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Fantastic expectations, amazing revelations

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Industry bosses in the north of England and IPPR North are calling for more investment in the region’s railways, as it was ‘revealed’ it can take up to 10 hours for freight wagons to travel just 90 miles across the Pennines – costing the economy millions of pounds, reported.

[It takes ten hours to move freight 90 miles across Northern England by train, Dean Kirby,, 7 Aug 2017]

Gary Hodgson, strategic projects director at Peel Ports – one of the UK’s largest freight companies which operates in ports such as Liverpool, Heysham and Manchester – said trains are held up by a lack of capacity on the rail lines which means they have to let passenger trains pass. Old Victorian tunnels that were not designed for modern cargo containers.

[…] Network Rail timetables suggest it can take around seven hours and 50 minutes for a freight train to travel from Liverpool to the Drax Power Station at Selby in North Yorkshire – a journey of less than 100 miles – at an average speed of 16mph.

A 220-mile journey from the London Gateway deep-sea port in Essex to the Trafford Park rail freight terminal in Greater Manchester take around the same time, at an average speed of 36mph.

It takes nearly four hours for freight trains to travel from Immingham in Lincolnshire to Eggborough Power Station at Selby – a journey of around 50 miles at a speed of 17mph.

But actually, if the overall speed of a freight train to travel from Liverpool to Drax is 16 mph [25.7 km/h], that would make it an ‘express’ service, compared to many railfreight flows in continental Europe.

'Railfreight from Le Havre to Paris has a door to door speed of 6 km /h'

In 2007 Q4, the average speed of United States railfreight was just 22.5 mph (36 km/h), but that figure did not include “terminal dwell time, time for local pickup and delivery, and the time shipments spend in storage yards”.

Actually, the speed of railfreight is much less interesting than Peel Holdings’ tax avoidance (reducing the funds for infrastructure into Liverpool port), and the fact that Drax biomass looks like a government-backed environmental scam.


Written by beleben

August 9, 2017 at 7:39 am

Posted in Planning, Politics, Railways

Congestion or bust

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£4.4 billion has been “secured” by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to improve connections to HS2. The high speed line “will put even more pressure on the road network” according to West Midlands mayor Andy Street, but he has a plan to “bust” congestion., 'Mayor launches action plan to tackle traffic congestion'

Part of that plan appears to involve the appointment from next month of Anne Shaw as WMCA ‘director of network resilience’. Currently Birmingham city council’s assistant director for transportation and connectivity, Ms Shaw “has 26 years’ experience working closely with many of the partners and stakeholders involved in the region’s transport”.

The press release reads as if current and past measures to tackle congestion have not worked, because of a “lack of coordination”. Which would tend to suggest that previous years of “working closely with partners and stakeholders”, have not worked.

Of how the effectiveness of the congestion busting action plan would be monitored or measured, there is no clue.

Written by beleben

August 4, 2017 at 9:35 am

Posted in HS2, Planning, Politics

Add nearly thirty

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Liverpool Lime Street by el pollock (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

‘Cancelling electrification projects around the country will add nearly 30 minutes to journeys between Manchester and Liverpool’ (Labour press)

Cancelling electrification works will lengthen journey times, increase carbon emissions and raise the cost of running Britain’s rail network, the Labour party warned on 2 August.

Labour press release on rail electrification, 02 Aug 2017

[Labour press release, 2 Aug 2017]

Cancelling electrification projects around the country will add significantly to journey times:

* Journeys between Manchester and Liverpool will add nearly 30 minutes

* Journeys between Leeds and Newcastle will add over 20 minutes.

* Cancelling the electrification of the Cardiff to Swansea section of the Great Western Mainline puts at risk the estimated journey time saving between Swansea and London with Super Express trains of 19 minutes.

Labour has made a £10 billion commitment to “Crossrail for the North” to reverse decades of underinvestment in Northern transport infrastructure that has undermined the economic potential of the north of England and help deliver 850,000 new jobs by 2050.

Network Rail estimates that electrification and the running of electric vehicles can help to reduce CO2 emissions by an average of 20 to 30 per cent compared to their diesel counterparts and the maintenance costs for electric trains are 33 per cent lower than for diesel.

Unfortunately, the press release has a fairly tenuous relationship with the actuality. For example, the Liverpool to Manchester ‘Chat Moss’ electrification has already been completed, so it is hard to see how “Journeys between Manchester and Liverpool will add nearly 30 minutes”.

Again, with the Swansea – Cardiff cancellation, it is difficult to understand how “the estimated journey time saving between Swansea and London with Super Express trains of 19 minutes” is put at risk.

As the new intercity trains for the Swansea – London service are all being fitted with underfloor diesel engines, the Beleben blog cannot understand how their maintenance costs “are 33% lower” than diesels.

Because they are diesels. Electro-diesels.

Electro-diesel (bi-mode) trains were part of the project from the outset. The Great Western electrification shows what can happen when a scheme is poorly specified and designed. It went wrong from the word go, and as the transport secretary at the time, Andrew Adonis must be largely responsible.

