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Chelney hawks

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Proposals for an additional cross-London passenger railway, on the Chelsea – Hackney axis, can be traced back to the first half of the twentieth century, but funding was never forthcoming. In the days of the London Transport Executive, the ‘Chelney‘ line was generally envisaged as a self-contained small profile Underground railway. In the 21st century, the Chelney line has been re-imagined as ‘Crossrail 2’, featuring tunnels large enough for National Rail trains.

Chelney (Chelsea - Hackney) rail route, safeguarded course

Over the last six months, a working group of the “influential” business organisation London First has been looking at the case for Crossrail 2. According to its interim report, detailed planning of a suitable scheme “needs to start now”.

The study, led by former Transport Secretary, Lord Andrew Adonis, has considered work previously undertaken by Transport for London on a route for “Crossrail 2” between Chelsea and Hackney, and examined demand and congestion forecasts post 2020 and the impact of new national projects, including HS2.

Its conclusions are clear -– by the late 2020s, even after the completion of Crossrail, Thameslink and the current Tube upgrades, central, south-west and north-east London’s rail and underground networks will be heavily congested, and there will be a critical need for new capacity. This will be best provided by a second Crossrail line connecting these parts of London.

Around 1.3 million more people and over 750,000 more jobs are expected in London over the next 20 years and as such, planning for the next generation of transport improvements post 2020 must begin now.

The London First report presents some form of heavy rail Crossrail 2 as the one and only solution to providing adequate transport capacity on London’s North East to South West axis. However, it does not specify precisely what points should be served, or whether the railway should be a self-contained (possibly automated) tube line [‘Chelney tube’], or a regional interconnector built to National Rail standards [‘Crossrail 2’].

Crossrail 2, options presented by London First

Whether London First’s hawkish backing of Crossrail 2 is a good fit with the capital’s transport priorities, is open to question. In the central area, there are crowding issues on several Underground lines, which need to be tackled in the next few years (not the timescale of a new heavy rail line). Street tramways offer the possibility of replacing the Underground for short journeys in the centre, and for that role, would have a general time advantage. Using long trams, one way flows of over 10,000 passengers per hour should be feasible.

So there seems to be a good case for building a street-running tramway on the Chelsea – Hackney axis to meet the local transport needs of the next few years. In the longer term, a ‘Chelney Tramlink’ could be complemented by a Crossrail 2 tunnel using the safeguarded route, but built to take National Rail trains. There would be the possibility of connecting Crossrail 2 into the South West London and Eastern Region tracks.

Written by beleben

May 22, 2012 at 9:40 am

HS2 and London blight

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BBC London report on HS2, 3 April 2012On 3 April, BBC London television news looked at the impact of HS2 in London. Their report included an interview with a resident of the Camden flats slated for demolition to make room for expansion of Euston station.

Not surprisingly, residents are perplexed as to why their neighbourhood should be razed to allow people to get to Birmingham twenty minutes quicker. There may be complaints about crowding and fares, but most travellers would probably be satisfied with the existing journey time (of under an hour and a half), providing the reliability was there. Crowding and fares could be fixed for considerably less than the £20 billion cost of the new build track. So HS2 might be described as “production led” rather than “market led” infrastructure.

Also featured was Camden councillor Sarah Hayward, who mentioned the blight effects caused by uncertainty. As in Birmingham, the zone potentially affected by HS2 in Camden is considerably larger than the land required for the line itself. Birmingham’s Island House, arguably the first property demolished because of HS2, did not stand within the revealed footprint of the proposed Curzon Street station.

Written by beleben

April 4, 2012 at 9:17 pm

High speed rail bores

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HS2 Ltd’s Y network concept has massive built-in irresilience, with all premier intercity trains from the Midlands and North having to be fed down one track from Bickenhill. Euston main line station, and its Underground station, would have to be completely rebuilt for HS2, at enormous cost, over a period of eight years.

HS2 Ltd, January 2012, Euston approach diagramHS2 Ltd’s HS2 Tunnels document (July 2010) stated that its Euston to Old Oak Common section would use twin bored tunnels of 7.25 metres internal diameter — so each one would have an area of 41.2 square metres or thereabouts.

