die belebende Bedenkung

Posts Tagged ‘Centro

When gumption is lacking

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Birmingham Mail, letters, page 26, 15 Jan 2015

Birmingham Mail, letters, page 26, 15 Jan 2015

Local public transport information office at Birmingham New Street station, 15 March 2015

Local public transport information office at Birmingham New Street station, 15 March 2015

Do not criticise Centro

Written by beleben

March 16, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Centro

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The failure of Network West Midlands

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According to WSP’s draft Mobility Action Plan (2013), marketing Birmingham and the West Midlands public transport as a single system would change the public’s view of it.

WSP, draft Mobility Action Plan

Network West Midlands logosHowever, unified marketing has already been tried. Branding local trains, buses and trams as ‘Network West Midlands’ was implemented by Centro from 2005 (and completed in 2007). The intention was that the NWM brand would improve public awareness and increase patronage, but Centro refused to say exactly what the target increase was.

West Midlands bus passenger journeys by year, Centro, 2013

West Midlands local rail and tram passenger volume statistics, 2013

As can be seen from the barcharts of West Midlands bus, rail and tram journeys (above), the NWM rebrand failed in its objective to grow public transport. NWM had no effect on tram and rail trend usage, and between 2006 and 2012 the bus network lost annual patronage equivalent to nine years’ travel on Midland Metro Line One.

Written by beleben

November 18, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Posted in Birmingham, Centro

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HS2 and ‘connectivity packages’, part two

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Part one

On BBC Radio 4’s File on Four recently, Kent county council’s Stephen Gasche was unable to produce solid evidence of the benefits of HS1 to the area (according to the University of Kent’s Prof Roger Vickerman, they are not visible to the naked eye).

And according to Chia-lin Chen, in the case of West Coast modernisation and improved Manchester rail frequencies, a statistically significant correlation between transport improvement and economic change was not found (from ‘The Wider Spatial-Economic Impacts of High-Speed Trains: A Comparative Case Study of the Lille and Manchester Sub-Regions’).

Despite this paucity of evidence, West Midlands transport authority Centro is still promoting high speed rail as having transformative potential.  And to “maximise the benefits of HS2, authorities across the West Midlands have prepared a Transport Connectivity Package to ensure that the whole region can access the High Speed Rail Network”, according to Centro’s HS2 Unlocking the Benefits report (Oct 2013).

Centro map of West Midlands HS2 and enterprise zones, Oct 2013


[…] The Package will maximise connectivity and therefore remove barriers to growth. The Connectivity Package will deliver:

• A “one station” concept in Birmingham city centre with a common concourse, increased passenger handling capacity and a seamless journey experience for users

• An effective people mover at Interchange linking with the NEC, the Airport and Birmingham International station

• New rapid transit line connections (Metro and SPRINT- Bus Rapid Transit)

• New rail links and local stations

• Local rail service enhancements

• Strategic interchange hubs in main centres for onward local connections

• Highway junction improvements and other local mitigation measures

• High quality local bus access

• Walking, cycling, public realm and wayfinding improvements

The Connectivity Package has been prepared as the scheme designs for HS2 have been drawn up. There may therefore need to be some refinement of the package in light of publication of HS2’s Transport Assessment and more detailed design. The key outcomes of the Package have been categorised under three strategic outcomes:

• Capitalising on the network approach

• Unlocking growth assets

• Linking the West Midlands to the HS2 network

Many of the local transport proposals in the report are well over twenty years old, and nothing to do with high speed rail. In the mid-1980s, Centro tried to get funding for an extensive network of tram lines linking Walsall, Brierley Hill, Wolverhampton, Bartley Green, and Birmingham Airport. These proposals performed very badly in cost-benefit terms, and were very strongly opposed by residents. Yet many of them crop up again in Centro’s new report. As with Transport for London, Centro’s decision-making has substantial transparency shortcomings.

