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Posts Tagged ‘environment

Malos aires, part two

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Part one

Centro has failed to address air quality issues arising from overuse of diesel buses and HGVs

John Vidal’s 19 March 2013 Guardian article about metropolitan air quality mentioned how official inaction has led to Great Britain air pollution barely improving in 20 years, and legal limits for NO2 being ‘regularly breached in most urban areas’. And in his article of 27 January 2013, Mr Vidal reported

Diesel fumes are significantly more damaging to health than those from petrol engines, according to research which shows that related air pollution contributes to lung disease, heart attacks, asthma and other respiratory problems.

The findings, published by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, are an embarrassment for successive governments, which have encouraged a switch to diesel since 2001 by linking road and company car tax to CO2 emissions. Diesel engines have been billed as “green” by car makers, governments and environmental groups because they are more fuel-efficient and emit less CO2 than petrol. Vehicles with low fuel economy and high CO2 emissions are further penalised by higher fuel duty tax, while diesels with the lowest CO2 emissions are not subject to road tax or congestion charges. Insurance premiums are also affected by cars’ CO2 status. Last year diesel car sales overtook those of petrol-fuelled cars for the first time. Petrol car sales are now 15% lower than in 2011.

The inaction on air quality is not just an issue for central government. And diesel buses and HGVs are a big problem that local transport organisations, such as the Passenger Transport Executives have completely failed to get to grips with. In the West Midlands area, Centro has prioritised useless prestige projects such as Midland Metro, Sprint buses, and HS2, instead of trying to improve environment and air quality.


Written by beleben

March 21, 2013 at 3:52 pm

David Begg’s winkle

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Biz4Hs2 photo opp in Birmingham

Biz4Hs2 photo opp in Birmingham, with Centro staff bussed in to give the impression of support

As well as putting out ridiculous messages about ‘lawns or jobs‘, David Begg’s Biz4HS2 campaign had a plan to greenwash high speed rail, in order to winkle environmental groups ‘out of the Anti alliance’.

Biz4HS2 approach to environment groups

David Begg's Biz4HS2 campaign planned to greenwash HS2

Self service

A world without high speed rail was never destined to mean a six-lane M1, or more internal flights. The most recent figures show domestic aviation and longer distance road traffic volumes in decline. Even HS2 Ltd’s self-serving forecasts showed negligible modal shift potential from air and car to high speed rail.

HS2 Ltd forecast a 1 per cent traffic reduction on the southern M1 motorway from high speed rail

Modal shift from air to HS2 would be 3%, less than a twentieth of the shift from conventional rail to HS2. But switching travellers from conventional 200 km/h rail to 350 km/h HS2 has negative environmental effects. It increases energy required, and carbon emissions, by a factor of two and a half.

Modal shift from air was forecast to be 3% by HS2 Ltd

Written by beleben

June 19, 2012 at 10:16 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

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A more dispersed investment

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Here’s an extract from an interesting viewpoint on HS2, by Simon Watkins, from the Landscape Institute website.

There are capacity issues on the railway and on the road system. These are widespread, affecting major towns and cities throughout the country, and are not, as a rule, contingent solely upon the relationship of each settlement to London, but do affect the economic performance and quality of life of each area. What might a more dispersed investment of £32bn look like, and how might a wider range of local issues be addressed?

It is argued that high-speed rail is a feature of the continental economy – the UK needs it in order to compete. But the distances across the continent are much greater, so that high-speed connections between disparate regions are actually a useful component of the continental transport network. The potential reductions to journey times in the UK are far less significant. To propose such a grandiose scheme on the basis of competition, despite facing quite different circumstances and constraints to our ‘competitors’ looks like either idealism or spectacular political vanity.


Written by beleben

January 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Great Central is the way to go

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Great Central connectionsIn her attempt to justify extra tunnelling for the HS2 route in Cheryl Gillan’s constituency, transport secretary Justine Greening stated that less use of deep cutting would “mean that we have less spoil, and the removal of spoil is often what causes huge expense”.

