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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

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

Sublime as the rapture

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Why are megaprojects like HS2 so attractive to decision makers? The answer may be found in the so-called “four sublimes” of megaproject management (wrote Bent Flyvbjerg).

[What You Should Know about Megaprojects and Why: An Overview, Bent Flyvbjerg, Project Management Journal, volume 45, number 2, April – May 2014]

[…] Karen Trapenberg Frick first introduced the term to the study of megaprojects, describing the technological sublime as the rapture engineers and technologists get from building large and innovative projects, like the tallest building or the longest bridge.

[…] Due to the large sums of money involved, principal-agent problems and rent-seeking behavior are common, as is optimism bias.

[…] The common practice of depending on the Hiding Hand or creative error in estimating costs and benefits results in an inverted Darwinism, that is, the “survival of the unfittest.” It is not the best projects that get implemented, but the projects that look best on paper. And the projects that look best on paper are the projects with the largest cost underestimates and benefit overestimates, shortfalls, and risks of nonviability. Thus the projects that have been made to look best on paper become the worst, or unfittest, projects in reality, in the sense that they are the very projects that will encounter the most problems during construction and operations in terms of the largest cost overruns, benefit shortfalls, and risks of nonviability. They have been designed like that, as disasters waiting to happen.

The rapture of the superlative

The rapture of the superlative

Written by beleben

February 8, 2017 at 10:42 am

Posted in Planning, Politics

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

West botch yet

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On 23 July 2009, the then transport secretary Andrew Adonis announced an ‘immediate’ start of detailed planning for electrification of the Great Western Main Line. But according to the National Audit Office report ‘Modernising the Great Western railway’ (9 November 2016), Network Rail was still “determining the most appropriate way of meeting the Department for Transport’s requirements” four years later.

National Audit Office report on Great Western rail modernisation, Nov 2016, showing cost changes

[Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 9 November 2016]

“The modernisation of the route has potential to deliver significant benefits for passengers but this is a case study in how not to manage a major programme. The Department’s failure to plan and manage all the projects which now make up the Great Western Route Modernisation industry programme in a sufficiently joined up way, combined with weaknesses in Network Rail’s management of the infrastructure programme, has led to additional costs for the taxpayer. It is encouraging that since 2015 the Department and Network Rail have a better grip and put in place structures to manage the programme in an integrated way. However significant challenges to the timetable still remain and there is more to do to achieve value for money.”

The NAO mentioned the design of overhead line structures for 225 km/h running (rather than 200) as one source of confusion and increased cost.

[NAO]

Network Rail did not initially understand whether the Department wanted trains to run at a maximum speed of 125 [200 km/h] or 140 miles per hour [225 km/h]. This has implications for the strength of the steelwork supporting the electric wires.

In January 2014 the Department instructed Network Rail that the maximum speed should be 125 miles per hour. By this point, design work was well underway and Network Rail expected to complete it in March 2014.

In September 2014, the main design contractor was still working to a specification of 140 miles per hour.

According to HS2 Ltd, ‘high speed infrastructure’ for 300+ km/h, is only ‘10% more expensive’ to provide than conventional infrastructure (200 km/h). But in the case of the Great Western electrification, a speed increase of just 25 km/h appears to have had costly ‘implications for the steelwork’. What ’18 trains per hour at 360 km/h’ means for HS2 overhead line support, is yet to be revealed.

It seems likely that if the government proceeds with HS2, the modernisation and electrification of classic lines will be downscaled massively, to pay for it.

Written by beleben

November 10, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Posted in HS2, Planning, Politics

Central Willesden optioneering

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Re-routeing the London Underground Central Line to Willesden, via Old Oak, would improve the substandard connections in that part of west London. With platform screens and automation, the train frequency on the city section of the Central Line could be increased to around 40 per hour.

'Higher capacity' Central Line Willesden - Stratford concept

‘Higher capacity’ Central Line Willesden – Stratford concept

The suburban sections of the Central Line in the east and the west might be better developed as parts of other railways.

  • The section to the west of Acton could become part of a tram-train linking Old Oak, Ruislip, and Uxbridge.
  • The eastern suburban stretch of the Central Line, which was at one time intended to form part of a Chelsea – Hackney tube, could become part of a ‘national rail’ route to Stansted airport, or ‘Crossrail_X2’.

Written by beleben

October 25, 2016 at 11:23 am

Posted in London, Planning