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How much latent capacity

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Virgin Trains, the operator of intercity trains from London to major cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, Preston and Glasgow, recorded 39.5 million journeys over the last year (2018/2019), compared to 14 million in 1997, when it took over the West Coast route. Based on the last six years of growth, passenger journeys would reach 55 million in 2026, ‘when HS2 is due to open’, if growth were unconstrained.

This announcement came as a new report by Campaign for Better Transport [CBT], Transformation of the West Coast Mainline, found that upgrades to the service, including the Virgin High Frequency timetable, had led to 7 million fewer car journeys a year between London and Manchester (etc).

'Virgin Trains on course for 50m passengers ahead of HS2 after breaking new records'

The increase from 14 million to a possible 50+ million annual ‘intercity’ passengers is an indicator of how much latent capacity there was — and is — on the West Coast tracks. HS2 is not mentioned in the main text of the CBT report, and available information suggests that it is not required to meet foreseeable future demand, even in the Department for Transport’s so-called Higher Growth scenario.

As an aside, there must be a question mark over the CBT claim that the enhanced West Coast service has led to ‘7 million fewer car journeys a year between London and Manchester’.

How was that number arrived at? Are there even 7 million rail journeys a year — in total — between those two cities?


Written by beleben

April 5, 2019 at 10:13 am

Posted in Politics, Railways

People’s rail versus vanity rail

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The government’s planned HS2 high-speed railway would make the UK even more divided and should be cancelled in favour of boosting services in the less well-off parts of the country, the New Economics Foundation said, in a report published on 20 March.

'HS2 would widen UK north-south divide and should be axed, says report', The Guardian, 19 Mar 2019

The report, which was commissioned by Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, was also covered by The Times.

The Times, 'HS2 will deepen regional divide as north loses out'

And the Daily Express.

Daily Express, New Economics Foundation HS2 story, March 2019

The analysis looks strong on the big-picture issues, but there is the odd blooper / WTF (for example, on page 14, it says “the capacity of Pendolino Class 390 trains is around 390”).

Following a shambolic 18 months on the railways, with disastrous timetable
changes, the wrong kind of weather, and the cancellation of planned
electrification schemes, the government has launched a ‘root and branch’ review.
However, the review is missing some key roots and branches, two of them being HS2 and the latest package of maintenance and upgrades agreed with Network Rail. These have been deemed out of scope but should be included.

There are two fundamental problems with the railways in the UK that, in the interests of ensuring immediate and long-term value for public money, need
addressing before the much-needed major investment is committed. The first is the absence of an overarching rail or transport strategy, which leaves HS2 looking like the solution to a problem that has not yet been defined. It is what many in the rail industry call an engineering-led project rather than something that enjoys strong strategic or economic justification. The second fundamental problem is the chaotic ownership and management structures that will almost certainly lead to the squandering of investment capital.

Written by beleben

March 20, 2019 at 11:41 am

Posted in HS2, Politics, Railways

Chords and effect

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In October 2014, the Beleben blog questioned Network Rail’s claim that the Ordsall chord in Manchester would “improve capacity and enable faster, more frequent services between towns and cities across the north”., 'Ordsall chord will cut congestion and boost services'

Politicians, and the mainstream and railway press, were largely taken in by this guff, until the chord actually opened. Now, some of them believe the reason the chord doesn’t ‘work’, is because ‘Manchester Piccadilly platforms 15 and 16 haven’t been built’.

In Birmingham, another curious scheme to ‘increase capacity’ — the ‘Midlands Rail Hub’, backed by Midlands Connect — received mucho uncritical coverage in the railway press.

Midlands Connect, Midlands Rail Hub, Mar 2017

Centrepiece of the Midlands Rail Hub was the construction of a railway junction in mid-air at Bordesley, to allow trains from the directions of both Water Orton and Kings Norton to run into bay platforms at Moor Street station. An idea described by the Beleben blog as a ‘highly unlikely proposition’.

Beleben blogpost about the Camp Hill chords, 27 Sep 2018

Now, it would appear that Midlands Connect have (very quietly) dropped their idea of the Camp Hill chords — meaning that the term ‘Midlands Rail Hub’ refers to a very different project to what it did only a few months ago.

Midlands Connect, depiction of Birmingham rail projects, work in progress, Feb 2019

Written by beleben

March 5, 2019 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Railways

Unjustified and ancient

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Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood ‘can see no prospect of replacement or upgrade of ancient [Inter City 125] stock’ in the East Midlands, by the January 2020 accessibility deadline.

twitter @LilianGreenwood, 'Minister failed to answer my question on whether all UK trains will meet accessibility standards by 1 January 2020 deadline. Government & industry have had 20 years to prepare but can see no prospect of replacement or upgrade of our ancient BR stock in East Midlands by then.'

The indications are that responsibility lies mostly with transport secretary Chris Grayling. The accessibility deadline has been in place for years, so how can he justify his failure to plan for it?

In the view of the Beleben blog, the East Midlands 125s could all be brought up to a ‘minimum sufficient accessibility’ standard by equipping just one carriage in each Mk3 rake with power doors and an accessible toilet. But even if these refits were done outside the UK, the January 2020 deadline now looks unachievable.

Written by beleben

February 15, 2019 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Politics, Railways

To maximise rail capacity, do not build HS2

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A survey of more than 2,000 people published today found that only 12 per cent believe HS2 represents “good value for taxpayers’ money” (The Times reported on 11 February).

[Cost of HS2 never properly analysed, warns rail expert, The Times, 11 February 2019][…]

The government defended the scheme, which is already being built by about 7,000 employees working on the line. It said that more capacity was needed on the main north-south rail route in England and insisted that HS2 would drive economic growth.

HS2 is not needed to provide ‘more capacity on the main north-south rail route’, nor is there any evidence that it is a good way to ‘drive economic growth’.

The most cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to increase intercity and commuter capacity on the West Coast main line, is to use higher capacity trains.

Comparison of Class 700 and Class 350/2 Standard train capacities (240-metre train)

For example, using 12-car trains similar to the Class 700 running out of St Pancras would increase Standard passenger capacity on Euston’s commuter services by ~65% (assuming Euston’s existing commuter services are 12-car Class 350 trains).

In fact, many Euston commuter services in the peak are not ‘full length’ 12 cars, so the potential capacity increase from this measure alone would be more than 65%.

As has been pointed out on the Beleben blog, space-efficient trains could also meet all foreseeable requirements for intercity capacity on the West Coast route. The £56+ billion freed up by not building HS2 could be redirected to numerous better projects, such as creating S-Bahn systems in Leeds and Manchester, and a ‘Northern counties rail’ network across the North of England.

Quicksilver media HS2 poll, Feb 2019

Written by beleben

February 11, 2019 at 2:26 pm

Posted in HS2, Politics, Railways

Greengauge HS2 landtake muddle

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In its 2018 investigation of property acquisition for the HS2 railway, the National Audit Office noted that about 70 square kilometres of land was needed for phase one.

NAO, HS2, land and property acquisition, 13 Sep 2018 (extract)

But according to Jim Steer’s Greengauge 21 blog (25 July 2013), the land needed would be 11.7 square kilometres.

GG21, HS2 land take, 25 Jul 2013

At least one of these estimates must be incorrect. So, who might be more reliable?

Jim has a track record of getting things wrong (see, for example, his early claims for the cost of HS2). In this case, his error seems to have been getting his designer to make up a fancy graphic, using figures from an unreliable blog.

Written by beleben

January 17, 2019 at 12:17 pm

Posted in HS2, Railways

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