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Posts Tagged ‘disconnectivity

Christmas every day

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On 19 December 2012, Michael Fallon, Minister of State in Britain’s ‘Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ stated that West Midlands councils would have to work out for themselves how to ‘spread HS2 benefits’ beyond the station sites.

[Commons Debates > Daily Hansard – Westminster Hall, 19 Dec 2012 : Column 310WH]
That is a great opportunity for the region as a whole, with the benefits spreading beyond the station sites and into the wider city region. There is a challenge for councils in the west midlands and their partners to work together on how to achieve that.

Anyone who has looked at a map of the HS2 project would be aware that

  • there would only be two station sites in the West Midlands, with the city of Birmingham served by a dead-end branch line;
  • the branch line terminus at Curzon Street would be several hundred yards from New Street railway station used by most regional trains;
  • the Y network would by-pass the Black Country, Coventry, and the built-up area of Solihull.

Centro, the West Midlands transport authority, has alternated between publicly asserting that the official HS2 scheme would provide good connectivity and lobbying the government for changes in HS2 (and more funds) to mitigate its disconnectivity. In the past few months, several comical schemes for mitigating HS2 shortcomings have emerged. In the summer, Paul Kehoe, chief executive of Birmingham Airport, proposed moving the entire airport to the east to be closer to Bickenhill HS2 station. Not to be outdone, the end of 2012 has seen Centro touting cable cars in Birmingham city centre and tram-trains running between Bickenhill and Coventry along the West Coast rail track.

National Rail Christmas 2012 train service disruption warning for travel via Birmingham

Over Christmas 2012, maintenance work has entailed changes and diversions to railway services, with National Rail advising that some of the alternative routes offered by the journey planner

may involve a walk between [New Street and Moor Street] stations in Birmingham which may not be suitable for passengers with mobility impairments or carrying heavy luggage.

But in the HS2 scheme, transit between New Street and the HS2 station behind Moor Street would be a requirement for many journeys, throughout the year. So HS2 would bring Birmingham Christmas every day, but not in a good way.

Written by beleben

December 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Low Speed One to High Speed Two

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Members of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority are to discuss HS2 disconnectivity at the meeting of 3 December 2012.

Centro WMITA meeting, 03 December 2012, item 17, HS2 high speed rail

The briefing paper states that Centro was tasked with convening a ‘HS2 Local Connectivity Group’.

4. […]The Group (whilst mindful of individual authorities’ positions on HS2), felt it was important to work together to establish one voice for the West Midlands on what schemes needed to be in place to ensure everyone can derive significant benefits from HS2.

5. The membership of the HS2 Local Connectivity Group is:

* Centro (Chair)

* Arup (as consultants for HS2 Ltd)

* Birmingham City Council

* Birmingham Airport

* Black Country Consortium

* Black Country Chamber of Commerce

* Coventry City Council

* Department for Transport

* Dudley MBC

* Highways Agency

* HS2 Ltd

* NEC Group

* Network Rail

* North Warwickshire District Council

* Sandwell MBC

* Solihull MBC

* Warwickshire County Council

* Walsall MBC

* Wolverhampton City Council

6. Since June 2012, the Group has been working together to develop a Local Connectivity Package which sets out the transport schemes that will be required by the West Midlands to support the required level of connectivity to the West Midlands’ HS2 stations from the whole region.

7. The Local Connectivity Package is currently in draft form (see attached Appendix A) and is intended to be published in early 2013. It is fully aligned with Metropolitan and Regional strategic priorities including the 2015-19 Major Schemes Prioritisation Work, the draft ITA Freight Strategy, Prospectus and Rail Vision.

So far as can be ascertained, the draft Local Connectivity Package (‘Appendix A’) does not appear in the 3 December briefing notes on Centro’s website.

