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.
There are regular stories of the most overcrowded trains in the country, often times focusing on the largest market, which of course is commuter traffic in London and the South-East. Yesterday, it emerged that the top ten most overcrowded trains in the London & South-East sector all originate from Paddington and are operated by First Great Western. While one of them (the 06:30 Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington) is a long distance commuter service that uses the converted high-capacity Intercity 125, most of these are run with FGW’s fleet of diesel powered Networker units, which are 2 and 3 cars in length. Of course, you will get peak time trains that are coupled together but even then the majority will be formed into no more than six car trains. Compare this with some of London’s other commuter operators that almost as standard tend to run trains that are 8 cars in length as a minimum during peaks. This got me thinking.
Events, as is often the case, have overtaken things. The meltdown of the eurozone and downgrading of the United States’ credit rating, together with the riots over the last week, have seen Bombardier and the Thameslink rolling stock procurement virtually bumped from the news altogether – we’ve seen small stories of Derby County giving their backing, while for the first time in some time there was an irate letter in the Daily Express. Of course, there is nothing emanating from the Government about any thought of changing their minds about offering the contract to Siemens, but you wouldn’t expect there to be. This has also got me thinking.
I mentioned a while ago some ideas that I’d come up with off the top of my head about what could be done in terms of new orders that could be awarded to Bombardier without withdrawing the Thameslink contract from Siemens (that could potentially lead to legal action), and one of the things I suggested, whch Nigel Harris also came up with, was to bring forward the Pacer replacement to start work now, rather than waiting until the last minute. This idea could be tied in with the idea of improving capacity on FGW’s routes out of Paddington by revisiting the Diesel Trains Ltd concept.
For those that may not remember, back in around 2008, when the previous government started making noises about purchasing 1300 new rail vehicles, it was announced that 200 or so would be brand new DMUs that would be distributed to various TOCs (including FGW) for capacity enhancements. As it turned out, when Lord A announced the electrification plans for the GWML and the north-west, it was decided not to buy any more new diesel units, as electrification would make their long term value questionable (or so it was thought). And it is certainly true that once Crossrail opens, capacity on the Thames Valley corridor will significantly improve. But Crossrail doesn’t open for the better part of another decade. So why not do something about it now? Go back to the DMU proposal and build them to enable longer trains to be run on the commuter routes out of Paddington. Once the electrification of the GWML is complete and the cascade of Class 319s from the Thameslink route takes place, these DMUs can themselves be cascaded to replace the existing Pacers (the Networker trains are built to a slightly bigger loading gauge than normal to take account of the greater amount of space on the GW, and so would be difficult to cascade). This then kills not two, but three birds with one stone:
- Overcrowding on the routes into Paddington is reduced in the short-medium term until Crossrail opens.
- A Pacer replacement is in service and tested ready to be transferred.
- Bombardier (because the obvious choice for any such project would be the Class 172) gain a significant new order that enables production to continue until (hopefully) it is awarded the Crossrail contract.
And if the DfT have any objection to this, then the ROSCOs should tell them to go fuck themselves; indeed, imagine what a good position any new Great Western franchise bidder would be in if they said “we’ll buy 200 extra vehicles ourselves if we get the franchise”. Is that a winner do you think?
The most popular topic for readers of the Daily Express to write to the letters page for the last few weeks, stirred up by the paper’s frankly jingoistic anti-EU claims, has been about the Thameslink rolling stock issue. Naturally, most letters have been of the “this is absolutely terrible, the gutless government giving in to Europe” kind. It was therefore a surprise for me to open it up today and see a letter, while not exactly in support, at least urging people to step back a bit, on one issue at least. This week, it has emerged that the DfT spent around £15m on consultancy fees for the rolling stock procurement. This has been yet another cue for vitriol (“spending taxpayers money to ensure that the contract went to the Germans” etc) from the tabloids and the unions. So it is refreshing to see the letter from H. Atkinson of Haydock printed today. He says that, although he agrees with the unions in their efforts to get a rethinkl on the contract award, and in their criticism over the consultancy fees, he also says the following:
…(the unions) fail to point out that the vast majority of this (£15m) was spent from 2008 by the then Labour government to which they were subscribers.