My understanding is that recent sections of the London Underground (deep-level lines) have a diameter of around 3.8 metres, so their cross-section is around 11.3 square metres. This means that the volumes of spoil, from building the 8 km HS2 Euston tunnels bear comparison with running tunnels for about 30 kilometres of tube line. So in their scale of costs, the Euston high speed rail bores alone are comparable to building the Victoria Line (which carries around six times as many passengers as HS2 would).

There is nothing of the nature of Euston-HS2 in the French intercity rail network. SNCF has retained a dispersed access model for Paris intercity trains, using multiple termini and tracks. In Japan, the authorities also eschewed the HS2-Euston concept, building Shin-Osaka station to avoid the engineering difficulties of running Shinkansen into central Osaka.

Clearly, it is much better value for money to improve local public transport to Old Oak Common, than it is to build large diameter dead-end rail tunnels into Euston. Upon completion of London’s Crossrail, the Wormwood Scrubs area should have good quality west-to-east access, so subsequent investment should be focused on better north-to-south links — possibly including light rail (tramways). Improved local links would enable Old Oak Common to take on the role of a London transport interchange.

Adoption of a dispersed investment strategy based on maximising the potential of existing assets, offers better connectivity, reliability, and sustainability than HS2. A new interchange station at Old Oak Common could take Chiltern intercity trains from the West Midlands, and there would also be the option of using it for Liverpool or Glasgow trains.

Written by beleben

March 2, 2012 at 1:03 pm

To boldly go by bus

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Some years ago, London’s Underground was one of the first public transport systems to get real time passenger information (RTI). By monitoring the current location of trains into the RTI system, visual display panels on platforms could show accurate destinations and arrival times of the next trains. In practice, though, things were, and are, not so straightforward. It’s not unknown for the ‘time-to-next’ minutes display to go down-and-then-up, or completely disappear, or show gibberish.

RTI has also been applied to bus services, with live display at bus stops and interchanges, and the provision has extended to provincial networks. Despite the increased maturity and experience of the technology, accuracy and reliability problems have not gone away. In January 2009, This Is Leicestershire reported on the East Midlands’ StarTrak system:

Monday, January 05, 2009

It was meant to transform the bus network, but after eight years and more than £2.5 million of investment, the Star Trak information system still does not work.

Leicester City Council said operators were letting it down, with one in three buses still not having a functioning system.

It said unless the situation improved it would lobby the Government’s Traffic Commissioner – who regulates the industry – to put pressure on companies and force them to improve.

Passengers have complained displays at stops do not show how many minutes until the next bus or that the figure is wrong.

A task group set up to investigate problems said until bus companies showed more willing, it would continue to fail.

Star Trak boldly gone

In the West Midlands county, real time information was a feature of Centro‘s so-called ‘Bus Showcase’, and under the ‘Network West Midlands’ rebrand, coverage was expanded to other bus services, and local rail platforms. Only a small proportion (less than a tenth) of the 13,000 bus stops have an RTI display, but all of them should have a code number vinyl — allowing waiting passengers (who happen to have a cellphone) to get the arrival time of the next service, by text-message.

'Real time' information display at a Centro bus stop

Unfortunately, all the money put into West Midlands hasn’t translated into an overall improvement in information quality, as can be seen from an RTI-equipped bus stop on the National Express West Midlands #1 and #31 routes (see picture). The display shows the next three buses to be 2, 17, and 47 minutes away, all on route #1. The daytime service on that route is four per hour, so what’s with the bus that should be running, 32 minutes away? And why are there no route #31 buses showing?

'Meeting the needs of the customer'

The Centro RTI does not include all buses using a particular stop, and if vehicles aren’t suitably equipped, or there is a malfunction, there will be no ‘information’ — leading to the system misleading passengers about the state and availability of services. These types of problem could (and should) have been resolved years ago, but it appears that Centro is not much bothered.

Centro 'Vision for Information', 2011

Written by beleben

February 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Full of bunk

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Actual and forecast railway loading levels (used in the case for HS2)

Consider the following statements:

Statement 1. “The West Coast Main Line is full.”

Statement 2. “The West Coast Main Line will be full by 2026.”

Are they correct?

I’d imagine that Statement 2 is itself a tacit acknowledgement that Statement 1 is false. But what is meant by “full”?

