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Third time unlucky

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On 16 May transport secretary Chris Grayling announced the termination of the Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) rail franchise — the third failure of Kings Cross intercity franchising in twelve years.

Chris Grayling 'East Coast Rail Update', 16 May 2018

As previously discussed on this blog, the failure was caused by VTEC, and their consultants, getting their numbers wrong — in particular, forecast passenger numbers. The idea that Network Rail’s ‘failure to deliver promised upgrades’ was the cause, has no credibility.

twitter, @philatrail, (Network Rail) delivered what it had promised (in the period during which VTEC operated and failed)

So, why Network Rail’s press team did not come out fighting during this debacle, is difficult to understand. Surely Chris Grayling’s statement that VTEC had got their numbers wrong, meant they had carte blanche to tell it like it is, and rebut the ‘it-wuz-Network-Rail’ claims by Richard Branson, the Seat 61 chappy, et al.

Of course, consultants have been getting their rail passenger forecasts badly wrong for decades. The VTEC collapse is yet more evidence that predicting the future is not something they are getting any better at doing.

twitter, @RichardWellings, 'The East Coast crisis shows how difficult it is to get passenger forecasts right. Yet ministers are prepared to risk tens of billions on #HS2, based on dubious guesses about travel patterns decades in the future.'


Written by beleben

May 17, 2018 at 9:52 am

Posted in Politics, Railways

Nuckle enlightenment

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Last Thursday (May 10) the co-leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas MP, met with Kenilworth Green Party members to celebrate the reopening of the town’s railway station.

Opened on 30 April, the station forms part of the ‘NUCKLE’ scheme, which is supposedly “designed to implement a step-change in the level of public transport provision along the Nuneaton – Coventry – Kenilworth – Leamington Spa corridor”.

However, the station has only one platform, and the offer is one single-carriage local train per hour to Coventry and one to Leamington, with no Sunday service.

Ms Lucas called for more frequent trains, and an additional station to serve the University of Warwick, the Kenilworth Weekly News reported.

But according to rail consultant William Barter, ‘getting more trains depends on HS2 freeing capacity in the Coventry corridor’.

As the Beleben blog has pointed out, HS2 would not release much, if any, capacity on the Rugby – Coventry – Birmingham line. Furthermore, providing Kenilworth with a frequent passenger service to Coventry, or Nuneaton, is not compatible with the current plans of Midlands Connect and West Midlands Rail.

The Beleben approach would be to avoid pathing conflicts by building a railcar bridge over the West Coast Main Line just east of Coventry station, enabling a frequent tram-like service between Nuneaton and Leamington. If this were possible, instead of stopping in Coventry station itself, these railcars would stop in the station forecourt before rejoining the Network Rail tracks.

Although Coventry city council favours ‘very light rail’ in general, there seems to be no plan to use such vehicles on the Leamington line. The council’s current plans seem to lack utility and realism.

Enlightened Nuckle: deconfliction in Coventry together with light rail operation would allow more stops and higher frequencies (Beleben)

Written by beleben

May 15, 2018 at 10:38 am

Posted in Politics, Railways

Much less physical intervention

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On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (10 May 2018) Network Rail chief Mark Carne explained the benefit of the ‘Digital Railway‘ as he saw it.

[MC:] The exciting thing about the Digital Railway is that it requires much less physical intervention than building new railways, and that’s really why I like it so much.

So, if it’s possible to ‘increase capacity on existing lines with new digital signalling’, and this new signalling

  • requires much less trackside intervention on existing lines than traditional interventions,
  • and is much less expensive than building new lines,

then what is the point of HS2?

'Making the Digital Railway a Reality', 2018-05-10, York

Written by beleben

May 10, 2018 at 3:27 pm

Posted in HS2, Politics

The walrus of hyperbole

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By “taking the brakes off incremental rail infrastructure growth”, Northern Powerhouse Rail “will unleash massive potential for growth and commercial interaction across the region”, linking the North’s six major economic centres and its largest international airport “with the sort of fast and frequent services that will mean ‘turn up and go’ travel becomes a reality” (wrote Barry White, chief executive of Transport for the North).

[Barry White, CEO of Transport for the North explains what the country’s first sub-national transport body has planned for the North, Rail Professional, 23 March 2018]

What effect might it have? Consider this. At the moment, studies show there are only 10,000 people who can reach four or more northern cities by rail in under an hour. With Northern Powerhouse Rail in place, that number will rise to 1.3 million.