Actually, it is true that excavating deep cuttings produces huge amounts of spoil, and that is very expensive to deal with. But tunnels — however they are built — are also hugely expensive. So there would be large cost and environmental benefits to a route that minimised the need to move spoil, or dig tunnels. One of the great advantages of re-using the Great Central Railway (GC) corridor between Aylesbury and Leicester is that the earthworks and tunnels are, for the most part, already there.

Taken together, the West Coast, Midland, Chiltern and East Coast Main Lines have the potential to meet all likely demand for passenger rail travel between London, the Midlands, and the North. However, the government has stated that it is committed to an 80% reduction in Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. To reduce carbon from the transport sector, there would need to be cuts in emissions from long distance goods transport. One of the most cost-effective options is the use of electric railfreight.

At present, railfreight’s share of the British transport market is well below the European Union average. To enable more cargo to be moved by rail, new capacity would be required, but  not the ‘capacity’ produced by the government’s high speed rail scheme. HS2’s effect on national railfreight capacity could be fairly described as marginal, amounting to a few extra freight paths on the West Coast Main Line.

Reconstructing the Great Central corridor would facilitate a much larger volume of freight being moved by rail. To maximise the value of a reactivated line, there would need to be a connection to the West Coast Main Line trunk near Rugby, and — for access to the East Midlands — a connection to the Midland Main Line south of Leicester. As might be expected, access to and from the south coast and South West England would be provided by means of a restored Banbury connection.

The HS2 scheme does not provide any benefits to the counties through which would it pass, and its sole destination in southern England is London. However, the Great Central concept would enable improved rail access to the national rail network at localities such as Woodford (Northamptonshire) and Shawell (Leicestershire), improving passenger connectivity across southern England.


Written by beleben

January 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm

The Right Lines Charter, part five

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SNCF AGC ZGC train, by Vincent Babilotte, CC-SA-2.5 GenericThe Carbon Impacts of HS2‘ interim report, for three Right Lines Charter signatories, states that the Paris – Lyon high-speed railway is 16% shorter than the conventional one, and that “High-speed railways will tend to be shorter than conventional railways” – thereby providing a carbon advantage.

However, the length of high speed lines in France isn’t relevant to the question of carbon emissions from HS2. To illustrate the point made at the end of the previous blogpost

  • the current London Euston to Birmingham New Street railway is 181.8 km, and the planned HS2 to Birmingham Curzon Street would be 175.64 km – a difference of just 6 km
  • details of mileage and stations on HS2 phase two aren’t available, but because of the Y network’s routeing via Bickenhill, it’s likely that the length from London to destinations such as Nottingham, Sheffield, and Leeds would be no shorter, or higher, than with the existing track.

On aerodynamics, the interim report claims that TGV trains in France offer “35% less air resistance than a conventional train”, and

“high-speed rolling stock offers less air resistance than conventional trains by appropriate design that shapes the front and rear of the train, ensures doors, windows etc are flush with walls, provides rounded outer surfaces and streamlined protection on equipment…this cannot generally be achieved with conventional speed trains, as it would require nosecones to be fitted; it would be uneconomic to do this on a system as in the UK where there are generic constraints on platform length.”

Alstom Class 460 used on ex-Southern Region British Rail lines, by Sunil060902, CC-SA-3.0 UnportedConventional services in France (and Germany) have been re-equipped en masse with aerodynamically improved trains such as Alstom Autorail à Grande Capacité (see picture) and Bombardier’s Talent.

So the claim about conventional trains being ‘35% less aerodynamically efficient’ isn’t accurate – and of course, aerodynamics are of lesser relative importance anyway, with lower speeds.

There is nothing to stop British conventional rolling stock being built with aerodynamic features, including nosecones and suchlike. Alstom Class 460 trains, used on ex-Southern Region (conventional) services, were fitted with them from new (see picture).

Interior of SNCF high speed rail carriage, Jean-Louis Zimmermann (Creative Commons)

“HS2 ‘captive’ trains will be able to make use of the European gauge infrastructure. Train width – making best use of the available loading gauge available on new infrastructure.”

