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High speed rail and cost efficiency

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The world’s longest high-speed rail journey is the 2,760 kilometre Beijing – Kunming service. Only China has high speed trains which run at 350 km/h, China Daily reported.

[High-speed rail trips get easier as network expands,, 11 Sep 2017]

Service on several Chinese lines have reached that speed, including Beijing – Tianjin, Beijing – Shanghai and Shanghai – Ningbo.

However, journeys of 2,700 km are probably not optimal for high speed rail, in terms of competing against air travel.

In a paper published in the Journal of Transport Geography in 2014, Jianhong Wu, Chris Nash and Dong Wang questioned the ‘appropriateness’ of China’s high speed rail network. They argued that new-build conventional rail would, in general, be more suitable for China’s economy.

How 'appropriate' is China's high speed rail?

Increasing rail speed from 250 to 350 km/h in China has reportedly led to ‘a near doubling of capital costs per route-km’.

Increasing rail speed in China from 250 to 350 km/h appeared to lead to a near doubling of capital costs per route-km

‘Design operating speeds seem to be a key driver of capital costs’. In Britain, the HS2 project is being designed to allow trains to run at 400 km/h at a later date. One of the made-up claims for HS2 is that ‘building for very high speed is only ~10% more expensive than building for conventional speed’ (< 250 km/h).

Written by beleben

September 11, 2017 at 9:55 am

Cheque out the fruitcake

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Manchester’s metro mayor, Andy Burnham has said he does not believe the government could afford both Crossrail 2 and ‘Crossrail for the North’, The Guardian reported.

[Philip Hammond pressed on rail plans during northern visit, Helen Pidd, The Guardian, 4 Sep 2017]

“We’ve got the cost of HS2, which is a big outlay, we’ve got the cost of Brexit, the divorce bill as it’s called – that’s another big outlay. Are we really saying there’s two £30bn-plus cheques lying around for both Crossrail 2 and Crossrail for the North? Well, we have doubts about that. So we are saying, in that scenario, if he’s going to have to choose, he should choose the north of England and we think parliament would back us up if it came to a choice.”

Burnham said [chancellor Philip] Hammond had failed to provide clarity on what would happen to the Conservatives’ manifesto promise to electrify the key trans-Pennine route between Manchester and Leeds. Over the summer Grayling backtracked and said not all of the line would be electrified because new trains could switch between electric and diesel modes.

“The government is asking the people of the north to accept second best,” Burnham said.

So, if there were just one ‘£30 billion cheque lying around’, should it be used to fund

(a) ‘Crossrail for the North’,
(b) London Crossrail 2, or
(c) something else?

Suppose ‘Crossrail for the North’ took the form of a new-build railway between Liverpool and Hull. What then, would be the point of electrification of the existing Transpennine North railway between Manchester and Leeds?

Even without CftN, the rationale for electrification of Transpennine North is questionable. The likelihood is that nearly all the trains using TPN would still rely on [being fitted with] diesel engines to reach their destination. So perhaps Mr Burnham should stop talking about CftN, and start talking about electrification of Northallerton – Middlesbrough (etc).

As for London Crossrail 2, in its present form, it seems to be a project driven by housebuilding companies, to ‘support the development of up to 200,000 new homes’ in places like the Upper Lea Valley.


So, one might describe Crossrail 2 as a project to house the equivalent of a few months’ population increase, at a cost of £30 billion. (Not including the cost of the houses themselves, or the utilities and other infrastructure they would need.)

What an accurate headline might say

Written by beleben

September 6, 2017 at 9:27 am

Summit must be done, part two

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Andy Burnham, 'Chester to Manchester rail journeys take longer than in 1962'

At last week’s transport ‘summit’, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham highlighted that a train journey between Chester and Manchester is now slower than in the 1960s, the Chester Chronicle reported.

[‘Manchester to Chester train journey slower than in 1962’, says Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, David Holmes, Chester Chronicle, 27 August 2017]

Speaking to political and business officials, Mr Burnham said: “It takes four minutes longer to travel by train from Manchester to Chester than it did in 1962.

“I think that pretty much makes for why we are here today.