In evidence to the House of Commons select committee (HSR 169A), HS2 Ltd had to accept that there is “no established definition of when a route is full”:

“There is no simple definition of when capacity on a route is exhausted. It can be defined as the point when additional seating capacity via longer or more frequent trains can no longer be reliably provided, or the point when existing trains become unacceptably crowded. Further complexity is introduced as demand and train frequencies vary considerably across different days of the week and times of day.

Last month, I looked at current overcrowding on London Midland (LM) departures from Euston. It should be fairly obvious that its general cause is the use of short trains, and not a shortage of WCML capacity per se.

So here’s the policy issue: is it worth using public funds to dimension the LM fleet, so that everyone gets to sit down on their train ride home (bearing in mind that in the off peak daytime, evenings, Saturdays, and Sundays, each carriage becomes £1,000,000+ of surplus capacity)?

Statement 2 depends on knowing what the capacity of, and demand on, the WCML would be around 2026, but these are unknowable. However, it’s pretty safe to say that

(i) over the medium and long term, railway capacity is not fixed;
(ii) “professional” forecasts of future rail demand generally prove to be wildly incorrect;
(iii) even if the Department for Transport 2024-2025 forecasts were accurate (right hand panel), the WCML would certainly not be “full”, if West Midlands intercity and Haven Ports freight were reassigned to the Chiltern, and the Felixstowe – Peterborough – Nuneaton – Birmingham lines, respectively.

I noticed that HS2 proponent William Barter had prepared a diagram showing use of the southern WCML following the removal of premier trains to HS2. The diagram suggests that each of the four tracks would carry just 8 passenger trains per hour (freight isn’t mentioned).

Sadly, Britain’s railway is heading down the league table of efficiency. There’s no reason to make things worse, by spending billions on unusable HS2 capacity, or reducing passenger trains on Euston Fast lines to one every seven minutes. Really, the inefficiency is quite bad enough as it is.

William Barter suggested WCML service pattern, post HS2

Written by beleben

October 15, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Confused of Elmdon

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Birmingham Airport and the Centro-led GoHS2 campaign have dismissed claims by opponents that the HS2 high-speed rail link between Birmingham and London would cause existing services to be cut by two-thirds, according to the Birmingham Mail.

John Morris, Birmingham Airport’s head of government and industry affairs, said: “How can opponents claim services are being cut when HS2 will triple intercity capacity to London from the West Midlands?

“There will still be London services from New Street, but also many more new services from the brand new stations being built. Claiming there’s a reduction in services is absolutely ridiculous”

The HS2 scheme does assume net reductions in services on existing (‘classic’ lines), as can be seen in the extract from the Economic Case:

HS2 Ltd, reduced services on existing lines, cost saving

The standard Birmingham – London service pattern on HS2 would be three trains an hour (which is the same as the current West Coast Main Line Pendolino). HS2 Ltd claims that its trains, formed from two 200-metre ‘captive’ units, would seat 1,100 passengers (compared to 589 on an 11-car Pendolino).

So the ‘trebled capacity’ claim presumably arises as follows:

1. The imminent ‘committed schemes’ capacity on the West Coast route, Birmingham to London, using three 11-car Pendolinos per direction in a standard hour, is 1,767 seats.

2. With HS2 in use, the Birmingham to London service would comprise three HS2 captive trains each hour (3,300 seats). Adding in the Pendolino service (1,767 on the West Coast Main Line) gives a total of 5,067 seats.

5,067 divided by 1,767 gives 2.86, which is nearly treble.

So what’s wrong?

  1. HS2 Ltd Economic Case explicitly includes cost savings from net service reductions on ‘classic’ services. If Pendolino services aren’t reduced in some way, someone needs to explain how there’d be a £2,300,000,000 cost saving.
  2. Centro says transferring fast trains to HS2 frees up capacity for other services. But if fast Pendolino services continue as part of the supposed ‘trebling’ of capacity, that means there are no resources freed up ‘for other services’.

The ‘trebled capacity’ spiel also excludes any consideration of London Midland’s semi-fast trains to London on the WCML, and Chiltern Railways services from Birmingham Snow Hill to Marylebone. Furthermore, it seems doubtful that 400-metre HS2 trains would be able to seat 1,100 passengers (900 or so is a more plausible figure).

