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Posts Tagged ‘West Midlands

Centro station staffing muddle (part two)

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BBC News reported yesterday’s Action for Rail protests against London Midland’s proposed closure of some rail ticket offices, which mostly concern stations in the West Midlands area.

Protests have been held at four railway stations in the West Midlands over proposals to close ticket offices.

Campaigners said they were angry at plans by London Midland that could see nine ticket offices closed and opening hours reduced at a further 77.

London Midland said the number of tickets being bought at offices was in “steady decline”.

Leaflets were handed out at stations in Birmingham, Stourbridge and Worcester.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it would be making a decision on the London Midland proposals soon.
The TUC said Adderley Park, Bescot Stadium, Cheddington, Duddeston, Jewellery Quarter, Lye, Small Heath, Witton and Wythall stations would see closures under the plans.

A spokesperson said: “Rail passengers are being hit by closures to ticket offices which will leave many stations deserted and devoid of staff.

“The public wants the help, reassurance and safety that rail staff provide.”

Whether passenger ‘help, reassurance and safety’ is maximised by having manned ticket offices at every station, is dubious. On 30 November 2009 the Daily Mail reported that two staff at Wadhurst, East Sussex, refused to help a lady carry her baby buggy up the station stairs, because they were “not insured”.

A spokesman for Southeastern Trains said that the main factor in the staff’s refusal to help would have been if they thought it would affect the safe running of trains.

The spokesman said there were no formal guidelines on whether staff should help lift a baby in a buggy.

It’s unfathomable why there isn’t an intensive national programme to provide stations like Wadhurst with accessible ramps, CCTV, and real time information (that actually works). Unfortunately Southeastern’s spokesnumpty never got around to explaining whether or not staff were “insured”, or how staff lifting a baby buggy would affect the safe running of trains.

Apart from its underground sections, the Tyne and Wear Metro operates with unstaffed stations. Its crime statistics do not support the notion that having manned ticket offices generally makes travel safer.

Written by beleben

July 27, 2012 at 10:26 am

The problem of second worst

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Andrew Whittles presentation at the Centro 2012 Green Transport conference: 'The West Midlands has the second worst air quality in the UK'

According to the Guardian (28 June)

Twelve UK cities and urban areas may have to ban or fine heavily polluting traffic from their centres within months after the European commission refused to allow Britain more time to reduce dangerous exhaust emissions, according to air quality campaigners.

Newcastle, Liverpool, Tyneside, Sheffield, Bristol, Brighton, Birkenhead, Preston, Swansea, Belfast, south-west England, north-east Scotland and south Wales are all likely to have to introduce “low-emission zones” to curb the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which is linked to heart diseases and respiratory problems.

Nine other cities, including Nottingham, Leicester and Portsmouth, have been given three more years to reduce NO2 pollution. Europe will decide later whether plans for 17 other towns cities and regions, including London, are adequate. Forty of 43 UK zones exceeded NO2 legal limits in 2010.

It’s curious that Birmingham was not included on the list. According to Andrew Whittles of Low Emission Strategies Services Ltd, the West Midlands has the second worst air quality in the United Kingdom. Speaking at Centro’s annual green transport event a few weeks ago, Mr Whittles gave an insight into the problem by referring to NO2 on the Stratford Road corridor, where trucks and buses are vastly more polluting in NOx than cars.

Andrew Whittles presentation on NO2 on the Stratford Road, West Midlands

Andrew Whittles presentation on NO2 on the Stratford Road, West Midlands

While it’s important to bear in mind the difference between average and marginal modal cost of NOx emissions — and that modernisation of the bus parc has contributed to reducing its emissions overall — the fact remains that West Midlands public transport has significant negative impacts on air quality and public health.

Centro’s rudimentary understanding of environmental topics is driven by central government tunnelblick about carbon emissions, and in its 48-page Environmental Strategy 2009 – 2014, NO2 is mentioned just once.