Written by beleben

August 3, 2017 at 9:06 am

On the back of a funding envelope

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Letter from Lord Berkeley to transport secretary Chris Grayling, 31 July 2017, page 01

Letter from Lord Berkeley to transport secretary Chris Grayling, 31 July 2017, page 01

Letter from Lord Berkeley to transport secretary Chris Grayling, 31 July 2017, page 02

'HS2 is on time and on budget' (via @johnsensible)

Written by beleben

August 2, 2017 at 4:05 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

Not playing catch-up

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Although Birmingham was once one of the biggest producers of bikes in the world, it is now cycle-unfriendly London mayor Sadiq Khan promised to make the capital a byword for cycling, but has achieved depressingly little in his year-and-a-bit in office (wrote Peter Walker).

[Peter Walker, Bike blog, The Guardian, 30 July 2017]

And while London has the inbuilt advantage in tempting people on to two wheels by having a central congestion charge for cars and very slow roads, others may catch up.

Last week saw Andrew Gilligan, who achieved much as [Boris] Johnson’s cycling tsar, charged by the National Infrastructure Commission with boosting cycling in Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes.

More directly relevant to London was the news that the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has appointed Chris Boardman as his cycling and walking commissioner.

On the first-hand evidence available, one city not playing ‘catch up’ is Birmingham. Its cycling infrastructure is awful, and nobody in a position of power seems to be much bothered about making the city cycle-friendly.

Written by beleben

August 2, 2017 at 11:33 am

The shame of six

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The 6.13pm service from Euston to Birmingham New Street has been named one of the most overcrowded trains in the country, the Birmingham Mail reported on 28 July. The Passengers in Excess of Capacity (PiXC) figures from the Department for Transport, relate to standard class passengers on weekday services in autumn last year.

'New Street trip makes into crowded league of shame', Birmingham Mail, 2017-07-28

At the time of writing, the 6.13pm EUS – BHM is shown as a short 8-carriage train on the London Midland website, which suggests that crowding arises from a continuing dearth of rolling stock. A ‘shortage of’ or ‘unwillingness to pay for’ more carriages, must lie behind much of the overcrowding in the Midlands and North of England.

South of the Thames, rail overcrowding looks like an altogether more difficult problem, requiring multiple interventions. But if the HS2 project continues, how are these interventions going to be developed and funded?

Unfortunately, analysis of crowding is hampered by the Department for Transport’s refusal to reveal the capacity of commuter trains (their ‘standing allowance’ is a secret).

DfT explanation of PiXC, July 2017

Another oddity is the DfT explanation of PiXC as the ‘overall percentage of passengers that exceed train capacity’. If a train has a capacity of 90 travellers but a load of 100, surely the percentage in excess of capacity would be 11.1%, not “10%”.

Written by beleben

August 1, 2017 at 9:29 am

Posted in Politics, Railways

What is the HS2 Wider Programme?

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Chris Grayling has been accused of “hiding” details of the budgets and timescales for HS2 from an official document amid rising concerns about the cost of the project (reported

[Chris Grayling accused of ‘hiding’ details of HS2 budgets, Dean Kirby, The i News, 28 July 2017]

The 196-page Development Agreement between the Transport Secretary and HS2 Ltd drawn up in 2014 and updated earlier this month sets out how the project will be managed and delivered. But key pages in the document including the “baseline delivery schedule” and the “cost model” for the first phase of the scheme have been redacted, along with an annex of “budget envelopes” and “target prices”. Even the definition of the term “budget envelope” has also been redacted.

HS2 Development Agreement July 2017, 'Core and Wider programmes'

The July 2017 Agreement states that the HS2 ‘Core Programme‘ means “the High Speed 2 project (comprised of Phase One, Phase 2a and Phase 2b) for the design, procurement, construction, commissioning, operation and maintenance of a new Railway, and includes all the work and functions to be carried out by HS2 Ltd in accordance with this Agreement, and any reference to the ‘Core Programme’ includes a reference to a part thereof. The Core Programme will deliver the benefits set out in the Business Case.”

But it states that “the SoS has initiated a wider programme (the ‘Wider Programme‘) to ensure that HS2 Ltd helps to deliver the government’s objectives for growth and regeneration. The Wider Programme will deliver benefits beyond those set out in the Business Case.”

The official £55.7 billion cost of HS2 refers to the Core Programme, but the costs of the Wider Programme – whatever that is – do not appear to have any numbers attached.

In the view of the Beleben blog, the cost of the so-called Core Programme looks likely to exceed £55.7 billion, for a number of reasons, with Mr Grayling’s penchant for ‘financialisation’ having the potential to add billions to the expenditure.

Coming clean about the cost, before substantive construction has commenced, might well lead to public and political pressure to cancel the entire project. It seems likely that the disclosure policy for cost escalations would be to ‘drip-feed’, and defer for as long as possible.

Financialisation can add billions to public expenditure

Financialisation, for example private-finance-initiative schemes, can add billions to public expenditure

Written by beleben

July 31, 2017 at 9:54 am

Posted in HS2, Politics