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Cause to pause

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Another Begg facepalm momentAccording to GoHS2 (Centro), the Frankfurt – Cologne high speed line

is one of the most commercially successful in the world. Critics say high speed rail needs long distances, but Frankfurt-Cologne is an almost identical mileage to Birmingham-London.

GoHS2 tends to get its ‘facts’ from David Begg, which isn’t ideal from an accuracy standpoint, but I don’t suppose veracity matters much to them. Anyway, the journey between Frankfurt and Cologne’s main stations using the Neubaustrecke (NBS, i.e. the high speed line) is 173.6 km, and according to Deutsche Bahn Reiseauskunft, typical transit times are 77 or 78 minutes. A second class walk-up journey using the high speed line generally costs 67 euro, compared with 48 euro on the legacy route via Mainz.

Examples of Koeln Frankfurt train journey details, from Deutsche Bahn

What conclusions can be reached? Firstly, there is a premium for travel using the Frankfurt to Cologne NBS – around 39%, on the random journeys examined. The on-train time saving (over the Rhine bank legacy route) is 62 minutes, giving a substitutional value of hourly time of about (67 – 48) = 19 euro. Since MSN Money currently quotes GBP 1 = EUR 1.1792, one might postulate that anyone whose after-tax hourly income was below £16 sterling might have cause to pause before buying a ticket.

Secondly, at 82 to 84 minutes, the Virgin West Coast intercity train between Birmingham New Street and London (181.8 km) achieves *much the same* speed and journey time as a Frankfurt – Cologne high speed InterCity Express (173.6 km). However, Virgin’s generalised journey time is actually better, because of the frequency of service (every 20 minutes).

Thirdly, there’s no evidence to support GoHS2’s statement that the Frankfurt – Cologne NBS is “commercially successful”. What is known, is that load factors on German Intercity Express lines in general aren’t particularly high. And on the Frankfurt – Cologne high speed line,

  • path utilisation and frequency of service is low (see schedule above)
  • centre-to-centre intercity journeys often require a change of train (at Frankfurt Flughafen)
  • because of its gradients, unused paths cannot be reallocated to freight services.

The lesson from the Frankfurt – Cologne NBS is: ‘Railway infrastructure is expensive. So it’s important to get the details right’.

Written by beleben

December 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Anthony Gueterbock (Lord Berkeley) on HS2

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Network Rail 2004-2005 gauge clearance map, indicative only, HS1 not shownThe Rail Freight Group (RFG) is a company that was formed in 1991 to represent the views of “those involved with the rail freight industry that were not British Rail”, and its 100+ members include customers, logistics providers, suppliers, terminal operators, ports, and freight rail operators. Its aim is to “promote cost effective rail solutions for freight, and serve the interests of members by improving the political, legal and planning environment in which the rail freight industry operates”.

RFG’s Chairman, called ‘Tony Berkeley’ on its website, is the Labour peer Lord Berkeley, but one translation of his actual surname (Gueterbock) would be ‘goods do not move’. Which is fitting, given his somewhat oddball views about HS2 and rail freight, outlined in a September open letter to Philip Hammond (transport secretary at the time):

Rt. Hon Philip Hammond MP,
Secretary of State for Transport
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street
London
SW1P 4DR
28th September 2011

Dear Secretary of State,

Open Letter: rail freight needs HS2 as much as passengers!

As the debate about HS2 hots up and more people who happen to live beside the proposed route express doubts about the value for money of the project, it is time to clarify why a new North – South rail line is needed.

For freight, the reasons are clear – more capacity is needed to move containers, particularly on the North-South axis. Here, container traffic has grown by 56% in the last 8 years, and customers, particularly in the retail sector, are pressing the rail freight industry to take more of their goods by rail, for reliability, price and low carbon reasons.

The West Coast Main Line corridor is vital because it links the major conurbations where people live – and consume – and on which freight needs to run. One cannot pick alternative routes. As the main trunk route, the WCML already carries 50 to 75 freight trains a day on its southern part.

Some of these will transfer to the Felixstowe – Peterborough – Nuneaton route if upgraded, but we forecast that, by 2030, with traffic from the London Gateway and other developments added, freight will need six paths an hour in each direction on the WCML just to keep up with demand.

And if freight does not go by rail, it will go by road, adding some 200 trucks an hour shared between the M40, the M1 and parallel ‘A’ roads, and adding 500,000 tonnes per year to our transport related output of CO2. I suggest that the same comments apply to passenger demand as well.