In the West Midlands poor air quality is a problem. The whole of Birmingham and Wolverhampton are designated as Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs), whilst AQMAs are also in place in Coventry, Walsall, Dudley and Sandwell. Typically the pollutants of concern within the Wests strategic planning, hence monitoring is focused on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particles (PM10). Other air pollutants can include sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane.

Centro aims for 'world-class'Although pollutants are ‘monitored’ by local authorities, Centro does not have any strategic planning process to bring about cleaner future public transport. But it has been awarded £33 million from the government Local Sustainable Transport Fund to develop its Smart Network, Smarter Choices project. This aims to educate people who have the possibility of travelling by car, to make the ‘smart choice’, of using environmentally friendly public transport instead.

A case of fiddling, while Rome burns, as it were. Currently, West Midlands public transport is not particularly environmentally friendly. There is nothing smart about remaining in a state of ignorance, or denial, about air quality. And apart from the ‘nanny state’ element, there are some difficult problems with ‘Smart Network’ itself. Such as:

1) How to persuade a car owner to make a trip to the supermarket by bus, perhaps 1 km away, having to pay the best part of £4 for the privilege?

2) And how to promote the bus mode as green, when its NOx and other emissions are so impactful?

Written by beleben

July 2, 2012 at 10:34 am

McNulty and McNumpty

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In a press release dated 29 June 2012 UK Tram and Centro chief Geoff Inskip stated that there are three possible routes for tram trains in the West Midlands county:

* Wednesbury — Stourbridge,

* Walsall — Wolverhampton, and

* Walsall — Wednesbury.

Public transport chief Geoff Inskip has urged the government to invest millions of pounds into tram-trains.

He called on the Department for Transport to set aside £100 million a year from the savings identified in the McNulty Report into improving efficiency in Britain’s rail industry to develop tram-train networks across the country.

Tram-train is a light-rail public transport system where trams are able to run on an urban network and on mainline railways shared with conventional trains.

Mr Inskip is chief executive of Centro, the integrated transport authority for the West Midlands.

He is also chairman of UK Tram, the forum representing Britain’s tram industry and recently outlined the case for tram-trains to the All-Party Parliamentary Light Rail Group.

He said: “Tram-train is a brilliant concept ripe for development – it combines the tram’s flexibility and accessibility with a train’s greater speed, and bridges the distance between main railway stations and a city centre.

“It is why I say the Government should set aside £100m per annum from those savings they will be making from McNulty and ring fence that money for tram-train.

“In this way we can get on with delivering the Department for Transport’s agenda of delivering a better value for money railway and a greener more sustainable economy.”

Work has begun on a national tram-train pilot scheme between Sheffield and Rotherham which is due to begin operating in 2015.

Mr Inskip said it was essential that transport authorities developed similar projects elsewhere around the country.

“In the Centro region alone we have three possible applications – Wednesbury — Stourbridge, Walsall — Wolverhampton and Walsall — Wednesbury,” he said.

“By starting work now in other parts of the country the successful outcomes of the national trial can be immediately captured without prolonged interruptions for lengthy project development stages.”

Mr Inskip said tram-trains were efficient because operating costs were generally cheaper than those of conventional heavy rail services.

They offered opportunities for better connectivity because they were able to utilise spare rail capacity on existing corridors and former rail routes, and also reduced pressure on the local rail network.

“Tram-train is a fundamentally proven concept and early introduction is required – the benefits are too great for the opportunity to realise them to be missed,” Mr Inskip said.

“It is integral to creating the necessary capacity needed for the future development of both light and heavy rail in our cities, bridging the gap between local, urban rail services and light rail systems and optimising heavy and light rail systems’ assets.

“It will also deliver real benefits to passengers – increased frequencies, faster journey times and improved city centre penetration.”

It’s no surprise to find that the press release was not accompanied by any details or numbers to support the three proposed tram-train services. McNulty has suggested making savings by de-staffing stations and reducing the number of trains running. But Centro has opposed de-staffing of stations, and wants to increase the number of trains running.

So the Centro and McNulty positions are not compatible with one another. At present, and in the foreseeable future, there is no value for money or economic case for running rail or tram services between Walsall and Wolverhampton.

