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Posts Tagged ‘disconnect

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.

Vision for confusion

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Midland Metro and HS2 connections envisaged by Centro

Like everyone else in Birmingham, transport authority Centro were kept in the dark about the HS2 project, including the route, and where the Birmingham station(s) would be. But when the scheme was launched in 2010, Centro was quick to offer support. It announced that future extension of the Midland Metro tramway would include a connection to Curzon Street HS2 station.

At the moment, the Midland Metro terminates at Snow Hill station. The £129 million Birmingham City Centre Extension (BCCE) aims to extend it about 700 metres on-street, to the Stephenson Street side of New Street railway station, by 2015. New Street station is being refurbished as part of the ‘Birmingham Gateway’ development.

The BCCE was originally intended to Five Ways, on the Hagley Road, but this was supplanted by the council’s preference for an extension to Birmingham Airport, to be implemented “after 2015”. As part of its propaganda for HS2, Centro have produced a diagram showing the Midland Metro running from Birmingham city centre to all the way to Bickenhill HS2 station, with an end-on extension from the BCCE at Stephenson Street. Birmingham Gateway and Midland Metro BCCE were retrospectively declared to be components of Birmingham city council’s November 2010 ‘Vision for Movement‘ (VfM).

Birmingham city council Vision for Movement rapid transit plan

Birmingham city council Vision for Movement rapid transit plan

However, under Centro’s 2003 ‘Midland Metro Phase Two Expansion’, the Airport line was shown as branching from the BCCE at the junction of Corporation Street and Bull Street. In the city centre, the route would have been: Lower Bull Street, Carrs Lane, Moor Street, Bull Ring, and Digbeth. This route out of the city centre – about 15 km – would have largely followed the A45 Coventry Road. By late 2010, the A45 route had been removed from the Midland Metro project page on the Centro website. The site carried a press release quoting Alex Burrows, ‘Head of Strategy at Centro’, stating: “Tax increment financing of schemes like the Birmingham City Centre to Birmingham Airport Rapid Transit plan will deliver connectivity between the city centre, Birmingham Business Park and Chelmsley Wood.”

This inferred that the 2003 Airport Midland Metro expansion had been ditched in favour of a completely different route. Centro had previously tried to impose an east Birmingham route for its airport Line 2 in the 1980s and 1990s, running into massive public opposition on each occasion.

On closer inspection of the 2010 Vision for Movement plan, it turns out that the tramway to the HS2 Curzon Street station is not shown as being part of the Midland Metro BCCE, but as a separate ‘rapid transit’ (possibly bus) route between “Eastside” and Centenary Square. The BCCE is shown as terminating at Stephenson Street, the A45 route to the Airport is resurrected, but the link to Bickenhill HS2 isn’t shown.

Public transport planning in Birmingham is in disarray, with schemes being made up by Centro, and Birmingham city council, on the hoof.

Birmingham: change ‘railly’ needed

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In recent years, the local rail services serving Greater Birmingham have seen strong increases in passenger numbers, although buses and trams (Midland Metro) have seen zero or negative growth:

West Midlands transit usage by mode, to 2010 (source: Centro)

West Midlands transit usage by mode, to 2010 (source: Centro)

Rail’s performance is noteworthy, since

  • Central Trains – the main operator from 1997 to 2007 – was renowned for its ineptitude
  • Network Rail – the infrastructure owner – prioritises long distance and freight trains
  • Centro – the public transport ‘promoter’ – has done almost nothing, apart from spending £14 million on car parks at stations.

For years, marketing has been inept, with two attempts at rail-specific branding (‘Westmidrail’ and ‘Midline’) discarded. And from the bar charts, there’s no evidence that the 2005 ‘Network West Midlands‘ cross-modal branding has had any effect.

The only track electrified since Centro was set up (in 1969) is the ‘Cross City Line‘. It’s unlikely that Centro – in its current form – has the wherewithal or vision to deliver a versatile regional rail system, as opposed to the current ‘collection of lines, that run into Birmingham’. Centro’s priorities lie elsewhere. Although it’s supposed to promote local public transport in the West Midlands, it has spent £70,000 on lobbying for High Speed Two, the controversial intercity rail project.

Centro has failed to protect land and rights of way for future regional transport use. In 1972, it facilitated the closure of the passenger rail service between Birmingham, West Bromwich, and Wolverhampton Low Level  (and Birmingham and Smethwick West). In the 1990s, it spent £150 million restoring the Wolverhampton line, but as a low speed tramway (Midland Metro Line One) – whose existence is a major obstacle to creating an effective regional rail system.

HS2: creating disconnectivity

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In an article claiming that the Labour Party should reaffirm its commitment to high-speed rail, Andrew Adonis stated how HS2 would improve transport connections in the Midlands:

“The connectivity gains from high-speed rail are equally impressive… Birmingham – Britain’s second city – is effectively an intercity branch line off the West Coast Main Line, so connections between Birmingham, the East Midlands, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and the north are extremely poor.”

Actually, the current Birmingham New Street station is on a loop of the West Coast Main Line, and has direct connections to Wales, the East Midlands, and south west and north east England. Contrary to the impression given by Mr Adonis, it’s Curzon Street HS2 station that would be on a dead end branch, with no conventional rail services calling there. The HS2 stage one project – with a supposed completion date of 2025 – provides no service from Birmingham Curzon Street to the East Midlands, Sheffield, Leeds, or Newcastle. Curzon Street HS2 would serve only London and northern destinations on the West Coast Main Line (these are already served by Birmingham New Street station).

The verb ‘disconnect’ means “to sever or interrupt the connection of, or between”. As can be seen from the location of Curzon Street HS2 and New Street station in Birmingham, HS2 creates disconnectivity, and weakens Birmingham as a transport hub.

Poor interchange and bad location: Birmingham city HS2

Poor interchange and bad location: Birmingham city HS2

The pedestrian routes between Curzon Street and New Street are poor, jarring with Philip Hammond’s aspiration to provide ‘airport-quality’ interchange with HS2: “That cannot be lug your heavy bags down a couple of escalators, along 600 metres of corridor…”

The direct route uses the ex St Martin’s Queensway tunnel under the Bullring shopping centre, which can be intimidating, especially at night. The less intimidating route is more complex, and involves gradients. Both routes are exposed to the elements.

Centro has claimed that there are plans to connect New Street to Curzon Street HS2 by Midland Metro, but there are no legal powers, and the route hasn’t been explained.

With or without Midland Metro, the interchange time (New Street to Curzon Street) is enough to wipe out HS2’s higher speeds, for journeys starting in many parts of the local area (e.g. Wolverhampton).