Posts Tagged ‘Network Rail’
In 1981, the Department of Transport and British Railways Board stated that there had been ‘substantial progress’ in the design of overhead line equipment for railway electrification. Wire headspans and shorter masts were reducing the visual intrusion caused by electrification works.
Network Rail’s aesthetically challenged electrification of the Great Western main line is a good example of the need for a re-think of design across the railway. There is no reason why ‘reliable infrastructure’ should mean ugly infrastructure.
But it goes on to say that operating 16 trains on the West Coast fast tracks into Euston ‘across the peak’ would cost £2.5 billion.
So, at the moment, Network Rail are managing to run 16 trains during some peak hours, without spending £2.5 billion. But to, er, run 16 ‘across the peak’ would cost £2.5 billion. Does that make sense?
[Supplement to the October 2013 strategic case for HS2, DfT]
[4.5] The report HS2 Strategic Alternatives, Final Report set out the alternative options for meeting the capacity and connectivity objectives set by Government when developing its plans for HS2. The most relevant option to compare against the impact of HS2 in the WCML corridor was termed “P1”. This contained a package of measures, some of which had been put forward by objectors to HS2.
[4.6] P1 assumes that all West Midlands [London Midland] and Inter City West Coast (ICWC) peak trains into Euston are run at maximum length and reconfigured as in the crowding analysis set out in Chapter 4. However, in addition to this, P1 includes a package of infrastructure enhancements that would increase WCML Fast Line capacity from today’s 15 – 16 [trains per hour] into / from London Euston in the peak periods to 16tph across the peak. These have been costed at £2.5 billion and include the grade-separation of junctions at Colwich and between Cheddington and Leighton Buzzard, four-tracking between Attleborough and Brinklow and further power supply upgrades and line speed improvements.
Of all Atkins’ proposed P1 package enhancements, just one was on the busiest section of the West Coast line (from Milton Keynes into London):
What exactly have “Dynamic passing loops at Shap and Beattock”, to do with capacity on the London approach?
The facts are:
1. the costs of running 16 trains per hour on the Euston fast lines ‘across the peak’, whatever that means, is not going to be £2.5 billion
2. most of the proposed Atkins P1 interventions were either cruft, or of minimal value for increasing capacity on the busiest sections of the WCML
3. there are numerous cost-effective ways of substantially increasing capacity on the London approach, which have not been proposed or evaluated by Atkins or DfT. Their costs are trivial, compared to HS2.
Network Rail’s multi-billion pound modernisation of the Great Western route includes extension of 25kV ac overhead electrification from Greater London to Newbury, Oxford, and South Wales, using Furrer+Frey‘s new “Series 1” kit.
Series 1 is (supposedly) quicker to install than previous designs, but the programme is running around two years late, and massively over budget. Network Rail is now prioritising completion of a section between Reading and Didcot – encompassing the Goring Gap, and two areas of outstanding natural beauty – for testing Hitachi IEP trains.
But the “huge metal goalposts” intended for installation on multi-track sections have been criticised for their visual impact. Some Goring Gap residents have proposed the use of Mk3-style headspan, instead of the goalposts, but Network Rail have refused to consider the idea.
What isn’t clear, is why Network Rail are using huge castellated and Vierendeel-type beams, instead of less intrusive designs. At present, aesthetics do not seem to figure very highly in the company’s way of thinking.
Even the 1940s / 1950s LNER Woodhead portals – designed for heavier 1500 V dc cabling – seem to have a lower visual impact than those newly-installed in Oxfordshire.
On 22 October, London’s Evening Standard reported that “Users of the heavily-congested Euston Road are set for six years of misery when it loses two lanes for work on the government’s new high-speed rail project”. Of course, regular readers of the Beleben blog will be aware that building HS2 would be extremely disruptive (much more disruptive than upgrading existing lines).
In October 2013, as part of an attempt to improve the public perceptions of the HS2 scheme, a government PR offensive emphasised the ‘fourteen years of disruption at weekends’ which would supposedly follow if existing lines were upgraded instead.