45 of the 61 trains planned for HS2 would be built to British loading gauge, to allow through running onto existing track. However, as far as width is concerned, European loading gauge doesn’t really offer extra seating. The internal width of a Eurostar (‘British’ gauge) carriage isn’t much different from a French TGV. And as can be seen from the picture of a TGV interior, the arrangement is ‘2 + 2’ seating, the same as in traditional British trains.

The debate about transport, energy, and the environment demands robust analysis, and pointers to the best possible approaches for policy development. So it’s unfortunate that the possibility to assess the carbon impacts of high speed rail and future transport seems to be turning into a wasted opportunity.


Written by beleben

December 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm

The Right Lines Charter, part four

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As mentioned in a previous post, three signatories of the Right Lines Charter have commissioned research on the carbon impacts of high speed rail (or should I say the Carbon Impacts of HS2, as that’s the title of the Interim Report).

However, on the evidence available, there seems to be some quality issues in the research process. As a first example, consider Table 2 from the interim report (reproduced below – the original spans two pages of a pdf document).

Greengauge 21 'Factors that influence the energy consumption (per seat or per passenger) from HSR operations

Obviously the speed element itself exerts a critical influence on carbon intensity, so it’s a little odd that it’s not explicitly mentioned in Table 2. Although speed is discussed in other parts of the report, it’s again absented from the ‘Key findings so far’ summary, which states that:

“The energy consumption of HSR operations is affected by aerodynamic design and the seating capacity of rolling stock; by the application of timetabling margins, driving techniques, stopping patterns and reservation strategy; and by the horizontal and vertical alignment of the infrastructure, and route length.”

In other words, the energy consumption of HSR operations is largely affected by the same factors as those that apply to conventional rail. Accordingly, one might formulate a more generalised statement, for example:

“The energy consumption of the passenger rail mode is affected by speed; vehicle weight; aerodynamic design and the capacity of rolling stock; timetabling margins, driving techniques, stopping patterns and reservation strategy; alignment of the infrastructure, and route length.” (not a comprehensive list)

What may differ is the

  • relative importance of factors such as speed (which is proportionally more intensive in high speed rail) and vehicle weight (proportionally more intensive in conventional speed rail),
  • and the absolute size of the overall carbon footprint.

To reach useful conclusions on carbon – indeed, on wider environmental outputs – it’s important not to treat speed as a given, that’s put in a separate box. There needs to be a holistic and fair consideration of the issues, and the quantification. To give a second example, the interim report states “High-speed railways will tend to be shorter than conventional railways because of the avoidance of intermediate stations, large curve radii and higher gradients”. How generalisable is that statement? In the case of HS2 vis-à-vis classic rail, for example, what is the percentage difference in chainage for a London to Birmingham, or London to Nottingham journey?


Written by beleben

December 8, 2011 at 2:32 pm

‘Don’t worry, phase two will be much better’

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On its Twitter account, Right Lines Charter supporter Civic Voice announced a “Fascinating @RightLinesHSR experts workshop on how @transportgovuk can up its game on engaging public on #HS2 options north of Birmingham”.

I don’t think the Department for Transport will be meaningfully able to ‘up its game’ on consultation north of Birmingham. Because the room for consultation manoeuvre is drastically and fundamentally limited by political factors. Andrew Adonis dictated that the Birmingham HS2 line had to provide for a link to Heathrow, and had to be designed for at least 300 km/h. Rather than argue back in the cause of common sense, HS2 zealots decided to go even further, and design for 400 km/h running to ‘future proof’ the track. Retaining madcap design parameters means that the northern sections of HS2 are likely to have the same shortcomings as the southern ones.

The fact is that Britain’s short distances and economic geography make peak speeds of 400 km/h – and indeed 300 km/h – essentially irrelevant to intercity rail planning. The Hitachi Class 395 trains used on domestic HS1 services are incapable of 300 km/h running, and are run below their nominal 225 km/h speed to save electricity. With speeds above 250 km/h comes more need to cut through villages, woodland, and nature reserves. So the only way to really ‘up the game’ is to dispense with the absurd design parameters adopted in HS2 phase one, for any new build track.


Written by beleben

December 7, 2011 at 6:12 pm