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Posts Tagged ‘Great Britain

Great Central intercity

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Great Central intercity passenger conceptIn Great Central is the way to go, I discussed some of the advantages of reconnecting the Great Central corridor back into the railway system.

The diagram shows a possible routeing of London-bound Liverpool and Glasgow West Coast intercity passenger trains into the Great Central, via a new connection near Rugby. The route would also be available for cross country intercity service to the south coast.

With a move to a clockface timetable, there could be benefits in stopping crosscountry intercity services to the south coast at Tamworth and Banbury, as shown.

Written by beleben

January 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm

In with the spin crowd

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As previously mentioned, it’s worth considering the emotive language of HS2 lobbyists against the real numbers. The franchise and London station data from the Office for Rail Regulation National Rail Trends Yearbook 2010/2011 showed that, compared with Euston services,

  • crowding is a bigger issue for the Great Western (Paddington) franchise,
  • Liverpool Street handles a much larger volume of morning peak trains. Etc.

For some reason, high speed rail lobbyists don’t seem to be calling for new westbound and eastbound lines to take priory over modernising the Great Western or Great Eastern. And no-one is saying that upgrading GW or GE is “patch and mend” of “outdated Victorian infrastructure”. That phraseology, from the Adonis/Steer school of obfuscation, seems to be mostly directed at the West Coast Line.

Passengers in excess of capacity, by franchise, 2008-2010

Hype is no substitute for rationality. West Coast Main Line capacity issues are no less manageable than those of other routes.

'Peak arrivals and departures, London stations, typical weekday, Autumn 2010', ORR

Written by beleben

January 23, 2012 at 12:37 pm

The £32 billion question

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During their HS2 enquiries, no member of the House of Commons transport committee asked the $64,000 £32,000,000,000 question. But it was asked by Christian Wolmar, back in January 2010:

As an aside, the Chiltern raises a question that is rather uncomfortable for supporters of high speed rail which is: If the need for a high speed line to Birmingham is about capacity rather than reducing journey times, would it not be better to, say, electrify the Chiltern line and enable it to run longer trains, thereby releasing capacity for other services on the West Coast?

Written by beleben

December 10, 2011 at 3:51 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

The Right Lines Charter, part three

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It's complicated

High Speed Rail, Next steps for the new Secretary of State‘ has been published by The Right Lines Charter on its website

Imminent decision on HS2 needs to be part of wider transport strategy

Posted on 25 November, 2011 by Karen Gardham

A broad coalition of campaigning groups is launching a new report on High Speed Rail, setting out what still needs to be done by the Government to meet its commitment to local communities and the environment.

When the Right Lines Charter, supported by environmental, transport, heritage and legal charities with over 600 combined years of involvement in the planning of major infrastructure, was launched in April 2011, then Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond said that ‘[these] respected organisations…should be assured that the Government is already acting on their points of concern.’ Over half a year later, on the verge of the Government announcing its decision on High Speed 2 (HS2), these organisations are launching a report to set out for the benefit of the new Secretary of State, Justine Greening, what still needs to be done.

Karen Gardham, Campaign Manager for the Right Lines Charter, says: “The two transport policies the Government is clear about are that they want High Speed Rail, but they do not want a third runway at Heathrow. We strongly support the commitment to shifting intercity transport from air and road to rail, but so far HS2 has been developed in a vacuum. If HS2 is to meet its environmental or economic potential, it needs to be planned properly within a long-term national transport strategy that cuts carbon.”

Besides setting out the need for such a strategy by 2014, before phase two of HS2 is formally consulted on, the report outlines how changes are needed to the way the future is forecasted and how communities are engaged in consultation on major infrastructure proposals. It also calls for better recognition and protection of the value of the natural and historic environment. The groups are calling for the lessons from previous schemes, such as High Speed 1, to be learned from.

Karen Gardham added: “Justine Greening has shown her environmental credentials and eye for detail during the successful challenge to the third runway at Heathrow. Now she has been promoted to run the Department for Transport, we’re hoping she will once again secure the best outcome for communities and the country by improving the planning of High Speed Rail.”

and high speed rail lobbying company Greengauge 21 has announced that three of the Right Lines Charter signatories have commissioned it to look at high speed rail and carbon emissions.

Carbon impacts of HS2: Interim Report

2 December, 2011

A research study into the potential full carbon impacts of HS2 has been commissioned from Greengauge 21 by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). This report sets out the interim findings, highlighting the issues that we have identified as likely to be significant in the carbon case for HS2.

The report is an interim document ahead of the full results of the research, which will be published in 2012. In the next phase of the study will examine the knock-on effects on other modes of transport, examining for the first time the carbon impacts of freeing up capacity on existing railways for more rail freight or local passenger services, and identify the policy measures that will have the most impact on the carbon emissions for high speed rail.

Notes to Editors

1. The research study, The Carbon Impacts of HS2, is being carried out by Greengauge 21, a not-for-profit research organisation on high-speed rail. Greengauge 21 has in turn commissioned various experts in the environmental and transport fields and coördinated the research programme.

