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Reshaping rolling stock procurement, part three

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Having taken evidence on the Thameslink (trains) Programme, the House of Commons transport committee has now published its report containing conclusions and recommendations both for the UK rolling stock market

1. Although it may not be feasible or desirable to smooth out completely peaks and troughs in procurement there is scope for the DfT to ensure that there is a steadier flow of opportunities to UK-based manufacturers and the supply chain. (Paragraph 15)

2. We recommend that the Government clarify how it intends to use Network Rail’s passenger rolling stock RUS in ensuring that there is a steadier flow of procurements in future as well as clearer information to industry about the work which the DfT expects to initiate via operating firms or generate itself. We also recommend that the Government clarify whether the medium-term procurement plans mentioned in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s autumn statement will include a plan for rolling stock. In the meantime, we would encourage the Government to assist the UK train building sector in finding opportunities for work before the next major train procurement projects are completed. (Paragraph 16)

and for the Thameslink process itself.

3. We recommend that the Government explain how the measures announced in the Chancellor’s autumn statement to improve procurement practices will achieve a more strategic approach to large-scale procurement and publish an implementation timetable. (Paragraph 23)

4. There would now appear to be few defenders of the previous Government’s decision to exclude socio-economic criteria from the Thameslink procurement. We note that it would not have been possible for the terms of the contract to have been amended, following the change of Government in May 2010, without starting the procurement afresh with a new invitation to tender. Looking ahead, we fully support the Government’s intention to have a “sharper focus on the UK’s strategic interest” in major public procurements. We hope that this new approach to procurement does not come too late for the Bombardier plant in Derby. (Paragraph 24)

5. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Siemens’ A+ credit rating made a significant contribution to its success in winning the Thameslink procurement. Omitting credit ratings from the evaluation criteria for future rolling stock procurements, beginning with Crossrail, is a sensible step. We have a wider concern, however, that bundling train manufacture and financing together in procurement exercises will skew the market towards larger multinational firms, possibly at the expense of excellence in train design and domestic manufacturing. We recommend that the Government work with the railway industry to establish how train manufacturers can create finance partnerships which offer good value to the taxpayer whilst promoting long-term best value. (Paragraph 29)

6. We would expect the DfT to take a robust attitude to any further allegations of corruption involving Siemens, or any other firm it contracts with, and not to hold back from excluding firms from procurement exercises where there is sound evidence of corruption. (Paragraph 33)


7. We think that it would be in the public interest for the procurement process to be independently reviewed and we have written to the Comptroller and Auditor General to ask him to undertake this work and to report to Parliament before summer 2012 (Paragraph 38)

8. If the Government proceeds to sign a contract with Siemens we recommend that it publish the reasons for favouring Siemens over Bombardier and the difference in the cost of the two bids. (Paragraph 39)

I don’t think these recommendations are going to come close to solving the shortcomings of rolling stock procurement, but perhaps they are the best that can be expected. Politicians such as Ed Miliband (who spoke of Bombardier “being sold down the river by this government”) showed little to no interest when factories such as Metro-Cammell were shuttered, or when huge orders were handed to Hitachi and Siemens, etc.

It’s not clear how closely the size of Bombardier’s Derby workforce is related to loss of the Thameslink contract, how ‘British’ its trains are, or even how ‘British’ they could be. Because huge parts of the Derby rolling stock works were razed after its privatisation, Bombardier has long been reliant on factories in Germany and Belgium to do a lot of its manufacturing.

Written by beleben

December 19, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Riots in Birmingham

