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Posts Tagged ‘England

March of railfreight

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One of the questions put to transport secretary Justine Greening on 10 January came from Luton North MP Kelvin Hopkins:

HS2 will not resolve the urgent need for additional rail freight capacity. To achieve significant modal shift for freight traffic we need a new route, built to UIC gauge C, enabling continental rail wagons and lorries on trains to be transported up and down Great Britain and to and from the continent. Will the Secretary of State look at the case for a dedicated rail freight route from the channel tunnel to Glasgow, for which a carefully designed scheme is already available?

Contrary to the impression give by its lobbyists, HS2 would have little effect on national railfreight capacity, and is not intended to carry *any* freight (apart from possibly letters and parcels).

In an October 2007 article on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (HS1), Railway Technology reported

Provision was made on Section 1 for loop lines capable of holding freight trains while passenger trains pass. The route is suitable for continental loading gauge wagons, too big for operation on conventional UK lines, although the steep gradients (as much as 1:40) would pose a stiff challenge for heavy trains. However, since the line opened in 2003, no freight has been carried.

Concerns have been expressed that the track geometry, particularly the cant of the curves, is unsuitable for freight as running heavy slow trains would significantly increase rail wear.

HS1 finally started carrying freight in 2011, but the volumes are insignificant, and are likely to stay that way.

Worthwhile freight modal shift on the national rail network would require a different scheme of works, including projects such as reinstatement of the Varsity Line through to Cambridge. In eastern England, reconstruction of the tracks between March and Spalding would allow rail freight to run to northern England without inconveniencing passenger services on the main lines.

New connections for railfreight in south eastern England

Lorries on trains may be the effective optimum in particular circumstances (for example in North America and Switzerland), but there is a lot of deadweight involved.

Written by beleben

January 13, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Spark of inspiration

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Ex-British Railways Board member Simon Jenkins, in the Guardian:

There is still no published strategy for rail investment in Britain. If there were, HS2 would never survive against electrifying the western region, or improving Britain’s ramshackle cross-country services, or upgrading the intolerable state of most urban commuter services. The project only survived its last evaluation crisis because the Tories in opposition said it was an “alternative” to a new runway at Heathrow. The runway had nothing to do with the case, as HS2 goes nowhere near it. This was like proposing a school as an alternative to a hospital.

Great Western Big Spark

Written by beleben

January 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Stopping this batty project

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According to the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), the colony of Bechstein’s bats in Bernwood Forest could be a ‘showstopper’ for the HS2 line.

But if the government isn’t bothered about moving thousands of tonnes of spoil, pouring thousands of tonnes of concrete, and generating thousands of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide from 350 km/h trains, I can’t imagine that they’d be much fussed about Bechstein’s bats.

The eco-friendly way of improving North to South rail provision is to upgrade the existing lines, especially the Chiltern and Midland Main Lines. If further capacity were needed over the longer term, the existing Great Central rail route could be reactivated at a much lower financial and environmental cost than the batty HS2 project.

Written by beleben

October 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Getting to Wedgwood

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I had a discussion, via Twitter, with Nick Kingsley (Industry Editor at the Railway Gazette, tweeting in a personal capacity) about getting to the Wedgwood Museum, in the eponymous ‘suburb’ of Stoke-on-Trent. Mr Kingsley used the museum as an example of the reconnectivity benefits of High Speed 2 (HS2). Although the museum is close to Wedgwood railway station, trains no longer stop there since the upgrade of the West Coast Main Line (WCML). In fact, it’s one of several stations where services have ceased, or been curtailed.

Mr Kingsley’s view is that one of HS2’s benefits would arise from first-rank trains being moved from the WCML, to the new high speed line. This would allow restoration of stopping services to places such as Wedgwood, helping visitors and the tourism industry in Staffordshire.

Phase one of HS2 would connect London and a junction in the Trent Valley, where trains would run onto the WCML to the North, but no new track north of that junction is included. So there is no capacity relief for Wedgwood, and no obvious means of providing it with a local service.

In the HS2 model, value of time of business travel is considered as being worth more than that of leisure travel (to attractions such as Wedgwood). It’s fair to say that Hanley is the business and administrative centre of Stoke on Trent, so the ‘we-need-good-rail-connections’ argument would imply Hanley is more important than Wedgwood, for example.

But Hanley lost its rail service decades ago, and there are no plans to revive it. There isn’t much of a plan to improve local transport in the Potteries as a whole, and the town doesn’t figure as a stopping point in the plan for an expanded Y-shape high speed rail network. All in all, HS2 seems to have little to offer the city of Stoke on Trent.

Delaying HS2

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Effects on the 'benefit cost ratio' of HS2 opening later (according to HS2 Ltd)

According to Figure 6 of the February 2011 Y-network Economic Case, delaying implementation of HS2 vastly improves its benefit-cost ratio.

Written by beleben

September 2, 2011 at 11:38 am

HS2 visualisations

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Huddlesford, official HS2 Ltd visualisation

On its blog, HS2 Ltd discussed the official visualisations created for the HS2 consultation/promotion process.

