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Andy ‘promised to be upfront’

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Transparency shortcomings of metro mayor Andy Street’s West Midlands Combined Authority extend well beyond the mayor’s office, the Beleben blog noted on October 19, 2018. Now, the topic seems to be receiving some wider coverage.

Birmingham Live, 'West Midlands Combined Authority will not identify consultants earning fortunes'

According to Birmingham Live, Mr Street “promised to be upfront about meetings, gifts and expenses”, but it took two years for such information to appear on the WMCA website.

Written by beleben

January 23, 2019 at 5:32 pm

Misinformation from the top

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In March 2016 the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said HS2 Ltd’s culture of “defensive communication and misinformation” was “not acceptable”.

HS2 Ltd's claims about integrity and transparency

The chief executive of HS2 Ltd, Simon Kirby, seems to be a key enabler of the ‘culture of misinformation’. In an article published by The Rail Engineer on 29 April, Mr Kirby claimed that

  • a twin-track high speed railway like HS2 would provide more line capacity than a twin-track conventional one
  • HS2 would take 500,000 lorries a year off the roads, ‘with the freight capacity we create on the West Coast line because we’ve got high-speed trains on the high speed network’.

[Taking HS2 to completion, Nigel Wordsworth’s interview with HS2 Ltd chief executive Simon Kirby, The Rail Engineer, 29 April 2016]

[…] Despite its name, High Speed 2 isn’t just about high speed – it’s about capacity. Pulling long-distance passenger traffic off the West Coast main line and onto a new railway will leave more room on the ‘old’ lines for stopping trains, commuters and freight.

[…] Some people have questioned whether a high-speed railway is strictly necessary. If a conventional railway, with a speed of, say, 140mph, were to be built instead. Wouldn’t that do just as well?

“Most of the characteristics are the same for any type of new railway, the aesthetics of bridges and the substructure are the same,” Simon replied. “One of the challenges we all have as an industry is taking people into the world of three or four per cent passenger growth and imagining what the industry looks like in 10 or 20 years’ time. Half of the trains out of Euston by the end of this decade will be full, and that’s with standing provisions as well. So we’d need a four track railway from Euston to Birmingham, not a two track one, because the speeds are slower and the capacity is less.

When asked about line capacity of high speed and conventional railways in freedom of information requests, HS2 Ltd has been unable to provide any evidence to support Mr Kirby’s claim, or a similar one by the chairman, David Higgins.

Line capacity misinformation given by HS2 chairman David Higgins

According to a diagram produced by HS2 Ltd’s technical director Andrew McNaughton, long distance trains would not be removed from the West Coast Main Line when HS2 became operational.

Andrew McNaughton, 'HS2 released capacity' slide, 2015

In October 2013, Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that the government would “aim to ensure” that all towns or cities which currently have a direct service to London will retain broadly comparable or better services once HS2 is completed, and intended to launch “a study to recommend how this can be done”. How could it be done, without retaining long distance services on the existing line?

Written by beleben

May 9, 2016 at 10:50 am

Chiltern electrification versus HS2

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Another cost-effective way of increasing north – south rail capacity would involve electrification of the Chiltern Main Line to Birmingham Snow Hill.

At present, four Heathrow Express trains run each hour from London’s Paddington station to the airport, but when Crossrail 1 becomes operational, the case for the wasteful Heathrow Express should weaken further.

The capacity freed at Paddington from discontinuing Heathrow Express could be used to run an IEP-type train to Birmingham Snow Hill, via the New North Main Line and Bicester cutoff, every 15 minutes.

As can be seen from the table below, a more intensive use of existing infrastructure has the potential to meet any foreseeable demand between London and Birmingham.

Route Train type Trains / hour
Seats / hour
Euston – Birmingham Curzon
Street (With-HS2 scenario)
HS2 captive 2 * 200-metre 3 3300
Euston – Coventry –
Birmingham New Street
(With-HS2 scenario)
11-car Pendolino 2 1178
(With-HS2 scenario)
Euston – Coventry –
Birmingham New Street
(No HS2)
260-metre IEP equivalent
(715 seats)
4 2860
Paddington – Birmingham
Snow Hill, via Bicester cutoff (No HS2)
260-metre IEP equivalent
(715 seats)
4 2860
Total (No HS2) 5720

Written by beleben

March 21, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Two lots of subsidy

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HS2 Ltd says there would be “no room” for a Birmingham Curzon Street — Beeston — Nottingham train service using part of the proposed Y network’s eastern leg between Birmingham and Trent, according to a Nottinghamshire council briefing. (The route of the eastern leg manages to miss Derby, Nottingham, and Sheffield city centres, passes East Midlands Airport but has no station there, and jeopardises the possibility of a regional metro in Leeds.)