Walsall and Wolverhampton

The rail service between these towns (11 km apart) ended a few years ago because only 60,000 journeys were made in a year, and the subsidy needed was £700,000. In other words, every return trip required a subsidy of £22. (These services were not even paying the full cost of the infrastructure, since the route is used by freight and diverted passenger trains.) The return bus fare is about £4, which is dear enough.

South Staffordshire Line

I’m not sure what the idea would be behind running tram-trains between Walsall and Wednesbury, and Wednesbury and Stourbridge. Restoring the South Staffordshire line makes sense as part of a national railfreight strategy, but there is no financial or transport case for tram-train on it.

Written by beleben

June 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Expelling Mr Sizzle

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More than 9,000 people in the city of Wolverhampton have signed a petition to save burger vans and hotdog vendors operating in the central business ‘improvement’ district, reported the Express and Star.

Wolverhampton City Council wants to cut the number of pitches amid concerns they put off shoppers and are unpopular with shopkeepers.

Under the proposals, sellers who want to trade in Dudley Street face having to pay for smarter-looking trailers, while the cost of licences would soar by 160 per cent. The plans also include capping the number of vendors operating at any one time.

The proposals are part of a bid to improve the appearance of the city centre and create a European-style cafe culture.

But traders have carried out their own survey and found overwhelming support for the hot food vendors.
Frank Smith, who owns the Mr Sizzle burger van that operates at night, is chairing a group of traders.

He has been working in the city centre since 1959 and said: “We have had a considerable response to the consultation, with more than 9,000 signatures.

Actually, Wolverhampton is an unlikely location for ‘European cafe culture’ (whatever that is). And the idea that streets in cities in northern or eastern Europe are full of seated people drinking coffee alfresco has no connection with reality.

According to Kim Gilmour, operations director for WV One, the so-called ‘business improvement district’ for central Wolverhampton, it runs “various stakeholder groups” and promotes “the interests of Wolverhampton for the benefit of all”. Yet the evidence from Wolverhampton, Birmingham, and Liverpool is that business improvement districts are about advancing sectional interests. They thrive where municipal vision, and civic pride, is weak.

Wedgwood crock

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Comparing West Midlands intercity rail routes

In February 2008, the Birmingham Post’s Paul Dale blogged about the extension of the Midland Metro tramway across Birmingham city centre. At that time, it was still intended to run from Snow Hill to Five Ways.

I do not know how much money is spent on public relations by West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority [Centro].

But one thing I do know. Whatever the figure is, it is a shocking waste of money.

This organisation has for 20 years or more been a communications basket case and has as a result failed completely to get its message across. Even when it has something positive to say, it doesn’t say it very well.

Four years on, not much about Centro public relations has changed. Although it can’t be easy having to spin the ‘advantages’ of digging up Birmingham city centre for three years to install 700 metres of tram line, or the capacity (not) freed up on West Midlands railways by HS2, I don’t see why there’s a need to abandon probity.

Centro’s PR effort on high speed rail is mainly conducted through leadership of the Go HS2 campaign. Its latest letter to Wolverhampton’s Express and Star implied that HS2 would provide general capacity relief on the local rail network, and direct links between major cities and Europe:

We have already lost stations in Staffordshire (Barlaston and Wedgwood) and Network Rail concluded recently that an alternative scheme to HS2 would threaten services in Stone and Rugeley. It also reported there had been no provision made for growth between Coventry and Birmingham.

It is simplistic to suggest we should keep adding more trains or lengthen them when this is already happening.

In any case Network Rail has concluded we will have no room left on the West Coast Main Line by the early 2020s. Demand is already outstripping forecasts so this may well be optimistic.

HS2 provides fast, direct links between our major cities and Europe, but it also frees space on our existing lines.

Centro has researched how released capacity could benefit the West Midlands allowing us to introduce new services. It would allow for new and increased services from the Black Country to Birmingham Airport, for example.

