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Posts Tagged ‘transport

Most seats are empty, most of the time

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On 5 July 2012, the Department for Transport released its year 2011 rail passenger numbers and crowding statistics. Based on counts carried out by franchised train operators last autumn, they represent passengers on a ‘typical weekday’ on national rail services.

The figures

Arrivals and departures in selected cities

Rail arrivals and departures in selected provincial cities and London termini

In passengers handled, Birmingham tops the provincial cities, but its total is less than some individual London stations (e.g., Victoria). Cardiff traffic is about of a third of Birmingham’s, and Manchester, about four fifths.

Peak arrivals and departures by London Zone 1 station, 2011

Peak arrivals and departures by London Zone 1 station, 2011 (source: DfT)

The busiest station is London Bridge, with morning peak arrivals topping 140,000 — about four times the volume seen at Euston. With fewer platforms, and just two access tracks, Fenchurch Street handles roughly the same number of peak passengers as Euston.

Passengers in excess of capacity, London and South East

The count of passengers in excess of capacity — PiXC — is used as a sort of crowding indicator, but there are some quirks in how it is calculated.

Historical time series data, PiXC on London and South East services, 2000 - 2011 (source: DfT)

Although the number of rail passengers has risen considerably since the year 2000, there seems to have been a slight improvement overall on the count of passengers in excess of capacity. On London and South East (LSE) services, morning peak passengers in excess was 5.1% in 2000, and 4.0% in 2011. Afternoon peak was 1.8% in 2000, and 2.3% in 2011.

Arrivals and departures, London Zone 1

Arrivals and departures, London Zone 1

Arrivals and departures by hour of the day, London Zone 1 (source: DfT)

In essence, most seats on trains are empty, most of the time.


1. The Department’s figures are for services as a group. The numbers for particular trains are deemed ‘commercially confidential’. But given the amount of public subsidy provided to the railway, there would be seem to be a strong argument for disclosing loadings on individual trains.

2. The large variations in demand across the day present difficult resource challenges. At government level, it might be worth putting more effort into policies aimed at smoothing demand peaks.

3. The count of passengers carried in excess of capacity has not worsened in the last decade, although passenger numbers have risen. Running more and longer trains is a viable strategy for many routes.

4. On lines north of London, the volume of passengers does not support the notion of building HS2 on capacity grounds. (In the HS2 Ltd Economic Case, most benefits take the form of time savings.)

5. Capacity is a more pressing issue on corridors such as the Great Eastern, and the South West Main Line. Construction of a tramway along the Chelsea — Hackney axis, extending into the near suburbs, could provide relief in a shorter timescale than ‘Crossrail 2’.

Written by beleben

July 10, 2012 at 11:17 am

Posted in London, Railways

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Bankrupting Bristol

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According to Bristol Labour party activist Amanda Ramsay

Bus route availability and costs in cities like Bristol and Glasgow could be overseen and controlled by the local authority and elected representatives, in a similar way Transport for London runs the capital’s bus system, where residents are well served across the whole city and pay just £1.35 a journey using Oyster, a pre-charged electronic swipe card. Prices are also capped.

That’s correct. The problem is that there is a strong possibility that increased local authority involvement, in the form of an integrated transport authority (ITA), would not transform public transport quality, or increase usage.

For example, Centro, the West Midlands county ITA, has existed under various names, for more than forty years. Yet people are still having to carry pushchairs up flights of steps at railway stations, and pay £1.70 to travel half a mile on a bus. Bus patronage has been declining for years. the multi-million pound real time information system does not work properly, and the bus fleet is largely responsible for the poor air quality on Birmingham streets.

Stechford station remains inaccessible to persons with reduced mobility, forty years after Centro was established

In Bristol, it is often cheaper to get a taxi than to hop on a bus, for a family or group of friends. This is crazy, especially, for a city with bad air quality from high car usage with higher than average asthma rates, stemming from its basin-like geographical location. This is an environmental issue as well as a social policy imperative.