Connecting the classic and HS2 lines near Trent would cost “£195 million”, but there is no information as to the rolling stock requirement. Because a Birmingham — Nottingham high speed service would not serve places like Burton on Trent or Derby, there would need to be two lots of subsidy, one for the existing train, and one for the HS2 service.


Date 11 March 2016

Agenda item number 7



Purpose of the report

1. To update the Committee on key rail issues in and into Greater Nottingham and rail services across local authority boundaries. The work of the two Councils, although separate, is complementary, and of mutual benefit.


2. In 2014, the executive chairman of HS2 ltd, Sir David Higgins, announced that ”I am now proposing we investigate alternative station sites to the west of Toton”.

3. Very strong representations were made by both Councils pointing out that, because a station further to the west would be more difficult to access from the whole of the Greater Nottingham conurbation, it would attract significantly fewer passengers and generate significantly less benefit for the regional economy as a whole.

4. Further work by HS2 ltd confirmed what the Councils had said (i.e. that a station further west would have fewer passengers/revenue and generate less benefit to the wider economy). It also established that the supposed reduction in capital cost of a station further west was much less than had originally been anticipated. So, in July Sir David Higgins announced HS2 now accepted Toton as the preferred location.

5. In his autumn statement on November 26th the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP, provided £55.7 billion (at 2015 prices) to fund the entire HS2 network, including the Eastern leg and the East Midlands Hub station.

6. On November 30th, DfT published a ‘Command Paper’ (similar to a White Paper) which stated “The Government therefore continues to support Toton as the best location for an East Midlands Hub”.

7. These recent developments are very encouraging in that they confirm

• that the government remains fully committed to building phase 2 of HS2, including an Eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds, with an East Midlands Hub station;

• that both HS2 ltd and the Government accept the fact that the best location for the East Midlands Hub station is at Toton; and

• that the funding is in place for both the Eastern leg and a station at Toton

However this does not yet constitute final approval for the Eastern leg to be built. A final decision on this will only be made when the Government makes a formal announcement of its view of all the representations that were made during the consultation process. Announcement of that Government decision is expected towards the end of 2016.

8. In the meantime work continues to develop the detail of:

• the arrangements for the station at Toton,

• the arrangements for access to/from Toton by all transport modes (road, rail, tram, bus, taxi, cycling and walking); and

• for the development of the area around it and the wider region to maximise the economic benefits of HS2.

An East Midlands HS2 Programme Board, containing representatives of all the relevant Councils, plus other stakeholders (including D2N2 LEP) meets on a monthly basis to oversee this work.

There are also two subgroups: a Toton Station Board, and a Toton Connectivity Working Group (now called HS2 Growth Strategy), both of which meet on a regular basis. Minutes of the HS2 Programme Board are available on request for any joint committee member who might wish to have them.

9. HS2 ltd is represented at all of those meetings (i.e. the Programme Board, the Station Board and the Growth Strategy). The two Councils also continue to meet and liaise with HS2 ltd as required in between meetings.

10. One particular issue being pressed very hard by both Councils is the need for a direct city-centre to city-centre service from the existing Nottingham station to Birmingham Curzon Street, calling at Beeston (for the adjacent Enterprise Zone). HS2 ltd has confirmed that such a service would be possible with a journey time of under 30 minutes. This would be the biggest percentage reduction in journey time between any two cities on the entire HS2 network.

11. Such a direct Nottingham city centre – Beeston – Birmingham city centre service would run on the existing rail network from Nottingham as far as Attenborough/Trent where it would require the construction of a connection between the existing rail network and the new HS2 line. HS2 ltd has confirmed that it has assessed this and that it would be possible to build such a connection at an estimated cost of £195 million (in 2011 prices).

12. In October 2014, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the government was adding to the HS2 plans a further highspeed link – called HS3 – to transform East-West connectivity between the three biggest cities in the north of England (i.e. Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield), at a cost of between £6 – 7 billion. 13. However, provision of such an East-West link in the Midlands is not currently included in the HS2 plans, despite the capital cost of £195 million being just 3% of the equivalent East-West link in the North of England which is being planned and funded.

