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This dreadful strategy

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On 15 January, the West Midlands Rail Executive published its ‘revolutionary‘ investment ‘strategy’ for the next 30 years.

twitter, @railleaders, 'A new 30 year plan for rail in the WestMidlands has been unveiled, taking advantages of the benefits of HS2'

[West Midlands Rail Executive]

In the short-term, this includes the return of passenger services and stations on the Camp Hill Line and Wolverhampton to Walsall line.

It also sets out a clear target to achieve regular high frequency services of two, four or six trains an hour at all stations, with busy urban stations receiving a service every ten minutes and quieter local stations at least every half hour during the day.

In the medium-term, the strategy builds on the benefits HS2 will bring to the region and supports the Midlands Rail Hub proposals being developed by Midlands Connect.
The Strategy has been drawn up by the WMRE in collaboration with Midlands Connect, the Department for Transport and the wider rail industry. It has been finalised following a period of public and stakeholder consultation.

The Strategy also commits to producing a supporting ‘Prospectus for Rail’, which will be published in 2019, setting out our overall ambitions for the revolution in rail services.

As with any ambitious plan, it is recognised that not all of the plans may end up being funded or delivered in practice. This particularly applies to the longer-term projects.

WMRE, 'West Midlands Rail revolution promised', 15 Jan 2019

Cornerstones of this dreadful ‘strategy’ include the impractical ‘Midlands Rail Hub’, and “making the most of capacity released by HS2”.

Q. So, in the West Midlands, what does ‘making the most of capacity released by HS2’, actually amount to?

A. According to the strategy’s “development scenarios” for the Coventry corridor (‘before’ and ‘after’ HS2 phase one), nothing very much at all.

As regular readers of this blog will know, HS2 could not release much capacity on the West Coast Main Line.

Rail Engineer, 'the capacity benefits of HS2'

After spending £27,000,000,000++ on HS2 phase one to, er, ‘release capacity’, stations like Stechford, Lea Hall, and Hampton-in-Arden would still have just two trains per hour to Birmingham.

Systra, West Midlands rail development-scenarios (extract), Coventry corridor, published 15 Jan 2019 (numbers in black squares are trains per hour)


Written by beleben

January 16, 2019 at 12:16 pm

Maria lobby you big time

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Speaking at the ‘Bisnow Birmingham State of Offices event’, Midlands Connect honcho Maria Machancoses claimed that ‘the North and Midlands’ needed to work together “big time” to prevent the HS2 project from ‘sliding’.

She is co-hosting an event at Westminster in January to bring together Northern and Midlands MPs and regional transport leaders, ‘as doubts about the budgetary and technical aspects of the £56B rail project grow’.

'Midlands seeks friends in the north to save HS2', Bisnow

What happens at such private lobbying events? What ‘information’ is exchanged?

To judge the level of knowledge of some of the “regional transport leaders” who might be attending, one need only read articles written by them.

According to Ms Machancoses, “One of the most immediate impacts of HS2 will be the freeing up of capacity on the existing West Coast Main Line, releasing space for ten extra freight paths, taking the equivalent of 800 lorries a day off the road, as well as a multitude of extra passenger services”.

But, “if mismanaged”,

[MM:] “more direct, high speed services on the HS2 line could mean a loss of fast, frequent services to the likes of Coventry, Rugby, Tamworth and Lichfield. No station should suffer worse connectivity post-HS2 than it does now.”

In reality,

  • the classic capacity released by HS2 is minimal,
  • it is not possible to release any capacity without some stations, such as Coventry, getting worse connectivity post-HS2 than they have now.

The idea that HS2 would allow a ‘multitude of extra passenger services’ is delusional. On the Birmingham – Coventry – Rugby corridor, the number of local stopping trains would stay much the same as it is now. Between Euston and Milton Keynes, the indications are that the quantum of train paths would fall, not rise.

Maria Machancoses, 'Don't mismanage released capacity'

twitter, @mayor_anderson, 'Why we need the Government to listen to us about investment in rail connections across the North. '

And in an article for Citymetric published yesterday, Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson demonstrated his confusion about ‘HS3’ and the Transpennine North railway.