The residue spent by the present coalition was due to the fact that they were locked into contracts signed by Labour under European Union rules
This is the thing that everyone seems to overlook is that this procurement started under the last government. Yes, I have asked why it was not possible for the government to look at changing the procurement terms when they got in, the fact is they were laid down by the last government, not this one. Criticise this government for not finding a way out of the procurement terms, but don’t criticise this government for the terms themselves. Thank goodness there is the odd rational thinking person like H. Atkinson out there. Of course, it is because his thoughts are so rational that amazes me his letter was printed in the Daily Express.
When considering what happens next in the Bombardier situation, I’ve had some ideas. Of course, you have many many people (the Labour Party, the RMT to name but a few) calling for the agreement already signed to be torn up and instead given to Bombardier. While I may wholeheartedly disapprove of the decision being taken in the first place, and I think that the government are hiding behind rules and political name-calling to try and deflect (not very successfully) the critcism of handing the deal to Siemens, a contract is a contract (Rule of Acquisition number 17) and, unless something comes up that disqualifies the Germans, then it should go ahead as planned. So, what to do next? This is where I’ve been having a bit of a think today, and have had some ideas. Obviously, these are just my ideas, so don’t go saying “don’t be so fucking stupid!!” at me if you disagree.
- Merseyrail - Merseyrail have, as I think I’ve said, started the preliminaries of procuring new trains to replace their existing Class 507/508 fleet. The government in this case could incentivise Merseytravel to bring this process forward and encourage them to look at a Bombardier product similar to the Class 378; perhaps if the government were to pay for the enitre fleet to be made dual voltage.
- Pacer - the ubiquitous, not to mention thoroughly loathed, Pacer type will have to be replaced by 2019 as it cannot be reengineered to make it permissable under the accessibility terms of the Disability Discrimination Act (since superseded by the Equality Act). Bringing this forward so that they can be replaced before the very last minute would be an idea – while the idea is that the electrification of local lines in the north of England will see a cascade of the Class 319, it is still the case that additional capacity would be needed. So, rather than going through the intricate cascade alone, why not put in a like for like order that would replace all 300 odd Pacer vehicles? This could be written as part of the new franchise agreements, again with incentives that could push the TOCs to buying from Bombardier (or, dare one hope, a future British manufacturer [HA!!]). They needn’t all be EMUs either, if the government was prepared to bite the bullet, lift its new DMU embargo, and reinstate the proposal that was shelved when Lord A announced the electrification projects.
- Manchester-Scotland – there is a plan that the Manchester-Scotland services currently operated by First TransPennine Express will eventually be hived off into a separate mini-franchise that would use electric traction once the electrification projects in the north-west are complete. A suggestion in the interim is that an additional order of Class 350s be procured until such time as purpose built stock can be sourced (the Class 350s would then go to enhance London Midland’s fleet). Bombardier have produced an EMU design for the Gautrain network in South Africa based on the Electrostar that may work well on such a service, with pairs of four-car units coupled together.
All told, I reckon these three could potentially account for as many as 600 odd vehicles, which could be a decent tide-over until the next big deal (Crossrail? Piccadilly Line? Bakerloo Line?) comes up. But the processes would have to start now. Of course, what would be helpful is the DfT allowing the TOCs and ROSCOs a greater degree of freedom in procuring their own rolling stock from whomever they so chose, rather than having specifications and decisions imposed on them from Marsham Street.
One final thing – when the Roads Man was doing the rounds yesterday following the Bombardier announcement, he maintained that his hands had been tied by the specifications set out in the original procurement document that had been drawn up when Lord A was at the DfT. On Newsnight last night, in the recorded piece before Paxman ”interviewed” Roadie, there was one person that intimated that France and Germany are able to get around the EU procurement rules and hand so much of their rail business to their own domestic manufacturers (Alstom and Siemens), because they incorporate “socio-economic factors” (i.e. what would happen to the national economy in the event of those companies not getting contracts) into the procurement plans, while Britain has often times taken the cold hard view of “which one is the cheapest?”. Pressed on this by Paxo, the Roads Man indicated that for future procurement he and his Cabinet colleague would look at doing this, but that in this case his hands were tied. That kinda reminded me of the scene at the end of Coming to America, where the King and Queen are discussing the merits of Prince Akeem going ahead with his arranged marriage:
King Jaffe Joffer: Even if she agreed, they still could not marry, it is against the tradition.