Centro HS2 local connectivity package overview, Oct 2013

The ‘Unlocking’ report also included Centro’s proposed service pattern for West Midlands West Coast services post-HS2, but no equivalent diagram for the current services. Had one been included, it would be easy to see the irrelevance of HS2 to regional transport capacity in the Birmingham area.

An illustration of potential rail service enhancements on the West Coast Main Line with HS2 is shown below. Work by the rail industry and its stakeholders will develop future rail service patterns as part of the HS2 Y-Network.

Centro proposed WCML services post-HS2 phase2, Oct 2013

The public transport element of the connectivity package was costed by Centro at well over £2 billion, with most of that unfunded. No figures were given for the highway element, and as usual, there was no disaggregation of the cost of individual schemes (building two rapid transit lines to Birmingham airport could exceed £1 billion).

Centro HS2 local connectivity package proposals, Oct 2013

Written by beleben

October 25, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Birmingham, Centro, HS2

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HS2 releases (little) capacity on existing lines

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According to Centro’s Go HS2 campaign, ‘#HS2 releases capacity on existing lines’.

Go HS2 twitter: HS2 releases capacity on existing lines

However, on inspection of the detail, released capacity benefits of HS2 turn out to be rather less than solid. The only railway in the county of West Midlands relieved by HS2 stage one would be the twin-track Birmingham — Coventry — Rugby section of the West Coast Midlands loop. On its busiest section, between Birmingham New Street and Coventry, there are all-station (local), and long distance passenger services (which generally only stop at Birmingham International station). There are also freight trains, which are sometimes routed on and off the line at Stechford.

The mix of traffic is a limit on efficiency, so it would be worth looking at network reconfiguration, to improve performance. But it is difficult to see how new high speed rail would be of much help, because with HS2 in place, the traffic mix and intensity on Birmingham — Coventry would remain largely unchanged. Freight, local and fast services would still all need to use the same trackage.

Anyone who thinks that HS2 would allow fast trains to stop running on the West Coast Main Line, should consider the facts, and Centro’s statements of its aspirations. Obviously, the cross-country trains routed between Birmingham New Street, Coventry, Leamington Spa, and Oxford could not be relieved by HS2. But what about Birmingham — Coventry — London Euston? According to the Regional Rail Forum’s January 2013 draft ‘A World Class Rail Network for the West Midlands‘ (written by Centro’s Toby Rackliff)

[2.2.26] The inter city London to Birmingham/Wolverhampton service should retain a minimum frequency of every 30 minutes to maintain direct connectivity from the Black Country, Coventry and Rugby to both London and the increasingly important centre of Milton Keynes.

The released capacity benefits of changing a thrice-hourly Birmingham — Coventry — London Euston fast service to twice-hourly, could be fairly described as slight.


And as can be seen from the table of capacity constraints reproduced in Mr Rackliff’s document, HS2 hasn’t really got that much to do with wider West Midlands rail capacity.

Written by beleben

April 10, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Centro, High speed rail, HS2

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Edit discredit

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On 28 June, the Independent reported that the professional body for public relations firms had called for members to stop “directly” editing the Wikipedia pages of clients.

The new guidance from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) follows the revelation last December in The Independent that the lobbying company Bell Pottinger had made hundreds of alterations to entries for its clients on the online encyclopaedia, including removing a reference to a university drugs conviction for a businessman.

This activity doesn’t seem to be just carried out by external PR companies. On 30 January 2012 the Wikipedia page for the West Midlands PTE (Centro) was edited by a user called ‘Peter Sharples’ — which happens to be the name of a Centro PR executive.

Peter Sharples on LinkedIn

If the Centro staff member and Wikipedia editor are one and the same person, there would be a conflict of interest that should have been disclosed.

The 30 January edit removed 14,294 bytes, and the reason given by user Peter Sharples was “Considerable changes to remove incorrect and potentially libellous information by a non-employee.”