[…] ITV Granada reporter Daniel Hewitt recently tested out public transport links between Manchester and Thornton Science Park near Ellesmere Port which received millions of pounds worth of investment as part of the Northern Powerhouse vision.

He found a 35-mile journey that would take 50 minutes by road can take almost two and a half hours by train.

An accompanying article on the ITV website stated: “There’s anger from businesses about how plans for the Northern Powerhouse are stalling at the starting gate. When it comes to public transport for example you can get from Manchester to London in two hours eight minutes.”

Andy Burnham, 'how much have your journey times changed'

[Reality Check: Does the North get a raw deal on rail?, BBC, 27 Aug 2017]

[Transport for Greater Manchester]’s analysis of historical train timetables show that in 1962 the fastest service from Chester to Manchester took 56 minutes, stopping at one station in between.

Today it takes 60 minutes but makes seven station stops.

By contrast, according to TfGM, the fastest journey from Manchester to London in 1962 was 220 minutes.

It is now 124 minutes, a reduction of nearly 44%.

On 28 August, the Guardian reported that trains connecting Britain’s major towns and cities are up to four times slower outside the south-east, ‘according to research’.

[British trains ‘up to four times slower outside the south-east’, PA, 28 Aug 2017]

Press Association analysis of the quickest possible trains on 19 routes found that services from London travel at average speeds of 65 – 93 mph, compared with 20 – 60 mph elsewhere.

The slowest route featured in the study was Liverpool Central to Chester, which takes 41 minutes to make the 14-mile journey (as the crow flies) at 20 mph.
Many of the slowest routes featured in the analysis, which featured trains operating on Fridays, are served only by trains with multiple stops.

Steve Rotheram, the mayor of the Liverpool city region, claimed the figures highlighted the “investment deficit that is seriously undermining growth potential in the north”.

He said: “You simply cannot deliver a ‘northern powerhouse’ as long as the regions that delivered the industrial revolution are reliant on transport infrastructure that is operating on a 19th-century timetable.”

Luke Raikes, a senior research fellow at thinktank IPPR North, said slow journey times were “down to decades of underinvestment as the government has just responded to congestion problems in London”.

Written by beleben

August 30, 2017 at 10:31 am

Summit must be done

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Yesterday (23 August), at a ‘summit’ in Leeds, ‘policy-makers, metro mayors and industrialists from across the North’ called for greater transport investment in the region.

Northern Transport Summit 2017, Statement

The North’s huge economic potential is being held back by an outdated, expensive and slow transport system

The idea of a “Northern Powerhouse”, driving forward a rebalanced UK economy in the 21st century, was supposed to right this wrong, and is still strongly supported. A successful North means more jobs, a stronger tax base, better inward investment opportunities and greater success for business for the whole of the UK.

But none of this will be realised unless there is substantial new investment in modern transport infrastructure linking the great cities of the North. Recent statements by the Transport Secretary have sent worrying messages that this essential investment may not be delivered in full, with some key commitments dropped, or substantially delayed.

We believe that people across the North have waited long enough for transport services on a par with other parts of the country. The disparity between transport in the North of England and London must now be addressed.

Therefore, this summit calls on the Government to:

• honour in full commitments already given to deliver improvements to rail services across the North, including full electrification, track and signaling [sic] improvements on key commuter routes and the upgrade of hub stations, and to remove uncertainty about this at the earliest opportunity;

• prioritise its manifesto commitment to deliver new west-east rail infrastructure reaching across the North, work with Transport for the North to set out a clear timetable for its delivery in the Autumn Budget, and provide evidence that this timetable will not be adversely affected by decisions to fund other large infrastructure projects elsewhere in the country; and

• set out a fairer distribution of transport funding (revenue and capital) across all regions of the country.

Finally, at a time when crucial long-term decisions are about to be taken, not just on transport but also on the country’s relationship with the EU, this summit agrees to establish a representative forum of political and business leaders to enable the voice of the North of England to be properly and effectively represented on issues of common concern. This summit agrees to update all Members of Parliament on the conclusions of today’s discussion and will work with them to build a broad-based campaign, and seek Parliamentary endorsement of our calls on the Government, including a debate when Parliament returns.

