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Jolly good tram research

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Edinburgh councillors and officials are planning a tour of tram projects around the UK “to learn from their experience”, reported The Scotsman’s Ian Swanson (Friday, 22 February 2013).

Up to nine elected representatives and officials from the Capital will travel to Manchester, Nottingham and Dublin to see what lessons can be learned from cities which appear to have made a success of trams. Sheffield and Luton may also be included.

The city council’s policy and strategy committee will be asked next week to approve the trips.
[…]
It said the visits, expected to take place in March and April, would include the transport convener and vice-convener, the tram media manager and “up to two other appropriate officers”, with the tram manager also expected to go and opposition transport spokespeople to be invited.

But opposition politicians voiced scepticism about a “grand tour” which could be viewed by the public as “jollies”.

It’s far too late in the day for this type of visit to be any use. The die is cast.

Written by beleben

February 24, 2013 at 11:34 pm

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Fans of the Underground

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Northern Line at Euston

London’s Underground is carrying record numbers of passengers. According to Transport for London’s 2011/2012 – 2014/2015 business plan, the Underground was programmed to carry 1.133 billion passengers and run 72.4 million train kilometres in 2011/2012. For 2014/2015, the corresponding figures are 82.4 million kilometres, and 1.245 billion passengers.

One of the problems arising from increasing usage is the control of temperature on the deep level lines. On the Metropolitan, District, and Circle, things are simpler due to their proximity to the surface, and the larger size of the tunnels and trains. (Even LU sometimes uses the term ‘Tube’ to describe the entire Underground system, including the sub-surface lines.) A map of Underground temperatures, recorded on 28 July 2008 in zones one and two, showed that the Central Line was the hottest, with temperatures of 32℃ between Holland Park and Mile End, and several other lines were at 29℃ or above.

In July 2003, the BBC covered TfL’s offer of a £100,000 prize for a cool idea for the tube.

London Underground has long grappled with the problem of how to cool narrow tunnels — some built more than a century ago — which lie up to 60 metres below London’s busy streets. So far, no solution has been found.

Now a £100,000 prize is being offered to anyone present Mayor Ken Livingstone with an answer to tube passengers’ summer woes. “But so far it has stumped everyone,” says the mayor.

The main problems are; that the Tube tunnels are only just large enough to accommodate the train carriages with no room left for bolted on air conditioning units; and that even if the carriages were cooled down this could dangerously transfer the heat to the tunnels.

Sinking huge ventilation shafts would be prohibitively expensive and unpopular with people living above the Tube.

But by May 2005, London Underground had determined that not one of the 3,500 prize entries was ‘original and workable’. It’s possible that the competition was just mayoral adware; a couple of years later, LU admitted that they had allowed a ‘number’ of ventilation fans to fall into disrepair, so it’s not clear how temperature figured in their priorities. TfL’s 2008 presentation on tube cooling seemed to be largely concerned with perceptual aspects, and ‘quick wins’.

According to the November/December 2007 article in Plant Engineer

[on the Underground] primary heat sources are 38% braking losses, 22% mechanical, 16% drivetrain, 13% train auxiliaries, 4% tunnel support systems, 3% passengers in trains and 4% passengers on stations. As for thermal losses, 79% goes into the tunnel walls, while 11% goes into tunnels – due to the piston effect of the trains – and the remaining 10% is removed by ventilation. The nub of the problem is that the biggest heat sink is failing as the temperature behind the walls rises way back into the clay. It’s now sitting at between 5℃ and 11℃ above the natural ambient of 14℃.

The Railway Technology article ‘London Underground Enters the Ice Age’ (24 October 2008) quoted LU Tunnel Cooling Programme director Kevin Payne on the difficulties of air conditioning the deep level lines.