But the prior version doesn’t contain “potentially libellous information”, and there’s no “incorrect” information that I can see. For example,

  • the fact that Centro lost money in BCCI, and later in the Icelandic banking crisis, was documented in Centro’s own accounts, and in the Birmingham Mail newspaper
  • the sale of the bus assets of the PTE below market value and behind closed doors was covered by local media. Indeed, a link to Central Television’s report at the time was part of the content removed by Peter Sharples.

Written by beleben

July 2, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Are you being spun?

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Having struggled to originate much of its own content, transport authority Centro‘s Go HS2 website has largely relied on external ‘guest’ contributors, which is probably just as well. Another example of Centro’s public relations maladroitness cropped up a few days ago on BBC local radio, when presenter Adrian Goldberg slated their “gobbledegook” refusal to come on air to discuss Midland Metro.

Being too hot for Centro, the Beleben blog is banned from commenting on the Go HS2/Centro blogs and Twitter feeds, so I can’t comment directly on ‘Are You Being Served’. That’s not the 1970s sitcom, but the title of a Go HS2 blogpost warning of ‘difficult choices‘ if HS2 does not go ahead. Apparently, as a character in another 1970s sitcom used to say, “we are all doomed” without HS2. As “demand continues to soar on our railways, we will be forced to make increasingly difficult choices about which stations are served and which are not”.

Go HS2 cited recent changes in the Chiltern Railways timetable as evidence

There was more evidence of this problem this week in a news release from London TravelWatch which says it is alarmed by the new timetable introduced on the London – High Wycombe route last Sunday (May 13).
In this case London TravelWatch says stopping services to High Wycombe have been revised so that the level of service at some stations such as Northolt Park and Seer Green & Jordans will be reduced to just one train an hour.

Sharon Grant, London TravelWatch chair, said the new timetable had been put in place to improve reliability.

“It does so at the expense of those passengers who rely on the half hourly stopping service to High Wycombe. One overcrowded train an hour is really not acceptable,” she said.

This is happening across our network as train operators struggle to cope with the competing pressures for faster, more frequent, long distance services whilst at the same time striving to maintain local service frequencies on a mixed use railway network with limited capacity.

and rail scribe Nick Kingsley chimed in with

HS2′s opponents are quick to cite Chiltern as an HS2 ‘alternative’ yet here we have Chiltern Railways targeting city to city journeys by business people (even introducing ‘business zones’ on board, a pseudo first class). By achieving a 100 mile/h line speed AND BY ELIMINATING INTERMEDIATE STOPS, Chiltern Railways has been able to eat into Virgin’s share. BUT let nobody claim that this is the best use of capacity: it is the worst possible use actually, because different speeds and stopping patterns eat up the slots available on any section of the railway.

Recovering from its 1970s nadir, Chiltern has become a main line again, so I’m not sure where the crime is in offering city to city journeys to business people. Disparate speeds, stopping patterns, and acceleration are the norm on Britain’s railways, and in a perfect world, such disparities would not exist. However, in the real and imperfect world, mixed traffic is often the optimum in economic and environmental terms.

The Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL, or HS1) is a good example. There is a big difference between the characteristics of TGV373000, Class 395, and freight trains using it, which reduces its ‘capacity’. But this has no practical consequence, because the line is running well under theoretical capacity. In fact, the domestic Javelin services were devised to ‘mop up’ some of the unused CTRL capacity, and improve its bottom line. Train operator Southeastern’s track access charges are a significant help in meeting HS1 Ltd’s fixed costs.

The argument of high speed proponents is that HS2 would free up capacity on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) because

  1. express trains would transfer from WCML to HS2;
  2. this would free paths for more semi-fast/stopping services;
  3. and the WCML traffic mix would be more homogenous

but this is all very dubious. For example, unless the incumbent passenger operator(s) were ‘nobbled’ in some way, it’s likely that they would want to continue to run fast trains on WCML, competing against the high speed operator on HS2. In an un-nobbled market, they would have a strong operating cost advantage against the HS2 franchisee, and this would be particularly important for the leisure travel sector.