People attending the summit “heard how civic leaders were ‘incensed’ by comments from Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, that improvements to Northern transport links must be ‘designed and managed by the North itself’”.

[‘Northern leaders accuse Chris Grayling of treating region with contempt’,
Dean Kirby, inews, 23 Aug 2017]

Steve Rotheram, the Mayor of Liverpool City Region, accused Mr Grayling of an “abdication of responsibility” while Julie Dore, the leader of Sheffield City Council, said his remarks were “extremely disappointing”. She said[,] “To get a very senior Government minister coming out with some sort of defensive, adversarial comment just quite clearly shows his particular contempt for the North of England.”

Anger has been growing in the North since Mr Grayling gave his backing to another £30bn Crossrail line for London just days after announcing he was scrapping a manifesto pledge to electrify railway lines in the North, the Midlands and Wales.

More than 80,000 people have signed a petition calling for regional body Transport for the North to be given the same powers as Transport for London and urging Mr Grayling to reconfirm his commitment to the electrification of the trans-Pennine line between Manchester and Leeds, known as Crossrail for the North.

But is ‘Crossrail for the North’, the ‘electrification of the trans-Pennine line between Manchester and Leeds’? Surely the full name of CftN should be ‘Crossrail for the North, Whatever That Is’.

Map of 'HS3' published in the Yorkshire Post, 23 Aug 2017

And does CftN equal ‘HS3’? According to a diagram published in the Yorkshire Post, HS3 could be a [bonkers] new railway between Manchester, Manchester Airport, and the eastern leg of HS2. Of course, the government’s preferred route for the Yorkshire section of HS2 is now quite different from that shown in the diagram.

Written by beleben

August 24, 2017 at 9:48 am

Posted in Planning, Politics

Ex post in vacuo

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Improving public transport and encouraging car-pooling, walking and cycling are best for taking cars off the road. There is little robust evaluation evidence on the impact road schemes have on local economic development, wrote Centre for Cities researcher Adeline Bailly on the Centre for Cities blog.

[Is road investment the route to local economic growth?, Centre for Cities, 2 Aug 2017]

The What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth reviewed 2,300 evaluations of the local economic impact of transport projects, and found only 17 robust evaluations looking at the local economic impact of roads – and the findings on impacts are rather mixed.

twitter, @CentreforCities: 'How to reduce congestion? Improve public transport, encourage car-pooling, walking & cycling but not road investment '

But the July 2015 What Works evidence review was mainly concerned with economic outcomes, rather than congestion, and does not really argue the effectiveness of measures for congestion relief.

What Works Growth, Policy Reviews, Transport (extract)

[WWG Evidence Review: Transport – July 2015, extract]

• We found no high quality evaluations that provide evidence on the impact of rail infrastructure on employment, and only a limited number of evaluations showing that road projects have a positive effect.

• We found no high quality evaluations that provide evidence on the impacts of trams, buses, cycling and walking schemes on any economic outcomes.

• Even when studies are able to identify a positive impact on employment, the extent to which this is a result of displacement from other nearby locations is still unresolved. More generally, the spatial scale of any employment effects varies and we do not have enough evidence to be able to generalise about the spatial distribution of effects if they occur. The same is true for other outcomes. The scale at which the studies evaluate impact varies from adjacent neighbourhoods to much larger US counties.

• Surprisingly, very few evaluations consider the impact of transport investment on productivity (we found just three studies, two for roads and one for rail). Although the use of such productivity effects to calculate ‘wider economic benefits’ in transport appraisal is underpinned by a larger evidence base, it is still worrying that so few evaluations can demonstrate that these effects occur in practice.

• We have little evidence that would allow us to draw conclusions on whether large-scale projects (e.g. high speed rail or motorway construction) have larger economic growth impacts than spending similar amounts on a collection of small-scale projects (e.g. light rail or junction improvements).

• More generally, we do not know how differences in the nature of improvements (e.g. journey time saved or number of additional journeys) affect any local economic outcomes.

The review also noted disconnect in the evaluation of schemes, before and after the fact.

Our review of the literature discovered a large number of ex-post [transport investment] evaluations that appear to live in a vacuum, with no attempt made to link the findings from these reports back to scheme appraisals.