2. The Carbon Impacts of HS2 was commissioned by Campaign for Better Transport, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The groups are all signatories of The Right Lines Charter, which was launched in April 2011 and which ten other organisations have now signed up to. It sets out four principles for ‘doing High Speed Rail well’, including highlighting the need for high-speed rail to be planned and justified as a strategic element of a sustainable, near zero carbon transport system.

3. The Carbon Impacts of HS2 is sponsored by Siemens, Systra and the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC).

However, the ‘interim’ report doesn’t seem to be consistent with the Right Lines charter itself:

A new strategic and transparent approach is needed for High Speed Rail in an increasingly uncertain future. Assumptions about future transport policy and trends need to be exposed to scrutiny, taking account of possible technological changes as well as changes to the cost of different forms of travel.

Written by beleben

December 2, 2011 at 11:47 am

Mayor culpa

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Yes to Birmingham mayor website, mockup header

On 24 November, the Hyatt Hotel was the venue for a conflab on the question of whether Birmingham should have an elected mayor, featuring speakers from the Yes and No campaigns, and an audience of “about 80“.

In the discussion, Councillor John Hemming, from the No campaign, said there was a ‘minor debate’ about whether a mayor should have more powers, and the ‘big debate’ was about whether or not to change to an elected mayoralty.

But in reality, the topic of what an elected mayor is ‘for’ – and the reach of the mayoral executive – are fundamental.

One might reasonably expect an elected mayor to have final responsibility for economic planning, built environment, and transport, in the mayoral ‘area’ – whatever that might be. In which case, there would need to be substantial changes to current governance arrangements across a range of agencies. For example, transport in the West Midlands county is currently the responsibility of Centro, with decisions made – at least on paper – by a committee system of councillors from seven metropolitan boroughs (though in practice, policy is largely made by the local government officers).

At the time of writing, the mock-up of the Yes to Birmingham mayor campaign website, at, shows Centro as a supporter, presumably because head of strategy Alex Burrows is a leader of the Yes campaign. But it seems bizarre that Centro would publicly or privately back a campaign that calls into question its continued governance (or existence).

Yes to Birmingham mayor website mockup

Written by beleben

November 29, 2011 at 6:40 pm

California style

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On November 1, the San Jose Mercury News reported on the sticker shock for California’s high speed rail project:

Californians suffering from a massive case of “sticker shock” over the new $99 billion price tag for the state’s bullet train project got some more unsettling details Tuesday: The high-speed trains will attract fewer riders and less revenue than originally promised. And more than half of the money needed to build the rail line would come from federal funding that currently doesn’t exist.
The bullet train is now expected to cost nearly triple what voters were promised when they approved the plan in 2008 and more than double the 2009 estimate.
Most high-speed rail systems around the world require a public subsidy, but California voters have forbidden the Golden State’s bullet train from using tax funds for operations.

In the HS2 Ltd estimates, just over £1 billion is allowed for what is, in effect, a total rebuild of Euston station, and the Y network is supposed to reach *city centre* Leeds and Manchester, for an outlay of only £32.3 billion. These figures aren’t plausible. Notwithstanding the optimism bias allowance in the project, it’s inevitable that sooner or later, HS2 going to provide its own California-style sticker shock.

Written by beleben

November 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Off their trolley

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Walsall trolleybus, 1970 (Picture by David Hillas,, Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0)One of the first actions of the newly-formed West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (now known as Centro) was to close down the Walsall trolleybus system. Following its closure on 3 October 1970, road passenger transport in the West Midlands became entirely dependent on the diesel engine, and today, diesel buses are a major contributor to the West Midlands county’s bad air quality. Centro’s 2009-2014 Environmental Strategy has little to say about pollution from public transport, and any reduction in pollution from buses has occurred through European emissions regulations for new vehicles, rather than from action on the part of local authorities.

Although the conventional bus fleet is becoming cleaner as a result of newer vehicles replacing older ones, there needs to be more use of alternatives to diesel buses. On the most important corridors, there would be the possibility of (re-)introducing trolleybuses. Traditional battery buses have been range and performance limited, while trolleybuses have been limited to on-wire operation, unless equipped with an auxiliary power source (generally a small diesel engine). But improvements in battery and capacitor technology mean that all-electric trolleybuses, with off-wire capability, should now be possible.

Centro’s hurriedly developed Sprint ‘bus rapid transit’ is planned to use buses styled to look like trams. But so far as can be ascertained, behind the plastic wheel covers, they would be standard ‘low emission’ diesel buses. On the other hand, trolleybuses on the principal corridors could make cost-effective use of overhead infrastructure (unlike the overhead on the Midland Metro tramway, which is at best only used by one service running every 6-7 minutes). In Birmingham, potential corridors for trolleybus operation include the Alcester Road, Soho Road, Walsall Road, Hagley Road, Bordesley Green, and Coventry Road.

Written by beleben

November 27, 2011 at 7:10 pm