Why is it crazy that a ‘taxi’ should be cheaper than a bus, to transport a group of people? Even commercial bus services get subsidies through Bus Service Operators Grant and concessionary fares, yet they may still work out more expensive than minicabs (which get no subsidies). And if the minicab has a petrol engine, it’s probably less environmentally impactful, than the bus.

Labour’s transport lead for Bristol city council, explains more about the challenges on the ground: “Labour achieved much in the Blair/Brown governments but needed to show more vigour in challenging officials and the traditional ways of evaluating proposals,” Cllr Mark Bradshaw says.

“But outright bus re-regulation would bankrupt Bristol at a time of £75 million cuts across council budget. That’s just a non-starter. Cuts are impacting on frontline services, tough choices are being made but the council needs to target limited resources wisely. But bus services must be reliable, affordable and connected.”

‘Achieved much?’ No bus network was re-regulated between 1997 and 2010. And as the House of Commons Library bus franchising note (19 April 2012) explained, “The Labour Government legislated to give local authorities franchising-like powers to implement what are known as Quality Contract Schemes. No local authority has ever used these powers, or even got to the point of making a formal application to the Secretary of State to use them, though there are constantly stories in the press that one or more area is about to do so.”

Written by beleben

June 21, 2012 at 10:47 am

Mayor culpa

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Yes to Birmingham mayor website, mockup header

On 24 November, the Hyatt Hotel was the venue for a conflab on the question of whether Birmingham should have an elected mayor, featuring speakers from the Yes and No campaigns, and an audience of “about 80“.

In the discussion, Councillor John Hemming, from the No campaign, said there was a ‘minor debate’ about whether a mayor should have more powers, and the ‘big debate’ was about whether or not to change to an elected mayoralty.

But in reality, the topic of what an elected mayor is ‘for’ – and the reach of the mayoral executive – are fundamental.

One might reasonably expect an elected mayor to have final responsibility for economic planning, built environment, and transport, in the mayoral ‘area’ – whatever that might be. In which case, there would need to be substantial changes to current governance arrangements across a range of agencies. For example, transport in the West Midlands county is currently the responsibility of Centro, with decisions made – at least on paper – by a committee system of councillors from seven metropolitan boroughs (though in practice, policy is largely made by the local government officers).

At the time of writing, the mock-up of the Yes to Birmingham mayor campaign website, at, shows Centro as a supporter, presumably because head of strategy Alex Burrows is a leader of the Yes campaign. But it seems bizarre that Centro would publicly or privately back a campaign that calls into question its continued governance (or existence).

Yes to Birmingham mayor website mockup

Written by beleben

November 29, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Chiltern capacity uplifts

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Although it’s named as one, the Chiltern Main Line (CML) is not ‘the’ main line to any city, and is vastly under-used compared to the West Coast, East Coast, and Midland Main Lines. The existence of plentiful untapped capacity on the CML is an inconvenient truth for high speed rail lobbyists. Figure 3.5, from Network Rail’s May 2011 West Midlands and Chiltern Route Utilisation Strategy, shows the CML off-peak service pattern:

Chiltern Main Line, offpeak passenger service pattern from RUS

As can be seen from the paths diagram, Chiltern is a very long way from being ‘intensively operated’, and there should be no problem in transferring all London – West Midlands intercity services to it. The operator, Chiltern Railways, currently uses short trains that serve London Marylebone and Birmingham Moor Street. For a very high capacity London to Birmingham intercity service, platforming requirements would probably require use of stations at Old Oak Common, and Birmingham Snow Hill.

Capacity uplift on the CML is achievable by measures such as

  • taking up unused paths
  • longer trains
  • restoring four-tracked sections (e.g., between Tyseley and Lapworth), and
  • new signalling (ERTMS).

By contrast, the foolhardy HS2 idea of channelling all fast services from the North of England along one track to Euston would present a maintenance and resilience nightmare. It makes a lot more sense to spread fast intercity traffic over a number of lines, and provide network-capable rolling stock that can be switched between them (the ‘Rail Package 6‘ concept).