TfGM information response letter, page 1 (personal information removed)

TfGM information response letter, page 2

TfGM information response letter, page 3

TfGM information response, Annex A_NPR Accessibility, 1

TfGM information response, Annex A_NPR Accessibility, 2

So TfN do not know who these “10,000 people” are, or what cities they could reach within an hour, or why it is important for them to be able to make journeys to these unknown cities within an hour.

Written by beleben

May 4, 2018 at 9:57 am

Posted in Politics, Transport

Sprawl into the gap

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New designs for the ‘£286 million revamp’ of Birmingham International railway station have been revealed as Solihull council’s Urban Growth Company secured £9.27 million from the West Midlands Combined Authority to develop the project, the Birmingham Post reported. As its name suggests, the Urban Growth Company is tasked with urbanising the rural space separating Coventry from the Birmingham conurbation.

'How [revamped] Birmingham International station could look'

[New designs revealed for £286m revamp of Birmingham station, Tamlyn Jones, Birmingham Post 3 May 2018]

The images show how the station could look as transport chiefs bid to tap into the potential economic benefits of the new HS2 station due to be built in Solihull by 2026.
The vision for the Solihull station is to transform it into a transport exchange, bringing together existing rail, future high speed rail, air, trams, buses, rapid transit, private vehicles, taxis, bicycles and an automated people mover to create seamless connections with Birmingham Airport and the HS2 Interchange station.

Actually, the existing Birmingham International station has been a ‘transport exchange’ since it opened in 1976, and it appears to be in fair condition. The case for spending tens or hundreds of millions of pounds of public money on a vanity rebuild, has never been explained.

Perhaps some of the £286 million might be for fitting batteries to trains running through the station, as the official visualisation shows all overhead wires as having been removed.

Midland Metro Alliance, 'East Birmingham Solihull [tram] map'

The costs of rebuilding Birmingham International station, and a 2 km people-mover to Middle Bickenhill HS2 station, and a £500+ million Midland Metro tram link to Birmingham city centre, are not included in the HS2 budget. The full costs of HS2 are likely to be far higher than £55.7 billion, when projects like these, outside of the ‘core programme’, are taken into account.

GBSLEP, 'HS2 growth strategy investment programme

Written by beleben

May 4, 2018 at 9:24 am

Posted in Birmingham, Politics

Addition of one

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'Strong and stable cancellation'Prime minister Theresa May and transport secretary Chris Graying made “the [cancellation] decisions about electrification on the midland main line and the line between Cardiff and Swansea on the simple basis that spending hundreds of millions or billions of pounds to achieve the same journey times in the same trains was not sensible”.

[Chris Grayling, House of Commons, 19 April:] The trains on the Great Western route are already in operation, delivering services to people in Swansea, for whom it is a great and important investment. Trains on the midland main line require the addition of one engine to provide a little bit of extra acceleration, but they already exist, and will be great for that line as well.

On that basis, if he had been in post earlier, Mr Grayling could not have approved any electrification west of Airport Junction. Were he to approve Transpennine North electrification, that would invite questions as to why that was ‘sensible’, compared to the option of using electro-diesel trains, possibly with the ‘addition of one engine’.

Any defensible case for TPN electrification would seem to depend on

  • the madcap Northern Powerhouse Rail ‘new line via Bradford’ being cancelled
  • implementation of contemporaneous electrification to Hull and Middlesbrough (which is not being actively discussed).

Written by beleben

May 2, 2018 at 2:03 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways

East Coast upgrades compromised by HS2

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Much of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) is “nearing the end of its design life”, according to Network Rail, and the benefits of ‘Control Period’ investment are “at risk”. However, the value for money of a substantial upgrade to the line seems to be compromised by HS2, judging by the figures in the company’s January 2018 ‘Route Strategic Plan’.

Much of the East Coast Main Line is 'nearing the end of its design life', according to Network Rail

HS2 was sold to politicians on the basis that it would ‘avoid the need for blockades and weekend closures’ on existing lines. But at some point, the ECML existing track and signalling will have to be replaced, and that will entail track closures and disruption. Those unavoidable periods of downtime could be used to implement a 21st century upgrade of the line, vastly increasing its capability. However, because the government wants to move long distance passengers from the ECML to HS2, the economic case for such intervention is not there.

It is a similar situation to the Midland Main Line, where the case for electrification north of Bedford was destroyed by the government’s plan to cajole, or force, long distance passengers to move to HS2. The ‘outer suburban’ electrification to Corby seems to have survived because it was too far gone for transport secretary Chris Grayling to cancel.

Written by beleben

April 20, 2018 at 10:49 am

Posted in HS2, Politics, Railways