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Posts Tagged ‘politics

The answer’s high speed rail. Now what was the question?

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Using the headline “HS2 rail alternatives no solution, MPs say” BBC News today reported that

Alternatives to the High Speed Two (HS2) rail link would not solve the capacity problems on Britain’s railways, MPs say.

A report by the Parliamentary Inquiry into Britain’s rail capacity says only the high-speed rail network can create the extra capacity needed.

The MPs found that alternatives, such as incremental upgrades to the existing network, would not be sufficient.
The report is the culmination of a four-month inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for High Speed Rail [APPGHSR], with representatives from all three of the main political parties.

To be clear, the ‘inquiry’ was conducted by a group of MPs formed expressly to support creation of a ‘national high speed rail network’, in July 2011. According to David Begg’s Biz4HS2 news release, the APPGHSR is “a powerful new voice in favour of building a new high speed rail line”.

Biz4HS2 news release on APPGHSR launch

So the APPGHSR inquiry was the equivalent of the Flat Earth Society inviting people to give evidence on the shape of the planet. The outcome was never going to be in doubt.

APPGHSR contact Lucy James works for David Begg's Campaign for High Speed Rail

Rationality is lost on MPs Graham Stringer and Stuart Andrew, two of the usual suspects that do the talking for APPGHSR. Under the government’s plan, new-build high speed rail would only serve four British cities directly, so it would be impossible for HS2 to address general capacity shortages.

Paul Bigland's considered thoughts on APPGHSR inquiryIn stage one, HS2 would exacerbate path shortages on the West Coast Main Line. HS2 is irrelevant to crowding on present day Paddington services, Waterloo services, the Great Eastern, or commuter traffic into Leeds, etc. Furthermore, with a length of just 200 metres, most of the trains operating on it would have no more (or fewer) seats, than their 2012 equivalents.

One of the organisations that gave ‘evidence’ to the APPG was freight company DB Schenker. Its evidence was really a request that HS2 be used to enable Continental gauge railfreight to reach Manchester and Leeds. But there is no provision for HS2 to carry such cargo, and like HS1, it is not engineered for efficient freight operation. HS2 does not have the path capacity to allow Continental railfreight, or any railfreight. Or Continental passenger services (even if there were a market for them).

Written by beleben

May 23, 2012 at 11:55 am

Package palaver, part two

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Network Rail ugly yellow HS2 trainPatchwork upgrades” are no alternative to High Speed Two and ‘would not provide sufficient capacity for commuters and freight services’, according to a “sober” report commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT) from infrastructure manager Network Rail (NR).

That’s what the Press say, anyway. At the time of writing, the report doesn’t appear to be on the Network Rail or DfT website. I suppose the report is part of the groundwork for a forthcoming announcement from the transport secretary.

According to Rail Magazine,

The DfT asked NR to review the alternatives from 51m (a group of 18 local authorities fighting against HS2), as well as Rail Package 2 (RP2, which was developed by consultants Atkins for the DfT) and Scenario B (which was developed for the DfT to examine improvements to the East Coast and Midland Main Lines as another alternative to HS2).
NR concludes that all three alternatives to HS2 would improve capacity, but not sufficiently to cope with the expected rise in passenger numbers.

None of which should come as much of a surprise to anyone. After all, both the government and Network Rail has been enthusiastic about new build high speed rail for a long time. In fact, NR’s cannabist vision (above) of a garish yellow high speed train is one of the most familiar pieces of HS2 imagery.

'HS2' topic first search results on Network Rail website, 07 Jan 2012

Network Rail’s July 2011 response to the high speed rail consultation described HS2 as “vital for Britain” (screenshot above). And if the only HS2 ‘alternatives’ in the frame were

  • the bare version of Atkins’ Rail Package 2
  • Atkins’ Scenario B (a derivative expanded version of RP2, for comparison against the HS2 Y-network),


  • the 51m Group proposal (‘RP2 on steroids’, apparently largely written by Chris Stokes)

there wasn’t going to be any possibility of drawing useful conclusions. To be insightful, any comparison of alternatives would need to examine a range of options, not just Rail Package 2 or derivatives of it.

