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How to excel at muddle

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Tory Chancellor ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ Hammond went on BBC Radio 4 this morning to attack the figures in the Labour party manifesto, but ended up getting his own figures in a muddle.


The Mirror

[Tory Philip Hammond skewered in BBC interview as he gets his figures in a major muddle, Mikey Smith, The Mirror, 2017-05-17]

Mr Hammond claims there’s a £58 billion hole in Labour’s funding – but didn’t appear to know the true cost of HS2 – the major rail project linking London with Leeds, Birmingham and the East Midlands.

Asked for the cost of the major project by the BBC’s John Humphrys, Hammond said: “About £32 billion.”

Humphrys said: “£32 billion? Not £52 billion?”

A flustered Hammond replied: “Er it’s…over…I mean…there’s a huge amount of contingency built in to the budgeting for these projects.”

“And they’re usually met, these contingencies, aren’t they?” Humphrys shot back.

“These things almost always cost more than we expect.”

The Mirror seems to have been the only newspaper to have reported on Mr Hammond’s inexactitude – in contrast to ‘wall-to-wall’ coverage afforded to gaffes by the Green party’s Natalie Bennett and Labour’s Diane Abbott.

'Theresa May numbers gaffe', the Independent, 17 May 2017

Written by beleben

May 17, 2017 at 5:22 pm

Posted in HS2, Politics

Step through the obfuscation

with 2 comments

In a letter to Andrew Tyrie MP dated 23 January 2017, transport secretary Chris Grayling stated that if the ‘demand update’ were removed from the calculation of HS2 benefit-cost, the ratio would not fall to 1.1, because the ‘impact of the other changes made when updating the analysis, would be dampened’.

[Chris Grayling’s letter to Andrew Tyrie]

You say that if the demand update were to be removed the BCR for the scheme would fall to 1.1, referring to the step through provided in Figure 1.2 in the latest version of the economic case. However, this would not be the case. Removing the demand update would significantly dampen the impact of the other changes that were made when updating the analysis, so the impact would be significantly smaller than the bar might suggest. In practice this is a rather academic point, given it would ignore the strong growth in long distance rail journeys observed over the last few years.

However, Mr Grayling’s statement seems to be at odds with the ‘step through’ in the phase 2b economic case (below).

DfT, HS2 outline economic case, phase 2b

Diagram from DfT’s HS2 outline economic case for phase 2b, Nov 2016

That diagram presents the effects of the demand update as ‘freestanding’, and as such, removing the update would reduce the assessed BCR by 1.6. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is no quantification in Mr Grayling’s letter as to what ‘significantly dampen‘ actually means.

Letter from the SoS for Transport to Andrew Tyrie MP about HS2 demand, 23-Jan-2017

Annex to the letter from the SoS for Transport to Andrew Tyrie MP about HS2 demand, 23-Jan-2017 (page 1)

Annex to the letter from the SoS for Transport to Andrew Tyrie MP about HS2 demand, 23-Jan-2017 (page 2)

Annex to the letter from the SoS for Transport to Andrew Tyrie MP about HS2 demand, 23-Jan-2017 (page 3)

Whether annual long distance rail demand is rising at 2%, 3.7%, or 5.5%, is rather less important than Mr Grayling might imagine. That is because:

  • Long distance rail volumes are not very large.
  • The crowded bits of the rail network are mostly the approaches to London, on which most of the traffic is short-distance commuting.

On those approaches, a 2% increase in commuter passengers would, in general, represent a bigger real volume increase than a 5% increase in intercity passengers.

Written by beleben

May 6, 2017 at 11:22 am

Posted in HS2, Politics

Ramming all whingers

with 3 comments

Is it time to ram all HS2 ‘whingers’ on the 1713 Euston to Milton Keynes and see how they like standing in a crush?

Twitter, @chris_railway

But (a) how much of a crush is there on the 1713? And (b) in the normal course of events, how many people are standing? According to the latest available train company advisory (below), (a =) not much, and (b =) everyone should be able to get a seat.

But perhaps having to go to Milton Keynes is punishment enough, même en place assise.

London Midland, 'Getting a seat from Euston', 12 December 2016 edition

London Midland, ‘Getting a seat from Euston’, 12 December 2016 edition

If commuters did have to stand on the 1713, some might describe it as a ‘first world problem‘, affecting a handful of mostly well-off people for a few minutes of their day. People have to stand on lots of trains all over the Southern Region, so why should north of the Thames be any different?

In what universe would ‘every single traveller seated for every minute of a 30 minute journey’ be a priority issue for £60 billion of public cash? How many people should have to forego their NHS treatment, or whatever, to pay for it?