Queen Aoleon: Well, it is a stupid tradition!
King Jaffe Joffer: Who am I to change it?
Queen Aoleon: I thought you were the King?
The Roads Man has had his feet under the desk for over a year, and has had a year to look at the Thameslink proposal. And yet he didn’t think of “changing the tradition”?
A belated Happy New Year to you all. I’d like to thank everyone that has taken the time to look over my ramblings during the course of 2010, even if some of you were spammers, others were only interested in the mooning of Amtrak, and others still were looking for naked pictures of our prospective roving railway reporter. You’re all welcome. I thought that my first post of 2011 would be to look back at some of the good and the not so good of the year just gone. Obviously this won’t be all encompassing, and if there’s anything you think I’ve missed, then feel free to comment.
- Obviously the big story of the year in the UK was the General Election, which had the ultimate result (as far as we’re concerned) of seeing Lord Adonis replaced at the DfT by Philip Hammond(aka “The Roads Man”). The prospects for the railways appeared bleak in May, with the incoming coalition promising fiscal austerity to reduce the country’s deficit. So it was something of a welcome surprise when the Comprehensive Spending Review was announced that transport would receive the second highest capital spending settlement behind defence, together with commitments to a number of major and not so major projects – High Speed 2 will go ahead in at least two stages, broadly following the original plan that Lord Adonis announced at the start of the year; Crossrail and Thameslink will be completed as planned (though the completition dates have slipped as an austerity measure); TfL has been given the money to potentially complete its upgrade programme of the Underground; light rail extensions will go ahead in Nottingham and Birmingham. In the Age of Austerity, this is probably better than could have been hoped for.
- We’ve had a number of projects completed in Great Britain with, most notably for me, the reopening of the East London Line as part of London Overground. London Overground has also received new platforms at Stratford that are better integrated with the rest of the National Rail services, allowing the old low level platforms to be taken over by the DLR extension to Stratford International (which will hopefully open sometime early this year). The seemingly continuous closures of large sections of the London Overground network appear to be approaching something of a conclusion, with the service frequency improved, not to mention the introduction of the shiny new fleet of Class 378 and Class 172 units. Chiltern Railways meanwhile continue to prove the benefits of a long franchise as they continue their Evergreen programme, which has now seen new terminal platforms opened at Birmingham Moor Street, and will see improved journey times on the London-Birmingham route, not to mention the introduction of newly refurbished locomotive hauled trains.
- Both the Class 378 and Class 172 have emerged from the Bombardier plant at Derby, the country’s sole remaining train builder. In spite of the lack of current orders, Bombardier has maintained a reasonably healthy schedule. It unveiled its latest Electrostar type, the Class 379, at the end of 2010, prior to its service entry with NXEA in 2011. Further Class 172s are being assembled for both London Midland and Chiltern Railways, while London Underground are taking delivery of both the 2009 Stock for the Victoria Line and S Stock on the Metropolitan. However, it isn’t all multiple units, as the deliveries continued of Class 70 locomotives for Freightliner.
- The extension of open access continued with the start of Grand Central’s ”West Riding” service between London and Bradford. 2010 also saw the return of a famous name from the first days of the privatisation of British Rail, when Alliance Rail Holdings announced its plans for new open access services, with one of its proposals bearing the name GNER. Additionally, we have the prospect of genuine international rail travel from London to look forward to, following the Deutsche Bahn test through the tunnel and Eurostar’s service expansion plans. The announcement that Deutsche Bahn plan to bid for the East Coast franchise when it comes up potentially raises the prospect of through fares from Europe to Scotland.
