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The unshared priority

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The Transport Select Committee’s call for written evidence about the government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) for the North and Midlands apparently yielded a total of 95 submissions (although some contributors made more than one submission).

It was curious to see the Department for Transport’s own submission, belatedly making the case for doing less high speed rail.

[31.] “Significant criticism has been made of the Government’s decision not to include within the IRP a high-speed line between Bradford and Manchester, at an additional cost of around £18 billion. In the 2011 census, the working population of Bradford was 210,000 people. Of these,155,000 worked in Bradford itself, 27,500 in Leeds, and 13,400 in the rest of West Yorkshire. But only 650 people from Bradford (0.3%) worked in Manchester, of whom 105 travelled by train. Even if better rail links resulted in, say, a twenty-fold increase in commuting from Bradford to Manchester, this would still be only around 6 per cent of Bradford’s commuter population.”

DfT submission to the Transport Select Committee IRP inquiry | Jan 2022
Nomis travel to work data, 2011 census,  Bradford

[34.] “The Government notes that while political leaders in Leeds, Liverpool and Bradford criticised the IRP for not doing more high-speed rail, the leaders of smaller places – such as Rotherham, Wakefield and Doncaster – were more welcoming to the plan. It is also clear from opinion polling done after the publication of the IRP that the public in the North and Midlands does not share the priority given to high-speed rail by some stakeholders. By around six to one, people prioritise improvements to local rail and bus services over improvements to long-distance rail” (YouGov, 29 November 2021).

DfT submission to the Transport Select Committee IRP inquiry | Jan 2022

[51.] “[…] On NPR, the Government carefully examined the other options put forward by TfN, for full newbuild lines from Liverpool to Leeds via Manchester and Bradford. TfN’s preferred option represented poor value for money. It would have made Manchester – Leeds journeys only four minutes faster than the option chosen in the IRP, and cost an extra £18 billion.”

DfT submission to the Transport Select Committee IRP inquiry | Jan 2022

The problem, for the government, in deploying these sorts of arguments is that they are also valid against the sections of high speed railway which (it says) it remains committed to building — such as the western leg of HS2, and the ‘Manchester to Marsden’ remnant of ‘HS3’ Northern powerhouse rail.

Written by beleben

February 4, 2022 at 8:27 pm

Random access muddlery

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Tom Forth’s dotty map shows how, if delivered in full, the HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail projects “would make huge areas of the North West, Midlands, South East and even South-West more accessible to northerners”. On the map, “Black dots show areas that are quicker by train, and orange show those quicker by car”. That’s according to Kieren Williams (writing for Reach plc’s Mirror Online, 8 November 2021).

However, Mr Williams’ interpretation of the map is not correct. What the map is actually purporting to show, is the journey time from Leeds City railway station to other railway stations around the country, by train and by car. That is not the same thing at all as showing ‘areas which are quicker by train’ or ‘areas which are quicker by car’.

The map is not showing, or comparing, door to door journey times by mode. It is showing, or purportedly showing, railway station to railway station journey times. Or more precisely, Leeds City railway station, to other railway station, journey times.

Even the station journey times by rail are problematic. No definitive journey times or frequencies are available for Northern Powerhouse Rail, so it is not clear how it is possible to calculate a NPR journey time from Leeds City station to Neston station, for example.

Mirror Online, 'Incredible graphic'

Written by beleben

November 9, 2021 at 4:30 pm

The ‘Greens4HS2’ misinformation campaign, part three

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According to Greens4HS2 group member Adam Turner, HS2 is ‘going to be really bad news for the supremacy of the car’.

Twitter, @AdamWJT. 'HS2 is going to be really bad news for the supremacy of the car'

At this point, it might be worth bearing in mind that

(1.) according to HS2 Ltd, modal shift to its high speed Y network would mean an annual reduction in car travel ‘equivalent to around 18 million litres of petrol not used’. Using the Petrol Retailers Association and HS2 Ltd’s figures, if the high speed Y network had been up and running in 2019, it would have reduced UK automotive petrol consumption that year by only ~0.11%. In no way is HS2 a credible means of reducing car ownership, congestion, or miles driven.