Even if all current long distance high speed services were forcibly routed onto HS2 (e.g. by means of an ‘Integrated West Coast’ franchise), mixed traffic would still be the order of the day. Freight trains travelling at 60 mph (100 km/h) are never going to run particularly well with semi-fast passenger workings at 90 mph (145 km/h) on the same busy tracks. So the best way of decongesting the West Coast Main Line is to reconfigure North – South traffic on a network basis — the principle used in Rail Package 6.

Written by beleben

May 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Great Britain, High speed rail, HS2

Tagged with , ,

HS2 and Staffordshire

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With his news release dated 14 May, Stafford’s Member of Parliament Jeremy Lefroy put forward the case for a North Staffordshire station on the Manchester leg of the HS2 Y network.

Following a meeting with transport secretary Justine Greening, Mr Lefroy said

“The Secretary of State listened with an open mind to the case for this stop. The Local Enterprise Partnerships and business community have been working hard on the economic case which will need to make the strongest possible case. It is important that the benefits of High Speed rail come to us here in Staffordshire and do not pass us by.”

Centro’s Go HS2 campaign has also backed a HS2 station in Staffordshire, alongside its attacks on the 51m Group’s Optimised Alternative. Centro seems particularly upset by the idea of building a Stafford by-pass for the existing West Coast Main Line.

Upgrades of existing track, or trains, are difficult territory for high speed protagonists, because their top-line message involves presenting upgrades as ‘inadequate’, ‘disruptive’, ‘poor value’, or ‘tried and failed’. Although it appears in the 51m package, the Stafford by-pass concept originated at Network Rail, and has its own existence away from HS2 controversies. Go HS2’s April 24 blogpost described the ‘Project 110’ upgrade for some London Midland Outer Suburban trains to run at 110 mph (177 km/h) as “innovative”. Which I suppose it is, for a company that runs trains just eight cars long, at times of maximum demand. But it should have been obvious ten years ago that procuring Desiro rolling stock, unable to keep up with 200+ km/h Pendolinos running on the same track, was a capacity blunder.

Go HS2, or rather Alan Marshall, went on to claim that

Rail Package 2 (RP2), from which the ‘Optimised Alternative’ has been developed, would provide some 9,700 seats, and 51m’s around 10,400.

But the difference with 51m’s proposal is largely accounted for by a proposed additional inter-city train that would require construction of the 14 mile-long Stafford by-pass line at a cost of £1.23 billion.

This line would be built through open countryside, from Colwich to Norton Bridge. When 51m question the economic case for HS2, how can they claim £1.23 bn is value for money for just one extra train per hour?

But the key issue now is that this extra capacity, broadly similar to that proposed in RP2 and by 51m, is already being added — because it is required, now, to cope with the present and continuing rising demand for passenger travel on the West Coast Main Line.

I am not a supporter of the 51m scheme, or the Stafford by-pass, but there’s no sense in opposing new build railway when or where it is beneficial. But HS2 is not necessary or beneficial. Nor is it value for money, even in the terms put forward by Mr Marshall himself, as he implied that incrementing West Coast capacity by one (hourly) path for £1.23 billion (the claim for the Stafford by-pass) is poor value. According to the government, the HS2 phase one scheme would provide 14 additional paths on the West Coast corridor, at a cost of £18 billion — which works out at £1.28 billion per path.

Whilst a new high speed rail station may bring some (limited) economic benefits to North Staffordshire, they are highly unlikely to be significant, based on the current skills of the local workforce and based on the existing range of businesses in the area. Not my words, but those of the Atkins company (a fervent supporter of new build high speed rail) in its discussion note for Staffordshire county council. Here are some extracts.

