Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

It’s time to speak on HS2

Posted in Customer service, Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 7 September 2013

I have maintained a silence recently as I have had the feeling that people are getting a little irritated by my ramblings. However, I have felt moved to speak my mind over what has come out over the last few weeks from the anti HS2 brigade as they continue their campaign to have the project stopped by any means necessary, which often will mean publicising half-truths and occasional (almost) fabrication which is picked up and run with by the media. A few weeks ago, the Institute of Economic Affairs published a report entitled The High Speed Gravy Train: Special Interests, Transport Policy and Government Spending, which somehow came to the conclusion that the cost of constructing High Speed 2, far from being the £42bn that the government have budgeted, could end up costing as much as £80bn. This was immediately jumped upon by the media, with the story being top of many news sites and programmes (indeed, I do recall that it was the top story on BBC News’ early evening bulletin on the day it was published). Upon inspection of this so-called “report”, it becomes clear that the conclusions reached by the author, Dr Richard Wellings, are so much horse hockey (or “guff and hogwash” as Ben Ruse, the spokesman for HS2 Ltd, described it). And the reason for this is that Dr Wellings has reached the figure of £80bn by including a massive tranche of projects that, while no doubt important in High Speed 2’s connectivity, are nothing to do with HS2 itself. Amongst the projects that Dr Wellings has included under the HS2 budget are:

These are included in spite of the fact that the People Mover connection at Birmingham Interchange is already included in the government’s published HS2 budget, the Manchester Airport Metrolink extension is already under construction, Meadowhall is already connected to the Supertram network, the capacity and electrification schemes in Yorkshire are under way and come under Network Rail, and a spur to Liverpool was never even considered as part of HS2. But, even more than the fact that a number of the rationales for his conclusion are bogus, is this:

It is also probable that some of the schemes will never be built for various reasons…

Which means that the banner conclusion is based on theories around things that may not actually come to pass. And yet still this was trumpeted by the media, while the rebuttal of it barely warranted a mention, being halfway down the English news section of the BBC News website.

Then of course you get such as happened yesterday when I opened the newspaper, and read the following headline in Frederick Forsyth‘s column:

Scrap the HS2 white elephant

I spoke about Mr Forsyth’s continuing opposition to HS2, and how he uses his column to push this, back in March. In that, I made it clear that in my opinion, because he lives in the Cotswolds (and the route will probably be fairly close to where he lives), he is somewhat biased in his view that the project should be abandoned. He goes further now in deciding that it will be a “white elephant”. I’ve found a good definition of white elephant:

…a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.

How it’s possible to declare something that has not been built as a white elephant is beyond me, as I would have thought it would take a number of years of use to determine whether said thing is not worth its cost. Mr Forsyth must be a soothsayer. Or else, he is particularly vicious when it comes to opposing HS2, denouncing anything released by the Government or HS2 Ltd as being the work of “official propogandists”. Never mind the propaganda put out by those opposed to the project. He warms to his theme by restating yet again the view that all the line is for is to get a few “wealthy businessmen” to Birmingham a few minutes faster and raising the suggestion both of longer trains and double deck coaches. Well, first of all, while HS2 is certainly about improving timings, making it faster to get between various major destinations (which is what everyone fixates on), the fact is that the first and major issue has always been about capacity on the existing network, which is fast running out. No amount of piecemeal capacity enhancement on the West Coast Main Line, which would be enormously disruptive and likely to cost as much, pro-rata, as just building a brand new line, is going to create the new capacity that is needed. Having the vast majority of fast trains on a separate line means that more trains for commuters can be put on the existing network, not to mention making room for more freight. Thankfully, the DfT have finally picked up on this as a the thing to push first and foremost. As for the suggestion of just making longer trains or taller trains, it’s clear that Mr Forsyth knows even less about the railways than I do, given that longer trains means again expensive and disruptive work to make the capacity for them (perhaps he should look at the work done on the Thameslink route to extend platforms), while there has only been one experiment at running double decker trains in the UK. European countries can run such trains because the loading gauge is significantly more generous than it is here. While again it is possible to increase the loading gauge, it is phenomenally disruptive, as evidenced in the case of the gauge enhancement around Southampton that ended in 2011.