14. In addition, HS2 ltd has recently claimed that there will be no room to fit in a Nottingham – Birmingham service on a 3km stretch of the new HS2 line on the outskirts of Birmingham. Despite being asked, HS2 ltd has not provided any detailed evidence to support that assertion, and officers of the two councils are urgently pursuing the matter.

Written by beleben

March 10, 2016 at 12:08 pm

The cost of HS2 travel

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The cost to passengers and non-users of British high speed rail has been a recurring topic on the Beleben blog. But “It is remarkable that in the debate on HS2 so little has been said about fares”, claimed Patrick Collinson (The Guardian, 2 Nov 2013).

Take the prices for travelling on our only existing high-speed track, HS1, that whizzes through the Kent countryside. If you live in Ashford, the opening of the line promised a huge improvement in train times into the capital. Sure enough, it now takes just 35 minutes into London St Pancras compared to the 61 minutes it takes on the former route into London Victoria.

But at what cost? A season ticket for commuters from Ashford to a London terminal using the old route, plus an onward journey on the tube, costs £4,996 a year. That’s a pretty staggering sum for a 54-mile journey (about the same as London to Brighton). But if you want to take the HS1 trains, and save half an hour, the cost rises to £6,360. A commuter paying 40% tax has to earn £10,600 a year just to pay to get into work (oh, and there’s a £700 to £900 a year bill to park at the station).

The Ashford example suggests that using HS1 costs 27% more than the fare structure of the existing railway, which I think we can rely on as a better indicator of what fares will be like on HS2 than what the politicians are telling us. The – so far – lacklustre economic gains that HS1 has brought to north Kent should also deflate some of the more ambitious claims about the impact of HS2 on northern cities.

What the Ashford example also highlights is how the price of season tickets in the UK remains a national disgrace. The last in-depth study that compared train prices across Europe was in 2009, but Passenger Focus, which commissioned the research, tells me the pattern of prices remains the same.

Mr Collinson mentioned the ‘pretty staggering sum’ asked of passengers for a 54-mile ride on Southeastern to Ashford, and the higher cost of Southeastern HighSpeed. But there’s another cost, shouldered by non-users — the direct and indirect subsidies paid to the Southeastern train operating company and HS1 Ltd. In 2012 – 2013 Southeastern received a subsidy assessed as being 13 pence per passenger mile, more than double that of Virgin Trains. So for an Ashford commuter, the current subsidy is worth around £70 a week, largely paid for by lower rate taxpayers.

In 2010 a thirty-year sale of the lease of HS1 raised £2.1 billion “for the taxpayer”. That was well under half what the line cost to build. But much of the value of the HS1 “returned to the taxpayer” through the sale was derived from the future value of *taxpayer payments to HS1 Ltd* (in the form of track access charges paid by subsidy-hungry Southeastern).

The rationale for providing season ticket holders with discounts for travelling at the busiest time of day is somewhat dubious. Is it a quantity discount, or for being a regular customer? In that case, presumably, people who buy lots of bread, or fill up with petrol regularly, at their local supermarket should get a discount too.

There’s no getting away from the fact that compared with the classic network, each passenger-kilometre of HS2 travel would cost considerably more to provide. The maintenance costs of very high speed track are higher, as are the traction energy costs. At 400 km/h, a train uses more than 3 times as much energy as at 200 km/h.

Written by beleben

November 2, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Old Oak Common in RP6

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In the Rail Package 6 concept, West Midlands intercity rail services would be transferred to the Chiltern / New North Main Line, freeing up three paths per hour on the West Coast tracks between Rugby and Euston. Electrification between Aynho Junction and Leamington Spa is part of the government’s proposed ‘Electric Spine’, so wiring Old Oak Common to Stourbridge could be completed by 2021.

With Maidenhead / Heathrow suburban services routed into Crossrail 1, there would be platforming released at Paddington for West Midlands intercity trains. However, if an intercity-to-Crossrail interchange station were built at Old Oak Common, some or all Birmingham services could terminate there instead.

Providing long platforms at Old Oak Common would also open up the possibility of running the Cornish and Scottish sleepers from there. In which case, the default routeing for future Scotrail night trains might become

Old Oak Common — [Bicester cut-off] — [Leamington Spa] — Birmingham Snow Hill — [Benson Road curve] — [Walsall] — [Rugeley] — [WCML] — Scotland.