Written by beleben

October 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Knee deep in the hs2oopla

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Park Royal Ch1ttyThe London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (LBHF) council has released its ‘Park Royal City’ video (complete with an embarrassing version of (Jefferson) Starship’s We built this city) showing a future redevelopment of Old Oak Common, with HS2 at its centre.

According to the description on the LBHF website, the video

by Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council and internationally renowned architects Farrells, was released as a growing coalition of west London businesses leaders and residents came forward to back the plans.

Judging by the comments, not everyone is convinced:

Absolutely horrid. It looks like something out of “Logan”s Run” or some other tacky sci-fi B movie. I presume that the architects from farrel do not live anywhere near the site and will therefore not have to look at it! It”s pretty obvious that within twenty years it will look sad and dated. It is reminiscent of the flyover on the A4. Please stop destroying the area with ugly modern buildings that do not harmonise with the surroundings. This council seems to have no purpose other than to sell of our borough to the highest bidding developer. REVOLTING!
From Joy Cox on 03/10/2011 at 19:33

London has some shockingly bad architecture, but I thought it couldn’t beat Birmingham’s Orion Building. However, the capital delivered a knockout one-two riposte with Strata SE1 and the Shard (which received the seal of approval from climate rapporteur John “Two Jags” Prescott).

With Park Royal City, LBHF has thrown down the gauntlet to English provincial cities: ‘if you want to beat the capital in the tackiness stakes, we’ve just raised the bar’.

Birmingham to London, and largely empty

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Screengrab from ITV Central News report, showing crowding on the Chiltern Mainline, September 2011

With its timetable recast of 4 September 2011, Chiltern Railways (CR) has introduced some ‘Mainline’ branded faster trains between London Marylebone and Birmingham Moor Street, involving Mark 3 carriages hauled by Class 67 locomotives. (Most CR services are run with railcars, whose diesel engines are under the floor.)

ITV Central News covered the launch of the revised timetable, and discovered that travellers were having to stand. It also emerged that CR had put up fares, but they remain less expensive than on Virgin Trains (which runs on the West Coast line, from New Street to Euston).

From the television images of standing passengers, one might imagine that there are desperate capacity shortages on the Chiltern Line. In fact, the line is substantially underused. The issue is one of inefficient capacity utilisation. In a 2007 Railway Standards and Safety Board report, electrification of the Chiltern Line from Marylebone to Birmingham (‘Test 1’) and Marylebone to Aylesbury (‘Test 2’) is considered poor value for money, because there are no crowding benefits (in the view of the RSSB report, crowding relief is the primary justification for rail electrification):

In Test 1, a large proportion of the cost which would be incurred between High Wycombe and Birmingham is not on a particularly intensively used section of track.

On the Chiltern main line, many paths aren’t used. And those that are, tend to involve the use of short trains. Neither Marylebone nor Birmingham Moor Street has the platforms needed to operate long trains. Hence the potential for images of standing passengers on television news.

Short platforms have nothing to do with the intrinsic capacity of the Chiltern tracks. By building platforms for 16-coach trains in London and Birmingham, it’s possible to remove a quarter of the express traffic from the West Coast Main Line in one fell swoop. So the scalable capacity gains possible from an approach such as Rail Package 6, are common sense.

But common sense has some powerful foes in politics, and big business. Construction companies are always going to be keen on ‘big ticket’ schemes like HS2, because there’s “more profit in selling a bathroom, than a new shower rail”. Funnily enough, the RSSB report showing the under-use of a Birmingham to London railway, was produced by construction company Atkins (who are strong supporters of the HS2 project to build a Birmingham to London railway, because there’s “not enough capacity”).

HS2 and Liverpool

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Under the government’s plan for HS2 stage one (‘HS2WM’, London to Birmingham), various towns in the North West would be served by ‘classic compatible’ trains running onto the West Coast Main Line (WCML). However, in the second stage Y-network (‘HS2YN’), fast services would be switched away from the WCML to new build track, with only Manchester directly served.

Liverpool’s Daily Post reported the Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority‘s concern that this could be to the city’s disadvantage:

LIVERPOOL could lose trade to its Manchester neighbour if a high-speed rail link to London goes ahead as currently planned, it was warned last night.
Trains would slow to conventional speed just south of Manchester, but would still slash London-Liverpool journey times from 2hrs 10mins to 1hr 38mins.