Fortunately for Milton Keynes commuters, future demand growth could be addressed at comparatively low cost, by running longer trains, and making better use of the slow lines (for example). As can be seen, the majority of peak London Midland trains still do not run at current maximum length (12 coaches).

Written by beleben

May 5, 2017 at 9:02 am

Disparately seeking capacity

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Train journeys from the East Midlands and Sheffield to London could take longer from next year, the Nottingham Post reported. For Derby and Sheffield, the journey to London on the Midland Main Line might take an extra 12 minutes, and for Nottingham, an extra 9 minutes.

[‘Another kick in the teeth’ as journeys from Nottingham to London to get longer, by Tresidder, Nottingham Post, May 04, 2017]

This is a story of fast trains, slow trains and congested rail lines south of Bedford to St Pancras. Next year, Thameslink, the services south of Bedford to Brighton which embrace London suburbs and its commuter belt, will see the completion a £7 billion modernisation programme including new stations, extended platforms, new and longer trains and more frequent services.

So, 'running trains with disparate performance characteristics, reduces capacity'. Who knew?Thameslink plans to step up the frequency of trains running out of London to Bedford, Luton and St Albans using the Midland Mainline to 16 trains an hour.
Rail industry experts are trying to work out a timetable which fits the 16 Thameslink trains and EMT’s existing services onto the same tracks while maintaining timetables.

The problem is that new electric Class 700 trains ordered for Thameslink – 115 are on order – do not go as fast as those used by East Midlands Trains, the 15 year old Meridian fleet and ageing High Speed Trains (Intercity 125), now nearly 40 years old. EMT trains run at 125mph and Thameslink’s Siemens Class 700 at 100mph.
The complexity does not stop there. First, the trains are timetabled together to Bedford but going north to Leicester, Nottingham and beyond, EMT’s trains will have to weave round other trains and freight, possibly missing their timetable path.

A third issue which has the potential to become a fiasco is the significant investment already made in the Midland Mainline ahead of the widely anticipated electrification to increase the frequency of East Midlands Trains, reduce journey times and achieve ‘Nottingham [to London] in Ninety [minutes]’.

So, ‘running trains with disparate performance characteristics, reduces capacity’. Who knew?

Of course, a few years ago, the government of the time decided to equip the West Coast Main Line with commuter trains limited to 100 mph [160 km/h], creating a speed mismatch with intercity trains running on the same tracks. Some of those trains were subsequently modified to run at 110 mph [177 km/h], but there is still an ongoing capacity loss from the performance mismatch.

Even if the 1980s Midland Main Line electrification between London and Bedford had been ‘done right’ (allowing electric commuter trains to run at 200 km/h), Thameslink would still be an overly ambitious project. In the view of the Beleben blog, the proposed future Thameslink service pattern is too complicated, and the TSGN ‘franchise’ is too large to be effectively managed.

Written by beleben

May 4, 2017 at 11:41 am

What are the costs of Midland Metro expansion?

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At its April 2017 meeting, the board of the West Midlands Combined Authority approved a public consultation on its draft 2026 ‘Delivery Plan for Transport’ running until Friday 9 June 2017.

The consultation invites comments on TfWM’s proposals for spending hundreds of millions of pounds on schemes such as expanding light rail, and very light rail. But what it does not offer are any details on the economic, financial, and environmental effects of the proposals.

In fact, TfWM is refusing to release these details.

TfWM, planned Midland Metro and Very Light Rail lines (April 2017)

TfWM, planned Midland Metro and Very Light Rail lines (April 2017)

On 26 May 2016 BBC News reported that Birmingham's Midland Metro tramway had never made a profit in the 17 years since the line opened

On 26 May 2016 BBC News reported that Birmingham’s existing Midland Metro tramway had never made a profit in the 17 years since it opened.

[BBC, 2016-05-26]

National Express, which runs the Midland Metro, has lost about £34m on the route since 1999.

Actually, the amount National Express has lost on Midland Metro is not clear, because the tramway north of Snow Hill was built and originally operated by a consortium known as Altram, under a 23-year design – build – operate – maintain concession.

‘Profits’ were to have been shared between the consortium members Ansaldo, Laing, and Travel West Midlands (NX), but A and L walked not long after the tramway opened in 1999. It soon became clear that the whole system had been shoddily built and the ridership forecasts were completely wrong. NX threatened to hand back the keys if Centro (now TfWM) did not help it out, but the details of what agreement was struck have never been made public.

On 22 March 2017, the West Midlands Combined Authority announced that it would take ‘direct control’ of the Midland Metro tram service when the National Express concession finishes in October 2018. This means that future losses would have to be met from public funds. Obviously, every pound spent paying for Midland Metro losses is a pound not spent on libraries, social services, or fixing potholes.


The move will enable TfWM, which is the transport arm of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), to plough millions of pounds of future profits back into expanding the network.