On frequency and capacity

Defining available capacity on any rail route is not straightforward, and is driven by complex interdependence between services with different speed profiles and stopping patterns, junction conflicts and platform availability, as well as the impact of timetabling constraints elsewhere on the network. Of relevance to routes through Staffordshire is the relatively limited capacity into Birmingham via Wolverhampton, which is predominantly two-track. This railway is shared by many different services, with approximately 8tph long distance (and a further 2tph stopping at local stations between Wolverhampton and Birmingham), including services from the West Midlands to Shropshire and West Wales, and 1tph from London Euston to Wolverhampton. In addition, there is limited capacity from Staffordshire into Manchester via Stockport and through Stafford. Schemes are in development for these two areas of constraint; the improvements at Stafford, including the Norton Bridge Junction upgrade and the Northern Hub schemes, respectively.

By moving non-stopping services off the WCML south of Lichfield, onto the new HS2 line, significant capacity is released on this section of the route, but net additional services would operate on the route north of Lichfield, where HS2 services will share the route with remaining residual ICWC, Cross-Country and London Midland stopping services. Hence no spare capacity will be released north of Lichfield as a result of Phase 1 of HS2, with additional HS2 services sharing the WCML and branches with classic services. Figure 2.4 shows the impact on network utilisation on the main WCML routes through Staffordshire.

We assume that some limited route enhancements [i.e. upgrades] would be required on top of the improvements earlier outlined for CP4 to achieve the higher levels of service on the WCML route, although exact details are not known at this time.
Figure 2.5 shows that the proposed HS2 Phase 2 timetable reduces overall service levels either at or below those operated at the moment, and significantly below those in the Phase 1 timetable.
As set out in public documents, the HS2 service pattern is focussed around serving the large point-to-point markets, with smaller markets continuing to be served on ICWC services. The notional service pattern for London-based ICWC services retains 5tph to or through Staffordshire, although the actual levels of service could be modified at any time to meet passenger demand
more effectively.

One concern might be that the financial and economic viability of the remaining ICWC services could be severely affected by the switch of the majority of passenger demand to high speed services, resulting in pressure to reduce service levels further in future years, whether or not guarantees of service level provisions are given at this stage.
It is important to note that there is unlikely to be any released capacity on the WCML route into Birmingham via Wolverhampton – this limits any use of capacity released by HS2 to operate more services from Staffordshire to Birmingham.

On a Staffordshire HS2 station

There is an increasing body of research into the non-transport impacts of HSR services, the findings of which have influenced this chapter. Having said this, the research clearly indicates that it is difficult to find well defined empirical and quantified evidence on the impacts of HSR.
Initial research into the impacts of the French TGV lines suggests that, generally, HSR services cannot be shown to have had a major impact on the net redistribution of economic activity between Paris and the provincial cities, or on the overall rate of growth of these cities.

The size of a city and its metropolitan area has been identified as a critical factor in how HSR service affects the development of that city. Large cities that act as regional centres seem to benefit far more from economic development related to HSR than smaller cities.

[…]it should be noted that there isn’t a simple direct correlation between travel time and commuting activity, with many other factors coming into play. For example, anecdotally, there are many parts of southern England (such as coastal destinations in Kent) with longer travel times to London yet higher commuting flows.
The presence of HSR is only a material consideration in a minority of cases of business location/relocation.

Some types of economic activity will be more likely to be influenced by HSR than others. Although there is still debate about which activities are most effected, research suggests the following are strongly attracted to relocate to areas with HSR services: information economy; retail; leisure and hotels, and those sectors indirectly benefitting from increased leisure travel; specialised service providers; and ‘land consuming industries’ (using travel time savings offset by lower land costs).
Greenfield sites for new HSR stations are not always successful. For example little or no development has occurred at two new green field stations outside towns of 25,000 – 35-000 population on the TGV Sud Est from Paris to Lyon. HSR service frequency and connections to economic activity centres are critical.