Map of Trentham, Wedgwood, and Barlaston In fact, HS2 would not even provide direct links between “major cities” in Britain, let alone Europe. Cities not having direct service in the January 2012 scheme include: Stoke-on-Trent, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Nottingham, Derby, and Sheffield. The specification provides for no trains to Europe from Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds (the only cities outside London directly served by HS2).

Phase one of HS2 does not involve new track north of Stafford, so it would not facilitate restoration of trains to Wedgwood and Barlaston. It’s unlikely that there would be a strong case for stopping West Coast local trains in these small villages anyway; it would be interesting to compare the cost-effectiveness of providing better local bus services instead.

I’d imagine Trentham would be a stronger candidate for a new Potteries station, but there are much larger places in Britain without a train service — such as Ilkeston. In the Rail Package 6 concept, Ilkeston would be served by electric trains running from London St Pancras to Sheffield. London to Derby trains would continue to Manchester, via Matlock, providing a second route to the North West.

Centro trialled a direct train from Walsall to Birmingham International (the airport station) via Aston and Stechford, but patronage was poor. The frequency of trains between Wolverhampton, Oldbury, central Birmingham, and Birmingham International could be substantially improved by adopting the Rail Package 6 concept. In RP6, West Midlands intercity trains would run from Birmingham Snow Hill to London via the Chiltern Line. This would vacate three paths each hour between Birmingham New Street and Coventry. It would also be possible to remove the Cross-Country franchise services from the Coventry line, leaving just local, interregio (London Midland) and freight.

Written by beleben

March 30, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Making a Proffitt

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On 7 March, the Birmingham Mail printed a story about Winson Green prison needing more people to join its Independent Monitoring Board, which serves “to ensure proper standards of care and decency are maintained”.

Board members are unpaid but travel expenses are reimbursed and appropriate training is given.

Candidates must be prepared to spend three full days per month visiting the privately-owned prison and must live within a 20 mile radius of it.

For more information, call 345 2532 or e-mail

On 8 March, the Mail’s Jonathan Walker reported that the home secretary, Theresa May, has decided that a new elected police commissioner for the West Midlands will receive a salary of £100,000, even if they only work part time.

MP Steve McCabe (Lab Hall Green) said: “It’s ridiculous to pay them £100,000 in the first place, but the idea that they could get such a massive salary for working just a day or two a week is outrageous.”

He was speaking after Theresa May, the Home Secretary, set out the planned salary structure for Police and Crime Commissioners, who will be elected across the country on November 15.

They will replace the existing police authorities, and will oversee the work of forces while leaving operational control in the hands of chief constables.

An independent review by the Review Body on Senior Salaries, which oversees salaries for top public servants, recommended that commissioners for the largest forces, including West Midlands Police, Greater Manchester Police and West Yorkshire Police, should be paid £100,000 a year.

The commissioners of West Mercia and Staffordshire Police will each receive £75,000 while the commissioner of Warwickshire Police will be paid £65,000.

Ms May told MPs she had accepted the recommendations – but rejected the review board’s proposal that anyone doing the job on a part-time basis should have their salary cut.

Instead, she said they should be paid the full salary – even if they only worked part time – as long as they told voters what they were doing.

I don’t see what the point of a West Midlands police commissioner is, unless the post replaces that of the chief constable. £100,000 for a part-time non-job is absurd.

And I can’t see any particular rationale for having G4S making money from running Winson Green prison, yet relying on people to come in, unremunerated, to check on prisoner welfare.

What a disgraceful shambles.

Written by beleben

March 8, 2012 at 2:50 pm

No lighty? No likey

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In an opinion piece dated 4 October 2010, Birmingham Mail columnist Paul Fulford offered the following advice to motorists,

Truth is, drivers, if you want to avoid fines and points, obey the limit. And make the roads safer for the rest of us

and his column of 7 February 2012 mentioned his embarrassment at being

snapped by a speed camera on the Small Heath by-pass well over the 40mph limit.