The government’s claim that not building HS2 would mean ‘years of rail chaos‘ received widespread media coverage, but was ridiculed on national television, and seems to have been unsuccessful in changing public opinion.
But what was the actual evidence behind the “14 years of disruption” claim? Since it was a cornerstone of the October 2013 PR offensive, one might have thought that the government, and Network Rail, would be eager to set out in detail all of the disruption involved in upgrading existing tracks.
However, it is plain to see that the opposite is the case.
[Network Rail response to freedom of information request about ‘HS2 strategic alternatives’]
Thank you for your email of 18th May 2015. You requested the following information:
‘The Strategic Alternatives to High Speed Two reports
do not give details of the cost estimation, or details of the rationale, for the individual interventions listed, or the breakdown of estimated disruption hours by intervention or worksite. I would like to request the information held on these topics.’
[…] Firstly, I would like to apologise for the delay in responding to your request, we do endeavour to respond to requests for information within the deadline of 20 working days, however in this instance we have failed to do so and we hope this has not caused any inconvenience to you.
I can confirm that we hold the information you have requested. However, this information is exempt from disclosure under section 36 of the FOIA.
Section 36 of the FOIA
Subsections of section 36 of the FOIA provide exemptions when, in the reasonable opinion of a ‘qualified person’, the disclosure of the information requested would or would be likely to inhibit the free and frank provision of advice (s36(2)(b)(i)) (s36(2)(b)(ii)); inhibit the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation; and/or prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs (s36(2)(c)).
For Network Rail, the ‘qualified person’ is a Minister at the Department for Transport. I can confirm that the Minister has decided that disclosing the information you have requested engages all three of those subsections on the basis that disclosure would be likely to inhibit the free and frank provision of advice; inhibit the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation; and prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.
This is because the disclosure of the information through the FOI process is likely to make Network Rail’s experts increasingly guarded in future interactions with the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Government as a whole. This in turn would limit the range of advice available to the Department and the Government when making decisions in the future; restrict the number and quality of views available to the Government for its future deliberations; and fetter the capacity of the leading expert in the field to assist the Government.
It is important to note that section 36 of the FOIA is a qualified exemption meaning that in order to apply this exemption we must not only obtain the consent of a ‘qualified person’ but must also consider the harm that may occur if the information were released, as well as carrying out a public interest test. Our conclusions are set out below.
As previously explained, it is our view that disclosure of the information in question through the FOIA process is likely to limit the range of advice available to the Government when making decisions in the future; restrict the number and quality of views available to the Government for its future deliberations; and fetter the capacity of the leading expert in the field, Network Rail, to assist the Government.
Arguments in favour of disclosure
The public interest arguments in favour of disclosure are that it:
• would demonstrate the thoroughness of the Government’s decision making process and engender confidence that a polarising decision has been taken on the best possible evidence;
• would be likely to assist Network Rail (and by extension the Government) by making sure that advice and information supplied by us to the Government was of the highest possible standard, the prospect of disclosure through FOI acting as a motivation to strive for higher standards;
• would be likely to lead to greater public understanding of policy making increasing trust in policy decisions and engagement between citizens and the Government; and
• would inform the public about the process behind and justification for a proposed scheme which is a matter of national importance and significant public interest. This would allow for informed debate and the possibility of members of the public challenging decisions which affect their lives.
Arguments against disclosure
The public interest arguments against disclosure are:
• good Government requires experts, like Network Rail, to provide expert advice and information honestly and unflinchingly. Concerns that advice and guidance, which is frequently asked for at short notice and regularly requires a degree of speculation, would in all likelihood cause our experts to rein in their advice to only the least controversial views. This would restrict the advice and information at DfT and the Government’s disposal and would not serve the interests of good Government;
• it is our view that the public interest in increasing confidence in the Government’s decision making process; improving engagement between citizens and the Government; and fostering more informed public debate on HS2 has already been satisfied by the prior publication of the reports in question;
• a disclosure through the FOIA could lead to a reluctance on the part of Network Rail to keep thorough and accurate records of its decision making process through fear that any speculative or potentially contentious views would be subject to disclosure. This would mean that any potential review of decisions would be hindered and the rationale behind decisions would be obscured, neither of which is in the public interest; and
• the long term impact of lower quality advice being supplied to Government might create a reticence on the behalf of the Government to seek advice in the first place. The effect of which would be that expert advice relevant to the Government’s deliberations would not influence the decision making process thereby diminishing the quality of the Government’s decisions.
