onsdag 23 mars 2011

NIMBY is beside the point

The main case for HS2 is that more capacity is needed. The arguments against are mostly being presented by NIMBYs with a very personal interest. Ultimately, whether or not this scheme or any other is value for money must depend on the external value it generates. Land value uplift is probably the best measure of the broader benefits of any infrastructure, although the shortage of data makes it difficult to make reliable forecasts; it came as a surprise when a study commissioned for Transport for London discovered that the Jubilee Line Extension had generated an aggregate increase in land value amounting to three times the construction cost.

Nevertheless, enough is known about the influence of railway infrastructure on land value to help decide whether HS2 is a worthwhile project. The high speed line needs to be evaluated on this basis against other possible schemes. The most obvious would be a conventional 125 mph railway on a similar Great Western/Great Central alignment, but another alternative would be a 125mph railway designed to take double-stack high-cube container trains and 3.5 metre wide passenger trains such as Bombardier’s Gröna Tåget, which has 25% more capacity in a given length of train.


There is also a need to decide whether HS2 is value-for-money in comparison to an alternative bundle of schemes, which would include the East-West route, together with a select package of small to medium sized projects and electrification infilling, spread across the country.

We still need a genuine and informed debate. "We need to keep up" is a poor response to "not in my back yard".

söndag 20 mars 2011

A transformation

This new railway, known as the East London line extension, has been stitched together by joining up of old routes, many of them long shut, with a few brand new connecting pieces. The project, initiated by Transport for London, has cost about £1 billion and is expected to generate ten times that value in economic regeneration. Its effects have already been noted in areas like Croydon, where it has given a boost to land values.

The operation involved the transfer of some routes from the national network to London Transport, which runs it under the title "London Overground". The route is badged with the standard London Transport roundel with an orange circle.

The top picture shows Canonbury, now a busy four-track station which since the end of World War two was almost derelict, with buddlea bushes growing on the platforms. The lower picture shows a train approaching Haggerston, with city skyscrapers in the background. The station had been closed since the start of World War 2.

torsdag 10 mars 2011

Businessmen say scrap HS2

The £32 billion high speed rail network scheme should be scrapped according to 21 high profile businessmen, senior Tories and economists in a letter to The Daily Telegraph today.

Signatories to the letter, dismissing the project as an “expensive white elephant”, include Lord Wolfson, the chief executive of Next and Tory competitiveness adviser as well as Nigel Lawson, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. They have dismissed the scheme as a “vanity project” which will cost every family in Britain at least £1,000.

Unfortunately, whilst this opposition is not coming from NIMBYs, the argument against is argued with little more coherence than the case for, which can be summed up in the words of the Secretary of State for Transport: Countries across Europe and Asia are already pressing ahead with ambitious plans for high speed rail. Britain cannot afford to be left behind.

tisdag 8 mars 2011

Fur coat and no knickers

Jim Steer, leading proponent of the high speed rail project and founder of Greengauge21 has written this article in the Guardian, the second on the subject within just a few days.

The comments are more interesting than the article itself. There are a few in support, from hardened HS2 advocates, but the majority are opposed. Most make the obvious and reasonable point that the rest of the system needs to get the investment and that high speed rail is of little value unless it is well connected to the rest of the system. There is little benefit in high speed rail if passengers then find themselves in a taxi stuck in a traffic jam, where the time saved is quickly squandered. It seems that there is growing appreciation of this simple and obvious point.

How quickly it will take Britain's lords and masters to grasp this is another question, especially given the weight of vested interests that is now gathering behind the HS2 bandwagon.

söndag 6 mars 2011

High speed train is coming off the rails

As Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond declares his commitment to the high speed line, support is shrivelling.

Article in the Daily Telegraph

fredag 4 mars 2011

The need for loading gauge enhancement

Train interior, originally uploaded by seadipper.

