I’ve made no secret of my dislike for Euston station; I believe it is the worst kind of 1960s eyesore, a bland box of concrete that bears no comparison to its Italianate and Gothic Revial neighbours, and can’t even at best be described as an example of Brutalism. As a gateway to London it does not serve up the necessary inspiration that St Pancras does, and I was therefore delighted when it became apparent that it would be replaced by something new, light and airy as part of the HS2 project. Imagine my disappointment then to learn today that the plans have been scaled back – there will now be no total rebuild of Euston, with instead what amounts to another station built for the platforms that will connect to the high speed line, which will then be connected to the existing station (much as was done with the building of Waterloo International). Of course, the complete rebuilding of the station from the ground up would have caused immense disruption for an awfully long time to what is, after all, one of the capital’s major transport hubs. Doing this will no doubt save money on the project, and it will still include a new ticket hall for the tube station, as well as a direct underground pedestrian link to Euston Square. But it still disappoints me that the full work won’t now go ahead, ditching the opportunity to create something nice in its place.
There was a story in yesterday’s Evening Standard that made me chuckle on the way home. The Primrose Hill Business Centre is a complex that offers accomodation and service provision for businesses, located in Camden. In fact, the two buildings that it occupies are located right next to Camden Carriage Sidings, off the West Coast Main Line, a location that is used by London Midland for stabling purposes during off-peak hours. Frank Carson, the owner of the centre (yes, seriously, Frank Carson, but not that one) has complained that the presence of trains so close to his building means his tenants are denied natural light, as some of the offices in the centre are a mere ten feet from the line side. The manager of one of the businesses that use the centre, Companions of London, also believes the presence of trains so close to his office affects the phones and internet connection. It seems that London Midland, while sympathetic, can’t do anything, given that the sidings, which were originally used for cleaning trains, received a major DfT funded upgrade in 2010 so that they could serve as a stabling point for peak time services. Now, I would have thought that, given that the upgrade would have involved some significant work, local stakeholders would have had a chance to make their objections clear at the time. And perhaps Mr Carson and his tenants did. The fact that the work went ahead perhaps shows the importance of the project in the wider scheme of things. Mr Carson is seemingly considering legal action against London Midland; why didn’t he take legal action in the first place to try and stop the work? I’d venture a supposition that he had no objection when the work was done, and is only raising a stink now because he’s had to lower the rent he can charge his tenants due to the natural light issue. As to affecting the phones and internet, rather than speculating as to that, would it not be better to actually investigate whether there is a problem with the connections due to the presence of so many Desiros parked outside? All in all, as the late Hugh Francis Carson might have said, “it’s a cracker”.
Not one, but two branch line journeys today then, as I took the opportunity (which I wouldn’t usually have the chance to do, somewhat surprisingly) to catch a train from Surrey Quays to New Cross. This is what I was talking about when I discussed my thoughts on the three types of branch line, because the New Cross branch is unquestionably part of London Overground’s main East London Line service, in spite of it being a stub off the main line that runs through New Cross Gate. The line itself was opened over a decade after the initial opening of the East London Railway as a means of connecting the South Eastern Railway to the burgeoning railway network that the East London provided. This was of course in the days when connections between the various railway companies were more in place, and the East London Line was a significant route through London both for passengers and freight. Indeed, a connection existed at New Cross between the East London Line and the South Eastern Main Line until 1968, having been taken out of service two years earlier. It was this that reduced the ELL to the stub that I knew well, until the advent of London Overground and the return of it to a main line railway. And it’s this that has often led me to question the point of the branch to New Cross. Trains on it run to Dalston Junction, rather than all the way to Highbury & Islington. However, on this brand new main line route, I’ve still not been able to fathom why the short stub to New Cross was retained, given that London Overground calls at New Cross Gate. I understand that restoring the connection to the SEML would be expensive and difficult, but I would have thought, given that Boris Johnson has publically declared his desire to bring more of London’s suburban rail services under TfL’s umbrella, some kind of plan would be drawn up to restore a connection that would allow trains to travel via the ELL to points south of New Cross into Kent. Oh well.