Statements such as

“alternatives may prove more expensive than initial estimates and may cause extensive disruption to passengers and freight users”

don’t add any value to the debate. It should be obvious that HS2 itself could be more expensive than initial estimates, and cause extensive disruption. Euston station is a good example. NR said it would need alterations costing “up to £1 billion” for the 51m scheme’s 12-car West Coast intercity trains. I’m sure that it could be very expensive to modify Euston and stations to the North, for such trains. Which is one of the reasons why I’ve never supported the idea. But if the cost of *51m alterations at Euston* is up to £1 billion, then what is the cost of *HS2 at Euston*?

According to HS2 Ltd’s estimate, the *complete rebuild* of Euston required for HS2 is ‘only’ supposed to cost around £1 billion. So if 51m-at-Euston is billed at around £1 billion, the cost of HS2-at-Euston has been vastly underestimated.

Written by beleben

January 7, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Resistance to HS2

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Systra's digram of AGV11 train speeds and resistance, with details added

Conservative MPs in the Chilterns have been concerned about the political repercussions of high speed rail in the area. On 3 December, BBC News reported that

The government is to look again at the HS2 high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham which could mean a new tunnel is built in the Chilterns.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening will announce a delay in the final decision on the project next week in order to consider whether about £500m could be used for a 1.5 mile tunnel.

Opponents say the planned route crosses an area of outstanding natural beauty.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has welcomed plans for more tunnelling.
The decision to look again at the route follows a report by the House of Commons Transport Committee last month, which suggested a re-assessment of the plans to consider the impact and the benefits of HS2.

The government said any changes would be funded by savings made elsewhere on the route.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said additional tunnelling would be “essential” if HS2 is to be built through the Chilterns and welcomed the possibility of additional funding.

It remains to be seen whether MPs on other sections of HS2 demand that tunnelling be considered on their patch as well, on the basis of fairness. However, burying further sections of HS2 in tunnel doesn’t address the fundamental shortcomings of the scheme (discussed in earlier blogposts).

In-tunnel running at high speeds requires huge amounts of traction energy, and even with large diameter bores, it’s likely that the Birmingham to London journey time would be increased to an extent. And unless £500(?) million could be found from somewhere else, the extra costs would further damage the project’s unimpressive benefit-cost ratio.

It may be easy to buy off resistance from the likes of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, but there’s no cheap way of overcoming resistance from Nature itself – as can be seen from Systra’s diagram, showing how resistance to train motion varies with speed.

Even in a constant-speed, straight-track, zero-gradient, non-tunnel scenario, running a train at HS2’s 330 km/h involves dealing with a resistance of circa 6000 decanewtons (around double that encountered at the Southeastern HS1 normal 200 km/h operating speed).

Written by beleben

December 4, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Splitting the Kent franchise

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For various reasons, and despite its Bernesque loading gauge, there isn’t much freight traffic on HS1. As far as cargo is concerned, it isn’t doing anything that the existing Kentish lines could do.

So it might be worth looking at HS1’s per-passenger costs. According to the August 2011 Guardian article on Nicola Shaw,

The undershooting of demand is one of the biggest criticisms of HS1. When it was known as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, 25 million passengers a year were forecast by 2006, compared with 14.8 million expected this year – 9.8 million from Eurostar and 5 million from the recently launched Southeastern domestic service.

HS1 cost £5.8 billion. On 5 November 2010, the Railway Gazette reported that

A consortium of Borealis Infrastructure and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan has been selected for a 30-year concession to manage High Speed 1, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond announced.

The deal will be completed by the end of November, and will see the consortium pay a total of £2.1 bn for the concession to manage the 109 km high speed line between London and the Channel Tunnel.

The consortium will take over HS1 Ltd, currently a wholly-owned subsidiary of London & Continental Railways which is in turn owned by the government.
HS1 will receive revenues from track access charges sold on a commercial basis. At present 60% of its access charge revenue is comes from Southeastern domestic services, with 40% from international services. Additional revenue comes from activities such as the retail estate at St Pancras International and car parking.