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An arrest in Birmingham's Smallbrook QueenswayOver the last few days, civil disturbance and mob violence has spread from London to provincial British towns such as Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, and Bristol. In the Midlands, Birmingham was one of several boroughs affected, with both its central business district and suburban centres (such as the Soho Road) impacted by vandalism, mugging, arson, and looting.
Santander (former Abbey National) bank, upper New Street, Birmingham
At the national level, the government was completely unprepared, and its sluggish response exacerbated by uncertainty as to what to do. Similar vacillation and confusion was also evident in Birmingham itself. On its local radio today, a police spokesman spoke of “troublemaking tourists” getting in their way, implying that people should stay out of the city centre. At the same time, Jerry Blackett, of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, was suggesting people should come into the city centre. Interviewed on television, Mr Blackett said that city centre trade was about fifty per cent down, but such was the success of the clean-up, that visitors wouldn’t even know that rioting had taken place. A fatuous remark, given that he was interviewed in front of one of the numerous boarded-up windows in the city centre.
Pallasades closed
Yesterday (9th August), some city centre shops did not open at all, and others closed early. By 1700, normal commercial activity had ceased, with groups of prospective rioters engaged in stand-offs with police at the Bull Ring, and adjacent streets. Although previously classed as a public right of way, the Stephenson Place access to New Street railway station was shuttered. The Bullring and Pallasades shopping centres were closed down, Birmingham Central Library closed early, and most West Midlands buses were off the road by 2130. Today, West Midlands Police (WMP) chief constable Chris Sims said that “We have had another very difficult night in Birmingham and across the West Midlands”.

Watches of Switzerland shop, BirminghamPolice played a cat and mouse game with gangs of yobs across the wider city centre, with looting and mayhem continuing from late afternoon into the early hours. WMP’s failure to establish area dominance was caused by a combination of factors, but its options were clearly limited by personnel constraints. Although WMP was reinforced by bobbies from at least one other force (West Mercia), there were not enough to stop yobs, many with covered faces, moving into and around the city centre. British Transport Police, positioned at the main entrance of New Street station, could not intervene as electronics shops in Smallbrook Queensway (less than 300 metres away) were looted, for fear of leaving the station itself open to attack. A mob in upper New Street uprooted an iron litter bin to try to break into a Swiss watch shop, but there was no police in that part of the street at all.

Birmingham’s geography is riot-friendly, and enabling crime-by-design has been a feature of its built environment for decades (as anyone familiar with pedestrian underpasses or ‘subways’ will know). Recent civic ‘improvements’ have included filling streets with junk such as J C Decaux advertising panels, morris columns and suchlike, obstructing pedestrian (and emergency vehicle) movement, and blocking sightlines. And although the city is peppered with closed circuit television cameras, they don’t seem to have been much use in crime prevention. The West Midlands Police intention seems to be centred on using CCTV to ‘hopefully’ identify hooded and masked rioters after the event, rather than for real time intervention.

Written by beleben

August 10, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Vanity over utility

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On a visit to the Midlands to promote HS2 to the ‘business community’, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond was questioned by a reporter from the Express and Star. Mr Hammond told the newspaper that Black Country and Staffordshire residents should not expect extra local investment on the back of HS2:

“I don’t operate in a world where people only support a piece of national infrastructure if there’s something in it for them.”

HS2 has been promoted on the basis that it (i) produces time savings for travellers between London and the West Midlands, and that (ii) these time savings have a high economic value. But because HS2 would end at a dead-end station on the edge of Birmingham city centre (at Curzon Street), there is no provision for any HS2 services to serve the Black Country – whose population is larger than that of Birmingham itself.

At present, the Pendolino services between London Euston and Birmingham New Street generally take around 82 minutes (though some take less) – compared with 49 minutes expected from a future HS2 between London Euston and Birmingham Curzon Street. So for there to be a net time saving with HS2, any penalty for accessing or leaving Curzon Street must not exceed 33 minutes.

Over shorter distances (the norm in Britain), normal speed (“classic”) point-to-point trains have the capability to equal or better high speed rail in convenience. This capability also applies to journey times, as is well illustrated by the case of Wolverhampton and Sandwell’s Pendolino services to and from London. From these towns, like many other places in the West Midlands, there is no benefit from HS2, because the extra access time (to or from the high speed station) wipes out the nominal 33 minute saving. Accessing HS2 would involve a change of train, and indeed a change of station (in Birmingham or Bickenhill), followed by a wait for the next connecting service.