To be effective the high-speed rail station needs to become the focus of major redevelopment and regeneration activities, geared to the service economy.
An opposing argument says that improving access to employment opportunities elsewhere will draw the skilled workforce from existing local businesses. The Staffordshire Local Economic Assessment identifies that net out-commuting from the county is a major contributor to the output gap which sees GVA per head in the county as one of the lowest in the West Midlands. We do see commuting at present from Stoke-on-Trent to Manchester, anecdotally those drawn to higher paid jobs in central Manchester from a wide catchment.

Having said this, the benefits to commuters to Manchester or Birmingham may be limited should the HS2 station be located to the west/north-west of Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme as its location would negate any potential journey time savings of HS2 services for those currently travelling to Stoke-on-Trent or Crewe stations on foot, cycle or by bus.
In 2001, of the 153,000 people working in Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Crewe, less than 200 live in Birmingham or Manchester (districts). However, it is not necessarily this proximity to stations that is the prime factor in determining travel to work patterns. It is also likely to be governed by the nature of employment opportunities at the destination, and the skills
available to work at that destination.
There is an additional factor at work here in terms of the cost of living. Commuters are unlikely to choose to live in a relatively expensive location such as London, and commute to a location where house prices etc. are significantly lower, such as the urban areas of North Staffordshire.
Relatively recent research showed that the average commuting time in the West Midlands is 23 minutes whilst official data shows that some 80% of those travelling to work (67% of employees) commute is 30 minutes or less. Only 9% of travellers commute for more than 50 minutes, but tend to be those on the highest incomes.
Evidence from London and elsewhere suggests that, increased travel opportunity has led to an increase in distance travelled and a stabilisation of travel time, rather than a reduction in travel time and distance.
In terms of inward investment, again, faster rail services to Manchester, Birmingham and London may make North Staffordshire a more attractive location for investment. However, the question remains as to whether the quality of external connectivity, particularly by rail, is currently a barrier to that investment. For example, the recent DaSTS study stated that: “The evidence shows that the failure of the conurbation to attract inward investment and to grow as much as the UK as a whole does not appear to be linked to the poor connectivity of the conurbation with the rest of the UK”.

Meanwhile, the Staffordshire Local Economic Assessment concluded that: “Current infrastructure is not seen as a constraint to growth”.
Critically though, the findings of much of the local analysis cited in this chapter is that external connectivity is good and, therefore, new HSR services are unlikely to be the key to overcoming the area’s economic challenges (as opposed to internal connectivity). It is the low skills and lack of growth sectors which are constraining the area’s attractiveness as a business location, not external connectivity. Even if external connectivity were an issue, research suggests that, whilst HSR can act as a catalyst for economic rejuvenation which is already underway, it is unlikely to kick-start it. Indeed, the North Staffordshire Connectivity Study noted that there is relatively little economic interaction with the Greater Manchester, West Midlands or London conurbations despite the relatively good road and rail connections.

The findings of much of the local analysis (including Staffordshire’s Local Economic Assessment) cited in this discussion note is that external connectivity is already good and, therefore, new HSR services are unlikely to be the key to overcoming the area’s economic challenges. It is the low skills and lack of growth sectors which are constraining the area’s attractiveness as a business location, not external connectivity. There is a real possibility that HS2 will result in the loss of two trains per hour on the classic network at Stoke-on-Trent, which would erode this good external connectivity.

Obviously, these observations have relevance for many other places in the English regions, such as Nottinghamshire, and South Yorkshire.

Written by beleben

May 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Pedestrian orientation in central Birmingham

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Centro map: 'Walking between Birmingham City Centre stations'Birmingham city centre is a difficult place to navigate at the best of times, but as of April 2012, there is more disruption than (what passes for) normal, caused by extension works for the Midland Metro tramway, and ‘relooking’ of New Street station (Birmingham Gateway).

Centro and the city council have stated that they intend to improve wayfinding in the centre, with better signage and information. But judging by Centro’s cack-handed fold-out leaflet, ‘Walking between Birmingham City Centre stations’, they have a long way to go. The leaflets appear to have only achieved distribution in early 2012, but it’s not clear how old they are, as there is no clear publication date on display.