Yes, I know what you’re going to say. “How can you say this is a branch line?” I know, I know. However, it is a teeny tiny stub line that you need to change in order to reach. It is a freaky little route too, entirely a commuter route getting people travelling from the areas served by Waterloo into The City; a five minute shuttle backwards and forwards between Waterloo and Bank. I’ve had a mind to include the Waterloo & City on my little branch line list of travels for a while and so, what with it yet again being a Saturday free of football, combined with the presence of HMS Westminster in the Pool of London (I always head up to take photos when warships visit the capital) meant a chance to do a little journey on the Underground’s shortest line.
Normally at this point I might well go into some history, or some specifics about the route in question. However, I thought I’d leave that to a little piece I did in 2011…
There’s no doubt of the importance of the Waterloo & City as a direct route into the heart of the major financial area of London. On the flip side, there’s also no doubt that any improvement to it would be inordinately disruptive, given that it is completely isolated…and I do mean completely, as it has no connection to the railway network at all. With its on-site depot capable of undertaking most of the maintenance tasks, if there is any need for heavy work to be done on its little fleet of ten 2-car units, then they need to be lifted out by crane. Seriously. The best that could be done is to improve the signalling so that more trains are capable of running. Even then though, that would be difficult given the short run and quick turnaround time of the service.
We’ve had a significant day today in the history of High Speed 2, as the High Court delivered verdicts in the numerous judicial reviews brought by various groups and bodies that have banded together in opposition to the project, for various reasons. I don’t propose to go into any significant detail about the different things that Mr Justice Ouseley ruled on, as you can look at the summaries as they’ve been published on the DfT website. The significant point to be made is that, of the ten different areas the judge had to rule on, he found in favour of the government in nine of them. Only in the ruling regarding the fairness of the consultation process over compensation payments did he rule against the government. Naturally, both sides are claiming “a great victory”, although I do find it a little hard to understand how the anti HS2 brigades can justify their relative good humour over this, as none of what the judge has said today will stop the construction. Hell, it won’t, as it stands, even delay the construction, given that, as far as compensation for property that has to be removed because it stands along the route goes, we’re still in the discussion phase as to how it will work, and the government has plenty of time to re-run the consultation, following the advice the judge has given in his ruling about what was wrong with it last time. Ofcourse it’s important that the government gets this right, but given that we’re still five years from shovels on the ground, I feel fairly sure that they will come up with a package that is acceptable to those that are affected. For those who are fundamentally opposed of course, the fact that they have lost in the action they themselves have brought is not the end of the war, merely a setback. In an interview with BBC News, Richard Houghton, speaking for the HS2 Action Alliance (a group that seems to have an inordinate number of different websites, so many in fact that I can’t decide which to link to – I’ll leave you to decide that dear reader), warns us all “not to believe the spin coming out of the DfT”, because of course his group doesn’t spin at all; according to his colleague Hilary Wharf, a director of HS2AA, the judgement is:
…a huge victory for the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are blighted by HS2.
Not spinning the one victory they got out of today for all they’re worth there then. Richard Westcott, the BBC’s transport correspondent, made the suggestion that all the antis can do is to undertake The Birds strategy – keep pecking and pecking until the government gets fed up or decides that HS2 isn’t worth the hassle. The problem with this strategy is that HS2 is now embedded as major policy for both the Conservatives and Labour, meaning that dropping it will be politically very damaging. And once it gets to the stage of being shovel ready, then it can’t be dropped, because that would be suicidal. There will be appeals, certainly. Indeed, the 51m group of local authorities have been given leave to appeal on two counts. But the government will press ahead with HS2. And it will be built.