TfL estimates that air-conditioning could increase energy consumption by as much as 10 – 15% in the tunnels. “If we add conventional air-conditioning and for some reason the train comes to rest inside the tunnel, the temperature inside and outside the tunnel will continue to rise and the air-conditioning unit will be forced to consume more energy,” says Payne. “Quite rapidly, the system won’t be able to cope and the temperature inside will rise steeply. There is genuine concern about excessive temperatures if we do nothing but add conventional air-con.”

Accepting this fact, TfL’s Tunnel Cooling Programme team has come up with an alternative solution it calls ‘Hydro Cooling’. Although in its relatively early development stage, the concept is based on reservation and refrigeration techniques that would build a reservoir of ice when the train surfaces at a station. Once in the tunnel below ground, the refrigeration system could be turned off and the system would draw on the reservoir of ice and circulate it via a fan coil unit.

Although the self-sufficient nature of the concept is a unique fit to the deep underground dilemma, the additional weight and mass caused by transporting blocks of ice onboard the carriages is a noticeable drawback.

“We have reached a stage where we have a full-scale cross-section mock up of a tube car fitted with the system. Although the current ice-building system we have is not railway rugged, a huge amount of work has been done to redesign the layout of the carriage in order to accommodate the fan coil unit that will take the warm air out and blow cold air back out,” says Payne.

The usefulness of research into using Hydro Cooling and blocks of ice (etc) remains to be seen, and it’s not clear whether these concepts are still being pursued. I’d have thought that since much of the heat arises from accelerating and braking the trains, a more promising way of cooling the future Underground would be to reduce mass in new rolling stock designs. In recent years, train energy consumption, and weight, has not really been on the London Underground radar. And for lines with long below-ground sections, there would seem to be no getting away from the need for sufficient deep ventilation shafts.

Written by beleben

July 11, 2012 at 10:54 am

Correspondance gauche

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Birmingham, tunnel between Smallbrook Queeensway and Moor Street Queensway

Apologists for bad interchange: Alex Burrows and Martin DyerFor people arriving at Curzon Street in the rear of a captive HS2 train, the distance to a New Street connecting train would be over 1 kilometre. But following Monday’s Inside Out television ‘special’, HS2 spinnerati defended the comical Birmingham interchange arrangements on social media.

Martin Dyer, a pro-HS2 speaker at the March 2011 FOE/SWM debate, tweeted that it takes him 4 minutes to get from Moor Street to New Street.

Like lots of other people, I can walk between Snow Hill and New Street stations in around five minutes. According to Centro, however, their connectedness is so poor that a 700 yard Midland Metro tram link between them is a “regional economic priority“, and will create “thousands of jobs”. Trams would run every 6 minutes in the daytime, so the average wait would be 3 minutes, and the on-tram journey via Corporation Street is… 3 minutes. Did I mention that the ‘Snow Hill’ tram stop is going to be moved away from the station, to St Chad’s Circus? Great connectivity(?), great time saving(?), worth digging up Birmingham city centre for(?), diverting 35 bus routes at a cost of £14 million(?), and every penny of £129 million of public cash(?)

I’d have thought good interchange for long distance travellers would be more important than for Snow Hill (mainly commuters), for several reasons. Such as:

  • long distance travellers are more likely to be encumbered with luggage, and
  • are less likely to be familiar with navigating central Birmingham
  • (etc).

Not to mention that a lot of businessmen (HS2’s primary market) make Eric Pickles look like slimmer of the year. I’m not too sure they’d be able to get from Curzon Street to New Street in 4 minutes.

With Centro expending so much effort defending hamfisted, boneheaded infrastructure, it’s no wonder that the West Midlands public transport system is such a mess.

Written by beleben

December 7, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Signing the Camp Hill Accords

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Birmingham business leaders have been told that the city is on target to “deliver an £800 million revolution in city centre transport links”, reported the Birmingham Post. The council’s assistant director of transport strategy, David Bull

highlighted a range of longer term projects such as further Metro lines, the redevelopment of Paradise Circus and the reopening of the Camp Hill Accords are likely to further boost Birmingham’s profile as a connected business city.