(2.) most of the modal shift in the official HS2 forecasting is from classic rail to high speed rail – not from car to high speed rail

(3.) with the move to electric vehicles, the amount of fossil fuels saved by the minuscule modal shift from car to high speed rail would diminish every year, before disappearing altogether

(4.) thousands of parking spaces are planned for HS2 stations at Manchester Airport, Toton, Bickenhill, and Leeds, with the parkway stations creating the need for tens of thousands of new car journeys every year

(5.) “concentration on expanding the existing [rail] large traffic flows, such as London – Birmingham, London – Manchester, London – Leeds” [i.e. the flows served by HS2] “will not achieve a major modal shift – mainly because rail already has a significant slice of the market on those routes which, by themselves, do not constitute the majority of passenger travel in the UK” (Professor Roger Kemp).

Written by beleben

October 23, 2021 at 4:35 pm

Never say ever again

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HS2 Ltd is “currently reporting future potential cost pressures” of around £1.3 billion, according to the October 2021 HS2 six-monthly report to Parliament, published on 20 October 2021. The Department for Transport (DfT) anticipates that cost pressures will be “reduced” following confirmation of a “move to a smaller, less complex 10-platform single-stage delivery strategy at Euston” whose design is to be “developed over the coming months”.

So, after more than a decade of development, there is still no finalised design for Euston HS2. Multiple failed redesigns have cost the public purse tens of millions of pounds, as can be seen from a New Civil Engineer report of August 2021.

Grimshaw and Arup won the Euston concept design job in 2012 but were replaced by WilkinsonEyre with WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff in February 2017. The original team was brought back for the detailed design work a year later, with more than £100M already spent on Euston station’s design.

‘HS2’s updated plan and timeline for Euston station redesign’ | NCE | 16 AUG, 2021 | BY ROB HORGAN

As is to be expected, the six-monthly report to Parliament is more of an exercise in spin than in transparency. In a section headed ‘Benefits’, the narrative laboured over the jobs allegedly created and supported by construction of the railway, although in financial and cost-benefit terms, these would be considered as costs rather than benefits. As a Keynesian make-work scheme, High Speed Two construction is a poor proposition, with the net gain in employment reported by HS2 Ltd in September 2021 as just 1,100 jobs.

Apparently, “over 2,200 businesses have delivered work on HS2, with 97% UK registered”, but being so registered does not necessarily mean that a supplier’s particular goods and services were actually confected in the UK. Much of the construction machinery must have been imported, such as the tunnel boring machines, and the on-site main d’oeuvre is largely migrant labour from inside and outside the EU.

The confirmation of a move to a 10-platform Euston design led to some interesting messages from the HS2 amanti on Twitter, with the editor of ‘Rail’ magazine, Nigel Harris, claiming it meant it can ‘never ever do more than 14 trains per hour’, and Towcester’s finest HS2 consultant, William Barter, contradicting him. Of course, the original plan for HS2 Euston never involved running 17 or 18 trains per hour in and out, as some services were intended to run (mostly empty) to and from the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and Heathrow airport.

With LGV PSE re-signalling, the French state railway SNCF appear to have taken the view that 16 high speed trains per hour is the limit, irrespective of terminus configuration, but for HS2 this would be moot in the case of the eastern leg to Yorkshire being cancelled, as seems increasingly likely.

@Modern_Railways, twitter, 'HS2 cut to 10 platforms', and @Rail response
@GarethDennis, twitter, '11 platforms was reasonably okay', and responses
@WilliamBarter1, twitter, '16 trains on 10 platforms would work'
@CarlShillitoUK, twitter, 'Will the negative spin ever end?'

Written by beleben

October 21, 2021 at 3:31 pm

Cost of the eastern leg of HS2 ‘could exceed £40 billion’

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Ministers are ‘shortly expected to announce a delay to the eastern leg of HS2 between Birmingham and Leeds’, with priority given instead to Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester, the Financial Times revealed on 3 October. Transport secretary Grant Shapps will set out a new integrated rail plan ‘in the coming weeks’, and there is to be a ‘competition among railway towns to become the headquarters of Great British Railways, a new state-owned body that will oversee rail travel from 2023’.