In the most recent issue of Rail, Nigel Harris’s editorial is scathing about the industry and its lack of vigour in promoting HS2, and how the project needs a vocal champion, suggesting that Sir David Higgins, who was the Chief Executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority, and delivered London 2012 on time and on budget, would be an idea choice. It is certainly the case that somebody needs to be out  there, bigging up HS2 to the country (notwithstanding the excellent rebuttal of the IEA report Alison Munro gave on BBC Breakfast in the face of hostile questioning from the interviewer). I’ve said before that we need new capacity on the railway network, and that HS2 is the way to go about it. I’ve also said that it is wrong to simply look at the bottom line when it comes to infrastructure projects like this, because on their own, they won’t make money. You have to look at the bigger picture, of the benefits that the infrastructure will bring to all sorts of areas of the economy, in order to see why these things should be built. And they should be built.

Stop arseing about!!

Posted in Business, Customer service, Europe, High Speed, Politics, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 19 July 2013

Now that the initial fall-out from what might be termed the “Fyra fuck-up” has begun to move onwards, we now move into the realm of “what the bloody hell do we do now?”. Fyra has started using what it started up with, loco-hauled stock behind a Bombardier TRAXX locomotive running its services between Amsterdam and Brussels along conventional lines. NS has also made requests of other high speed operators (notably Thalys and Eurostar) that it implement plans to run additional services to Amsterdam as soon as possible. But it still leaves them in a pickle, in that part of the service agreement for HSL Zuid is the running of domestic high-speed services, for which the V250 sets were procured. The Dutch government has given NS three months to come up with an alternative to the planned Fyra service before it begins to talk to private operators about taking on the concession to use HSL Zuid. Of course, NS must come up with its solution in the knowledge that it has no high speed rolling stock available for its own use. NS Hispeed, the arm of the company responsible for high speed services, directly owns two of Thalys’ Series 43000 units and four of the Class 406 sets used by Deutsche Bahn, but these are pooled with the other units in each respective fleet for specific services. So, NS would need to source rolling stock from elsewhere, with the primary requirement being that it be able to operate over three electrical systems – 25kV (on the high speed lines), 3kV (Belgian classic lines) and 1.5kV (Dutch classic lines).

In February 2013, TGV Lyria, the name given to the TGV services between France and Switzerland, began replacing the rolling stock it originally used. Its original fleet encompassed nine Series 33000 TGV sets, which are tri-voltage variants of the original PSE sets used by SNCF. Presumably these are now going spare (unless of course SNCF has already re-allocated them), and presumably these would fit the loading gauge to run between Brussels and Amsterdam (although that’s something I have no idea of), so would it not be possible, at least as an interim measure, to obtain these for a period until NS can put in place plans to purchase some new, purpose built stock for Fyra? Given that they are still in service around the TGV network, there’s no reason to assume that these sets are on their last legs, and seem to me to be ideal for the kind of services NS (through Fyra) are contracted to provide.

Follow the yellow brick road

Posted in Business, Customer service, Great Britain, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 2 July 2013

I came across a story yesterday concerning East Midlands Parkway, the station that was built to provide a link to East Midlands Airport. It seems that the projected numbers of passengers that was used to justify the station’s construction all the way back under Midland Mainline was wildly overestimated – the reckoning was in the region of 740,000 per year going through its precincts, while the reality is that for the year 2012 the total number was a little over 260,000. I found out about the story thanks to a tweet from Wolmar:

Failure of East Midlands Parkway suggests HS2 station at Toton is in wrong place…  Ppl do not want out of town stns

I personally feel that that is a bit of a simplification. While an out of town station might well prove unhelpful if it is only on one route, if it is a genuine interchange with spokes going in different directions, then it can serve its purpose well. East Midlands Parkway is let down by the fact that its primary purpose, the airport, is 4 miles away, with no shuttle service, and that only trains travelling on the Midland Main Line use it. However, there are a number of small to medium sized towns in the area around the station that have no rail connection. Additionally, right next to the airport is Donington Park. Further, the suburb of Clifton is not too far either, and that is set to be the terminus of one of the new Nottingham Express Transit routes. With the go-ahead of the planned Sheffield tram-train, a similar system connecting the NET network with East Midlands Airport, Donington Park and perhaps somewhere like Ashby-de-la-Zouch, through East Midlands Parkway, would seem to be a reasonably good use of resources. Hell, it wouldn’t even have to connect directly, with Clifton used as an interchange for the NET and Nottingham, and East Midlands Parkway for those journeys to and from points north and south (Leicester, Derby). Were something along those lines to happen, how much footfall would East Midlands Parkway get then?

