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The wrong kind of rail investment for the North

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The Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which is chaired by Evening Standard editor and former chancellor George Osborne, wants the government to redesign the second phase of HS2 to “remodel” four junctions for connections to ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ (the BBC reported). He has urged Prime Minister Theresa May ‘to commit to building high-speed rail lines across the north of England, from Liverpool to Hull’, saying it would “transform” the economy.

But does the Northern Powerhouse Partnership have any evidence that building ‘HS3’ / Northern Powerhouse Rail would transform the economy?

According to Paul Swinney of the Centre for Cities, “research shows that commuting between city regions in the Randstad [Netherlands] and Rhine-Ruhr [Germany] is not significantly greater than across city regions in [northern England], nor are train links much quicker”. The success of those regions “does not appear to be based on the strength of their transport links”.

Coverage of the Centre for Cities report about the relative importance of transport links in The Guardian, June 2016

In the view of the Beleben blog, HS3 / Northern Powerhouse Rail is the wrong kind of rail investment for the North, and the potential waste of public funds is much bigger than with Boris Johnson’s recently-abandoned London garden bridge.

'George Osborne avoided official channels with London's garden bridge scheme', The Guardian, 16 Jan 2016

Written by beleben

August 22, 2017 at 11:12 am

Recommendations without evidence

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Research from Transform Scotland and supported by Virgin Trains shows that a ‘shift from air to rail has cut carbon in the Scotland – London travel market’.

'Green Journey to Growth', Transform Scotland, page 1

'Green Journey to Growth', Transform Scotland, page 2

'Green Journey to Growth', Transform Scotland, page 3

'Green Journey to Growth', Transform Scotland, page 4

'Green Journey to Growth', Transform Scotland, page 5

'Green Journey to Growth', Transform Scotland, page 7

'Green Journey to Growth', Transform Scotland, page 8

Since the emissions arising from travel between London and Scotland’s central belt are a vanishingly small proportion of the UK total, one might wonder how important these ‘findings’ were.

That is, if the report actually bothered to explain how any of its conclusions and ‘recommendations’ were arrived at.

But there is no way of checking the figures, and no information on the number of flights in 2005 and 2015, or the types of aircraft used, or the total train energy kWh for a London – Glasgow journey, etc.

Written by beleben

August 21, 2017 at 2:40 pm

Not-so-British style icon

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A ‘British high speed rail icon’ will help to train a new generation of engineers, according to the ‘Politics Home Central Lobby’ twitter.

While many of the original TGV373000 trains delivered to Eurostar have been sent to the scrapyard (replaced by German-built trains funded by UK State Aid), two refurbished ‘e300’ power cars have been allocated to the ‘National College for High Speed Rail’ (one for the Doncaster site, and one for Birmingham).

As its typename indicated, the TGV373000 was in essence, a TGV reduced in cross-section, to fit onto Southern Region tracks. A French-designed train, built by factories in France, Belgium, and England, in accordance with a work-sharing agreement not too unlike that used for the Panavia Tornado (etc).

The British factory used to part-build the TGV373000 was shuttered around 2005 as part of Alstom’s full-on retreat from UK manufacturing.

twitter @CentralLobby, status_898239252240138240

In a video posted by ‘Business Birmingham’, Clair Mowbray, chief executive of NCHSR, described the Eurostar loco as “absolutely vital”.

twitter @business_bham, 'As Birmingham's @NCHSR receives its @AlstomUK @EurostarUK train, we asked chief exec Clair Mowbray how it'll help the college's students.'

Business Birmingham

So far as can be determined, HS2 Ltd are looking at trains with distributed traction, rather than end-power-car designs. Is the loco a ‘learning tool’, or a decorative ‘point of interest’ for the college hall?

Written by beleben

August 18, 2017 at 11:29 am

Posted in 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

Add nearly thirty

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Liverpool Lime Street by el pollock (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

‘Cancelling electrification projects around the country will add nearly 30 minutes to journeys between Manchester and Liverpool’ (Labour press)

Cancelling electrification works will lengthen journey times, increase carbon emissions and raise the cost of running Britain’s rail network, the Labour party warned on 2 August.

Labour press release on rail electrification, 02 Aug 2017

[Labour press release, 2 Aug 2017]

Cancelling electrification projects around the country will add significantly to journey times:

* Journeys between Manchester and Liverpool will add nearly 30 minutes

* Journeys between Leeds and Newcastle will add over 20 minutes.

* Cancelling the electrification of the Cardiff to Swansea section of the Great Western Mainline puts at risk the estimated journey time saving between Swansea and London with Super Express trains of 19 minutes.

Labour has made a £10 billion commitment to “Crossrail for the North” to reverse decades of underinvestment in Northern transport infrastructure that has undermined the economic potential of the north of England and help deliver 850,000 new jobs by 2050.

Network Rail estimates that electrification and the running of electric vehicles can help to reduce CO2 emissions by an average of 20 to 30 per cent compared to their diesel counterparts and the maintenance costs for electric trains are 33 per cent lower than for diesel.

Unfortunately, the press release has a fairly tenuous relationship with the actuality. For example, the Liverpool to Manchester ‘Chat Moss’ electrification has already been completed, so it is hard to see how “Journeys between Manchester and Liverpool will add nearly 30 minutes”.

Again, with the Swansea – Cardiff cancellation, it is difficult to understand how “the estimated journey time saving between Swansea and London with Super Express trains of 19 minutes” is put at risk.

As the new intercity trains for the Swansea – London service are all being fitted with underfloor diesel engines, the Beleben blog cannot understand how their maintenance costs “are 33% lower” than diesels.

Because they are diesels. Electro-diesels.

Electro-diesel (bi-mode) trains were part of the project from the outset. The Great Western electrification shows what can happen when a scheme is poorly specified and designed. It went wrong from the word go, and as the transport secretary at the time, Andrew Adonis must be largely responsible.

Written by beleben

August 3, 2017 at 9:06 am