Written by beleben

November 24, 2011 at 1:41 pm

HS2 buddhas of suburbia

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HS2 buddhas of suburbia: Jerry Blackett and Digby JonesAccording to Jerry Blackett, of Birmingham chamber of commerce, HS2 is good because it would make London a suburb of Birmingham.

But according to businessman Digby Jones, HS2 is good, because (?) it would make Birmingham a suburb of London.

Written by beleben

November 8, 2011 at 10:41 pm

‘Geography matters hugely’

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‘Build from the North’ | Summary of the Commons transport committee HS2 report

‘Build from the North’

Last Friday, prior to its publication, Channel 4 political correspondent Michael Crick blogged on the House of Commons transport committee report on HS2. Committee ‘chair’ Louise Ellman is a longstanding supporter of high speed rail.

MPs on the committee will say that if ministers continue to face opposition at the southern end of the line, they ought to think about switching the project round, and start instead in the north. Rather than build first from London to Birmingham, and then proceed north, the committee will suggest that the government should begin with the y-shaped phase two – from Manchester and Leeds down to Birmingham. Then Birmingham to London could be done as the second phase.

This, they say, might involve fewer planning and environmental problems, and more important, would be a much bigger boost for regional regeneration in northern England where it’s more urgent.

This idea’s not surprising perhaps when you consider that six of the eleven members of the Transport Committee are North West MPs.

The chairman Louise Ellman is MP for Liverpool Riverside, and while her colleagues geographically are: Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton), Judy Hilling (Bolton West), John Leech (Manchester Withington), Paul Maynard (Blackpool North) and Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton). Another member, Julian Sturdy of York Outer, would also have an interest in HS2 coming to Leeds pretty soon. The rest of the UK has just four MPs on the transport committee.

And geography matters hugely, of course, when it comes to transport policy. This huge North West (and northern) bias looks like an unintended side effect of the new system, brought in last year, whereby MPs now elect select committees in secret ballots.

Elections may be more democratic, and boost the independence of Parliament, but they also mean select committees can lose balance in terms of things like geography and sex. In the old days the Government and Opposition whips might conspire to exclude trouble-makers, but they would usually ensure that each committee had a good spread of members in other respects.

Summary of the Commons transport committee HS2 report

Today, the committee published its report. As can be seen from the Parliamentary news webpage, Mr Crick’s soundings turned out to be on the mark.

08 November 2011

There is a good case for a high speed rail network, linking London and the major cities of the Midlands, the North and Scotland says the Commons Transport Committee.

Launching High Speed Rail – the report of the inquiry into high speed rail, including the Government’s proposal for HS2 – committee chair Louise Ellman said,

“A high speed rail network, beginning with a line between London and the West Midlands, would provide a step change in the capacity, quality, reliability and frequency of rail services between our major cities.

A high speed line offers potential economic and strategic benefits which a conventional line does not, including a dramatic improvement in connectivity between our major cities, Heathrow and other airports, and the rest of Europe.

High speed rail may be a catalyst for economic growth, helping to rebalance the economy and bridge the north-south divide. But the Government must do more to promote local and regional growth strategies to ensure we get maximum economic benefit from high speed rail.

High speed rail is affordable: HS2 will cost around £2 billion per annum over 17 years. Construction of a high speed rail network should start with the line between London and the West Midlands, as this is where capacity needs are greatest. But we are concerned that under current plans high speed rail lines won’t reach Manchester and Leeds for more than 20 years.

The Government should also look at options to build southwards from the north and link to other lines such as the Midland Main Line. We see no reason why the Scottish Government should not begin work on a Scottish high speed line, to connect with the English network in due course.

Investment in HS2 must not lead to reduced investment in the ‘classic’ rail network. We are concerned that the Government is developing separate strategies for rail and aviation, with HS2 separate from both. We call again for the publication of a comprehensive transport strategy.