Centro map of central Birmingham

Centro - getting between Birmingham stations mapOn one side of the leaflet, there is a general map of the city centre, covering streets as far north as St Paul’s Square. However, the ‘second entrance’ to Snow Hill station — to the north of Great Charles Street — is not featured, although it has been open for a year.

On the other side of the leaflet, there is a map with recommended routes between the three main railway stations (New Street, Moor Street, and Snow Hill). As can be seen, the map is a lot smaller than it could have been, as a lot of space is wasted. Furthermore, details on the map are confusing, and it mislocates or misrepresents features such as the St Martin’s Queensway tunnel, and St Philip’s cathedral.

On the map, the recommended route between Moor Street and Snow Hill involves the Great Western Arcade — which is usually closed outside shop hours — but that is not explained.

By walking across St Philip’s churchyard, many pedestrians could equal a future ‘six-minute’ Midland Metro tram journey between Snow Hill and Stephenson Street, but the map does not show the path. The main entrance to Moor Street station — on the corner of Moor Street Queensway and Moor Street — is also not shown.

Birmingham city centre rail stations (Centro map)

The map does not show the council’s tourist information office in New Street, nor the Centro travel enquiry office in New Street station. But it does indicate the location of ‘information points’, without explaining what they are (namely: electronic display panels, or boards displaying printed timetables and suchlike).

Written by beleben

April 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Wedgwood crock

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Comparing West Midlands intercity rail routes

In February 2008, the Birmingham Post’s Paul Dale blogged about the extension of the Midland Metro tramway across Birmingham city centre. At that time, it was still intended to run from Snow Hill to Five Ways.

I do not know how much money is spent on public relations by West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority [Centro].

But one thing I do know. Whatever the figure is, it is a shocking waste of money.

This organisation has for 20 years or more been a communications basket case and has as a result failed completely to get its message across. Even when it has something positive to say, it doesn’t say it very well.

Four years on, not much about Centro public relations has changed. Although it can’t be easy having to spin the ‘advantages’ of digging up Birmingham city centre for three years to install 700 metres of tram line, or the capacity (not) freed up on West Midlands railways by HS2, I don’t see why there’s a need to abandon probity.

Centro’s PR effort on high speed rail is mainly conducted through leadership of the Go HS2 campaign. Its latest letter to Wolverhampton’s Express and Star implied that HS2 would provide general capacity relief on the local rail network, and direct links between major cities and Europe:

We have already lost stations in Staffordshire (Barlaston and Wedgwood) and Network Rail concluded recently that an alternative scheme to HS2 would threaten services in Stone and Rugeley. It also reported there had been no provision made for growth between Coventry and Birmingham.

It is simplistic to suggest we should keep adding more trains or lengthen them when this is already happening.

In any case Network Rail has concluded we will have no room left on the West Coast Main Line by the early 2020s. Demand is already outstripping forecasts so this may well be optimistic.

HS2 provides fast, direct links between our major cities and Europe, but it also frees space on our existing lines.

Centro has researched how released capacity could benefit the West Midlands allowing us to introduce new services. It would allow for new and increased services from the Black Country to Birmingham Airport, for example.

Map of Trentham, Wedgwood, and Barlaston In fact, HS2 would not even provide direct links between “major cities” in Britain, let alone Europe. Cities not having direct service in the January 2012 scheme include: Stoke-on-Trent, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Nottingham, Derby, and Sheffield. The specification provides for no trains to Europe from Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds (the only cities outside London directly served by HS2).

Phase one of HS2 does not involve new track north of Stafford, so it would not facilitate restoration of trains to Wedgwood and Barlaston. It’s unlikely that there would be a strong case for stopping West Coast local trains in these small villages anyway; it would be interesting to compare the cost-effectiveness of providing better local bus services instead.

I’d imagine Trentham would be a stronger candidate for a new Potteries station, but there are much larger places in Britain without a train service — such as Ilkeston. In the Rail Package 6 concept, Ilkeston would be served by electric trains running from London St Pancras to Sheffield. London to Derby trains would continue to Manchester, via Matlock, providing a second route to the North West.