Existing National Express staff will be transferred over to a new subsidiary company – Midland Metro Ltd – which will be wholly owned by the WMCA.

The combined authority is set to start a number of extensions which will see the network triple in size over the next decade, with passenger numbers forecast to increase from around 6.5 million at present to more than 30 million.

That is expected to generate profits of around £50 million over the first 11 years which the WMCA will be able to channel back into the network for the benefit of passengers and the local economy.

[Councillor] Roger Lawrence, WMCA lead for transport, said: “Metro is a fundamental part of our future plans not only for transport but for the West Midlands economy as a whole.

“It is a proven catalyst for economic growth and is critical to best connect and feed into HS2 so we can reap the maximum economic benefits possible from the high speed rail line.

“The move will enable TfWM, which is the transport arm of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), to plough millions of pounds of future profits back into expanding the network.”

Given that the existing Metro has lost tens of millions of pounds, and only carries a fraction of the passenger volume originally forecast, what evidence is there to support TfWM claims that it is a ‘catalyst for economic growth‘, and would make profits in the future?

WMCA news story about taking direct control of Midland Metro

WMCA news story about taking direct control of Midland Metro

[TfWM response to FoI request, April 2016]

Q1. Requested data: the year-by-year cost and income forecasts for the Metro network in the future.

Answer: An assessment of the commercial model using benchmark data showing revenue and costs generated from the Metro operations has been carried out, to gain an initial indication of the financial performance of Metro. This information held is commercially confidential.

Q2. Requested data: the reports and analyses showing Metro has been a proven catalyst for economic growth (compared to other corridors not served by Metro).

Answer: This matter is addressed in extension Business cases which will be available on our website as and when they are approved.

Q3. Requested data: what information is held on the outsourcing process and the decision (e.g. who told the WMCA board that if it decided to continue outsourcing tram services it would cost taxpayers several million pounds).

Answer: The information held is commercially confidential and most of the information obtained was benchmarking data on other light rail schemes.

Q4. Requested data: information on the difficulty of defining the scope of services required from the operator.

Answer: The scope of services required will change as the Tram network develops and forecasting requirements at this stage is therefore difficult to predict. This approach provides the opportunity for WMCA to amend the fares which will impact the revenue growth and the business model and to work flexibly with the Midland Metro Alliance to adjust operational service requirements to match the emerging investment programme delivery, without being constrained by a fixed contract specification and performance regime.

Q5. Requested data: the assessment of the risks and advantages of bringing operations in house.

Answer: The information held is commercially confidential and most of the information obtained was benchmarking data on other light rail schemes.

Written by beleben

April 28, 2017 at 11:14 am

Posted in Birmingham, Centro, Politics

A trip aboard HS2

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HS2 step at platform, diagram

On 20 April an OJEU tender notice was issued for the ‘£2.75 billion, 60-train’ HS2 phase one rolling stock procurement. HS2 Ltd’s Pre-Qualification Technical Summary states its intention to procure “a single fleet of rolling stock that will be capable of operating on the HS2Network and the Conventional Rail Network (CRN), referred to as the ‘Conventional Compatible’ or ‘CC’ fleet”.

A perusal of the PQTS seems to confirm the view that the rolling stock specifications are as muddled as the rest of the project, but HS2 Ltd do not intend to change them in any substantive way.

[HS2 Ltd]

This PQTS is a precursor to the full Train Technical Specification (TTS) which will be provided with the Invitation to Tender. The requirements of this PQTS will be incorporated into the TTS along with other more detailed performance and functional requirements. Note that the TTS will supersede and replace the PQTS. HS2 Ltd does not intend to change in any substantive way the requirements set out in this PQTS. However, HS2 Ltd reserves its right to do so and will identify any such changes in the TTS in due course.

Contrary to all the accessibility hype, the PQTS suggests that there is little to no intention to provide ‘step free access’ between all stations served by HS2 trains. Even on the handful of stations on the captive network (“HS2 Platforms”), ‘step free’ access would involve negotiating, er, steps.

[HS2 Ltd]
The maximum vertical step between the deployed Moveable Step and an HS2 Platform shall be +20/-0mm except under Exceptional PTI Conditions.
Rationale: The maximum single step negotiable, unaided, by 98% of wheelchair users is +20mm; higher steps are negotiable but with decreasing success rates.

[…] The maximum vertical step between the deployed Moveable Step and an HS2 Platform shall be +30/-10mm under all conditions including Exceptional PTI Conditions. The TMM and HS2 will agree the Exceptional PTI Conditions, which are expected to include rarely-experienced vehicle conditions such as deflated suspension or Exceptional Payload.

[…] The maximum horizontal gap between the deployed Moveable Step and an HS2 Platform shall be 30mm.