But according to the Go HS2 weblog

  1. “authorities across the West Midlands” are pressing for a direct link from Coventry into the planned HS2 Interchange station at Birmingham Airport. Coventry is around eight miles from the forthcoming HS2 station, but a direct link would allow passengers to connect straight onto high-speed rail services to the North West, Yorkshire, London and Europe.
  2. the HS2 Local Connectivity Group “is supporting further tram extensions to the HS2 city centre station benefiting communities in the Black Country served by Midland Metro”.

Clearly, the planned Bickenhill HS2 station is not “at Birmingham Airport”. Its site is 2 km away. If it were “at the airport”, why would there be a need to build a “direct link from Coventry”? There’s already a train from Coventry to Birmingham International station.

What form would the “direct link” take? There’s no clue in the document. This is typical Centro back-of-a-fag-packet stuff. “Direct link” probably means “a bus”. The probability of funding and constructing some kind of direct fixed-track link from Coventry to Bickenhill, is about nil.

The configuration of HS2 in the West Midlands means that it is almost impossible for places like the Black Country and Coventry to derive meaningful benefit. MVA’s April 2012 Demand and Appraisal Report suggested that the benefit from HS2 for the Black Country would be small (about the same as for Worcestershire).

Having backed HS2 Ltd’s terminally flawed concept, Centro have been struggling to devise some means of access to the high speed line from the Black Country. Their latest idea is to extend Midland Metro from the Bull Street / Corporation Street intersection, to the Curzon Street HS2 station.

The idea smacks of desperation. How would the tram service headway work with a junction in Corporation Street? What is the point of building high speed rail to London, and then having people from miles away reach it by a mode of transport that stops every few hundred yards? Like the old trams, accommodation in Low Speed One‘s new Urbos 3 trams is to be single class, and mainly for standees.

Are businessmen from, say, Bilston, going to be queueing up to use the ‘productive working environment’ of Midland Metro? According to Passenger Focus

  • rail passengers are strongly adverse to having to change trains, with the strength of this dislike increasing in proportion to the length of journey.

    Existing business users are most inconvenienced by interchange, which is consistent with previous research suggesting that business passengers use in-vehicle time productively, and this is not generally possible when changing trains.

    Commuters and leisure passengers are only slightly less averse to interchange, with little difference in the valuation of each of these groups.

  • as soon as passengers are required to stand, the value that they derive from the rail service reduces significantly. This strength of reaction is proportional to both the time spent standing and the number of other people standing given the space available, as passengers are most averse to standing in extremely congested conditions for long periods of time.

Written by beleben

November 27, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Shopping on a building site

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BBC Midlands Today report on Birmingham bus stop resitings, 23 July 2012

In February 2005, the Birmingham Mail reported on doubts about extending the Midland Metro tramway on-street 2.8 km to Five Ways across Birmingham city centre.

Liberal Democrat transport expert Councillor Paul Tilsley insisted a proper city centre underground system was needed.

“It is the only way,” he declared last night.

“The people of this city would never stand for years of mayhem.”

The Conservative – Liberal Democrat partnership that ran Birmingham council at the time subsequently did a U-turn, agreeing that the tramway should be built, but only the 1.4 km section between Snow Hill and Stephenson Street. By Autumn 2012, the consequences of that U-turn could be seen across the city centre, with tramway works having disrupted visitors, shoppers, and workers for months.

To enable trams to run along Corporation Street and Upper Bull Street, all buses using them have had to be permanently re-routed. On 22 July 2012, BBC Midlands Today reported on the closure of bus stops, and shop owners’ fears about loss of trade.

BBC Midlands Today report on Birmingham bus stop resitings, 23 July 2012

The report featured a time-lapsed trek by reporter Bob Hockenhull across the city centre, illustrating the distance between old and new pickup points for some buses. In an attempt to reduce the confusion caused by bus stop relocation, Centro and Birmingham city council staff had been sent out into the city centre to advise the public, apparently with little success. One of the traders interviewed said that the Midland Metro construction would make retailing in the Corporation Street area like “shopping on a building site”.