I’m not aware of there ever having been any “Camp Hill Accords”. However, construction of a Birmingham Crossrail regional express system would require the construction of Camp Hill (Bordesley) chords, and a chord at Benson Road (Winson Green). But it’s unlikely that such a connected local rail system would ever materialise, so long as Centro continues to exist.

Written by beleben

November 11, 2011 at 4:33 pm

HS2 and Liverpool

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Under the government’s plan for HS2 stage one (‘HS2WM’, London to Birmingham), various towns in the North West would be served by ‘classic compatible’ trains running onto the West Coast Main Line (WCML). However, in the second stage Y-network (‘HS2YN’), fast services would be switched away from the WCML to new build track, with only Manchester directly served.

Liverpool’s Daily Post reported the Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority‘s concern that this could be to the city’s disadvantage:

LIVERPOOL could lose trade to its Manchester neighbour if a high-speed rail link to London goes ahead as currently planned, it was warned last night.
[…]
Trains would slow to conventional speed just south of Manchester, but would still slash London-Liverpool journey times from 2hrs 10mins to 1hr 38mins.

The journey time from the capital to Manchester will be cut to just 1hr 10mins.

“This will act as a significant incentive to businesses to consider locating in Manchester rather than Liverpool,” Merseytravel said in its official response to the government consultation.

Merseytravel said the timetable to build it over 20 years is too slow and because the line does not come to Liverpool its position relative to Manchester and Birmingham will be undermined.

David Begg’s Biz4HS2 campaign responded to the Daily Post:

August 30, 2011

Last week, we wrote to the editor of the Liverpool Daily Post, in response to their article entitled ‘Liverpool could lose business to Manchester under high-speed rail plans’ on 22 August 2011. Our letter was not printed, but can be read in full below.

Dear Editor,

In response to your article on high-speed rail dated 22 August 2011, it is important to understand the devastating impact for Liverpool if the line were not to go ahead.

HS2 would provide two regular high-speed services to Liverpool per hour, alongside the existing hourly service on the conventional line. As a bonus, journey times to London would be shortened by over half an hour.

However, under the alternative proposal, known as Rail Package 2, Liverpool would see these services halved with only one regular hourly service from London, and one additional service every two hours. There would be no improved journey times and increased chances of delays on a clogged-up Victorian network that is close to bursting.

Only the increased connectivity that HS2 would provide will enable Liverpool to unlock its full economic potential. Research suggests that HS2 would support the creation of 38,900 jobs in Liverpool and 76,600 in the surrounding areas.

It is clearly a no-brainer. The people of Liverpool need to show their support of high-speed rail, and help push through a project that Liverpool will reap the rewards from for generations to come.

Professor David Begg

Director, Campaign for High-Speed Rail

Under HS2 stage one, the journey from London to Liverpool is 110 minutes, not 98 minutes. So the Daily Post article, and Mr Begg’s claim that “journey times to London would be shortened by over half an hour” are incorrect. And Rail Package 2 is not “the” alternative proposal, it’s “an” alternative proposal, designed by the high speed rail lobby (in the shape of Atkins).

HS2 has little to offer Merseyside. In stage one, by running trains non-stop south of the North West, London is reached 20 minutes quicker. But London is the only destination with a shorter journey time.

In stage two (HS2YN), Manchester trains switch to new build track, removing Stockport and Stoke-on-Trent from the fast network. Exactly what would happen to Liverpool (and Warrington and Runcorn) services is unknown, as HS2YN would create a large amount of surplus rail capacity north of the Trent Valley. If Liverpool trains were not routed via the Y-leg to Manchester, the new build line would only be carrying around three Manchester, and two beyond-Manchester, trains each hour.