Why is the HS2 proposal for the standard European gauge? If built to an enhanced loading gauge, it ould accommodate 3.5 metre wide passenger trains such as Bombardier's Gröna Tåget. This is a development of the Regina (above) and provides comfortable 2+3 seating - 25% more capacity than a conventional width train.

And then there are double-stack high-cube containers to be fitted in. All of which would add relatively little extra to the cost, and would in any case be much less expensive if built as a conventional speed railway.

onsdag 2 mars 2011

Inter City Express and Great Western Electrification

Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport, said this yesterday in Parliament

"Over the last few months we have worked together on these issues and I can now announce that I am resuming the IEP procurement and proceeding with the proposal that Agility Trains have put forward as preferred bidder.

"We will now work with Agility Trains with a view to reaching financial close by the end of this year. This is, of course, subject to the Government continuing to be satisfied that the proposal offers value for money as the commercial negotiations are concluded and that the final arrangements are compliant with the United Kingdom’s EU obligations.

"This deal will allow us to provide better, faster, more comfortable services and to continue providing through-journeys between London and parts of the rail network which are not electrified.

"In total, there will be over 11,000 more peak time seats each day on the Great Western Main Line and East Coast Main Line post IEP, compared to today.

"Hitachi is today confirming its plans to locate its European train manufacturing and assembly centre at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham. This investment is expected to create at least five hundred direct permanent jobs as well as hundreds of temporary construction jobs. Thousands more job opportunities will be created in the UK manufacturing and service supply chains.

"Coming just days after the news of the re-opening of the Redcar Steel Works, this is a massive – and very welcome – shot in the arm for the skilled work forces of the North East’s industrial heartland.

"I turn now to the related issue of electrification of the Great Western Main Line. I announced to the House on 25 November that, over the next six years, Network Rail will electrify the commuter services on the Great Western Main Line from London to Didcot, Oxford and Newbury. I recognise that this announcement, although welcomed in the Thames Valley, left unanswered the clear aspirations of rail users further west for the extension of electrification to Bristol and into Wales. I and my Rt Hon Friend the Secretary of State for Wales have subsequently considered the options for extending electrification, alongside the Government’s consideration of the proposals for replacement of the current diesel Intercity trains, and in close consultation with the Welsh Assembly Government.

"We have concluded that there is a case for extending electrification westwards to Bristol and Cardiff and I am today asking Network Rail to add this major extension to their electrification programme immediately.

"This is good news for Wales and the South West – against a backdrop of public spending constraint as we deal with the legacy of debt we have inherited. Bringing electrification to Cardiff will mean that we are linking, for the first time, the capital cities of England, Scotland and Wales by electrified rail.

"These measures will deliver a London to Cardiff journey time of an hour and 42 minutes and will shave 22 minutes off the London to Bristol journey.

"I have received representations calling for electrification of the Great Western Main Line to be extended as far west as Swansea and we have looked carefully at the arguments. The business case for electrification is heavily dependant on the frequency of service. Services between London and Swansea currently operate at a frequency of only one train an hour off-peak. There is no evidence of a pattern of demand that would be likely to lead imminently to an increase in this frequency. Consequently, I regret to say that there is not, at present a viable business case for electrification of the mainline between Cardiff and Swansea.

"But, because of the decision to proceed with Agility’s proposal for a bi-mode train, journey times from London to Swansea will be shortened to two hours and 39 minutes – 20 minutes faster than today - with trains switching automatically to diesel power as they leave Cardiff. Because the constraining factor on the South Wales Main Line is speed limitations dictated by the geometry of the line, there would be no time saving benefits from electrifying the line from Cardiff to Swansea.

"However, the policy of the Government is to support a progressive electrification of the rail network in England and Wales, for environmental, among other reasons. My Rt Hon Friend, the Secretary of State for Wales, and I will therefore keep under active review the business case for future electrification of the Great Western Main Line between Cardiff and Swansea in the light of developing future service patterns."