If the longer distance WCML passenger services were transferred to the high speed line, capacity on the former would be released for freight. The four track WCML from London to Crewe is easily able take six freight trains per hour in each direction, and also a reasonable number of regional passenger services to cater for the increased demand between Birmingham, Crewe and London.

Ministers must of course resist the temptation to offer non-stop tilting trains every five minutes from Milton Keynes to London as ‘compensation’ for the construction of the high speed line. Faster and more frequent passenger trains will be possible, but one of the related benefits, outlined in the SE Route Utilisation Study, is to build a connection between the WCML and Crossrail near Old Oak Common in West London so that the good burghers of Milton Keynes will be able to access central London without changing trains at Euston. That is the way to improve overall journey times and passenger comfort.

The French TGV line from Paris to Lyon is now signalled for a train every two minutes, and HS2 could do the same. Of course, it would take many years to reach such intense levels of traffic, but it opens up the possibility of through passenger trains from Aberystwyth, Holyhead, Blackpool, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, York and Newcastle (to name a few major destinations) all with trains using the HS2. Equally important is the need for a proper rail connection between HS1 and HS2 without using the very congested and small gauge North London Line. Such a link would enable through trains from northern cities to Paris and Brussels, as well as higher speed parcels and other freight trains.

Thus, on a project where even the first section is only due to open in 15 years time, one cannot expect HS2 to be prescriptive about train and passenger numbers now but, built properly to accommodate such frequent services, then its role in freeing up capacity on the existing line is assured.

So we urge you to stand firm against those who are seeking to prevent HS2 happening; the country needs it, and freight needs a significant part of the capacity freed up to meet the demands of its customers for a more carbon friendly form of transport, and keep all those lorries off the road!

Yours, Tony

Contrary to the impression given by Mr Gueterbock, there is no evidence that HS2 would transform rail freight capability. As can be seen from the diagram in Network Rail’s Freight Route Utilisation Strategy, there are potentially numerous ways of routeing freight to and from major conurbations, but rail cargo is held back by the majority of routes not being cleared for containers. Currently, there is no possibility of rail assuming a significantly larger role in goods transport at the national level. The connecting lines required for that purpose disappeared fifty years ago, along with most local freight handling facilities.

Forecasting future freight movements is just as difficult as forecasting future passenger demand. Who would have expected that, upon its completion, hardly any rail freight would be moved through the Channel tunnel? Who, in the year 2003, would have correctly estimated (at zero) the number of automobiles rail-transported from MG Rover Longbridge in 2006?

While Network Rail is upbeat about future demand for rail cargo, according to the Freight on Rail group, it would be seriously affected if the government permitted longer heavy goods vehicle semi-trailers. The Department of Transport freight model hasn’t proved adequate for planning purposes, and the DfT commissioned the Network Analysis of Freight Traffic to try to enable better intelligence on freight transport. If large-scale transfer of freight from road to rail is a policy objective, there needs to be co-ordinated investment enabling that switch to take place.

Written by beleben

November 10, 2011 at 8:39 pm

HS2 capacity deception: the West Midlands

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West Coast Main Line long-distance-high-speed services can have as little as four coaches

According to Centro’s latest GoHS2 blogpost, there is a great deal of cherry-picking when it comes to debating HS2, and

Time is important, but we’ve always said the greatest reward HS2 brings to the West Midlands is the release in capacity.

Centro has suggested that HS2

  1. provides local capacity gains for the West Midlands network,
    and
  2. trebles Birmingham – London passenger capacity.

With HS2 phase one (HS2WM, scheduled for 2026) for services from Birmingham to London only, capacity would be about three times that of the present-day service pattern, if the existing intercity service via Coventry were to continue unchanged. In that scenario, there would be no capacity uplift on the local passenger rail network, or for freight access to Birmingham.

On the other hand, if one existing London Pendolino service were discontinued, there would be a marginal improvement in West Midlands capacity, limited to the Birmingham – Coventry line, usable for freight or local passenger service.

In both scenarios, there is no capacity uplift for long distance passenger services from the West Midlands to any destination other than London.