HS2 is not so much about speeding up journeys between London and ‘the West Midlands’, as it is about speeding up journeys between London and ‘points within an isochrone surrounding Curzon Street’. But these issues are sidestepped in Centro’s brochure “How HS2 will transform the West Midlands: the Black Country“, and its map doesn’t even show the Black Country at all. The brochure concentrates on the notion that HS2 benefits the Black Country by ‘freeing up capacity on the local rail network’, enabling more conventional services to run. It lists ‘increased services’ to and from various West Midlands towns, and various public transport improvements, including electrification of some local lines.

Whatever. Philip Hammond has now clarified that there is no intention of funding local transport improvements on the back of HS2. And

  • the only West Midlands railway where HS2 would ‘free up’ capacity is the Birmingham – Coventry – Rugby line, as it’s part of the WCML loop used by trains to London
  • but the usefulness of HS2 for decongesting the Birmingham to Coventry line is unclear, with Centro indicating that they want that line enlarged to four tracks regardless.

The local service upgrades proposed in Centro’s brochure are conjectural, not part of (or dependent upon) the HS2 project, and not included in HS2 costings. If councillors on the West Midlands Independent Transport Authority were unaware that funding for metropolitan transport improvements was in competition for funds with HS2, Mr Hammond has now sent a clear message.

Centro brochure 'How HS2 will transform the West Midlands: The Black Country'
The Black Country doesn’t rate a mention on the map used by Centro to illustrate how HS2 benefits the Black Country

In its brochure, Centro seem to have abandoned the pretence that the Curzon Street terminus could offer good connections with “classic” (conventional) rail services. Instead, Centro emphasise Bickenhill HS2 station as ‘the preferred interchange’, with passengers using a people mover to get to and from the classic/WCML station at Birmingham International. But, as with Curzon Street, Bickenhill HS2 is extremely unsatisfactory as an interchange point, with HS2 Ltd assuming that access to it would be mainly by car, not transit. As for the overall interchange time between Birmingham International and Bickenhill HS2, that doesn’t seem to be modelled in any public documents.

Interoperability and HS2

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As part of its consultation exercise, the Department for Transport has issued information sheets on various aspects of the HS2 rail project. Its ‘Interoperability: International Standards for High Speed Rail’ leaflet (HSRFCT08) describes interoperability as:

the ability of different systems to work together. If you borrow a kettle from your neighbour, you know that it will plug in to the electric supply in your house and work normally. This is because plugs, sockets, and the electricity supply are built to designs which were standardized many years ago. So your appliance is ‘interoperable’, meaning it can operate anywhere in the UK without you needing to adapt it.

Interoperable systems have been used on European high speed railway lines for a number of years and are defined within the Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSIs). This is a set of international standards specified under European law and adopted by the UK Government. Many of the standards used to develop our HS2 specifications are derived from the TSIs.

The Department’s ‘electric sockets’ analogy for HS2 interoperability was unfortunate, because British 3-pin plugs are not usable in continental Europe, and adopting the European TSIs is a bit like equipping a handful of buildings in Britain with French electrical sockets. In which case: ‘you can no longer use your neighbour’s kettle, but if you know someone in France, you could ask them to send you their kettle cord’.

DfT’s claims about European high speed lines being standardised and ‘interoperable’, are far-fetched. The TSIs were drawn up after large parts of high speed track in Italy, France, Germany, and Spain had already been built, and electricity supply, maximum axle loadings, signalling, and maximum gradients vary from one country to the next. TSIs do not even define specifications for the 400 km/h operation planned for HS2. To date, European high speed rail interoperability has, in practice, meant equipping trains crossing borders with multiple electrical and signalling systems, rather than conformance to a single standard. Even this has not prevented disputes, such as squabbling and legal threats about the use of distributed traction trains, and safety procedures, in the Channel Tunnel.

There are strong arguments for new rail projects to be compatible with European rail systems, but that does not mean that implementing the TSIs for British intercity passenger rail is cost-effective. Compatibility is important for efficient rail freight and containerisation, but that does not imply that railways should be built, or converted, to Continental ‘standards’. The new build HS2 is intended as an intensively operated passenger-only railway, with maintenance carried out at night, so its loading gauge has no obvious application.

