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Posts Tagged ‘design

The perfect curve from ticketing to toilets

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Good design? The DRMM website homepage, 24 Mar 2015

Sadie Morgan, of dRMM de Rijke Marsh Morgan Architects, has been appointed ‘chair’ of the HS2 Design Panel.

[Sadie Morgan to chair HS2 Design Panel, Enda Mullen, Birmingham Post online, 24 March 2015]

[…] She said: “The fact I am an architect gives me a good oversight – because this role is all-encompassing, from ticketing to toilets.

[…] Ms Morgan’s appointment coincides with the publication of HS2’s Design Vision document, which aims to provide a framework going forward to engineering, architectural and design teams.

[…] “We have to make sure everything works intuitively and well for everyone and all elements are fit for purpose but sensitive to context.

“The overriding feature is what good design looks like.

What good design looks like, seems to depend on who is doing the looking. HS2’s Head of Architecture, Laura Kidd, has some strange ideas on the topic. She was involved with the design of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (HS1), which resulted in ‘Tesco value viaducts’, and carbuncles such as Stratford International station.

What good design looks like? HS1 Stratford International railway station

What good design looks like? HS1 Stratford International railway station

Siobhan Sharpe of Perfect Curve

Written by beleben

March 24, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Posted in HS1, HS2

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Strange kind of library

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The Library of Birmingham, in the Square of Centenary, is a strange kind of library. One where it is not particularly easy to find books and periodicals, or do any studying.

One of its many oddities is the floor nomenclature, which as can be seen, is self-unexplanatory.

Library of Birmingham, lifts signage, Nov 2014

Library of Birmingham, lifts signage, Nov 2014. The lift indicator on the left shows a lift at floor ‘L4’, which isn’t a floor listed on the signage

Inside the main lifts, the floor buttons have no indication as to what their labelling means, and there are two columns of buttons, which means they do not map to the physical order of the floors (a multi-column arrangement requires an understandable nomenclature).

Library of Birmingham, lift floor selector buttons

There is no explanation as to the absence of ‘floors’ 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. People are supposed to guess that ‘GF’ is the ground floor, but on reaching that floor, the sign outside the lift says ‘G’

The ground floor sign outside the lifts says ‘G’, which is not a level displayed on the list of floors (presumably, ‘G’ relates to ‘GF’).

Ground floor is denoted by 'G', except when it's denoted by 'GF'

Ground floor is denoted by ‘G’, except when it’s denoted by ‘GF’

Since April 2013, local authorities have been assigned a ‘a key role in improving the health of their local population’, so it’s a bit odd to have massive in-your-face Coke machines in the main library space. There being (apparently) no limitation on consuming food and drink while consulting library materials, sooner on later Coke or whatever is bound to end up spilled all over items of stock.

Library of Birmingham, coke machines

Library of Birmingham, coke machines

The internal layout is not very good for peace and quiet, and there are few carrels. On the 5 November, there was even a brass band playing inside the building. Surely, the town hall or council house would be a better location for receptions and suchlike.

Written by beleben

November 6, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Rearranging the deckchairs

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Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin is to announce plans for a HS2 design panel as he tries to appease opponents before a judicial review, the Financial Times reported on 11 November (paywall).

The independent panel, made up of experts in architecture, engineering, town planning and transport, will work with local people, environmental and countryside groups.

Similar to the panels which worked on the design of the Olympic Park and Crossrail, it will review plans for stations, large viaducts and bridges, and recommend improvements.

The real problem with HS2 is its underlying design — which builds in bad connectivity, low resilience, high environmental impact, operational inflexibility, and high operating costs. Assembling a design panel to improve the aesthetics of the current scheme, amounts to rearranging the deckchairs.

Written by beleben

November 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

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Seats, not track

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HS2 is in no way a substitute for efficient operations management on the existing railway. In Standing Room Workshop, I suggested that crowding on Milton Keynes/Northampton commuter services from Euston was largely a result of rolling stock shortage. This seems to be borne out by today’s announcement that

London Midland and First TransPennine Express have placed orders with Siemens for new Desiro electrical multiple units.