“East Midlands Parkway railway station fails to meet target”

East Midlands Parkway is currently underused. How much more traffic would it get with better connections to other destinations?

Moving along

Posted in Customer service, Europe, Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 17 June 2013

We’ve had news come out over the weekend that, while seemingly on the cards for a long time, has always been a touch on the debateable side, in that we have never been entirely, 100% sure that it would actually come to pass. Well it has; the Intergovernmental Commission have finally given their approval for Deutsche Bahn to operate trains through the Channel Tunnel. This means that, subject to numerous other issues being rectified, DB’s Class 407 is now cleared to operate DB’s longed for services from London to Amsterdam and Frankfurt. Of course, another element to this is that, given the technical similarity, it should mean that Eurostar also have clearance for their new Class 374 units to operate in the Tunnel. Of course, there are still issues to be dealt with before we do actually see DB trains operating from the platforms at St Pancras; the Eisenbahn-Bundesamt still have to give their approval for the Class 407 to run in multiple, which is one of the requirements required for running through the Tunnel (and which has also delayed the delivery of Eurostar’s Class 374s), while the timetable and pathing through the Tunnel will also need amending to accomodate new high speed services. Nevertheless, this is a massive step forward in linking London with many other European centres by rail. Hopefully, now that distributed traction has been cleared for use in the Tunnel, it will encourage other operators to bring plans forward that will make use of the available capacity on High Speed 1, with the added benefit that it will also show to those protesting against High Speed 2 that they don’t have anything to worry about from a high speed railway line running at full capacity.

“IGC grants Deutsche Bahn access to Channel Tunnel”

The FA does down the rail passenger

Posted in Customer service, Great Britain, London by Chairman Pip on 19 April 2013

The great showpiece of English football, the FA Cup Final, will this year feature Manchester City and Wigan Athletic, two teams that are (in case you hadn’t noticed) from the north-west. Following on from last year, the game will kick-off at 5.15pm rather than the traditional 3.00pm. Last year, because the game was scheduled for a league weekend, this was to ensure that it was not “devalued” by having it played at the same time as all of the league fixtures (though having it on a league weekend devalues it anyway). This year, all of the Premier League fixtures have been moved to the following day (Sunday), which means that there is no reason for the game to be at 5.15pm, as there will be no other major fixtures. Yet the Football Association have done it. And what this means is that, because the last direct train from Euston to Wigan North Western leaves at 20.31, a lot of fans may well have to leave early to avoid getting stuck in London. Indeed, the last train to Manchester Piccadilly leaves at 21.00, which will probably make it quite tight for the City fans too. There was some significant outcry, especially from the Wigan fans – their semi-final (also played at Wembley) also kicked-off at 5.15pm. The FA’s rationale for scheduling the game at this time goes as follows:

…only a minimal amount of fans (used) trains and that the kick-off time gave more
people an opportunity to see the game and proved very popular last season…

For “giving more people an opportunity to watch the game” read “giving more people an opportunity to watch it on the telly”, and that means not people here, but overseas markets. Which is the FA prostrating itself in worship at the altar of the almighty television dollar and losing sight again and again of the most important person in football – the fan who chooses week in and week out to fork over his or her money and go to see the team. Not wanting to sound big headed, but I am the most important person in football, because that is what I do; me and everyone like me (and I know that Wolmar can be included in this, given he follows QPR around almost as much as I follow West Ham) that follows their team around; that goes to home games in all weathers; that schleps to far-flung outposts. As for the argument that “only a minimal amount of fans use the train”, what has that got to do with it? Why should people that choose the railway be penalised simply because it runs to a timetable? It’s a more civilised way of travelling than by road in any case. Wigan Council have waded into the argument by asking Virgin Trains if they can put extra services on later in the evening, which Virgin have said would be “operationally very difficult”, understandable given the timetable that already exists on the WCML. What I would say is that the clubs, plus Wigan Council should try Network Rail and see whether specials can be chartered that take advantage of other routes. And, for everyone to put pressure on the FA to ensure that the Cup Final is restored to its right and proper 3 o’clock time from now on.