[Joe Anderson: Why I resigned from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership | Citymetric | December 12, 2018]
I resigned from the board of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership this week. I just didn’t see the point of continuing when it is now crystal clear the government isn’t committed to delivering the step-change in rail investment in the North that we so desperately need. Without it, the Northern Powerhouse will remain a pipedream.

Local government leaders like me have been left standing at the altar for the past three years. The research is done. The case has been made. Time and again we’ve been told to be patient – the money is coming.

Well, we’ve waited long enough.
There are no shortcuts. Ministers clearly believe there are. The second piece of disappointing news is that officials at the Department for Transport have already confirmed to the freight industry that any HS3 line will not be electrified, the Yorkshire Post reports.

Written by beleben

December 13, 2018 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Planning, Politics

Feed in fully

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Stephen Colbert Eating PopcornSubmission of the doolally ‘£35bn Northern Powerhouse Rail strategic business plan’ is being delayed until next year to allow it to be “fine-tuned”, according to New Civil Engineer.

[Exclusive | TfN postpones Northern Powerhouse Rail plans | BY KATHERINE SMALE | 10 DECEMBER, 2018][…]

It had been due to be handed into transport secretary Chris Grayling by the end of December.

But Transport for the North said following discussions with its members, a decision had been made “to make space for further fine-tuning” which would allow its members to “feed-in fully and have chance to digest all the details”.
The delay follows an announcement in September this year that the High Speed 2 phase 2b hybrid Bill was being delayed to ensure plans for the NPR scheme were incorporated into its design.
The rail project will connect Hull, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield and is the third project on the list of projected infrastructure spends over the next 20 years in the National Infrastructure Commission’s National Infrastructure Assessment.

twitter, @Philip_Blond, 'the cost of twenty miles more of HS2 to Liverpool is between £1.5 and 2.5 billion'

twitter, @helenpidd, picture of a page from the Sunday Times, 9 Dec 2018, featuring stories about railways in northern England

Written by beleben

December 10, 2018 at 12:55 pm

Finding the right moment

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Chris Grayling, transport secretary, and Philip Hammond, chancellor, have urged the prime minister to remove Terry Morgan from his position as chairman of HS2, as fears grow that the high-speed rail line will overshoot its £56 billion budget by a large margin, the Financial Times reported on 30 November.

On the same day, the TSSA union issued a statement titled ‘TSSA Leader warns HS2 North imperial [in peril?] following departure of Terry Morgan’, which seemed to infer that Mr Morgan had already departed, and it was his choice to step down.

'TSSA leader warns HS2 North imperial following departure of Terry Morgan'

[Chairman of flagship HS2 and Crossrail projects to be sacked, FT, 30 Nov 2018]

Theresa May is poised to sack the “world-class” chairman of Britain’s flagship HS2 rail programme after only four months in the job, amid mounting costs and delays at the country’s most expensive infrastructure project.

Terry Morgan, who also chairs London’s delayed £15bn Crossrail project, is expected to leave both jobs within weeks after a series of recent disclosures about problems at both projects raised doubts at the top of government about his performance.

The move is a sign ministers fear there is worse news is to come, with both HS2 and Crossrail running over budget.

“They told the prime minister they have no confidence in him and she agrees,” said one government official close to the project, which will link London with Birmingham and the north of England. “It is only a question of finding the right moment to announce it.”

Between 2002 and 2009, Mr Morgan was chief executive of the disastrous London Underground Tube Lines ‘Public-Private Partnership’, so it is unclear why transport secretary Chris Grayling would hail him as “world class” (as he did just a few months ago)., 'Secretary of State appoints Sir Terry Morgan as new HS2 Ltd Chairman'

However, the enormous problems of HS2 go back a lot further than August 2018, indeed many of them were embedded from the get-go. The previous chairman, David Higgins, was appointed to “drive down the costs of HS2”, but failed completely.

In October 2013, Railnews reported his predecessor, Douglas Oakervee, as saying that the cost of HS2 phase one was set at £17.6 billion, and he was ‘not interested‘ in any of the £14.4 billion contingency that the Treasury had insisted should be added., 'David Higgins to drive down the cost of HS2'

At the moment, HS2’s chief executive, Mark Thurston, appears not to be in the firing line, but why that should be, is not clear. The different treatments afforded to Mr Higgins, Mr Thurston, and Mr Morgan, suggest that as covering up failure gets harder, the scapegoating and back-covering intensifies.