It is good news that the investment will be happening. But the other manufacturers cannot be pleased. This has all the appearance of having been handed to Hitachi, if not exactly on a plate, then under conditions favourable to the Japanese company. Bombardier will, however, probably be happy to get an order for Crossrail, or Thameslink or both. Alstom had dropped out of the IEP competition long before Hitachi won against the Bombardier-Siemens consortium. But since then, the specification has been re-negotiated to the point that it could be argued that the contract should have been re-tendered.

What is less good news is that this brings us no nearer to providing the travelling public with a generation of more spacious and comfortable trains than those that have been inflicted on them for the past few decades. Again, these are fixed-formation trains that will bring with them the need for elaborate yield management systems to make the best use of the resources, and hence a complex fares structure with astronomical charges for open tickets.

With vehicles even longer than the 23 metre mark 3 stock, there is no possibility of building out to anything like the optimum width available in the restricted British loading gauge. For the next few decades, therefore, British train passengers will be condemned to travelling in cattle truck conditions. For a reminder of how comfortable rail travel once was, and might again have been, they will have to visit a heritage railway. Or go abroad.

tisdag 1 mars 2011

Reply to questionnaire chapter 2

Do you agree that a national high speed rail network from London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester (the Y network) would provide the best value for money solution (best balance of costs and benefits) for enhancing rail capacity and performance?


I have read the document on alternative investment strategies. (High Speed 2 Strategic Alternatives Study by W S Atkins).

On the basis of that report, it is simply not true to say that the benefits that they would deliver would be disruptive and poor value for money. In any case there other other alternative strategies which appear not been explored at all, in particular, the construction of a conventional (125 or 140mph speed railway on roughly the same alignment as HS2).

The Rail Interventions section of that report concentrates on upgrades to the West Coast Main Line and the Chilterns route to Birmingham and in case of the latter, an interesting list of interventions are postulated. Amongst the options discussed is the possibility of running much longer trains on the WCML. But this is dismissed in the following sentence:

"However, operating a fleet of 400 metre would require platforms at every station served by WCML “fast” services to be lengthened. Selective Door Opening (“SDO”) is unlikely to prove acceptable or workable."

This curt dismissal of a major policy option is strange because what is called for is better SDO system than those currently in use.

As regards the dominance of London and the South East, there is no reason to suppose that HS2 would reduce this - on the contrary - it could suck business away and simply lead to longer-distance commuting. The appropriate way to balance the UK economy across the regions is through the tax system, so that less tax is payable in areas of geographical disadvantage.

The forecast figures are so conjectural as to be worthless.

Reply to questionnaire chapter 1

Do you agree that there is a strong case for enhancing the capacity and performance of Britain’s inter-city rail network to support economic growth over the coming decades?

Yes. But there is not a competition between rail in Britain and rail in other countries. The idea that Britain will in some sense be "left behind" suggests the idea of some kind of sporting event. It is possible to travel from London to Cologne all the way by high speed train, and I have done so several times. This route is not in competition with London to Newcastle, a comparable distance which I also use regularly.

I have stopped using both in recent years because I find the alternatives cheaper, more comfortable and more convenient. Neither route provides an affordable walk-on service or even an affordable walk-on service off-peak. Common to both routes are cramped and uncomfortable trains, shortage of luggage space, and complicated fares are complicated tied to travel on a particular train. This adds to the stress of the journey and means one has to allow substantial time in case things go wrong, thereby negating much of the advantages of high speed.

In the UK, 80% of the population live south of Manchester and east of Bristol ie one third of the land area. Inter-city journeys are typically less than 150 miles long and not centre-to-centre. Thus there is little advantage in making the rail leg of a journey faster than 100 mph. To reduce journey times the need is to improve connectivity.

Rail investment in the UK means improving the existing network through the development of routes such the east-west line north of London, reopening of lines closed under Beeching and the development of urban light rail to shorten local journeys. The number of local journeys made is an order of magnitude larger than the number of long distance trips, and all of the latter start and end with a local journey.

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