[…] When deployed, the Moveable Step shall have a minimum horizontal surface depth (perpendicular to the bodyside) of 240mm

[…] The maximum vertical distance between the Moveable Step and the floor of the vestibule shall be 30mm.

Wouldn’t vertical discontinuities of those sizes, on a pavement of the public highway, be considered as “trip hazards”?

Does the claim of HS2 'step free access' match the reality?

Does the claim of HS2 ‘step free access’ match the reality?

The technical standards which HS2 is being designed to are obsolescent and inappropriate. For example, the train crashworthiness is based on a low-speed ‘level crossing’ collision with a heavy goods vehicle (which would be much lighter than the train), yet there would be no level crossings on HS2.

Survivability in realistic crash scenarios at actual HS2 operating speeds, is not considered at all.



Written by beleben

April 23, 2017 at 5:50 pm

Conflicts, contradictions, and errors

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On 19 April, the House of Commons transport select committee questioned HS2 chairman David Higgins and transport secretary Chris Grayling about ‘the circumstances behind CH2M’s withdrawal from the HS2 phase 2b development partnership contract’ and the ‘lessons to be learnt’. As the government had announced a general election the day before, only a few members of the committee turned up, and mainstream media coverage was minimal.

Acording to committee ‘chair’ Louise Ellman MP, ‘Given the sums at money at stake’ in HS2, it is ‘essential’ for the public to have ‘full confidence in the processes’. But judging by what Mr Grayling and Mr Higgins said, there seems to be little reason to have confidence in the way HS2 has been, and is being, run.

HS2 chairman David Higgins and Chris Grayling MP at the transport select committee meeting, 19 April 2017

Chris Grayling told the demi-committee that CH2M had “lost a very substantial piece of business as a result of a breach in the rules”, that had “come to our attention because somebody inside the organisation told one of the other bidders.”

Despite that ‘breach’ only having come to light as a result of the actions of a whistleblower, Mr Grayling seemed to suggest that there was actually nothing very much wrong with HS2’s bidding process. He appeared to have no problem with CH2M’s Mark Thurston having being appointed as HS2 Ltd chief executive, or David Higgins’ tacit admission that there was not a level playing field for bidders (the scope of CH2M’s earlier work on HS2 having given it an advantage).

Mr Higgins stated he ‘did not know’ why CH2M had withdrawn from the phase 2b contract, but if they had not, they would have been sacked. (?)

[‘HS2 boss admits failures over conflict of interest’, Robert Lea, The Times, 20 April 2017]

The head of High Speed Two told MPs that he and his executives had done no checks and had not monitored a former HS2 chief of staff at the centre of a conflict of interest fiasco with its key contractor on the £55 billion London – Birmingham rail line.

Revelations that HS2 Ltd had been unaware that a former executive was playing a senior role at his subsequent employer CH2M — project manager of the first phase and named this year as the preferred bidder for the same job on the second phase of the controversial high-speed lines — have led to promises of new “intrusive” investigations of personnel involved in bids for the billions of pounds’ worth of contracts coming up for tender.

Mr Higgins also said that Bechtel would be awarded the contract after its bid came in ‘15% cheaper’ than third placed Mace. (HS2 Ltd has never published details of bid cash values, or their technical scoring, so there is an almost-total lack of transparency.)


[‘HS2 to make firms name all people involved in bids’, Aaron Morby, Construction Enquirer, 20 April, 2016]

Sir David Higgins, HS2 chairman, said the body would now tighten up disclosure procedures after US consultant CH2M withdrew from a preferred development partner role on the second phase of HS2.

He revealed the move to tighten up bid requirements as he was quizzed by the Transport Select Committee about events leading up to CH2M being selected as preferred contractor.

CH2M had faced conflict of interest allegations from rival bidder Mace, after HS2’s former chief of staff Christopher Reynolds produced lessons learnt documents from phase one to inform the second phase development partner tender process.

After leaving HS2 last June, Reynolds went to work for CH2M in September.

Higgins said that HS2 had no evidence that Reynolds had influenced CH2M’s bid. But despite this CH2M withdrew “for their own reasons”, revealed Higgins.
In a statement after the hearing, a Mace spokespersons said: “As the Transport Select Committee has shown there are a lot of serious questions to be answered around HS2’s procurement process.

“If we hadn’t raised these concerns, these serious issues would never have come out.

“David Higgins admitted that HS2 needs to tighten up their process is an admission that the procurement was seriously flawed.

“It’s remarkable that he also admitted that if CH2M hadn’t withdrawn, they would have been sacked – which is a clear admission that their procurement process was riddled with errors.”

Transport select committee meeting, 19 April 2017

Written by beleben

April 21, 2017 at 11:49 am

Posted in HS2, Politics