- The work to improve the existing railway network in Northern Ireland continues, with the work to relay the Coleraine to Derry line due this year. Pictures were released of the first of NI Railways’ new Class 4000 units undergoing outfitting at the CAF plant in Spain, while passenger numbers continue to increase. Indeed, so successful does NI Railways seem to be now that there are complaints regarding overcrowding about some of its services. The financial crisis has hit Ireland worse than the UK, and yet Iarnród Éireann was able to reopen two major routes during 2010, with the first stage of the Western Rail Corridor between Limerick and Galway, and the commuter line connecting Clonsilla and Dunboyne both returning to the rail network. The Luas has been further extended, with the Green Line extended as far as Cherrywood. The Irish government also made a commitment to the construction of both the Interconnector and the Metro North line to further improve the connectivity of the various elements of rail infrastructure in the Greater Dublin area. Iarnród Éireann has also moved to improve the reliability of Enterprise by converting some of its redundant Mark 3 Generator Cars to operate with the Enterprise train sets, meaning that the 201 Class locomotives no longer have to operate in HEP mode.
The Not So Good
- The end of 2009 brought with it some significantly wintry weather, which, when the thaw came, led to promises that the railway operators would be prepared for the next cold snap. Which came at the end of 2010. And led to more delays, disruption, and passengers stranded on trains that couldn’t move, leading to tremendous criticism of the TOCs and the government. Which is fair enough, given that they had a year to come up with proposals that would allow the railway network to function without costing too much. It is fair to say that the measures taken in a country like Finland are not really necessary here. Yet still there was a failure on the part of those responsible. If (as seems likely) we’re in for a prolonged spell of cold and icy winters, might it not be an idea to start thinking now about how to handle them?
- The flurry of activity regarding Eurostar and Deutsche Bahn planning to go head to head led to Eurostar announcing its plans to purchase a total of ten brand new trains from Siemens. Which then led to Alstom, who had built Eurostar’s existing fleet of Class 373s, first of all throwing their toys out of the pram, and then running to Mummy to complain. Except that this is somewhat more serious than that, as Alstom has taken Eurostar to the High Court in London, a proceeding that threatens to derail Eurostar’s expansion plans, as it is likely that the tender process for the new trains will end up being reopened. You wonder what will happen if the IGC ratifies its planned rule changes regarding distributed traction (changes that will allow DB to run its Class 407 trains through the Tunnel), which was the initial basis of Alstom’s complaint. Of course we’ve moved on from that.
- The Intercity Express Programme remains in limbo, with a decision on what form it will actually take now delayed, first by a review ordered by Lord Adonis, and now over a rethink into the type of train it is intended to be. All of which has had Agility Trains fuming and Labour MPs in the North-East (where Agility’s planned assembly plant is proposed to be located) attempting to guilt the government by proclaiming that not awarding to Agility will lead to continued mass unemployment in such a depressed region. At the very least, it seems like the bi-mode fiasco has had its death knell sounded, with the sensible option of a high speed EMU pulled by a diesel locomotive away from the wires now lurking as a stalking horse. Hell, CSRE has even produced a potential design for just such an eventuality, calling it the “Potenta/Polaris E” combo.
- While Grand Central thrives, we should look sadly at the fact that Wrexham & Shropshire have had to cut their services again. Since they launched with five daily trains in 2008, the financial situation has seen them go down to four, and now three trains. Having just about seen off Virgin’s spiteful attempt to drive them out, you hope that the company is able to weather this storm, given how well regarded their service levels are. The fact that W&S is owned by Deutsche Bahn, and is now more fully integrated into the Chiltern Railways organisation will certainly help. Here’s to a better 2011.
- Although in Ireland we’ve seen reopenings, that have allowed Iarnród Éireann a fair amount of self-trumpet blowing, the vandalism of the run down and closure of the Waterford-Rosslare line leaves a stench. Running a single train per day is not a service. And timetabling it to miss any potential connection is ludicrus. Iarnród Éireann showed themselves up somewhat in this, even though they got what they wanted. The actions of SWIFFT in trying first of all to save the route, and now to find a new operator for it, could prove uncomfortable for Iarnród Éireann if they are able to end the monopoly on rail transport in Ireland.