Whatever happens, it’s highly likely that Liverpool would be disadvantaged compared with Manchester, by HS2. Secondary towns in the provinces are likely losers under Adonis/Steer high speed rail. At the national level, HS2 is London-centric, and at the regional level, it is Manchester- and Leeds-centric. As Greengauge 21’s High Speed Two interfaces states:

The number of stations needed on the HSR network could be as low as one per region.

For the North West Region, “one per region” means a station in Manchester, and no station in Liverpool. If Merseyside politicians don’t like the “logic” of HS2, why support the policy? After all, sensible rail improvement products are available.

Written by beleben

September 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Bore underground

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Having expressed interest in November 2010, former Birmingham council leader Albert Bore has launched his campaign for the Birmingham mayoralty, the BBC reported.

Birmingham and Coventry are among 12 English cities where councils could hold referenda next May as part of the Localism Bill going through Parliament.
[…]
Sir Albert, who once led the council before it became a Conservative and Lib Dem coalition, said the city would “benefit hugely” from the new position.

He said: “The Localism Bill is still on its way through Parliament, and, whilst there may well be changes to aspects of the Bill relating to the elected mayor issues, it’s almost certain that in 2012 there will be a referendum on whether Birmingham and other major cities should have directly elected mayors.

The Birmingham Post noted that Mr Bore launched his bid with hints of another underground railway plan:

He said: “Birmingham must be the largest city in Europe which does not have 21st century transport infrastructure. We have failed, over many decades now.
[…]
“I have not ruled out an underground system, the problem when it was looked at before was it was presented as the only solution,” he added.

When a Birmingham “underground” system was last “looked at”, it was Conservative leader Mike Whitby who was enthusiastic, although it was never clear what form it would take, or what it was supposed to achieve.

With an elected mayor, things can happen. But it’s also possible that further concentration of power could just magnify the grandstanding, gimmickry, and accountability issues present in the existing politburo (‘cabinet’) system.

According to company director Julia Higginbottom, of the nascent ‘let’s-have-a-Birmingham-mayor’ campaign

“The one thing we all agree is that an elected mayor is a good thing. It would produce better leadership and greater democratic accountability.”

She wants the campaign to avoid the pitfalls of the recent electoral reform referendum “in which mud-slinging, personalities and misinformation dominated”.

Mayoral local government, but no mud-slinging or domineering personalities? Good luck with that.

Politik über alles

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Hallerbachtalbruecke by chriusha, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hallerbachtalbruecke_01_10.jpg (Creative Commons 3.0)
Picture: Hallerbachtal bridge of the high-speed rail line Cologne–Frankfurt near Neustadt (Wied); Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

Both Jim Steer’s Greengauge 21 and David Begg’s Commission for Integrated Transport have acknowledged that the benefits of high speed rail over short distances are ‘limited’. For example, in its 2009 high speed rail factsheet, the CfIT stated that

The most practical rail routes which allow trains to compete most effectively with cars and planes are on journeys of between 180 and 360 miles

In the HS2WM project, the only two cities connected by the dedicated high speed track are London and Birmingham, about 175 kilometres apart. And with a rural station (Bickenhill) miles from the area it purports to serve, HS2WM seems a good fit for the ‘little advantage’ scenario described in the CfIT’s High-speed rail: international comparisons:

for journeys of less than about 150km, high speed rail offers little advantage over conventional rail and may, depending on the location of stations, be less convenient for most passengers

However, Mr Steer has gone on to contradict his earlier pronouncements – with the Greengauge 21 website applauding the largely empty sub-150 km HS1 service operated by Southeastern. Likewise, Mr Begg’s Campaign for High Speed Rail has recently claimed that the ‘best’ high speed line is the short distance Frankfurt to Cologne Neubaustrecke (NBS):

those who claim that the UK is too small to support a high-speed rail network should look at the evidence – the best high-speed line runs from Frankfurt-Cologne, about the same distance from London-Birmingham.