“Appeal to Sir Richard Branson over FA Cup train times”

You pay for time

Posted in Business, Customer service, London, Politics by Chairman Pip on 6 April 2013

Once again, I paid note of an interesting story in the Evening Standard yesterday (all of the interesting stuff I have seen recently seems to come from there). Hounslow Council have written to Boris Johnson asking the Mayor to try and persuade Heathrow Express to integrate its fares into TfL’s fare structure, and to allow passengers to use Travelcards and Oyster on the service. The rationale for this is that it would improve traffic congestion and pollution by getting more people to travel to the airport by train. As it stands, the cheapest standard fare for the Heathrow Express is £20.00, while bringing it under TfL’s prices would reduce this to a mere £5.50. Heathrow Airport’s argument is that it is a non-stop, fast (15 minutes end to end), premium service intended primarily for air passengers, and that there are already two other rail services from London for local residents and people that work at the airport (Heathrow Connect and the Piccadilly Line), while the Mayor states that he has no control over Heathrow Express’s pricing as it falls outside his purview, being as it is an open access operator outside the framework of the National Rail network.

The argument put forward by Heathrow is entirely valid – the intention of Heathrow Express is to allow air passengers primarily to get to the airport with a minimum of fuss, as passengers can actually check-in at Paddington before they get on the train. While people that work at Heathrow can get a discount to use the service, Heathrow Connect was originally set up to offer workers and local residents a cheaper alternative to get to the airport, even if it is now being actively marketed as a cheaper alternative for passengers as well. However, Heathrow Connect is planned to be absorbed into Crossrail once it starts running its full service, which got me thinking along one thread. Although the full Crossrail through route is not due to start for another six years, the Crossrail operation will actually begin in 2015, when TfL takes over the operation of stopping services between Liverpool Street and Shenfield. In 2016, it is then planned to transfer services to Maidenhead and Heathrow from Paddington. However, given the “difficulties” with the establishment of new franchises, with the Greater Western one of those due for renewal, would not an idea be for TfL to step in now and take on Heathrow Connect directly. As it stands, there remain significantly more expensive fares on this service for the journey between Hayes & Harlington and Heathrow Central than for the rest of the route. Allowing Oyster to be used, and pulling it into the TfL price banding by immediately making it part of the Crossrail concession (like the “Shenfield Metro”) would seem to me to be a logical way of improving the rail connection straight away. Then of course there is Wandsworth Council’s proposal to resurrect in part the aborted Heathrow Airtrack scheme, to provide a connection into the nascent but currently unused west facing platforms at Heathrow Terminal 5, intended to provide an alternative connection into the airport from the south, which would likely reduce numbers of passengers using the services out of Paddington, making it easier for the local residents Hounslow wants to put on the train to actually use the train.

My philosophy when it comes to rail travel is “you pay for time”. If I need to get to Birmingham in a hurry, then I’ll fork out the exhorbitant prices that Virgin Trains charge and go from Euston. If I can take my time, then I’ll get a much cheaper ticket from Chiltern Railways and get the train from Marylebone. Similarly, there will always be people who want to go fast, and who are happy to pay a premium price, and people who aren’t quite so fussed about getting there quickly. For me, I’ll happily take the tube if I need to get to Heathrow, but I’m not going to begrudge people that want both the speed and the level of service you get on the Heathrow Express. In any case, there is a difference between Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express, which does operate through trains for commuters now in addition to its fast, non-stop service between Gatwick Airport and Victoria – Gatwick is a major stop on the Brighton Main Line, while Heathrow is a stub branch to a terminus; the only commuters to and from Heathrow are the people that actually work there. In any case, are there many local people that will want to go non-stop between Heathrow and Paddington?

“Boris Johnson asked to help cut Heathrow Express fare”

Chairman Pip’s Podcast #2.6

Posted in Commuter, Customer service, London, Media, Metro, Podcast by Chairman Pip on 27 March 2013

Chairman Pip’s Podcast #2.6

The obvious answer to the question “should I give up my seat?”, at least if your commute is not from one end of the District Line to the other, is “I won’t sit down at all

“I’d never give up my seat for a pregnant woman”

Missing a trick?

Posted in Business, Customer service, Great Britain, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 15 March 2013

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.

Enough already!!!