[George Parker:] ‘The western leg [of HS2] to Manchester will be built, but the eastern section to Leeds is in jeopardy given concerns that the cost could exceed £40bn.

[…] Asked whether the eastern leg of HS2 would be axed, Shapps said: “We want to make sure we get trains to Leeds in a way that actually benefits people on the network and not blindly follow some plan invented 15 to 20 years ago which no longer benefits people.”’

‘UK transport secretary Grant Shapps signals major rethink of HS2 rail line’, George Parker in Manchester, Financial Times, 3 October 2021

The plan for the eastern leg of HS2 was ‘invented’ at the same time as the rest of the project. So the government’s support for phase one and the western leg could equally validly be described as ‘blindly following some plan invented 15 to 20 years ago which no longer benefits people‘. (Of course, the vast majority of the British public would would rarely or never use HS2, and the scheme is crowding out investment in the conventional rail network.)

The site of the proposed HS2 platforms at Manchester Piccadilly
Picture: The site of the proposed HS2 platforms at Manchester Piccadilly

HS2 makes the railway network more London-centric, whereas developing good east – west lines would make it less London-centric. Unfortunately, the Northern Powerhouse Rail ‘new line between Manchester and Leeds via Bradford’ is a monkeydust scheme, while the centrepiece of the Midlands Connect ‘Midlands Rail hub’ – the Camp Hill chords (with the eastern and western chords connected to the bay platforms at Birmingham Moor Street) – is probably unbuildable.

Written by beleben

October 4, 2021 at 4:21 pm

Two likely less than one

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HS2: Ministers and bosses knew railway was over budget years ago, By Tom Burridge, Transport correspondent, BBC News

On Friday [9 July 2021], Labour peer Lord Berkeley wrote to the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, asking him to ‘consider’ whether ministers had broken the ministerial code regarding the High Speed Two railway during Theresa May’s premiership (the Daily Telegraph reported on 10 July).

The peer’s letter highlighted ‘new evidence’ showing that ministers were told in April 2019 that the line “could not be delivered to the current scope within the current schedule and budget” and cited several occasions where ‘it was made clear to government figures that the scheme would exceed its budget, including at a conference in 2015 at which officials were told costs could top £100 billion’.

The article also claimed that unredacted minutes of HS2 Ltd’s June 2021 board meeting ‘seen’ by the Telegraph stated that the ’emerging’ central case benefit-cost ratio (BCR) for the Crewe to Manchester section of HS2 is ‘likely to be below one (i.e. poor value for money)’. 

'Plurality of Britons Aware of HS2 Oppose its Development', regional support poll, R&W Strategies, 
July 9, 2021

Written by beleben

July 12, 2021 at 11:58 am

Posted in Politics

Tagged with

Significantly greater weakness

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Earlier this year, “MPs in Leeds City Region” were emphasising that the eastern leg of the HS2 railway had a ‘very high’ benefit cost ratio, ‘most significantly, greater than that of the Western leg’.

tweet from @richard_rail about the benefit cost ratio of the eastern leg of HS2, 29 May 2020

But according to Andrew Adonis, speaking in the House of Lords on 30 November 2020, the HS2 eastern leg has the “weakest” of the benefit cost ratios.

[Andrew Adonis | House of Lords | High Speed Rail (West Midlands–Crewe) Bill | Volume 808: debated on Monday 30 November 2020]

“[…] The situation, which is well known in the Department for Transport and among those with whom I speak, is as follows. Dominic Cummings tried to cancel HS2. To be blunt, he does not much like Governments of any form doing big projects, but he certainly does not like big state projects of this kind. He wrestled very hard with the Prime Minister after the last election to get him to cancel HS2 outright. The Prime Minister believes in big infrastructure projects. When I was Transport Secretary, I had big discussions with him. There are many things he has no fixed belief on, but he has been prepared to commit to big transport infrastructure projects that will connect the country. He was persuaded of the case for HS2, and when the decision had to be made in February about going ahead with the first phase of HS2, from London to Birmingham, he gave that commitment. What then happened was that Dominic Cummings moved on to the eastern leg, because the weakest of the BCRs — benefit to cost ratios — is for the eastern leg. The reason the weakest BCR is for the eastern leg is very straightforward: the cities served in the east of the country are smaller than those in the west. But we are supposed to be about levelling up. That is the whole philosophy of the Government. So the fact that the BCRs are lower for the east is not a reason for not proceeding with HS2 East; it is an essential reason for proceeding.” […]