Of course, all this ignores:

  • the Chiltern Line, which is currently used at a fraction of its maximum capacity. It has the potential to allow 16-coach trains from London to Birmingham, providing the same capacity as offered by HS2, but without building a new line.
  • the fact that the West Coast Main Line is not full. The Birmingham – Coventry line has long distance trains as short as four coaches (Cross-Country Voyagers) – hardly indicative of a service bursting at the seams.

Written by beleben

October 2, 2011 at 11:28 pm

High Speed Light

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As mentioned previously, extending new build high speed rail to Scotland would cost around £50 billion. The government seems to accept that the Y network to Manchester and Leeds, together with a spur to Heathrow, would be around “£32.2 billion (Quarter 3, 2009 prices)”.

In June 2010, This is London reported that a high-speed rail link could be built from London to Manchester for a “bargain £6 billion”. It turned out that “Manchester” meant “Manchester airport”, and the costs of stations were not included.

A HIGH-SPEED rail link between London, Birmingham and Manchester could be built for £6 billion if a “bargain basement” approach is taken to construction, experts claim today.

A report by the Research Group suggests the cost of the High Speed Two route proposed by the Labour regime – between £15.8 billion and £17.4 billion -could be cut by half.

The group said huge savings could be made if the UK were to use types of trains and track already in operation on the Continent, and if only three stations were built – one in each city.

The London terminus of “High Speed Light” would be at Old Oak Common, north of Wormwood Scrubs, to let passengers interchange with Crossrail to and from Heathrow. The other stations would be at Birmingham and Manchester airports. The cost of these stations is not included in the £6 billion price.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the report was a “welcome contribution to the debate” but its ideas, such as an interchange at Old Oak Common, are unlikely to be adopted. This is because the Lib-Con coalition has asked Lord Mawhinney, a former Tory transport secretary, to investigate extending High Speed Two direct to Heathrow.

Members of the Research Group include Carphone Warehouse founder David Ross and Sir Andrew Foster, a former chairman of the Audit Commission. They warn the rail system will be in “crisis” by 2020 because of surging demand – the tracks now carry more than 1.3 billion passengers a year.

They call for High Speed Two to be developed in a piecemeal fashion, akin to the motorway network. Construction could start in 2015, two years earlier than planned, and finish by 2027.

The route should be built “as simply as possible, with essential facilities only”, and without any requirement to overlap with the existing network. “Smaller scale, manageable projects … can be set up with good financial discipline and learning from international experience,” the report says. “UK costs are high and need to be brought down to international benchmarks. We view this project as the most effective way of getting high-speed rail started – High Speed Light as it were.”

SPV vehicleThe ‘High Speed Light’ report, High Speed Rail, How to get started, dated February 2010, was written by David Ross, Andrew Foster, Roderick Smith, Catherine Griffiths, and Bridget Rosewell. Here’s some extracts:

We propose that a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) should be established to procure a high speed line from Old Oak Common (on the Crossrail route to Heathrow) to Birmingham Airport and Manchester Airport. Funding for this should be raised with government guarantees for the basic infrastructure, but city centre linkages, station development and so on would be funded and justified separately. Train operators would be privately financed. On European standards, this would cost in the region of £6bn.

A critical feature of a HSR network is that it needs to be national in its scale and dedicated to high speed trains only.

A recent estimate of overall cost from Network Rail is a daunting £34bn. To put this in perspective, £34bn would finance the 2012 Olympics more than three times over. It is about the same as the entire value of Network Rail’s existing assets.

A key requirement in delivering HSR is to create projects that appear to be practicable and fundable and show how this scale can be delivered over time in a manageable way.

According to construction companies, the cost of procuring railway infrastructure in Britain is as much as three times higher as comparable projects in continental Europe. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link cost £5.8bn at more than £56m per kilometre it is the world’s most expensive HSR link. There are various reasons for our comparatively higher costs including nonstandard technical specifications, different operating standards and safety requirements, tortuous planning requirements and complex budgetary and procurement processes. The cost gap must be reduced.

European experience suggests HSR procurement, project management and construction operates most efficiently and effectively on stretches of 100 to 200 kilometres

More than half the cost of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and much of the planning effort, arose from the final approach to central London and St Pancras because of the extensive tunnelling and other engineering work involved. Why then, in developing HSR, is it initially essential to build into city centres? Even if traditional appraisal methodologies show that this maximises benefits, a detailed financial analysis will give very different metrics. Best value for money will be achieved by selecting those segments with lower costs per kilometre for early development, probably longer segments outside the cities which represent the potential for the biggest time savings.