Exceeding the speed limit is a serious road safety and quality of life issue in Birmingham, as it is in other towns. But speeding is also a lucrative ‘industry’, whose mainstays and beneficiaries include speed camera manufacturers, providers of speed awareness courses, and safety camera partnerships (police and local authorities).

Birmingham speed camera map, 2009

For PR reasons, speed camera partnerships were renamed ‘casualty reduction schemes’, but virtually their entire activity is speed cameras. As far as the partnerships are concerned, it’s “No Camera Flash Lighty? No likey”. Their interest in road safety starts, and finishes, with speed cameras firing off.

'West Midlands Casualty Reduction Scheme' website header

If the public policy objective were ‘maximise reduction of road casualties’, the pattern of expenditure would certainly not emphasise investment on speed cameras on rural sections of the A45 Coventry Road, the Small Heath by-pass, and suchlike. Instead, it would be on traffic calming and control in residential roads in populated areas, better signposting, a usable network of cycleways, etc.

Written by beleben

February 15, 2012 at 7:31 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

Confused of Summer Lane

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Go HS2 campaign supporters, page 1

Earlier this year, Centro, the West Midlands transport authority, set up the GoHS2 campaign at its Summer Lane headquarters, to “bring HS2 to the West Midlands”.

But the West Midlands *already has* high speed rail – with its London Pendolino trains matching the Frankfurt – Cologne ICE in speed, and more than matching it in frequency and number of through trains.

At the time of writing, the GoHS2 website has 56 supporters, most of whom seem to be local authority or Atkins staff (unless supporters ‘David Bull’, ‘Peter Bethell’, etc, just happen to share the names of council staff).

Go HS2 campaign claiming "opponents want to scrap first class"The GoHS2 activity on social media has been no less bizarre. A recent example is the comment that “HS2 opponents want to scrap first class (higher revenue) for standard but at same time want to ‘relieve burden’ on taxpayer”.

This is a strange comment for Centro to make, because none of the trains on West Midlands local services (Straford-upon-Avon, Walsall, Stourbridge, etc) offer *any* First class accommodation. When these services did offer First, there was no “higher revenue”, because those seats were empty. Chiltern Railways have also done away with traditional First class, in favour of experiments with other types of product segmentation.

Comparing First and Standard class Pendolino capacity Far from being some kind of cash cow, specifying four First class coaches for each nine-coach West Coast Pendolino was a serious error. As can be seen from comparing a First and Second Standard class Pendolino carriage, revenue per seat has to be 65% higher even *at the same occupancy level*.

So the future role and price differential of First class needs to be examined, but it’s a more a matter of economics than capacity. There is a very large amount of capacity waiting to be used (e.g., the Chiltern Line volume could be expanded by 800%+, through relatively small investment). And 16-coach intercity passenger trains are already operating on the British railway network.

Written by beleben

December 21, 2011 at 1:27 pm

HS2 inside out

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BBC Television devoted the whole of its ‘Inside Out West Midlands’ regional current affairs show to high speed rail (broadcast date 5 Dec 2011).

BBC Inside Out West Midlands, broadcast 5 Dec 2011, Simon Topman

Simon Topman, of J Hudson & Co and ex president of Birmingham Chamber, and Jerry Marshall, of AGAHST, were allowed to present their own short films respectively for and against HS2, presumably with a degree of producer guidance.

BBC Inside Out West Midlands, 5 Dec 2011

There was also a third film, about the history of British high speed rail (Advanced Passenger Train, Inter City 125 etc), which was reasonably accurate.

BBC Inside Out West Midlands, broadcast date 5 Dec 2011, Geoff Inskip

Although both the pro- and anti-films were watchable, television struggles with accessible presentation of arguments about technical issues. As might be expected, in the pro film, HS2 proponents were interviewed, and in the anti film, opponents were interviewed. The programme wasn’t a place to find robust questioning of views such as those of Centro honcho Geoff Inskip and Coventry North West MP Geoffrey Robinson.

BBC Inside Out West Midlands, broadcast date 5 Dec 2011, Jerry Marshall

Written by beleben

December 5, 2011 at 11:50 pm