Investment in high speed rail has potential to boost growth but may have a substantial negative impact on the countryside, communities and people along the route. This must be better reflected in the business case for HS2 and future phases of the project. We would encourage the Government to follow existing transport corridors wherever possible.”


The Transport Committee sets out a series of recommendations on high speed rail:

* The Government must firmly commit to the Y network before seeking parliamentary approval for HS2

* If the Government decides to go ahead with HS2, it should publish a summary of the financial case showing how the project is affordable alongside sustained investment in the classic network as well as its priorities for expenditure in the next Network Rail control period (for 2014-19)

* More information about the Y network (to Leeds and Manchester) such as the location of stations and environmental impacts should be published and strategically appraised before a final decision on HS2 is made

* A full assessment of the case for building from north to south should be carried out as a priority

* It is disappointing that a major strategic scheme is being designed and assessed to a large extent based upon the value of travel time savings, which are not universally accepted. This issue should be addressed in the updated economic case for HS2 with the implications for scheme design made explicit

* The Government needs to make clear how HS2 fits into its wider aviation strategy, looking again at the case for a direct link to Heathrow in phase I on the assumption that the high speed rail network will extend to Manchester and Leeds. The costs and benefits of routing HS2 via Heathrow should be set out more clearly and there should be a clear statement about the status of possible complementary schemes such as those which would link Heathrow by rail to Gatwick or the Great Western Main Line

* Better information should be provided to explain the Government’s rationale for its proposals for London termini and linkages, which are the most expensive and complex elements of HS2

* Operating 18 trains per hour at 225mph are risk factors for which more technical information should be published. It is questionable whether the system proposed is being designed with sufficient margin for expansion

* Claims that HS2 would deliver substantial carbon-reduction benefits do not stand up to scrutiny. However, HS2 will produce less carbon than an expanded motorway network or greater domestic aviation in the event of increased demand for inter-urban travel

* Government support to enable the full potential of high speed rail to be realised, – including funding, for the development of regional and local strategies for transport, housing, skills and employment – should be recognised as a priority

* When announcing its decision on HS2, the Government should provide a more explicit and comprehensive statement about likely patterns of service on the classic network once HS2 is operational

* The Government should engage with Network Rail to identify whether there are affordable options to enable more peak-time capacity to be provided for Milton Keynes and Northampton commuters before HS2 opens

* The Government should desist from disparaging opponents of high speed rail as NIMBYs. Both sides in the debate should show respect for each other and focus on the facts

Written by beleben

November 8, 2011 at 6:32 pm

The Right Lines charter, part two

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How well does HS1 follow motorways?

The Right Lines charter signatories now include Railfuture, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and the Ramblers. The charter website states that its position on HS2 is ‘proceed with caution‘, but its signatories made their own separate responses to the government consultation. In the opinion of RightLinesHSR writer Karen Gardham,

There is no doubt in my mind that more capacity is needed. A new direct service line would free up capacity on other lines for more frequent services along those lines, new services at closed stations, east-west services and more freight. But this is not going to happen by itself, no matter what the free-marketers think – it needs a national transport strategy and funding identified to deliver it.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England seems to have been the dominant organisation in the Right Lines charter. Its July 2011 response to the government consultation states that its ‘Getting Back on Track‘ (February 2011) document provides evidence to back up its views.

Along with some high speed lines on the Continent, HS1 ‘follows’ motorway corridors for part of its length. This seems to have shaped CPRE’s position on HS2, which might be summarised as:

  • ‘HS2 should be built, but not run at 350 km/h’;
  • ‘300 km/h is probably acceptable in emissions terms’;
  • ‘300 km/h allows the line to follow the M1 motorway, which protects the countryside.’

A 300 km/h railway could not be retrofitted alongside an existing British motorway over an extended distance, without creating large tracts of no-mans-land between them. The existing motorway is not going to be straight enough even for a ‘lower speed’ 300 km/h line to follow. In such cases, the fenced width of the high speed line itself becomes even less relevant than it is with the current HS2 standalone route.