Other routeing options would include [Leamington Spa] — [Coventry] — [Nuneaton] — Scotland (etc).

Removing Scotrail’s sleeper from the southern WCML would potentially allow longer overnight engineering possessions on that route, reducing both maintenance costs, and disruption. And of course, there would also be platform release at Euston.

Written by beleben

October 12, 2013 at 9:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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Stand up for HS2

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People must stand up for Britain’s high speed rail project.

The country’s most crowded railways are the London commuter services into Waterloo, Victoria, London Bridge, Liverpool Street, and Paddington. Building the HS2 line to the West Midlands and beyond would take billions of pounds of investment away from the most crowded parts of the legacy rail network, which is used by far more people. So redirecting funds to HS2 would entail more people standing, for longer.

And HS2 is not relevant for most people’s rail journeys in the Midlands, North, and Scotland. As can be seen from the National Rail Travel Survey, the vast majority of their trips are short distance intra-regional.

DfT national rail travel survey, Dec 2010-update (extract)

If £50 billion were spent on HS2, what are the chances of fixing antiquated rail links such as Liverpool — Kirkby — Wigan, or Manchester — Rochdale — Bradford?

Written by beleben

May 22, 2013 at 11:33 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2, Uncategorized

Tagged with

Low Speed One to High Speed Two

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Members of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority are to discuss HS2 disconnectivity at the meeting of 3 December 2012.

Centro WMITA meeting, 03 December 2012, item 17, HS2 high speed rail

The briefing paper states that Centro was tasked with convening a ‘HS2 Local Connectivity Group’.

4. […]The Group (whilst mindful of individual authorities’ positions on HS2), felt it was important to work together to establish one voice for the West Midlands on what schemes needed to be in place to ensure everyone can derive significant benefits from HS2.

5. The membership of the HS2 Local Connectivity Group is:

* Centro (Chair)

* Arup (as consultants for HS2 Ltd)

* Birmingham City Council

* Birmingham Airport

* Black Country Consortium

* Black Country Chamber of Commerce

* Coventry City Council

* Department for Transport

* Dudley MBC

* Highways Agency

* HS2 Ltd

* NEC Group

* Network Rail

* North Warwickshire District Council

* Sandwell MBC

* Solihull MBC

* Warwickshire County Council

* Walsall MBC

* Wolverhampton City Council

6. Since June 2012, the Group has been working together to develop a Local Connectivity Package which sets out the transport schemes that will be required by the West Midlands to support the required level of connectivity to the West Midlands’ HS2 stations from the whole region.

7. The Local Connectivity Package is currently in draft form (see attached Appendix A) and is intended to be published in early 2013. It is fully aligned with Metropolitan and Regional strategic priorities including the 2015-19 Major Schemes Prioritisation Work, the draft ITA Freight Strategy, Prospectus and Rail Vision.

So far as can be ascertained, the draft Local Connectivity Package (‘Appendix A’) does not appear in the 3 December briefing notes on Centro’s website.

But according to the Go HS2 weblog

  1. “authorities across the West Midlands” are pressing for a direct link from Coventry into the planned HS2 Interchange station at Birmingham Airport. Coventry is around eight miles from the forthcoming HS2 station, but a direct link would allow passengers to connect straight onto high-speed rail services to the North West, Yorkshire, London and Europe.
  2. the HS2 Local Connectivity Group “is supporting further tram extensions to the HS2 city centre station benefiting communities in the Black Country served by Midland Metro”.

Clearly, the planned Bickenhill HS2 station is not “at Birmingham Airport”. Its site is 2 km away. If it were “at the airport”, why would there be a need to build a “direct link from Coventry”? There’s already a train from Coventry to Birmingham International station.

What form would the “direct link” take? There’s no clue in the document. This is typical Centro back-of-a-fag-packet stuff. “Direct link” probably means “a bus”. The probability of funding and constructing some kind of direct fixed-track link from Coventry to Bickenhill, is about nil.

The configuration of HS2 in the West Midlands means that it is almost impossible for places like the Black Country and Coventry to derive meaningful benefit. MVA’s April 2012 Demand and Appraisal Report suggested that the benefit from HS2 for the Black Country would be small (about the same as for Worcestershire).