Written by beleben

August 15, 2017 at 8:58 am

Fantastic expectations, amazing revelations

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Industry bosses in the north of England and IPPR North are calling for more investment in the region’s railways, as it was ‘revealed’ it can take up to 10 hours for freight wagons to travel just 90 miles across the Pennines – costing the economy millions of pounds, reported.

[It takes ten hours to move freight 90 miles across Northern England by train, Dean Kirby,, 7 Aug 2017]

Gary Hodgson, strategic projects director at Peel Ports – one of the UK’s largest freight companies which operates in ports such as Liverpool, Heysham and Manchester – said trains are held up by a lack of capacity on the rail lines which means they have to let passenger trains pass. Old Victorian tunnels that were not designed for modern cargo containers.

[…] Network Rail timetables suggest it can take around seven hours and 50 minutes for a freight train to travel from Liverpool to the Drax Power Station at Selby in North Yorkshire – a journey of less than 100 miles – at an average speed of 16mph.

A 220-mile journey from the London Gateway deep-sea port in Essex to the Trafford Park rail freight terminal in Greater Manchester take around the same time, at an average speed of 36mph.

It takes nearly four hours for freight trains to travel from Immingham in Lincolnshire to Eggborough Power Station at Selby – a journey of around 50 miles at a speed of 17mph.

But actually, if the overall speed of a freight train to travel from Liverpool to Drax is 16 mph [25.7 km/h], that would make it an ‘express’ service, compared to many railfreight flows in continental Europe.

'Railfreight from Le Havre to Paris has a door to door speed of 6 km /h'

In 2007 Q4, the average speed of United States railfreight was just 22.5 mph (36 km/h), but that figure did not include “terminal dwell time, time for local pickup and delivery, and the time shipments spend in storage yards”.

Actually, the speed of railfreight is much less interesting than Peel Holdings’ tax avoidance (reducing the funds for infrastructure into Liverpool port), and the fact that Drax biomass looks like a government-backed environmental scam.


Written by beleben

August 9, 2017 at 7:39 am

Posted in Planning, Politics, Railways

Congestion or bust

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£4.4 billion has been “secured” by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to improve connections to HS2. The high speed line “will put even more pressure on the road network” according to West Midlands mayor Andy Street, but he has a plan to “bust” congestion., 'Mayor launches action plan to tackle traffic congestion'

Part of that plan appears to involve the appointment from next month of Anne Shaw as WMCA ‘director of network resilience’. Currently Birmingham city council’s assistant director for transportation and connectivity, Ms Shaw “has 26 years’ experience working closely with many of the partners and stakeholders involved in the region’s transport”.

The press release reads as if current and past measures to tackle congestion have not worked, because of a “lack of coordination”. Which would tend to suggest that previous years of “working closely with partners and stakeholders”, have not worked.

Of how the effectiveness of the congestion busting action plan would be monitored or measured, there is no clue.

Written by beleben

August 4, 2017 at 9:35 am

Posted in HS2, Planning, Politics

Not playing catch-up

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Although Birmingham was once one of the biggest producers of bikes in the world, it is now cycle-unfriendly London mayor Sadiq Khan promised to make the capital a byword for cycling, but has achieved depressingly little in his year-and-a-bit in office (wrote Peter Walker).

[Peter Walker, Bike blog, The Guardian, 30 July 2017]

And while London has the inbuilt advantage in tempting people on to two wheels by having a central congestion charge for cars and very slow roads, others may catch up.

Last week saw Andrew Gilligan, who achieved much as [Boris] Johnson’s cycling tsar, charged by the National Infrastructure Commission with boosting cycling in Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes.

More directly relevant to London was the news that the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has appointed Chris Boardman as his cycling and walking commissioner.

On the first-hand evidence available, one city not playing ‘catch up’ is Birmingham. Its cycling infrastructure is awful, and nobody in a position of power seems to be much bothered about making the city cycle-friendly.

Written by beleben

August 2, 2017 at 11:33 am

Taking stock of HS2

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Channel 4 News FactCheck Q&A: How does HS2 compare to other bullet trains?, 21 July 2017

Written by beleben

July 21, 2017 at 7:45 pm

Posted in HS2, Planning

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