The first elements of a new HSR network could provide an effective and efficient link between London, Birmingham and Manchester without venturing into the cities themselves. A possible route runs from a London terminus at Old Oak Common on the new Crossrail route, which links Heathrow to the West and Bond Street and Canary Wharf to the East. Indeed, the Old Oak Common terminus would be only two stops from the West End and seven from the City. The northward HSR route would be to Birmingham Airport and then Manchester Airport where linkages with city centres already exist.

The distance involved in this route is about 300km, suitable for letting as two projects in line with the staging principles outlined above. Major construction companies estimate that a reasonable cost for continental rail projects is €20m per kilometre. On this basis, the cost of a route from London to Manchester is less than £6bn. Both stations and related facilities should initially be limited in number (at Old Oak Common and Birmingham and Manchester airports) and designed and built as simply as possible, with essential facilities only. Ancillary development (for example additional parkway stations, improved links to city centres, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls) should not be seen as part of the programme but to be added as investors demand. Some of these may be delivered alongside the core programme, but as separate projects, for example to manage passenger arrivals.

Finally, it is not essential to integrate the HSR network with the classic network. A High Speed Network can be developed quite separately, reducing cost and facilitating the adoption of more cost-effective technical specifications.

'There is no Ebbsfleet'‘High Speed Light’ is further evidence of the inconsistencies and muddle that permeates thinking on high speed rail. HS2 is supposed to accelerate journeys between cities, but the ‘High Speed Light’ report advocated building a line that does not serve city centres. Co-author Bridget Rosewell “was instrumental in establishing the case for a station” at Ebbsfleet on HS1, but apparently supported building a HS2 line with just three stations between the Thames and the Mersey.

‘High Speed Light’ also says that adopting European technical specifications would help cut costs, for London to Manchester, to £6 bn. Well, European high speed rail norms have been adopted for HS2, and the result is a London to West Midlands line costed at £17 bn.

Written by beleben

September 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Twist of fake

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Even with the limits on press freedom in China, some interesting details have emerged about the country’s high speed rail developments. The news site Eastday reported on the faking of Shanghai to Beijing high speed rail capabilities.

THE former railway minister exaggerated the potential performance of trains on the Shanghai – Beijing high-speed link, a former deputy chief engineer at the ministry has claimed.

Liu Zhijun, who was dismissed in February in a graft probe, had said the train would reach a maximum speed of 380kph and maintain a constant speed of 350kph.

But Zhou Yimin told yesterday’s 21st Century Business Herald that the train could only reach 350kph for a few minutes at a time.

The high-speed train was developed by China based on foreign technology. The foreign manufacturers clearly stated in their contract that the maximum operational speed was 300kph, Zhou told the newspaper.
[…]
High-speed trains made by Japan and France had reached 440kph and 574kph in test runs and but tests runs and daily operation were totally different things, Zhou said.

Zhou said that an official with Siemens AG, which sold components to Chinese train makers, once told him they didn’t care how China promoted the technology as long as Siemens could seal the deal; secondly, the technology they sold was designed for a top speed of 300kph. If the trains ran faster than that, they wouldn’t be responsible for any consequences.

Caixin Weekly covered some details of the costs and financing of Chinese high speed rail. It said that “Now that high-speed trains are crisscrossing the country, enormous costs and other shortcomings have been exposed”.

Professor Zhao Jian of Beijing Jiaotong University School of Economics and Management says a single kilometer of high-speed rail can cost three times more than ordinary track.

In Britain’s High Speed 2 project, its government has claimed that a ‘conventional speed’ new line would cost almost as much as a very high speed line – which is obviously quite different to the Chinese experience, as related by Professor Zhao Jian.

The government-owned HS2 Ltd made a comparison between the its proposed line, and a conventional line following the very same route. This is a ridiculous comparison, the whole purpose of the HS2 route is that it’s designed for high peak speed. If the 350+ km/h requirement is dispensed with, a meaningful comparison can be drawn between HS2, and alternative schemes, which provide their benefits in a different way.

If, over the long term, there were a need for another rail line to the north of England, the existing Great Central formation is largely intact. Obviously, re-using that line would avoid most of the deleterious environmental impacts of the new build HS2 route, and the capital costs would be much lower. But the government’s overriding aspiration, for 350 km/h trains (or faster), means that the idea seemingly has no political appeal.