It’s worth checking out whether the NBS Köln–Rhein/Main is the success that Mr Begg claims it to be. Some background is given in the German OMEGA team’s New ICE Cologne–Rhine/Main line report and the article in the German Wikipedia. More than forty years ago, West Germany’s state railway, Deutsche Bundesbahn (DB), was drawing up plans for a new railway linking Cologne and Frankfurt. These cities were already connected by three railways, including two twin track electric lines following the banks of the Rhine that carried a high volume of domestic local and long distance passenger traffic (as well as hefty international passenger and freight traffic). But trains following the Rhine valley could not reach very high speeds.

DB’s new line plans were eventually formalised as the 1973 Neubaustrecke Köln – Groß-Gerau, a route designed for mixed traffic (passenger and freight trains) having a maximum incline of 1.25 to 2 percent. Environmental and economic concerns stymied progress, and by the mid 1980s, even a magnetic levitation line was briefly under consideration as an alternative. The maglev option was discarded, but by the time construction got underway in 1995, the now-Deutsche Bahn Neubaustrecke Köln-Rhein/Main had a new name, a new 177-kilometre route, a different purpose, and a different specification (as a purely passenger railway). As with HS2 in Britain, the NBSKRM was shaped by politics rather than transport considerations. Major cities such as Bonn, Mainz, and Wiesbaden were by-passed by the NBS, but the much smaller towns of Montabaur and Limburg were able to get stations built on it.

The major part of the line was opened in 2002, but this did not include additional uncompleted works on the Cologne approaches, intended to permit a headline journey time of 58 minutes from Frankfurt. The maximum incline of 4 percent made NBSKRM the steepest high speed line in the world. Only very high power trains could use it, so in practice ‘interoperability’ was restricted to ICE3 rolling stock.

On the other hand, the minimum radius of 3320 metres and maximum speed of 300 km/h were specified so that it would be possible to follow an existing transport corridor, so as to “concentrate environmental impact”. Nevertheless, construction involved extensive tunnels and viaducts, and slab track, bringing costs over 6 billion euro (circa £4 to £5.5 billion, depending on the exchange rate used) and the resulting disruption and inconvenience affected other transport links, such as the A3 autobahn.

Even with the lower 300 km/h line speed and the existing approaches in Cologne, NBSKRM provided a ‘headline’ cut in journey time from 135 to 70 minutes (a much larger journey time saving than the 82-minute to 49-minute HS2 saving between London and the West Midlands). With respect to door to door time savings, the situation is mixed. Compared with the planned HS2, the NBS has lower frequencies (meaning a longer embedded wait component), but the quality of its end connections, at least in Frankfurt and Cologne, could be viewed as being much better than the British equivalent.

The intermediate small town stations on the NBSKRM make no sense in economic terms, illustrating that, as in Britain, high speed rail in Germany is largely driven by political considerations. With HS1, the political momentum was for providing (nonsensical) domestic stops (e.g., Ebbsfleet) as justification for using public funds to build it. With HS2, a different political impetus is at work, focused on (nonsensical) headline speed. So no HS1-style intermediate stations, and no NBS-style following of existing transport corridors (e.g. the M40, or the Great Central route through Woodford and Rugby).

Germany did not have a Beeching style mass closure of railways, so the very inefficient utilisation of the NBSKRM does not manifest itself in capacity shortages. There are three other lines in place between Frankfurt and Cologne.

NBSKRM and HS2WM compared

NBSKRM features

  • linespeed 300 km/h – a speed expressly rejected in the British government’s HS2 scheme, whose ‘business case’ was said to be critically dependent on a minimum speed of 350 km/h
  • follows an existing transport corridor – an idea rejected in the British government’s HS2 scheme, because of the ‘business case’ speed dependency
  • integrated with other public transport, high quality end connections
  • no provision for freight services
  • intermediate stations in small towns
  • more than 50% improvement in headline journey time between endpoints (on completion)
  • serves existing rail termini in urban areas (Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof and Cologne Hauptbahnhof), no large scale urban reconstruction needed.