I had a trip to the theatre this week with a couple of friends of mine (the one whose honeymoon was disrupted by the volcano and the one who took my dream holiday) to see a new touring production of Boeing Boeing. While there I happened to point out that the Bluebell Railway extension was due to open next week, as they both seem to take a degree of enjoyment travelling by train, particularly if it is stress free (as travelling on a heritage railway would be), which they seemed quite excited about, suggesting the idea of taking their respective kiddies down their for the day (to explain, they are both relatively new mothers, each having a little one less than 2 years old); they even kindly invited me along. Which was nice of them, especially as I had planned to go on the Bluebell anyway once the restriction of having to get there in a car was gone. However, it did get me thinking to a degree. When the Bluebell extension opens, it will be the fourth heritage railway in the south-east to have a direct connection with National Rail (the others being the Spa Valley Railway, the Mid-Hants Railway and the Swanage Railway), all of which are routes with direct links to London. So it occured to me “are the train operators missing a trick here?” by not entering into some kind of partnership with the heritage railways to access their routes. Obviously, it would be difficult simply to run their trains over onto the heritage lines – the two operators concerned (Southern and South West Trains) have 57 diesel units between them, but all of these are dedicated to existing services on unelectrified routes, so if they were to run services themselves with the approval of the heritage line, they’d need new rolling stock. This is where a partnership would come in. You may recall the plan to run a trial service on the Mid-Hants by GO! Cooperative using the Class 139 prototype previously used on the Stourbridge Line. While this came to naught owing to technical issues with the vehicle, the concept is still valid. If the TOC and the heritage line enter into an agreement that services will be run, commercially, at peak times on the heritage line that are timetabled to meet the TOCs services to employment centres, on a single fare, then it opens up potentially larger markets for the train operator, and provides the heritage railway with additional income sources to undertake its main work, which is the preservation in working order of classic railway vehicles and infrastructure.
I saw something come up yesterday on the Railway Gazette which intrigued me. It seems that there is a proposed streetcar line that will run fron Union Station in Dallas to Oak Cliff that will require the rolling stock to be self powered for part of its route. This is due to it having to cross the Houston Street Viaduct, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and so would not be permitted to have the OHLE installed. So, DART have ordered a small fleet of vehicles from the Brookville Equipment Corporation that will be fitted with storage batteries that will power the vehicle when it comes off the wires, principally when it is on the viaduct. This got me to thinking. There has been a lot of discussion regarding the electrification of the Great Western Main Line, not least because of the large number of listed structures along the route. This has especially caused debate on the route through the centre of Bath, which is a World Heritage Site. There are concerns that stringing wires up on the viaducts that carry the line through the city centre would damage the appearance of the city, and has even led to the suggestion that the electrification could be achieved by laying third rail (which frankly isn’t an option). So, would it be possible therefore to fit some kind of energy storage, be it batteries, or flywheel, to allow the planned IEP units to make their way through Bath if it turns out there’s too many objections to the wires? Probably not, but hey, I’m just doing some blue sky thinking here.
I’ve been thinking about this and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three types of branch line.
- The genuine stub, with a shuttle service connecting to a transfer point to the main line.
- The peak time only service, where a branch nominally operates a shuttle, except at peak times when it runs to the main line
- A short branch off the main line operated as part of the main service
It so happens that I live on the latter, and I may well include that at a later date. However, my first look at one of these occurs not in the great metropolis that is our nation’s capital, but rather in that city that I’ve come to know quite well over the last few years, namely Nottingham. The NET network, for those of you that do not know, currently runs from Station Street, adjacent to Nottingham station, along a single route through the city, branching at Highbury Vale - the main line continues on to Hucknall, while there is a short, two stop branch that terminates at Phoenix Park. This serves two residential areas, namely Highbury Vale and Cinderhill, plus Phoenix Business Park, an industrial and employment area which also contains a park and ride, for which the tram is an integral part, lying as it does at junction 26 of the M1. As Highbury Vale is the branching point of the network, it is, as you might expect, fairly substantial, having four platforms serving the two routes. The Phoenix Park route though truncates down to single track as soon as it leaves Highbury Vale, with the next stop, Cinderhill, having a single, bi-directional platform. As it is in a cutting though, it does have the most marvellous disabled access ramp snaking its way from the entrance on the road bridge above, down through nicely manicured planters, to the platform itself – this gives it more of a railway station feel. Finally, having emerged from the cutting the route comes to Phoenix Park itself, set adjacent to Millenium Way and the car park with space for around 600 vehicles.