The factsheet suggests that building HS2 in line with the TSI would help Britain to participate in exporting transportation equipment. However, there’s no evidence that rolling stock orders are determined in this way. For example, Japan has its own technical standards, which are different from those found elsewhere. Foreign manufacturers are effectively barred from Nipponese railways, yet it supplied the Class 395 trains used on Britain’s HS1 domestic services.

To have a chance of exporting rolling stock, Britain needs a rolling stock industry. At the time of writing, it doesn’t really have one. There is just one train manufacturing plant (the former British Rail carriage works at Derby), with a second Ikea-style screwdriver facility planned in the North East (for Hitachi’s frankenstein IEP trains).

Politik über alles

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Hallerbachtalbruecke by chriusha, (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.

Eusless planning at Euston

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Most of the discussion of the landscape and community effects of HS2 has focused on rural areas, such as the Chilterns, and to a lesser extent, south Staffordshire. But there would also be substantial urban impacts, especially in the approaches to Birmingham, and in Greater London.
HS2 Ltd's eusless architecture at Euston

Footprint of HS2 Ltd's planned Euston stationHS2 Ltd and the high speed rail ‘spinnerati’ have spread the message that HS2 – new build high speed rail – ‘avoids the need for costly and disruptive upgrades to existing lines’. However, the HS2 project would inevitably involve large scale disruption of existing railways, including the West Coast Main Line, the Great Western Main Line, the North London Line, and Euston station.

To accommodate the longer and taller high speed trains, HS2 Ltd intends to rebuild Euston, with the station extending outside its current limits. The ‘remodelling’ would entail extensive demolition of streets and properties, and wholescale reconstruction of Euston Underground station. Because of the lack of detail in HS2 documents, it’s not clear how much the building of Euston Underground would cost, how long it would take, or how its costs are treated in the HS2 budget.

The western platforms in the rebuilt Euston would be for use by HS2 trains, but during its ‘phased’ commissioning, they would be used by existing services using the West Coast Main Line. This means there would be lengthy disruption of these trains into and out of Euston during the reconstruction.

According to the Department for Transport, reconstruction works “would be organised to maximise the use of rail to supply new materials and remove spoil and waste”. In reality, the rebuild would require most construction materials and waste to be handled by heavy goods vehicles. Not surprisingly, the amount of lorry movements hasn’t been mentioned.

The architecture of the 1968 Euston station has been heavily criticised, but compared with HS2 Ltd’s scheme, that design looks like a triumph of elegance and style. Air rights seem to be the determining factor for the rebuild, rather than aesthetics, convenience, or usability.

The Department for Transport’s intention is for Euston to become the principal London terminal for the East Midlands, Yorkshire, North East England, and Scotland. At present (apart from Glasgow) the London termini for these destinations are St Pancras and Kings Cross.

Euston HS2 in a nutshell

  • Massive disruption to the borough of Camden
  • Concentrating fast trains from Scotland, Northern England, and the Midlands, on one central London arrival point
  • Concentrating fast trains from Scotland, Northern England, and the Midlands, on a single track in each direction
  • Dispersing central London traffic arriving from Scotland, Northern England, and the Midlands, from one Underground station.

The Department for Transport on rebuilding Euston for HS2

“Our long term vision is for Euston Station to provide the principal rail gateway to the north-west and north-east of England and Scotland.
A new modern station would provide a high quality, user-friendly terminus for the proposed new high speed and existing railway services, and would be designed to maximise regeneration in this part of the London Borough of Camden.”
We would rebuild Euston station to provide 10 high speed train platforms, 12 standard train platforms and 2 further platforms which could be used for either type of train. To do this we would need to widen the current station to the west as far as Cobourg Street and lengthen the station site to the south to allow for the longer high speed trains.
Access to the new station would be from the south front (directly from Euston Square Gardens) and from both east and west sides.
The new platforms would be located below ground and then covered over. A new Underground ticket hall, four times larger than the current one, would be provided to cater for the increased passenger numbers. Direct access to Euston Square station would be provided for the first time.
Construction of the entire station would take seven to eight years, with a likely start date of 2017. However, this would be undertaken in stages so that works on each section of the station site should not last longer than three years. The western side of the new station would be built first and then brought into service. We envisage this would allow the existing train services to continue throughout construction. The works would be organised to maximise the use of rail to supply new materials and remove spoil and waste. We would work with local residents, businesses and Camden Council to devise construction methods that minimise the impact during the works.

