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Yes men and economic girlie-men

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PR lady, Al Murray (actually, probably not Al Murray), and Alex Burrows from Centro / Go HS2Campaign for High Speed Rail rally at Victoria Square, Birmingham, 21 June 2011
Today, David Begg’s Campaign (Bus) for High Speed Rail (also known as Biz4HS2) rolled into Birmingham’s Victoria Square, crewed by yes-men (and women) kitted out in white T-shirts. They proceeded to hand out badges, leaflets, and balloons to passers-by, and there was a photocall for local media. The bus was painted blue and had a big picture of a Siemens Velaro on it, overlaid with the words “Yes To Jobs”. I suppose the logical slogan, “Yes To Jobs in Krefeld-Uerdingen” wouldn’t have gone down too well.

Whether the main body of yes-men were locals in favour of HS2, employees of Westbourne (the PR company), or something else, wasn’t clear, but there were a few recognisable faces. The group photocall gave prominence to Deborah Smith, of Hands Up for High Speed 2, and John Morris, spokesman for Birmingham Airport. With the airport operating at less than half capacity, its management are keen to see more planes from anywhere, and more travellers from London and the South East. The HS2 parkway station at Bickenhill is a key part of increasing the number of flights.

Facilitating increased air travel is a pivotal element in the HS2 project at national level. Biz4HS2 director David Begg is also a non-executive director of BAA, which operates London’s Heathrow Airport. Mr Begg has just written an article for the Spectator claiming, inter alia, that (1) increasing the supply of rail services would drive down prices, and (2) that HS2 is a counterbalance to years to London-centric transport investment:

(1)

“the idea that high-speed travel is somehow for rich business people is unfounded by the experience of overseas operators, and by simple laws of economics. After all, a massive increase in rail capacity must surely lead to falling ticket prices.”

Applying classic supply and demand curves to high speed rail isn’t likely to be particularly illuminating, and there’s not much evidence to suggest that fares offered are well matched to supply. The domestic HS1 service illustrates the complex determinants of fare levels (and should serve as a reminder that quantity of services offered would likely be zero, in the absence of government subsidy). Outside of peak hours, domestic HS1 runs largely empty. On Mr Begg’s argument, one might expect *very* low cost off-peak seats to be on sale, reflecting the low marginal costs, but this does not happen.

(2)

London has benefited from tens of billions of pounds of infrastructure investment over recent decades. It has made the capital into a great city. But it is time to share our infrastructure investment more fairly. We need to plan infrastructure that binds our country together not pulls it apart.”

With its hopelessly broken connections in Birmingham, and out-of-town stations planned for the East Midlands and other locations, HS2 is not the infrastructure that best serves the needs of cities in the Midlands and the North. The per capita usage of HS2 at the national level would be less than one journey, every three years. The priority for provincial towns should be first rate locally oriented infrastructure of the type found in continental cities (e.g. Munich, Berlin, Lyon) – improving journeys that people of all social classes make regularly. So local politicians championing London-centric infrastructure like HS2, in place of metropolitan transport investment, is the actions of economic girlie-men.

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Written by beleben

June 21, 2011 at 8:47 pm

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.

Begging the question: what is Yes to High Speed Rail for?

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In Great Britain, the recently established ‘Yes to High Speed Rail‘ (Campaign for High Speed Rail) describes itself as

a campaign, independent from the Government and HS2 Ltd, representing 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.

No doubt there are many business people across Britain who are opposed to HS2, and many others who are indifferent, but Yes to High Speed Rail isn’t concerned with such details. It’s an uncritical campaign for new build high speed rail, and nuance, factual analysis, and research don’t figure prominently in its outlook. At the time of writing, its website doesn’t mention that Britain already has several high speed rail lines according the definition used by the European Union and International Union of Railways (UIC). The Campaign is focused on new-build very high speed track, and its claim to be “independent from the Government and HS2 Ltd” is overshadowed by its presentation of, and reliance on, official documents produced for the government and HS2 Ltd. For other claims, it offers no evidence at all:

Internationally, the most successful high speed lines have been between cities at similar distances to those the UK is facing, such as the Paris-Lyon line in France and the Frankfurt-Cologne line in Germany. The latter is around 110 miles, the same distance that separates London and Birmingham.

If the Yes to High Speed Rail Campaign thinks the Frankfurt to Cologne high speed line is one of the most successful transport projects of recent times, they need to start doing their homework better. But it looks like they have other priorities. On 24 April 2011 the Guardian reported that

Rail companies have been asked to contribute £10,000 each to a High Speed Two campaign group which has been launched to fight back against a growing anti-HS2 movement.
[…]
Professor David Begg, former chairman of engineering firm Tube Lines and non-executive director of airport group BAA, launched the organisation last month following a dinner attended by the transport secretary, Philip Hammond, and senior transport industry figures.

Yes to High Speed Rail and Greengauge 21 are both engaged in campaigning for HS2 to be built, and their positions on a national high speed rail network appear to be extremely similar, if not identical. So why set up another separate operation?

Both campaigns were founded by chiefs of abortive Labour transport quangos after they were wound up (Jim Steer at the Strategic Rail Authority, David Begg at the Commission for Integrated Transport). So it may be a personality thing, with Professor Begg not wanting to play second fiddle to Jim Steer. But because the SRA was wound up and Greengauge 21 set up in 2005/2006, Professor Begg’s outfit is very late to the funding party. The early bird catches the public sector worm.

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.

Hands up for greenwashing HS2

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Hands up, baby hands up, give me high speed baby, give me high speed baby baby

Hot on the heels of the fantasy video comes the apparently fact-free Hands Up for High Speed 2 website.

The site contains the now-familiar guff describing Greengauge 21 as an “Independent and not-for-profit high speed rail research body”, and claims that HS2 would shorten the ‘Solihull’ to London journey to 38 minutes. Since the AA route planner declares the car journey from Solihull to Birmingham International is 8 kilometres, and takes 14 minutes, the claim looks more than a little shaky (Bickenhill HS2’s site is further away than Birmingham International). The figure also doesn’t take into account the time taken to park, or reach the station platform.

The most interesting thing about the site is its fairytale background image, which sees HS2 transformed into a single track railway, with lush greenery running right up to the rails, and no need for even any overhead lines. All in all, nearly as far fetched as Jim Steer’s claims about HS2 carbon emissions.

Written by beleben

April 19, 2011 at 2:45 pm