On July 26, the Birmingham Mail reported that work has begun to uproot nearly 30 trees in central Birmingham to make way for the £125 million [sic] Midland Metro extension.

Transport authority Centro has agreed to pay £6,698 to compensate for the trees which are being cut along Upper Bull Street, Corporation Street, Stephenson Place, Ethel Street and Pinfold Street.

The trees are less than 20 years old and will be replaced on a two-for one basis within the city centre by Centro.

A Centro spokesman said: “These are American plane trees and of no historic merit, being less than 20 years old.

“They are unpopular with Corporation Street traders because they are too tall, block out light and detract from the shopping environment. Some were also diseased.

On 10 August, the Mail reported that Corporation Street shops had claimed trade had plunged by up to 50 per cent since bus stops were removed for Midland Metro.

Businesses have reported a dramatic drop in customers since the stops were relocated three weeks ago by Centro, to make way for the Midland Metro extension.

Kamlesh Patel, 45, manager of News Express, said: “Business has been reduced dramatically – by 50 per cent. If the council do not reduce the rates, there won’t be a single shop left on Corporation Street. ‘The work hasn’t even started yet.”

On October 18, the Birmingham Mail reported that independent traders around St Philip’s cathedral had threatened to hold a Saturday strike to show what will happen if they are forced to shut up shop. The council was now offering a “package of financial support and business advice” and pledging to cut business rates for “those badly affected”.

What a mess Birmingham’s ‘Vision for Movement’ has turned out to be. But there is a lot worse to come, if Centro’s current leaders get their way. If bigger fiascos are to be avoided, Birmingham’s urban and transport planning processes need to be overhauled urgently.

Written by beleben

October 23, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Ministry of silly walks

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Ministry of silly walks, Walk 1: Birmingham New Street station to Curzon Street HS2

Illustration includes picture of Curzon Street by Steve Cadman, (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Rather than being an exemplar of 21st century connectivity, HS2 looks like something developed at the Ministry of Silly Walks, with silly walks themselves built into the proposition. The first urban silly walk proposed by HS2 planners is in central Birmingham, between the proposed HS2 terminal and New Street station.

For aficionados of semi-rural silliness, HS2 planners propose the walks for people changing between Birmingham International and Bickenhill HS2 stations, which would also include a ride on a people mover.

At HS2 Old Oak Common, Philip Hammond had doubts about the viability of a silly walk, but eventually came around to the idea.

For the second stage of HS2, silly walks are only at the rough outline, but in prospect for sites including Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, and Sheffield, as part of the city-to-HS2 parkway concept.

Written by beleben

July 31, 2011 at 4:50 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.

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.

Nightmare on Curzon Street

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Birmingham Curzon Street HS2 station aerial view, artist's impressionPrevious posts on this blog have signalled the disconnectivity and inconvenience built into the Birmingham HS2 terminal arrangements.

The recently released HS2 Ltd bird’s eye impression of Curzon Street from above, gives a new angle on these shortcomings. The station is also revealed as a charmless steel box – a throwback to the failed reinvention of the city centre in the 1960s.

On April 21, the Birmingham Post reported that “the 1838-built Grade I-listed frontage of Curzon Street station would be “the main entrance” to the Curzon Street HS2 terminal (and gave a different artist’s impression of the terminal, by Glenn Howells architects). However, the HS2 Ltd artist’s impression suggests that the Cumbernauld style entrance over Moor Street would be the principal access. The 1838 Curzon Street building is lost alongside, and overshadowed by, the massive steel box of the terminal platforms.

Because of the £17 billion cost, it’s almost inevitable that the air rights above the platforms would be sold, but that doesn’t figure in either view. In Birmingham, exploitation of air rights took place at both New Street and Snow Hill stations, and the consequences of this are abundantly clear to anyone who has set foot in them.