Centro trialled a direct train from Walsall to Birmingham International (the airport station) via Aston and Stechford, but patronage was poor. The frequency of trains between Wolverhampton, Oldbury, central Birmingham, and Birmingham International could be substantially improved by adopting the Rail Package 6 concept. In RP6, West Midlands intercity trains would run from Birmingham Snow Hill to London via the Chiltern Line. This would vacate three paths each hour between Birmingham New Street and Coventry. It would also be possible to remove the Cross-Country franchise services from the Coventry line, leaving just local, interregio (London Midland) and freight.

Written by beleben

March 30, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Tom Magrath and HS2 propaganda

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Tom Magrath (left) with Geoff Inskip, by West Midlands Regional Observatory (Creative Commons Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0))

Tom Magrath, the ‘Strategy & Commissioning Director’ for Centro, wrote a HS2 report for the West Midlands Independent Transport Authority meeting of 26 March 2012. Here’s an extract.

6. The Department for Transport currently expects to be judicially reviewed on two fronts – on the consultation process and on environmental matters – led by Anti-HS2 groups and 51M the group of District and County Councils along the line of route. At the same time Anti Groups are undertaking a significant FOI exercise in order to try and find evidence for their JR [judical review] exercise and also to place a significant bureaucratic burden on public bodies.

7. Centro, as part of the Go-HS2 coalition, is playing its part in continuing to disseminate information on the Government’s high speed rail proposals and the benefits it will bring to the West Midlands and the country. Go-HS2 is a coalition of groups supporting high speed rail in the West Midlands. Its members include Birmingham City Council, Centro, Birmingham Chamber, NEC Group, Birmingham Airport, Marketing Birmingham and Birmingham Future. Both Centro and Go-HS2 have produced written submissions to the All Party Parliamentary Group for High Speed Rail for their Inquiry into Rail Capacity and will be giving oral evidence in April.

8. Go-HS2 has dealt with numerous enquiries for information and answered questions via social media and email from members of the public. An important part of Go-HS2’s activity has been to address misleading information about HS2. Rather than solely focusing on the benefits of faster, direct journeys on HS2, Go-HS2 and Centro have consistently communicated the benefits of releasing capacity on existing lines. The West Midlands and national rail network is becoming increasingly overcrowded and Centro/Go-HS2 have examined and communicated the case for more local, regional and freight services in our region.

The truth is that Centro has been engaged in creating — not “addressing” — misleading information about HS2. It has implied that HS2 would enable improved passenger rail services between places such as Wolverhampton and Walsall, and Walsall and Rugeley. But service levels on these lines are nothing to do with HS2.

The only West Midlands line where there could be any noticeable relief would be Birmingham — Coventry — Rugby, and even there, the potential is severely limited. Whether or not HS2 were in service, there would need to be a capacity-sapping mix of fast and stopping trains on the Birmingham to Coventry line. And HS2 is almost irrelevant to West Midlands railfreight.

Centro and Go HS2 have been asked *repeatedly* to explain how HS2 releases “capacity on existing lines” in the West Midlands, and have failed to do so. Anyone that attempts to ask such questions via Twitter gets blocked.

Centro have also presented claims about HS2 creating “22,000 jobs” in the West Midlands as if they had some kind of academic validity. But the job numbers are pure conjecture. Centro’s claims are contested by numerous individuals and organisations, including CEBR (which worked on economic forecasting for Centro, on its Midland Metro project).

If Mr Magrath has evidence to show that placing “a significant bureaucratic burden on public bodies” is an objective of people asking about HS2, he should produce it. If he can’t produce it, he might want to reassess what he writes in reports. Or maybe even start addressing the the factual inaccuracies in the HS2 misinformation produced by Centro itself.

Written by beleben

March 22, 2012 at 11:18 pm