Posted in Customer service, London, Metro, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 2 February 2013

Now never let it be said that I don’t love my Mum. In fact I love her more than I love chops and sauce. But there are times, usually involving a train journey, that tend to leave me rolling my eyes silently skyward. Today, West Ham were at home to Swansea City, and circumstances dictated the journey to Upton Park be taken by train. Unfortunately, the District Line and Hammersmith & City Line were both suspended through central London, with all trains terminating at Bromley-by-Bow. Of course this is irritating – even I feel annoyance, and I am aware of the need to continue the engineering work that is being done. But there is a limit to the level of…let’s not make too many bones about it…wingeing that I had to listen to. Admittedly the fact that half of the westbound District Line  trains were being terminated at West Ham, but the staff on the platform there were singularly lacking in passing this information on, would cause anyone irritation. But standing in the cold (and believe me it was cold) waiting for the gates to be opened at the entrance to Upton Park “on principle”, rather than walking to the end of the queue, and then complaining about the length of time taken to open the gates, is enough to try the patience of a saint. To explain, there is a road running along side the railway route, separated by a wall, which supporters queue along to enter the station. Periodically, the gates along the fence are closed, forcing people to go down to the next one. While I have thought for many years that it would be better to put an additional entrance along this route to ease the congestion, the fact is that ain’t happening now. But I’d rather have taken a walk down to the end than stand in the cold waiting for something that could take another hour to occur. Similarly, once getting on a train heading westbound that was then held at Plaistow, with the explanation being overcrowding at West Ham, again is cause to be irritated, but not go on and on about it. I do on occasion feel that my Mother sometimes forgets that I am not of the same generation as she is (so alike are we), which is why, on journeys such as these, often the best way for me to retain my own sanity is to start tuning it out and let her just go on without comment. Because any attempt on my part to offer explanation will invariably lead to her choosing to not listen to what I am saying, and thus cause argument and strife. Sigh.

Oh good grief

Oh good grief

Jen demando

Posted in Business, Customer service, Great Britain by Chairman Pip on 22 January 2013

Vi eble memoras ke, antaŭ unu jaro, Rekta Rail Servoj kuris provo pasaĝero servo inter Carlisle kaj Sellafield por laboristoj en la Sellafield nuklea reprocesamiento facilecon. La ideo estis por plibonigi la kalendaron laŭ la Cumbrian Marbordo Linio, kiu ne estis aparte oportuna por tiuj personoj kiuj laboras la frua movo ĉe Sellafield – DRS kurus lia propra trajno, kun lia propra trejnistoj, kun nombro de ili rezervita por Sellafield laboristoj el Carlisle en la frua mateno, kaj Carlisle posttagmeze. La proceso daŭris ses semajnoj, kaj intencis havi konsulto poste determini ĉu ĝi estis farebla por subteni la servon. Dum la uzo de lokomotivo kaj vagonoj, anstataŭ multnombra unueco, estis vidita kiel fari la servon iomete sur la multekostan flanko, la patroneco (ĉirkaŭ 100 pasaĝeroj tage en ĉiu direkto) estis vidita kiel bona komenco, farante ĝin inda daŭrigi. Kaj tamen, por la pli bona el mia memoro, estis nenio diris pri ĝi tiam. Ni scias ke DRS estas perante 15 tutnova Klaso 68 lokomotivoj, miksita trafiko veturiloj kiuj povas feliĉe tiri ĉu pasaĝeroj aŭ de ŝarĝo trajnoj, kiujn ili diris estas provi kaj akiri plej grandan tranĉaĵon de la pasaĝero merkato. Tiuj, pli DRS la ekzistantaj Klaso 37s kaj 47s sugestus difinitan movado en la planita pasaĝero merkato, anstataŭ simple en ĉartoj. Do mi petas al la demando, “kiam ni aŭdas se DRS kuros sia pasaĝero trajnoj?” Kompreneble, iuj homoj povas ne demandi “kiam”, sed ili pli ĝuste estus demandi “volo”, kiu estas egale pravaj. Ho, vi povas demandi kial mi skribis afiŝo en Esperanto. Mia respondo al tio estas “kial ne?”

“Nuklea pura-supren korpo aspektas kuri trajnoj”

Post in English

DRS kuris provo pasaĝero servo en januaro 2012 por la laboristoj ĉe Sellafield kun la intenco por provi kaj daŭrigi ĝin.

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