While I travel on the NET network on a regular basis, I rarely have need to go much further than the outskirts of the city centre. Indeed, this was my first trip to Phoenix Park, having wondered what it was like – names can be full of mysterious promise when you know nothing about what the places are like. Having now been to Phoenix Park, first of all it really ain’t all that, clearly, as it is an employment area. There are many office buildings, and many light industrial units all around, with little in the way of amenity, at least as far as I could see, what with it being next to a motorway. This led me to wonder whether it was necessary to run there directly all day. Trams run to and from Phoenix Park roughly every ten minutes for most of the day during the week, which seems somewhat excessive. I went there at lunchtime and there were very few people getting on and off at the terminus. Cinderhill is a little different as it serves a residential area which doesn’t seem to have a huge amount in the way of residential needs (i.e. retail, leisure), which would make connection to the tram important. But even then, running an all day service is, it seems to me, slightly excessive. Given that Highbury Vale has two platforms, I considered the idea of perhaps having an off-peak service of one through tram in each direction per hour, to ensure that the fleet gets a work out through the entire network, with the rest of the trams heading to Phoenix Park terminated at Highbury Vale, and a shuttle connecting with them from the terminus. This would maintain the service for people needing to get to Cinderhill and Phoenix Park, and could be increased to a through service in peak time. It would certainly be useful to see if data on passenger numbers could be gathered, which may be possible once NET introduces its new ticketing system as part of its Phase 2 project.
While I may come down hard on the Daily Express for the often total bollocks it has a tendency to print sometimes, particularly from some of its columnists, I will say that, on some matters, Frederick Forsyth does write things that strike a chord with me, especially when he comments either on foreign affairs, intelligence matters or the armed forces, all of which in his two careers as a journalist and a thriller writer he has had experience of and researched extensively. However, when he writes about things he seems to know little of, it is fair that he tends to fall into the same trap of all the other columnists that try commenting on important national matters with their opinion and little else to fall back on. Obviously, the main headline from his column on the 8th February was enough to first attract my attention, and then, upon reading the piece, my ire.
On the fast track to a total disaster
Mr Forsyth has been vocal in his opposition to High Speed 2, putting forward many arguments as to why it should not be built, mainly regurgitating the same old stories that the “No2HS2″ grouping tend to put forward as the significant reasons not to go ahead with it. This particular piece came out the week that the government announced its planned route for Phase 2, the “Y” branches to Leeds and Manchester. The last line of the opening paragraph is an indication of where Mr Forsyth’s interests lie:
Often there are pieces about Mr Forsyth’s country living, so it isn’t a stretch to think that he may well live along the route of Phase 1, which is why he is as aggressive in his writing as he is. According to the piece from the newspaper, the government are mounting a “wild propaganda campaign that no one seems to be questioning”, except him of course. The problem is, his questioning appears to be taking entirely the wrong course – he questions the government’s claim that HS2 will create 100,000 jobs, suggesting that at most it will create 2,000. But here he is looking at the workforce that will be involved in actually building the line itself. True, but there will then be the jobs created in the supplying of materials to build the line, and supplying the equipment that will build the line. There will be significantly more than the 2,000 he suggests in actually building HS2. Then he somewhat sarcastically mentions the government’s enterprise zones – these are areas the government has designated for greater investment through improved planning rules and infrastructure. Forsyth points out that the trains intended for HS2 won’t stop at any of them and “certainly won’t carry freight”. True and true, but freight will be carried on the existing network, and one of the major points for building the line is to provide capacity. By taking a large number of fast, intercity trains off the West Coast Main Line, then there will be more space for both the slower, interurban and commuter trains that carry the workers into the centres of London, Birmingham and Manchester, and there will be more space for the slow, heavy freight trains, a significant number of which use the WCML for some part of their journey. He then points out that on his train journey into Marylebone (35 minutes) all the “hard-nosed businessmen” are tapping away on their laptops/tablets/mobile devices, which evidently means that businessmen don’t need to travel anymore. So why do they still insist on doing that? Mr Forsyth points to the experience the Dutch have had with HSL Zuid, suggesting that everyone prefers using the existing rail network, which runs parallel for part of the route with trains “at half the price”. I’ve had a look at the Nederlandse Spoorwegen website and done a search for a return journey from Amsterdam to Rotterdam; using a regular NS Intercity service costs €28.00, while using the Fyra service costs €32.60. The additional cost is due to the supplement for using the high speed line, similar to the one Southeastern puts on its high speed services. Mr Forsyth also makes a comment that East Coast can “only fill a third of its seats” and is “losing fortunes”, things he suggests are “hard nosed facts”, before stating that he has simply “read this” somewhere, not stating where.