Pounds for shilling

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Westbourne Communication, an ‘opinion changing’ PR firm supporting (new build) high speed rail, posted on the power of third party endorsers. The idea behind it is that if something said by person ‘A’ is backed by third parties ‘B’ and ‘C’, its trustworthiness or validity is raised.

This goes some way towards explaining the phenomenon of multiple separate PR campaigns for HS2. In the West Midlands alone, Birmingham City Council, Centro, High Speed 2 West Midlands, and Go-HS2 have all undertaken support activity for it. But these activities are not ‘grassroots’ campaigns, nor are they independent of one another. It’s a form of shilling, with the targets of this PR activity unlikely be to be aware of the links between the organisations orchestrating it.

Football crazy HS2

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What this means

The spin machines for HS2 has already produced some wacko press releases. The following one, dated April 16, 2011, comes from David Begg’s Campaign for High Speed Rail (note that the point numbering in the original version was broken).

Football semi-final this weekend illustrates the capacity limitations of the current rail network and the opportunities of high-speed rail
April 16, 2011

Today, Manchester United are playing Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final at London’s Wembley stadium. The stadium has a capacity of 90,000 – an estimated 60,000 of these will be filled by fans travelling down from Manchester, the hometown of both football clubs (1).

Transport and industry figures show that the West Coast Main Line (the line that runs between Manchester and London) will not be able to cope with the demand to travel today (2):

There are currently 3 trains per hour between Manchester and London, with each train having the capacity to seat 439 passengers. This means that the WCML can carry 1,317 passengers per hour from Manchester and London (3). During the key period in which supporters will be hoping to travel tomorrow morning, only around 6,585 passengers will be able to be transported (4).

Under a new high-speed rail line, the capacity increases are significant:

With a dedicated line for high-speed travel from Manchester, there will be network capacity for up to 3 trains an hour to London (4 at peak time), each carrying up to 1,100 passengers (5). In addition, there will also be trains running from Manchester on the existing WCML – modest estimates suggest there would be capacity for 2 trains per hour on this line carrying 595 passengers (6). In total, estimates therefore suggest an increased capacity of 4,490 passengers per hour (off peak) and 5,590 (peak) from Manchester to London. During the morning period in which supporters will travel today, nearly 22,450 passengers would be accommodated if we had a high-speed service. If this was a peak time service, there would be around 27,950 seats. This is over three to four times more than the current numbers.

Although some charter trains would still be required, a high-speed line would substantially relieve road and air travel to the football match by providing passengers with a much higher number of seats on the rail network. A high-speed line would also ensure that, despite a surge in long-distance passengers, far fewer local commuters would be affected because the majority of passengers would be travelling on the dedicated high-speed line.

A spokesperson for the Campaign for High Speed Rail, said:
“The crowding at 5pm in Euston station is reminiscent of scenes in Bombay. Passenger demand on the line has doubled in the last six years, and it is clear that serious investment is needed in order to meet these figures.

“A track upgrade is simply not enough. What this country needs is a dedicated high-speed line to relieve pressures on commuter lines and accommodate the rapidly-increasing demand for rail travel. Passengers deserve to be able to travel quicker, with increased reliability and in more comfort.”


Notes to editors
(1) The 60,000 figure was estimated by Sir Alex Ferguson, Manager of Manchester United. See

(2) Tomorrow’s game is only one example of a time when the demand on the WCML is heavily over its capacity. It is also heavily over-subscribed during peak times and Bank Holidays. Over the past six years, passenger demand on the line has doubled and has now reached 28 million per year

(3) These trains run at 15, 35 and 55 minutes past the hour on weekdays and weekends. We have estimated that the key period tomorrow morning will be trains leaving Manchester between 08:00 and 13:00 in order that supporters get into London in time for 17:15 kick off.