The new trains will delivered between the end of 2013 and the middle of 2014.

Ten class 350/3 electrical multiple units will be used by London Midland to strengthen existing commuter services into London and along the West Coast Mainline.

First TransPennine Express will introduce a further ten class 350/4 EMUs onto services on the West Coast Main Line linking Manchester Airport to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

It’s unfortunate that yet more of these uninspiring, overweight, 20th century, German-built, trains are having to be hastily ordered, seemingly because of London Midland ineptitude in forward planning. There really needs to be a move to 21st century rolling stock designs, which could support national objectives for recyclability, low energy consumption, and rebalancing the domestic economy.

Written by beleben

February 29, 2012 at 3:08 pm

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

Interoperability and HS2, part two

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Because the vast majority of Britain’s rail traffic is domestic, not international, it makes sense to prioritise interoperability ‘at home’. Lack of standardisation increases costs and complexity, and reduces efficiency. However, in the HS2 project so-called European technical ‘standards’ are prioritised at the expense of domestic interoperability. 

True interoperability standardisation would mean that trains from a line A could work on a line B, and trains from line B could work on line A (without kludges, such as trains carrying multiple sets of equipment). Even though its Classic Compatible trains would run onto the West Coast Main Line, HS2 equipment would not be truly interoperable with legacy routes, and their equipment.

There is nothing new about standardisation failure; in the 1950s and 1960s, British Railways acquired rolling stock with several types of incompatible couplers, which restricted operating flexibility. However, the problems of standardisation failure are accentuated in the post-privatisation environment, where costs have taken off. For example, temporary wooden planking of platforms at Stratford International for the 2012 Olympic Games comes with a £1 million price tag.

So there are strong cost, resilience, and efficiency advantages in a railway system planning approach where technical standards are ‘integralised’. Standardised train design and infrastructure capabilities should be brought into the domestic railway as part of balanced investment, enabling a move away from rolling-stock-designs-for-particular-schemes (e.g. Thameslink) towards versatile families for intercity, commuter and inner-suburban use. This would assist with continuity of vehicle manufacture, avoiding the peaks and troughs in the current procurement process. Base designs should be held by an ‘agency’, not by a particular rolling stock manufacturer. In other words, as far as Britain’s national railway is concerned, design and manufacture of rolling stock should be separated.

Written by beleben

October 11, 2011 at 3:28 pm

6 appeal

with 4 comments

Apart from unleashing a cost explosion in the industry, the privatisation of British Rail also led to a parallel collapse in domestic rail engineering capability. By the end of this process, there was just one train-building facility in existence, a (former British Rail) plant in Derby that ended up as part of Bombardier, under the leadership of its Belgian unit, BN.

The coalition government, established in May 2010, announced a commitment to ‘rebalancing the economy’, but what this means in practice, is anyone’s guess. One way of supporting a rebalanced economy would be to support railway engineering design and manufacture within Great Britain. This could also lead to improvements in rolling stock procurement, which has gone badly wrong in recent years. To give just a few examples

  • the Hitachi Super Express trains (Intercity Express Programme) would have a fair claim to being most expensive trains ever built anywhere in the world
  • the Siemens Desiro multiple units, bought for the former Southern Region, use 50% more energy than the vehicles they replaced
  • Bombardier Voyager trainsets, with noisy underfloor diesel engines, have been employed on long distance journeys under electrified lines.

Cost-effective and scalable capacity expansion demands the procurement of a new versatile loco-hauled carriage for longer distance services, with the weaknesses of existing vehicles designed-out. In conjunction with remanufacture of the best Mark 3 carriages, a ‘Mark 6’ carriage could form the basis of the intercity rolling stock fleet for the Midland Main Line, Chiltern Main Line, East Coast Main Line (InterCity 125 replacement), and Great Western lines.

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).