The “Yeah…right” kind of thing
- Bringing Babestation babes (well, one of them anyway) into the railway mix has been good for my statistics, but those of you that do read me regularly may struggle to see the point, possibly beyond the obvious. But, look carefully and you’ll see that there is a point to it. The effervescent Daryl Morgan has provided me with the inspiration for a few genuine rail related posts, thanks to her commuting from Manchester to London. While she seems to have transferred to the car of late, I hope that at some point she returns to using “Penny the Pendolino” and tweets about further adventures on the train. In any case, it’s my blog and I can post what I like. So nyah!
Obviously there’s so much more that has happened in 2010, so feel free to comment on some of your good and not so good bits. Here’s to 2011 and all the fun it may bring. Let’s ride the rails!!
Thus it is that the Roads Man has finally put in place the concrete proposals of the route of Stage 1 of the construction of High Speed 2. HS2 Ltd has produced a series of reports with minor adjustments to the main section of the route between London and Birmingham – a slight curve here, a lowering of the trackbed there, a tunnel here and there. But the broad shape of it is pretty much of a muchness. But, there were two significant elements that caught my eye. The first was the direct link to Heathrow, which will be a spur off the main line, and which is something I’m not convinced about, unless it forms part of a much larger network connecting the west of the country. Greengauge 21 made a proposal prior to HS2 Ltd’s initial report under the previous government that called for an extensive network formed around two north/south trunk routes. Part of this had Heathrow next to a triangular junction that allowed trains to serve it both from London and the north, which then could go on towards the West and Wales. Is there any reason that this could not be included in the proposal? The Heathrow Spur is not intended to be built until Stage 2 of the high speed line is built to Manchester and Leeds, so surely there is time to examine proposals for it to be directly linked either to any future High Speed 3, or at least to an enhanced and electrified Great Western Main Line, which could then allow the South-West to be incorporated directly into the high speed network. Given that there is the intention for “mini-shinkansen” type services using trains that will run on both High Speed 2 and the existing network, there will be enough scope in terms of rolling stock for a connection to be operated.
The other element that caight my attention was the proposal for a direct link between High Speed 2 and High Speed 1, using the North London Line. This would see the route diverge from the main line at Old Oak Common and go in tunnel to connect with the NLL, which trains would use to reach the HS1 portals at St Pancras. There are a number of options proposed, but whichever is chosen, it is certainly a step in the right direction to properly connecting High Speed 2 to the rest of the European network. However, my concern would be the potential impact it may have on running services on the North London Line, which is a major commuter route. We have already had high speed services operating on commuter routes in this country, during the period that Eurostar operated from Waterloo. I would be wary of making that a permanent arrangement again. If it is possible to provide a seperate alignment for the high speed services along this route that means commuter trains wouldn’t be affected, then so be it. But commuters on the North London Line suffer enough as it is with overcrowding. It may be worth, again as part of the future expansion beyond Stage 2, looking at a genuine high speed connection, a la LGV Interconnexion Est, that maybe even bypasses Old Oak Common altogether and skirts the top edge of London and around to connect between St Pancras and Stratford.
The last thing, and my almighty bugbear, is the question of rolling stock. While he was taking questions following his statement to the House of Commons, he mentioned that it would likely be at least 2020 before rolling stock designs were considered. Fine and dandy. But we know that through services will be run to Manchester and Leeds from High Speed 2 once Stage 1 is complete, and that these will have to be run on the West Coast Main Line. As I’ve said before, and will continue to say, the initial proposal that time lost from running trains at 110mph on the WCML will be made up through the speeds run on HS2 is a cop-out. We currently have trains that can run on the WCML at 125mph, and this is the minimum speed that should be aimed for once HS2 opens for the through services. And for that, the “classic compatible” trains planned will need to be able to tilt. As we are looking at a decade until buying the trains becomes a factor, then there is plenty of time to make the case to ensure this is included as part of the design spec. But included it must be.
It seems that the Roads Man has seen some degree of the light over High Speed 2, as today’s announcement that the new government will continue with the “Y-shape” proposed by Lord Adonis, rather than the “S-shape” that the Conservatives advocated before the election, which would have seen Heathrow, Manchester and Leeds all connected by a single, corkscrew route that would have missed out large chunks of England. Additionally, the government have come around to the thinking that a direct connection to Heathrow, with every train to and from London calling there, is not advantageous or practical. The revised plan is therefore:
- The line branch route, where the high speed line splits north of Birmingham, with one branch to Manchester and another to Leeds. This will see the proposed East Midlands and Sheffield stops included.
