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Berkswell Photoshop wars

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Berkswell HS2 viaduct impressionsOn its website, the Heart of England High Speed Rail Action Group (HHAG) displayed an unofficial pictorial impression of the HS2 viaduct in Berkswell, seemingly using a ‘scaled up’ Advanced Passenger Train to represent the outsize HS2 captive rolling stock.

This did not find favour with David Begg’s Campaign for High Speed Rail, which claimed that it depicted a viaduct that was “hundreds of feet high”, exaggerating the visual intrusion.

The image shown on the HHAG website isn’t correctly scaled in perspective, but it certainly doesn’t depict a viaduct “hundreds of feet high”. The official impression of the viaduct, produced by HS2 Ltd, features plenty of visual massaging of its own, with its use of white livery to camouflage the trains. In its impression, the train is not moving. No doubt, that’s because of the total absence of overhead line equipment.

Obviously, the visual impact depends on the total height of the structure, including overhead line equipment. But HS2 Ltd don’t even seem to know how high the viaduct would be. In the Route Engineering Report, they claimed it will be 8 metres, but in maps, the claim is “no higher than 10.2 metres”.

Another big issue with running high speed trains on viaducts is noise propagation. However, HS2 Ltd’s impression shows no noise barriers – for a line carrying up to 36 high speed trains per hour. Presumably, the visual impact of noise barriers is another part of the story that HS2 Ltd do not wish to tell.

Comments from David Begg’s Campaign for High Speed Rail

The issue is over the scale of disruption that will be caused by the proposed high-speed rail viaduct next to Berkswell station in the West Midlands (ref: 1).

The Heart of England High Speed Rail Action Group (HHAG) has used photoshop technologies to depict a viaduct that appears to be hundreds of feet high, with a giant, outsized train clearly overwhelming the local landscape (ref 2).

The official image released by HS2 Ltd demonstrates how the viaduct has been carefully designed to cause minimal disruption to the local area. Official estimates suggest that the viaduct will only be approximately 8 metres high (ref 3).

(ref 1) The viaduct can be seen on the proposed route produced by HS2 Ltd here:

(ref 2) The image has been distributed via their website:

(ref 3) HS2 Ltd’s Route Engineering Report claims it will be 8 metres high:, p.150. The maps produced by HS2 Ltd (see above) claim it will be no higher than 10.2 metres.


Opportunity costs of HS2

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Economics students will mostly be familiar with the idea of opportunity cost: ‘The cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action, or the benefits you could have received by taking an alternative action.’

Given the scale of the funding required, it’s apparent that High Speed Two (£17+ billion for phase one alone – just between London and the West Midlands) would crowd out other public transport schemes. Unlike HS2, these schemes would benefit the whole of the country.

Put another way, the opportunity costs of HS2 are immense.

What could be funded with £17,000,000,000?

Although HS2 wouldn’t go anywhere near south Wales, Jim Steer, of high speed rail lobbyists Greengauge 21, claimed

“When you hear about the debate about Heathrow and its connection to High Speed 2, then if there is a station at Heathrow that is a fantastic opportunity to give you a lower cost network to Bristol and South Wales.”

The £17 billion for HS2 phase one doesn’t even include the cost of a station at Heathrow; in 2010, the cost of routeing HS2 into Heathrow was estimated at £2 to £4 billion extra – which is more than the estimated cost of electrification all the way from Swansea to London.

Mr Steer also claimed that for north Wales,

“There is no reason why you couldn’t operate trains on a route to the north-west on the North Wales coast,” he said. “It is not going to be the best return, but it is worth putting your hands up for it.”

and for central Wales

“It is perfectly feasible to look at operating trains on the West Coast mainline and onwards to say Wrexham, or even Aberystwyth. Those are not ludicrous propositions and they can be facilitated through HS2.”

All of which, of course, is absolute drivel. Big fixed-formation HS2 ‘classic compatible’ trains are not going to be a viable proposition on Crewe to Holyhead, or the Midlands to Aberystwyth. If HS2 is funded, there’d be precious little money left for any transport improvements within Wales.

Building high speed rail lines cannot itself alter the economic competitiveness of a particular area. For example:

  • Naples has a high speed rail line to Rome, and northern Italy. But it hasn’t turned the Mezzogiorno into Europe’s boom region.
  • Thanet, in Kent, remains one of the most depressed areas in England, although it’s served by direct High Speed One services to London.

Olympic wrapping and faffing

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London Olympic stadium under constructionLocog, the organising committee for the 2012 London Olympic Games, is seeking a private sponsor for a £7 million fabric curtain (“wrap”) around the Olympic athletics stadium in Stratford. Public funding for a wrap was withdrawn in 2010 as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review. The pompously named Olympic Delivery Authority said there was no need for it.

“Studies on wind in the stadium concluded that the wrap was not required to ensure the appropriate conditions on the field of play so the wrap was purely cosmetic.”

According to Rod Sheard, of stadium architects Populous

“It’s great that people feel the work that has been completed to date is sufficiently elegant to not need further enclosure,” he said. “But perhaps what people don’t realise is the considerable quantity of very functional conduits, cables, trunking and general services that will be added to this highly visible space closer to the games and which will all be exposed if the wrap isn’t built.”

I suppose if London had retained the 1923 Wembley Stadium, or even White City Stadium, for important events such as a future Games, the savings would have been rather larger than the cost of some curtain material. And there wouldn’t have been any embarrassment about future use of the Stratford stadium, or its shameful deflated-gasometer architecture.


Written by beleben

February 9, 2011 at 4:15 pm

This way to HS2

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This way to HS2

Birmingham: the route from New Street station to the proposed HS2 station site (Curzon Street)

As well as an important destination in its own right, Birmingham is an important transport interchange point, with large numbers of rail passengers changing trains, especially at New Street station. In 2009, work started at New Street on the ‘Birmingham Gateway‘ modernisation scheme, designed

“to handle increasing passenger numbers for 30 to 40 years into the future, with the capacity to accommodate high speed rail facilities if necessary.”

Birmingham Gateway, backed by Birmingham City Council, Network Rail, Centro, and Advantage West Midlands, has received hefty public funding. On the ‘New Street New Start’ (formerly ‘Renewstreet’) website, Network Rail stated that

the station should be able to cope with the increase in passenger numbers for at least the next 40 years.

Birmingham city council’s view was that Gateway could meet capacity requirements for the foreseeable future, and for that reason, opposed construction of a new station at Curzon Street – such as the ‘Grand Central‘ station, proposed by Arup.

When the Labour government U-turned on high speed rail, launching the HS2 project, the (Conservative-Liberal Democrat) city council followed suit. In effect, Curzon Street HS2 is a resurrection of Arup’s Grand Central, but with only high speed services running into it.

Political stampeding around HS2 has trampled all over common sense. And any notion of integrated transport, as can be seen in the interchange ‘provision’ between high speed and regional rail stations (picture above).