding of how to handle any issues which need to be addressed.

The Principles are part of the rail regulator’s overall approach to railway safety which helps train companies and their staff understand what is needed to comply with health and safety requirements. This is part of our ongoing work with industry to continuously improve the approach to all types of train dispatch.
The six high level principles are:

Where driver controlled operation is used or planned to be used:

Trains need to be compatible with the platforms that they use and the method of operation at these platforms.

Station platforms need to be compatible with the trains using them and they must support the methods of operation.

The nature of the operation with the train and platform need to be assessed.

This includes consideration of passenger needs and behaviour.

Staff should be trained and competent

The implementation should be planned

The system should be managed through its whole life, with improvements adopted

“Staff should be trained and competent.”

“Trains need to be compatible with the platforms that they use and the method of operation at these platforms.”

How revelatory are these principles? They seem to be on much the same advice level as “Don’t drive a car with a blanket over your head.”

Written by beleben

April 12, 2017 at 9:38 am

Posted in Planning, Railways

The step-free route in HS2 inclusivity

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Setting new standards in customer experience and inclusivity ‘requires HS2 Ltd to deliver a step-free route from street to seat’.

Setting new standards in customer experience and inclusivity 'requires HS2 Ltd to deliver a step-free route from street to seat'

‘Step free inclusivity’

But would that ‘inclusivity’ include stations on the legacy network — such as Newcastle upon Tyne, York, Liverpool Lime Street, Stafford, Carlisle Citadel, and Sheffield Midland?

Department for Transport tweet mentioned only step-free access at *new* HS2 stations

A Department for Transport tweet mentioned only step-free access at new HS2 stations

How double deck HS2 captive trains — as proposed by Alstom — could ever be fully ‘step-free’, is difficult to imagine. Access to seats on the lower deck might be possible without steps, but would probably entail steep ramping from vestibule level.

One of the opportunity costs of HS2 is no remediation of hundreds of inaccessible stations on the existing rail network

One of the opportunity costs of HS2 is no remediation funding for hundreds of inaccessible stations on the existing rail network

Written by beleben

April 3, 2017 at 1:16 pm

Posted in HS2, Planning, Politics

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

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 only way is upgrade

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According to Network Rail, ‘the major increase in rail capacity the UK needs can only come from making the infrastructure we already have more productive‘.

Capacity benefit of moving block signalling, according to Network Rail's Digital Railway initiative

In that case, how important is the £60+ billion new-build HS2 for meeting future demand?

  • According to Network Rail, “there will be 1 billion extra annual rail journeys” by 2030.
  • And according to HS2 Ltd, HS2 ‘will carry 300,000 passengers per day’ when complete
    (i.e., ~110 million per year).

However, HS2 is not scheduled to be complete until about 2033. But if it somehow were fully open by 2030, and carrying its target annual demand – two very big ‘ifs’ – that would still mean that 89% of the forecast ‘billion extra passengers‘ would have to be accommodated on the existing railway.

At present, flows like Birmingham to London, and Manchester to London, amount to fewer than 10 million trips per annum, combined. On a ‘two-and-a-half-billion-passenger’ railway, what would be the sense in building hundreds of kilometres of vanity infrastructure to accommodate, at best, 3 or 4 percent of the traffic?

'There will be 1 billion more rail journeys by 2030', say Network Rail

The capital cost of increasing the capacity of existing railways with digital technology is much lower than building new lines, according to a 2014 Arup corporate article.

Can railway capacity be doubled without building new track?

Can railway capacity be doubled without building new track?

In practice, the best capacity uplifts would likely arise from combining ‘Digital Railway’ technologies with ‘old-school’ infrastructure improvements (such as grade separated junctions).

Network Rail, 'Digital Railway' aspiration

Network Rail ‘Digital Railway’ aspiration

Written by beleben

February 10, 2017 at 11:39 am

Posted in Planning, Railways