(4) This is once the whole ‘Y’ network has been completed, and hence high-speed tracks run all the way up to Manchester. There would also be an additional train at peak time, carrying an extra 1,100 passengers. See Department for Transport, Economic Case for HS2: the Y network and London – West Midlands, p.61,

(5) These figures are based on a proposed rescheduled timetable, once a dedicated high-speed line has relieved capacity on the existing network. For example, see Greengauge 21, HS2: Capturing the Benefits of HS2 on Existing Lines, February 2011,

(7) Virgin have already made an announcement about travel arrangements for this weekend, and has promised the use of charter trains to help relieve the pressure. The press release is available here:

(8) The Campaign for High Speed Rail represents employers from across the country who believe Britain needs a modern, high-speed rail network to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Our case is backed by business people from across the country. Some of these business people employ large numbers of people, some employ just a handful. We are united by a belief that high-speed rail will significantly help Britain’s economy, creating jobs and boosting parts of the country that need it, particularly in the Midlands and the North. We also believe that it will make ordinary passengers’ lives easier by freeing up capacity on existing lines, bringing better services to more people.

(9) You can learn more about the campaign on our website:

(10) For more information please call Lucy or Anna on 07758 019 351 or

What this means

  • If you hold a major football event in London,
  • and the two teams taking part are from Manchester,
  • the numbers travelling are not easily accommodated by rail.


  • after spending £17 billion (HS2 phase one to Birmingham), or £33 billion (HS2 Y-shaped network),
  • the problem is still there.

But dimensioning rail capacity around infrequent or one-off events is not rational. Transport projects need to be designed with regard to common sense. Over-dimensioning capacity provision is the economics of the madhouse.

Unlike a reactivation of the line through the Peak District, the £17 billion HS2 phase one would not provide any noticeable rail capacity uplift between Manchester and London. So chartered coaches, and cars, would be just as important as they are today.

Fifty four thousand a day

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Extract from Centro leaflet SEP1016
At the Birmingham council house debate on HS2, organisations including Sustainability West Midlands, Stop HS2, and Centro, had their stands set up in the banqueting hall. At the Centro stand, I picked up a couple of leaflets, both called ‘High Speed Rail’, but with different text and reference numbers (SEP1016 and FEB1110).

Centro’s leaflet SEP1016 stated that “54,000 people a day would travel to the capital from two new stations – one by Moor Street station taking 50 minutes, and the other near Birmingham International Airport providing passengers with a 38 minute rail link.”

Birmingham’s population is about 1 million (including children and retired persons). So in effect, Centro are proposing that the equivalent of 1 in 20 of the entire population of Birmingham would be quotidian users of HS2, engaged in a 350+ km round trip commute.

Centro’s HS2 website retained the ridiculous 54,000 figure, but added further surrealism by claiming that the direction of commute would be towards Birmingham.

HS2 Ltd’s proposed ‘captive’ trains from Birmingham to London services would be 1,100 capacity, so 54,000 people represents about 49 completely-occupied trainloads. With three trains per hour, eighteen hours a day, the capacity would be 59,400. In which case, Centro’s “54,000” figure means HS2 trains would be, on average, over 90% full. This is a far higher load factor than is achieved on a high speed rail line anywhere in Europe. And of course, far higher than any railway with a tidal commuter flow. For example, the Brighton to London flow is temporally highly imbalanced, with obvious consequences for load factor.

It’s also worth comparing this load factor, with what Centro manages to achieve with its 20 km Midland Metro Line One, for Birmingham and Wolverhampton local commuters. Its load factor is about 20% (5 million passengers, about a third of what Centro stated it would carry).

Debating Birmingham and HS2

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Birmingham HS2 debate panel, 28 March 2011On Monday 28 March, there was a well-attended debate about the High Speed Two project, at Birmingham’s council house.

‘High Speed Rail: Creating Sustainable Transport and Jobs?’ was organised by Birmingham Friends of the Earth, and Sustainability West Midlands.

The debate panel – chaired by Adrian Goldberg – included Martin Dyer and Jim Steer (in favour of HS2), and Mike Geddes and Christian Wolmar (against HS2). After the four speakers had made their presentations, questions were taken from the audience. Actually, some of the audience contributions were possibly more ‘rant’ than ‘question’, but no less interesting for that.