Written by beleben

December 2, 2020 at 4:32 pm

Don’t mention James

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This month, people have been invited ‘at random’ by letter to take part in the ‘largest Covid-19 testing research study in England’ which is being conducted by Imperial College and, er, Ipsos Mori.

Ipsos Mori Covid 19 survey letter, 7 October 2020

The public’s take-up of this invitation seems to have been affected by perceptions of incompetence in the handling of Covid-19. New letters have been sent out to nudge people into taking part, with different wording.

Covid-19 study letter sent out by Ipsos Mori, dated 15 October 2020

One of most notable changes in the reworded letter is the absence of Lord Bethell, ‘Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care’.

A.k.a. James Bethell, whose company Westbourne Communications did PR for fracking company Cuadrilla, and the astroturf ‘Campaign for High Speed Rail’ for magazine editor Nigel Harris and Professor David Begg.

Telegraph online, HS2 under fire over Ipsos Mori polling contract

Written by beleben

October 16, 2020 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Politics

Eat, sleep, spin, reset

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On 13 October, just weeks after the official ‘start of construction‘ of its High Speed Two railway, the government has announced that new “cost pressures” are emerging. (Was für eine Überraschung.)

gov.uk, 'HS2 6 monthly report to parliament', 13 Oct 2020

But apparently no mention in this six-monthly report of other ‘cost pressures’, like the now-proposed 5.7 km tunnel in Bromford.

HS2 phase one, proposed Bromford tunnel extension

Written by beleben

October 14, 2020 at 11:55 am

Andy’s fake cycle network ‘launched’ in Coventry

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On 25 June, The Guardian published an article about the inadequacies of cycling provision in the West Midlands, and metro mayor Andy Street’s lacklustre performance and policies.

[What the West Midlands is getting right, and wrong, for cycling | The region has made progress in getting people on to bikes, but where’s the ambition? | Laura Laker | The Guardian | Thu 25 Jun 2020]

[…] The West Midlands is proud of its industrial heritage, but unlit, isolated towpaths are no replacement for a cycle network that safely takes people places they want to be.

Happily, another part of the region’s heritage is the modern bicycle, invented on Street’s patch by JK Starley in Coventry in 1884, kickstarting an era of bike manufacturing in the region.

Street, the former boss of John Lewis, was elected the region’s Conservative mayor in May 2017. Improvement of the region’s canal network aside, just four miles of protected on-road cycle routes have been built by Birmingham since, and those were funded via the city council rather than Street’s combined authority.

[…] In the long term, West Midlands’ 200km region-wide “route network plan” lacks the scope, the cohesive branding or urgency of Street’s colleagues’ plans in Manchester – the 1,800-mile £1.5bn Bee network; Sheffield – 620 miles of walking and cycling routes; and Leicester, which is currently adding a mile a week to its active travel network.
[…]

Street recently told attendees at an online conference: “In a region like this, even if we do well, you will only get about 5% of people cycling.” An academic analysis, however, estimates that a Dutch-style cycle network would produce at least double that in the region’s most rural areas, and up to 29% in Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Street’s own figures show 41% of trips made by car in the West Midlands are under two miles, distances easily cycled. […]

It would appear that Mr Street read the Guardian story, took note of the point about the lack of ‘cohesive branding’, and decided to brand the network ‘Starley’ after the name was mentioned in the article.

On 11 August, Mr Street launched this ‘Starley network’ at a poorly attended photo opp outside Coventry Transport Museum.

TfWM, 'New West Midlands cycling network unveiled', Tuesday 11 August 2020'

The problem, of course, is that there isn’t an actual cycle ‘network’, nor is there any sign of Mr Street having any plans to create one.

TfWM, 'Starley Cycle Network Map'

Written by beleben

August 11, 2020 at 8:58 pm