The journey time from the capital to Manchester will be cut to just 1hr 10mins.

“This will act as a significant incentive to businesses to consider locating in Manchester rather than Liverpool,” Merseytravel said in its official response to the government consultation.

Merseytravel said the timetable to build it over 20 years is too slow and because the line does not come to Liverpool its position relative to Manchester and Birmingham will be undermined.

David Begg’s Biz4HS2 campaign responded to the Daily Post:

August 30, 2011

Last week, we wrote to the editor of the Liverpool Daily Post, in response to their article entitled ‘Liverpool could lose business to Manchester under high-speed rail plans’ on 22 August 2011. Our letter was not printed, but can be read in full below.

Dear Editor,

In response to your article on high-speed rail dated 22 August 2011, it is important to understand the devastating impact for Liverpool if the line were not to go ahead.

HS2 would provide two regular high-speed services to Liverpool per hour, alongside the existing hourly service on the conventional line. As a bonus, journey times to London would be shortened by over half an hour.

However, under the alternative proposal, known as Rail Package 2, Liverpool would see these services halved with only one regular hourly service from London, and one additional service every two hours. There would be no improved journey times and increased chances of delays on a clogged-up Victorian network that is close to bursting.

Only the increased connectivity that HS2 would provide will enable Liverpool to unlock its full economic potential. Research suggests that HS2 would support the creation of 38,900 jobs in Liverpool and 76,600 in the surrounding areas.

It is clearly a no-brainer. The people of Liverpool need to show their support of high-speed rail, and help push through a project that Liverpool will reap the rewards from for generations to come.

Professor David Begg

Director, Campaign for High-Speed Rail

Under HS2 stage one, the journey from London to Liverpool is 110 minutes, not 98 minutes. So the Daily Post article, and Mr Begg’s claim that “journey times to London would be shortened by over half an hour” are incorrect. And Rail Package 2 is not “the” alternative proposal, it’s “an” alternative proposal, designed by the high speed rail lobby (in the shape of Atkins).

HS2 has little to offer Merseyside. In stage one, by running trains non-stop south of the North West, London is reached 20 minutes quicker. But London is the only destination with a shorter journey time.

In stage two (HS2YN), Manchester trains switch to new build track, removing Stockport and Stoke-on-Trent from the fast network. Exactly what would happen to Liverpool (and Warrington and Runcorn) services is unknown, as HS2YN would create a large amount of surplus rail capacity north of the Trent Valley. If Liverpool trains were not routed via the Y-leg to Manchester, the new build line would only be carrying around three Manchester, and two beyond-Manchester, trains each hour.

Whatever happens, it’s highly likely that Liverpool would be disadvantaged compared with Manchester, by HS2. Secondary towns in the provinces are likely losers under Adonis/Steer high speed rail. At the national level, HS2 is London-centric, and at the regional level, it is Manchester- and Leeds-centric. As Greengauge 21’s High Speed Two interfaces states:

The number of stations needed on the HSR network could be as low as one per region.

For the North West Region, “one per region” means a station in Manchester, and no station in Liverpool. If Merseyside politicians don’t like the “logic” of HS2, why support the policy? After all, sensible rail improvement products are available.

Written by beleben

September 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm

To Marylebone, and beyond

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Chiltern Railways’ Evergreen 3 scheme includes the creation of a second rail access to Oxford from London, using a new junction at Bicester. But the Chiltern Railways routes would also allow creation of a secondary rail access to Bletchley, in the city of Milton Keynes. This would entail extending services beyond Aylesbury Parkway onto the disused Varsity Line, which passes through Bletchley.

Options include

  1. creation of a new parkway station on the Varsity Line, for MK commuters, and
  2. integrating a limited stop MK service into the Metropolitan Line, with London Overground type bi-system electric trains. (Many years ago, the Metropolitan’s steam trains used to run as far as Aylesbury.)

In general, parkway stations aren’t really desirable, but here it would seem to be the best option. And certainly more sensible than spending £17,000,000,000 on a high speed railway to ‘solve’ a peak period unidirectional capacity shortage on the West Coast Main Line.

Milton Keynes is a low density, car-dependent, polycentric city, where people typically have to travel some distance just to reach a railway station. So exactly where they board a train, is of lesser importance than would be the case elsewhere.