Written by beleben

October 30, 2011 at 11:19 pm

HS2 and decarbonisability of transport

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Carbon emissions in the transport sector, Great Britain 2005 (HS2 Ltd)At the time of writing, “decarbonisability” yields zero results in an internet search. This could be a reflection of the awkwardness of the term, or the obscureness of the topic, but it’s important to think about how greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector are best managed, and the most cost-effective way to bring about reductions.

All futurology involves guesses, but decarbonisation strategy can at least be informed by considering the characteristics and relative importance of different modes. It’s sometimes said that air transport is likely to be harder to decarbonise than rail, because railways can be run from electricity, and aircraft cannot. Even conventionally (petrol/diesel) powered cars might be quite decarbonisable, through powertrain and weight improvements.

With road freight, reduction in vehicle weight has less potential, because of the cargo (steel castings, cans of beer, etc). And with current battery technology, an electric heavy goods vehicle wouldn’t really have a payload. However, domestic truck carbon emissions are ten times those of aviation.

HS2 compares poorly in carbon per passenger-km against existing rail. But even if HS2 was run off sunshine, replaced every single flight from Glasgow to London, and flight slots were not re-used, the overall effect on transport carbon would still be minimal. Because aviation is not large enough a source of carbon emissions.

One cost-effective way of tackling transport carbon emissions is to replace intercity roadfreight with electric railfreight, wherever possible. That would mean a network of efficient transshipment facilities, an electrified Midland Main Line, an electrified Varsity Line, etc.

Written by beleben

October 18, 2011 at 8:58 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

The limits of spin

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At a fringe meeting of the Conservative Party Conference, transport secretary Philip Hammond asked Tom McCarthy of Bechtel to sum up his thoughts on the West Coast Main Line (WCML):

“It’s at its technical limit,’ he said.

The recurring problem with statements like this, is that they’re meaningless. Numerous parameters determine the capability of a railway line, and they’re generally *not fixed over time*. For example, in the 1970s, the ‘technical limit’ for speed was 100 mph on the WCML, but today, it’s 125 mph.

If Mr McCarthy was referring to capacity, Cross Country’s four-carriage trains don’t represent running at the ‘technical limit’ on the WCML. As far as paths are concerned (and leaving aside the underused DC lines to Watford), the combined capacity of the Fast and Slow track pairs out of Euston is of the order of 28 trains per hour.

Clearly, if some trains were moved onto another line, that would free up capacity on the WCML, but that does not require HS2. It’s much cheaper and simpler to move the London to Birmingham intercity trains to the Chiltern Line, and to route the Haven Ports freight cross country, via Peterborough and Nuneaton. HS2 is stunningly ineffective at capacity relief in the West Midlands, as mentioned in a comment by Stephen Colebourne on the GoHS2 blogpost:

I hope that in private with Government you [Centro] are slightly more critical of the detail of HS2. The current proposal does not free train paths west of New Street nor in all probability east of it. Wolverhampton and Coventry will still need through trains to London, at least in part because of the total lack of integration of Fazeley Street wrt new Street. As such, the same fast trains along that corridor will still be needed, thus no paths are freed (for passengers or freight).

Mr Colebourne provided a link to his idea of building the Fazeley Street (i.e. Curzon street) HS2 terminus below ground level, and building new conventional rail platforms on the existing railway’s approach to Birmingham New Street. According to Mr Colebourne, ‘sunken’ HS2 platforms would provide

the ability for future generations to convert the station into a through station by building tunnels onwards under the city centre, perhaps to serve Wolverhampton or the main line to the Bristol. A terminus station is incredibly short sighted and will never permit future generations that option.

One might imagine various tweaks to mitigate some of the worst effects of HS2, but because of the supercilious and defensive approach taken by its backers, there is no possibility of ‘fixing’ the line itself. Ultimately, HS2 is unfixable, hamstrung by the influences of its 400 km/h design speed, political vanity, and the ‘airport mafia’ at Birmingham and Heathrow.

Written by beleben

October 4, 2011 at 5:11 pm