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The wrath of uppity

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Final plans for a £900 million railway between the Great Western main line and Heathrow Airport have been released, BBC News reported on 11 May.

[‘Heathrow rail link plan unveiled by Network Rail’, BBC]

The most-detailed proposals yet for the link, subject to planning permission, include a 3.1 mile (5km) tunnel from the main line between Langley and Iver railway stations to Heathrow Terminal 5.

The proposal would allow people living to the west of Heathrow to travel direct to the airport, instead of having to go into London.

The consultation will end on 22 June.

Network Rail said journeys from Slough could take “six or seven minutes” to get to the airport, with trains from Reading taking 26 minutes.

The idea for the rail link has been on [the] table since 2012, but plans have been adjusted following previous public consultations and its cost has risen from £500m in 2014.

How do these official estimates compare with those for the government’s high speed rail project?

Scheme Estimate
as of
2014 (£m)
as of
2018 (£m)
Increase (%)
 Heathrow, ‘Wrath’ 500 900 80
 HS2, ‘Core programme’ 50100 55700 11

Written by beleben

May 22, 2018 at 10:22 am

Posted in Railways

Working at breakneck speed

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Another Barry White facepalm momentTransport for the North is aiming to take ‘a fresh approach to transport’ in its forthcoming plan for transport in northern England, chief executive Barry White told the All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group on May 15.

[Railway Gazette, 18 May 2018]

A particular focus is on developing a transport network which would support ‘employment liquidity’, defined as making it easier for people to change jobs and lowering the risk of trying out new opportunities. White said London very successfully provides this liquidity, but in the north of England poor connectivity means people often feel they would need to move house to accept a job in another town, which creates a barrier that is holding back both employees and employers.

Mr White said TfN was ‘working at breakneck speed’ to prepare a high level plan for the cost, scope and business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail which will be submitted to the Secretary of State at the end of this year.

When one is not enough


He stressed these would be ‘high level concepts rather than detailed route options’. Speed is not an end in itself, White emphasised, and is often used in public discussion as a proxy for frequency and capacity. If you are going to build extra capacity, it makes sense to build for speed too, he believes.

The Beleben blog was under the impression that (absurd) ‘high level concepts’ have been in existence for years. In fact, they predate Transport for the North itself. So what this ‘breakneck speed’ cobblers is all about, is anyone’s guess.

Equally perplexing is the ’employment liquidity’ shizzle, which, apparently, was dreamt up after the TfN Strategic Transport Plan was closed to public consultation.

‘Employment liquidity’, for whom?

Written by beleben

May 20, 2018 at 11:09 am

The roll of comparison

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Ever wondered why UK railway electrification costs were high compared to the rest of Europe (aside from issues like density of use of the network), and if a rolling programme of electrification could reduce costs? A graph of annual kilometres electrified in the UK and Germany might start to explain the answers, @NoelDolphin suggested.

twitter, @NoelDolphin, 'Ever wondered why UK electrification costs were high compared to rest of Europe (aside from issues like density of use of our network), and if a rolling programme of electrification could reduce costs. This graph might start to explain the answers'

In Mr Dolphin’s UK – Germany graph, it is not immediately obvious whether ‘kilometres’ means route-km or track-km, or whether ‘Germany’ pre-1991 includes the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). In the 1980s, the Deutsche Reichsbahn der DDR (DR) stepped up electrification of main lines across the country (not westwards, for political reasons).

Stamps_of_Germany_DDR_1985,_MiNr_2970 (Wikipedia)

Regarding the UK plot, questions might arise from the exclusion of HS1 and the effective  ‘re-electrification’ of significant portions of the West Coast Main Line, under its modernisation programme.

Written by beleben

May 18, 2018 at 10:26 am

Posted in Railways

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

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