Using a 5% discount rate, a second lease of HS1 for £2.1 bn in 30 years’ time would appear to have a present value of £0.49 billion. Another way of looking at HS1 is to divide the annual interest cost by the number of passengers. Again using 5%, the result is (£290,000,000/14,800,000) = £19.59, so every trip on HS1 appears to cost £19, before any operating charges are added.

There is a lack of transparency about what HS1 domestic services cost to run, and how users of conventional services may be having to cross-subsidise them. Under the Integrated Kent Franchise (IKF), domestic services on HS1 are the responsibility of Southeastern, the same operator providing ‘conventional’ passenger services in Kent. Splitting IKF into two franchises (high speed and conventional) would help to clarify some of the cost and benefit issues involved with other high speed projects, such as HS2.

Written by beleben

October 17, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Ed, David, and Thameslink

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David Miliband tweets about 300 jobsOn 17 June 2011, Labour MP David Miliband tweeted the “Great news of 300 jobs at Siemens in South Tyneside from new Thameslink contract”. The government had announced that Siemens of Germany was preferred bidder for the supply of new Thameslink rolling stock, rather than Bombardier’s Derby factory. Very little of the Siemens train would be built in Great Britain.

At its conference in September, his brother, Labour party leader Ed Miliband, took a rather different position.

But when I am Prime Minister, how we tax, what government buys, how we regulate, what we celebrate will be in the service of Britain’s producers.

And don’t let anyone tell you that this is the anti-business choice.

It’s the pro-business choice.

Pro-business on the side of the small businesses who can’t get a loan.

Pro-business on the side of high value manufacturing that can’t build its business because of the short-termist culture.

Pro-business on the side of the British company losing out to its competitors abroad when their government steps in and our government stands aside.

And that includes companies like Bombardier and BAe systems.

Being sold down the river by this Government.

Yo HS2

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Yo, HS2 is cool

Cities are where people come together to share ideas and build dreams. And, now and again, do a spot of rioting. Anyway, the first sentence appears in an article by prospective Birmingham mayor Sion Simon for ‘Progress Online’, about British cities’ bright future with HS2.

In the article, Mr Simon explains that

The genius of HS2 is to converge the places where people converge – cities.

The second railway in the world was the London and Birmingham, in 1830, so there isn’t any particular novelty or genius involved in joining cities by rail. But given the environmental damage and resource waste embedded in HS2, ‘genius’ isn’t a word I’d associate with it.

Rail travel times to Leeds and Manchester from Birmingham will halve, while London will be 49 minutes from Birmingham and Paris less than three hours.

According to the Department for Transport’s ‘Delivering a Sustainable Railway’, and common sense, door to door times on journeys between Birmingham and Leeds or Manchester are not going to be halved by high speed rail. It’s also very misleading to suggest HS2 would facilitate Birmingham to Paris journeys in “less than three hours“.

Economists call the benefits of getting everyone in the same room agglomeration. Everyone else calls it life, humanity.

One of Birmingham’s great under-exploited advantages is its location. The potential for agglomeration in Birmingham is greater than elsewhere.

When it comes to high speed rail, evidence for agglomeration benefits is fairly thin. Such benefits are more likely to arise from improved transport within a metropolitan area, and I haven’t seen any evidence that “the potential for agglomeration in Birmingham is greater than elsewhere”.

But our rail infrastructure doesn’t currently reflect this quality. HS2’s Y-network changes this. It would put Birmingham at the centre of the national rail network, in a way that it isn’t now. When combined with local and regional rail enhancements, KPMG estimate the benefit to the west Midlands at £1.5bn and 22,000 jobs.

I’d imagine KPMG will estimate whatever anyone wants, so long as they’re remunerated. As far as I know, KPMG were paid to provide this ‘research’ by Centro, and the methods and assumptions used to come up with these figures, aren’t available. As far as Birmingham’s conventional rail network is concerned, it allows direct rail services to London, East Anglia, Wales, the South Coast, the South West, North West, North East, and Scotland. But London-centric Adonis/Steer high speed rail would put Birmingham on a dead-end branch from a main HS2 line, with two poorly connected stations remote from the conventional network. As planned by HS2 Ltd, all stage one services would start or finish in London.

Written by beleben

August 16, 2011 at 11:42 am

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.