The coalition government has repeatedly stressed how important very high speeds are to the HS2 business case. This is curious, given that it’s not that long since the Department for Transport ordered Hitachi rolling stock for the domestic Southeastern High Speed service capable of a maximum speed of only 225 km/h – well below HS1‘s peak linespeed. And the DfT’s own Delivering a Sustainable Railway (July 2007) noted that:

[Paragraph 6.14] Higher speed is not the only or best way of cutting journey times. Nor is it without cost. Increasing the maximum speed of a train from 200 km/h to 350 km/h means a 90 per cent increase in energy consumption. In exchange, it cuts station-to-station journey time by less than 25 per cent and door-to-door journey-time by even less.

Astroturfing HS2, part 2

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High speed rail seems to be proving a difficult sell for Westbourne Communications, who got the public relations gig for David Begg’s Campaign for High Speed Rail a few weeks ago.

The best angle that Westbourne could come up with? Seemingly, high speed rail as a form of class warfare.

A stereotypical image of the British upper class ‘toff’ from a bygone era has been used to shore up support for the proposed high-speed rail link from London to the Midlands and the north of England.

The campaign group Yes to High Speed Rail has resurrected the class divide with two posters that carry the headline: ‘Their lawns or our jobs?’

One uses an image of a Reginald Perrin-style businessman doffing his bowler hat, the other has an image of a country mansion.

The posters will go on display in Manchester today on the side of a bus and suggest that only southern ‘toffs’ worried about the state of their gardens oppose the new link.

But HS2 Ltd’s Economic Case is built around high speed rail’s supposed benefits to very-well-off business users, not the public at large. So there could be some difficulties in store.

The posters in Manchester seem to be part of a pseudo-local campaign including rallies in various localities which would “benefit from HS2”. But the London PR company orchestrating these don’t seem to know very much about the Midlands and North. No-one at Westbourne seems to have realised that the rallying point given on its Birmingham map doesn’t match the written description. They relied on Google Maps, but at the time of writing, that gives Birmingham town hall as being located at the convention centre. (Oddly enough, V Building appears on the map as well.)

Campaign for High Speed Rail astroturf rally in Birmingham, June 2011

Football crazy HS2

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What this means

The spin machines for HS2 has already produced some wacko press releases. The following one, dated April 16, 2011, comes from David Begg’s Campaign for High Speed Rail (note that the point numbering in the original version was broken).

News
Football semi-final this weekend illustrates the capacity limitations of the current rail network and the opportunities of high-speed rail
April 16, 2011

Today, Manchester United are playing Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final at London’s Wembley stadium. The stadium has a capacity of 90,000 – an estimated 60,000 of these will be filled by fans travelling down from Manchester, the hometown of both football clubs (1).

Transport and industry figures show that the West Coast Main Line (the line that runs between Manchester and London) will not be able to cope with the demand to travel today (2):

There are currently 3 trains per hour between Manchester and London, with each train having the capacity to seat 439 passengers. This means that the WCML can carry 1,317 passengers per hour from Manchester and London (3). During the key period in which supporters will be hoping to travel tomorrow morning, only around 6,585 passengers will be able to be transported (4).

Under a new high-speed rail line, the capacity increases are significant:

With a dedicated line for high-speed travel from Manchester, there will be network capacity for up to 3 trains an hour to London (4 at peak time), each carrying up to 1,100 passengers (5). In addition, there will also be trains running from Manchester on the existing WCML – modest estimates suggest there would be capacity for 2 trains per hour on this line carrying 595 passengers (6). In total, estimates therefore suggest an increased capacity of 4,490 passengers per hour (off peak) and 5,590 (peak) from Manchester to London. During the morning period in which supporters will travel today, nearly 22,450 passengers would be accommodated if we had a high-speed service. If this was a peak time service, there would be around 27,950 seats. This is over three to four times more than the current numbers.

Although some charter trains would still be required, a high-speed line would substantially relieve road and air travel to the football match by providing passengers with a much higher number of seats on the rail network. A high-speed line would also ensure that, despite a surge in long-distance passengers, far fewer local commuters would be affected because the majority of passengers would be travelling on the dedicated high-speed line.

A spokesperson for the Campaign for High Speed Rail, said:
“The crowding at 5pm in Euston station is reminiscent of scenes in Bombay. Passenger demand on the line has doubled in the last six years, and it is clear that serious investment is needed in order to meet these figures.