Having backed HS2 Ltd’s terminally flawed concept, Centro have been struggling to devise some means of access to the high speed line from the Black Country. Their latest idea is to extend Midland Metro from the Bull Street / Corporation Street intersection, to the Curzon Street HS2 station.

The idea smacks of desperation. How would the tram service headway work with a junction in Corporation Street? What is the point of building high speed rail to London, and then having people from miles away reach it by a mode of transport that stops every few hundred yards? Like the old trams, accommodation in Low Speed One‘s new Urbos 3 trams is to be single class, and mainly for standees.

Are businessmen from, say, Bilston, going to be queueing up to use the ‘productive working environment’ of Midland Metro? According to Passenger Focus

  • rail passengers are strongly adverse to having to change trains, with the strength of this dislike increasing in proportion to the length of journey.

    Existing business users are most inconvenienced by interchange, which is consistent with previous research suggesting that business passengers use in-vehicle time productively, and this is not generally possible when changing trains.

    Commuters and leisure passengers are only slightly less averse to interchange, with little difference in the valuation of each of these groups.

  • as soon as passengers are required to stand, the value that they derive from the rail service reduces significantly. This strength of reaction is proportional to both the time spent standing and the number of other people standing given the space available, as passengers are most averse to standing in extremely congested conditions for long periods of time.

Written by beleben

November 27, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Pedestrian orientation in central Birmingham, part two

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Centro Birmingham bus information 'tombstone', September 2012

Improving wayfinding and traveller information in central Birmingham is one of the objectives of the city council and Centro ‘Vision for Movement’ project. The Urban Buildings blogpost noted that the Interconnect Birmingham component of the Vision for Movement first phase will focus on ‘improving orientation with improved street mapping to help people locate their destination and create better mental maps of the city’.

Interconnect Birmingham, a £3 Million project, it is mentioned in the Big City Plan, and also is seen in the Vision for Movement for making Birmingham a walkable city. The contract for the first phase of the work was put out to tender, which City ID won. They are experts within the field, and show that Birmingham is really looking to achieve a high quality output.

Centro bus information 'tombstone', Carrs Lane, Birmingham

The travel orientation panels look more like tombstones than totems, and I don’t think they are very good. I’d imagine that a large proportion of public transport users, and city visitors, would not be able to wayfind using them.

It would be interesting to see if any human factors research has been done on the usability of the new tombstones and bus totems, and what the design brief said. The shortcomings may not all be down to CityID.

Written by beleben

September 28, 2012 at 3:10 pm

HS2 and inter-regional travel

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In its briefing on the government’s high speed rail white paper, the pro-HS2 Campaign for Better Transport noted that rail has just 4% of the Manchester — Birmingham market. According to HS2 Ltd, high speed rail would cut the Manchester — Birmingham rail journey from 1 hour 31 minutes, to 41 minutes; and the Leeds — Birmingham rail journey, from 2 hours 1 minute, to 57 minutes.

So could HS2 transform connectivity and initiate modal shift in Britain’s regions?

Although its title referred to ‘HS2 London — West Midlands’, the April 2012 Demand and Appraisal Report produced by MVA Consultancy included usage estimates relating to the Leeds / Manchester Y network concept, including a year 2037 estimate of rail travel between some regions.

MVA Consultancy for HS2 Ltd, average weekday rail demand between selected regions in 2037

MVA’s report suggested that HS2 would produce an 18% increase in rail travel between the West Midlands and the North West, which, in absolute volume terms, is not significant. Between the West Midlands and the region of Yorkshire and the Humber, the report suggested a 94% uplift from HS2 (though starting from a much lower base). Even so, in volume terms, a 94% increase from not-very-much, is still, not-very-much.

HS2 Ltd’s official journey time comparisons nearly always cite those few places with stations actually on the Y network, rather than other origin-destination pairs (e.g. Birmingham to Liverpool, Coventry to Rochdale, Wolverhampton to Stockport, Birmingham to Hull, Nottingham to Bradford, etc).

A fundamental weakness in the HS2 concept is the limited number of access points, which increases local leg and interchange penalties. In Britain’s economic geography, a HS2-like rail scheme is very bad for connectivity, providing minimal or negative advantage for the origin-destination constellation in Yorkshire and the Humber, North West England, and the West Midlands.

Written by beleben

September 26, 2012 at 4:52 pm