- A spur off the main line to serve Heathrow, with a plan of one train of every five from Birmingham calling there.
- A direct connection to High Speed 1, linking High Speed 2 to the rest of the European high speed network.
Additionally, the government’s policy is that the bulk of the cost of construction, which is now in the region of £20bn, will be bourne by the taxpayer, with the private sector responsible for the planned new stations (the terminus at Euston and the two parkway stations at Old Oak Common and Birmingham International), plus the cost of the rolling stock.
While it is excellent news that the government have seen the light over this, there remain some fundamental questions that should also be addressed. The ones that I see are these:
- Will there be any reference to a high speed plan for the south-west and Wales? The Heathrow spur could potentially be used as the start of a line towards the south-west, bringing this region into the high speed network, whether this is a totally new build line, or an upgrade of the existing GWML.
- What form will the proposed “Interconnection North” between HS1 and HS2 take? Will it be a true high speed line, like the LGV Interconnexion Est, or merely a standard link line?
- Will there be speed upgrades to the ECML and WCML, which will directly connect with the northern ends of High Speed 2? To ensure that Scotland gets the maximum benefit out of the initial plan, which will not see the new build high speed line extended north of the border (yet), the best speed advantage needs to be provided. For this, there should be a plan to increase the line speeds to at least 140mph.
- Will any provision be made to introduce tilting stock on the through services that run from HS2 onto the WCML? Lord Adonis said that the time made up on HS2 would negate the speed loss on the WCML. This is a cop-out, as the whole point is to improve overall timings. Any train that is purchased for use must be able to maintain, at the very least, the current achieveable speeds of the Class 390 Pendolino, and this means having them able to tilt.
No doubt there are other questions that more learned people than I have considered and will be asking. Let us hope that they will be considered by the government as well. This announcement gives cause for cautious optimism that they will get HS2 right. But let’s then hope that they can get the rest right too.
The high-speed line will only get built if party politics takes second place to the national interest. Philip will have my strong support if he maintains this approach.
I spoke about the danger of neglecting investment in the kind of lightweight rail that doesn’t damage infrastructure (as much) and is good for the environment, commenting particularly on the fact that Parry People Movers may lose out on funding to help develop a prototype unit designed to carry more passengers than its current products, most notably the Class 139, are able to do. However, products like those envisaged by PPM are the ones intended for unelectrified routes, where it is seen as simply not economic to string up wires or lay third rail based on the amount of traffic that would use the route. This is the sort of market that PPM are looking to get into, with potential customers like GO!. But what if the electrification is already in place? PPM markets its products through its flywheel technology as an alternative to full up diesel vehicles. However, the Abbey Line, which is the kind of single track rural route that PPM would look to operate on, is already electrified. In 2009, Lord Adonis announced that the line would be converted to tram-train operation – initially it would remain within the existing route, but using tram type vehicles rather than conventional heavy rail, with the possibility that on-street running at either end (or both ends) may be introduced later. The Abbey Line is a community rail line, with the Abbey Flyer User Group having a say in its running. Their response to Lord A’s proposal is quite detailed in several areas, including the provision of future rolling stock. Unhappy with the idea of replacing trains with trams, which may potentially have fewer seats, they suggest the option of running trams in multiple. This is where a product like the Stadler GTW may well be of use – this is a genuine tram-train, as it is low floor with covered wheels suitable for on street running, but also has a Scharfenberg coupler that would allow it to operate in multiple, just as the AFUG suggest. In addition, the GTW can be produced for either diesel or electric operation. So, dependent on the loading gauge of the line and the trains, vehicles could be procured relatively easily and quickly for this. In fact, how difficult would it be to expand the loading gauge while the infrastructure is being converted for tram-train operation? Something to consider.
