Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Lies, Damned Lies and Porky Pies

Posted in Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure, Media by Chairman Pip on 4 October 2013

You’d think, in the week that saw the Daily Mail slated for the situation it finds itself in with Ed Miliband, that newspaper editors would want to be careful about what their journalists and commentators put in their publications. It seems though that some can write whatever the hell they like with no recourse. You’ll probably guess that I am yet again speaking about Frederick Forsyth. I am always now on the lookout on a Friday for anything he might have written in his column about High Speed 2, and today we had an absolute doozy:

The case against the ill-thought out HS2 high-speed rail link from London to the Midlands and the North continues to lose friends. The authorities have tried “environmental” justification, then “economic” and then “overcrowding” and each has been proved untrue.

Now even the cities of the Midlands and the North are losing enthusiasm. Why? People travelling to do business want to arrive in the city centre. if they want to change from inter-city to branch line they want to cross two platforms, not two miles. But the numpties behind HS2 are planning that these bullet trains stop well outside the cities they are supposed to serve….To make matters worse the local services will be cut back for economic reasons even though they will be as important as ever.

Come again? I’d love to know who has told him that the stations planned for HS2 will be miles from anywhere, unconnected to any other services, like some gare des betteraves. After all, last time I checked the plan was to build a new station on the old Curzon Street site in Birmingham (almost right next to the Bullring), a new station that will be directly connected to Leeds City, and brand new platforms as part of the refurbishments of Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston. Or perhaps he means the other stations:

Nope, it can’t be those he’s talking about, as they are all fairly well connected, even though they aren’t in city centres. So I’m not entirely sure what these unconnected stations that are two miles from the city centre actually are. Additionally, how does he know what the local services will actually be once HS2 opens, given that it’s a good decade and a bit in the future until even the first section opens? Presumably he has consulted his crystal ball to learn of this.

fortune-teller

It’s true that both the government and HS2 Ltd have been on the back foot in the media battles against the anti HS2 mob. I’ve been saying for ages that the main focus of the media campaign should have been capacity rather than speed – we need new rail capacity in this country, and any piecemeal enhancements done to the existing network to try and “create” new capacity will be both expensive and cause huge disruption (as the WCML enhancement proved). Now, fortunately, the government has seen the light and has brought the capacity issue to the fore. A new north-south intercity route will free up capacity on both the WCML and ECML so that more local and interurban passenger services can be run (which is your overcrowding justification Mr Forsyth), not to mention allowing more freight to be carried by rail, removing huge numbers of lorry journeys from the roads, as well as decreasing further the need for domestic flying (which is your environmental justification); added to this is the employment that will be generated, both in construction of the thing, and in the investment that such a project will bring in (and there’s your economic one). The disturbing thing is that there will be people that read such nonsense spouted by Mr Forsyth (and others come to that) and will think that because it’s in the newspaper it must be true. In a recent editorial, Nigel Harris made this point succinctly, pointing to the coverage the BBC gave to the IEA report that stated the project could cost as much as £80bn, and which included a number of spurious claims and (I hasten to say) fabrications (such as the HS2 spur to Liverpool that has never been proposed). While Mr Forsyth is a commentator, paid to write his opinions for publication, even commentators (never mind actual journalists) have a duty of care to their readers to ensure that what they’re writing is at least factually accurate. But then again, I’vealways thought that the anti mob would allow facts to get in the way of a good story.

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On your marks…

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.

“HS2 ruling ‘a victory’ despite unlawful compensation move”

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Leaving, on a jet plane…

Posted in Commuter, Customer service, Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 11 January 2012

The announcement of the government’s approval of High Speed 2 has naturally led to the ratcheting up in noise level of protests for one reason or another. There are the obvious protests, from those people that don’t want it built at all, and would prefer to throw good money after bad trying to make the existing network do the job that HS2 is intended for. Then there are the protests that the money shouldn’t be spent on a brand new railway line, but on a massive improvement to the speed of the broadband network (obviously the people who can’t be arsed to actually go to meetings, and would rather videoconference everything). There are the people that think the current two stage proposal is too safe, and believe that the whole network as far as Leeds and Manchester should be built in one go. There are the Scots, who want Edinburgh and Glasgow to get high speed rail right away (although it may well be that soon that will not be the concern of the British government). And there are those who believe that Heathrow should be included directly on the route. And it’s this last one that I’d like to concentrate on for the moment.

As published, the first stage of HS2 will include a stop at Old Oak Common in West London, where high speed trains from Euston will interchange with, amongst other services, Crossrail. Crossrail can then be used to take passengers into Heathrow itself. During the studies done by HS2 Ltd, this was determined to be the most cost effective way of allowing access to the airport from HS2. But, many people have looked to the Heathrow Hub concept advocated by Arup as a better solution. This would entail the route of the high speed line being diverted in tunnel directly underneath Heathrow, where an underground station would be built to accomodate high speed services. These would continue then back out and onwards to the north. The problem is this would add several billion pounds to the cost of the project, as well as adding time to the journey, for little passenger benefit – the estimates are that out of every 100 passengers travelling on the route, two would disembark the train at Heathrow.

The government have not discounted direct access to Heathrow entirely. One of the plans for stage two is the construction of a short southbound spur off the main line that will allow high speed trains from the north to terminate at Heathrow, which will give better access to the airport from Leeds and Manchester. But why do people in London itself need a high speed service to Heathrow, when Heathrow Express can get you there in fifteen minutes? At present there are two separate rail routes from London to Heathrow:

Assuming Wandsworth Council can make their Airtrack Lite proposal work, then Heathrow will gain a third rail connection, this time from the south, which makes one wonder even more of the purpose of routing HS2 that way. Surely it would be better to go with something along the lines of the one developed by Greengauge 21. This would see Heathrow as a through station, like the Heathrow Hub plan, but rather than trains from the north running through Heathrow and then eastwards into London, instead they would head west towards Bristol and South Wales. This would genuinely turn Heathrow into what people want it to be – a hub – as it would be served by rail from all four directions, while being precisely what it should be, which is a destination in itself. After all, what generall do you do having alighted from a train at an airport railway station? I certainly wouldn’t look to get back on a train.

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