Mr Forsyth should come out and say that he doesn’t want High Speed 2 running through his garden, and that that is his primary objection, rather than try to clothe it in attempted arguments that make no sense whatsoever. The fact of the matter is that High Speed 2, as with all infrastructure projects, will not in itself be profitable. The idea is to improve the capacity of the railway network to enable it to move more people and more goods to get to the places that they need to be. More people than ever are using the railways, and more goods are being transported on them; the railways are bucking the trend of the financial situation we find ourselves in. Tinkering around the edges with longer trains and longer platforms on the existing network won’t solves the fundamental problem that it is full to bursting (although Mr Forsyth’s comment about East Coast suggests he’d like to junk that too). Perhaps Mr Forsyth might like to do a little reading before the next time he decides to write about this issue – I’d suggest that he looks at the testimonies of the people that live in and around High Speed 1. That too was going to be a disaster; a metal scar carving through the Garden of England, which would cause windows to smash and cows to fall over every time a train passed. Except none of that has happened. HS1 was built with its environment in mind. While not invisible, it blends in where it runs at grade, while its structures (perhaps most notably the Medway Viaduct) are the modern equivilents of Brunel’s engineering solutions on the Great Western. I have no doubt that the structures on HS2 will be even better, the 21st century equivilents of Box Tunnel. Mr Forsyth should be honest with us and admit that he is a NIMBY, and that his objections are based not on “facts” but on his own prejudices. And, if he was a journalist worth his salt, he would do some reading and have some discussions with the other side before committing pen to paper next time. Over to you Nigel Harris…
Another FA Cup weekend, another day of no football, another chance to take a trip on a branch line, and one that I’ve found (fortunately) that I can use my Oystercard on (hurrah). I said the last time I did a branch line journey that the Mill Hill East branch was the only remaining short shuttle service left on the Underground, which is both true and misleading. While the Mill Hill service is the only remaining every day shuttle service, on the District Line the service between Kensington Olympia and High Street Kensington was reduced to a primarily weekend service only in 2011. Again, unlike Mill Hill, the three trains per hour service is understandable given the route that the service takes. Although it is only three stops, the intermediate one is Earls Court, which just happens to be the crux of the entire District Line, with every single service passing through, meaning that, although it is a metro service, any more than the three would impact on services onto the core of the District.
The Olympia service utilises the District’s main rolling stock, the D78 Stock, which is one reason why the service is a shuttle running three stops, instead of carrying on past High Street Kensington, as somewhat famously the stations on the branch to Edgware Road have platforms that aren’t long enough for the D78, which is why Wimbledon-Edgware Road trains use the C69/77, and why there are two terminal platforms at High Street Kensington. This raises the question of what would happen once the S7 Stock fully enters service – the Olympia shuttle was reduced from all day to weekend only because it took up slots that London Underground felt could be better used on services to Wimbledon, which is the most used part of the District Line. The decision caused controversy, particularly from disabled groups in West London who regularly used the service (which is step free from the entrance at Olympia) to get onto the Underground network. Once the new trains, which will be standard on all the sub-surface lines, are introduced, is there anything to stop some of the Edgware Road-Wimbledon trains (currently 6tph) being transferred to Olympia to create a new Olympia-Edgware Road service? Which may well be more useful.