We have produced visualisations of various points along the proposed route as we believe it is very important to give people a fair representation of how the line would look. This means that they can make informed comment on its visual impact when they respond to the consultation. And we can use their feedback to shape decisions on reducing visual impact, through design changes and mitigation, if the project is taken forward.

Objectors to HS2 have produced their own, inaccurate images. This is misleading for those trying to find out what impact the line would have in their local area. Our visualisations accurately depict how the railway would look if it’s built exactly according to current designs. If the proposals go ahead, in the next stage of work we would start detailed design work, on structures that would suit the local landscape.

Human perception is best represented by angles of view equivalent to around 50-60 millimetre focal lengths with 24x36mm film/CMOS size. But HS2 Ltd’s ground level impressions have involved extensive use of panoramic images taken with very wide angle lenses, onto which it has photoshopped its railway, making the railway look much smaller, and in-the-distance, than it would be in reality.

The HS2 trains would be powered from overhead lines, and large parts of the route would have a service road alongside the tracks. Along with noise barriers, these are largely absent in the HS2 official imagery.

So, contrary to the impression given by HS2 Ltd, its visualisations do not give a fair representation of how the line would look.

Riots in Birmingham

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

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

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

Written by beleben

August 10, 2011 at 5:18 pm

HS2 service pattern

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The HS2 Technical Appendix gave an outline of rail services with the stage one section in place (London to Birmingham and the Trent Valley). Reading its description of the service pattern shows how weird, and London-centric, the HS2 project is. Here’s some examples.

  • All HS2 services would start or finish in London.
  • The west to north chord of the Coleshill delta junction would not be used, because services between Birmingham and the North West would continue to use the existing West Coast Main Line.
  • From the route diagram, one might imagine that the Bickenhill interchange station was envisaged as a sort of Birmingham through station on the HS2 trunk, but this turns out not to be the case. It’s really just intended as a second ‘Birmingham’ station for London to Birmingham HS2 trains.
  • One of the London to Liverpool HS2 services would supposedly run non-stop between Old Oak Common, and Warrington.
  • At Curzon Street, 1100-seat Birmingham – London trains would be disembarked, cleaned, and reembarked in 21 minutes.

Written by beleben

August 3, 2011 at 10:32 am

High speed air

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Like its wasteful little brother (the Hitachi IEP train), the HS2 project involves the deployment of fixed formation trainsets to provide long distance rail services. But the use of such trains means that it is very difficult to match supply and demand of seats efficiently. To give an example, suppose there were 700 passengers wanting to travel on a Birmingham to London service. With HS2, this would involve a consist of two 550-seat units, amounting to 1100 seats – and giving a total of **400 empty** seats. So a lot of HS2 energy is likely to be expended on moving a lot of empty seats, air, and metal around at 400km/h. As the HS2 units would not be gangway interconnected, there would also need to be duplicate customer service staff (one crew for each unit).

With the Chiltern Electric concept, using locomotive hauled carriages on a modernised Chiltern line, it would be possible to avoid this environmental waste and operational inefficiency. Train length could be adjusted to match demand, even within a single day. The key to achieving this is reliable systems, and in particular, easy uncoupling and recoupling of carriages at terminal stations. This could be a design objective of the ‘Mark 6’ carriage concept, discussed earlier.

Which of the following is environmentally and economically sustainable?

A. Running locomotive hauled, adjustable length, electric trains on the upgraded (but already existing) Chiltern Line at speeds of 200-225 km/h, or

B. Building 175 km of entirely new railway between Birmingham and London, and running fixed-size trains on it, at 400 km/h?

Written by beleben

July 27, 2011 at 9:59 am

Oxbridging the gap

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Transport links between the eastern and western sides of England tend not to receive much attention in the media, but the idea of a motorway between Oxford and Cambridge was a recent exception. However, there is another way of enhancing transport on the Oxbridge axis, with a much lower environmental impact.

Varsity Line
Varsity Line, showing relatively intact western section (green), abandoned eastern section (red), alternate route using existing track (grey). Based on Open Street Map CC-SA 2.0 licence.

London does not have any equivalent of the distributor ring railways of Berlin and Paris, and as a result, there is presently no possibility of providing an efficient east-to-west rail conduit in south central England. The railway network in London itself is heavily used, and could not take on such a role.

Although it wasn’t listed for closure in Beeching’s Reshaping report, the Varsity Line (Oxford to Cambridge railway) was severed in 1968, and the section east of Bletchley Bedford [see below], completely abandoned. Re-use of former railway land along the eastern section has added to the complexity of restoring an Oxbridge link, and no meaningful progress has been made. But a restored Varsity Line has significant potential for passengers, and as a freight route for the Haven ports.

The East-West rail consortium has proposed bridging the eastern gap by using the East Coast Main Line (ECML) from Sandy to Hitchin, where a curve would take trains onto the existing London to Cambridge railway. Apart from being considerably longer, this route conflicts with existing traffic, especially on the ECML.

The more expensive option is to reconstruct a direct railway following the pre-1968 corridor. This would avoid conflicts with traffic on existing lines, and the shorter route facilitates lower carbon emissions from freight movements. The journey time for passenger services between Oxford, Bletchley, Bedford, Sandy, and Cambridge can be competitive with private cars.