“A track upgrade is simply not enough. What this country needs is a dedicated high-speed line to relieve pressures on commuter lines and accommodate the rapidly-increasing demand for rail travel. Passengers deserve to be able to travel quicker, with increased reliability and in more comfort.”

ENDS

Notes to editors
(1) The 60,000 figure was estimated by Sir Alex Ferguson, Manager of Manchester United. See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/manchester-united/8413415/Sir-Alex-Ferguson-predicts-chaos-ahead-of-Manchester-derby-at-Wembley.html

(2) Tomorrow’s game is only one example of a time when the demand on the WCML is heavily over its capacity. It is also heavily over-subscribed during peak times and Bank Holidays. Over the past six years, passenger demand on the line has doubled and has now reached 28 million per year http://mediaroom.virgintrains.co.uk/2011_02_01_archive.html.

(3) These trains run at 15, 35 and 55 minutes past the hour on weekdays and weekends. We have estimated that the key period tomorrow morning will be trains leaving Manchester between 08:00 and 13:00 in order that supporters get into London in time for 17:15 kick off.

(4) This is once the whole ‘Y’ network has been completed, and hence high-speed tracks run all the way up to Manchester. There would also be an additional train at peak time, carrying an extra 1,100 passengers. See Department for Transport, Economic Case for HS2: the Y network and London – West Midlands, p.61, http://highspeedrail.dft.gov.uk/sites/highspeedrail.dft.gov.uk/files/hs2-economic-case.pdf.

(5) These figures are based on a proposed rescheduled timetable, once a dedicated high-speed line has relieved capacity on the existing network. For example, see Greengauge 21, HS2: Capturing the Benefits of HS2 on Existing Lines, February 2011, http://www.greengauge21.net/wp-content/uploads/Capturing-the-benefits-update.pdf.

(7) Virgin have already made an announcement about travel arrangements for this weekend, and has promised the use of charter trains to help relieve the pressure. The press release is available here: http://mediaroom.virgintrains.co.uk/2011/03/fa-cup-semi-finals-at-wembley.html.

(8) The Campaign for High Speed Rail represents employers from across the country who believe Britain needs a modern, high-speed rail network to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Our case is backed by business people from across the country. Some of these business people employ large numbers of people, some employ just a handful. We are united by a belief that high-speed rail will significantly help Britain’s economy, creating jobs and boosting parts of the country that need it, particularly in the Midlands and the North. We also believe that it will make ordinary passengers’ lives easier by freeing up capacity on existing lines, bringing better services to more people.

(9) You can learn more about the campaign on our website: http://www.campaignforhsr.com.

(10) For more information please call Lucy or Anna on 07758 019 351 or info@campaignforhsr.com.

What this means

  • If you hold a major football event in London,
  • and the two teams taking part are from Manchester,
  • the numbers travelling are not easily accommodated by rail.

And

  • after spending £17 billion (HS2 phase one to Birmingham), or £33 billion (HS2 Y-shaped network),
  • the problem is still there.

But dimensioning rail capacity around infrequent or one-off events is not rational. Transport projects need to be designed with regard to common sense. Over-dimensioning capacity provision is the economics of the madhouse.

Unlike a reactivation of the line through the Peak District, the £17 billion HS2 phase one would not provide any noticeable rail capacity uplift between Manchester and London. So chartered coaches, and cars, would be just as important as they are today.

Doctorin’ the spin

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In August 2010, the Guardian reported on communities secretary Eric Pickles‘ announcement of “tough new rules” to “lower the cost of politics and increase transparency”, by abolishing the practice of town halls and public bodies hiring lobbyists.

He said he wanted to end “lobbying on the rates”, whereby local councils and quangos used public money to employ firms to lobby the government.
[…]
The new rules take the form of an amended statutory Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity, which is intended to stop campaigns being run from public funds.

As well as the practice of “government lobbying government”, Mr Pickles mentioned “propaganda on the rates” aimed at the public, that “weakens our democracy”:

“So-called town hall newspapers are already closing down scrutiny from independent local papers. Now, lobbyists are being used to sidestep transparency laws and shadowy figures are peddling more regulation and special favours.”

Fast forward to April 2011, and Marketing Birmingham announced a new job vacancy in the ‘Go HS2‘ campaign:

Go-HS2 Media Officer

(Fixed-term 9 months)
36½ hours per week
£28,579 – £32,790 per annum

Key players from the West Midlands private and public sectors have joined forces to launch Go-HS2 – a consortium in support of the proposed high speed rail link between Birmingham and London.