Having considered the public interest, our decision is to withhold the information. This is because the public interest in disclosure has, in large part, been satisfied by the previous publication of the requested reports. In addition to which there is a genuine danger that our experts would not feel at liberty to advise the Government as frankly and directly as they should, the impact of which would be that the Government was less well informed when making future policy decisions.
This represents a refusal of your request under section 36 of the FOIA.
Network Rail “today welcomed a judge’s decision to dismiss a legal challenge to the process by which permission was granted for a much-needed railway improvement in central Manchester”.
[Ordsall Chord judgment good news for rail customers, Network Rail, Wednesday 14 Oct 2015]
The Ordsall Chord is part of £1bn+ of improvements across the north of England included in Network Rail’s ‘Railway Upgrade Plan’.
By linking Manchester’s three main railway stations – Piccadilly, Victoria and Oxford Road – the Ordsall Chord will improve capacity and enable faster, more frequent services between towns and cities across the north, as well as the creation of new direct routes to the city’s airport.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “We welcome this decision as the Ordsall Chord forms a key part of our Railway Upgrade Plan for the north of England. More than £1bn is being invested to provide passengers with better services and we plan to start work on the Ordsall Chord as soon as possible.”
Today’s judgment was handed down by Mrs Justice Lang in the Planning Court in London. She dismissed all three claims made by Mark Whitby: two statutory challenges of the Transport and Works Act order, one of the Listed Building Consent and a judicial review of the planning permission. Mrs Justice Lang also refused permission for Mr Whitby to appeal.
The Ordsall Chord will support the delivery of:
* Two new fast trains per hour between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool
* Six fast trains an hour between Leeds and Manchester
* A new direct service through Manchester city centre to Manchester Airport
* Faster journey times to Hull, Newcastle and the North East
The chord would certainly facilitate a through service from Manchester Victoria to Manchester Airport. What is less clear, is exactly how it would “improve capacity and enable faster, more frequent services between towns and cities across the north”.
Although well over £600 million has been spent on the Birmingham New Street Gateway scheme, there have been few improvements in the realm of health and safety.
For example, directly outside the station entrance in Stephenson Street, the newly-installed deep kerb is an obvious hazard.
At platform level, the station environment is much the same as it was twenty years ago, with the fumes from diesel trains continuing to be trapped by the low ceiling. No information is available about the efficacy of the ventilation system, or the levels of diesel pollutants on the platforms.
Equally problematic for fumes is the confined space of the Hill Street Drop and Go, which is used by large numbers of diesel vehicles, including taxis.
Network Rail’s website states that “When the [Birmingham New Street Gateway] project is completed in 2015, the station will be enclosed by a giant atrium, allowing natural light throughout the station and to all 12 refurbished platforms“.
But the ‘value engineered’ atrium could not and does not allow natural light “throughout the station”, because it makes up only a small part of the roof. At platform level, there is probably less natural light than there was before (because parts of the tracks on the eastern side of the station were decked over, to create the new pedestrian approaches).
Network Rail said that implementing architect Alejandro Zaera-Polo’s idea for the atrium “would have been impossible, given the amount of movement needed in the roof: the new vaults spring from existing concrete columns, each of which are part of a separate structure and so move by up to 125mm”.
[Birmingham New Street station review: a ‘value-engineered’ icon of compromise, Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian, 28 Sep 2015]
Plasterboard would have cracked, they say, or required 14 different movement joints. The contractors simply planned to leave the steelwork exposed, but were eventually convinced to cover it with fabric.