All in all, changing the chairmanship of HS2 looks like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. The reputational downsides for any senior personnel attaching themselves to this project are potentially very significant, and it is hard to see why anyone with a full set of marbles would take on the chairmanship of HS2.

Mr Morgan will most likely have to be ‘gagged’ generously, to minimise the chances of yet more damaging news coming into the public domain.


Written by beleben

December 1, 2018 at 4:13 pm

Posted in HS2, Politics

And then there were three

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Until 14 December, Transport for West Midlands are ‘seeking feedback’ on plans for ‘new’ stations at Hazelwell, Kings Heath, and Moseley, on the Camp Hill line. These stations would be built in much the same locations as the original ones, closed as an economy measure during World War 2.

TfWM, Camp Hill stations engagement, 2018

TfWM’s consultation document says that a restored local train service on the Camp Hill line would

* widen the choice of transport options and decrease reliance on cars
* reduce congestion on the A435 Alcester Road and surrounding routes
* decrease air and noise pollution from traffic congestion
* address long journey times into central Birmingham, and
* improve capacity to bring goods and services in and out of the area.

However, TfWM are not consulting on the train service, only on the design of the three stations (as plans for a station at Balsall Heath have disappeared, without explanation).

As the revived Camp Hill stopping service would run just twice an hour, to and from Birmingham New Street station, it is hard to see how there could be much impact on road congestion or pollution.

TfWM plans three new stations on the Camp Hill line

Ambitions for a more practical service, into Birmingham’s Moor Street station, appear to be going nowhere, perhaps because the proposed Camp Hill chords at Bordesley have not been thought through properly. It seems safe to assume that the bus (National Express WM #50) will remain the most relevant public transport mode on the Moseley Road corridor, for the foreseeable future.

Judging from the artists’ impressions, the chosen station designs leave a lot to be desired. For example, the canopies over part of the platforms would be supported by poles on the platforms themselves, creating a sort of obstacle course for people getting on and off.

Lacklustre stations, and a mediocre train service. Why does it have to be like this?

A few years ago, West Midlands councillors were vociferous in their demands that all local rail stations should have ticket offices 'manned' during service hours. But in the new stations consultation document, there seems to be no sign of any ticket offices

At least TfWM do not seem to be frothing at the mouth about the idea of trees on railway property, unlike sections of the ‘enthusiast’ press.

TfWM impression of Moseley station, 2018

Written by beleben

November 22, 2018 at 11:50 am

Not in Newton Aycliffe

twitter, @TurnipRail, IEP made in Japan label


Because screwdriving is not making.

Written by beleben

November 21, 2018 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways

Egotistical subscriber line

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HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston has told the Construction News Summit his company is “in talks” with contractors to ‘get back to the funding envelope that the government can afford’, yet he doesn’t ‘subscribe’ to the idea that HS2 is over budget (?).

[HS2 ‘in discussions’ with contractors over costs gap | TIM CLARK | CN | 21 NOVEMBER, 2018]

Speaking on day one of the Summit, Mr Thurston said he could not comment publicly on reports of rising costs.

However, he admitted that the true costs of all aspects of HS2 were not fully understood prior to contractors being appointed.

Mr Thurston said: “There is a budget for HS2 and […] the company I run has been clear that it has to deliver the railway for that number. I don’t subscribe to the idea that it is over budget.

“When you think of when the budget was set for phase one in particular, which was in 2015, we always maintained that until we put contractors into play, we would not understand the true cost.

“We are sitting with our contractors as we speak to close that gap and I won’t comment on the size of that gap.”

Gare de Gap by Florian Pepellin, station sign

In an interview with New Civil Engineer, Mr Thurston said that ‘as the designs had developed it had become clear that the ground conditions were more complex than first thought and the risk taken on by the contractors was now an area to be revisited and potentially shared by HS2 Ltd‘.

[New Civil Engineer]

Over the next six months, Thurston said that there would be some “tough decisions” which would have to be made to cut costs. […]

“We’re confident we’re going to take a big chunk of this away,” he said.

Written by beleben

November 21, 2018 at 11:45 am

Posted in HS2, Politics