Go-HS2 is a collaboration between The NEC Group, Birmingham Airport, Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, Business Birmingham, the city’s inward investment agency, Birmingham City Council and transport authority Centro.

The consortium is now looking for an experienced and dynamic media person to help co-ordinate and develop the Go-HS2 campaign, in print, broadcast and social media, during the on-going HS2 public consultation and project development.

The post is initially for nine months and will be based at Centro House in Birmingham city centre. It will involve raising Go-HS2’s media profile and ensuring that the economic and transport case for HS2 is effectively communicated and clearly understood, helping to ensure a balanced debate. This will be a high profile and challenging post that will require keen media skills and a familiarity with wider public relations practices.

For further details please e-mail jobs@centro.org.uk or contact Human Resources on 0121 214 7143 (answer phone) today to obtain an application form and role profile.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Closing date: Friday 22nd April 2011

Interview date: Monday 9th May 2011

For some time, Birmingham City Council has been a participant in the HSR:UK group of 11 British cities lobbying for (not researching into) high speed rail:

“The intention of this group is not to decide the route for HSR or the cities it should serve – that must be based on economic assessments and passenger modelling. Our objective is simply to make a strong case for its realisation.”

Both Centro and Birmingham City Council have been engaged with Jim Steer’s lobbying company Greengauge 21, for example, through the latter’s oddly named Public Interest Group (which has no members of the public on it). Centro has also engaged in its own promotional activity for HS2, and is prominently involved with another publicly funded campaign known as High Speed 2 West Midlands. So it’s not clear why yet another lobbying campaign is being set up, using public funds. How much money has been spent by each West Midlands local authority on HS2 related lobbying isn’t clear.

from Twitter, Alex Burrows describes himself as a lobbyist, and is "responsible for political stuff at Centro"What does seem clear is the intent of the revised Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity – namely, to stop local authorities hiring lobbyists, engaging in lobbying on matters of political controversy, or producing publicity that isn’t objective or even-handed.


Go HS2 tweetingI can’t see a basis under which the Go-HS2 Media Officer post, and the Go-HS2 campaign itself (already underway) could be compatible with the revised Publicity Code, or the wider set of activities with which local authorities should be concerned. Ditto for other pro- and anti-HS2 campaigns funding provided by local authorities. As far as Centro is concerned, long distance transport is not part of its core remit, so the massive pressure on the public finances makes its HS2 lobbying even more squalid.

The Weaver Vale test

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Graham Evans, Conservative MP for Weaver Vale, has, ‘slammed‘ the “ragtag alliance of luddites and nimbys” opposing High Speed Two.

“The high-speed rail link between London and Manchester is absolutely essential for promoting investment in northern constituencies like mine but unfortunately there appears to be a ragtag alliance of luddites and nimbys making ludicrous arguments against the plans.”

Here’s the facts.

  • Weaver Vale constituency doesn’t have a frequent express train service to and from London.
  • It’s even less likely to have a direct High Speed Two service to London.
  • The concept for High Speed Two is fewer stops. Most likely, the nearest HS2 station for Weaver Vale would be Manchester.

So it would be a case of head north to Manchester, to go south to London. Wiping out most, if not all, of the slender time savings from HS2’s higher speed – about half an hour with the ‘phase one’ Birmingham to London section in service.

Greengauge 21 and the West Coast Main Line

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According to Greengauge21, constructing HS2 would avoid the need

to subject the West Coast Main Line to further decades of disruption

Disrupting the WCML – north of Lichfield – is an integral part of the HS2 ‘phase one’ scheme. Most of the HS2 trains would run onto the WCML in Staffordshire, Cheshire, and points north.

There would need to be extensive alterations to the WCML to allow HS2’s so-called classic-compatible stock to run on it. HS2 trains aren’t the same width as normal trains; even the floor height would be different.

Indeed, one of the other consequences of an approach like Rail Package Two is that the future franchises on the line would immediately lose value, and turn a cash return to the Exchequer into a sharply increased subsidy.

HS2 is intended to remove Birmingham to London travel from the WCML to the high speed line. The government has signalled that operation of HS2 would attract public subsidy.

So the entity that would “immediately lose value” from implementing HS2, would be the current WCML franchise.