The dark clouds of financial crisis are slowing forming over the British Isles. Railway expenditure on both sides of the Irish Sea is facing major cutbacks, with many significant capital projects looking like they will go “on hold”. The Roads Man has indicated that some major elements of Lord A’s proposals while he still occupied the big chair at the DfT could well be watered down, not the least of which is the electrification of the GWML. He has suggested that the noble Lord was a “railway romantic”, who “too many rail improvements that were unaffordable” while he is a “railway realist”. Yes, that may be true, but it’s also true that a large number of relatively small scale projects, designed to improve local conditions for local rail users, came about under Lord A. Will we see the infill electrification in the north-west for example? Or the redoubling of the Golden Valley line between Kemble and Swindon? What about various new stations around the country intended to serve local communities better? Yes, both Thameslink and Crossrail are important and expensive, and so is High Speed 2. But if you want to be a railway realist, as well as allow the government to appeal to everyone, then you need to look at everywhere.
Across the water, we’ve had publication of the Irish government’s capital spending plan until 2016, which is notable by some major absences – the third stage of the Western Railway Corridor from Tuam to Claremorris and the second phase of the Navan line are both missing, as is the planned Luas extension to Liffey Junction to serve the DIT campus. However, Noel Dempsey has since said that the Navan line will be completed, in spite of it not appearing in the capital plan. The government plans to spend €5.5bn on transport projects between 2010 and 2016. However, €2.5bn of that is to be spent on the Interconnector, leaving the rest to cover all aspects of Ireland’s transport needs. It’s here that you find the idea of nationalisation falling down somewhat. For small scale projects, private investment could be sought to take the burden off the state to pay for it. The same is true both in Ireland and the UK, for whom Network Rail pays for everything (and we pay for Network Rail).
When all is said and done, it’s likely to be a black few years.
One of the final major investment plans Lord Adonis announced as Secretary of State was the allocation of £50m following the publication of a report called Better Rail Stations, which identified those railway stations around the country that could be described as “sorely lacking”. The initial £50m was to be spent improving the ten major stations around the country that were named by the report’s authors as the worst:
- Clapham Junction
- Manchester Victoria
- Wigan North Western
- Liverpool Central
- Warrington Bank Quay
The report found that investment levels in stations could be patchy, with money put into major flagship facilities to the neglect of those nearby that might be as important, but without the prestige. For example Manchester Piccadilly has had a huge amount of work done to turn it into the modern, open facility it is today, with a massive amount spent to get the work done. Manchester Victoria, which is very much the commuter hub for the city (whereas Piccadilly is the intercity gateway), has conversely seen little investment, and was named as the worst in the country in the report. Now though, since the change of government and the beginning of the Age of Austerity, Network Rail, who would have funded the work, have been charged with cutting £100m from their budget for this financial year, of which half is planned to be the money alloted by Lord Adonis. Fortunately, some of the work will go ahead, as Network Rail apparently have found money to pay for it from other sources (presumably adding to the company’s increasing debt burden). The same applies to much of the planned work for Clapham Junction. What is the plan for the others on the list though is another matter. However, while to an individual £50m is a massive sum of money, in the case of the government’s deficit it isn’t all that much, even considering the £6bn of cuts announced for this FY.
Which brings me to a good blog post by Christian Wolmar, looking at the initial period of Philip Hammond’s stewardship at the DfT. Wolmar suggests that, unlike his predecessor, Hammond is a “roads man”, with policies coming out (admittedly in no small part due to the Age of Austerity) that will hit the railways hard. The fact that a “piffling” £50m has taken on such vital importance suggests there will be more hardship to come when the microscope is turned to much larger projects. Although the trunks of both Thameslink and Crossrail will be safe (as it will be political suicide to cut them completely), the noises emerging from Marsham Street suggest that bits of them (on the ends) may be cut off. Likewise the various electrification schemes, which have yet to even begin, could end up in the firing line, while we all know what has happened to the HLOS rolling stock orders. Yes, I did vote for the Conservative Party and I’m not sorry I did. But, as a certain individual that I know reads this regularly will doubtless be happy to hear, I am having serious misgivings about aspects of the new government’s policies. And not just the ones that were thought up by the Liberal Democrats.